A Dubliner at the International Coordinators Meeting
Over the last 12 years the Lord has spoken strongly to the Sword of the Spirit about an open door for mission and a special season of grace, especially for the young people in Sword of the Spirit. Given the increasing difficulties and challenges which Christians face around the world – religious persecution, drift from Christian morality, and breakdown of marriage and family life – there has been a growing sense of urgency among Sword of the Spirit leaders to work more closely together internationally to strengthen the work of building Christian communities and preparing community members to be fully engaged in mission.
In keeping with that sense, the coordinators from all of the communities in the Sword of the Spirit have gathered every four years since 2004 to seek the Lord together. This past May 27-30, 2016, some 400 coordinators and main Kairos leaders met for four days in Lansing, Michigan. They came from the 75 communities located in Asia,the South Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Central and South America.
Dominic Perrem, coordinator in training in the Community of Nazareth, in Dublin, recounts his experience as a first-timer at the conference.
It’s 28 degrees Celsius (82˚ F) in East Lansing, but the most pleasant warmth for us Irishmen as we arrive are the team smiling at us when we get off a bus or turn another corner on our way to Michigan State University. An old friend, John McKeon, is sporting a yellow jersey as we arrive at the airport. He’s a Michigan native who visited us in Dublin and, since there’ll be nearly 400 men at the conference, it’s nice to start there with one we know.
The fellow in the yellow jersey is the first of many smiling faces of the service and transport teams – they were mainly wearing Hawaiian shirts so we could recognise them – who made the event so seamlessly hospitable. I’d never been to an International Coordinators Meeting (ICM), but for four days I walked around Michigan State’s campus from accommodation to amazing cafeteria to conference hall, hearing talks, praying, meeting brothers and realising how big this calling is, to be a member of the Sword of the Spirit.
I grew up in community, and spent my early adult life in London and travelled to several other communities, so I always thought I had a pretty good feel for the Sword of the Spirit. As I trundle the campus for this conference and meet men from Florida and Ohio in the US, then Honduras, and India – all places I’ve never been to or met community members from – I see that my knowledge is small. ‘I have a Mexican wife too!’ exclaims one of my new friends – we give each other a high five. I feel nervous with this many new faces, but I have a natural connection to all these guys – as we greet each other and introduce one another, it’s obvious we are all one people. My new friend from India that I just met in a corridor tells me about his community, and it sounds a lot like home – just hotter, and with some more amazing foods for Lord’s Day meals – not that I’m craving spice in the Michigan heat.
Ken Noecker is the conference director and he opens up the time in our vast meeting room, starting with a powerful worship time. It’s great to pray with so many brothers – it’s like being caught up in the rapids of a river, and I’m swept along!
On most mornings, we have prayer and meditation. Day one has the theme of holiness. On subsequent days, we will cover unity, spiritual warfare and mission.
This first morning we read 1 Thessalonians 1:4, “You imitated us (Paul and Timothy), so be good examples.” As we hear from Andy Juan, a co-ordinator from the Philippines, we are challenged to reflect on God’s call to holiness and his concurrent asking us to be on mission and to be examples. John Yocum, regional elder of the Servants of the Word in North America, asks us to pray for the community in Aleppo, Syria, and, as we are introduced to leaders of new communities in Costa Rica, Poland and Israel, we are reminded that God, as ever, is on the move. Holiness, as we hear in Andy’s talk, is linked to mission and faithfulness. It’s encouraging to see communities lasting and new ones being added.
On Friday, the first afternoon, the president of the Sword of the Spirit, Jean Barbara, addresses us, reminding us that we are called to be bulwark builders and to see our mission clearly – to make mission our first priority, especially to the young. He compare our mission to the defence raised by Malta in the famous siege of Malta in 1565. An island of 12,000 resisted the might of the over 30,000 Ottoman Turks, by the leadership of a few hundred knights. Jean’s talk lays the groundwork for our thinking of the Sword of the Spirit as a people in the midst of a changing world.
In Adversity, Be Courageous
Later on Friday, Bruce Yocum, a founding member of the Sword of the Spirit, addresses us and illustrates how the moral core of society, it’s very foundations, have been shaken and that this has thrust us as the Lord’s spiritual warriors into a great battle for him. That we need to take courage and hold fast.
The prayer meeting is led en español by David Mijares, a Mexican and a key leader in Latin America. As we pray together the Lord speaks to us about embracing his calling, not asking for suffering to be taken away but asking him to open our eyes so we can see and understand the battle. It is encouraging to have the Lord address himself to us so powerfully. Also to have a prayer meeting in Spanish (with the help of simultaneous translation through our headsets), allowing us to share life with one another. We hear prophetic words and prayers in English and Spanish, and it is wonderful to live out that international reality on the spot with bilingual worship. I am even able to follow the Spanish (well…most of it), which would have made my darling Mexican wife proud.
On Saturday morning, we move to the theme of unity. I am reminded how connected we are – an Irishman can learn a lot from a Filipino – or from a native Kansan who is building community in his hometown. Luisma Bravo, a charming and gifted leader in Latin America, shares about unity in God – a love that only God can supply us with. His sharing comes after we have meditated on Psalm 133 – on “how good and pleasant it is to dwell in unity with brothers.” We then hear from Dave Hughes, senior coordinator in Word of Life, the community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and international leader, on the topic of unity. He reminds us of God’s own love of unity. I had never thought about regional unity as well as denominational unity. We Europeans live in division, East and West, North and South – division between denominations but also between countries, and have much to work on. What strikes me most in the talk is the idea of serving other brothers as part of my own responsibility, something that seems obvious when we consider ourselves as one community.
On Saturday afternoon, we hear about the new Ecumenical Commission and a change from the Christ the King Association of Catholic communities to a new approach – fellowships of Catholics who are members of the communities within the whole Sword of the Spirit. It’s hoped that some day the Vatican will formally approve this arrangement for Catholic members, but for now the focus is to work on receiving approval from local dioceses, while helping all of our communities to be ecumenical at heart. It’s a long and technical session, we all feel grateful for the hard work brothers are doing, while we consider the challenges we will face in the days ahead to build on this ecumenical vision.
On Saturday evening, six communities publicly make their covenant as full members of the Sword of the Spirit (Jerusalem in Belgium; Buhing Pulong in Malaybalay, Philippines; Illuminator’s Lamp in Beirut, Lebanon; Incienso de Dios in Xalapa, Mexico; Emmanuel in Cali, Colombia; and Cuerpo de Cristo in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic). All the hard work that goes into forming a community in a way of life, pastoring our people, forming leaders and building every aspect of our life – within the communities and the work of outside coordinators, as well. It all leads to a moment like that, and the moment is really about the many, many people who follow God’s call in our communities.
On Sunday morning, we celebrate a common prayer service – emphasising the gift of unity we have, worshiping, thanking God and interceding for the needs of the body of Christ. We then separate and attend our denominational Sunday services.
In the afternoon we move into a joint session about ‘succession planning’ with John Keating, vice president of the Sword of the Spirit. On this topic we hear from brothers who encourage us to change our culture and think about investing in people rather than just making sure certain leadership roles get filled. Tony Panajon, who has retired from being senior coordinator of the huge community in Manila, points out that if our communities increase by 100 members, at least 10 of those will need to be pastoral leaders. This means growth, but it must go hand in hand with a vision for training. The presentations prompt much interesting discussion as we meet in small groups, this time by community. We talk about how we in Dublin can develop more opportunities for youth to engage in our work and be trained.
The Under 40s
The ICM is attended by brothers who are coordinators in training and younger brothers who are serving at the next level down, senior leaders. At a certain point in the conference, all of us who are under 40 are asked to stand up, and it is pleasing to see how many of us there are. And the organisers of the conference were obviously keen to get us involved in service. For instance, even though I was the youngest member of my small group, I had been asked to lead it. A group including four nationalities from various communities is a wonderful reminder that all of us live in one body. We meet four times during the conference and immediately build a strong bond together which will last for all of us, I am sure. One of the goals of the ICM is for us all to express unity in fellowship, and I realise that, despite our national differences, we face the same challenges and are able to speak into one another’s lives, even though we’ve never met before.
On Sunday evening we pray and seek the Lord for words of knowledge, revelation. The next day brothers share about the Lord wanting to heal us. There are dozens of words of knowledge about specific areas of personal need, and hundreds of us received prayer. It’s encouraging to see so many brothers put their hand up and ask for prayer for specific needs – it reminds me of the hardships we have faced as a people – it’s a true testament to our universal need for God’s grace, and an encouragement that guys are ready to seek the strength of the Holy Spirit, not rest on their own abilities.
A word is given to me about a treasure, with light shining out from underneath it. God was speaking to me powerfully on Monday morning about this word, and his true treasure which is himself. My conviction as a member of my community and the Sword of the Spirit is revitalised.
Mission from Start to Finish
Anton Colella, a coordinator in Glasgow, leads the charge on Monday with an excellent call to mission, which is the day’s theme. He encourages us to ‘know and be known’ and points us to the prayer, ‘Use me!’ reminding us leaders that we have to live this out in practice, and as we do so, God will open door after door for us. One brother in my small group shares how he has been convicted to ‘rediscover who he was’ when in his younger years he used to share the Gospel with many people. Others realise that their schedules are obstacles to God using them – and are convicted to grow in openness to God’s call to mission. Since I’m a radio presenter by profession, I share with the brothers that I need to pray, ‘Use me!’ before each show, not just see my work as a task.
Anton reminds us that young men and women these days are looking for fathers and grandfathers. This word in particular seems to open many of our hearts to go forth and share our lives with more of those we know, especially young people.
In this session about mission, we also hear a testimony from Andrew Kebe of St Paul’s Outreach, a student mission of the Sword of the Spirit, reminding us that if we start to see evangelism as a burden, we are spiritually off-centre.
Stand Up and Be Counted!
On the final evening, everyone is feeling tired, so Jean Barbara promises to make our prayer short and sweet. We hear some short prophecies from brothers by way of encouragement, and then a very powerful word is spoken regarding the young men standing among us, that they should go forth in strength. As I stand with the young men from other communities, especially friends of mine from the European and other regions, I’m deeply encouraged about the future.
During the session on leadership succession, we had heard from John Keating that there are few of us in the 35-45 age range, but as I stood with other men in their 30s, I am strengthened by the resolve each of them shows in being at the conference and, more than that, by the ownership and responsibility each of them carries. There may be few of us, but it seems clear the vision for unity, brotherhood, mission and spiritual warfare are going to be tackled head on by these men.
The Cafeteria, an Image of Us
In addition to the excellent dry wit of Ken Noecker and his directing us so well, the brilliant service team, the translators into English and Spanish, the worship band – in addition to all these, the one aspect of the conference that impressed many was the cafeteria on the Michigan State campus. It contains counters offering a dozen different cuisines, and it is apparently one of the largest non-military cafeterias in the USA. As we feast, the variety on offer in the cafeteria remind me of the many gifts that God has given the Sword of the Spirit. Among all these men, be they Latin American, European, Asian, from the Middle East or Australia, there is a common offering of lives to God through building the bulwark of God’s kingdom.
We have different languages and attitudes, but have received the same call, living it out in our separate cities, but with the power and authority of God’s unity of vision. As I caught up with old friends and made new ones, I was constantly impressed by God’s faithfulness, manifested in the lives of these men, their families and all the members of the communities back home.
I am going to remember those prayer times, the seamless service of the admin team, and the superb vision of the International Executive Committee for inviting us all. All of us from Nazareth Community in Dublin came home full of hope that the Spirit is alive in our call, ready to lead us into holiness, unity, and through spiritual warfare on into mission.
Coverage with help from Don Schwager and Living Bulwark. Photos thanks to Chuck Greene, Nico Angleys, Romeo Ferndandes.