From dorm room to the world
It was an unprecedented missions conference — uniquely designed for this generation.
University students with iPods and laptop computers chatted or surfed the Internet as they sipped lattes and café au laits between events. Plenary sessions, which were referred to as “gatherings,” featured fast-paced video presentations and passionate and inspiring speakers.
In some ways, the scene resembled a campus student union or a popular youth hangout. But the purpose of the gathering was for much more than fellowship. It was about missions — uniquely designed for their generation.
At the Assemblies of God World Mission Summit held over New Year’s weekend in Louisville, Kentucky, the urgency of reaching the lost was clearly evident from the opening session. As nearly 4,000 missionaries and college students met on a collision course with God’s purpose, the Great Commission came into clear focus. Students who attended didn’t all fit the stereotypical look of ministerial candidates — many sported T-shirts and frayed jeans. But they were serious about Christ’s mandate to go and reach the world with the gospel.
“I’m going into missions — period,” said Jason Stewart, a freshman at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. “I know what I need to aim toward in life and this conference ignited the fire in me even more.”
During the three-day summit — a cooperative effort of AG World Missions, U.S. Missions and Chi Alpha Campus Ministries — students were challenged to volunteer a year of their time for missions work in the United States or overseas after graduation. They also were asked to pray about the possibility of giving a year to missions and praying about a lifetime of ministry.
L. John Bueno, executive director of AG World Missions, says the response far exceeded organizers’ expectations. More than 700 students turned in commitment cards to make themselves available for a yearlong missions assignment after earning their degrees.
“I believe we can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that God crowned our efforts with His blessing and that long-lasting results will emanate from this meeting,” Bueno says. “We believe He was in this from the beginning.”
David Lee, AGWM director of U.S. Relations, says the students’ response was one of the high points of the conference. “We saw it as a tremendous moment of working together for a common goal to touch a generation and see students mobilized for ministry,” he says.
Students at the summit represented AG universities and churches and Chi Alpha groups from secular colleges across the nation. Nationwide, more than 250,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 attend AG churches or campus outreaches.
E. Scott Martin, national Chi Alpha global student missions representative who approached AG World missions leaders with his vision for the summit, says he wanted to find a way to connect these available young people with missions needs.
“I concluded that the reason we don’t fill more missionary associate positions is that many students aren’t aware of the need and how they can fill it,” he says. “We conduct missions conventions. We challenge students at retreats and camps. They come to the altar and cry and commit, but they need a more tangible way to fulfill the mandate. The incredible strength of the World Missions Summit is that it couples the challenge with the mobilization moment.”
The summit gave students opportunities to mingle with hundreds of U.S. and world missionaries and learn about the needs and challenges they face. Lee says missions leaders wanted to help students forge relationships in addition to hearing sermons. During four meals, students were divided into small groups and assigned to tables hosted by missionaries and national missions leaders. Missionaries told personal stories and offered advice and encouragement for students’ future ministry endeavors.
“I went to see what God would do in the lives of this generation,” says Wayne Cagle, Asia Pacific area director for leadership and training. “Connecting and building relationships is a vital way of moving the hearts of these young people.”
AG U.S. Missions Executive Director Alton Garrison says he and his wife, Johanna, especially enjoyed the relational aspects of the conference. “Sharing four meals with students was a highlight,” he says. “We believe this generation will be used of God to help complete the Great Commission and prepare this world for the soon return of Jesus Christ.”
In addition to plenary gatherings with the entire group, the conference also offered breakout sessions that allowed students to interact with missionaries directly.
“It was an amazing experience to see students lined up to get into these events,” Lee says. “The rooms, which could handle about 200 people each, were packed all the time with more young people waiting to get in.”
A large exhibit hall featured a colorful array of booths highlighting Assemblies of God home and world missions efforts. One display even included a yurt, a domed tent used by nomads in Central Asia. Missionaries stationed at the booths provided additional opportunities for meaningful conversation.
“Each missions region and ministry profiled their area of the world and made it interactive,” says Dennis Gaylor, national director of Chi Alpha. “Students received information and even interviewed for positions and filled out applications in the exhibit hall.”
“The World Missions Summit was phenomenal,” says Jenny Egge, Chi Alpha campus pastor at the University of Wyoming. “I have heard nothing but praise from my students and other campus pastors who attended.”
Participants not only heard about missions, but also experienced it. Interactive presentations transported them around the world to hear, see — and in some cases even smell — a few of the cultural settings in which missionaries live and work. These “missions experience” sessions dramatically portrayed life in the United States and around the world. The Eurasia experience depicted a Middle Eastern bazaar with costumed missionaries representing various people, including an Orthodox priest, a Hindu holy man, burka-wrapped Muslim women and Russian soldiers. The smells of horse manure, garlic and incense combined to make a strong impression.
“All of this was served up to 150 students packed knees-to-back in each of six emotional sessions,” writes Doug Clark, Eurasia area director for the Middle East and North Africa.
After meeting missionaries and coming face to face with the challenge of missions, students, sponsors and missions workers joined in prayer for nine specific areas of the world. On New Year’s Eve they participated in a missions offering, giving more than $109,000 in cash and pledges for a student outreach center in Linz, Austria.
Near the end of the conference, students crowded to the front of the hall to dedicate their lives to missions service for one year. After placing commitment cards on the altar, they walked to a microphone and named the nation where they sensed God calling them. Many expressed a willingness to go wherever they were needed.
“I have been wondering what I will do immediately after I graduate,” says Sean Fowler, a telecommunications major from Gainesville, Florida. “I am seeing some different missions opportunities that I am definitely interested in.”
Garrison says he welcomes the involvement of students in missions work. “Every believer must begin thinking like a missionary,” he says. “The lost must be reached with the salvation message regardless of their location — the other side of the world or across the street.”
“I can’t begin to express the impact the World Missions Summit had on me,” says Bueno. “I believe the lasting effects of this meeting will be a tremendous influence in our churches and in our mission fields.”
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