By Laura McKillip Wood
Last November, my husband and I packed our kids into the back of our compact car and began our three-hour journey to ICOM. Looking back at their three faces in the seat behind me, I couldn’t help but think about how much fun they’d have in the next few days. Going to a packed convention hall, standing in line at mealtime for convention center food, and talking to hundreds of strangers may not sound like a good time to some kids, but my children love it. I understand that feeling because I also loved going to ICOM as a child.
The Dream Begins
Some of my earliest memories surround a trip that my parents made. I was about 3 or 4 years old when my grandma came to stay at our house while my parents went to the conference. I remember being a little excited that Grandma was coming and a little nervous that my parents were leaving, but as my mom bent to kiss me good-bye she whispered, “I’ll bring you a present.” That sealed the deal, and I was fine.
When they returned, they brought all kinds of trinkets from the convention: pens, pencils, key chains, all printed with the logos from various missionary organizations. I looked at those gifts and listened to my parents talk about the missionaries they met there. My preschool mind began absorbing the important idea of telling people all around the world about Jesus.
Throughout my childhood, my family regularly attended ICOM. My parents were not missionaries, but they were highly involved in the missions program at our church and were forwarding agents for a missionary family at one point. Through their contacts at the convention, they invited missionaries to speak at our church. Those people often stayed at our house. We met people from all over the world, and as a child I listened to their stories, imagining places I’d never been.
Before long, missionaries lost the sheen of celebrity they sometimes have in the Christian world, and I began seeing them as regular people living and working in interesting places. The idea of me doing that type of work became possible and even plausible, and God planted a dream in my heart.
The Dream Grows
As a teenager, I attended the convention and spent hours walking along aisle after aisle of booths, collecting the same type of trinkets my parents had brought me as a child. I went to workshops and worship services, taking notes and absorbing as much wisdom from the leaders as I could.
Probably the best part, though, came in the contact with real missionaries who ministered in real places with real people. I stopped and talked to them and pored over their literature afterward. I remember specific newsletters that I kept tucked away in my Bible for years because I loved reading and rereading them.
Slowly the dream of mission work began to grow. I imagined myself in the places the missions pamphlets described, imagined ways that God would use me in the future. I found information about short-term trips and begged my parents to let me go, even as a young teenager. Unfortunately at that time fewer people took such trips, and my parents told me I had to wait until I was an adult to go. I pinned up some of those pictures and pamphlets I had gathered at ICOM on a bulletin board in my room, looking at them once in a while, remembering the missionaries I’d met and thinking about the day when I’d be old enough to go myself.
The Dream Becomes Reality
ICOM was held in Wichita one fall when I was a Bible college student. Even though we attended college 850 miles away, the missions students and I piled into a van and drove the 14 hours it took to reach the convention. We ate a lot of snacks, tried to sleep sitting up, and even accidentally left one student at a rest stop and had to go back to get him.
Upon arrival we made our beds at a church, sleeping on pews and classroom floors, but none of us cared. We were there to meet other missions-minded people and learn about missions opportunities around the globe. Of course, in the process we made a lot of great memories as well.
During my college years ICOM became important because I had already begun preparing for my future career as a missionary. I had traveled to Ukraine for summer internships and had begun to see myself as a missionary. No longer did I sit and listen to missionaries’ adventure stories; now I lived those adventures myself. By that time I had begun to learn the pain of separating from people I loved. I had left close friends behind after my internships, and ICOM provided the opportunity to see those people again. We met for dinners, reliving memories from our short-term trips.
Interestingly enough, during the years that I actually lived overseas and did missionary work, I didn’t attend ICOM. I taught missionary children in Ukraine, so fall was a busy time for me. Nevertheless, I knew it was happening. I knew that people gathered that week to pray for missionaries, to pray for me, and I knew their support was vital to the effort of missionaries around the world.
The Next Generation
When I look back on the years I’ve attended ICOM and all of the seminars, lectures, and worship services, I don’t really remember the content of any of them, although I took plenty of notes as a young person. What I remember about the conference is the relationships. ICOM has provided me the opportunity to see people I love who would otherwise have faded out of my life. It has allowed me to meet new people with a passion for missions. ICOM has provided many with the chance to “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). There’s a special synergy that happens when a large group of people meet together, all committed to spreading the gospel to all parts of the world.
Now I am a wife and a mom. I live in America, so I’m not a missionary in the traditional sense of the word. However my kids know that my husband and I were missionaries in our former life (translate: life before kids!). They go to ICOM and wander around the booths, talking to missionaries, sampling food from faraway places, and hearing stories. They talk about doing missions work when they grow up, and I feel proud of their interest.
A couple of years ago, on our way back home after ICOM, my oldest daughter turned to me and said, “I wish we could have stayed longer.” I asked her why, expecting her 10-year-old self to say she wanted to collect more pens or she didn’t get to look at the little glass animals her sister saw. Instead she said, “I wanted to stop and really talk to more missionaries. I didn’t get to ask them all of the questions I wanted to ask.” I had to smile. She loved the missionaries at the conference more than the pens. ICOM is impacting another generation of future
Laura McKillip Wood is a freelance writer and blogger in Papillion, Nebraska.