The 2014 International Conference On Missions (ICOM) was an outstanding gathering.
Dave Butts, president of Harvest Prayer Ministries and the 2014 ICOM, selected “Vertical” as the theme for the 2014 gathering, and it permeated every level of activity. Butts wrote, “So much of missions is horizontally focused and rightly so. But if we want maximum impact horizontally we need to start with a vertical focus. It’s all about Jesus.” Scripture repeatedly emphasizes the need for a vertical focus. For example, Hebrews 12:1, 2: “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”*
Connecting with Jesus
The main sessions inspired conference goers to make connecting with Jesus the central focus of our lives. We were reminded our activities and accomplishment flow from our relationship with him. The speakers represented a wide variety of nationalities and ministry perspectives, from senior minister with a U.S. congregation, to foreign nationals, to leaders of various mission ministries. They included Scott Longyear of Maryland Community Church, Terre Haute, Indiana; Zebedee Togarepi of Zimbabwe; Peter Ignatius of India; Dick Eastman of Every Home for Christ; Greg Pruett of Pioneer Bible Translators; and Butts of Harvest Prayer Ministries.
It was interesting to see how God inspired each one to uniquely and effectively remind us of Jesus’ words, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Each one, teaching from his own life experience, cautioned us that we are not in control of life, nor should we be. When we remember that our role as God’s servants is to remain connected to the vine, our lives will be as fruitful as God desires for us.
Those who attended the main sessions left ICOM with two clear points of emphasis: one, Christ has promised to hear and answer our urgent and persistent prayer; and two, as we make our vertical relationship with God a priority, then his power will flow through our lives to others that he may be glorified.
Meeting at Exhibits
At each convention the exhibit hall is a source of great energy, laughter, and fellowship. The Columbus exhibit hall certainly did not disappoint!
This year, those strolling the aisles were treated to great stories from interesting and unique ministries. From Bible colleges training leaders to teams focusing on planting indigenous churches; from ministries devoted to rescuing people from sexual slavery to works seeking to honor and care for aging servants; from ministries of Bible translation and literacy training to networks harnessing the latest technologies in electronic communication, it seemed anyone could find a mission work whose story paralleled their individual life interest.
Of particular interest was the wide age variance of those represented. On one side of the hall was a ministry led by a 9-year-old girl hoping to bless lives; on the other side was the work of a veteran of more than 65 years in cross-cultural ministry. In the center of all the hugs and laughter stood the prayer center calling everyone to remember the focus and theme “Vertical.”
Certainly, each booth and ministry had its own focus with its unique story to tell about how the lives of people had been changed and how hope had been restored. However, the one unifying story of the exhibit hall was that God is moving on every continent. God’s glory is being shown through feeding the hungry and the proclamation of the gospel. All of the ministries exist because Jesus is the hope of the world. The exhibit hall reflected Butts’s words, “It’s all about Jesus.”
Rejoicing with Students
The ICOM (and previously the NMC) has enjoyed significant growth with the addition of a program specifically focused on students. The Student International Conference on Missions in Columbus repeatedly reinforced the theme “Vertical.” Through times devoted to study, worship, laughter, and service, there was a constant hum of activity reminding all that God never sleeps, and his glory is always being revealed in every corner of the world.
In the hall space behind the main service area, walls were being assembled to bless others with housing in the name of Jesus. For hours at a time, the sound of saws and hammers (along with instruction and laughter) alerted people that Jesus cares for the daily needs of every man, woman, and child. The walls being built were the fruit of the life flowing through the vine and branches of the lives of student attendees.
Whenever adults gathered for main sessions, the sound of joyous praise emanated from the youth worship area at the opposite end of the convention hall. Each speaker and leader in the main sessions spoke of how glad we could be to share in the voices we heard. What a joy to have so many united in going “Vertical” for those days in Columbus.
Learning from Workshops
Workshops all weekend brought challenge and hope to the attendees. Themes of discipleship, encouragement, prayer, leadership, church planting, campus ministry, short-term missions, missionary care, and more brought the power flowing from the vertical relationship into focus on the how-to of the horizontal. No one ever departs ICOM without practical help for life and ministry.
One new element of this conference was the inclusion of a “Global Think Tank.” Twelve facilitators led discussions of progress in various regions of the world and what collaboration might yield. I was fortunate to lead one such discussion where ideas were exchanged, and I believe we were led by God to consider new opportunities for responding to challenges facing the spread of the gospel today.
At one session, this thought kept returning to my mind, convention centers are public spaces used for numerous events, but it will be quite some time before an event this significant comes to Columbus. I know there have been and will be larger gatherings at “The Horseshoe,” the famous football stadium on the campus of Ohio State University, and I am certain the media will pay far more attention to the football games played there than what occurred in these few days in downtown Columbus. But the days spent going “Vertical” at the 2014 ICOM will be of greater eternal impact than any of us will ever imagine. I hope everyone will join us in Richmond, Virginia, October 29 through November 1 when we will gather again for the next ICOM!
*Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation.
Reggie Hundley serves as executive director with Mission Services Association in Knoxville, Tennessee.