DRINKING FROM A FIRE HOSE
Snapshots of C&MA Council 2009
My arrival in Louisville two days before the start of the C&MA’s General Council was predictably chaotic. My mind was racing with the logistics of setting up a booth, attending committee meetings, gathering stories, executing worship services and—oh, yes—promoting alife. Although these stresses demanded their usual share of mental, physical and emotional energy, they were soon eclipsed by a spirit of anticipation that God was going to do something spectacular in our midst.
Early in the week, the fire hose from which I was drinking represented the overwhelming task—shouldered by a relatively small group of people—of pulling off this event. But before long, the hose came to symbolize the enormous flow of messages, ideas, emotions and encounters taking place on the floors of the Kentucky International Convention Center and the hotel properties within a five-block radius. The opportunities for engagement were far too great for me to possibly capture. For every sip I took, gallons rushed past. It became abundantly clear that I (and, consequently, this feeble report) would fail miserably in containing and carrying the torrent of soul-challenging content this event offered.
Risk and Sacrifice
Council opened with a spectacular parade of the nations, as international Alliance workers carried flags and banners representing many of the countries where God has established an Alliance church presence. Later that night, international worker Todd Adams delivered a stirring message highlighting four pioneer missionaries who laid down their lives to ensure that the message of Christ found its way to lost people in the dark interiors of Indonesia. Todd reminded us that a heart for the lost flows out of a heart of sacrifice, and that this critical strand of our “C&MA DNA” must not only characterize our pioneering past but our present and future as well.
The God of the Impossible
It was clear from the outset that our extraordinary God continues to use ordinary people to accomplish His purposes—in some real “against all odds” ways. Tim and Marilyn Westergren, serving in Spain, described how they are able to see fruit for the gospel in this highly skeptical, postmodern culture by building “bridges of trust that are strong enough to bear the weight of truth.” Later in the week, another couple conveyed the miraculous ways God has moved in a highly resistant spiritual climate to see thousands put their faith in the One who has proven Himself more personal and powerful than the god who once demanded their devotion.
During his seminar entitled Missions in the 21st Century: Reaching the Least-reached, Bob Fetherlin, vice president for the U.S. C&MA’s International Missions, laid out practical yet progressive strategies to take the gospel to remote, risky and resistant regions. Gary Benedict’s and John Soper’s “front porch” interviews with veteran workers Dennis and Marilyn Maves and Darrell and Cheryl Phenicie provided glimpses through doors God is opening into Central Asia and throughout the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. Later that week, the Alliance family commissioned 19 new appointees to walk through these and other open doors to the least-reached corners of our planet.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch . . .
The Council family was greatly encouraged by a Tuesday evening interview with Pete Hise, lead pastor of Quest Community Church in nearby Lexington, where more than 5,500 people have found faith in Christ over the past 10 years. Quest’s philosophy of ministry brings the tangible hope of Christ to hopeless and hurting people in its community in ways that contradict common cultural perceptions of the Church. God continues to move in and through the U.S. Alliance church family when it submits itself wholly to His plans and purposes.
Awaking the “Sleeping Giant”
Throughout the week, Gary Benedict, who was elected for a second four-year term as U.S. C&MA president, reminded us of the enormous Great Commission potential that lies within the sleeping giant of Alliance laypeople. Charlotte Stemple drove this point home in her story-rich Sunday morning challenge centering on the Alliance core value, Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully devoted disciple.
A Little Levity
There were many lighter moments throughout the week, as friends and colleagues, workers and supporters, mentors and protégés gathered in every hallway, corridor, restaurant and street corner to catch up on life and encourage one another in the faith. This is my favorite part of Council—the Alliance family reunion. Although it makes us late for meetings and robs us of sleep, we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Referring to the previous day’s ministry strategy session, when he laboriously maneuvered Council delegates through “amendments to amendments to amendments,” Friday morning speaker and veteran Council moderator David Goodin affectionately opened his message with the words, “You may be sick of me by now . . . but let me assure you, I’m just as sick of you.” At that point, we were reminded just how much of a family we are.
By the time the last note resounded from Sunday morning’s closing missionary march, the hose had come to represent far more than the flow of sights, sounds, stories and encounters; it had come to signify the abundant flow of the Christ life into every area of our lives and ministries. Every Council speaker (each from Alliance ranks) reminded us with passion and clarity that Christ, through His Spirit and His Word, is our all-sufficient source of everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).