The process of traveling to and participating in a professional conference sometimes requires an extensive personal investment of time and resources. Before committing to such an investment, one might be wise to explore certain questions such as, What benefits can I expect to receive in return? Will this experience involve the opportunity to develop new knowledge in support of my professional and/or personal goals? Will I receive the chance to network within a vibrant learning community? Will I encounter openings for critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and reflection?
At best, the average conference might provide participants with at least one of these elements. But, why not all of the above?
As a professional educator, I feel grateful for the opportunity to take part in a number of conferences each year, and quite a few have afforded me the chance to participate in at least one of the previously mentioned benefits. However, few – if any – have provided “all of the above” – until very recently, that is.
Last week, my husband Steven and I first experienced the North American Regional International Orality Network (NARION) Conference at the gorgeous Focus on the Family Welcome Center in Colorado Springs, CO. By the conclusion of the conference, without exception, we concurred that our time spent at NARION surpassed that of any other conference in which either of us have participated over the years. Although a seemingly exaggerated claim, we arrived at this conclusion through thoughtful analysis and reflection.
The content presented throughout the conference immensely developed our knowledge of and engagement with the international orality movement. Prior to attending the conference, we received a great deal of helpful information regarding orality methods from Dr. Jerry Wiles, a movement leader whose knowledge, skill, and experience we tremendously respect. Through statistics and stories, Dr. Wiles convinced us of the powerful ways in which the Lord has and will continue to use orality strategies to bring souls into relationship with Jesus Christ. His recommendation alone provided the impetus for us to invest in attending.
Throughout the conference, as a couple very new to the orality movement, we discovered more about the transformative potential of this method for revealing the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world so desperately in need of Him. We listened in amazement as insightful leaders and seasoned veterans shared stories of hearts and minds being impacted through oral means of conveying truths from God’s Word. Whether attending plenary sessions, panel discussions, or breakout meetings, we remained fully engaged and frequently impacted throughout the conference.
As an educator, I especially appreciate the extent of time and attention so obviously poured into developing every learning experience available throughout each day. Every presenter utilized his or her God-given talents to contribute unique insights stemming from lived experiences. Session leaders exhibited engaging strategies for sharing knowledge with audiences, drawing others into each conversation and allowing all those in attendance to benefit from the shared experiences of the group.
Additionally, we thoroughly enjoyed meeting like-minded others. In fact, this experience provided an unsurpassed opportunity to network with those involved in a variety of missional endeavors. The conversations in which we engaged profoundly enriched our involvement in the conference, inspiring and energizing us even now. We exchanged contact information with numerous others, and we anticipate that this experience will mark the start of many deep and abiding friendships.
Truly, Steven and I felt sad to see our time at the conference come to a close, and we are already making plans to participate next year, Lord willing! Our calendars have been marked for September 17-19, 2018, and we anticipate meeting many new friends and learning a great deal more at the next NARION Conference in Orlando!
Dr. Katie Alaniz is Assistant Professor of Education at The College of Education and Behavioral Sciences