Staying connected to those back home, to those who pray for, think about and support missionaries, is sometimes hard to do for the missionaries themselves.
But for the past 20 years, First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville has been trying to change that with its World Missions Conference.
“This is a conference that helps bring missionaries back to share their experiences,” said Lee Koontz, senior pastor at the church.
The World Missions Conference, set for Jan. 26-28, will be the 19th annual conference hosted by First Presbyterian Church, where missionaries from all over the world come to Gainesville to share their stories from the past year.
The stories they have help the people who support them, throughout the year feel more connected to the work they are doing in the states and abroad.
It’s something Koontz said one of the most important parts of the conference and also one of his favorite parts
“It’s important that both parties feel involved,” Koontz said. “That’s why we host this event. It gives a chance for the people who support the missionaries to hear about what they have been able to help, and it gives the missionaries a chance to see who helps them and thank them.”
While those connections are important, another big part of the conference is to raise money for those missionaries and other agencies the church supports. Last year, the conference surpassed its goal of $100,000. So this year, the church raised its goal to $103,000.
An event like this takes a lot of preparation. Each year there’s a different chairperson that coordinates the event. This year, it was Jane Mixon and her husband, Mark. She has been working on organizing the event, setting up the schedule and helping coordinate the missionaries’ arrivals for quite a while.
And the planning goes to the last minute. Just this week, the keynote speaker for the conference, Jose Luis Casal, had to abruptly pull out of the conference. Casal recommended Tamron Keith, executive acting director of the Presbyterian World Mission, replace him.
On top of having a keynote speaker, the day will be filled with different exhibits for guests to explore and learn more about missions. There will also be breakout sessions to hear from the 13 different missionaries to learn the details of what it is like on the mission field.
And of course, there will be a rice and beans lunch for everyone to enjoy.
Needless to say, it has been a difficult task for Mixon, but she said it’s a responsibility that’s very rewarding in the end.
“It is an honor to help put together a program to share with others what our missionaries do on a daily basis to spread God’s word and love,” Mixon said. “It involves a lot of hard work by many members but is very rewarding when it all comes together.”
Mixon has lived in Georgia for 29 years and has been a part of First Presbyterian for 18. She has attended different parts of the conference in years past, but last year was the first time she was there the whole weekend.
She and her husband were asked by the chair of the church’s Mission Ministry Committee, who also happens to be a member of their Sunday school class, to be the co-chairs of the conference. They decided to jump in head first.
After planning this year’s conference, Mixon has seen just how special it is to the missionaries. She said many of them look forward to the conference every year.
But for the guests who attend the conference, which are mostly church members with a few people from the community as well, they’re left with a sense of inspiration every time they walk out the doors.
“When we hear about their efforts to spread God’s word and love it motivates our support and enthusiasm and renews our commitment to missions,” Mixon said. “It makes missions come alive.”