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Ridgecrest Conference Center where New Wineskins takes place.

Ridgecrest Conference Center where New Wineskins takes place. (Photo credit: Faith McDonnell)

By Faith J. H. McDonnell (@Cuchulain09)

I recently attended the New Wineskins for Global Mission conference at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in the beautiful mountain of western North Carolina. New Wineskins is a national gathering of Anglicans and Episcopalians sponsored by the New Wineskins Missionary Network (formerly the Episcopal Church Missionary Community) that takes place every three years.

As my colleague, Jeff Walton, along with two of our mission-minded friends, headed southwest towards the Carolinas, we were surprised that the dogwood, mountain laurel, and redbud trees were not yet in full bloom. We were even more surprised when snow began falling thick and fast outside of Roanoke, Virginia! Usually I am chiding myself for not bringing sunscreen to New Wineskins. This time I was sorry that I did not have my boots!

The unexpected snowstorm created a traffic nightmare, but Jeff drove with aplomb. By the time we reached Ridgecrest, the snow was almost gone, and the only casualty of the snowstorm was missing our first meal in Ridgecrest’s dining hall.

As usual, there were many wonderful speakers and workshop leaders at the conference. The daily Bible study was led by the Rt. Rev. Ken Clarke, a former missionary to Chile, who was until recently the Bishop of Kildaire in the Church of Ireland. Now the director of the South American Mission Society (SAMS)-UK and Ireland, Bishop Clarke taught about the compassion of Christ being the motivation for mission. Another moving presentation was a panel of First Generation Believers – Christians from Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist backgrounds who are the first generation of their families to follow Jesus. The panel moderator, the Rev. David Case, who leads TIPS, Truro Anglican Church’s international programs and services, has a great t-shirt that reminds us that “Jesus Entrusted the Church to First Generation Christians.”

I attended a very helpful workshop by the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Rev. Stanley Ntgali, on overcoming tribalism in East Africa. I also attended a very encouraging one on how churches are being planted and sustained in areas where Christians are marginalized. That one was led by the Rt. Rev. Rob Martin, the Bishop of Marsabit Diocese in Kenya, and one of his pastors, a bold evangelist from the region. Advice on reaching our non-Christian neighbors was delivered by the Rev. Fouad Masri, originally from Beirut.

The two Bishop Nathans: Bishop Nathan Inyom prays for Bishop Nathan Gasatura and for Rwanda.

The two Bishop Nathans: Bishop Nathan Inyom prays for Bishop Nathan Gasatura and for Rwanda.

The Rt. Rev. Nathan Inyom, Bishop of Makurdi Diocese and Anglican Frontier Missions, Nigeria, told of his outreach to the Baka Pygmies of Cameroon, whom he called touchingly “my people.” Bishop Inyom also prayed for Rwanda and for the Rt. Rev. Nathan Gasatura, Bishop of Butare Diocese, Rwanda during a time of remembrance of the Genocide.

In addition to hearing all the wonderful speakers, seeing many old friends, making many new ones, and participating in worship together, I presented two workshops of my own on advocacy for the persecuted church around the world. This was my sixth time giving workshops at New Wineskins. Each time I present on this subject the persecution of Christians – particularly in the Islam-dominated world – has increased. But the good news is that each time there are also new resources and tools for advocacy.

We (at least I!) had not even heard of Facebook or Twitter when I held my New Wineskins workshops in 2000. Now social media is a powerful tool to spread the word about our persecuted brothers and sisters and about ways to help them. It is much easier to create a worldwide movement than it used to be.

But as has always been the case, the most important thing we can do for our brothers and sisters around the world, whether persecuted or facing other challenges such as poverty and lack of resources to keep up with the people who are coming to Christ, is to pray for them. Prayer and advocacy work together. That has always been the game plan of IRD’s Religious Liberty Program. We need your participation in both. Why not think about coming to the next New Wineskins conference? You have three years to plan for it!