By Karis Pratt
The first words uttered as we searched for the ICOM exhibitors’ unloading dock were a flurry of, “Wait, was that the turn?” “I think this is right.” “Oops, looks like we were supposed to stop over there to check in!” We had to laugh at our ignorance about the logistics. My aunt, Lena Wood, helped me shift gears to the reason we came. The richness we were about to experience was foreshadowed in her cry, “As soon as I get here, I start to feel sad, knowing it’s going to be over in four days.”
The International Conference on Missions is—well, it’s so many things. It’s a pep rally, family reunion, opportunity for rich networking, and a chance for the Lord to tug on your heart. It’s purposeful conversation, blessing and being blessed, new ideas, and more. It’s potentially the most spiritually dense weekend of your entire year.
My first priority at ICOM 2014 was to help out at my mom’s exhibit while attending worship sessions and workshops in between. I tried to keep my heart open, ready to discover whatever the Lord might show me. There were exhibits to browse, people to talk and pray with—you never know what might happen!
At this ICOM I helped lead two of the three workshops in the Buddhism track that my mom and aunt were offering. That first day I was nervously excited about sharing my insights and experiences in a more focused way and to a wider audience, knowing that God would bless and multiply the material, even if I wasn’t quite sure how he would.
My mom, Lynn Lusby Pratt, has a ministry that invites people to Say Yes to Japan. We accomplish this by providing general information, resources, and updates on current missionaries. At this convention, visitors included:
• People interested in missions, whom we directed to the sending agencies exhibiting at ICOM
• College students with Asian or Buddhist friends (including one sweet girl who trembled with desperation because her not-yet-Christian friend was returning to Japan)
• Children interested in our origami table, absorbing the conversations by osmosis
• Current and former missionaries to Japan
• People with Japanese neighbors or coworkers
• A master carpenter (Ed Thomas) who headed up the building of my family’s church in Japan and has built nearly 300 churches and ministry-related buildings over the years
This year I was honored to meet a young Japanese family who are Christians. With sincere hearts, they exclaimed, “Thank you for caring about Japan!”
It was a treat to have my brother Cason and his family there. The kids, ages 10, 7, and 4, besides enjoying the children’s programs, got to meet Mid-India Christian Mission missionaries Jay and Ramola Henry, who organized a goats-for-families campaign that the kids had participated in a couple of Christmases ago. The children were impressed to hear that the goat had multiplied and now eight goats were helping a community. They didn’t think twice when they asked, “Should we do that again this Christmas?” “Yeah!”
They also learned that it’s not always safe to be a Christian in some parts of the world—people can get in trouble for praising Jesus. It was a new concept, but the children got it and still mention it sometimes.
If any form of corporate worship is a little slice of Heaven, the worship at ICOM is a big slice! Have you ever sung worship songs in a space filled with thousands of strong believers? There is a power and a sweetness to the music that comes from hearts that really know the Lord and walk with him daily.
At ICOM, I love that it takes me at least 30 minutes to get anywhere. Not because of the great distances (although there is a lot of walking), but because I can’t help bumping into people and having a great conversation. I don’t know how many times I said, “I’m just going to get a quick snack,” only to return an hour later because I ran into:
• An old classmate (or five)
• A faraway second cousin
• The friendly man who makes Christian bumper stickers
• My youth minister from waaaay back in Jr. High (who happened to be the main session worship leader)
• Missionaries I know or who know me and my family
• Former professors
• A recruiter for a missionary agency who invited me to work with them
• A woman offering free coffee samples
And then there were people whom I recognized but couldn’t identify right away (“College? No. Church? No. Wait! You were the camp dean at Hanging Rock Christian Assembly back in 1993!”).
There are so many chances to reconnect, encouraging one another with our stories. Precious “let’s pray” moments abound, like when my mother dragged me over to meet Patricia Kim, cofounder of Christ Reaching Asia Mission, Worldwide with her husband, CY Kim, serving in China, North Korea, Russia, Philippines, and Cambodia. Mom declared, “She’ll throw you to the ground and pray for you.” Thank you, Patricia. These personal connections are so rich and intense, at the end of the day I’m often wiped out but somehow energized on a deeper level.
Lena and I led “Buddhism Basics”—a sort of overview of Buddhism. We dug deeper into the expected content, sharing stories from our own experiences (conversations with Buddhist monks; observations of how Tibetans show devotion) for a more three-dimensional feel.
Our panel presentation, “How to Share Christ with Buddhists,” was powerful. Four missionaries to Buddhist peoples shared stories and insights. Deborah told of how her neighbors, while housesitting for her, saw a Bible in their language sitting on her bookshelf. When she came home, they told her, “You know that book on your shelf? Well, we read it, and we believe it. All of it.” Whoa. Deborah’s encouragement to the audience? “Don’t underestimate the power of the Bible.”
Workshop attenders included eager college students, inquiring church members, and even people with as much experience in the subject as we had. The audience was edge-of-their-seats engaged, and their questions were thoughtful, sincere, and passion-filled.
My brother Cason described our workshops (which included one led by my mother, “America’s Shift Toward Buddhism”) as “600-level courses that anyone could understand.” He noticed one attendee who spoke for a long time with my mother afterward. “You could tell his mind was blown . . . in a good way.” (Note: If you’re attending ICOM 2015, please join us.)
“A big theme that I came away with, among the ocean of booths and all the worship going on,” Cason reflected, “is that there is a lot happening in the world; that God is on the move. Christianity is not just an Ohio thing or a U.S. thing. People are in places you’ve never heard of. It’s very inspiring; it makes you want to do more.” He would encourage others to “go with an open mind. There is so much you can do. This convention is not only for the person who wants to move to Mongolia.”
My mother’s experience is that “ICOM is a place where you can connect the dots. Even dots you didn’t know you had.”
I can’t wait for the next convention. Like my aunt, I’ll probably start to feel sad before it even starts, knowing how soon it will end. But I’ll be so excited to see how God is working in the world; to connect with many wonderful brothers and sisters; to worship the Lord alongside a heavenly chorus; to teach from my experiences and learn from others; to see how far the kingdom reaches; and maybe to connect some dots I didn’t even know I had.
Karis Pratt enjoys beautiful music, rich conversation, encouraging the church, playing volleyball, and admiring the mountains that surround Seattle, Washington.