My Hopes for the M19 Conference
There is nothing I love more than a good family reunion!
Good food, hilarious stories, and wonderful fellowship together.
And within my part of the Church family (a denomination called the Church of the Nazarene), we have family reunions every few years in locations around the world. Sometimes they’re international in scope, sometimes they are focused on one continent or sub-region, but they are always a precious time together with brothers and sisters from vastly different stories and diverse geographic locations.
This week Nazarene churches in USA and Canada are hosting one such family reunion - it’s called the Mission 2019 Conference. Or M19 for short. It’s a 3-day conference bringing together leaders in local churches for the purpose of educating, challenging, and vision-casting.
And all of this is hosted in the delightfully warm metropolis of Kansas City. (insert: a slight hint of sarcasm)
From workshops and seminars to plenary sessions and lunch meetings, the goal of these conferences is to gather together the Church in order to renew Her and then be sent out to reengage in the mission of God we are all called to.
We gather - to be sent.
And as we stand on the precipice of a jam-packed, frigid, hectic 72 hours, I am left reflecting on what fruit I hope will be produced over our time together. What my hopes are for the M19 Conference.
More specifically, I am left reflecting on a bar of laundry soap.
I’m taken back to a conversation I had 12 months ago along a dusty side road weaving between a mosque and a corner store in downtown Dakar. My family had recently moved to the country of Senegal and were learning to navigate the hustle and bustle of life that swarmed around our apartment building. And, like any missionary or cross-cultural experience, we failed 6 times out of 7 as we stumbled our way through learning a new culture in a new city and new country.
Lucky for us, our family was blessed with several friends who helped guide us through our cultural (and linguistic) education.
One such person was the property manager for our apartment building. He is one of those people who does whatever he can to help others without expecting anything in return.
During one of the first days in our new apartment, I was presented with the problem of figuring out how to go purchase a laundry soap bar (something like this bar of soap, just way cheaper and much less hip) for our clothes. Embracing our education system of trial and error, along with the Google Translate app on my phone, I headed to the corner store a block away for our apartment to find some laundry bar.
I failed. Terribly.
After about 10 minutes of Google Translate fails, ad lib sign language, and the best attempts of the store workers to guess what I was pantomiming, I gave up and started to walk back home. That’s when I ran into our property manager and, in the course of our conversation, explained to him my laundry-based dilemma.
And he instantly insisted on returning to the shop with me. Once there, he requested the right item within seconds and then spent several minutes teaches me how to request it in French and where to find it in the shop.
As we walked back to the apartment, I thanked him profusely for helping me out with such a frustrating yet trivial issue.
“It’s no problem my brother. Nous sommes ensemble. That means: we are together.”
We are together. Nous sommes ensemble.
In the days and weeks after that laundry bar episode, I heard that phrase repeated often. By our colleagues, friends at church, and - almost daily - by our property manager. Each and every instance a reminder that they were there to help our family; that we were not alone. We were a part of a community.
Nous sommes ensemble.
The idea behind this phrase is that our lives are intertwined with each other. We are community - not isolated individuals. When we accomplish victories, we celebrate achieving them together. Faced with hardships? We face them together. In the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, we are in this thing called life - together.
And that’s what I am thinking of as I pray and anticipate this M19 Conference. That our time together will be an embodiment and reminder of this truth: we are not alone. We cannot achieve the mission of God or live into our identity as a child of God isolated from others. We need each other.
The theme for our M19 Conference is “The Gospel Unleashed” - imagining and envisioning how we can be a part of unleashing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our own lives, communities, and cities.
Here’s how I believe that we unleash the Gospel:
We unleash the Gospel when:
We gather at a table and share a meal with those who have different backgrounds than us.
We visit those at the margins of society and listen to their stories - in prisons and hospitals and in nursing homes and homeless camps.
We work with our neighbors to improve our communities by investing in our strengths, overcoming our weaknesses, and partnering together to achieve a better tomorrow.
We gather together and study God’s Word.
We pray, together.
We share our testimonies of life transformation with friends and family.
We serve the least of these.
We befriend the isolated. The over-worked. The disillusioned.
We create spaces of community, reconciliation, and healing.
We are reminded in Scripture that - as followers of Christ - we will be witnesses through our love for each other as well as for others.
Our togetherness is a vital component to our evangelism.
To put it another way, who we are reflects who’s we are.
Or to put it yet another way, if love is the marker of our Christian faith then relationships are a requirement. It is only through our togetherness that our love can be developed. Both with the Triune God as well as with God’s children.
So what is my hope for M19?
That our time together will truly bring us together. We will learn from each other - maybe even those whom we do not agree with on everything!
That our focus in our workshops and meetings and services will be to draw us together. As we keep our eyes centered on Jesus and devoted to unleashing the Gospel, we will find this conference to be one defined by unity.
Unity produced by the togetherness of a diverse Church family.
An eclectic unity that sends us out on the mission of God.
What can this look like?
Choose one workshop to go to that you believe will challenge your worldview.
Make a new friend. (Like a real, in-the-flesh human friend.)
Visit the exhibit hall and find a new way for you and your family/local church family to engage in God’s mission together - whether that be through Global Missions or an individual ministry or non-profit.
Take the time at the end of the conference to develop one action step to take based off your M19 experience. Make it a step you need to take with others in your life.
Spend time in prayer with others at the conference.
Family reunions are great. They remind us that we are diverse, but we are called to unity. That we are different, yet we are together.
And, this week, our M19 Conference gives us the opportunity to challenge ourselves as we seek to unleash the Gospel in new and Christ-glorifying ways.
How do we unleash the Gospel?
How do we create disciples in the nations?
How do follow Christ?
Yesterday, today, and forever.
We are together. Nous sommes ensemble.
p.s. - If you will be at M19, make sure to find me and say hi! I will be spending the whole conference in the exhibit hall at Exhibit #53 sharing about West Africa and how God is on the move there! Oh, and I’ll have some cool stickers!