2023 Missions Conference: Land of the Living

The 93rd annual Missions Conference commences.


North Steinbacher//CHIMES

Attendees raise their hands as Met By Love worship leads the crowd in praise.

The 93rd Missions Conference launched on Wednesday, with lines for the gym stretching back to the bell tower. As the main session filled up, students were directed to overflow locations: Sutherland Auditorium, Mayers Auditorium, Calvary Chapel and Lansing Recital Hall.


Missions Conference opened with the parade of nations. The gym floor was a sea of colors as emerald green, bright red and deep yellow flags fluttered through the air — Denmark, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Taiwan, Russia and Ukraine were featured, among a variety of other nations. Around 62 flags in the room represented students born in those countries as well as missionaries who grew up there and students with a heart for missions in those countries. 

MBL Worship, which stands for Met By Love, led the crowd in worship with Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei” and Bethel Music’s “All Hail King Jesus.” Then, conference co-director and junior journalism major Abi Goosen thanked the Missions Conference coordinators and staff as well as Student Missionary Union staff. Dr. Barry Corey took the stage briefly and shared his desire that the “exalted and resurrected Christ” would be the focus of all students at the conference. 

Mickey Parra and Neema Mbogo from the SMU board of directors introduced the session speaker, Eli, a Biola graduate who works with Muslims in Asia. Eli, who did not give his last name, called believers to consider how to use their talents to creatively fulfill the Great Commission. He encouraged attendees to go to the people who have not heard the gospel, trusting that God will guide them along the “highway of holiness.”


For the second main session of Missions Conference, MBL worship played a passionate and moving set that prepared attendees to engage with the message. Session two’s speaker Reverend Dr. Lisa Pak currently serves as a pastor with the Saddleback Mission Team, leading their Unengaged, Unreached People Groups (UUPG) Initiative. 

Pak’s heart is for unreached people groups, and her message implored young people to bring their entire selves to God’s service for his Kingdom, including their race, and ethnicity, gender, gifts, talents and passions. Pak included a message for the women in the room: “God does not make mistakes,” she said, encouraging women to embrace their whole identity and step into the callings that God has prepared for each of them.

Pak touched on the reality that gender within the space of church leadership is certainly a theological conversation, but is also an existential conversation for the women involved. As a woman and a pastor, Pak stood in solidarity with and encouraged the women in the room who may have questioned their ability to contribute their leadership gifts within the church because of their gender. 

To close out the session, Local and Global Missions Directors Micky Parra and Neema Mbogo announced the 10/40 window breakout rooms, which Missions Conference volunteer coordinators put together to explore the reality of people around the world who have little to no access to the Gospel.


As students gathered in the gymnasium for the third session of the day, Student Missionary Union members made announcements about the mission and goals behind SMU, welcoming students in to take their seats. In celebration of cultures around the world, students of diverse cultures started worship in various languages and, followed by the MBL worship team. 

Semse Aydin, one of the breakout session B speakers, started the evening with a posture of forgiveness. Touching briefly on her own personal testimony of forgiving the man who killed her husband because of his decision to share about Christ, she prayed over the room to adopt a spirit of forgiveness and learn about the privilege of suffering for Christ. 

The main speaker of the evening, Francis Chan, took the stage and spoke about the importance of making decisions in the presence of God. Chan asked the question, “How do you make a good decision without coming into the presence of God and asking for his wisdom?” 

Referencing 1 Peter 4:7, Chan touched on the importance of being present and clear-minded to have a strong prayer life. Rather than viewing prayer as a means to an end, he emphasized the importance of being self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of prayer and wisdom. After a closing prayer, MBL Worship returned to the stage and invited students to stay for an hour of extended worship.


The second day of Missions Conference dawned with a dance worship performed by the Usual Suspects dance team. Then, the MCs welcomed speakers Francis Chan and David Platt to the stage. Chan pastored Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California, and founded a missions-focused organization called Crazy Love Ministries. Platt, a pastor in Washington, D.C., founded Radical, an organization which spreads the gospel to the unreached. In their message, “The Great Imbalance,” Chan and Platt spoke on the importance of unity in the church.

Chan and Platt drew from John 17, looking to the priestly prayer of Jesus, who asked of God the Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:20-23). They explained that the church is called to love one another with an otherworldly love, the way that the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the church.

Disunity often ravages the churches of today, both institutionally as well as across the universal body of believers. Chan and Platt urged the church to remember Christ’s yearning for unity from John 17, fix their eyes on God and be united in his love.

After the message, Chan and Platt gathered the student body in prayer. The worship team led everyone in a long session of lyrical prayer that extended beyond the scheduled ending of the session as they all asked for Jesus to lead them to be united in His love.


Students, staff and visitors of Biola piled into Chase Gymnasium to hear speaker Alexia Salvatierra preach during the fifth session of Missions Conference. Salvatierra delivered a message on Shalom, echoing sentiments of the conference’s theme “land of the living.” 

The session opened with a student choir leading the congregation in Kyle Pederson’s worship song “Soon We Will Be Done.” Afterward, MBL Worship took over for the remainder of the session’s worship service. During worship, lead singer Brennan Joseph challenged visitors to worship God to their fullest extent and to disregard the fear of others’ opinions. 

Salvatierra’s message on shalom began with an anecdote on how a friend questioned her about Jesus’s impact in the world. Salvatierra proceeded to speak on the abundant life that Jesus offers his followers on earth and the perseverance it takes to live out a fulfilled and communal life. Salvatierra explained that we need to spot those that suffer among us and be wise in stewarding our service towards those people. Salvatierra encouraged students to not only know the gospel but to also live it out.


Session six closed out the second day of the conference, which began with students singing  “Who You Say I Am” and “How Great Thou Art” in different languages. MBL then led worship with “Oh Praise the Name,” “Agnus Dei,” “See You Right” and “I Love You Lord.” 

Rachel Closs, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, took the stage as the main speaker for the session. She shared her story of how she left her job at Hume Lake Christian Camps to become a missionary on the other side of the world. Closs moved to Papua New Guinea in 2021 after training for the mission field. 

Closs explained that the meaning of abundant life is not the outward appearance of great blessing, but a close relationship with God. She expressed that because Christians experience abundant life, the desire to share joy and love with others should be a natural response.

To close, Closs gave a student volunteer one minute to run around the gym and touch as many people as he could. She had him go a second time, but this time everyone that was touched was allowed to touch one other person, causing a chain reaction. The example highlighted that more people are reached when Christians do not allow the Gospel to stop with them but instead choose to share it with those around them.

MBL Worship concluded session six with an extended period of worship that continued until 10 p.m.


Students, staff, faculty and visitors gathered in Chase Gymnasium to close off Missions Conference. MBL Worship led the congregation in prayer during worship, inviting attendees to engage with God while the band played instrumental music. 

As the session transitioned from worship to the Word, students watched a video featuring Allen Yeh, professor of intercultural studies. Yeh explained the history of missions and missionaries’ work, then encouraged the audience to learn more about missions connected with their home churches. 

David Platt, the founder of Radical and pastor in Washington D.C., delivered the main message focusing on Psalm 67:1-2. Platt worked with the audience to memorize the passage, going line by line until the congregation recited both verses from memory.

In his preaching, Platt outlined four truths explaining the ultimate goal of God, the ultimate goal of Christians and the accomplishment of his task, which is the Great Commission. Then, he covered three problems, which focused on unreached people groups not experiencing the gospel. Platt moved to two conclusions that explained collective and individual efforts to reach the nations with the gospel. Lastly, Platt invited students who would be willing to spread the gospel in the areas with the most unreached people groups, no matter the cost, to stand and come to the front of the room, where he prayed over them. 

Before closing the session, Platt led the congregation in prayer for those who made the decision to follow God’s calling to missions. Many attendees stepped toward the stage as the rest of the people in the audience extended their arms out in prayer. To end the Missions Conference, Abigail Goosen, one of the Missions Conference directors, prayed over the experiences of the three-day conference and all that God has in store for students afterward. 

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