Coming Home: Asia-Pacific Conference a Life-Giving Reunion for Area Leaders
By Sarah Hunnicutt
For so many of the pastors, teachers, and leaders in the Asia-Pacific region of the Church of God, gathering at the biennial Asia-Pacific Conference in October 2022 was like coming home after a weary three-year journey through the mire of COVID-19. Over one hundred leaders representing eleven different countries met at Sungdong Church of God in Seoul, South Korea, to learn, pray, grow, plan for the future, and encourage each other.
“The Korean church really went above and beyond,” said Don Armstrong, regional coordinator for the Asia-Pacific region. “We weren’t entirely sure the conference would even be possible.” When planning began in July, heavy COVID-19 restrictions were still in place, “but the Korean church really wanted to make it happen.” It was clear that ,under the leadership of Rev. Khunyag Maeng, whose term as president of the Korean Church of God just ended in September, what took place in Seoul those three days was special. Hospitality was on display as women from the church wore Hanboks to greet and usher in participants; a troupe of North Korean defectors gave a memorable song and dance performance; and a beautiful hotel with city skyline views helped give attendees a taste of South Korean culture. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of the conference for those in attendance, however, was the gift of space—space to share testimonies, to begin new and strengthen old friendships, to weep, laugh, and pray together.
There was space for learning from each other as connections across cultures were made by a diverse group of presenters spanning the region and the globe, including Jim Lyon, general director of Church of God Ministries. Among the speakers, there was an emphasis on what peace could look like in the local church and the communities where these churches are located. This message of peace was brought into stark contrast as leaders like Dorothy Colney from Myanmar and Edmund Lueng from Hong Kong shared about the political crises in their respective places, of ministry and how God is working in and through the church during extremely dangerous and tumultuous times. “It’s hard to describe what that does to a room,” said Caroline Armstrong, regional coordinator for the Asia-Pacific Region, as she reflected on the impact of the testimonies given that night. “There was a sense that we are all in this together.” To that end, special attention was given to disaster relief and the unique challenges faced across the region—natural disasters, political unrest, and nuclear tensions were all discussed and leaders were challenged to think about what walking alongside each other could look like in their different ministry contexts.
Lunches and evening meals shared together at the church provided space for organic connections to form, to deepen existing friendships, and to encourage those who were and are walking through difficult times in ministry. By the end of the conference, despite the various languages and cultures represented, who belonged where and with whom wasn’t as easy to distinguish as the unifying factor of the church blurred those boundaries. “A smile,” said Caroline, “really goes a very long way.”
Not only were different cultures and languages united during this time, but various generations were, as well. Young leaders were given the opportunity to take on leadership roles as those who have been leading the way for many years supported and guided them both on and off the stage. Both more traditional choirs and a contemporary worship band created space for multi-generational attendees to experience meaningful times of worship together.
According to Andrew Gale, executive director of Global Strategy, the future of the Church of God in the Asia-Pacific region is hopeful. Despite all the challenges presented by COVID-19 over the past few years, the church in this region experienced great success with Zoom as a way to stay connected, and he believes “there are many young leaders prepared to step up and join established leadership.” The involvement of those young leaders during the COVID-19 crisis and the most recent Asia-Pacific Conference are evidence of that.
The next Asia-Pacific Conference will take place in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2024. Both regional coordinators, Don and Caroline Armstrong, and the executive leadership of the Asia-Pacific region, are hopeful that an even greater number of attendees will be present at the next conference and in online fellowship opportunities.
Until then, participants left Seoul renewed as regions, cultures, and generations connected over meals, shared their heartaches and hopes, grew together, learned together, and laughed together again—finally coming home.
Sarah Hunnicutt recently served the Church of God as a missionary for Global Strategy to Roatan, Honduras. She also serves as a freelance writer for Church of God Ministries.
Learn more about the international reach of the Church of God at www.chogglobal.org.
Feature (top) photo: Choir from Shillong, India, at the Asia-Pacific Conference.