Sarah arrived Friday night, so some of the main agenda items for us for Saturday were meeting with old friends. First we by the Northwest Nazarene University booth to reconnect with Julene Tegerstrand (whom we spent time with at Korea Nazarene University). Then, we had lunch with Matt and Darci Johnson, our good friends from our MidAmerica Nazarene University days. With Matt and Darci we talked about the present and future of our respective churches and discussed the blessed difficulty of having an amazing church in our history (Olathe Christ Community). Most of our friends look back wistfully on those years and that community, and we struggle not to compare our churches to that experience - no matter how good our current churches are. There is something profoundly encouraging and strengthening about spending time with old friends with whom you can connect with the same depth as if no time has passed!
My professional goal for the day was networking with magazine and book editors. I have accomplished more in the past two days with just a few hours of face time than I have accomplished over years of emails. Again, one of the great benefits of General Assembly is simply getting the decision makers from our far flung positions in the same place at the same time.
The focus of the evening service was missions. We called on people to sponsor children, with the goal of sponsoring 1,500 new children that night. I'm eager to find out how many sponsorships were gathered. One sponsored child from the Philippines is now a youth pastor in the USA, and he was able to meet the retired couple who sponsored him throughout his childhood - live on stage. That brought tears to my eyes as I thought about the future of Jibon and Asanti, the two children we sponsor in Bangladesh.
Jerry Porter was the preacher, and he's probably the best missions preacher I know. Also at more than an hour, it was one of the longest sermons I've ever experienced, but to be fair, the whole sermon was punctuated with testimonies from people from around the world about how they've engaged in evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.
We concluded with leaders from around the world bringing in placards with the names of major cities that our local leaders feel called to target with church planting. Porter asked us to commit to pray, to give, or to go in support of our Church's outreach into those cities.
Personally, I felt torn. I wanted to respond. I am a missionary after all. However, I also continue to feel called to our season of US service for many years to come. Finally, when I saw that one of the cities is Dhaka, Bangladesh, I knew that I could commit with my whole heart only to pray. I could not promise to give or to go because of our current limitations and because our local church may choose another partnership. But with tears in my eyes as I looked at the many many cities of more than 1,000,000 people who need a greater Christian presence, and with joy in my heart that I can help the Church of the Nazarene reach the slum children and garment workers of Dhaka, I roamed the room looking for the Dhaka sign so I could give my commitment card. I feel like this is one small way I can continue to keep my Bangladesh brothers and sisters in my heart.
On a side note, I actually got locked in a stairwell in our hotel. I was trying to exit to the outside from the second floor. I went through a door into a stairwell that said "Emergency Exit." I thought that it was just a fire door locked to the outside but open from the inside. When I went to the first floor exit, it was locked. When I went back to the 2nd floor door I had come through, it was locked, too. There were no other stairs or doors.
Thankfully, I had a smart phone with internet access. I got the number and called the front desk. The attendant told me to go up to the third floor to exit and proceeded to argue with me when I told her that in fact there was no third floor. Evidently, I was in such a rarely used stairwell that none of the staff actually knew where it was. For the next 15 minutes, while the hotel security was looking for me, I pounded on the door until my hand hurt and then moved to banging a car key on the metal part of the door. I felt like I was in a sunken ship in Pearl Harbor. Finally, they found me and set me free, and I had a good story to tell - which will probably find its way into a sermon at some point.