When I was a missionary kid, our annual field conference was one of the highlights of the year. It was the one time in the year that all the missionaries of our mission agency on our field got together in one place and hung out for a week.
It was like camp! There was VBS for the kids in the morning and sometimes even reel-to-reel movies from the States. And in the afternoons, we were free to run around, riding bikes and horses, climbing trees and taking hikes in the surrounding mountains while our parents were in meetings.
In the evening, there was a fellowship meeting for all ages (with coffee and baked goodies). The singing was great and the speaker for the week was usually a visiting pastor from the States.
And it was all in English. It was our little gringo oasis retreat.
When Eida and I went to Colombia in 1982 to serve with NTM, I was happy to hear that they also had an annual field conference. Since NTM personnel were all scattered around the country, it was the one opportunity in the year to get to know everyone and learn what they were doing.
But things weren’t exactly the same as when I was a kid.
During our first conference experience in Colombia, someone approached me one night at dinner and asked, “Steve, could you interpret for the meeting tonight?” There were some Spanish-speaking guests who wouldn’t be able to understand the speaker in English.
I was handed an FM microphone that transmitted a signal that could be picked up on portable radios (remember those?) with earphones. I had never done simultaneous interpreting before, but they encouraged me to give it a try, and it worked!
That first Spanish-language element in field conference was a little foretaste of what Eida and I were working toward in Colombia. We were there to help train believers from local evangelical churches to become cross-cultural church planters among tribal people. There were only a handful of candidates at first, as you can see inthephoto above.
The more Latin American missionary candidates were trained and joined our fellowship, the further into the past receded the old “gringo oasis” concept of field conference.
In time, I was given the job each year of enlisting interpreters and scheduling them. Then the day came when we invited the first Spanish-speaking conference speaker — and the tables were turned. Suddenly, it was the people who didn’t speak Spanish who needed to take their radios and earphones to the meetings.
These pictures we received yesterday of the entire current group of missionaries taken at this year’s field conference in Colombia were what triggered my reflections on how things have changed and our part in bringing that change about.
It warms our hearts to see the size of the missionary team growing each year and to realize that most of them are Colombian rather than foreign.
Everyone still loves field conference! It’s held at a popular vacation spot these days and it’s a great opportunity to catch up with each other around the pool, play games and sports, compare experiences, sing and pray together and listen to good teaching. It’s still like camp!
But it’s 90% Spanish now — strong motivation for the new foreign missionaries to get fluent in the national language (before they go to the jungle to learn a tribal language).
The transition has been made, it is now a Colombian mission —and that was the goal. They’ve taken the name “New Horizons” and we feel blessed to have had a small part in lifting the eyes of Latin American churches to those new horizons.
We do miss Colombia and our coworkers there, but we are grateful that the Lord continues to give us the privilege of contributing to their efforts to take the Good News to every people and language by providing them with important resource material in Spanish.
Thank you so much for accompanying us with your prayers and encouragement and financial support. We are very thankful to God for you!