Inspiring Thousands With a Vision for Reaching the Unreached Peoples
In North America, senders as well as prospective long- and short-term missionaries, have found a treasure chest of resources, relationships and revelation in MissionsFests. From Vancouver, British Columbia to the midwestern states of the U.S., these regional conferences are mobilizing individuals and churches to focus on the challenge of missions and unreached peoples.Richard Dodding, CEO of Missions Fest Vancouver, recalled in 1983 during the planning process of their first conference, his committee came close to throwing in the towel. "When we opened the first night the place filled up, and we were just astonished, wondering why on earth we ever doubted," he said. According to Dodding, the number of delegates and exhibitors has escalated beyond expectation. This past January, 243 missions organizations exhibited and the combined attendance for the three days totalled 30,700! "The foundation of this conference," Dodding states, "is 122 congregations from almost every Christian denomination working together. The local church involvement contributes directly to the success and longevity of our Missions Fest conferences."
The churches invite many denominational and independent missions agencies to provide informational exhibits and educational seminars. Church members and prospective missionaries have been helped by meeting agency representatives face to face in one place. Although not originally intended as an annual event, conferences year after year have nurtured seeds of missions awareness for long-term effect. Now the Missions Fest society promotes a Perspectives course that begins one week after the conference. The first Vancouver course had 160!
"Missions Fest helps each church, whatever its size, see how they can play a significant part in reaching the unreached," Dodding said. Since its inception in Vancouver, the Missions Fest vision in Canada has spread. In 1997, conferences are planned in Canada for Vancouver, Jan. 31 - Feb. 2; Edmonton, Feb. 7-9; and Toronto, Feb. 28 - March 2.
In the U.S., a similar movement is taking place, and the Heartland MissionsFest in Tulsa, Okla., is at the heart of challenging and mobilizing churches and workers for the unreached. This past February the Heartland MissionsFest brought together 1,300 individuals from 100 churches, 15 states, students from 20 various schools, and 105 missions agency exhibitors.
"In answer to much prayer, the Lord of the Harvest gathered Baptists, Charismatics, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals and Presbyterians," said Executive Director John McVay. In addition, 159 individuals signed the Caleb Declaration to commit their entire lives to obeying the Great Commission, wherever and however God leads. MissionsFests give delegates encouragement, up-to-date information, and strategic insight to which they might not otherwise have access.
A number of alumni from Perspectives courses in the Midwest have attended the Tulsa conference to get updated and meet representatives from 100 mission agencies. "MissionsFest has cemented the vision of Perspectives in their hearts and provided a visual demonstration of the opportunity and resources to get involved with unreached peoples," said Ken Shirkey, Director of the Gateway Office of the U.S. Center for World Mission. Shirkey, who has participated in three Heartland conferences, is now planning the first St. Louis area MissionsFest for November 14-16. Another Perspectives alumnus, Steve Turnage, is organizing the second MissionsFest for Northwest Arkansa September 27-28.
Tulsa will host the eighth annual Heartland MissionsFest in February 1997.
One aspect of the MissionsFest vision that has proven to be profitable, is the resourceful workshops and speakers which comprise a major facet of the conference. George Verwer, founder and director of Operation Mobilization, is one keynote speaker who has made an impact on MissionsFest audiences both in Canada and the United States.
At Heartland MissionsFest ’96, Verwer inflamed the conference when he shared a new vision that would mobilize 200,000 new missionaries with numerous agencies by the year 2000. "My concern is that the Lord Jesus told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person and we haven't done it," he said.
In an interview Verwer expressed that his burden for missions includes churches facing issues head-on, becoming more mature and discipling people. "I try to emphasize you’ve got to die to self everyday, we’re facing a different world than what it was 20 years ago," he said. "If we don't sharpen our tools and adjust to the changing world, we’re going to find it very difficult to see the church built as we want."
Verwer also believes that American churches and ministries need to be affirmed to evangelize the world and not just "Christianizing" America. "This conference," Verwer declared, "should be multiplied in every city in North America that is concerned about missions worldwide."
These speakers cover a vast array of topics to inform and challenge attendees to commit to the call of worldwide evangelization. Topics included Islam, Animism, the Joshua Project 2000, and Missions Networking via the Internet, including a live demonstration of the Peoples Group Consultant on the Brigada web page. During the four workshop periods on Saturday participants could attend an introductory workshop on each of the four Perspectives biblical, historical, strategic, and cultural.
Unlike some national conferences that focus on churches or others that focus on short-terms, the regional MissionsFest has a wide-angle lens on involving prospective long-termers, short-termers AND senders. A MissionsFest also provides an annual challenge and opportunity for these to press forward each year as they move to a deeper stage of involvement. "You may not know where to go until you come to an event like this," said one participant.
Learning from experienced missionaries and, especially, networking with agencies and individuals were driving forces for many. Everything from long-term and short-term agencies, to Internet and media groups, as well as translators and publishers of missions material can be found on the exhibition floor. The Heartland MissionsFest highlights a number of national missions networks including ACMC, AIMS, Caleb Resources, Intent, and the U.S. Center for World Mission. "The MissionsFest put me in contact with agencies that will be helpful in the near future," one commented. "I learned so much, and it gave me a new outlook. I’m not the same as when I came."
MissionsFest offers numerous opportunities for inspiring interaction with the missions community through events such as informative workshops, powerful worship services, networking luncheons, a citywide pastors’ breakfast, hands-on internet demonstrations, and more.
With a solid focus on spreading a new vision for the nations and a glimpse of God’s role for them in the bigger picture, the MissionsFest "treasure chest," many believe, will continue to grow and spread across North America as well as other continents.
Gerald A. Bell is a journalism student in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he participated in his first MissionsFest this year. For more information on MissionsFests in the U.S., you may write P.O. Box 50130, Tulsa, OK 74150; call (800) 366-6641 or e-mail [email protected].
For Mission Fests In Canada write 7200 Cariboo Road, Burnaby,
BC V3N 4A7; call (604) 524-9944; e-mail [email protected].
Note in Canada the events are labelled as Missions Fests (two words). In the U.S. the event is one word MissionsFest.