By JOHN FORTMEYER
PORTLAND — Theme for last month’s Mission ConneXion Northwest, one of the region’s larger annual Christian events, was “Barriers and Breakthroughs” — a reminder that God provides the means to reach unreached places with His truths.
But perhaps the seriousness of that dependence on God became especially vivid on the second day of the Jan. 16 and 17 event at Sunset Presbyterian Church, when Bill MacLeod, the event’s founder and executive director, gave sobering news. He said he had just learned that only hours earlier, churches had been set ablaze and several people killed in the African nation of Niger by Muslim extremists — just one more incident in an expanding worldwide trend of radical Islamic violence against Christians.
“I’ll tell you, a year ago, it wasn’t as bad as it is now, or we didn’t know about it,” said MacLeod.
But even as such hostility rages, God’s people still must reach out with His love to touch the most hardened souls, he said. “We get (most) concerned because the people doing the killing are without Jesus,” said MacLeod.
While the challenges facing missions efforts were clearly acknowledged during Mission ConneXion, so were the victories outlined not only by keynote speakers but also in the dozens of workshops presented during the weekend. Attendance was strong at all presentations, although estimates were not available at press time for this newspaper.
In their first time together as featured speakers in a conference, Don Richardson, author of the famed Christian best seller, Peace Child, and his son Steven, president of the missions agency Pioneers, both offered captivating stories of their outreach years ago with the Sawi Tribe in Papua New Guinea.
The elder Richardson preceded his own story by mentioning the miraculous ways that God opened doors for such missionary pioneers as William Carey, Robert Morrison, Hudson Taylor and Jonathan Goforth.
In one example, he said that Carey was horrified by the 19th century Hindu practice in one part of India of the burning alive of widows. But despite his vigorous efforts, Carey, a Britisher, had difficulty campaigning for a ban on that practice until he got the idea to secure Danish citizenship — important in that particular part of India. That opened the door to his successfully getting a government ban.
“Did God make a way?” asked Richardson. “Yes, He loves to make ways.”
The younger Richardson pointed out that the first time his parents arrived to work with the Sawi Tribe, which had been known for its aggression to outsiders, that he accompanied them as a young child. It was his presence that persuaded the tribe to be peaceful toward the Richardsons.
“I remind my father from time to time, especially if I need to borrow any money, that he owes me his life,” said Steven, drawing great laughter.
He said the missions harvest today is multigenerational, diverse, vast, short-staffed, and “propelled by prayer.” There are assignments awaiting many Christians, but all too many are “spiritually jobless” because they aren’t discerning the Holy Spirit’s call to what Richardson called GDOs — “great doors of opportunity.”
“When the Lord calls, we must respond,” he said
JD Payne, pastor of church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., emphasized the huge outreach opportunities taking place right here in America, which is the world’s largest immigration target for many nationalities.
“How hard is it to preach the Gospel to Saudis?”, he said, giving one example. “It’s as easy as walking across the room (to them) at Starbucks.”
God is orchestrating it all, Payne said: “There is this divine maestro behind the movement of the nations.”
Also speaking was Ramesh Richard, an evangelist from India who teaches at Dallas (Texas) Theological Seminary. For more on the event, go to missionconnexion.com