By Emily Drayne
Youth conferences, weeks of camp, training conferences for adults, and mission trips are all mountaintop experiences. Participants come home refreshed, revitalized, and more passionate about the things they spent time focusing on. But life inevitably slows down, the daily humdrum returns, and the fire inside begins to flicker. There is at least one Great Commission-focused event, however, from which there seems to be no post-event letdown: the International Conference On Missions.
What makes ICOM different? I’m convinced it’s the on-fire vibe that permeates the conference. People attend ICOM to do something: win the world for Christ, find their place in the kingdom, and make a positive impact on their community and around the world.
Participants at ICOM in Cincinnati Nov. 15-18, 2018, experienced all of this . . . and more.
Getting Students Involved
Student ICOM—or SICOM—is geared toward middle and high school students. It’s exciting to see hundreds of students serving and developing a heart for the unreached. SICOM helps prepare the next generation in several ways. Onsite projects help students experience a mini mission trip. They pack meals with Lifeline Christian Mission that go to third world countries to help meet basic food needs.
This past year, student director Teddy Haubner wanted to make an impact in the local community. He spoke with youth ministers and organizations and learned that thousands of Cincinnati-area children do not have a bed. So, at SICOM 2018, students made 100 beds for local kids. The project provided children with a bed frame, mattress, sheets, pillows, and even a stuffed animal. What an incredible gift!
Students also get to interact with missionaries. That’s been the case since the program started in 1997, making it one of the only places where young people can meet with, mingle with, and learn from missionaries serving on the field.
Missionaries aren’t exclusively 60-year-old married couples serving in the African bush. Missionaries can also be a single woman ministering to college students in the United Kingdom or a young married family starting a sports ministry in an inner-city setting that provides kids with a safe gathering place. Missionaries can also be a man with a business degree who trains local farmers to create a sustainable income and provide food for their families.
SICOM’s goal is to show students they can make a difference. Too often students are told they can’t do “this” or can’t accomplish “that.” It’s important to expose students to the world of possibilities before they go to college and choose a major. SICOM even sets aside time for students to mingle with Christian colleges and learn about possible career paths. Students should leave the conference knowing that anything is possible when they put their trust in God.
In 2018, ICOM offered more than 170 workshops covering such topics as human trafficking, making disciples, business as missions, fund-raising/development, Bible translation, campus ministry, and much more. ICOM tries to offer something for everyone. The goal of these hour-long sessions is for people to come away with action items to implement in their own family, setting, or situation. Countless lives have been turned upside down—in a good way—by attending ICOM workshops. They provide current information and contacts in that field.
The conference also features a Career Board that helps people of all ages find places to serve. These can be one-month to one-year internships or jobs with a missionary organization. The Career Board also allows missionaries to list job openings or internships.
EnterMission is an initiative launched this year by ICOM, Johnson University, and Camp Allendale.
“Typically, the path for a young person to go into missions/ministry is to go to a Bible college,” says ICOM director David Empson.
EnterMission is a 10-month discipleship training program for 17- to 23-year-olds who may need more time to figure out where God is calling them. Students who choose this training will experience both domestic and international sides of service, as well as training in ministry.
“Today’s generation needs options outside of the norm,” Empson says. “This program is not an end in and of itself. This is a stepping stone to start their journey.”
Students will come away with up to 12 hours of undergraduate credits from Johnson University.
Chris Irwin, director of EnterMission, explains the idea behind the program.
“Like most Christians, you’ve studied the Bible, heard lots of sermons, and gone to camps and conferences, yet you still hunger for a deeper experience with God,” Irwin says. “You don’t want to just believe, but [also] make a difference in the world.”
Making a difference is the goal of EnterMission. The staff of ICOM and SICOM can’t wait to see what God does with these students.
Encouraging Both Missionaries and Church Members
More than 7,000 people participate in ICOM each year, so a great deal of follow-up occurs during the conference’s “off” season. Staff members are constantly speaking with and encouraging missionaries on the field. Every year, ICOM hosts a “For Missionaries Only” preconference that focuses on missionaries as persons. Whether in the field or at “home,” missionaries rarely get to relax. ICOM provides meals, a one-night hotel stay, and a place where missionaries can feel at ease among one another . . . people facing the same challenges. This is an invaluable time for many of these kingdom servants.
ICOM also stays in touch with those folks who have made decisions to enter missionary service at a conference, helping them find a place to serve or simply checking in to see how their journey is developing. In 2018, 40 people made public decisions at the conference. Many of these folks might have only their family or minister helping them through the process; ICOM serves as a professional resource for them.
Representatives of the ministry also spend the year speaking with churches, families, youth groups, and individuals who are looking for a place to plug in. ICOM offers connections and provides a place where they can safely engage with missionaries and organizations so they can continue their journey.
Hosting an International Conference
A conference that gathers thousands of people for corporate worship is rare. ICOM’s mission is “to encourage, equip, and enlist workers for the harvest.” The 2018 event included 665 booths featuring organizations that serve in various areas of missions from all over the world. Most people say they attend ICOM to broaden their worldview, and there’s no better place for that than when surrounded by booths and people representing more than 300 organizations.
“It was encouraging to know that we can make a difference while living here in Ohio,” said one participant. “While we were at ICOM on Saturday evening, our church was hosting a Thanksgiving meal with the Iranian community. . . . I can see where God may be able to use us as we reach out to these new friends.”
I love that! It’s exactly what the ICOM staff wants to convey: You can make a difference no matter your location or life situation. Isn’t that the goal of the church, too? Shine the light of Jesus whether you’re at church, dropping your child off at school, or shopping for groceries.
ICOM is much more than a four-day event; it’s a year-round ministry that is laser-focused on global evangelism.
The 2019 conference is scheduled for November 14 to 17 in Kansas City, Missouri. Please make plans to join us. Come ready to dive into a further commitment to Christ and his global church!
Emily Drayne lives in North Carolina and has served with the International Conference on Missions since 2011.