Missions Fest: pleasant surprises, strong seminars, changes next year . . .

Gilbert Nigh (left) and David Innes met at Missions Fest; both got their jobs through this website.

Every year, Missions Fest is a wonderful place to catch up with old friends and acquaintances. And sometimes those chance meetings have a unique back story.

This year I had the pleasure of running into two men who found their current ministry positions through Church for Vancouver’s  job listings – at booths just a few feet from each other. 

On Friday afternoon I came across David Innes at his Vancouver Urban Mission (VUM) booth – which he manned gamely and with enthusiasm, to all appearances, throughout the weekend! VUM provides free one-on-one tutoring in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhoods.

David is now well ensconced in his role as executive director of VUM, but when he arrived in Vancouver from England at the beginning of September 2016 he was looking for work. He found the Church for Vancouver job site and by November 1 was working with VUM. Immediately before coming to Canada he had been a pastor in a drug and alcohol facility called the Carpenter’s Arms in Loughborough, England.

Gilbert Nigh was helping out at the SIM Canada booth, though he is now a pastor with the English-speaking congregation at Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church. He was serving with SIM in Lusaka, Zambia (which happens to be where I was saved in the 1970s) when he looked at the Church for Vancouver website for positions in BC. He began at VCBC in May 2015.

That was an encouraging start to the weekend for me.

Mission Fest founders

Richard and Arlene Dodding have been involved with Missions Fest since the beginning.

It was also a real pleasure to run into Missions Fest founders Richard and Arlene Dodding, both looking very well. Richard was CEO of Missions Fest from its founding in 1984 until 2007 and is now CEO of Missions Fest International, which has 10 registered member cities, mostly in Africa. Others are waiting to join.

They were waiting for an African friend who they had been introducing to Missions Fest when I met them. Richard wrote to me later:

Rev. Jean Beya, the man who represents Missions Fest International in Africa, was visiting MF Vancouver this year – his first time in Canada. He helped plant the first Missions Fest in Africa in the city of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was a six-day conference and as.a participant, I can say that it was a great beginning.

Living in Johannesburg, Pastor Beya usually travels to all the other cities in South Sahara that hold annual Missions Fest conferences, where he serves as one of the plenary speakers and mentors the local leadership team.

Go here for a history of Missions Fest and of Missions Fest International.

Into the Neighbourhood

Mae-Ling Yen in creating community in her high rise on the west side.

Barry Jung hosted ‘Neighbours on Purpose,’ introducing four story-tellers who described their up-close interactions with people in their particular Vancouver communities. Each talk was moving in its own way.

I hope to come back to at least some of their stories in the next few weeks, but here is a brief introduction:

Mae-Ling Yen is community life director with The Tapestry Church in Richmond, but she also devotes much of her energy to the community of highrise condo dwellers where she and her husband now live at West 11th and Hemlock in Vancouver. Neighbours who had never met now greet each other in the hallway, having gatherings outside and take part in block parties.

Anika Barlow lives at the Kinbrace refugee housing community in the Commercial Drive area. Describing herself as “kind of like a professional neighbour,” she spoke of how much she learned from a visually impaired young woman who once stayed with them. The young woman stated: there are two types of neighbours – those who simply live near you and ‘friendly neighbours.’ (For an interview I posted with Barlow last fall go here.)

Chris Hyndman is very actively involved in West End community groups.

• Chris Hyndman is now minister of worship for Meta Communities in the West End. But that was not where he was headed; raised a cultural Christian, he led a new age / sex / drugs / rock and roll life. He was depressed and saw “only darkness ahead” when he met pastor Dennis Wilkinson and his family who were “doing life well.” It’s been a long journey, but feeling secure in the church has allowed him to take an active role in the community around him – he is now on the PAC board at his kids’ school and a director at the West End Community Centre.

Jenn Richards lives in Olympic Village, “a neighbourhood built around isolation.” She described Life Church’s weekly community group, which hosts pub nights at the Tap and Barrel once a month. Noting that the OV neighbourhood is still developing, not mature, “but does beer shockingly well,” she said the bar owners have welcomed their initiative, saying, “This is exactly what Olympic Village needs.”

Brian McConaghy

Brian McConaghy has devoted much of his life to Cambodia.

Brian McConaghy was a keynote speaker at Missions Fest two years ago, but I can never get enough of hearing about the good work he and Ratanak International are doing in Cambodia, so I attended his seminar this year as well.

He recounted how he moved from working as a forensic weapons expert with the RCMP at sites like the Pickton farm to running a vibrant ministry which saves, protects and houses young victims of trafficking in Cambodia and, increasingly, around Asia.

For a good overview of his journey go here or read the two articles by Pat Johnson in the Vancouver Courier following Missions Fest in 2017: Vancouver man’s charity work guided by ‘hand of God’ and Vancouver man behind Cambodian charity helped save 5 girls from sexual exploitation.

In fact, while he has a strong bond with the young women he helped save as children, he and Ratanak have helped hundred if not thousands of other victims of human trafficking.

Salim Munayer & Lisa Loden

Lisa Loden has spend her life working for peace.

I won’t be able to do justice to the contribution made by Salim Munayer and Lisa Loden here, but thank God for their example as peacemakers in one of the most contentious areas in the world.

They spoke several times during Missions Fest, including during the final plenary session. Kudos to Missions Fest for inviting them.

Munayer, a Palestinian Israeli, said:

The uniqueness of Christ is his focus on love, especially on those who are different. . . . If we truly love God we should not fear those who want to harm us physically.

Loden, a Messianic Jew living in Israel, said:

Salim is my brother; he is closer to me than my own siblings.

You can watch both of them speaking during the closing session on the Missions Fest Facebook page.

John Hall: Discipleship, looking ahead

John Hall, bringing Missions Fest 2019 to a close.

Toward the end of the Missions Fest weekend, executive director John Hall sat down with Shannon Stange for a video conversation about discipling and reflected on some final thoughts about this year’s gathering, which was titled ‘Mission: Discipling.’

Asked “what has percolated to the surface for you this weekend,” he said:

All of the speakers this weekend have had a sense from the Holy Spirit to really put a stake in the ground. Where a message might give people a way out, this year our speakers are not. They’re saying, this is what scripture says; if we’re going to be obedient to Christ, this is the way we need to respond.

I feel like we’re at a tipping point. We’re entering an age of radical response to Christ. I’m excited for it, I’m scared at the same time because there’s always a tension that arises with that kind of radical position. We see it in Jesus’s own ministry, where the Pharisees just could not accept that message.

So, amazing days ahead, but at the same time, difficult days ahead. . . .

Hall referred to the questions on the commitment card for the final event of Missions Fest: “This isn’t just a salvation message, but it’s also a message of being a disciple”:

  • I commit to living under Jesus’s authority
  • I commit to making disciples of all nations
  • For support and accountability I will tell _____

Missions Fest will be back again next year, though there will be at least a couple of changes. The gathering will move back to the last weekend in January (as it has generally been over the years). But for the first time, it will be two days instead of three.

The theme next year will be Altar Vision, “diving into what it means to live the surrendered life.”

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