(In anticipation of this year’s International Conference On Missions, we asked 2023 president Stephanie Garman Freed to share a bit about herself, the ministry of Rapha International, which she co-founded and leads as CEO, and to explain how that is helping to shape her vision and focus for this year’s conference.)
By Stephanie Garman Freed
I am honored to have been invited to serve as president for the 2023 International Conference on Missions (ICOM), which will take place Nov. 15-19 in Oklahoma City. ICOM, whose mission is to equip, encourage, and enlist workers for the harvest, primarily serves attendees and exhibitors associated with the churches of the Restoration/Stone-Campbell Movement.
The conference travels to a new location each fall and is most often hosted in Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. ICOM has not been to Oklahoma City in 50 years, and this is generating excitement for both new participants in Oklahoma and surrounding states, as well as those who make going to ICOM an annual pilgrimage.
Rapha International, which I serve as CEO, has a mission to end the trafficking, sexual exploitation, and abuse of children—one child at a time—through aftercare for survivors, prevention for the vulnerable, and engagement for all.
For almost two decades, Rapha has been exhibiting at ICOM, where we seek to engage with many of our church and individual partners who regularly attend, as well as to lead and participate in sessions and workshops, which promote best practices in missional work. ICOM is a place of connection and encouragement for our U.S. and international team members. This is also true for the other missionaries and mission organizations that exhibit at the conference, and this fosters a wonderful and constant buzz in the exhibit hall each year.
ICOM has always been a special place for me personally, as I grew up attending the conference with my father, Joe Garman, of American Rehabilitation Ministries. ARM has always exhibited at ICOM, and this became for us, as for many other attendees, a sort of family reunion.
At this annual conference, missionaries I deeply respect have prayed over me and advised me from a young age. When I had my own children, I wanted them to have the same opportunity, and attending ICOM helped to shape their worldview. I fondly remember how my oldest daughter, who is now in medical residency, would station herself at the FAME booth, where she digested all she could learn about medical missions.
The theme for ICOM 2023, “Hope for the Nations,” is based on Jesus’ message in Luke 4:18-19, wherein he proclaimed his mission. After Jesus finished reading from the scroll of Isaiah at that synagogue in Nazareth, and with every eye fastened on him, he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). That was a serious mic-drop moment! Christ’s mission was both physical and spiritual, both temporal and eternal.
At Rapha, we talk a lot about hope, for the children we serve, who were once oppressed, are in serious need of hope. In this Luke 4 passage, Jesus stated that he was sent to free the oppressed and to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind. There is so much hope in that for the children served by Rapha . . . and for everyone! God the Father sent his Son because he loves us and because he wants us to be reconciled to him. This world is groaning for hope, and Jesus truly offers “Hope for the Nations.”
ICOM leadership hopes to see a great turnout for the 2023 conference as we celebrate what the Lord is doing around the world. As always, our vision for the conference is to encourage and further equip those who are currently serving and to inspire, challenge, and enlist those who are considering the Lord’s call on their lives.
Whether you are interested in becoming more exposed to missions or are already passionate about taking the good news to a hurting world, you belong at ICOM. To learn more about the 2023 ICOM or to register as an individual or church, visit theicom.org. We hope to see you there!
Stephanie Garman Freed, co-founder and CEO of Rapha International, is serving as president of the 2023 International Conference on Missions, set for Nov. 15-19 in Oklahoma City.