*PLEASE NOTE: Some names and information have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals mentioned*
We hold a number of sizable events on Lancaster Bible College’s campus, and the annual Missions Conference is not among those ranks. Considering the fact that the college hosts approximately 40,000 guests on its campus annually, by the numbers, it could even be called insignificant.
However, the Missions Conference – which has been running for over almost five decades – has literally changed the lives of some of our students.
Each year, the college’s Intercultural Studies program organizes a three-day long event that celebrates the work God is doing around the globe through missions. Missionaries, faculty and students get the chance to mingle, talk and pray together about where God is calling them. During this event, our students are privileged to hear from missionaries serving all over the globe in various ministries.
The theme of this year’s event, Reaching the World As One, harkens back to John 17:20b – 21. In it, Jesus prays that His followers will labor together for the sake of the gospel, saying, “ . . . that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Over and over again, we have watched our students hear this call and say without reserve, “Yes!” As we reflected on nearly five decades of hosting the Missions Conference, we spoke to three students about the role that it played in their lives as students – and how it shaped their futures as missionaries.
Evan Smith, a May 2016 graduate, credits his time at LBC as one of the ways that God called him to serve as a missionary. “I did not come to LBC with the intentions of going into fulltime, cross-cultural missions,” explained Smith, “I have a great burden for the church . . . in the United States, so I assumed that God was calling me to stay,” he paused, then continued, saying, “However, the more I learned about the needs all over the world, through LBC’s Missions Conference and other conferences, the more I started to see that going wasn’t such a bad idea.”
Smith recounted how his interactions with the missionaries profoundly affected him. “Each year, [the Missions Conference] has impacted me in different ways,” he explained, “Overall, the greatest impact has come from interacting with people who have served - and are serving - all over the world.” Some of the acquaintances that he made during the Missions Conference have morphed into deep, long-term friendships. “I have been able to maintain a connection with some of the missionaries that I met in my earlier years at LBC,” said Smith, “And now one of them is actually mentoring me.”
Smith’s view of missions has changed during his time as a student. “I used the condition of Christianity in our country as an excuse to not even ask God if I should go,” he explained, “[But] we all have a role to play. For many, this will mean staying right here and making disciples of American citizens. However . . . it is so important for all of us to ask and be truly willing to say, “Here I am, Lord. If it be your will, send me.””
Andrea Beech, a 2009 graduate of LBC, along with her husband and fellow alumnus Caleb Beech, are preparing to enter into full-time missions in the Philippines. According to Beech, the Missions Conference was an event she and her husband eagerly anticipated each year. “Speaking with others who were passionate about making disciples globally felt like home – it was connecting with people whose hearts were bent like ours,” she said enthusiastically.
The Missions Conference proved to be extremely influence in the Beech’s lives. “In 2006, we had a memorable conversation over lunch with a representative from World Team [a missions agency]. At the time, we didn’t realize how significant it would be in our lives.” She went on to explain that many years later, in the midst of the couple’s pursuit to find a way to serve in cross-cultural ministry, “. . . we both remembered our conversation with World Team during Missions Conference - even though it was nine years ago at the time! We added them to our list and contacted their mobilization department.”
The Beech’s quickly decided that World Team was the right fit for them – the organization’s mission, vision and values aligned with their own, and they were excited about the prospect of aiding in church planting efforts in the Philippines. “We are so thankful for LBC’s role in bringing us into partnership with them,” said Beech.
Beech explained that God had been preparing their hearts to serve as missionaries in a foreign context for many years. “As teenagers, we came to a deeper realization of His leading. In college, we took practical steps toward full-time ministry, and now as married adults with two small children, we are finally going!” Now, the Beech’s tentative leave date is August 2017 and they are prayerfully – and joyfully – preparing to go.
Kendra Lamar*, a 1999* graduate of LBC who has spent time serving abroad as an English teacher in Asia, explained to us that the Mission’s Conference proved immeasurable valuable to her life in two ways: first, “The conference challenged my prayer life,” Lamar explained, “It encouraged me to pray in a more global way.” Secondly, because of her fascination with other cultures and her desire to live overseas, “[The Missions Conference] was a valuable time to talk to the mission representatives and soak in their wisdom and advice for taking tangible next steps in my journey to the nations.”
Lamar’s interactions with missionaries at the Missions Conference, paired with her academic preparation through LBC’s Bible-centric education, equipped her for her work as a missionary. “I had two and a half years of intense Bible enrichment, discipleship and plenty of life lessons learned,” stated Lamar, “Those tools were invaluable to . . . get[ting] through the last two years of living cross culturally.”
Lamar’s natural gifts, combined with her professional training in LBC’s TESOL major, made her well-prepared to serve abroad as an English teacher when the opportunity came. “My work as a cross-cultural worker is to use the talents and gifts God has given me while being intentional in creating disciples at the same time,” explained Lamar, “I teach English to foreigners. God has given me a heart and passion for teaching, languages, cultures and people. I can do what I love while telling people about Who I love.”
Its stories like these that inspire the faculty and staff of LBC to invest in the lives of our students. From the first time they first step foot on our campus, until the final moment when they cross the stage at graduation, our vision for their lives remains unchanged: to educate Christian students to think and live a biblical worldview and to proclaim Christ by serving Him in the Church and society.