Spiritual Life Conference, usually just called "conference", is a highlight of the year for everybody. Many missionaries work in isolated places. All are stretched, working harder and longer than they ever thought possible. Many have exciting things happening in their work while others are discouraged. We all get together and have great fun, food, and fellowship. And imagine all the little missionary kids, many who have only their siblings to speak English with, coming together at conference. Believe me, there are a lot of hugs, stories, tears, and prayers shared while the kids play, play, play. It's like an enormous family reunion. The messages are great because many missionaries preach Sunday after Sunday or they sit in a service where they don't completely understand the message. It's so nice to be fed in a language you understand! This year was especially good because the speaker was Terry Ribble, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Dunmore, PA that supports us. He spoke in French and his messages were translated into English.All meals except breakfast are eaten together. The first night, the senior class makes spaghetti and sells it as a fund-raiser. Here are Ed and me, making spaghetti for almost 200 people. Let me tell you, it's a challenge to get the spaghetti out of that big pot! I have no intentions of going into the restaurant business, even though this is my 3rd year to cook for the spaghetti supper. All the seniors and most of their parents helped with the meal.
John and another missionary organized the worship and the teens led one of the services. Because John and the other missionary shared the organization, it wasn't as much work as it has been in some years (but it was still a lot of work!). The worship was great, bringing glory to God. We even had a flautist this year to join the worship group! About a month before conference the drummer fell into a glass window when his ladder slipped, badly injuring his hand. He was able to play for conference, though.
Somehow, we never got a picture of Pastor Terry preaching. We were too busy taking notes and enjoying his meals of steak to take pictures! He spoke on the Keys to Interior Peace. Maybe these are the keys?I think that last one should be Coke, not coffee. But no, thankfully, that's not how we get inner peace! The keys, based on Philippians 4, are unity, an attitude of gentleness, prayer with thanksgiving, mastery of thoughts, and obedience.
After some of the messages we had small groups for discussion of the message. Other times during the day it was not unusual to see groups of people sitting around like this, chatting together, encouraging one another. I don't mean that we are really spiritual and all we talk about is spiritual things....but just hanging out together is an encouragement. That's John with his back towards the camera.
During conference people in different ministries share some of the joys and trials of their work during the past year. Then we pray for those ministries and for the missionaries involved. SIM's motto is still "By Prayer"!
One of the evenings is "Fun Night" and that's when the true talents of the missionaries shine. It is two hours of non-stop laughter. Somehow, I think a lot of tension is relieved that night! Here is John doing some kind of skit.
The last service before we go our various ways is communion and sharing. The man on the right passed out the first morning of conference, was taken for a CAT-scan, and was discovered to have a brain tumor. The neuro-surgeon said he was sure it was benign, and it was decided that he and his family would return to Australia for the surgery to remove it. Here he is thanking the mission family for our prayers during his time in the hospital (most of conference). He has since had the surgery and is doing quite well, but is still in the hospital in Melbourne.
The day after the conference, four of our missionaries were returning to Galmi. The man driving swerved to avoid hitting a child who ran out in the road. Unfortunately he couldn't miss the child and he was killed. The vehicle then went off the shoulder, which was a drop off, jumped a ravine then rolled before coming to rest upright. The villagers who witnessed the accident were amazed to find anybody alive. We almost lost one of our missionaries who had a severe concussion and bleeding on the brain. She was brought to Niamey where she had brain surgery to relieve the bleeding and swelling. It was a frightening time, but she is now out of the hospital and recovering at home. The missionary driving has been declared not at fault in the death of the boy. I know many of you have prayed during this time.
It was a difficult way to end our conference. It has been like a test: Can you apply these keys to inner peace? Thank God He is with us. One of the last verses Pastor Terry shared with us was "And may the God of Peace be with you." It's interesting that he doesn't say peace will be with you, but he says the God of Peace will be with you. Peace only comes when He is with us!