Lifting Up Christ in Chiang Mai
On July 5–8, 2018, representatives gathered from 26 different nations for the YMCA World Mission Network Conference.
Held at the Chiang Mai YMCA’s International Hotel, this opportunity was more than a pre-event to the YMCA World Council. It was an intentional effort to bring together Christian leaders from the YMCA movement for a time of inspiration, instruction and challenge.
For the past 15 months, a dedicated team of volunteers representing five continents worked together to plan this event. The team’s purpose was to create a vehicle that could bring together a diverse collection of YMCA leaders from across the globe around a common goal. Success of the event wouldn’t be measured in a well-organized schedule, break-even finances or the number in attendance. The intent of this gathering was to issue a clarion call to the larger YMCA movement that many still resonate with the purpose of the founders.
These four days in Chiang Mai were filled with meaningful events. Five general sessions were highlighted by a time of worship led by the Witmers, a Baptist missionary family of five who live and serve in Chiang Mai. Keynote speakers including Dr. Sam Stephens from India, Gillian Sewell from England, Dr. David Newman from the U.S., Joachim Schmutz from Germany and Caesar Molebatsi from South Africa. A special candlelight communion service was led by Bjorn Dixon from our Twin Cities YMCA, and a night of prayer was organized by Stephanie Gibson from Mississippi and Annie Ngwira from Zambia. Highlights also included a visit by outgoing President of the World YMCA, Peter Posner, from England, and incoming President, Carlos Sanvee, from Kenya. We had the privilege of praying over both men.
One of the highlights of the conference was the premiere showing of the film “The Soul of the Machine,” the life story of George Williams, founder of the YMCA. The planning team had seen the live production of this play while they were in England. They worked with the production company, the YMCA in England and many others to create this reusable resource. Major funding for this project came from the YMCA of Pierce-Kitsap County, an active member of the US Mission Network.
Breakout sessions gave attendees the opportunity to look more in-depth into several key ministry objectives within the YMCA. Our USMN signature program, Journey to Freedom, was featured in one such breakout. Other breakouts included topics like Inclusive Christianity, A YMCA Cause-Driven Youth Leader, God’s Calling for the YMCA in a Secularized Society, Our Story: the Christian Mission of the YMCA, Youth Empowerment from a Christian Perspective and Glimpses of God’s Beauty in the YMCA.
A final breakout session on YMCA Regional Networking helped fuel the fires for two of the most dramatic moments in the conference. Both the African and Asian delegations felt led to form their own mission networks after hearing what’s taking place in the Americas and Europe. During the closing session of the conference, attendees prayed over delegates from both Africa and Asia as they take this new step of faith.
Chiang Mai is an ancient city, filled with a rich history and a mixture of both modern culture and third world realities. The heat and humidity is oppressive during the day, but at night the city becomes alive. There are streets lined with motor scooters and three-wheeled taxis. Telephone and utility wires dangle precariously on the poles. Countless foot massage parlors beckon anyone walking by. Four and five star hotels sit next to run down shops, and night markets appear out of nowhere at sunset each night. Buddhist temples are plentiful, with their gold spires and ornate décor. Pictures of Thailand’s King were everywhere in anticipation of his birthday.
Attendees at the conference took a quick group tour of the city, visiting the Three Kings Monument, the historical museum and the main facilities of the Chiang Mai YMCA. The focus of this YMCA is ecology education, so our group was given an introduction into their extensive program. Many attendees also explored the main streets next to the hotel at night, taking in the sights, sounds and incredible food.
The YMCA World Council would gather nearby immediately following. 1,300 delegates from nearly 90 nations gathered for five days of business, cultural exposure and celebration. Many said that the presence of the folks who attended the YMCA World Mission Network Conference made a huge impact on the larger event. England’s Steve Clay and others lead morning devotions for 60 minutes each morning. Like salt and light, attendees from the world’s mission networks mixed into the crowd of YMCA leaders at the YMCA World Council and made a difference.
This was a singular event on the YMCA’s ongoing calendar. But the impact of this event will continue to bear fruit in the years to come. There is a movement going on within the YMCA worldwide to refresh our commitment to the cause of Christ. These mission networks are influencing the YMCAs in their region of the world and lifting up Christ. George Williams would nod with approval at the strides that are being taken to recapture the heartbeat of the YMCA. Thanks to everyone who was able to attend Chiang Mai and all those at home who made it possible. May God continue to use us here in the U.S. to lift up the C in the YMCA.