2019 Annual Conference of Congregational Churches
--Pastor Jamey Nichols
I recently returned from Cleveland, OH where, for the second time now, I attended the annual gathering of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC). My first experience was three years ago and some of the same sorts of things have shined through both times.
One of the most remarkable and personally enjoyable aspects of our church association is the variety and quality of the missionaries. Here at FCC, we support our own missionaries and they’re certainly great. The missionaries who are supported collectively through our association—and in part by our annual contribution to the association—are wonderfully diverse both in geography and ministry. An entire room in the hotel was packed with displays in front of which representatives took time to visit and elaborate on what they did and what God is doing in their particular work. By the end of my time and following a few return visits to take in all that was offered, I had connected with a handful of missionaries whose work might be something we would team up with in the future.
Because FCC rallies to our short-term mission trips, I’m always on the lookout for possible mission destinations. In addition to the disaster relief work we have often undertaken, I also like to minister in places where godly brothers and sisters have committed their lives to long-term work. I like not only the gospel ministry we engage in, but I also like to see new places, and I like our church family being exposed to new and different ministry contexts.
The Happy Life Children’s Home in Kenya, Africa is an orphan ministry that brings a smile to my face whenever I see their pictures or read their newsletter. This long-tenured ministry is solidly established among a people group where the abandonment of babies is sadly common. Happy Life stands in the gap and shows the love of Christ to “least of these” by giving shelter, clothing, and education. The goal of the mission is to see each child adopted but, unfortunately this just isn’t the case. Instead, the children who aren’t formally adopted are still considered “family” to those who work tirelessly on their behalf. Not only was I able to meet again the state-side directors of Happy Life, but I was also able to visit with a woman who visited the orphanage a few years ago. She radiated as she spoke of her experience spending four days holding and loving on infants and children who devoured the opportunity for physical contact.
Another missionary I met was a bi-lingual pastor named Julio who retired from his ministry in Plant City, FL only to find himself called unexpectedly by God to help care for churches in Cuba. He told me of his many trips to encourage the pastors and congregations of the budding little churches in various locations around a heavily communist country. Christian visitors entering the country for ministry reasons aren’t very welcome right now, but he manages to get in under the status of a tourist and he beamed as he spoke of his retirement ministry. He practically begged me to consider bringing a group with him sometime to help him bless Christian Cubans in his network.
A third mission that deserves mention is one that took me several minutes to wrap my brain around. They call themselves A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP). ACMNP has existed since 1951. Their first setting was Yellowstone and they are now peppered in parks across the nation. Their ministry is to provide a Christian community for those who live (yes, live!) in our national parks. National parks are full of transient workers who fill a variety of positions including grounds upkeep, concession vendors, and other park-support tasks. Amy, the communications director of ACMNP was thrilled to talk about what God was doing and encouraged me to consider bringing a group to one of the many locations where we could serve God in the beautiful environment of His creation and among some of the most broken people you might imagine. Ninety percent of the people, she estimates, flock to temporary park employment in the hope of finding healing for emotional pain. What they discover is that the beauty of the land is not what they need for healing, but rather the beautiful grace of God extended in the blessings of Jesus’ life and death.