Reflections on Missionworks
I will admit, that I had no idea what to expect from the Missionworks conference. I thought maybe I’d listen to some speakers and get some new ideas that we could use at home for mission work and maybe network a bit on the national level. I never expected to be so transformed by this one experience.
I will admit, that I had no idea what to expect from the Missionworks conference. I thought maybe I’d listen to some speakers and get some new ideas that we could use at home for mission work and maybe network a bit on the national level. I never expected to be so transformed by this one experience. I started off my trip with a cancelled flight in Baltimore MD, and ended the day putting in travel time of about 13 hours before I got to the hotel. It takes just over 10 hours to drive to Cleveland from CT in case you were wondering. I was tired, cranky, and had missed all of the welcoming activities including dinner and a few speakers. I will also admit that on Friday morning when I got up to go to breakfast I was still a little haggard and not quite sure how I would fare. Once we all gathered and began devotions for the day things changed. One of the conference staff led the prayer that morning which was a body prayer. While music played, we did several movements that were outlined with their meanings on the projector screen. It looked much like Tai Chi or yoga and was extremely impactful to my mood. It was a very powerful way to get ourselves centered mentally as well as physically for the day ahead. We proceeded to have a few short speakers and then were sent off to attend our morning workshops.
We had 2 sessions in the morning where you could choose from about 6 topics each in order to break us into smaller groups. I chose to attend “Ecumenical and Church Relations” and then “Health”. Each session had 4 missionaries who spoke on the particular topic and then you had some time for Q&A. We heard from, and spoke with, missionaries in countries like China, Indonesia, Argentina, East Timor and Japan. They all had varied stories of what they do in their lives relative to the session topics and gave a brief look into the lives of the people that they serve. All the missionaries were very compelling and you found yourself wanting to hear so much more than the time allowed. They also showed, to me, how far we have come from the stigma of that word “missionary”. They are not religious extremists going into underdeveloped communities and converting them to the “right path”, but are rather people of God, doing his work. They work with all faiths and communities in order to make lives better for the people who live day to day under these difficult conditions. It was truly inspiring.
After the morning sessions were complete, we broke for lunch where everyone was buzzing about what they had heard or a story that had touched them. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of with lots of excitement. We then headed out into the 2 afternoon sessions which were meant to be group discussions with again 5 or 6 topics to create smaller groups. This time, I chose “Mission Trips and Pilgrimages” and then “Local and Global Mission Involvement”. The discussion about trips and pilgrimages was very informational and I collected some great resources and ideas about what we can do to start planning our own global mission trip (which we WILL be organizing, in case you were wondering …LOL!). I also heard again something that had turned into one of the themes of the weekend. We have to expand our idea of “mission”. It is not only hammer and nail work, but also just being present in these places with these people. That idea of “mission of presence” is something that grew with me very much throughout the next few days. Being there and listening to people’s stories and experiences, and giving them a small piece of yourself, and then taking what you have heard and sharing it in the world is also mission. You don’t have to build anything but relationships. Mission IS relationships. In the second session on global and local mission, I asked the question to the room of how we can get congregations to make the move to easily accept global missions like they accept our local efforts. Something that I think our church struggles with at times. I received a huge response and we discussed this for about 15 minutes, it was great. Some of the points people made are here:
- We need to begin to start spreading our concept of “where is home?” everyplace is local to someone.
- Look at how we are similar rather than how we are different. Look at the things we share rather than looking at the needs that can be filled.
- Mission doesn’t just go in one direction from “us” to “them”. It is a constant flow of love and learning within different cultures. We gain as much as we give.
- We can learn many things about how to be a good local church from our global partners. They have some of the most extravagant welcomes imaginable.
I heard many stories over the weekend, but I will share this one and one a bit later on, both of which moved me very deeply. There was a local man in Indonesia that was part of a village that one of our missionaries was living in. He needed his roof re-thatched and this is a rather large effort. He could have hired workers to do it and had it completed in a short time. However, instead, he called in all his family and had them help. This was a big production and it required him to kill 2 cows and several small animals as well as cooking several bags of rice in order to feed everyone. The gathering lasted for 3 days. When our missionary asked him why he did this, as it would be less expensive after all this work to just hire the laborers, the man responded to him in the way that you would explain something very simple to a child. “If we didn’t do this, how would we know we were family? It may be more expensive, but it’s the right thing to do.” The same holds true for mission, we are all a part of God’s family and we need to do this work together to be reminded of that.
The structured part of the day was over after these group sessions and we went to the large conference room to have a final panel discussion and group debriefing about the day. Many people shared similar learning’s and again, the feeling of excitement was there with us. We had a short break before dinner, and then there was going to be a mission fair! Dinner was great, everyone was again talking about how they can take a lot of these ideas home to their congregation, and I was even questioned several times about how we became a global mission church! After dinner I headed right over to the mission fair and it was awesome. All the missionaries were there with displays about their countries and also some fair trade items as well as the UCC bookstore. As I walked around the very crowded room and visited each table and listened to the stories of trials and hope I can honestly say that I realized, for the first time, that the excitement and the energy I had been feeling all day was the Holy Spirit moving and breathing among us. It was pulling us toward each other and touching us all with this tremendous gift of being together and learning all we could. I was realizing that the world is such a huge place, and yet, we are still all very closely connected to each other. After I was done with the fair I went to my room to decompress a bit and to try and compile some notes for the day before I went down to the bar to have a few drinks with the missionaries!
Day 2 and 3:
This day was nothing short of an emotional roller coaster. The main conference concluded after breakfast and some keynote speakers talked about going out and embodying all we have learned. Bring mission to your churches and be open and willing to be transformed by what we have experienced. We should learn to realize our abundance and not constantly speak in shortcomings. The turning point for me from this whole conference though was the worship we had before the conference officially ended. Missionary from Indonesia, Rev. John Campbell-Nelson led worship and gave the meditation. The story he told is below, in my own words. I do not think that I can relay the power that this moment had, but I can try:
In Indonesia there was a time several years ago of very severe religious turmoil where Muslim and Christians were fiercely fighting each other. The population of Indonesia is about 85% Muslim. No one in this particular area really knew how the conflict began but until this time they had both lived together very peacefully, families intermarrying and respecting each others beliefs. All that changed very rapidly and very violently and many, many people were brutally killed. John was staying with a host family in a village that had been affected by the fighting. They were a Christian family and the mother had a cement table in the yard that she always sat at. She would be there every day, working, or preparing food, or talking with family or friends. As John stayed there longer he finally asked the mother why she liked sitting out there so much. She told him that she loved being out there because that is where they had buried her son. She said that when fighting had begun in her village, the 12 year old boy had run to see what was happening and was killed. The family did not have much time to perform a burial before they had to flee so they made a shallow grave in the yard and buried the boy there. When they returned home after the fighting, they exhumed the body and buried him in a small graveyard next to their church where many others were buried from the fighting. They then made the table over the spot where the grave had been. Now, when she sat there or when the family was together, he could be there with them too. John then asked her how she could not be angry about what happened, and she told him that she felt sad for the mother’s of the Muslim boys. They had no idea what had happened to their children, at least she knew where her son was and could visit his grave. They knew nothing and probably never would. John was extremely moved by that astounding example of loving your enemy, as were all of us. He then walked over to the communion table where bread and the cups had been laid out and said that we too come to a table today. That it is the same table, with another son who has gone and still comes to be with us when we gather here.
Wow. Needless to say many were in tears, including John, at the end of the story. There was not a sound to be heard in the room. I myself had a physical reaction to the end of his meditation where he brought it back to all of us coming to the table. I’m not sure that I can really say I have ever felt the presence of God so tangibly than I did in that one moment. We talk of the Holy Spirit in terms of symbols and metaphors, but on that day, in that moment, it was a very physical and real thing. I felt my heart and maybe my soul expand and open and my faith grow within me. It was such an amazing gift and I’m not sure that I will ever be the same after this experience.
The remainder of that day and the morning of the following were dedicated to the MMI (Ministries and Mission Interpreters) training. We did several group activities, some about sharing our own personal mission stories and some having to do with how to go to other churches and speak about what it means to be a Global Mission church and how to create a relationship with the Global Ministries team. We talked about how to fund trips, how to support organizations, and how to create personal action plans for ourselves that we look to carry out over the next 3 years. We concluded with worship and a commissioning of the new MMIs. During the commissioning we were each presented with beautiful stolls to wear and given a blessing to go out and be Mission of Presence in the world. It was a perfect end to an emotionally draining, yet utterly inspiring few days.
Last month, as the date for this conference got closer, I grew weary about going. I was missing several important events at home, and began to think that maybe I should have put this off until the next time. However, after being there, I can honestly say that I was called to experience this now, at this point in my life. While I was in this place with these wonderful people, there was absolutely nowhere else I wanted to be. I want to thank the Missions Board for allowing me to have this experience. My church family was there in my heart throughout this whole time and I can’t wait to have many chances to share this gift I have received with all of you.
During the conference, there was a lot of talk about coming back to your home church and being a spark that causes the flame of mission to grow. Before this, those were just words; pretty words that I could understand, but still words. I never really felt that until now. Today, I feel like I am carrying a physical flame of passion inside me for the mission that I saw alive within these people. I and am eager to talk about everything I have learned and to share many other stories I have heard with our church family and at other churches as well. I also want to share it with my friends and family at home. For the first time, I think I understand evangelism and how empowering it is to share the feeling of our faith and to hope that others will feel this for themselves in some way. I hope that this feeling will last, and I plan to cultivate it to the best of my ability and share everything I can with our congregation. Thank you for all that you do to support me and all that you will do to support the mission and ministry of our church. I look forward to bringing us many opportunities in which we can explore and expand the feeling of home beyond our walls.