We only praise and thank God for his abundant blessing poured out upon the united Chicago area Easter Bible Conference titled, “The Gospel.” It was held at the Geneva Conference Center in Holland, Michigan from April 7-9, 2017. It is a beautiful location, along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, about 3 ½ hours’ drive from Chicago. It has a new retreat center—like a fine hotel. Senior missionaries and families with small children stayed there. There were also nice cabins that housed students and the majority of attendants. The food was good, the accommodations were excellent and the price was very affordable—just $130 for those in the retreat center and $100 for those in cabins. I am very grateful to the planning committee, which met weekly for several months and invested many hours to pray for and prepare this conference. They are: Edward Papabathini, Bob Henkins, Michael Mark, Dan Bockenfeld, Elena Lomahan, Gideon Bahn, Mark Moon, KC Ukeka, Caleb Choi, Steve Stasinos, Kevin Albright, Philmar Mendoza, Grace So, Esther Ahn, Little-Sarah Kim, and myself.
This was the first united Easter Bible conference for all Chicago area UBF chapters since 1988, 29 years ago! Chapters that attended wholeheartedly and eagerly included: Lincoln Park, Triton, DuPage, IIT, West Loop, Indianapolis, Iowa, and all Chicago Center ministries. From these chapters, 555 persons registered for the conference and even more attended. We prayed for 120 students and even more attended. The conference place was filled, and even overflowing. Some attendants stayed in nearby hotels. For some families, who had no other alternative, child care was provided during the meetings by Noble Call—a ministry specifically dedicated to caring for the children of Christian parents during conferences. Though the clear prayer direction for the conference was to help college students meet Jesus, the atmosphere was very family friendly.
God’s blessing upon the conference was evident through the messages. Michael Mark delivered the first main message on Luke 23:26-56 titled, “Forgiveness.” Through his message, we could clearly hear Jesus’ words proclaim that we should not weep for him, but for our sins because God’s judgment is coming. We could also hear Jesus’ voice say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Many shed tears during his message as they honestly acknowledged their sins and received Jesus’ forgiving grace. Tony King spoke on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, titled, “I Want to Remind You of the Gospel.” Through his message, we heard Apostle Paul’s absolute declaration that Christ died for our sins…and…that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. A highlight of his message was the assurance that as Christ was raised form the dead, all who believe in him will also be raised into a new and glorious resurrection body. For example, Tony said he does not dance well now, but in his new resurrection body he will be dancing with the stars in heaven. While listening, we experienced the joy of victory over the power of sin and death. Dr. Jason Perry delivered the last main message based on Philippians 3:7-14, “I Want to Know Christ.” As St. Paul’s words were a testimony to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as our Lord, so Jason’s life testified to this truth. While he was trying to obtain his own righteousness by working hard to obtain a Ph.D., he was miserable and failed. Then the Lord took hold of him. The Lord helped him to trust Jesus alone for his righteousness. He experienced heavenly joy and peace. Then, after a 16-year battle, he finished his Ph.D. and became a professor shepherd who is now serving students as a gospel witness. Through these messages the gospel was clearly presented, clearly explained and clearly lived out in a way that moved attendants’ hearts. After the conference, one American leader confessed that through the messages he was fully restored from Satan’s attack and empowered to live as a gospel witness, together with his wife. Many others testified to experiencing renewal through hearing the gospel proclaimed.
Another profoundly moving aspect of the conference was the presentation of life testimonies. Tristan Pasano and Chatelaine Dunord shared after the main messages on Saturday and Sunday. Seven others shared on Saturday evening and were later baptized: Chloe Armbruster (IUPUI), McKenzie Keller (IUPIU), Cassandra Moguel (Triton), Brooke Budzelieni (UIC), Joe Park (UIC), Erik Simon (NU Med.), and Dr. Jimmy Mei. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the testimonies were very truthful and honest. They revealed the real struggles of college students in our time who suffer with unfaithful and even predatory parents, and a culture totally corrupted by idolatry and sexual immorality. Many attendants’ hearts were broken as they listened to the life stories of these young people. A shepherd’s heart for college students was renewed in many of us. At the same time, amidst the darkness, the wonderful grace of Jesus shone through the changed lives of those who shared their testimonies.
There were 64 small groups for Bible study. These small groups met three times to respond to the gospel presentation of Luke 23-24, to study 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, and to share their reflections together. Many of the group Bible studies were very well prepared and richly blessed. Others could have been better prepared. In addition, more emphasis could have been given to testimony writing and sharing. We found room for improvement in this area.
At the encouragement of our General Director, P. Abraham Kim, we have been praying for the raising of disciples of Christ among students on all Chicago area campuses. On Saturday afternoon, there was a time of fellowship offered for all students who were interested in growing as Jesus’ disciples, called “Come and See.” Altogether, 68 students participated in this time of fellowship from many different campuses. They agreed to study the Bible, grow as Jesus’ disciples and to work together as his witnesses on their campus. They plan to continue meeting in the future and are willing to serve the ISBC 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. It was a great sign of God’s blessing to continue using Chicago area UBF chapters for the evangelization and discipleship of college students in our times.
God’s work among students is the fruit of the labor and prayer of all Chicago UBF members. We realize that not everyone can spend quality time on the campuses, and not everyone can relate to college students in a way that promotes discipleship. Many sacrificial servants are involved in ministry that does not directly touch the campuses, such as missionary education, children’s Bible fellowship, the establishment of house churches. But the focal point of our prayer is “Campus Mission, World Mission,” as the sign above the Chicago center states. Whether we are directly involved in campus discipleship or not, we participate in campus ministry together. The fruit that God is bearing is his blessing upon all of us as one body—upon our entire community. We should not be discouraged when we don’t have college students as our personal disciples. We are all stewards of this campus ministry. We are all responsible to pray for and support campus ministry as the Lord has guided us. I thank God for using the Chicago UBF community as his instrument for disciple raising among college students.
In addition to college students, we are committed to praying for and raising high school students as Jesus’ disciples. Accordingly, there was an HBF program under the leadership of Sam Toh. High School seniors prepared and delivered messages after receiving training. They were: Deborah Pozo, Olivia Lee, Jessica Mun, Joanne Lee, and Joanna Yu. Their messages were deep and fresh and worked powerfully in all attendants.
A significant characteristic of this conference was the stewardship of many American leaders. P. Kevin Albright led the prayer dedication, encouraging us to pray every night for two weeks before the conference. He also served as a general steward of the conference. Sh. Steve Stasinos organized the Friday night program and spent countless hours making sure registration and housing went well. Sh. Edward Papabathini was the conference coordinator. He did an excellent job of negotiating with the conference place workers and organizing UBF volunteers who prepared the conference in detail. Little Sarah Kim organized the Saturday evening program and served each of the life testimony sharers with prayer and God’s wisdom. Philmar Mendoza guided a corporate prayer time on Saturday evening that was marked by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. The messenger team was guided by senior staff: P. Teddy Hembekides, Dr. Augustine Suh, Dr. Mark Yang, P. Kevin Albright, and myself. P. Mark Vucekovich led a meaningful communion service, supported by a team of elders from participating chapters. Chapter leaders Bob Henkins and David Kim shared the task of giving prayer topics and announcements. Dr. Gideon Bahn served in many important ways. Sh. Tim McEathron labored long and hard to guide the chorus to prepare and sing a very prayerful song, presented after the baptisms.
Augustine Park served as a program director, aided by Elders Dennis Miller and Richard Choi. Praise and Worship was led by Erick Lopez, Viola Bockenfeld, Helen Kim, and Joshua Jung. Drama team members included: Joe Grady (Script, Director), Moses Kim/Rich Ryzewski (Jesus), Jonathan Reese (Pilate), Alex Hunter, Lesly Lopez, Joann Ismael (religious leaders), Jason Havey (Herod), Nick Steen (soldier), David Saethre (Barabbas). Dramatic readings were given by Stephanie Polvi and John Lewis.
Joshua Min produced a most beautiful conference logo and website. He served the videotaping so efficiently that the messages were posted in both text and video as soon as they were presented. Miriam Cowen offered her professional expertise, along with many prayers, as stage manager. Christian Misurac contributed her artistic gift in the development of a very appealing program booklet. Grace So did an amazing job as the production manager. Dennie Deliva and Melina Ruiz served the practical work of registration and providing name tags. Carmen Krzan-Tedeschi oversaw the offering servants. Irma Papabathini and Rodia Otutu did an excellent job providing proper signs. Joe Grady and Birgit Pierce handled the financial aspects of the conference. Faith Grady oversaw the preparation of delicious food and snacks. Jonathan Lee served the important task of projection. Hannah Choi organized games and activities. A fitness dance session was offered for ladies only, led by Dervilla Ward. The lighting and sound team included Robert Moreno, Lito Lomahan, David Kim and Ivy Lomahan. Rich Ryzewski served what he is naturally gifted at: hospitality.
By Ron Ward