By Ziden Nutt
From across the Americas and around the world nearly 4,500 people gathered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for inspiration, information, and instruction at the 61st National Missionary Convention, November 20-23.
They came to praise God for what he is doing among those who dwell in every tribe and nation. They came from the smallest of language groups and the largest world-class cities, and places in between. Well over 100,000 registered in support of the convention.
The program was designed for all ages, from little Johnnie in a stroller to Harland Cary in his 90s who had spoken at the first NMC in 1948. That initial meeting in Springfield, Illinois, established a pattern for 60 years of gatherings focusing on God’s mission for the church.
An Inspirational Gathering
Convention President Doug Priest inspired the crowd by describing how the gospel is changing lives around the world. Other speakers encouraged everyone to “Get Your Hands Dirty,” the convention’s theme. The challenge is to reach out and serve in all spheres of society around the world. The biblical base for world mission was bathed in prayer and singing.
A convention highlight centers around meal functions where attendees are inspired by heartfelt testimonies from veteran and younger cross-cultural workers, as well as recruits and missionary children.
It is a blessing to see hundreds of young people from Bible colleges, campus ministries, and elsewhere join in this great gathering each year. Teens participate in service projects such as building walls to provide homes for the homeless, helping to inspire others to greater service in the name of Christ. Special events for those of all ages are designed to inspire them with accounts of people around the world who have responded to the message of Christ.
An Informational Gathering
The exhibit area allocated 450 spaces to Christian ministries that told how God is working through them and explained the many opportunities for becoming involved. Exhibitors united with those they haven’t seen in years and provided information to those seeking areas of service.
The exhibit area is always a hub of activity as colleges recruit new students and provide information about their schools. Mission groups challenge Bible college students to commit to full-time Christian service. One mission chairman from a local church said, “Where else can we see so many Christian workers and visit with those we support? It is worth coming to the convention just for the exhibit area.”
The exhibit area was filled with conversations and prayer as experienced Christian workers talked with recruits preparing to enter full-time Christian service around the world.
The convention has become a gathering place for missions and colleges to hold board meetings or reunions. Christian workers from around the world shared the results of their labors. Plans to complete the unfinished task of world evangelism and the training of leaders were also presented.
Though it was somewhat behind the scenes, excitement built as information about future conventions was presented and approved by the missionaries and the NMC Continuation Committee. David Empson, who serves as convention coordinator-elect, introduced the next two convention presidents.
Rick Jett, director of International Disaster Emergency Services, will preside over the 2009 convention, November 19-22 in Peoria, Illinois. The theme will be “God’s Gift—My Responsibility!” based on Ephesians 2:4-10.
David Linn, missionary to Venezuela, will serve as president of the 2010 convention in Lexington, Kentucky; the theme will be “Harvest of Hope.”
That convention will launch a decade-long emphasis on missions to involve the whole body of Christ. Linn called it a “Restoration Revolution,” a catalyst for creating a contemporary ACTS account:
Working under the hand of the Almighty, countries will be penetrated and Churches will be started. As Bible Translations emerge in more languages for more people groups, Servants will be raised up to go forth to accomplish these tasks. (See Dave Empson’s article in the box on this page.)
An Instructional Gathering
A full workshop schedule was preceded by preconvention Nitty Gritty Sessions for Missionaries Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. Those being sent from local churches into cross-cultural work received practical help for their mission. Convention workshops for teens, college students, missionaries, and local church members taught how God is working through people in all walks of life to fulfill the Great Commission.
God at Work
It’s impossible to completely categorize all the ways God moves through the convention, For example, attendees gathered in small groups spent many hours in prayer and Bible reading. His work is evident in the 34 people who publicly dedicated themselves to a minimum of two years in cross-cultural mission work. It is estimated that 2,100 have made similar commitments over the past 40 years.
Behind the scenes, John Powers and Scott Zimmerman did an outstanding job co-chairing the local arrangements committee and working with hundreds of volunteers.
Also in the backdrop is the sacrificial service of Walter and Iva Lou Birney of Copeland, Kansas. Since 1966 they have given of themselves beyond measure, with Walter serving as convention co-coordinator this year. Iva Lou completed her responsibilities at the end of 2008, while Walter will continue through 2009. God is being praised among peoples all across the world because of the impact of the Birneys and their contribution to the success of the National Missionary Convention.
A team has been working for four years toward a smooth transition of convention leadership. Though David Empson has been with the convention for 10 years and will take much of the responsibility in 2009, he will assume full responsibility as convention coordinator in 2010. Jim Chamberlin is the Teen Convention director, and Jennifer Dobbs will join the full-time staff in 2009.
Empson commented about this year’s convention: “The word joyful describes the convention. There was a happy spirit among the people. This really is an intimate family gathering.”
The National Missionary Convention is a “great gathering for God’s glory” and always offers a unique program for the whole church. Those who invest their time, talents, and treasures in it are truly rewarded.
Ziden Nutt is executive director emeritus with Good News Productions International, based in Joplin, Missouri.