Exactly a month ago the first ever Cross Conference was beginning, with a kick-off concert by Trip Lee. I had arrived in Louisville the night before because I was volunteering. As I walked through the labyrinth of the Kentucky International Convention Center that morning trying to find the meeting room for bookstore volunteers, I got chills all over when I saw the main room in which conference activities would be held. Part of it was no doubt because of excitement – after all, I had been eagerly recruiting for and anticipating this conference for months, knowing that it was going to be everything I had ever longed for in a missions conference. But I think the bigger reason is that there was almost a palpable sense that history was going to be made in the next few days; that from this very inaugural Cross Conference, countless students would answer the call to give their lives to proclaim the glorious gospel of the majestic God to one of the six-thousand-some unreached ethnolinguistic groups of the world.
From what I’ve written so far, it might not seem like my experience and the conference itself is all that different; after all, don’t all student missions conferences call students to proclaim the gospel to the unreached? Well, yes…and no. I’d like to try to highlight why Cross is unique and significant and why, despite the abundance of missions conferences, you should consider going and/or encouraging others to go.
For me, the biggest draw to Cross was that it was going to be a missions conference with the gospel (more specifically, the penal substitutionary gospel) and our majestic, sovereign God at the center. I don’t want to deny the good that has come from other conferences; I affirm and praise God for them. However, it seems that often the topic of mission and missions is approached from a more anthropocentric perspective; also, sometimes the alleviation of temporal suffering is given the main stage, and the alleviation of eternal suffering (and the gospel I described above) is relegated to the periphery. Make no mistake, Christians SHOULD care about temporal suffering. Christ didn’t “just” take care of eternal needs when he walked the earth; he also feed physical bread and healed physical illness. But we MUST be consumed with a vision of being used by God to alleviate eternal suffering. We should build the wells, but there are countless hundreds of “secular” agencies also working toward relief of temporal suffering; if the Church doesn’t proclaim the gospel, no one else will.
Though I was fully expecting these emphases, the way they played out at the conference was even more incredible to experience than I had expected. The whole conference was “drenched” in gospel and “big God” theology. To hear the missionary call heralded from that perspective is what I had always longed for but had never experienced (in person, at least. I had listened to online sermons about missions by John Piper).
The other thing that’s unique about Cross is that it’s not a generic missions conference (that’s not meant as a pejorative). Typically missions conferences are very broad, and the calls and opportunities range from domestic opportunities to overseas opportunities in areas in which the church is already thriving to areas with unreached people groups. Cross’s call is uniquely to the unreached. For those unaware, unreached people groups are ethnolinguistic groups in which either no missionary work is being done, or the church has not been established and there is not an indigenous body of believers big/strong enough to evangelize their own people group. There are just over 6,000 unreached people groups. Within this outer circle, there is a concentric one called unengaged people groups, numbering about 2,000. Amongst unengaged people groups there are no laborers at all. Check out Joshua Project for more information on unreached people groups, and consider signing up to pray for the “Unreached of the Day.”
Despite the great need to labor amongst the unreached, this category is tragically neglected. I know statistics are often viewed with skepticism, but I remember hearing at the Urbana Student Missions Conference that only about 2% of the Church’s resources (in terms of people as well as finances) fund pioneering work. In your own experience, this truth probably resonates. If you think about all the missionaries you’ve ever known, heard of, or and/or supported, how many of them labor among the unreached? Maybe none? That is why I applaud Cross being a missions conference for the unreached instead of a general missions conference. In your sending (and going, if God calls), let this quote from Cross ring in your ears:
“I will go where I am needed most unless I hear God specifically call me to go where I am needed less.”
And finally, on a less serious note, this conference was a delight for me to experience because I had never been to a Reformed conference before. To hear and see so many of my heroes at one event was a real treat. And yes, I finally said the “R” word. I hesitate to label Cross that way because I don’t want to deter those who are not Calvinist from going. At the same time, I do want those in my camp to know about the conference and to go. YRR/New Calvinists, this conference is for you 😀 Go next year. And tell all your friends to go. You will not regret it. You will hear a call to give your life for the most glorious cause in the universe, from the perspective of the glorious doctrines you so cherish. Arminians, you are not excluded. We welcome you out of the hallway and into our room. You might not get recognize all the faces on stage, get all the jokes, or agree with everything you hear, but you will be challenged with Scripture; you will want to know God more, love God more, and to make the regular cry of your heart, “God, what is my place in this story? How would you have me participate in this grand cause of heralding your great name to panta ta ethne?”
All of the plenary sessions from Cross 2013 are available for free here.