Although tensions between races in society seem to be rising, a large, diverse group of various cultures and backgrounds will be gathering in Orlando next week to proclaim that unity is possible.
More than 10,000 people from such diverse locations as South Africa, the Ukraine, the Philippines, Siberia, India, Fiji, Australia, Korea, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Finland, Bolivia, the Bahamas and North America will gather at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort for the 2016 International Assembly of the Church of God of Prophecy, a Pentecostal denomination which reports nearly a million members in 135 nations.
"There are people coming whose nations are in conflict," said Cathy Payne, coordinator of Global Missions Ministries for the Church. "Yet when they arrive at the Assembly, they will stand arm in arm together as brothers and sisters in our church family. It's so beautiful when we come together and we stand united, looking different and representing our own nations but more importantly representing the kingdom of God."
The Assembly, which convenes every two years, is primarily a time for discussing theological and practical business for the denomination, but has grown to include more of a celebration of what God is doing through the church throughout the nations. The diversity of the church, both in leadership and in its members, has been long regarded as a hallmark by scholars who study religious movements.
"Our unity comes in the person of Jesus Christ and is grounded in our mutual love for Him," said Bishop Sam N. Clements, general overseer. "Love is the key to unity."
The church leadership consists of a general overseer, Bishop Clements, and seven general presbyters supervising the various areas of the world, including Africa (Bishop Stephen Masilela), Asia, Australia and Oceania (Bishop David Browder), the Caribbean and Atlantic-Ocean Islands (Bishop Clayton Martin), Mexico, Central America and the Spanish-Speaking Caribbean (Bishop Ben Feliz), Europe, the C.I.S. and the Middle East (Bishop Clayton Endecott), North America (Bishop Tim Coalter) and South America (Bishop Gabriel Vidal).
The largest cultural celebrations will occur on Friday. During the afternoon, the Mission Encounter, held in the exhibit hall, will feature hundreds of indigenous missionaries spotlighting their areas and reporting the work of the church. That evening, the Parade of Nations, a popular longtime tradition, will spotlight flags of every nation the Church of God of Prophecy is ministering in during a musical presentation.
Those indigenous missionaries will also serve as table hosts on Saturday morning during a missions breakfast. The event is sponsored through the church's missions department, which also provides clothing and assistance for international attendees during the event.
The Assembly, the 99th of the church's 113-year history, will also feature worship services, workshops, meetings and concurrent conferences for children and teens. General session speakers will include Bishop Clements, Bishop Feliz, Bishop Leroy Greenaway, and Kirk Rising, youth ministries director. Special guests include Dr. George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, Dr. Lamar Vest, president of Pentecostal Theological Seminary, worship artist B.J. Putnam, Pete Scazzero, and Dr. Tom Renfro.
The International Assembly, which will begin Wednesday, July 13, and dismiss on Sunday morning, July 18, is free and open to the public. Thousands will also be able to view it online at the church's website www.cogop.org. Users can also participate and observe social media feeds using the hashtag #cogopunited.
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