Lutherans Engage the World | Fall 2017

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Fall 2017 Lutherans Engage the World is published quarterly by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. © 2017 The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Reproduction for parish use does not require permission. Such reproductions, however, should credit Lutherans Engage the World as a source. Print editions are sent to LCMS donors, rostered workers and missionaries. An online version is available at Unless otherwise noted, all photos are property of the LCMS. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version ®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

the world

Abiding in the Mission of the Church The seasons turn; change is in the air. Do you sense it? We’re soaring forward on potent tailwinds. God’s Word is proclaimed and His Sacraments are administered in the face of a world adamantly opposed to Jesus. We love our enemies and pray for those who persecute the Church, imploring our heavenly Father to graciously bring about repentance. We poor, miserable sinners, in the pattern of the saints gone before — lifted up in mutual consolation and encouragement — “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which

Staff David L. Strand Pamela J. Nielsen Erica Schwan Megan K. Mertz Erik M. Lunsford Lisa Moeller Chrissy Thomas Rudy Blank

executive director, communications executive editor director, design services managing editor/staff writer manager, photojournalism designer designer webmaster

[we] have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1b–3). In the mission of the Church we abide, even as we bear the cross of Christ — crucified, dead and risen for the life of the world. The transformation effected by this Gospel accumulates globally, yet happens locally. Consider the examples in this issue of Lutherans Engage the World. God literally is bringing the nations to our doorstep, from Milwaukee to Maryland and to countless other points around the U.S. The beautiful work of the LCMS Office of National Mission sails on in support of districts and congregations — all of it under

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the mission priorities established by our Synod in convention.

Children pray during “Camp Courage” at Zion Lutheran Church, Ottawa, Ill., in July. The program from LCMS Disaster Response is designed specifically for children impacted by disaster.

I am struck with awe and filled with profound gratitude for the impact that you, dear reader, are making on people’s lives (with consequences extending into eternity) under God’s gracious will and perfect foreknowledge. We rejoice in acknowledging His goodness: “Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:16–17).


In Christ, Rev. Kevin D. Robson Chief Mission Officer, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod


We’d love for you to join us on the journey. To receive the magazine in your mailbox, please call the LCMS Church Information Center at 888-THE LCMS (843-5267). To be notified when new issues are posted online, visit

Editorial Office

314-996-1215 1333 S. Kirkwood Road St. Louis, MO 63122-7295 888-THE LCMS  |

From the Editor This issue of Lutherans Engage the World describes how LCMS congregations are actively reaching out with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and lending a helping hand in laundromats and meat plants, on city streets and country farms. As I write this, Texans have begun to recover from Hurricane Harvey, western states continue to burn, and Florida braces for Hurricane Irma. How will these natural disasters provide unique opportunities to bear Christ’s mercy and witness to His saving love? Time will tell, and God’s Word will guide. Enjoy this issue! In Christ, Pamela J. Nielsen Associate Executive Director, LCMS Communications



God Provides the Harvest Kevin Armbrust



Many People, But One Church Roger Drinnon A multicultural church is a blessing from God in Milwaukee.



The Rev. Steven Struecker is sowing seeds as both a fulltime farmer and a full-time pastor.

Care for New Americans in the Church Erik M. Lunsford From Washington State to Indiana, the Church is caring for Burmese refugees.



Local Witness and Mercy Megan K. Mertz ‘Stand With Your Community’ grants enable outreach in communities across the U.S.

Departments 6 Q&A with Chaplain Eddie Mekasha 7 Mercy Moment LCMS Disaster Response provides ‘Camp Courage’ for children impacted by disaster.

16 Witness Moment A Liberian refugee goes from the streets to the seminary.


Provides the Jesus plants seeds. He preaches and teaches. He harvests. He raises. He loves. And so does Pastor Steven Struecker, who rejoices in his call to pastor two small churches in rural Iowa. He looks like a pastor in the church and a farmer on the farm. And he knows that God has called him to each. And for this, he is thankful. He’s humbled to be called to serve them with the Word. The people are blessed to hear the Word proclaimed. And the Church goes on. And God is faithful to His promises. “The farming and the parish ministry have worked well together because they are similar,” Struecker says, as he reflects on his two roles. “We have to keep the weeds out and nourish the seed. When God’s Word comes into our lives, it strengthens us and gives us hope.”

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The Rev. Steven Struecker greets Alicia Woods and her family at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Livermore, Iowa.

works through these means to produce a harvest.

Sowing and Reaping Life in rural America is cyclic — there are times of intense work in the spring and fall during planting and harvesting. Not that there isn’t also plenty of work to do in the winter and summer. There is a rhythm in the Church Year as well. The festivals and the observations of the life of Christ dominate the first half of the Church Year. During the summer, many churches scale back their

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Sunday school and Bible class opportunities. Yet with vacation Bible school and other activities, there is always plenty of work. Over 3,000 acres demand Struecker’s attention — a vocation he shares with two others. Corn and soybeans require work, with all the attendant equipment and chores to keep the farm running. Two congregations look to him as their shepherd. Members require work and attention. Weekly worship and Bible class require preparation and time.

Confirmation classes, ladies’ guild and other activities fill his calendar. Shut-in calls and hospital visits are constant opportunities for service. “I drop everything if I am called for an emergency at church,” Struecker says, despite the fact that he is “very busy on the farm in the spring and the fall.” This is the reality of Struecker’s vocation. He serves in two arenas. He refuses to see himself as a parttime pastor. Instead, he knows that ministry is a full-time job. And he is happy to serve with all that he has.

Serving the People of God

|   L EA RN MO RE  | LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission:

|   WATC H   | An interview with the Rev. Steven Struecker:

The congregations he serves are not able to financially support a full-time pastor — something he sees as an opportunity. He can farm and serve as their pastor. It’s a difficult balance at times, and it isn’t for everyone.


Struecker is both a full-time farmer and a full-time pastor to his flocks at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Livermore, Iowa, and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lu Verne, Iowa. “I’ve been farming for 34 years, so I’ve planted 34 seasons. We put a seed in the ground, and it grows. That’s about the only thing that is the same. Everything else has changed.” The technology has advanced, but the seeds still have to be planted. The seeds are now engineered differently and the machinery involved in the planting has improved, but it is still a seed in the ground growing by God’s provision of rain, soil and sun. The Word will not return void but will accomplish what God desires. And so Struecker preaches every Sunday. As he is called to proclaim, he serves the people in these two congregations with the Word and the Sacraments. The Spirit

“I’ve just learned to do it. I trust that God

will provide the energy and the opportunity to do what He desires me to do.”  — Rev. Steven Struecker

But Struecker rejoices in his situation: “I’ve just learned to do it. I trust that God will provide the energy and the opportunity to do what He desires me to do.” Bi-vocational pastoral ministry wasn’t something he sought out. And yet he’s doing it by choice. There was a great need, and Struecker was asked to help fill that void. At the request of the pastor, Struecker helped two congregations who needed to hear the Word. “If no one provided pastoral ministry to these churches, they would have had to close. And that hurts the community as well as the members,” he says. The journey from fill-in to full-time pastor has been long. His formal training took 10 years to complete — first through the licensed lay deacon program at Concordia University, St. Paul, St. Paul, Minn., and then through his studies leading to ordination through the Specific Ministry Pastor program at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Looking back, Struecker says that the road to ordination was not easy at all. But he wouldn’t change a thing. The two congregations he serves are worth it because of the people there. They need to hear God’s Word and receive His Sacraments according to His will. About the two congregations, Struecker observes, “We have a variety of people

— young and old. It’s a real wide range of people, and they get along well.”

Rural & Small Town Mission Rural and small-town churches face unique challenges and situations. For this reason, Struecker is thankful for LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission (RSTM). “It’s nice to know that there is a branch of the LCMS that is looking out for small churches in small towns and rural areas. The webinars and information available are very helpful.” “LCMS RSTM partners with districts to support rural and small-town congregations and their leadership through mission and outreach training through our ‘Engaging’ events, our national mission conference, and other training and educational events throughout the Synod,” says the Rev. Todd Kollbaum, director of RSTM. “We also provide resources and training through monthly webinars and newsletters, as well as resource development based on requests and needs of congregations.” Kollbaum noted that Struecker “began his involvement with LCMS RSTM when he attended our first Worker Priest Respite and Revitalization Retreat. He has remained involved with us as an example for others in bivocational ministry, participation in our national mission conference, and as a leader in rural mission activities.”

The Holy Spirit at Work Throughout his studies toward ordination, Struecker says he received helpful advice and tips from professors, pastors and fellow students. One pastor said to him, “Just remember: You’re not God. God is in control. It’s not me the pastor that makes it work.” “It’s my job to proclaim God’s Word, but it’s not my job to save people,” Struecker says. “That’s the Holy Spirit’s work, working through His Word.” God uses this farmer to bring His Word to the people in this agricultural community. Many of Struecker’s conversations at church or in the community begin with discussions of the weather and the farming conditions. His work as a farmer is something his flock and community can relate to. But Struecker always turns the conversation to the Word of God and the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. As Struecker talks about his bi-vocational role, it calls to mind the Parable of the Sower, who went out to plant seed … and that seed was the Word of God. Struecker serves as His undershepherd — sowing seed, tilling the ground and trusting in God to produce the harvest.

Dr. Kevin Armbrust is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.

| Q&A |

Q&A Chaplain Eddie Mekasha with

The Rev. Eddie Mekasha has the distinction of being

the only LCMS chaplain currently serving at Tyson Foods, one of the largest producers of chicken, beef, pork and prepared foods in the world. Mekasha, who is originally from Ethiopia, came to the United States in 2002 to escape persecution. He joined Concordia Lutheran Church, Louisville, Ky., where he organized an outreach program for African immigrants. Later, he earned his Master of Divinity degree from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and served with Christian Friends of New Americans, an LCMS Recognized Service Organization in St. Louis. Since 2013, Mekasha has been a chaplain at two Tyson plants near Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he has the opportunity to serve people from all over the world.


Megan K. Mertz is managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and a staff writer for LCMS Communications.

Why Tyson? I decided to become a chaplain at Tyson, a nonchurch organization, because I have a desire to serve people in the community outside of the church wall. … I work at two plants. One has around 1,200 [employees], and the other has almost 200.


What’s a typical day like? One of the great things [about] serving as a chaplain at Tyson is every day to see different people. Many of them are immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America. I provide pastoral care, financial counseling and case work. I do this service of financial counseling and case work regardless of

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their religious affiliation. Also, I help in caring for families of team members, including children, and [offering] immigration and educational advice.


How many people do you meet with each day? An average of five to 10 people one-to-one. … If they have issues, they come to me. Or their supervisor or line leader may tell me situations that happened in their life. I tell them to come out of line during their break time. During an emergency time, I go with them to the hospital or rehab center. Anywhere they have issues, I go.


What’s rewarding about this work? To make a difference in their

lives — spiritually, financially, socially. … I’m the first person to be called for an emergency, and I help people to have a good transition. Some people come from a civil-war-affected area, like myself. That’s a unique thing: to share my same experience and background with those people serving Tyson and coming to this great nation, America.


What are the challenges? Each day, they have life struggles like any American. I’m there with them, stay with them, listening to them. God gives me two ears, and I’m giving advice once. Every day is a challenge, and every day is a blessing.




Helping Children Find Comfort

Ch ri st BY MEGA N K . ME RT Z

Children make sheep crafts during ”Camp Courage“ at Zion Lutheran Church, Ottawa, Ill.



eeks after a tornado hit the small town of Ottawa, Ill., children in Zion Lutheran Church’s Sunday school and preschool continued to talk about “the tomato that came” and roleplay going to the basement, said Susan Roberts, Zion’s preschool director. The EF3 tornado, which hit Ottawa and nearby Naplate on Feb. 28, damaged numerous homes and killed two people. “We knew that there was trauma that happened to these children and some fears that they were going to have in the weeks and months to come,” said the Rev. David Daniel, Zion’s pastor. So when Daniel heard about “Camp Courage,” a new program from LCMS Disaster Response that is specifically geared for children who have experienced a disaster, he

was interested in bringing it to Zion. Camp Courage is a vacation Bible school-style program that uses Bible stories, puppet skits, crafts, games, journal writing and disaster preparedness to help children gain spiritual tools and practical tips to deal with their fears, find relief from stress and develop coping mechanisms. The program was written by a Lutheran educator with 30 years of experience, and it was reviewed by pastors, clinical

psychologists and social workers before being made available for congregational use. “Even though we don’t realize that children are affected, they hear their parents talking and they see it on the news,” said the Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response. “The whole purpose of Camp Courage is to bring God’s comfort, reminding children that God is with them at every step of the way.” Thanks to generous donations, LCMS Disaster

|   L EA RN MO RE  | LCMS Disaster Response:

Response is able to offer the program free of charge to congregations like Zion. In July, 60 kids from the Ottawa and Naplate communities attended Camp Courage, where they learned Bible stories, sang hymns and thought about where they find comfort in an uncertain world. Daniel was impressed with the focus “on Jesus and the comfort that He offers with His Word.” “It’s an honest presentation to the children, showing them that there are some bad things in this world. That’s the reality of living in a sin-filled world. There is death, there are these temporal things that happen to us,” he said. “Even though those things do happen, we still have our everlasting life with Jesus. We have that hope in the future.”

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The Rev. Gui Kasongo Kabeo (left) prays before dinner at his home.

The world is full of opportunities for ministry,” says the Rev. Don Hougard. “The hard part is that most of the opportunities take us out of our comfort zone. God often leads us to places where we did not want to go and to people with whom we have very little in common.” Hougard is the senior pastor of Benediction Lutheran Church in Milwaukee — a church ministering to AngloAmerican, African-American, Hmong, German and Frenchspeaking African people. The church has about 60 Hmong members and 150 members of a French-speaking African congregation. Each Sunday, the church conducts worship in English, Hmong and French. It also holds one service a month in German. “The various groups that we minister to at Benediction could not be more different,” Hougard says. “Missions is hard, messy and humbling [work], but the relationships that form in Christ with people who are very different from us are some of the greatest blessings in life.”

Hougard chronicled some of the church’s history in a presentation given for the Multiethnic Symposium at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, last year.

Outreach to Hmong People “In 2003, we made a conscious decision to reach the growing Hmong population around our congregation,” writes Hougard. “Our first attempt, which was to send postcards to invite all of our Hmong neighbors to a potluck, was a dismal failure because the

cards were lost in the mail and delivered the day after the event, but it was probably not a good plan anyway. Our South Wisconsin [District] mission executive, Rev. Bob Hoehner, pointed us in a new direction. The St. Louis seminary was beginning a new program called the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology (EIIT). [Hoehner] had a candidate named Blong Vang for us, if we were interested. Blong enrolled, and we slowly began Hmong ministry with Bible classes … and other ministries, until we began a weekly Hmong service in 2006.”

The various groups that we minister to at Benediction could not be more different.” — Rev. Don Hougard

The Hmong people group originates from the region that includes southern China, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. “The Rev. Blong Vang graduated from the EIIT program in 2007, but he was called to Oshkosh. We looked for a new leader from among our membership. Moua Vang entered the EIIT program and graduated in 2012 as our first called Hmong pastor,” writes Hougard. “The challenge I see in our ministry is to bring people to Christ, not just non-Christians but Christians as well,” says the Rev. Moua Vang, who is now associate pastor at Benediction. “Christ is no longer the center in the life of many people. The greatest blessing is the joy when we find a lost one and bring that person to God.”

Another Opportunity Soon Follows In 2006, Benediction once again had the chance to reach out to a new group — this time, to French-speaking African immigrants.

|   M OR E P HOTOS  | engage. l cms .o rg

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The church is never static … at one point, we were the new ‘different’ people whom Christ called.

— rev. don hougard

Building relationships is an important part of ethnic ministry at Benediction Lutheran Church, Milwaukee. Opposite page, top: The Rev. Moua Vang (right) and his wife, Kou, visit a Hmong family in their home. Bottom: The Rev. Gui Kasongo Kabeo helps a Congolese refugee pick out shoes for his job. The pastor also often houses and feeds refugees who do not have a place to go when they arrive in the U.S.

“Our district mission executive [Rev.] Dan McMiller [now the LCMS Office of International Mission’s associate executive director for Missionary Recruitment and Regional Operations] asked if we would consider hosting a French-African congregation,” Hougard says. “An agreement was put in place … [and] the children were eventually all baptized. In 2012, the congregation was formally received as a member of the LCMS, and Pastor Gui Kasongo Kabeo was ordained and installed as their pastor after completing the EIIT program.” The Rev. Gui Kasongo Kabeo, who church members know as “Pastor Gui,” studied to become a Lutheran pastor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and was ordained at Benediction in 2011. His congregation, Eglise Lutherienne Internationale de Sion — also known as Zion International — became a chartered congregation of the LCMS in 2011. “We thank God for people who accept us with our differences,” he says. Pastor Gui received a $24,000 “Stand With Your Community” (SWYC) grant last year to help new immigrants from Africa adjust to life in the United States. As part of the Synod’s efforts leading up to the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, grants were awarded for Lutherans to engage in local witness and mercy outreach — a reflection of Martin Luther’s passion for all to know the true Gospel. Funding for the grants was provided through a partnership between the LCMS, Thrivent Financial and Lutheran Church Extension Fund.

In addition to providing basic necessities and transition assistance for newly arrived immigrants, the grant also has allowed for much-needed maintenance on the church van that is used to transport African immigrants to and from church as well as to and from work, until they earn enough money to buy their own transportation.

Committed to Sharing God’s Word Hougard says he is impressed by the commitment these pastors exhibit for being Lutheran and sharing the true Gospel. “All of our ethnic pastors are committed Lutherans,” he says. “This is important because all of our ethnic members are, to some extent, outcasts from their own culture, whether it be Shamanism for our Hmong members or Pentecostalism for our African immigrant and African-American members. There is a lot of pressure for them to return to their roots. “The church is never static. It is never homogeneous. It is always changing,” Hougard continues. “At one point, we were the new ‘different’ people whom Christ called. Today He is calling people who are different from us. He is forming one church out of many kinds of people. “Despite all that might divide us, we come to love each other as dear brothers and sisters in Christ,” he says.

Roger Drinnon is director of Editorial Services and Media Relations for LCMS Communications.

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Volunteer Teresa Kujawa visits with children before the start of summer Bible camp at East Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Detroit.


ilitary veterans, inner-city kids, refugees, the homeless, single mothers, those with special needs. These groups may not seem to have much in common, but in locations across the United States, Lutheran laypeople are reaching out to them with the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. To support these local witness and mercy efforts, The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod (LCMS) launched the “Stand With Your Community” grant program in 2015. The program — a partnership between the LCMS, Thrivent Financial and Lutheran Church Extension Fund — was a special initiative to reflect Martin Luther’s passion for all to know the true Gospel. The church body that bears his name continues his pursuit 500 years after the Reformation. The response to the program was tremendous.

Overall, 512 applications, totaling more than $8.3 million, were received from all 35 LCMS districts. Since only $1 million was available, 55 recipients were selected in early 2016 to receive grants of $1,000 to $25,000, depending on the scope and duration of the proposed project. Some grants were given for brand-new efforts, while others supported ongoing projects. “I was impressed frankly with the ingenuity, creativity and compassion revealed in so many project designs. Witness and mercy were wed together with a clear focus on outreach to those who needed to hear about Jesus,” said the Rev. Randall Golter, who coordinated the Synod’s celebration of the Reformation anniversary. Read on to learn more about the types of projects that are taking place in rural, suburban and urban communities all around the country.

In San Antonio — $12,000 In a laundromat in San Antonio, the church and community are coming together. Once a month from 6–8 p.m., members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, San Antonio, help people wash, dry and fold their clothes. As nearly 70 loads cycle through, church and community members eat pizza together, talk, pray and form friendships. On a recent evening, a volunteer comforted a man whose mother had just died. “They care for me here,” the man said afterward. St. Paul was able to establish Laundry Love —

a national initiative to care for people by helping to provide clean clothes — at a local laundromat thanks to a grant of $12,000. “It’s super simple,” said the Rev. David Murillo, senior pastor of St. Paul. “We show up. We bring food and soda. And we pay for laundry until we run out of quarters. Jesus does the rest.”

Roberto Cantu cries as Tom Kusiak, a retired physician and volunteer, prays with him.

|  WEB - EXCLUS IV E  | Read in-depth stories about these projects:

|   F IN D R ES OURC ES   | Find free Reformationthemed videos, Bible studies and other resources:

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In Quincy, Ill. — $19,612

In Grangeville, Idaho — $18,547

The mission of the Lutheran Church of St. John in Quincy, Ill., is “to be a place where grace is overflowing,” said the Rev. Steven Hayden, the church’s senior pastor. That’s why the congregation operates a food bank — the second largest in the county — and sends members out into the community twice a year during its Service Sundays. On these Sundays, more than 100 members help at a veterans’ home, pick up trash in the park, cook a meal for first responders, or serve in a variety of other ways. St. John received a grant of $19,612 to help fund these projects over two years. The congregation also purchased a new industrial refrigerator and condenser to expand the capacity of the food bank. Hayden calls these projects a “training ground” for members. “These are practical ways that we as a church are helping to equip and train our members. They are getting opportunities to practice grace overflowing so that it comes more naturally at home.”

In a rural area of Idaho where there is little support for military veterans, one LCMS congregation has stepped up to provide mercy care, emotional and spiritual support, and recognition for those who have served their country. Nearly 20 percent of the male members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Grangeville, are veterans — as is its pastor, the Rev. Michael Musegades — which uniquely positions the congregation to connect with other veterans. In 2016, Trinity received a grant of $18,547 for its TLC4VETS outreach program.

Janet Enroth works in the Quincy Veterans’ Home memorial garden during a Service Sunday.

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Immediately, members began hosting a monthly meal for veterans, and they were involved in helping a newly formed veterans’ center gain momentum. Paul Turpin, who coordinates the program, said the meals have provided opportunities for veterans to form friendships and share memories — sometimes even difficult ones that they haven’t told their family members. “The rest of the community has seen what we’re doing,” Turpin said. “They like it, and so they are stepping in to pull some of the weight too.”

In Sioux Falls, S.D. — $17,808 Once a month, members of Faith Lutheran Church, Sioux Falls, S.D., get together to prepare and serve a home-cooked meal to some 70 men, women and children at the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, a homeless shelter one mile down the street. The meal is just one way the congregation serves the homeless community. Members also lead a reading program for children at the shelter and staff a medical clinic. To help with startup expenses for these programs, Faith received a $17,808 grant for much-needed kitchen appliances, medical supplies and food.

“We took a look at the needs around us and realized that we were in a good position to address those, especially with the medical clinic,” said Associate Pastor Kory Janneke, noting that the congregation is blessed with seven doctors, 13 nurses, several pharmacists and other medical professionals. “Our church was very grateful to receive the grant,” said Dr. Patricia Peters, who was instrumental in setting up the clinic. “It spurred us on.”

Charlie Sims welcomes guests to the church’s taco tent at Grangeville’s Independence Day celebration.

Angie Schlenker and her daughter Samantha help serve lunch at the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House homeless shelter in Sioux Falls, S.D.

In Detroit — $25,000 Children and families are coming to East Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Detroit, thanks to a partnership with Gifts for All God’s Children, an organization started in 1988 by a group of Lutheran women who wanted to provide Christmas gifts to at-risk children in the city. The two opened the Connecting Kids to Christ Center out of East Bethlehem’s unused school building to offer tutoring, summer camps and other activities for children living at or below the poverty line.

“The rest of the community has seen what we’re doing.” — Paul Turpin

Volunteer Teresa Kujawa holds Taniya Wimberly during summer Bible camp at East Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Detroit. A young camper listens to a Bible story at East Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

The center received a $25,000 grant to purchase curriculum, supplies and eight laptops for student use. Funds also were used to make much-needed repairs to the restrooms and furnace in the older building. Susan Gawencki, who oversees the tutoring program, said their goal is to “connect the kids to Christ” and to “build families and family memories where they are involved in the Gospel.”

Across the United States Fifty-five "Stand With Your Community" grants were awarded to congregations, schools, districts and Recognized Service Organizations around the country.

Kathy Gross and Leone Christianson prepare lunch at the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House homeless shelter.

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Seminarian Joseph Lewis visits the same streets in downtown Washington, D.C., where he was homeless at age 21.

From the Streets to the





o see God at work, just meet seminarian Joseph Lewis, a Liberian

refugee with a harrowing past and, Lord willing, a fruitful future as a servant of the church. This summer, Lewis and I walked along New York Avenue and 12th Street in downtown Washington, D.C. We stopped in a small city park and talked to several homeless men. Lewis is familiar with the area, since he was homeless on the same streets at the age of 21. Lewis came to the United States after fleeing with his family from the civil war in Liberia. They spent time in the Ivory Coast before finding out they were going to be resettled in Washington, D.C. “America is the shining city on the top of the hill … the answer to all of your problems,” he said, recalling the excitement he felt

at the time. He imagined D.C. as a warm metropolis. Instead, he arrived during a brutally cold January wearing only f lip-f lops, shorts and a T-shirt. Reality in the United States wasn’t what he had hoped. Look at that grate, Lewis said, pointing to a metal panel on the ground next to a tall

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downtown D.C. building. That’s where he slept in the winter as heat radiated from underneath. He explained how he would use double-bagged trash bags stuffed with newspaper to keep warm. Other homeless people will fight you for it, he added. This quiet man, wearing a gray blazer and black clerical,

Vicar Daniel Keah leads worship at Lamb of God Lutheran Church, Landover Hills, Md.

is anything but soft-spoken when he preaches. Lewis commands an audience and points repeatedly to the cross. During Divine Service at Lamb of God Lutheran Church — which is housed at its sister congregation, Ascension Lutheran Church, Landover Hills, Md. — Lewis preached and played the keyboard while Vicar Daniel

Seminarian Joseph Lewis serves at Lamb of God Lutheran Church, Landover Hills, Md., as he prepares to be a pastor.

Lewis talks with homeless men in downtown Washington, D.C. Church members arrive for worship at Lamb of God.

Keah led worship. The liturgy is joyful and lively. Church member Gloria Kaizea played along using a traditional West African saasaa, an instrument made from a dried gourd with beans inside and set in a white rope net. It has been a long road to the pulpit for Lewis. He is currently a seminarian in the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. When Lewis hit rock bottom, God worked through people to care for him through a not-sochance encounter. One day when Lewis was homeless, he met Pah Suku, a fellow Liberian from what is

now Lamb of God, at a neighborhood McDonald’s. “I told him I’m from the street,” said Lewis. Suku invited Lewis to church, and one thing led to another. “The folks at the church at the time didn’t look at me as if I was a person from the street. They saw me as a human being. They embraced me, and I found a home.” Suku opened his home to him, and Lewis fell in love with the church and the people. He was the first to arrive for worship and the last to leave. He enrolled and graduated from a master’s program in Criminal Justice and landed a job at the Washington Metro Transit Police Department.

He rose through the ranks as a sergeant in the Criminal Investigation Division. He met his future wife at the church and had three children. All along, he heard God’s call to serve as a shepherd. Church members and the Rev. Fred Hedt, pastor of Ascension, encouraged him toward the pastoral ministry. “[Lewis] always stood out as somebody who is a man of great faith, a man open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and somebody who had real potential for leadership in the Lutheran Church and his community,” Hedt said. “It’s the right move for him and a good move for the church.”

“When I look at our people,” Lewis said, “I see people who are yearning for the Gospel, who find themselves in situations that are extremely difficult. My presence in the pulpit is an opportunity to remind us that Christ died on the cross for us, affording us the grace of God. Having been in the streets and in a similar situation, I can relate to what people are going through.”

Erik M. Lunsford is managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications.

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A volunteer from Alive in Christ Lutheran Church, Columbia, Mo., high-fives a child during a boating activity at All Nations Outreach’s annual summer day camp, which is held at Camp Lutherhaven in Albion, Ind.

The Rev. Doug Wagley, pastor of New Vision Lutheran Church, Spokane, Wash., visits with Burmese church members and guests.

Ler Moo (center) and his bride, July Paw, pray during their traditional Burmese wedding, which was held at New Vision Lutheran Church on June 17.

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for New Americans in the Church


he Church cares for the Body of Christ across the country. Even in unexpected locations, pastors and congregation members, old and young, extend love to new refugees and immigrants from different cultures. In Spokane, Wash., a city in the Northwest known for its funky roadside drive-through coffee shops and outdoor vibe, refugees from the Karen people of Burma and Thailand have resettled in the area after fleeing foreign refugee camps. The Karen are one of many groups of culturally and linguistically diverse people in Burma — also known as Myanmar — a country of golden Buddhist pagodas and diverse vegetation.

Word, Sacrament and Support At New Vision Lutheran Church in Spokane, volunteers were busy on a cool Friday afternoon in June hanging pink and blue decorations for Saturday’s wedding of Ler Moo and his bride, July Paw. Volunteers hung a sign near the altar that read “Happy Wedding Ceremony,” as another volunteer built a giant frame of balloons for the church narthex. In the midst of the activity, the Rev. Doug Wagley, pastor of the church, greeted guests and church members. He’s at home with ethnic ministry, since he first worked with Vietnamese refugees and immigrants before the Burmese started arriving in the area in 2006. “They are very community-minded,” said Wagley, “and so when they come to America they tend to want to go to the same church rather than making individual choices based on individual preferences. But there is one divide here based on Baptist distinctives, so some go to our church and some to another church in town.” Wagley said visitors are welcomed to the church because their language has been incorporated into the Divine Service. “We use Karen (and sometime Burmese) as well as Vietnamese

in our services. We have the confessions and creeds and prayers from the catechism in their language. We also do Scripture readings in various languages,” said Wagley. Most of the refugees who are already Christian come from Roman Catholic, Anglican or Baptist backgrounds due to the denominational mission work in Burma, said Wagley, but he has found that they are open to Lutheran doctrine on the Word and the Lord’s Supper. One challenge he encounters is working through culturally appropriate ways of teaching to talk to the older generations — especially those with a Baptist background — about Baptism for children. They learned from the Baptist church that no one can be baptized until they understand the teaching, which is usually considered to happen at age 18. Culturally, the parents are reticent to disagree with a pastor, which is a challenge as Wagley seeks to obey the Fourth Commandment and encourage Baptism. Wagley said the Burmese children often ask their parents for permission to be baptized by Wagley after receiving years of catechetical instruction. Later, Wagley visited old and new friends at their homes. It’s not uncommon for him to spend several hours meeting with families over traditional food and tea. He’s bold to speak about Jesus and witness, but he also uses this time to build relationships. “They have to trust you,” he said, noting that he majored in Asian studies and loves the varied cultures he gets to work with. The Spokane refugee community accepts him as one of their own. That’s why Wagley knows that even though it can be overwhelming at times, he’s called by God both to care for his flock in Word and Sacrament ministry and also to serve as a resource for day-to-day tasks. The morning before the wedding, Wagley’s phone rang at 6 a.m. Some Burmese friends were locked out of their car with

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Children and volunteers canoe on the lake during All Nations Outreach’s annual day camp for Burmese refugees in Indiana.

The Rev. Doug Wagley, pastor of New Vision Lutheran Church, Spokane, Wash., picks up church members for worship.

the engine running. “They don’t know what the phonebook is or who to call,” he said. Wagley told them to call a locksmith, but they didn’t know what that was. “Pastor, can you call one for us?” they asked. Later at the wedding, Burmese culture was on full display. The women in the wedding party wore traditional blue and white dresses with multicolored fringe and an intricate detailing of pink and red patterns. The men wore white jackets and black pants, with blue trim and teal ties. They sang, they prayed and they wed. Afterward, guests talked over traditional food: noodles with a sharp cilantro bite and grilled goat and rice. “One of the most important things was to have a loving congregation that reached out and greeted them on Sundays and got involved in their lives and children’s lives and took them to appointments during the week,” said Wagley.

The other crucial part of the ministry is transportation. “We still give lots of rides to the refugees to church and back. The motto is ‘you pick them up, they will come!’ The greatest step, though, is to teach our long-term members to invite people into their own homes for meals and activities and to practice Asian hospitality ourselves. This is definitely reciprocal!” he continued.

Christ at Camp A few weeks later in another part of the country, Soe Moe hunkers down on his belly with a gaggle of young children piled on his back on a hot and sunny day at Camp Lutherhaven in rural Albion, Ind. In a rush of water, the giggling group careens down a waterslide to the bottom of a muddy hill. Moe, known as “Chief” to the campers, is a young man who came from Thailand as a Karen refugee. He arrived

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Burmese church members and visitors worship at New Vision Lutheran Church.

in the United States in 2008. Moe was raised as a Christian and discovered that he wanted to serve the Lord after seeing his cousin attract children to Jesus through guitar music in their refugee camp. He volunteered to serve as a camp counselor for the week because he loves the children and the work of All Nations Outreach — a program led by the Rev. Jim Keller, pastor of a Burmese congregation at nearby New Life Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne. All Nations Outreach’s day camp stems from a friendship

resource help center led by Keller at a Fort Wayne apartment complex that is home to Burmese refugees. Keller buses the children up to the camp each summer. His goal is to provide a camp-like experience for unchurched kids where they can also hear about Jesus. On one day, he lamented a decision by a local Muslim imam in Fort Wayne who forbade a group of children from attending the weeklong program. But through God’s work, other non-Christian children came. He also cares for refugees

Left: Soe Moe leads a prayer during All Nations Outreach’s annual summer day camp at Camp Lutherhaven in Albion, Ind. Right: Anna Jank, a volunteer with Camp Lutherhaven, carries a young camper during a nature walk.

Young church-goers look at a board of photos at New Vision Lutheran Church, Spokane, Wash.

through the center by helping with day-to-day tasks and driving them to appointments. “Our overall goal is we want all these people in heaven, and this is one of the best places to come to meet Jesus,” said Keller. The pastor wore a T-shirt and floppy-brimmed hat that day as he watched a young girl slide awkwardly down the waterslide and crash into another group of children. He helped her up and made sure she was OK. “These kids are Muslim and they don’t know God,” said Moe. “Our chance this week is to tell them that Jesus loves them. Hopefully, God plants the seed there.” Moe, who is a member at Southwest Lutheran

Poe Hsee worships at New Vision Lutheran Church. Hsee has Thanaka cream on his face, which is worn by people from the Karen culture to cool the face and protect from sunburn. Children and volunteers bond during All Nations Outreach’s annual day camp in Indiana.

Church, Fort Wayne, is in the process of enrolling in the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology program at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He wants to serve the church and help new refugee children. Earlier in the day, teenagers from Alive in Christ Lutheran Church, Columbia, Mo. — who came on a mission trip to help with the camp at Lutherhaven — walked with the kids in the woods, boated on the lake,

sang Christian songs and ate traditional food. Hot dogs and rice for some, fish soup for others. The children come by bus each day to spend time with the volunteers, who stay on the camp property. Before the kids headed back for the day, Keller led the group in a Bible story and prayer. Faith Jonas, a member of Alive in Christ, hugged her little companion as she saw her to the bus. On board, children

waved back as their bus kicked up a dirt cloud as it drove away. The love extended to new refugees, under the cross of Christ and exemplified in the day-to-day assistance to someone new to our culture, is crucial to ministry. From Indiana to Spokane, the Church cares for this specific people group by bearing Christ’s love and mercy and bringing them into the family of faith. Learn More See more photos: new-americans-fall-2017 engage. l cms .o rg

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