At a mission conference I attended around 1991, a theme emphasized was this: “The church that really believes in mission does not only send money to support mission, but also sends its children into the mission field.” I’ve been pondering this theme since attending the New Wilmington Mission Conference late in July. NWMC has been meeting every summer since 1906. Its purpose is to ignite in young people an understanding of and passion for serving Jesus in global mission.
What can an old dinosaur of an organization like the New Wilmington Mission Conference do today? Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, it is doing just what it's board has intended since its inception: to educate and mobilize young people to serve.
A couple of cases in point: One is Michael and Rachel and their two young children who are serving in a frontier mission setting in a Muslim majority area of West Africa. I had dinner with them in New Wilmington and hope to visit them in West Africa next year. Michael is a young pastor who has served congregations in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Rachel’s family has been involved in New Wilmington Mission Conference for three generations. Rachel’s dad, Don Dawson, who grew up going to this conference, is now it's director.
Another family I’ve gotten to know through the New Wilmington Mission Conference is Tom and Katrina English. I’ve known Tom and Katrina and their four children for about ten years since meeting them there. Tom grew up attending NWMC with his parents and has attended for 42 years. Katrina has been going for almost as many years as Tom.
In the summer of 2006, Tom and I led a group of college students from NWMC on a six-week expedition into remote areas of Siberia and Eastern Russia. My daughter Hannah accompanied us as a translator. It was a rugged journey in which we were often without running water, and slept on trains, on the floor of boats, in tents or cramped in small houses. Once we were stranded in an isolated fishing community and had to negotiate our passage back to the city on a fishing trawler.
Tom is now the chairman of the NWMC board. This summer at the conference I bumped into Tom and Katrina’s oldest daughter Maddie. She is a senior at Otterbein University. Her healthful and youthful face was radiant with joy. She told me that she is engaged to be married next spring after graduation and together with her husband will head out to serve on the mission field in Southeast Asia with one of PFF’s partners. I’m happy for them.
During the eleven years we served in mission in Russia, one of our greatest joys as a family was to get together for fellowship with other mission families. It’s hard to describe the joy of being with such brothers and sisters and their children when you are far from home. At New Wilmington I meet some of the same families and people year after year. There is a core group of diehard mission activists, current and former mission workers and missional families that keep coming back. Why? For the same reason we got together with families in Moscow. Families and friends in mission need one another. They draw strength for the journey from one another.
The collective wisdom of experienced and inexperienced missionaries and mission leaders, young and old, who gather at New Wilmington each summer creates a deep reservoir to sustain new generations of missional servants that arrive there to be challenged, to learn and grow.
This year there were fresh currents of collaboration at NWMC. Pastors and mission leaders from ECO and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church took active roles along with PC(USA) mission people. I encourage you to mark next year’s dates of July 23-30, 2016 on your calendar to take part. Go with a friend, your family and take your congregation’s youth.
Is it right to take our children abroad to countries where they may face danger or risk? Or encourage them as young adults to go? Is it worth the sacrifice? We believe that in the economy of God (that is, when he calls people, disposing their hearts, minds and wills), it is a very good and right thing. Our children, who grew up in Russia, where we served in mission for eleven years, are grateful for those years. We are reminded that God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, and he freely gives us all things. It is a singular joy to serve him!