On the Bright Side: COVID Restrictions Strengthen Asia-Pacific Conference
By Carl Stagner
The Church of God anticipates opportunities throughout the year, each year, to get together, catch up, pray for one another, worship collectively, and experience renewal. In the context of the United States and Canada, chief among these events are the Church of God Convention during odd-numbered years and the Regional Conferences during even-numbered years. But in various parts of the world at various times, other Church of God conferences and events are taking place that perhaps fall under the radar for those in North America, yet can be just as important for the region in which they take place. One of these events is the Asia-Pacific Conference, the most recent of which demonstrated an unintended consequence of greater connectivity, thanks to an unlikely catalyst—COVID.
COVID restrictions, to be precise, set into motion a series of adjustments for the church to continue its mission with tangible impact, yet with limited physical contact. Like ministries in the United States and Canada, churches on nearly every continent found themselves pivoting strategically to continue the spread of the gospel while minimizing the spread of the coronavirus. Since 1982, the Asia-Pacific Conference had been held every two years at different locations in the region, but beginning in 2020, the pattern of gathering was disrupted.
Though leadership would have preferred to meet sooner, travel restrictions continued through 2021, necessitating alternate arrangements for the conference. Rather than postponing any further into the future, on second and third of December, the conference was held entirely online. Expressing the widespread familiarity of Zoom in a pandemic paradigm, Don Armstrong, regional coordinator for Global Strategy to the Asia-Pacific region (along with his wife Caroline), quips, “Everyone in the world knows how to operate on that platform.”
What’s so unique about the December conference isn’t the fact that it was virtual, though, nor the fact that participants knew how to use Zoom. Instead, it was the dramatically increased accessibility to the event that perhaps hadn’t been considered prior to a COVID world.
“I remember one device connecting from a village in Nepal, and I could see the Nepalese pastor setting the screen up on a table in his house,” Don explains. “As he did, I could see into the house a bit. There were a couple of people sitting on chairs waiting for the event to start.”
Don continues, describing the moment a stunning revelation hit him. “These people would never have the opportunity to participate in this conference if we met in person,” he explains. “Because of Zoom, the internet, smart phones, laptops, and tablets, they now have the opportunity to participate in this conference at the same level as anyone had in the past. Jim Lyon was speaking on this particular evening, and everyone who connected (we had nearly 100 devices connected from 14 different countries) had this opportunity to listen to Jim speak. This has never happened before, and this has leveled the field of who is able to attend and participate in our region-wide church conferences. Visas, lack of travel funds, time, etc., are no longer an obstacle to bringing the conference to women staying back with their children, grandmothers who are too weak to travel, young men who are working to support a family, and men who are working jobs.”
Represented at the event were participants from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Guam, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the United States, and one additional county left unnamed for security purposes. Thanks to the technological features of Zoom—and the ingenuity of tech-savvy colleagues like Terrance Van Dam (Global Strategy missionary to Japan)—live translation was available in six languages, including Nepalese, Japanese, Korean, Burmese, Thai, and Urdu).
Brother Satoru Kanemoto-sensi, who chairs the Asia-Pacific Conference of the Church of God, was thrilled to be a part of the far-reaching event. Besides the moments of prayer together, which he describes as the “best part” of it all, Kanemoto thanks God for so many people participating.
“We are encouraged by the presence of each other,” he explains. “We are encouraged by the various messages reminding us that God is actively with us…. All of these, with our prayers together, is the testimony that Jesus our Lord is alive and with us wherever we are in this world. By being a part of this, I experience God’s grace and care in the world, a world of COVID and political conflict, yet we have hope that God keeps this world in his hand.”
Learn more about the Church of God around the world, and discover opportunities to get involved internationally in God’s work, at www.chogglobal.org.
Feature (top) photo: Global Strategy regional coordinator (Asia-Pacific) Don Armstrong connecting online for the Asia-Pacific Conference.