BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Nearly 1,000 people from 29 states, Puerto Rico, and Canada gathered at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina for the first national missions event hosted by WMU in five years.
“Discover the Joy of Missions” was the overarching theme of two events — a WMU conference, Sept. 28–30, that focused on WMU training, leadership development, and practical ways to involve the entire church in missions and a Missions Weekender, Sept. 30–Oct. 2, that encouraged spiritual growth and personal missions involvement.
The seven key aspects of a missional lifestyle — worldview, relationships, communication, ministry, leadership, spirituality and Scripture study –- were woven throughout the two events.
With colorful flags of the nations all around the stage, Wanda S. Lee, executive director/treasurer of national WMU, challenged participants to develop a broader, biblical worldview during her keynote address on Friday evening.
“What would happen if our view of the world and our understanding of Christian principles intersected in such a way that our responses to world situations were based on how Jesus would respond?” Lee asked.
“To have a view of our world that matches God’s view we must begin with a study of Scripture,” she said. “When we realize how important it was to God to be known among the nations, knowing more about Him and how to live our lives within His plan will become a priority.”
The second thing Christians must do to begin to have a biblical worldview is to “align our priorities with God’s priorities,” Lee said, referring to the greatest commandment as spoken by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In today’s self-absorbed culture, Lee said, “To see the world as God sees it, we have to take our eyes off of ourselves and focus on Him. We have to learn to love God with all we have, love others, and then have a healthy love for ourselves.”
Third, one must cultivate and feed a healthy curiosity about the world and its people with accurate information and experiences that “take us outside our own known and comfortable world.”
Lack of information is not the problem, Lee observed; it’s at one’s fingertips with the media, computers and Internet. The problem, she said, is the lack of curiosity or interest in even knowing about the world. “Nurture a spirit of curiosity about the world and your worldview will grow,” she encouraged.
In addition to being intentional about learning more about the people of the world, Lee noted that personal experiences also change the way a person views the world. “As you travel, be curious about the people and place you are visiting. Just walking through the local shopping district, not the tourist shops, reveals a great deal about the economic condition and the lifestyle of many of its people,” she said.
The most important thing Christians must do, Lee said in conclusion, is to ask God to open our eyes to see the world as He sees it.
“Each of us needs to look out into the world unafraid of what we might find and allow God to shape our view of the world into His view,” she said. “When we allow that to happen, we will begin to understand the mission of God in the world and discover the joy of fitting into His great plan for our lives.”
Exploring the missional living concepts of relationships and communication, author and speaker Esther Burroughs spoke on Saturday evening about barriers to sharing the love of Christ.
As she shared several stories about people ministering to others in everyday situations, she said Christians should always look for opportunities to “go out of our way on our way.”
“We are vessels that God works through and we need to pray that we will be obedient to His call,” Burroughs said. “We need to be willing to cross barriers of gender, race, religion, culture … just as Jesus crossed every barrier to minister to the Samaritan woman at the well.
“Sometimes,” Burroughs said, “the church may actually serve as a barrier. If you became involved in church at a young age, it’s likely that you made your friends there and you all live in the same community and are less likely to know people who are not saved. But they are all around, just waiting for you to plant a seed.”
In addition to several general sessions for worship, 85 different workshops were offered during the WMU conference and 65 during the Missions Weekender. Workshops led by North American and international missionaries were very well attended, as were special tracks led in Spanish and Korean.
A World Bazaar bridged the two events and provided opportunities to “travel” around the world to learn about various cultures and visit with missionaries. Recording artist Kate Campbell provided a special concert on Saturday night. Other program personnel included Edna Ellison, author and speaker; Travis Collins, pastor of Bon Air Baptist Church, Richmond, Va.; Karla Worley, author, songwriter and worship leader; Karen Anderson Holcomb, dramatist; and special music by a choir of Korean women, the musical group One Accord, and Steve and Valerie Muller.
While at Ridgecrest, attendees gave nearly $11,000 in donations and gift cards to assist those affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Cash donations will be disbursed through WMU’s HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund, which is managed by the WMU Foundation, and gift cards will be distributed through state WMU offices in the states affected for disaster relief efforts.
“This has been a wonderful experience,” Serena Wilson, 25, of Farmington, N.M., said, “and I have learned so much. We are definitely coming back next year and bringing more women from our church.”
The 2006 WMU conference and Missions Weekender will be held at Ridgecrest Conference Center, Sept. 27–Oct. 1. Visit www.wmu.com for more information and details as they become available.