By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher
PORTLAND — One of the Northwest’s largest annual in-person Christian events remained very large last month in its 19th run, even though the COVID-19 pandemic forced a big change.
Presented for the first time ever as an online-only event, Mission ConneXion Northwest still drew thousands. Exactly how many thousands is unclear, but the number viewing virtually was sizable.
“We just finished our quick debrief with the production team and learned from our website guru that over 8,500 folks visited our website Thursday through Saturday (Jan. 14-16),” said Bill MacLeod, the event’s founder and director, “A record number — and over 4,300 on just Saturday. We are on a big learning curve.”
Although close to 2,000 people actually took time to register, “many hosted watch parties, so we suspect the count was higher,” added event coordinator Abigail Smith. “As always, there are a million caveats in the digital world.”
MacLeod said feedback from viewers about the format was very positive. In addition to his own team, he especially commended the work of Clackamas-based event production team Spirit Media.
“People were telling me all weekend through email and texts that they thought it went superbly, that it was very smooth and it moved them,” MacLeod said.
Sponsored by many area churches, Mission ConneXion again included its traditional mix of plenary sessions, dozens of workshop options, and exhibitors — but this time in the virtual format.
Theme this year was “Speak His Name… Jesus,” The conference’s four keynote speakers were Daniel Fusco, Dr. Issam Raad, Natacha Chantel and Greg Stier.
“When Jesus is at the center and we speak His name, we live according to His nature, then we begin to step into all God has,” said Fusco, who is lead pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, Wash.. “We don’t want to just speak His name, we want to do everything in His name.”
Fusco urged viewers to find rest and stability in God, even in the midst of a very unsettled world. “All the disruption going on right now presents unique opportunities to speak the name of Jesus in fresh ways, if we remember to let the peace of God rule in our hearts.”
He also emphasized the need for those pursuing the mission field to seek unity with all of God’s people. “Our strength is mutliplied, when we are unified,” he said.
To combat discouragement in the task of taking the Gospel to a needy world, Fusco called for a thankful and worshipful attitude, explaining that worship energizes missions efforts. He also urged those in missions to spend regular time in God’s Word. “We don’t just want a superficial understanding of the Word, but want it to dwell richly in us,” he said. “You can survive for a while on yesterday’s manna, but ultimately you will become malnourished.”
Founding president of Health Outreach to the Middle East, a medical missions ministry, Raad said missions work is the highest calling of all.
“We’re delivering a cure for the most fatal disease that has afflicted mankind through the ages, which is the disease of sin,” he said.
Raad’s ministry does work in numerous nations and regions, including Egypt, Mauritania, South Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. He said acts of “mercy, kindness and love” pair up well with presentations of the good news of Christ.
“I can show people the love of Christ in a practical way,” he said. “I chose to do medicine. Maybe you can do it in a different way … It’s not (just) a social gospel if you’re presenting the true Gospel.”
Chantel was raised in a Muslim family in Turk-menistan but was led to faith in Christ by missionaries. She currently co-pastors a church in Germany with her husband, but they now feel called to return to Turkmenistan to do missions work there.
“Can you imagine how deeply grateful I am to those missionaries for their choice to come to my country?” she said. “They were just oridinary, God-loving people with a desire to go and make disciples of all nations.”
Despite many challenges such as COVID-19, the best time to pursue missions is “always, right now,” she said, adding that “if God calls, He also will provide.”
Stier is founder and president of Colorado-based Dare 2 Share ministry, with an emphasis on youth.
He said his own “very tough, very mean” family eventually came to know Christ because of a “fearless preacher” who first shared the Gospel with his uncle.
He commended those viewing the Missions ConneXion conference for their interest in what he calls seeing people “gospelized.”
“You want to see every last person reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said, noting that 150,000 people die each day worldwide — most facing a Christless eternity.
“Every last person must be gospelized, and every last believer must be mobilized, and every last leader must be energized,” he said.
Stier pointed out that statistics show that 77 percent of people who come to faith in Christ do so by age 18, but only 5 percent do so after age 30.
“Whatever you are doing in your missions strategy, make room for teenagers,” he said. “They come to Christ quicker and share the Gospel faster.”