The Conference That Would Have Been

by Julie Banks

Now that we are back in the United States on Home Ministry Assignment (HMA), many conversations seem to start with “What we thought we were going to do…” or “Had COVID-19 not happened we would have…” or “Our plans originally were…” and so on.  The virus has completely changed so many of the world’s plans for this Spring. 

One of the biggest changes in our plans as Serge missionaries was the cancellation of our company-wide conference.  Once every four years, fellow workers from 25 countries around the world gather together to celebrate what God is doing in each of our fields.  It’s a cornerstone on our life calendar.  Many of us plan on it, look forward to it, and anticipate it for years.

That conference would have been happening this week.

Our first Serge conference was in 2016.  It was our first year being a part of the mission agency, but we had not yet arrived in Burundi because we were still in language school in France.  We knew a few of the 500+ people, but for the most part we were meeting new people the entire week. I watched others hug each other tightly, marvel at how each other’s kids had grown, and chuckle over inside jokes.  It was like a family reunion.  I remember thinking, “Next conference that will be me!”  I looked forward to being able to say, “It’s so good to see you again!” Instead of, “It’s so nice to meet you.”

The Serge conference lasts 2 weeks and is held at a beachside resort in Europe.  The first week provides a space for Team Leaders, Board Members, and Executive Leaders to have vital conversations and encourage each other as they lead hundreds of workers in a variety of different missions around the world. 

The second week of the conference is for all workers.  We worship together (in English!) and are treated to sermons and messages from some amazing speakers.  There are also breakout sessions for us on numerous topics such as finance, parenting, depression, and more. 

Wisdom from Debbie Harrell, Serge's Overseas Educational Advisor at the 2016 conference
Each of the 40 teams share with the entire group what they are doing and how we can pray for them.  In fact, I searched the Word and Deed archives and found the Serge Kibuye team’s update video from 2016!

It’s so faith-building to hear what God is doing all over the globe through Serge missionaries.  Serge is bringing new life to communities through visual, poetic, musical and other forms of art.  Serge is planting gospel-centered churches that are thriving with national pastors.  Serge is establishing businesses in order to support local livelihoods and develop thriving relationships – often in closed-access communities and countries.  And of course Serge has medical teams with which we are very well acquainted! 

But the week is not all about work.  There is time to rest by the pool and splash in the ocean.
Our family at the Serge Conference in 2016
Meal times are purposefully long, and evening chats last well into the night.  Serge’s Executive Director, Bob Osborne, heads up a famous bocce ball tournament every conference that remains a talking point for years!

The kids love the conference too.  Serge goes out of their way to love on our children. They do crafts, sing songs, and play sports.  They talk about the hard stuff like the struggles they face as TCKs (Third Culture Kids). But they also just have a blast!  Dance parties, glow sticks, and plenty of silliness. 

Our boys enjoying time with a fellow TCK in 2016
Today, Serge marked the “conference that would have been” with a huge video conference call.  We joined with over 200 little squares on our screen that represented over 200 families, over 200 praises for what God has done, and over 200 needs to lift up.  We waved at each other across the globe, prayed for each other, and had a few laughs.  God is at work.  In us and through us.  We are not alone.  It was still encouraging to be a part of what God is doing, even from our couch in Springfield, Missouri. 

Serge Conference 2020
But, we will all be together again soon!  We are hoping to have the conference again in person next year.  Get ready, Bob!  The Burundi bocce ball team will be ready!

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