MFI 2013: Looking Back, Looking Forward

With the conference over, my time back in the USA is drawing to a close. My parents and I will be flying back down to Haiti on Monday. The MFI conference in Virginia closed Thursday night with a powerful message on the Kingdom of God from Pastor Mike Servello (Utica, NY). The Kingdom is a present/future Kingdom. It isn’t yet here in its fullness, but it breaks into the present when people submit themselves to God’s reign here and now. In an era of hype and despair, I think my generation is desperate for something real, some kind of Jesus language and experience that hasn’t been corrupted by TBN and televangelists. Jesus’ primary theme (oddly forgotten by the modern church), the inbreaking Kingdom of God, as expounded by scholars like George Eldon Ladd and N.T. Wright and preached by Servello, scratches me right where I itch.

It was great to see so many different people at the conference. My brother Gabe played lead guitar for the band all week before heading back to Oregon for another gig. My sister Deb came down with her fiance. On Friday, my family and I got to go to lunch with some great friends who were youth pastors in a Baptist church in North Carolina during my high school years. Their kindness in inviting me to youth camp in West Virginia in 2002 is a major reason I am still following Jesus today. It was cool to reconnect with them.

Now, it’s back to my classes in Haiti, where I have tests and papers to grade and classes to teach this week. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be speaking at a youth conference on the story of Joseph (where he flees the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife). The rough outline of it will be that in a country where 55% of people are under 25, it is imperative that young Christians take responsibility for their own spiritual maturity. There aren’t enough older Christians to disciple everyone, and in many ways, the preceding generation has failed the youth anyway. Youth shouldn’t be a time to flirt with the world before getting serious later in life; it should be the time when we lay hold of God’s promises for ourselves. Joseph pushed through the pain of broken dreams and a hopeless life and was exalted because of his faithfulness. The Kingdom of God is breaking in; the Spirit has been poured out. The old have dreamt dreams; it is time for the young to see visions (Acts 2:17-21).

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MFI Conference: Days 2-3

The picture to the left is the only picture I have managed to take over the last couple of days. It is from today’s “A2” sessions, modeled on the popular TED talks, where thinkers of all types get together to share great ideas in concise, 15-minute presentations. 

Adam Durso, pictured on the left, is a pastor from Brooklyn who spoke from Galatians on the need for straight talk and accountability among church leadership and the dispelling of the myth that senior pastors are untouchable. “The Apostle Paul wrote that when Peter was being a hypocrite, even though he was the one Jesus said was the rock upon whom he would build his church, ‘I confronted him to his face.’ This tells me one thing about Paul: he was from Brooklyn.” I thought that was funny.

Ben Trolese from Portland, Oregon (by way of Nicaragua) presented on how MFI churches can impact the Latino communities around them, which essentially boiled down to loving and serving them and being open to accommodating cultural change within our local churches. “When you get to heaven, expecting to hear ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ don’t be surprised if instead you hear the Father saying ‘Bienvenidos, Papito! La fiesta esta adentro! ‘” 

The day was bookended by speakers from large churches in the South. Larry Stockstill (Bethany World Prayer Center, Baton Rouge, La.) preached on world missions, while Steven Furtick (Elevation Church, Charlotte, N.C.) spoke from 2 Timothy on crises of confidence and how ministers can overcome them. Both messages were reasonably good, but simple. They left me wondering how necessary Christian conferences really are. Is the Gospel really all that complicated? Do we need conferences to unpack things in a way that has never been done? What do conferences create but a certain atmosphere, and the opportunity for fellowship between people who ordinarily would not interact? In the long run, are they worth the cost of time and money? I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer to any of these questions, but I am asking them all the same. 

MFI Conference: Day 1

Greetings from Reston, Virginia! Along with my Mom and Dad, I have been here for the last couple of days (and will be here until the end of the week)  attending the annual conference for Ministers Fellowship International, an association of pastors and other church leaders with whom my parents are affiliated. Since I attended a Bible college in Oregon affiliated with MFI, there are many familiar faces here, folks I have known for a long time, people who have taught me a tremendous amount of truth from God’s Word. There are people here who have spoken prophetic words over my life, who have visited our church in Haiti, and who have invested deeply of their time and money into me as a person. It is so good to see them.

This year marks a change for MFI, in several ways. Ordinarily, the annual conference is held out in Portland, Oregon, where the fellowship was founded. This year, the organizers split it into East and West Coast gatherings, with the East Coast version being held in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. The conference this year also marks a change in that it is being held at Ekklesia, a Spanish-language congregation, a fact that reflects some important demographic shifts happening in the U.S. My parents and I had the privilege of attending their Sunday morning services and sharing several of their testimonies of God’s miraculous provision and blessing in Haiti. We were blessed by the beauty and liveliness of their worship and by the faith of the believers there. My mom shared a prophetic word from Esther, a story about believing immigrants  in a dark place and time, who were “called to such a time and place as this” for the salvation of many.

 “You thought you were coming here for education or for work,” my Dad added later in his sermon. “The Lord, however, drew you here for his own reasons.”

Tonight, Pastor Frank Damazio from Portland preached from Nehemiah on “staying on the part of the wall to which God has called you.” When asked by his enemies to leave the work of rebuilding Jerusalem for a moment, Nehemiah refused, saying, “I am doing a great work. Why should I come down now?” (Neh. 6:3) Pastor Damazio stressed that every leader in the Kingdom of God should believe with all their heart that the work they are devoting themselves to is not merely an average or an adequate or a second-rate work, but a great work. “Love the place the Lord has put you,” he said. “Believe in the people God has entrusted into your care. Pour your heart and soul into them, and they will do the same in due season.”

I appreciated the reminder, although I already believe with all my heart that no place on the wall could be better than my own. I already miss my classes and our church in Haiti. I am eager to get back home and pour myself with renewed vigor into the best work a man could have, the work of leading God’s people.

 

The Rainy Season

The rainy season is moving in, so the stifling heat is finally beginning to dissipate. It’s actually starting to feel quite nice here most days. I’ve been here over a month now. Classes are moving by quickly. I have settled into a nice routine of studying hard for about 10 hours on Mondays and Tuesdays, studying for a few more hours on Wednesday and Thursday mornings before teaching on those days from 2:30-5:30, grading papers and reading on Fridays, and trying to kick back on the weekends.

This weekend was an exception. I just finished writing two exams (an unexpectedly rewarding process) for next week’s midterms, as well as study guides to hand out this week. I’ll be heading up to Reston, Virginia on Friday for the annual MFI (Ministers Fellowship International – the network my parents are part of) Conference. It’s been just long enough to where I’ll probably be experiencing some mild reverse culture shock, as well as the “weather shock” of autumnal America. It will be good to get a brief break from the grind and to see my brother Gabe, who will be traveling there to play with his church band from Portland, Oregon.

All in all, the first month has gone pretty smoothly. Not only have classes gone well — I have even gotten to stay up with my favorite TV shows. I downloaded episodes of Breaking Bad on Mondays (an eight-hour process) to watch in the evening, and I introduced my mom to Downton Abbey just in time to actually meet one of the actresses from the show (Laura Carmichael, who plays Lady Edith) during her visit to Haiti last week. The lone exception to the rule has been my health. I have been experiencing extreme fatigue over the last few weeks, to the point where I haven’t been able to get out of bed until about 9 a.m. I went to the doctor on Friday and got a blood test. He said I tested low for protein, so I’ve been taking supplements. I haven’t noticed a difference yet, but it might just take a while to kick in. Another person who works around our house complained of fatigue today, so it is possible that it is also something contagious. With a missions team coming down at the end of the month and a youth conference to preach at, my plate will be full, and I cannot afford to be exhausted all the time. I ask you to pray with me toward complete healing.

With that being said, I will try to update more frequently as time goes on. There is a lot to say and a lot of stories to tell. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. My e-mail address is adams.john -at- gmail dot com. I would love to hear from you.