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Erik Tryggestad, right, poses with a Tyrannosaurus skull at an exhibit for the Creation Truth Foundation, a group based in Oklahoma that travels to schools and Vacation Bible Schools to talk about evolution and biblical history.
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Photo provided by Erik Tryggestad

When the mission field comes to you, take advantage

Christian Chronicle CEO reflects on his experience at the International Conference on Missions.

OKLAHOMA CITY The Tyrannosaurus skull alone was worth the short trip downtown.

You’ve gotta love it when a bunch of global-minded Christ followers show up in your back yard. That’s what happened when the International Conference on Missions (ICOM) rolled into the new Oklahoma City Convention Center near Scissortail Park. I’ve heard about this thing for years but finally ran out of excuses not to be there.  

Hundreds listen to an afternoon session at the 2023 ICOM in Oklahoma City.

Hundreds listen to an afternoon session at the 2023 ICOM in Oklahoma City.

I wasn’t alone. The four-day event brought in 6,265 on-site attendees, more than 750 virtual guests, 187 groups representing various churches and colleges and a whopping 290 exhibiting organizations, organizers said.

The conference is associated with the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, our instrumental cousins in the Restoration Movement. But a growing number of us from the a cappella Churches of Christ are attending the annual event, recognizing that we don’t have to agree on everything to share ideas and resources for reaching the lost.

I was glad to see Nathan and Umoyo Holland, missionaries in the African nation of Angola. I traveled there in June for the Luso-Africa Global Mission Gathering, a conference for Churches of Christ that Nathan helped coordinate. The Hollands had a booth promoting LAMP International, a resource ministry for Portuguese-speaking Africa. This was Nathan’s sixth time at the conference.

“So much of my work and ministry in Angola began as part of a conversation or connection that I made at ICOM,” he told me. “I wish that Churches of Christ had something similar. It is exciting, however, that every year I see more of our folks  from the a cappella churches participating, benefiting and even contributing to the success of the conference.”

Erik Tryggestad says hi to James Strother, a church member in Russellville, Ark., who travels the globe assisting in various medical and evangelical missions for Churches of Christ. Tryggestad and Strother have run into each other at church events at least half a dozen times, Tryggestad estimates.

Erik Tryggestad says hi to James Strother, a church member in Russellville, Ark., who travels the globe assisting in various medical and evangelical missions for Churches of Christ. Tryggestad and Strother have run into each other at church events at least half a dozen times, Tryggestad estimates.

As I stood in the massive room of exhibitors, I was reminded of the Tulsa Workshop, which I dearly miss. It was one of the first events I attended after I started working for The Christian Chronicle in 2001, and it had an international focus. I heard keynotes from Ethiopian church planter Behailu Abebe, Irish minister Tony Coffey, legendary Ukrainian minister Rick Pinczuk (who died from cancer just a few years later) and many more. In many ways, my love for the global church had its origin at that conference.

Churches of Christ do sponsor the Global Missions Conference, which happens every three years. I would love to see that event expand and have the impact on future missionaries that ICOM had on Nathan.

Erik Tryggestad, right, poses for a photo with Austin Ganyo, who works with a ministry called Training Tomorrow’s Leaders in Ghana.

Erik Tryggestad poses for a photo with Austin Ganyo, who works with a ministry called Training Tomorrow’s Leaders in Ghana.

Every time I go to a church conference, I’m floored by the number of people I know — and by the wealth of connections to mutual friends. ICOM was no exception. At a table with a big Ghanaian flag I met Austin Ganyo, who works with a ministry called Training Tomorrow’s Leaders in the West African nation. It turns out that Ganyo was trained by my friend and Lipscomb classmate Augustine Tawiah. 

I was thrilled to see Dennis Okoth, a longtime minister for Churches of Christ in Kenya. I’ve told his story countless times since he shared it with me on the campus of LivingStone International University in Uganda 10 years ago. Okoth grew up in a village where his father was a clan leader and animist. 

Erik Tryggestad, left, takes a selfie with Dennis Okoth, a longtime minister for Churches of Christ in Kenya.

Erik Tryggestad takes a selfie with Dennis Okoth, a longtime minister for Churches of Christ in Kenya.

When Okoth began professing Christ, his father had him chained to a tree and poisoned. All night he languished, slipping in and out of consciousness, but he didn’t die. He found missionaries from Churches of Christ and was baptized. 

He also found the courage to walk back into his village — to the utter amazement of everyone. “They thought I was a ghost!” he said. Many of the villagers became Christians. Eventually, his father was baptized, too.

Doesn’t that sound like the plot of a movie? Now it is. Good News Productions International, a ministry based in Joplin, Mo., recently produced “Where the River Divides” based on Okoth’s story. ICOM attendees got a look at the short film.

John Baxter, right, of NationsUniversity with Erik Tryggestad.

John Baxter, right, of NationsUniversity with Erik Tryggestad.

I got to meet and catch up with a lot of other ministry leaders as well — John Baxter of NationsUniversity, Jerry Harris of Christian Standard Media and Bobby Harrington of Renew.org. I learned about schools and ministries including Peace Catalyst International, Rapha International, TCM International Institute and Summit Christian College in western Nebraska.

Oh yeah — the T. rex skull. I came across that (it was hard to miss) at an exhibit for the Creation Truth Foundation, a group based right here in Oklahoma that travels to schools and Vacation Bible Schools to talk about evolution, biblical history and, of course, dinosaurs. 

Erik Tryggestad, right, poses with a Tyrannosaurus skull at an exhibit for the Creation Truth Foundation, a group based in Oklahoma that travels to schools and Vacation Bible Schools to talk about evolution and biblical history.

Erik Tryggestad poses with a Tyrannosaurus skull at an exhibit for the Creation Truth Foundation, a group based in Oklahoma that travels to schools and Vacation Bible Schools to talk about evolution and biblical history.

For the final keynote of ICOM, the Chronicle was a “chair sponsor,” meaning that we got to put copies of our November issue on each seat in the massive auditorium. We added post-its with a QR code for folks to sign up for our print and email editions. I’m in debt to the Roméos — our ad manager, Christi, husband Kelly and son Shea — and to my wife, Jeanie and our girls, Maggie and Lucy, for their help in covering all the chairs.

We got a lot of new sign-ups as a result of the hard work, but there also were a bunch of copies that I picked up as the conference concluded. 

Honestly, my favorite part of ICOM may have been the moment I picked a copy of the Chronicle off the floor that was opened to the page with our Word Find. It was about a third completed.

I fought hard to get that puzzle in the paper, so I’m calling that a win.

Cleanup after ICOM revels a discarded Christian Chronicle with a half-done Word Find.

Cleanup after ICOM revels a discarded Christian Chronicle with a half-done Word Find.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.

Filed under: Christian connections Christian fellowship Faith-based organizations Global Missions Conference Insight International Conference on Missions international ministry international outreach international relations Opinion Perspective Top Stories Views

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