This story originally appeared on the Canadian Council of Christian Chairities website.
Missions Fest Vancouver has served the Christian community of Vancouver and the Fraser Valley for 34 years. What began as a small collaborative effort to put on a mission conference between a number of churches in the region, has now grown to be an organization that serves the church community all year long. They now run the largest annual Christian mission conference in North America. The motivation has remained the same through all these years: they desire to inspire people with the work of organizations who are making a difference in the world while, at the same time, sharing the importance of who Jesus is.
Central to the Christian faith is the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. Throughout the ages this command has given rise to the expression of Christian faith through social justice and evangelism. Specifically, everyone has benefited from hospitals, social services, human rights, education, emancipation, and advances in arts and science which arise from the Christian understanding that each of us is created in God’s image.
Missions Fest's conference is still a collaborative effort and is an amazing picture of unity among churches. In the last weekend of January every year, 10,000-15,000 people of all ages gather at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Everyone is welcomed for free, underwritten by donations from sponsoring churches and individuals who are passionate about the work of the conference.
The conference holds more that 50 seminars, a Film Festival, Arts Cafe, and plenary sessions throughout the weekend. It takes a team of 600 volunteers from across Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley to make it happen -- some of whom have served in their positions for more than 20 years.
While the conference is the highlight of the year, Missions Fest Vancouver intentionally tries to mirror the activities of the conference all year long. Our website has regular blog articles from churches and missional leaders that feature ways in which people are bringing hope and love to the world around them. We are always trying to add to the inventory in our online store so that the public can benefit from the wisdom of our past conference speakers. Each year we collaborate with other organizations to develop one day seminars where we explore issues in more depth than is possible at the conference. We also promote collaboration between the local church and parachurch organizations, acting as a bridge linking those with similar vision and mission.
To give you a practical example of something amazing that came out of the synergy of churches working together, I want to point to the local response to the refugee crisis which the world started paying attention to in 2015. As the situation in Syria began to worsen, we had the privilege of partnering with three refugee service organizations to help churches mobilize and respond to the crisis. With our partners in place, we held an information seminar where approximately 200 people had a chance to find out how they could help bring refugees into the country, partner with existing organizations to support their efforts, or enhance the government services for refugees. This initial meeting gave rise to a number of spin-off meetings. By the time the conference came around in January, the hunger to help had not abated and every seminar that dealt with understanding our Muslim neighbours exceeded room capacity, eventually causing us to move the seminars into rooms which could hold double the original capacity. This was also the catalyst for our annual special project to focus upon care kits that will be distributed to refugee families overseas. While churches are not the only organizations to privately sponsor refugees, we are pleased that so many did take up that challenge and continue to make a difference in the resettlement process of many refugees in Metro Vancouver.
We continue to work hard to identify missional issues that the Christian community can engage with in Canada and around the world. This year our conference is tackling the subject of what justice is from a Christian perspective, and ways that we can live justly in a world that is unjust to so many. We’ll be touching on women’s issues, aboriginal reconciliation, sex slavery, the rights of migrant workers and more. For more information, visit missionsfestvancouver.ca.