Asia Region Summit creates new bond between global workers

Ben Greene

Pastor & writer

  • Missions

Eagerness for elephant rides motivated some global workers to go to Thailand in January. But a passion for pachyderms isn’t what ultimately drew these disciples.

Converge global workers throughout Asia gathered in late January for the first-ever Converge International Ministries Asia Region Summit. The 67 men, women and children who participated have definitely set their minds on eternal things.

But, such devotion doesn’t mean that there isn’t time for an elephant ride or two.

“Once you’re up there, you realize just how large an animal they really are,” Rick Berry, the leader of the Thailand Initiative, said. “You’re trying to guide this elephant that has a mind of its own.”

Related: Thailand’s concerted effort in the Buddhist nation has a focused team.

Aden Berry, 10, and his dad rode elephants together, swam in the pool and played ping pong. But by week’s end, Aden had begun friendships so he played more with kids and less with mom and dad. That’s a credit, he said, to the attentive and excellent service for kids, not just adults, at the gathering.

Couple riding elephant 

The summit, he said, helped all the global workers rest, play and connect since hundreds of miles of land, water or both often separate the many nations of Asia. Berry said this was one of the best family times Converge put together in the nearly 30 years that he’s been a global worker.

During the long weekend, senior vice president of International Ministries Ivan Veldhuizen, senior missiologist Larry Caldwell and U.S. Engagement director Kevin McGhee inspired and informed the global workers, Berry said.

“We’re all united in seeing disciples made,” he said. “We are more united in the way we will all go about doing that.”

That increased unity, David J.*, the international leader for Asia, explained is because his fellow gospel servants make time to learn from each other. He saw several servants reflecting and sharing about efforts to start gospel movements among other least-reached Asian peoples

Through such dialogue, he said people grew stronger in contextualizing the gospel for Asians. Many global workers can better share how the gospel deals with shame, a more relatable introduction to the gospel for Asians compared to the concept of guilt for violating God’s law.

“Within Asia, most of the people consider a sinner someone who belongs in prison,” David J explained. “Shame is overwhelming to a lot of people in Asia. That’s why God is important, because he dealt with shame.”

Related: Christ’s victory over shame means Chinese believers secretly train in discipleship.

Those kinds of skills and theological frameworks have tremendous value toward achieving Converge’s goals, Veldhuizen said. He is encouraged that the team in Asia is more aligned and unified after the January summit.

“We are training every one of our global staff in gospel movement principles and practices,” he said. “I’m really anticipating a fresh wind of the Spirit when we have all of our people engaged in that wholeheartedly.”

The center of such methodology is leading people to understand who Jesus is and what he’s done for them, Veldhuizen and David J. said.

“How do we present Jesus?” was one of the questions David J. happily reflected on at the summit.

The answer, in many cases, was to “talk about the joy of knowing God, the peace and joy having a relationship with God brings,” David J. said.

David J., a Minnesota native who spent 15 years planting churches and starting ministries in Japan, had another special, if earthly, joy during his long weekend in Thailand.

Related: David J still asks God if Japan’s least-reached reality bothers him.

“From day one, when we talked about having the all-Asia gathering four years ago, one of the things I said I’m going to do is make some free time and go ride an elephant,” he said.

It’s only the second time in his life he’s climbed aboard a wobbly chair atop such a humongous animal. But, from that height, he looked around and glimpsed the hope of the nations: God’s workers in prayer and partnership, passionately pursuing the precious, lost people God loves.

Dustin and Melissa Leland, who now live in Udon Thani, Thailand, are two of those people. They have been in the least-reached Buddhist country less than a year. As they continue learning a language, they are also beginning to receive ministry opportunities and partnerships.

Like Berry and David J., the Lelands both felt the face-to-face time with others who are normally hundreds of miles away created tremendous benefit for them. Dustin said it was very interesting to hear what Ian and Maki Smith are striving toward in a new project in Japan or how a family in a closed Asian country spread the love of Christ to Muslims.

“We’ve always felt like Converge was a family,” Dustin Leland said. “We really appreciated the amount of time that was given for us to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Melissa praised and trusted God more as she saw and heard what God is accomplishing in other places. That gives her hope and confidence as their young ministry starts to gain clarity and momentum.

“Let’s get back to work,” she said after the summit. “We get to tap into God’s strength. We have him bringing us along.”

As proof of that, some ladies trained in being and making disciples went back to their rural village and shared the gospel, Melissa said. 10 people trusted Christ as Lord because of that evangelism.

“We feel like we’re on the cusp of something really starting,” she said as they continue learning the language, which varies widely depending on the region of Thailand.

She and Dustin found empathy for such experiences in poolside chats with another husband and wife. That couple also went on a double date with the Lelands, thanks to the summit’s free childcare so parents could have a date.

“They all get it, the struggles of living overseas, the cool parts of living overseas,” Melissa added.

Face-to-face moments also encouraged Dustin Leland.

“Gathering face-to-face with workers in closed countries means you get to hear about their projects or lives and not worry,” he said, noting the risks of using e-mail and other methods.

Veldhuizen honors the summit’s organizers and attendees for creating a time where global workers could be the body of Christ together.

“So much of their lives and their work are spent alone,” he said. “They have a lonely job and the pressures they face are huge.”

Related: Converge member care specialists support global workers in Asia

In March, Converge’s Africa Team will gather while European and Middle Eastern global workers planned a summit in Albania the first week of July. These summits, Veldhuizen said, also align staff in Converge’s mission and give people on the field closer relationships with the Converge International Ministries leaders.

“I felt so encouraged [after the Asia Region Summit] by our global staff,” Veldhuizen said. “People are learning new things, trying new things, stepping into new settings, doing the hard, hard work to bring the gospel to people who need it most,” he said.

Related: One family has embraced the Muslims of a country closed to Christianity.

Such sincere learning to spark adventurous obedience best happened, Berry explained, as he talked with other initiative leaders like Brian Lusky of Japan or Drew* in the Spice Islands. Strategic planning happened at the summit in a way that video meetings could never match.

Plus, the three men have ridden elephants together, a burst of pachyderm passion that pales alongside the eternal concerns that God has set in their hearts.

“There’s now a bond between us that wasn’t there before,” Berry said. “There’s a unity of vision and purpose in Asia that wasn’t there.”

Converge is asking God for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group – in our generation. Learn how we are playing a role in accomplishing the Great Commission and how you can be involved.

*name changed due to security concerns

Ben Greene, Pastor & writer

Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.

Additional articles by Ben Greene