By Doug Priest
Mitchell and Luis looked a little lost in the exhibition hall at the Lexington (Kentucky) Convention Center, home to the 2016 International Conference on Missions. They came from the Dominican Republic. Mitchell had come to the convention once before, eight years ago. But the convention had grown a lot in the past eight years, and there were 300 different exhibitors! It is no wonder they were amazed at all they saw.
These men are pastors. They belong to Centro Cristiano, an association of Christian churches in the Dominican Republic that has 23 pastors. Four of the pastors receive some funding from church partners in the United States. The pastors meet once a month for spiritual growth, sharing resources, planning, and updating one another on their ministries. Mitchell is the lone pastor in the group who has a degree, which he received from an Evangelical university in the Dominican Republic.
Mitchell, a believer for 32 years, has preached at Navarreta for 14 years, and Luis, who became a Christian 27 years ago, has preached for 13 years at Las Guaranas. They first heard about the International Conference on Missions from resident missionary Rick York, who has since retired.
They came to ICOM for two reasons. First, they are looking for instructional resources that can aid them in their ministries. Second, they came to connect with churches that might want to send short-term teams to the Dominican Republic.
There are between 125 and 140 Christian churches in the Dominican Republic. The association to which Mitchell and Luis belong, Centro Cristiano, had been slowly dying. However, a mission organization that builds homes for people, Casas Por Cristo, formed a partnership with the pastors, and since that time there have been many short-term teams who have come and helped. Forty teams came in 2016, and the pastors are hoping there will be 50 to 60 teams a year. These teams have provided resources and have helped the churches to grow.
Disciples Must Make Disciples
People, some 3,500 of them, come to the International Conference on Missions for a variety of reasons. Some wish to connect with places where they might serve. Some come to lead and attend workshops. Many come to tell others of their ministries, and of course many come to ICOM to learn of God’s expanding kingdom around the world. While ICOM has a small staff that runs the conference, each year’s event is led by a president who has a large say in the year’s program.
The theme for the 2016 conference was “Mobilize: Disciples Making Disciples.” President Mike Schrage, executive director of Good News Productions, International, said that “becoming all things to win some” is a call to make disciples at all costs, and in the process, contains a call to incarnational creativity by making use of all available tools and technologies.
Schrage placed a strong emphasis on the foreigners and strangers among us. Those attending heard about the large numbers of refugees, immigrants, and international students who are living in America.
“If we can grasp the heart of God and his compassion for everyone regardless of religious heritage and ethnicity,” he said, “then we are really starting to think and act like the bride of Christ as we all become one” (John 17). Schrage’s prayer for the convention was that “the Lord would anoint every presentation, preacher, and participant, and that after the three days, he will appoint all of us to be mobilized afresh to make disciples by all possible means.”
Preparing the Next Generation
T.D. Paul came to the conference from the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. He has visited America seven times, and this was his second convention. His ministry involves planting churches, training leaders, teaching life skills, running a hospital, conducting disaster relief, working with children and orphans, and hosting short-term teams.
Paul’s mission board is based in the United States; churches that support the ministry are located primarily in Indiana, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Hancock Community Hospital in Greenfield, Indiana, partners with the hospital in India, which was built by FAME, a medical mission based in Indiana.
Paul said the convention was larger than he thought it would be. He enjoyed the sermons and was grateful for the hospitality of all involved. He appreciated the ideas and new approaches he could apply in his own ministry. He was happy, not just because he could try new methods, but because he could teach these methods to others.
In India, Paul attended the famed Serampore College and later taught in a theological college in Chennai. Of special interest to him was a new strategy that was announced at the conference. Zumé, Greek for “leaven,” is a new approach to making disciples. He appreciated the special emphasis on reaching people who have Hindu and Buddhist worldviews, as these are often overlooked in our focus on Islam. Paul was born into a Christian family. His grandparents, however, were Hindus before becoming followers of Christ.
Paul was asked if he had any advice for those attending ICOM 2016. He commented that the older generation has been very committed to missions, but now it is time to prepare the next generation. He wants America to be strengthened because America has been a leader in worldwide mission.
We Need Each Other
Mitchell, Luis, and T.D. Paul represent the new face of world Christianity. ICOM speaker Oscar Muriu of Kenya reminded us that there are more Christians in Africa, Latin America, and Asia than there are in Europe, the Americas, and Australia. He told us there were more Presbyterians in Ghana than there are in Scotland, the ancestral home of Presbyterianism.
We were encouraged to look at different areas of the world and see the special gifts each brings to the body of Christ. Indians bring the gift of martyrdom in the face of persecution. Germans bring order. Africans bring joy. Brazilians bring tremendous emotion. Americans bring financial resources and problem-solving ability.
We need one another. We are bereft without one another. We all have something to give.
It is not too early to begin making plans to attend ICOM 2017. The convention will be in Peoria, Illinois, with Enoch Nyador, a Christian leader from Ghana, serving as president.
He has chosen the theme “Together.” Worship, prayer, fellowship, learning, and fun await you!
Doug Priest serves as executive director of CMF International and as a contributing editor to CHRISTIAN STANDARD.
A Word from the Executive Director . . .
Excerpts from an e-mail David Empson sent to ICOM friends and supporters after the convention to report on its impact.
President Mike Schrage created a great theme and slate of speakers as we focused on technology while discipling to make more disciples.
• About 8,600 attended ICOM and the parallel student convention.
• There were more children in KidZone than ever before!
• 88 made decisions to go into full-time service on the mission field.
• The offering goal of $60,000, almost reached during the convention, was exceeded after Giving Tuesday (November 29) gifts were added.
“The exhibitors and attendees left a great impression on the folks living in Lexington. We heard great feedback from store owners and restaurant managers about how kind our people were to them. We also heard wonderful reports of those who attended ICOM and how they felt renewed and encouraged as they returned home.”