It took months of planning and many hours of relatively complex logistical effort to gather around one hundred people from all over Europe, transport them to a venue in Central Spain from 29th September to 3rd October, and ensure their comfort there. But somehow,everyone who was supposed to be at our Field Conference arrived safely, though they immediately experienced their first moments of culture shock. In true Spanish fashion, dinner was to be at 9:30 p.m. that evening, followed by a ‘Welcome’ session before bedtime!
The land around the Betania conference centre in Ciudad Real was parched and yellow, after months of drought. Inside the venue’s auditorium, however, there were green pastures of great Bible teaching, loving fellowship, and heart-warming reports of what the Lord is doing all over Europe. Betania has a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its catering; the staff did not let us down in that respect, and their dining room buzzed with edifying conversation over hearty soups, colourful salads, and carefully-cooked meat dishes.
It was ‘a packed programme’, as Robert McCollum (one of our speakers) commented. But he also remarked: ‘it was an enormous privilege for me and my wife to attend, helping me get to know so many of the missionaries and trustees, most of whom were previously only names and faces I had seen on Zoom or prayer letters. I believe it would be difficult to find a more friendly, encouraging, and uplifting group of people than those who gathered at the beautiful Betania Centre in central Spain’.
Robert is a member of the EMF N. Ireland Council, as are Simon Curry and Gareth Burke (the latter also an EMF trustee), and these three men took us deep into the Scriptures with clarity and warmth, leading us to meditate on three of ‘God’s Great and Precious Promises’. Garry Williams from London Seminary spoke masterfully on ‘The Christian and the Law’ and ‘Why theological training and ongoing study matters for ministry’. No surprise that most of the attendees’ comments sent to us after the event point to the ‘great teaching’ as one of the highlights of this conference. Our invited guests from the ‘Come Over and Help’ Mission, (Raymond Rothand Tom Moerdyk) spoke for many as they underlined how edifying the Bible exposition was: ‘It was a blessing to be under sound, relevant and powerful preaching of the Word of God’.
The expression ‘EMF family’ appeared repeatedly in comments from those who attended. Reading these two words was so encouraging for all of us involved in organising the conference. We had so wanted folk to feel truly ‘at home’, and it was obvious that the Lord had answered our prayers in this respect. José de Segovia and his wife Ana enthused: ‘So wonderful to meet old and new workers and to renew the sense of family in Christ with the same purpose of sharing the gospel’.
It had been 30 years since the last conference, and few EMF regional conferences for missionaries have taken place across the continent in latter years. The joy of this reunion was palpable. Were Adam Urban and his wife Daga exaggerating when they left the following note of thanks? ‘It was the most wonderful Christian event we have ever been to.Thank you so much for being part of EMF family!’
This kind of excitement may be explained in part by what Robert McCollum wrote about in an article to be published in the ‘Vision for Europe’ magazine later this year: ‘…it was wonderful to witness the EMF body sharing together in both the joys and the struggling challenges of each other’s ministries. While we heard of situations marked by loneliness, isolation, and little visible fruit, we also heard of conversions, and baptisms, and people being added to the church of Christ.’ The family was together in person at last, and its members really did each other good. Whether in report sessions, chats over meals, theological debates into the early hours (in the case of the four students attending!),conversations with new friends at coffee breaks, or silly banter during the excursion to nearby historic Almagro, there was the feeling of our all being on the same mission, for the same Lord; that sense of unity underpinned every moment of the conference, and gave joy to us all.
We will never forget some extra-special moments, such as being able to have a live video call with Volodia Kostyshyn from Ternopil, Ukraine. To say that it was a ‘moving interview’ is perhaps an understatement.
The Sunday morning service led by the chairman of our EMF Trustees, Daniel Grimwade, featured worshipful prayer and singing that came from joyful hearts.
At our last meal together there was loud applause for the ‘Ciudad Real Team’ (Matt and Judith Hill, Pilar Herrera and husband Luis Cano),without whose incredible work the UK Staff Team (also a diligent bunch!) would not have been able to organise the event.
The conference, described by Antonis and Viki Topaloglou (Greece) as ‘a true treasure time’, ended all-too-soon. EMF director Andrew Birch wrote a very simple note on the souvenir sheets : ‘I’m thankful to the Lord, to all those who worked so hard, and to all our precious EMF family’. None of those who attended could have expressed their sentiments any more eloquently.