A missionary’s reflections on Baptist Mid-Missions’ 2022 Family Conference for missionary enrichment, which was held July 11–14.
The first night of the Baptist Mid-Missions Family Conference is always an exciting, loud, confusing experience. I walk into the lobby of the First Baptist Church of Elyria, Ohio, and hear conversations that sound like this:
“How are you? I haven't seen you since...” or
“It’s so good to see you again. Let's plan to have a meal together so we can catch up.”
Children run here and there, teens congregate in a corner, the info center is mobbed with people signing up for outings, and I plop down on a convenient couch and take it all in. The energy is palpable. We, the participants, look forward to this because it means fellowship, renewing friendships, sharing burdens, spiritual refreshment, and a break from the pressures of the daily life of a missionary.
This is a time for us to set aside our cultural contexts and embrace the commonality of being called by God to carry out the Great Commission around the world. The preaching of the Word applies to all of us, and our keynote speaker, Dr. David Doran from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, leads us through an exposition of Romans 12 encouraging us to be living sacrifices and loving servants. We are energized with renewed minds and strength to go out and carry on as His “cry of love rings out across the lands” (from our conference theme song, “Across the Lands,” by Keith and Kristyn Getty).
As we file out of the auditorium and make our way to the lunch line, I see children in cowboy hats and vests which they decorated during the children’s classes—the conference refreshes the MKs too. The hats bob up and down as the MKs find their parents and join the line. I see a variety of pink, purple, and even camo-colored hats. I had walked by their classroom earlier and heard them singing cowboy songs with off-tune gusto.
The teens make their way down the stairs complaining of the crazy blender concoction they had to drink—an unforgettable object lesson from their teen classes. They giggle, joke, and push each other good naturedly. When their planned outing is cancelled unexpectedly, they adapt as only MKs can do and figure out a plan B.
The adults have the opportunity to hear Dr. Odle speak about his vision for BMM going forward. Dr. Jeff and Sherry Newman introduce us to Safe Haven, a biblical counseling/respite ministry recently developed for missionaries in need of care and relief from the demands of life and ministry on the field. The Thursday morning workshops offer relevant topics for attendees to engage in, ask questions, and glean ideas.
Evening sessions are the most enjoyable as we recognize missionaries and BMM staff members who receive pins for their years of service. This year several BMM Council members are also included, and the total of everyone’s service years is 1,206. The William C. Haas Lifetime Service Award is presented to two missionary couples from South America: Stephen and Evelyn Stilwell and Marvin and Diane Fray are honored for their many years of service in Peru and Brazil respectively. They are vivid examples of the living sacrifice and loving servants Dr. Doran mentions in his messages.
Then on the last evening, the Inner Circle forms with those who will return to their fields before the next Family Conference. The rest of us form a circle around them, and BMM President Emeritus Gary Anderson prays over them. We finish our time once again singing the chorus, “You’re the Author of creation; You’re the Lord of ev’ry man; And Your cry of love rings out across the lands.”
The conference is aptly named “Family Conference,” because whether you've been with us for five minutes or 50 years, you’re part of a family. You’re included, loved, and prayed for. BMM missionaries carry out the Great Commission across the globe, but in a little corner of Elyria, Ohio, they are a family.
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