Five Reflections after the International Wholistic Missions Conference

Like many others, the Faith to Action Initiative has a vision to change the world and see all children raised in loving families. Over the years, participating in conferences has been a main strategy in pursuing this vision.

After facilitating a workshop track on orphans and vulnerable children at the 2017 International Wholistic Missions Conference (IWMC) in Phoenix, Faith to Action reflected on the opportunities of conferences, such as IWMC, to support our efforts to change the world.

1. Overcoming competition to explore opportunities for partnership.

One of the benefits of conferences such as IWMC, is that they allow people and organizations to get their message, name, or product recognized. However, this can create a sense of competition. This year, the IWMC focused on the theme of Unity—a refreshing alternative to a natural inclination to self-promote. Participants were reminded of the opportunity to connect to and support each other.

The next great frontier in mission is collaboration, anything else is arrogance.
(Terry Dalrymple, keynote speaker at IWMC 2017)

When collaboration is intentional, conferences allow us to create genuine connections with people and organizations that align with our mission and can produce partnerships that will enhance our work in the future. Faith to Action made several significant connections at IWMC, including with partners in the Global CHE Network, a Christ-centered educational program that equips communities to achieve positive, sustainable change.

2. Opening up to powerful moments for encouragement and challenge.

The experience of attending a conference is often described as “drinking from a fire hose.” Certainly, it is true that not all the information being shared and presented can be digested; it is also true that a few powerful moments will stick in the minds and hearts of participants. On the second evening of IWMC, the keynote speaker, Dr. Celestin Musekura, President of ALARM, Inc., challenged us all to work together for reconciliation by instructing the audience to move from our seats to sit closer together, saying, “When you are spread apart you are cold. When we gather together our bodies warm each other.” This powerful allegory was repeated many times in the halls and workshops in the following days and will stick with participants as a reminder of the importance of working together.

3. Embracing opportunities for face-to-face interaction between experts and their audience.

In the digital age, it is easy to assume we have access to all the best information from the comfort of our laptops. However, conferences foster an important connection between experts and their audience—providing a powerful service to both. At the IWMC, Faith to Action hosted a track on orphans and vulnerable children, providing workshops such as Innovative Models in Family-Based Care, Transitioning Your Ministry to Family Care, Global Partnerships for Family Care, and Rethinking Orphanage Visits, each facilitated by people with decades of experience and expertise in the field.

Workshop attendees had access to and the undivided attention of the people they normally could only read about. In the same way, the speakers were able to interact with the attendees to better understand their perspectives and then to make their presentations more relevant and impactful. The resulting dialog was rich and authentic and improved each of us in ways that a computer screen cannot.

IWMC workshop presenters: Kristi Gleason, Vice President of Global Programs at Bethany Christian Services; Cathy Davis, Director of Wholistic Care at World Orphans; Elli Oswald, Associate Director of Engagement at Faith to Action Initiative; Randy Daniels, Vice President of Global Initiatives at Buckner International; Beth Bradford, Senior Technical Advisor at Maestral International; Cari Armbruster, Executive Director of Alliance for Children EverywhereJody Collinge, Curriculum Developer for Children’s CHE (not pictured); Kate Borders, Senior Mobilization Director at World Orphans (not pictured)

4. Combating isolation and creating a sense that you are not alone.

On a daily basis, many of us work in isolation—some physically and some philosophically. Conferences are an opportunity to join a community with a common interest or goal. At IWMC participants were called together to learn and be encouraged in pursing the “wholistic” gospel. One workshop participant reflected the impact of this effort expressing a relief that “I am not crazy to think this!” As a church missions leader, he experiences pressure from outside organizations and internal ministries to support care for orphans and vulnerable children that might not be in the best interest of children. The OVC Track at IWMC increased his conviction that the church is called to care holistically for children in the context of family.

I left the IWMC physically exhausted, but spiritually and intellectually energized to keep pursuing support of holistic care for children through my local church in the context of our community and around the world. 
(OVC Track attendee, IWMC 2017)
5. Introducing you to valuable tools and resources.

We all rely on tools and resources to help us accomplish our work. Faith to Action has utilized conferences to increase awareness of the free resources we provide to understand and support family-based care for children. At the IWMC we were excited to give presentations about and share our newest set of resources, the Transitioning to Family Care for Children: A Guidance Manual and Tool Kit, which equip churches, faith-based organizations, donors, and others seeing to transition their care and support of children from residential care models to care within families. Participants were quick to snag printed copies and excited to bring them back to their organizations.

Perhaps conferences alone cannot change the world, but the information, connections, and motivation that we take from them can. We leave this year’s IWMC energized and motivated to continue in our work to see all children raised in loving families—to change the world.

Elli Oswald is Faith to Action Initiative’s Associate Director of Engagement. She recently served as Director of Mission and Outreach at Bethany Community Church in Seattle, where she guided Bethany Community Church as they pursued God’s kingdom work daily, through various ministries to the poor and vulnerable in Seattle and around the world, including partnerships in Uganda, Rwanda and Costa Rica. Before being called to Bethany, Elli served as the Children in Crisis Research and Communications Coordinator for World Vision International’s Child Development and Rights Technical Team, specializing in community-based care for children deprived of parental care. She has a B.A. from Pepperdine University and a M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies and International Development from Fuller Theological Seminary.