It’s pretty bad when a parishioner points out to you that you missed a perfect opportunity to do live blogging at a major international missions conference! So, properly chastised, and having in mind Robin Williams’ words “better latent than never,” I offer some thoughts and reflections on the New Wineskins Conference. There’s a lot to say, so I’ll break it up into a number of small, manageable posts.
First, the setting was breathtakingly beautiful. Held April 8-11, 2010 at Ridgecrest Conference Center in western North Carolina, we were only minutes away from the Blue Ridge Parkway and a short drive down Route 40 from Montreat and Asheville. When you’re getting away from things to spend time with God it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of God’s stunning creativity and handiwork every time you open your eyes.
Once inside and taking in the information at various talks and workshops, though, our focus changed. Missionary work around the world today is a risky and dangerous thing. Gone are romantic notions conjured up by popular biographies of David Livingstone (of Stanley fame) or Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame. Spreading the Gospel is difficult work and opposition can be formidable. Not everyone survives it.
The opening teaching from Fr. Miguel Uchoa, based on Psalm 5, focused on how to handle opposition. “When hard times come, pray hard,” he said. Meditate on the word of God every day – it’s like putting gas in the car. Opposition is sure to come, he said, even from church hierarchy. Opposition tends to empty us of mercy – therefore we pray for our enemies. When opposition comes, seek guidance from God and find refuge in God.
Fr. Uchoa was followed by keynote speaker Baroness Caroline Cox. I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to hear her. Baroness Cox is not well known in the U.S. but she is a household name in the U.K., a member of Parliament in the House of Lords, known for her lifelong commitment “to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves” and an author of a number of books exposing human rights atrocities around the world.
Her books are not easy to read. Not that the writing is difficult; if anything the language is very straightforward. Simply that one cannot read a great deal in one sitting. At the conference I picked up a copy of one of her books that I’ve been wanting to read for some time: This Immoral Trade, which exposes the practice of modern-day slavery. I’ve read 47 pages in a week’s time. This stuff just can’t be taken in quickly.
We’ve been taught in school to believe that slavery is a thing of the past. Once Britain and America abolished the slave trade, that was it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Baroness Cox’s book publishes first-person accounts of slavery in Sudan, Uganda, Burma, Mauritania and other places around the world, including child slaves and women sold as sex slaves. She takes names. She takes photographs. And at the same time she is giving these victims an international voice she is also organizing what resources she can to ease the suffering of those she meets.
In her travels Baroness Cox also supports and encourages indigenous ministries, particularly in the southern hemisphere. In the process of doing so she has witnessed many Christians giving all they have rather than deny Jesus. She has been entrusted with many first-hand accounts of modern-day miracles and modern-day martyrs. At the suggestion of a friend, she has followed in the footsteps of the inspirational classic Fox’s Book of Martyrs and compiled Cox’s Book of Modern Saints and Martyrs. I’m slowly making my way through this one as well.
All who met Baroness Cox at the conference remarked at her humility and noted that she insisted people “call me Caroline”. With a background in nursing, as she remarked at the beginning of her address, “I never met a Baroness until I was one!” Notes on her keynote address follow in the next post.