Some 40 organizers and participants of the recent Korean World Mission Conference (KWMC) that took place earlier this month at Azusa Pacific University gathered at Grace Ministries International on Tuesday morning to discuss and evaluate the results of this year’s conference.
The organizers first expressed regret regarding the aspects of the conference where the results came up short in comparison to their expectations, and shared the challenges they faced in the process of planning for the event.
The first aspect they mentioned was the turnout at the conference. Some 2,900 in total were registered for the event, and some 3,000 attended night sessions, according to the organizers. The number fell short of their hopes for some 7,000 to attend the night sessions.
A number of challenges may have contributed to the less-than-expected turnout, they said. First, KWMC, which takes place once every four years, took place for the first time in Southern California this year, when all previous conferences had taken place at Wheaton College in Illinois. The difference in culture in the Korean community of Southern California, as well as the lack of awareness of KWMC in this region, may have hindered a wider participation in the event, organizers said.
“Azusa Pacific University is located in an isolated area, and the distance that people had to travel to get to the conference with traffic may have hindered some from attending,” explained Rev. Paul Gihong Han, the senior pastor of Grace Ministries International, who also led the planning process in Southern California.
Another aspect that organizers discussed was the low turnout in the English track of the conference. The difference in attendance between the Korean-speaking track and the English-speaking track was noticeable. While some 2,500 attended the main sessions of the Korean track, about 150 attended the English track sessions. Moreover, many Korean American pastors in the region were unaware of the event.
Rev. Suk-Hee Ko, the secretary-general of the conference, pointed to the date of the conference as a possible reason for the lack of attendance from the younger crowd. In an evaluation report, he wrote that the fact that the conference took place in early June may have prevented students and parents of students who were not yet in vacation from attending.
“Normally, we should have formed a completely separate organizing committee for the Korean American leaders and lay members in the region, but we were unable to do that for this year’s conference,” added Han. “This is something we want to focus on for the future conferences to come.”
Many of those who did attend the conference, however, seemed to have had a positive experience. Elijah Kim (14) from Cerritos Presbyterian Church and Gunwoo Kim (17) from Grace Ministries International said at the conference that they both attended because of their parents. But having come to the conference, they shared that they learned much from the variety of speakers.
Elijah Kim found a session with Brian Kim, a worship leader at Onnuri English Ministry in Seoul, particularly inspiring.
“It was cool because he uses his talents for God,” he said. “And it showed me that you don’t have to be a pastor or missionary — you can just use whatever talents you have to live for God.”
Han explained that though there were particular challenges in the planning process for this year’s conference, he was personally “extremely satisfied” at the turnout, and said that the entire process was “all by God’s grace.”
“Having the conference in a completely new venue, and having thousands of people gather — from as young as 100 days old to as old as 90 years old — there was room for an accident to have happened, but I’m thankful that there were none,” Han explained.
“And, maybe it’s because they were talking to me, but there were many people who approached me and said that they were blessed through the conference and that it was a rejuvenating time,” he added. “I’m grateful to hear that, and I’m also grateful that 50 attendees have committed to become missionaries.”
Dr. Timothy Park, the director of Global Connections and professor of Asian Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary, expressed hopes for future conferences.
“I hope that the conference will not end at just being a conference, but that it will become a catalyst in the mission movement all over the world; one that gauges the direction of the movement and allows missionaries to more effectively strategize and share the gospel,” Park said.