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Event sparks ideas for those on a mission

Thousands to participate in conference to learn how to better meet others’ needs

You do not have to travel to a foreign land to do Christian mission work.

You can build homes for the homeless in your hometown.

Feed the hungry in the community center down the street.

Help refugees in your neighborhood enroll in school.

“One misconception is that people have to go somewhere to be ‘on mission,’ ” said Ken Parker, director of Mission ConneXion Inland Northwest, the group organizing a mission-work conference in Spokane next week.

“Mission is ministering to physical and spiritual needs in the name of Christ.”

On Friday and Saturday, between 2,000 and 3,000 women, men and young people are expected to attend the mission conference at Calvary Chapel in north Spokane.

This is the first time the Inland Northwest has hosted a mega-mission conference like this, though there are annual events in bigger cities, including Seattle and Portland.

Participants will choose from more than 90 workshops. The topics illustrate the wide range of choices facing people interested in getting involved in mission work.

Some of the workshops are geared toward mission newcomers; others have mission pros in mind. A sampling:

• “First steps: Where do I start?”

• “Missions as a second career.”

• “Refugee ministry: The mission on your doorstep.”

• “High octane prayer: The fuel of missions.”

• “Where does God fit in the boomer bucket list?”

• “Raising a family on the mission field.”

• “Orphan ministry in China.”

Conference-goers will also hear some big-name speakers in mission work, including Richard E. Stearns, president of World Vision, one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the United States.

And they’ll hear from Gracia Burnham. She was taken hostage along with her husband, Martin, by the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Philippines in May 2001.

The couple had been serving with the New Tribes Mission there for 17 years; Martin was a missionary pilot.

A year after their kidnapping, government troops attempted a rescue of the Burnhams and a Filipino hostage, Ediborah Yap.

During the rescue, both Yap and Martin died; Gracia was shot in the leg.

Burnham’s memoir about the ordeal, “In the Presence of My Enemies” (Tyndale, 2003), was a best-seller. It received glowing reviews in both the Christian and secular press.

USA Today wrote: “The Burnhams, under torturous conditions, befriended their guards, comforted their fellow hostages and kept their faith in a God who seemed to have abandoned them.”

Getting Burnham to the Spokane conference, as well as the other high-profile speakers, resulted from “the persistence of some of the people on our steering committee,” Parker said.

But he emphasized that the conference is “not something from the outside coming in. This is sponsored by area churches and by church and mission leaders.”

Nearly three dozen Inland Northwest churches and nonprofit agencies have helped make the conference a reality. Calvary Chapel donated its vast meeting space, and Inland Northwest ministry leaders will lead workshops and speak on panels.

The group’s mailing list includes about 320 churches in the region.

“We want to bring about a connection between congregations, so there will be a greater sense of united effort and purpose,” Parker said.

He hopes that conference-goers will leave the two-day event with some concrete ideas how to respond to the call to do mission work, whether it’s next door or a continent away.

“Mission is what we are called to be in the world,” he said. “Not just something we pay other people to do.”