Take a great thing and make it even better. That was the rationale behind our reforged Family Conference, held July 9–12, 2018, at First Baptist Church of Elyria, Ohio. Nearly 275 furloughing BMM missionaries, appointees, and staff enjoyed four days of messages by Rev. Mark Cizauskas (pastor of First Baptist Church of Rochester, Michigan) along with workshops and interaction with fellow missionaries.
Every year since 2006, we have gathered our BMM Family for an event simply titled Annual Conference. Our goal has been to provide rest and refreshment for missionaries who give and give but don’t always have opportunities to get recharged themselves. BMM President Vernon Rosenau modeled the retitled Family Conference off the European Enrichment Conferences he developed during his tenure as our Africa and Europe administrator.
With “Family” in the conference name, Dr. Rosenau planned the event to be even more BMM-family focused, including music. Italy missionaries Jonathan and Melodee Whitman, along with BMM staff members Karen Beckman and Becky Gravley provided music. BMM President Emeritus Gary Anderson gave a series of plenary talks helping the BMM Family to better address stress and avoid burnout. Other workshops provided resources on gender identity issues, using parables to create ministry stories, singleness, and worship.
This year’s Family Conference featured expanded downtime for missionaries to interact with one another. During language school, one missionary attendee had met a German classmate. At the Family Conference, this missionary connected with BMM colleagues serving in Germany who had contacts in the classmate’s hometown and could continue sharing Christ with her.
This kind of “cross-pollination” brings contacts and connections that propel ministry forward in stronger ways. Not only that, but it also provides a haven for missionaries to fellowship with others dealing with the same situations and struggles. They offer encouraging voices to keep on task, because of how they’ve seen God’s faithfulness in their own ministries.
We continued our favorite conference traditions, including the William C. Haas Lifetime Service Award. This year’s recipients were Hal Miller and his late wife, Patty, who founded Campus Bible Fellowship International. The Millers set a pattern of evangelism and discipleship of college students that continues to impact lives around the world. Learn more about the Millers’ ministry in Hal’s interview by Dr. Rosenau.
Tuesday night of conference saw 36 missionaries honored for milestone years of service. Of these, five received 50-year pins: Elva Craig (Campus Bible Fellowship International), Eric and Gayle McLain (Brazil), and Stephen and Evelyn Stilwell (Peru).
With the new conference title, Dr. Rosenau sought an increased emphasis on MKs. A contest was held among our MKs to name the new conference mascot. Joanna Patefield (daughter of Nathan and Dawn Patefield—Brazil) won a prize for her winning entry of “S.A.M.” (Salvation’s Amiable Messenger). On the conference’s final night, missionary children joined us for the Inner Circle, a BMM tradition. Missionaries and their families leaving for their first term or a continued term of service before next year’s conference were encircled by the audience. As we prayed over them, we commended them to God’s care, asking God’s strength to accomplish all He desires through Him in the next term of service. It’s our prayer also that the Family Conference sharpens and strengthens the entire BMM Family, now and long into their ministries.