Fields of God
From Syria to Peru and Palmer, missionaries converge on conference at local church for the 12th straight year
19 October, 2016
WASILLA — On stage, his image projected onto two large screens above, and streamed live on the church’s website, David Eubank shared accounts of his work in the mission field so harrowing, suspenseful and ripped from the day’s headlines, they would make even the bravest action hero blush.
Booths covered every inch of the wall inside the Church on the Rock’s main chapel, each promoting the work of missionaries from around the world, many of them represented by guest speakers at the four-day event, which concluded with a gala banquet Tuesday night at Raven Hall.
Such a production might make you think the ECHO Global Missions Conference was a touring show just making a stop in Wasilla, but you would be wrong.
Eubank, the founder of Free Burma Rangers, and 21 other speakers who gathered Saturday through Tuesday came expressly and solely to the Church on the Rock, which hosted the event for the 12th consecutive year at its Wasilla, Palmer and Talkeetna campuses.
“The first few years were small, but over the years we’ve been able to bring in more mission organizations and get more missionaries involved,” said the church’s founder David Pepper, who grew up in Peru where his parents were founding members of the MEPI Amazon Outreach. “It ends up (growing) through relational connections over the years.”
Eubank began Free Burma Rangers in 1997, helping thousands of people displaced by dictatorships and political unrest. In 2014, the group’s attention turned to the Sudan, and by 2015, it was on to the Kurdistan/Syria border and the humanitarian fight against the rising scourge of ISIS.
Monday afternoon, Eubank told stories of helping the wounded, whom were often shot by ISIS as they tried to flee the town it was overtaking. Often times, he wound up in the line of fire as well, escaping with his life thanks to forging strong relations with locals, cunning and luck, or as Eubank would call it, God’s will.
“I don’t come to America to raise funds, I just come to tell a story,” Eubank said. “If we get funding that’s awesome, but I felt God called me here.”
Like Pepper, Eubank was raised by missionaries in Burma. An Army Ranger Green Beret, Eubank got out of the military in his 30s and went to seminary. It was only a matter of time before those two passions meshed.
“I was a soldier and an adventurer and I still kind of am,” Eubank said. “I’m doing it because I’m desperate to be more than just a physical body. I’m desperate to find a spiritual reality and make something of my life that’s eternally valuable.”
Self-effacing in his professed shortcomings as a Christian, Eubank hopes the adventuring aspects of his story inspire people to take a ‘leap of faith.’
“Do not be led by comfort or fear — they’re both horrible guides. They’ll leave you disappointed all the time,” he said. “Be led by the opportunities God has and go for it. Take that step that he’s there.”
Other missionaries at the ECHO event included Brake Ministires International, operating in India, Cambodian Connections, Iglesia Filadelfia and Kingdom Alliance Ministries in Peru, worldwide missions including The Living Faith in 80 nations, Missions.ME based in Michigan, and focused on Nicaragua this year, New York City Relief, aimed at the city’s homeless problem, and the World Outreach Ministry Foundation, aiming at digging wells for clean water for a medical center in Burundi.
Other booths with speakers included missions closer to home, such as Beacon Hill, which finds placement homes for Alaskan children at risk of winding up in foster care. Charity Carmody spoke Monday afternoon about her work.
“People from the community will take kids in crisis when their parents call,” she explained. “They may say they need help now because they’re going to jail for 30 days or rehab, or losing their house. We take them for a while so no abuse takes place.”
Carmody said the program has reduced reliance on foster homes significantly, and with a network of guest homes around the Valley and Anchorage has kept 21 out of foster care this year alone.
“I’ve been amazed, how, when a mom called from Big Lake, all of a sudden the community rallied around this kid from Big Lake,” Carmody said. “I think people will step up if we give them the tools. Everyone is screened and background checked, safety checked, and people will use resources if they know they can.”
Church on the Rock pastor Jonathan Walker said the purpose of having so many missionaries come to the Valley campuses is not to make Americans feel guilty about severe suffering around the world, but rather to see themselves as missionaries in their lives here.
“We are all built-in, hard-wired about wanting to accomplish something; we want our lives to matter,” Walker said. “Some people just happen to be on a mission in Syria or Thailand or Africa, but Sherry Carrington started up Connect Palmer. She’s a lay person in this church in Palmer and she said, ‘how can I get women to build their job skills and write resumes?’ There’s a radical shift in people’s approach to missionaries. What you are doing is not just preaching and trying to get people to punch their ticket to heaven — we’re intended to make a difference in the world.”