The most pleasant surprises in Kiev were the lessons I learned from having an international conference outside of the US. Five positive advantages illuminated the value of holding the International Leadership Conferences in new lands.
As the event drew near, my expectations for the International Leadership Conference in Kiev, Ukraine were lowering due to the reduced number of registrants from the U.S-about 250. Many, including myself, questioned the call to have an ILC on soil other than the U.S. where a majority of our leadership and missions support resides.
For me that all changed.
The Decision-Making Advantage, Wednesday October 8
The delegate meeting before the conference began was telltale about our need to think “internationally” to overcome our US lenses. Since half of our churches are in the US, we naturally have a heavy US base of leaders. Decisions that also affect churches on the international scene seem more informed by the experience of being in another country
The delegate meeting itself was almost seamless as we evaluated progress, reviewed our service teams, changed some of the team leaders, made progress on locations for future conferences and appointed a temporary team for developing a long term conference strategy. We also launched an initiative to create a cooperation agreement summary to replace the original document which all agreed has become a period piece.
The report of this last year’s activities was especially encouraging. An astounding 2,700 men and women participated in the Singles conference in Dallas, over twice the original anticipated number. And 1,500 campus students worked with HOPEworldwide in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans as part of the ICMC. Regional conferences were held on Youth & Family Ministry. New communication tools were built to help each of these ministries and conferences, and DToday.org introduced our first online social network for disciples.
Clearly, most initiatives coming in had more to do with US needs. But having this year’s delegates meeting and International Leadership Conference in Eurasia was a definite advantage for broadening our faith, vision and future planning. Evangelists were constantly being reminded of our international mission and many US leaders, elders and evangelists, were being connected and consulted by churches across the globe.
Congregational Connection Advantage, Thursday
The nations where such events reside allow the host country and nearby countries to experience a once-in-a-lifetime vision which will encourage them for years to come. One brother brought 20 members from his church with the passionate realization, “This may be the only chance we have to attend an ILC in our lifetime.” And all the serving disciples in Kiev gave the rest of us something extra to remember.
Participants are forever grateful for “the white hats”, the name we gave hundreds of youth and some adults who lined the way to every place we went while wearing white hats with The Edge logo. They were constantly brightening the paths to and from our destinations with warm smiles and hugs. On occasions when I lost sight of where I was, I could just look for a white hat-even en route on a train when entering the station-the hats were our signal to get off at that train stop. They portrayed a great image: may we provide a well-lit path for those who haven’t found their way. Clearly the 2,000 member Kiev Church of Christ was both able to receive strength from the events and lay down their lives at the same time.
A few days later at church, we could spot those who had marked our journeys because of their unforgettable faces. The language barrier did not hinder the fellowship connection the following Sunday because we knew the same songs and a brother or sister who could translate was always nearby.
The Face to Face Faith Advantage, Friday
Attending conferences on non-US soil gives more people a chance to meet the people whose conversion and miracle stories have become like legends. This is the case for three stories of Moscow and Kiev which belong to the book of Acts for our time, for our fellowship of churches. I will use first names only.
First there was a former world-class wrestler and bodyguard for the Mafia who became a Christian as the result of losing a wager against the prayer of some disciples. Then there was the disciple who planned on taking his life by setting himself on fire after his last cab ride to pleasure. Instead the cab driver, who had picked up someone soon to be baptized, pulled over to pray, told the future disciple to pray, then brought him home; the next day the driver met two disciples, studied the Bible.. Two weeks later he was set on fire spiritually in baptism. Of course we cannot forget that two years ago a toddler fell nine floors from a balcony to the shock of her sister and mother. Her mother, a disciple, begged God to bring her motionless child back from apparent coma. The little girl woke up and fully recovered. Understandably, her father was exceedingly grateful and became a Christian. The main characters of all three stories were at the conference and were warmly greeted by all.
The Leadership Advantage, Thursday through Saturday
The main speeches of The Edge were rich and meaningful. And having more disciples from various parts of Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East who cannot regularly attend these conferences was another advantage.
Conferences such as these expose future leaders to see a bigger picture. These Christians can be inspired for new ways that their lives can serve God and meet those that they have admired from afar. Conferences in various parts of the world wake up older leaders to other parts of our global family.
A refreshing new approach to the program brought everyone in the conference together for all the messages. The subjects were held in blocks with one main message of 40 minutes followed by two ten minute segments. This meant that everyone heard the main points that every teacher said on a given subject. This approach was originally stimulated by limited facilities, but God showed us something valuable in bringing about a greater solidarity.
The immense advantage of bringing so many Christians to a new place to inject some ideas, hope and encouragement will reap benefits to that area for a lifetime. Each individual disciple’s experiences of being in that place will reap personal benefits and impact the congregations to which they returned.
The Multi-National Worship Advantage, Sunday
Worship with those in other tongues evokes the Pentecost image and inspires awe for God.
On Sunday the musical styles were choral, contemporary, a cappella and solo performances, each taking us to such places of praise that only a truly multilingual international setting can accomplish. The worshipful music made me think of rain on parched land as many attendees from small and distant places had not seen or experienced anything like it for many years, if ever. It left an indelible impression as it was apparent that God was receiving adoring worship and we were encouraging each other.
These five advantages were real. It was a great blessing to be in our first non-English speaking country for our annual conference of the International Churches of Christ. The question remains how often we should have the conference outside the US. Many missionaries and delegates have a preference for a US ILC because they can save travel funds and time by visiting supporting churches on the same trip as the ILC. Next year we will meet in Denver. The following year is scheduled for Miami as they were the only church to present a bid. Hopefully, the ILC will be held on other regions of the world in the years to come. We encourage the delegates to begin planning now for hosting future dates.
We left Kiev knowing that God is healing our fellowship and beginning a new healthy growth among us. We are making significant changes to our delegate process in order to facilitate an improved process for meeting International needs. We are encouraged that our delegates have a deeper role of service throughout the year.
We left knowing the importance of our relationships, face-to-face communication and making decisions through a process that involves international representation. We also left the Ukraine knowing the importance of “the white hats”. God is calling us back to The Edge.