BLUFFTON — Ebenezer Mennonite Church will be hosting its 50th Annual Missions Festival, starting Sunday and running through Nov. 17.
“The first missionary festival was started by Pastor Dan Dalke in 1963,” said Jim King, senior pastor at Ebenezer Mennonite Church. “I’m not sure where he got the idea, but he wanted to promote missions because we were already supporting missionaries.”
The church has a long history of supporting missionaries. Not only is this year the 50th anniversary of the first mission festival, but it also marks the 100th year the church has been financially supporting and sending out missionaries.
Currently, the church supports 43 different missionaries on every habitable continent, as well as, giving to six to eight ministry organizations. Ten of those missionaries will be a part of the festival this year.
However, this year’s mission festival will be a little different to reflect the special anniversary year.
“We will have featured speakers,” explained the Rev. Dick Potter, associate pastor at Ebenezer Mennonite Church. “Normally, the missionaries that come in are our main speakers, but this year we are doing things a bit differently. These speakers will challenge us and minister to the missionaries that will be here. They are heads of mission organizations and have the pulse of what’s going on in the world of missions.”
There will be three featured speakers. Jerry Trousdale is the director of International Ministries for Cityteam International, an organization that works with the poor and homeless in major cities in the United States and in 30 other countries around the world. He is the co-founder of Final Command Ministries which focuses on planting churches in Muslim areas, and he has authored the book “Miraculous Movement” which chronicles the Gospel movement taking place among many Muslim communities.
Chip Kirk is an international speaker, trainer, motivator, evangelist and missionary who serves with Operation Mobilization USA, a Christian mission organization whose primary purpose is to inspire and equip believers to share the Gospel around the world. Kirk has ministered throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, as well as, on the Operation Mobilization USA ships in various ports around the world.
Richard Sharp is an international speaker who also works with Operation Mobilization USA. His main focus is challenging and inspiring people to share their faith in effective ways.
These speakers will be speaking on both Sundays of the mission festival, and at the missionary banquet that will take place on the evening of Nov. 17, as well as, throughout the week at various times.
Monday through Wednesday evenings starting at 7 p.m., various missionaries will share with the congregation about what their ministries have been doing. During those times, there will be a special mission focused program for the children, too.
Throughout the week, during the day, the missionaries will have a chance to meet each morning to hear a devotional and share what is going on in their field of service.
“We want to minister to them whenever we can,” said King. “The sharing is very important, because they get to share with other people who understand what it’s like. It’s a time to give them refreshment, to energize them and support them.”
King said his goal for the mission festival is not necessarily large numbers, although he expects around 450 to 500 at the Sunday services. “What we want is for people to be more involved in making disciples around the world,” he said. “We will have a big push for faith promise giving for missions.”
Potter added an additional goal. “We’re hoping that 50 people — 50 because it is our 50th year of doing the festival — from our church will go on short term mission trips either stateside or abroad in 2014.”
For the missionaries, the pastors are hoping to encourage them. “We also want to give them an opportunity to report to the people about what they’ve been doing,” said Potter. “We want them to be encouraged and challenged by the speakers, too.”
While missionaries have been around for a long time, King said that things have changed over the years. “It is more modern now,” he said. “Missions doesn’t just mean going to Africa. You can be a missionary in a big city in the States.”
Potter added, “There is a more compassionate view and a more holistic approach. It’s about meeting the physical needs, along with the spiritual needs.”
The biggest challenge for most missionaries is actually getting to their destinations so they can begin ministering. “Raising their financial support is probably the biggest challenge for most of our missionaries,” said King. “It’s what delays and frustrates them from getting on the field.”
Despite the challenges and changes, King said that missions will continue to be a focus for Ebenezer Mennonite Church. “We think missions is the heartbeat of any church,” he said, “because it is the heartbeat of the Lord.”