Twentieth annual Santa Barbara Missions Conference focuses on reconciliation

Kylen Christiansen, Staff Writer

Over the weekend of Jan. 28 and 29, Christians from Santa Barbara and the surrounding cities came together for the 20th annual Santa Barbara Missions Conference. The two-day conference brought together representatives from churches across Santa Barbara and the central coast, as well as many Westmont students and staff. 

This year, First Presbyterian Church hosted the conference, which featured musical worship led by Eben Drost — Westmont’s director of music and worship — and members of the community, including multiple Westmont students. June Michaelson, First Presbyterian congregant and organizer for the conference, referred to the worship as a highlight of the conference, particularly because it was the “first time there has been music in the sanctuary since 2020.” 

In fact, not only was it the first time music had been played in the sanctuary in nearly two years, but the first time a congregation had gathered in the church sanctuary since Mar. 8, 2020, when COVID-19 began to surge and in-person gatherings were shut down.First Presbyterian’s pastor, Erik Wiebe, announced that the church was overjoyed that the first group to gather after renovation was a mixture of pastors and church members from the Santa Barbara community.  

Keynote speakers Eugene Cho and Sandra Van Opstal led the conference, speaking specifically to the theme “Called to Reconcile.” Cho serves as CEO of “Bread for the World” in Washington, D.C. and Opstal is the executive director of Chasing Justice in Chicago. The conference focused specifically on racial reconciliation, a theme chosen by Michaelson and other conference coordinators, as they discussed questions like, “What do we really need to hear right now?” and “What can help us be more Christ-like?” 

In addition to the keynote speakers, several speakers led breakout sessions on Saturday, among them: Laura Harbert, Christy Vines, Dwight Radcliffe, Marlo Fox, Andrea Carter and Westmont’s own Deborah Dunn. The breakout sessions also focused on justice and reconciliation.

Westmont Ministry and Outreach Director, Jennie Feuntes, and her husband Danny emceed the conference. “It has been a blessing to put a lot of time and effort into making this happen,” Jennie reflected. 

Westmont junior Melanie Salvador attended the conference. She especially appreciated having lunch with Sandra Van Opstal. Salvador is particularly interested in working to “find balance between highlighting experiences and educating students,” which led her to attend the conference to engage in discussion about reconciliation. 

The conference was hosted both virtually and in-person, with about 150 people registered in- person and 50 people registered online. Michealson recognized the complexities related to holding the conference both virtually and in-person, especially as there were technology difficulties sprinkled throughout the weekend. Despite this, recordings from the conference are still available online at the Santa Barbara Mission Conference website.

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