Every year we are afforded a unique opportunity to see, hear, and in some ways even experience the obstacles, challenges, and realities that face our ministry partners serving in vast and diverse cultures and environments both near and far. I am always encouraged by their sharing, my imagination stretched, and my heart challenged by the various views and perspectives that are shared throughout this week. In many ways our annual conference asks us to posture ourselves as learners, with the humility to recognize that our Southern Lancaster County lenses are not enough to give us a full perspective on the matters affecting the church throughout the world. Below are my five takeaways from this year’s annual conference.
1. Homelessness and family displacement remain a persistent issue throughout the world, including in our own community.
Research conducted in Lancaster County in 2021-22 suggests that homelessness is once again increasing in Lancaster County. As this number rises, our county is also facing a lack of affordable rental units for low income and at-risk families. While social, economic, and physical factors all play a role in homelessness and family displacement, we learned that these matters are immensely complex and carry with them factors that may influence a person’s perspective on the gospel. How is the gospel good news to a person who is struggling, moment by moment, with displacement, homelessness, or poverty? Opportunities exist through partnerships with our local agencies and organizations who are committed to lifting persons out of poverty and providing housing in the name of Jesus. Growing and enhancing these partnerships is one way that we, the Church, can serve as salt and light to our homeless, displaced, and impoverished community members.
2. Ministry is a “long-game” endeavor, and progress is not always linear.
People are not machines or programs to be manipulated. Encouragement from Jim Davis of City Gate in Coatesville reminded us that we shouldn’t give up on people because God doesn’t give up on people. Patience in discipleship while journeying with someone in difficultly is a great way to demonstrate and model the grace and mercy of Jesus.
3. Leveraging technology, China’s churches, even as they face intense government scrutiny, continue to find ways to gather and proclaim the gospel.
Christians in China are finding creative ways to meet as churches and small groups. Demonstrating the potential opportunities for evangelism and discipleship existing within the technology we use every day; the Church in China has found stability and (for the time being) has escaped the level of government intrusion faced by physical churches. Some Christians in China are joining up with believers in other parts of the world to participate in online Bible studies and prayer groups.
4. When God calls a person, he will equip them to accomplish the task.
Mr. Bontrager left for what he thought would be a short-term assignment in Indonesia. He returned over 25 years later with an incredibly powerful story to tell. If God calls us to go, he will give us the tools to accomplish the task that he has set before us. As God equipped and empowered Myron, the lives of countless people were changed. This year, the school that Mr. Bontrager taught at will name a “Bible Memorization” award in his honor and give it to a new student(s) each year.
5. Jesus is building his Church…all throughout the world.
As we closed our conference, Matt, a global leader with OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship) reminded us that Jesus is building his church. Speaking from the testimony of Elijah, we were reminded that God is in the whisper. Though there is much in our world that may seem to threaten, we were encouraged to take heart and remember that God is sovereign, God is faithful, God is present, and God is working. Regardless of how bleak the circumstances may appear to be, for the Church in America, or in any other part of the world. We can hold onto hope above fear, and trust that because of Jesus, the plans of God will always prevail.