By Paula Schlueter Ross
“How beautiful … are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation” (Isaiah 52:7).
Students from six of the Synod’s 10 colleges and universities nationwide attended this year’s Beautiful Feet Conference, Oct. 13-16 at Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich.
The annual mission-focused gathering for young people, which takes its name from the Scripture passage and began in 1997, also drew a few non-Lutherans.
Eva Chan, a 23-year-old from New York City, is a theology student at Concordia. Chan, who describes herself as a nondenominational Christian, said that, like Lutherans, she believes “Christ is the most important thing.” So she registered for the conference because she wanted “to learn more about how to spread the Gospel and put Christ at the center.”
The four-day event, with the theme “Passion for the Purpose,” was “definitely” worthwhile, Chan told Reporter, because it was “not just talking about Christ, learning about theology — which is what I learn from classes,” but, rather, “it is really missional,” with attendees and speakers exhibiting their willingness to actually “do mission work.”
Some 140 students attended this year’s event, which offered mission/missionary speakers, four different styles of worship, servant events, a visit to a local mosque, a dozen mission-related exhibitors and more than a dozen breakout sessions on topics such as short-term mission work, sharing the Gospel in foreign cultures, and starting an on-campus “athletic ministry.”
In his workshop on reaching out to Muslims, the Rev. Randy Duncan, founding pastor of Living Word Lutheran Church in Plymouth, Mich., explained Islamic beliefs, the positive and negative characteristics of Jesus in the Quran, and how to witness to Muslims.
Duncan encouraged some 40 students attending the second of his two workshops to “be a friend” to Muslims they meet. A longtime Muslim friend of his once asked him, “Would you still be my friend if I don’t become Christian?” Duncan’s answer was yes.
“We need to know people as much as we know the Gospel,” he told the students, and he encouraged them to share their personal testimony by describing what God has done in their lives.
His list of “what to do” when witnessing included “know what you believe,” be informed about Islam, talk about the Quran’s positive portrayals of Jesus, use the Word of God, give literature, be respectful and sensitive, ask questions, don’t talk politics, and pray for them.
Bruce Wall described his work as an LCMS missionary in Peru, encouraging conference attendees to “build true relationships” with others by talking — and listening — to them. Start conversations with everyone you meet every day by asking them “how their day’s going,” he said.
“If you’re going outside your comfort zone,” opportunities to share your faith, Wall said, “are just going to show up.”
As Bible study leader for the conference, the Rev. Scott Giger, pastor of University Lutheran Chapel, Ann Arbor, encouraged students to be passionate about the things God is passionate about. The challenge, he said, is to be willing to suffer — or even be inconvenienced — for those things.
DCE Bob McKinney, director of spiritual life at Concordia, Ann Arbor, and faculty adviser for the conference’s Student Planning Team, said the annual event “can be life-changing” for attendees.
“I’ve seen two of our Ann Arbor students [who attended Beautiful Feet Conferences in different years], respond to the calling of the Lord in their lives to the extent that one of them changed majors … and another decided to delay seminary entrance for a year in order to gain a strong mission foundation to his ministry. One [served as a teacher in] Vietnam for two tours, the other served in Slovakia — both with LCMS World Mission.”
Ben Spaulding, a freshman at Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill., said he attended Beautiful Feet “to learn more about God and what He’s called me to do” and “to inspire me to go out and serve others who don’t have Christ in their lives.”
Spaulding described the conference as “spirit-filled” and “very inspiring.”
Conference Co-Coordinator Taylor Kaniuk, a sophomore at Concordia, Ann Arbor, said a goal of the event was to “introduce college students to different mission opportunities.” So, the agenda included time for attendees to visit with mission exhibitors from Camp Restore, Can-Do Missions, Gospel for Asia, LCMS World Mission, Lutheran Bible Translators, Lutheran Church Charities, Lutheran Hour Ministries, Lutheran Malaria Initiative, Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, Most Ministries, NAILS (the student component of Laborers For Christ) and World Mission Prayer League.
But, perhaps more important, attendees were urged to be missionaries wherever they are, Kaniuk said.
“A lot of us don’t even know how to be a missionary at our own school — even though we are a Christian school … or our own city,” she said, and she pointed to Ann Arbor as an example of today’s ethnic diversity: some 17 percent of the city’s residents were born outside of the United States, according to local statistics.
Julian LaMie, a sophomore at Concordia University Chicago, said the conference did a good job of describing mission work and getting students excited about it — both in foreign fields and “in our daily lives, seeing the mission field as everybody.”
Mollie Schultz, a senior “missions major” at Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, Wis., who wants to work with women and children as an overseas missionary, said she appreciated opportunities at the conference to hear about others’ mission experiences.
She said she thinks it’s significant that college students are interested in mission work, and wishes more people realized that.
Schultz said she enjoyed seeing “so many people who come from all these different backgrounds — and they have different things in mind for their futures — but they’re all centered on Christ. And that’s been the coolest part of this conference, for sure.”
For more information about the annual Beautiful Feet conferences, which are sponsored by LCMS World Mission, visit http://bf.lcmsworldmission.org.
Posted Nov. 16, 2011