ANDERSON, Ind. — More than 3,000 people from across the globe descended on the city this weekend.
They came to share stories and to worship, but their primary purpose was simple: to connect with other Church of God members.
Anderson welcomed delegates and missionaries from 60 countries and from all regions of the United States to the 2013 Church of God Global Gathering on Saturday. Activities and events are planned through the week, culminating with the general assembly on Wednesday, but the convention kicked off Saturday afternoon as members and delegates marched into the Kardzatke Wellness Center on the campus of Anderson University.
The delegates, bearing the flags of their home countries, entered the hall one by one to rounds of applause as the convention gathered for a service.
"Literally thousands of miles have been traveled, dozens of meetings have been held and lots of hard work by many people have gone into planning this gathering," said church general director Ronald Duncan.
The rest of the wellness center was set up as an expo convention, with different kiosks set up representing countries and regions of the world attending the gathering. Speakers from the Caribbean, India and Africa shared their stories with the convention, but a repeated theme was the church's battle against hunger and water needs.
Duncan announced a goal of $100,000 from donations at the gathering, all of which will go toward providing food and clean water in areas they're needed.
"That's why we're all here: to make a difference and spread the word," said Minna Thompson, a church member from Jamaica, one of the many countries with delegates.
Thompson and about a dozen other delegates from May Penn, Jamaica traveled with Rev. Lenworth Anglin to help represent the West Indies. She said the religion's following isn't very strong in Jamaica, but there are pockets with good representation, and she's been a member her entire life.
The Church of God is headquartered in Anderson, and even for many who aren't from Indiana, it was a homecoming of sorts.
Mike Webb, a church member and missionary from Lake Wales, Fla., saw it that way. Webb is originally from Huntington, and has family in Madison County, so the trip was hardly out of the ordinary for him and his wife, Heather. Considering they've been on missions trips to Tanzania and Indonesia, a trip to Central Indiana seemed fairly tame.
"It's just like coming back home," Webb said.
The Florida couple has been doing missionary work for almost a decade, but as they're aging, they're looking to pass the baton to younger, college-aged students. They've started a missionary training program in Florida and came to the gathering to increase their visibility.
But more than anything, they came to reunite with other Church of God members. Heather Webb said the convention still serves an important purpose in bringing attention to the religion.
"We're all here for our calling, and for us that's training and teaching," Webb said.
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