Lutherans Engage the World |Spring 2017

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Spring 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.

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

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

Cover image

A student takes an exam during class at the Lutheran Center for Theological Studies in Dapaong, Togo. PHOTO: LCMS COMMUNICATIONS/ERIK M. LUNSFORD

the world

The Proper Perspective


t is no small thing to claim that “the Church engages the world.” The world is a formidable foe — it teams up with the devil and our sinful nature, all three of which “do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer). American poet Walt Whitman may have once penned the exquisitely ambitious line “The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine” (“Song of the Open Road”), but the baptized faithful take a much longer, deeper view. We remember that the kingdom of God — our kingdom, given and received by His grace — is not of this world (JOHN 18:36). We humbly keep this truth in its proper perspective: The world is firmly placed within and under God’s ordered plan of salvation. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (PS. 24:1). The Church simply does what the Lord has given her to do: She perseveres in engaging the world. Everywhere! And how is this heroic quest fulfilled? By Jesus, crucified and risen, in a people made holy through faith in Him. And by you, a people journeying together through the world and yet set apart by the Word of God, by Baptism, by the Lord’s Supper, by the exercise of the Office of the Keys (the absolution of the repentant and the binding of sins upon the unrepentant). We are a people served by called and ordained ministers; a people in prayer, praise and thanksgiving to God — reflecting immense gratitude for having received Christ’s holiness; a people together, suffering in the bearing of His cross (Luther’s On the Councils and the Church). May we continue to walk together with you on this joyful, epic journey? It seems that more than a few of the world’s citizens are taking notice of where you’ve been and where you’re going. 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

From the Editor Together, you and … •O ur missionaries in Togo and Burkina Faso are “training men from Francophone Africa to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.” •T rained volunteers are tools in God’s hand — helping restore homes and lives following disaster. • Fellow Lutherans are teaching the world to see with eyes of life! • Our young people daily “echo” God’s love in service toward the neighbor.

Editorial Office

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

Lutherans are engaging the world in wondrous ways. Read a few of these marvelous stories in this issue and join us on the journey! In Christ, Pamela J. Nielsen Associate Executive Director, LCMS Communications


Restoring 6 Underwater: Buildings and Lives in North Carolina Erik M. Lunsford

The Lutherans “were sent to me … for when this storm hit.”

— Bernice Cromartie



A Moment Decades in the Making


‘I Am an Echo’: Reflecting Christ in the Community

Peter Slayton

Megan K. Mertz

In a remote village in northern Togo, a pastor is able to share God’s Word — the result of decades of mission work in the country.

Members of Immanuel Lutheran Church, St. Charles, Mo., continue to carry out ideas from the 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering through service to others.




Mexico Missionary Meets Parish Pastor Jeni Miller For the Rev. Andrew Schlund, life on the mission field isn’t much different from life in the parish.

Departments 10 Mercy Moment Continuing the conversation about God’s view of life. 12 Q&A with Katie Fiene, Director of Swaddling Clothes 21 Witness Moment Find out what’s new in Wittenberg, Germany.



Decades in the Making

In a remote village in northern Togo,

a pastor is able to share God’s Word — the result of decades of


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The Rev. Remi Lare Lambon leads prayer after a women’s literacy class in a local Lutheran church.


mission work in the country.

Prayer and devotion take place under the mango tree at Kanlou and SaaLalipak’s home.


ambombik is not a Christian, but on a day this past February, he heard God’s Word from one of God’s shepherds — something that would not have been possible just a few years ago. During Harmattan in Togo — the time of year when the north wind blows off the Sahara Desert, drying out eyes, kicking up dust and grit everywhere, and creating a perpetual haze easily mistaken for smog — it is not possible to reach Lambombik’s village of Sankpong by plane. The village, which is in the far northern reaches of Togo about an hour from the closest city of Dapaong, is sometimes only reachable by motorcycle down the rough dirt road. Yet, God’s Word has had a profound impact on Sankpong since the Rev. Remi Lare Lambon planted a Lutheran church here during his vicarage a few years ago. Michel Paru, president of the congregation, said that before the church was here, the village was full of hatred and conflict.

But now, he said, “these things have diminished greatly. We have compassion for one another. It has changed lives a great deal.” On that February day, Lambon visited the home of Kanlou and SaaLalipak Lamboni, Lambombik’s brother and sister-in-law. Their home is simple: huts made of mud brick and grass thatch that encircle an open-air common area.

Kanlou has done well in his business — well enough to afford a few rooms made of cinder blocks with tin roofs. Walls between each hut complete the compound. Just outside, a deep green mango tree reaches for the sky and spreads its branches wide — an excellent gathering place during the heat of the day. It’s a simple visit under the mango tree. There is prayer,

I have been encouraged by this visit. I have also noticed the changes in the village, especially in the young people. They are more respectful. I hope this visit strengthens the work Pastor Remi is doing here.” — Lambombik

a devotion on Rom. 1:8–12 and pastoral care, particularly for SaaLalipak. Like his brother, Kanlou does not attend church with her. In the cool shade of the mango tree as the searing sun climbs the sky, both Kanlou and Lambombik sit quietly and hear God’s Word. That Word begins to do its work in them. As the visit comes to a close, Lambombik expresses interest in attending church soon because he has been impressed with what he has heard. He also has noticed the changes in the village. The youth are more respectful, and there is more harmony. He hopes the work Lambon is doing strengthens and grows.

Training Pastors This moment has been decades in the making. LCMS mission work first began in Togo in 1981 when the Rev. Walt DeMoss started working in Lokpano, a village two hours outside of Dapaong. DeMoss and his wife, Helena, along engage. l cms .o rg

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CLET students could come from any of the highlighted Francophone countries in Africa.

Togolese women sing joyfully during the offertory at a Sunday church service.

with other LCMS missionary families, worked in northern Togo, planting churches and training evangelists for nearly 20 years. To this day, the Christian doctrine course they developed based on Scripture and the Small Catechism is still in use, helping the Togolese understand the Christian faith and grapple with the animistic and Muslim worldviews that surround them. The work begun by DeMoss and others grew, until in the late 1990s it was time to establish a more formal

program to put in place the last piece needed for national pastors to be ordained and sent out: a theological training center. Located in Dapaong, this new center was called the Centre Luthérien d’Etudes Théologiques (CLET), or the Lutheran Center for Theological Studies in English. The first Togolese pastors for the young Lutheran Church of Togo (ELT) were ordained in 2002. “Before 2002, because of the work of Rev. DeMoss and those who followed, we had trained

evangelists but we did not have any ordained pastors,” said the Rev. Kolani Lambon Lare, president of the ELT. “Now we have 19 ordained pastors and 24 evangelists.” Lare was in that first graduating class in 2002 and was ordained when he completed his vicarage. Lambon followed the same course, completing his studies in 2011. He was ordained in 2015.

What started as a center to train Togolese pastors has since expanded into an international partnership between confessional Lutheran church bodies across Francophone Africa — all the countries in Africa that speak French as the national language. Today, men from Togo study with men from the Ivory Coast, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and even from far off Burundi. The CLET compound doesn’t look much different from other schools in the area.

But one thing sets it apart: its singular focus on teaching men the pure Word of God. “The in-depth theological education is the most important thing that takes place here,” emphasized the Rev. Souk Kombondjar, director of the CLET, “so that the students may preach purely the Word of God and rightly administer the Sacraments.” The campus itself aids in maintaining this focus. The classrooms, offices and chapel are arranged around a towering cross in the center of the campus. The education is further reinforced by a daily schedule that revolves around the prayer offices of Matins and Vespers, where students find great joy in strengthening their practical knowledge of the historic liturgy and caring for their future congregations through faithful worship practices. The LCMS has provided theological educators like the Rev. Micah Wildauer to assist in the education of more men who would be pastors. Wildauer describes the CLET as a place that “brings men of all ages from throughout Francophone Africa to form them and to train them to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen again for our salvation.”

Building Up the Church The Rev. Frederick Reinhardt, LCMS missionary and area facilitator for Francophone Africa, has been encouraged to see the mission work done by the LCMS in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s pay off as congregations have formed national church bodies.

The CLET “brings men of all ages from throughout Francophone Africa to form them and to train them to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen again for our salvation.” 4  •  LUTHERAN S EN G AG E   |   S P RI NG 2 0 17

Each of these Francophone Lutheran church bodies contributes to the financial well-being of the CLET, but it is the LCMS they look to for theological education. “The LCMS as a church body is very well-known for its top-notch education. Our Lutheran schools and seminaries are worldrenowned,” Reinhardt

Because of decades of dedicated mission work in Togo, this same story is repeating itself across Francophone Africa as pastors are trained at the CLET and sent out to the harvest. The Rev. Gary Schulte (right), LCMS missionary and area director for West Africa, and the Rev. Lare Kolani Lambon, president of the Lutheran Church of Togo, review the Christian doctrine course developed by LCMS missionaries in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Students at the CLET concentrate while taking end-of-term exams.

As morning arrives, students enter the CLET compound for a day of exams.

explained. “We bring that expertise to Africa so that the churches here can learn and one day have independent educational institutions of their own.” Looking toward the future, the hope is that more French-speaking Lutheran church bodies will join in this partnership to train pastors and send students like Lambon to the CLET in Dapaong so that Christianity can grow throughout Africa. Thanks to the education and training Lambon received at the CLET, he was able to tell Lambombik — and many other unbelievers — of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. The seed has been planted. There is a church and pastor to water it. The Holy Spirit is present in Word and Sacrament, and that seed will grow in Sankpong as He wills it.

Learn More: • Hear more about the CLET from missionaries serving there: theological-education-in-togospring-2017 • Read about the history of mission work in Togo: Peter Slayton is manager of Social Media with LCMS Communications. The Rev. Jacob Gaugert, LCMS missionary to Togo, enjoys fellowship with his students after a long day of classes.

Theological resources are hard to come by in western Africa. These well-worn copies of the Book of Concord in French are treasured. Each school day closes with Vespers, led by students so they can learn and practice the liturgy.

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Underwater: Restoring Buildings and Lives in North Carolina

The Rev. Wayne Puls, senior pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, Wake Forest, N.C., hugs Bernice Cromartie at her flood-damaged day care in Lumberton, N.C. Members of Hope and other area LCMS congregations have come together to rebuild the day-care center.

God works in mysterious ways to create new beginnings,” said Joel Mathews, a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Tampa, Fla. Last October, the small town of Lumberton, N.C., was hit hard as Hurricane Matthew lashed the Caribbean and moved up the U.S. coastline. First the wind came, and then floodwaters rushed in, leaving more than 20 people dead in North Carolina alone. Along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the south part of Lumberton, floodwaters lapped the Nanny’s Korner Care Center sign and filled the small day-care center up to its 4-foot high Noah’s Ark wallpaper border. “Oh my God, oh my God,” said Bernice Cromartie, a gentle woman with a fiercely warm smile and a penchant for hugs instead of handshakes, when she first saw her flooded day care and the surrounding area. When she was able to enter the building a few days later, she saw that everything was destroyed. “I was devastated, I was hurt; I felt as though I had no hope, I didn’t know what direction

to take, because I knew in the circumstances that the odds were against me,” she recalled.

Hope Amid Tragedy Cromartie always wanted the best for the children in her day care, so she neglected herself and sank half of her earnings into the business. “Some of the only things [the children] received were from me,” she said. At the day care, they had Thanksgiving dinners for parents and Christmas gifts for the children. It was the third tragedy for Cromartie in several years.

First, she found her husband dead from a heart attack in their bedroom, a Bible next to him. Later, her finances toppled into bankruptcy as she clung to the business for the children she dearly loved. Now, her business — and everything she financially poured into it — had been destroyed in the flood. “I had no outlet other than prayer; that was [the] only thing that kept me [sane] — it was the Lord and the Word,” she said. “I asked the Lord, where do I go now?” On the other side of Lumberton, shortly after

God works in mysterious ways to create new beginnings.” |   L EA RN MO RE  | |   H EA R   | Hear more from Bernice Cromartie:

the storm, Joel and Kathy Mathews had traveled to the area to distribute flood buckets and help with cleanup. Each bucket contained devotionals and cleaning items for flood victims, prepared by congregations with help from LCMS Disaster Response. One of the buckets went to a nearby school and landed in Cromartie’s hands. She was struggling — unable to secure either assistance from FEMA or recovery loans from the Small Business Administration. Cromartie dug into the bucket, parsed out the cleaning supplies and found the devotional. She read it, and “it was like a soft, still voice,” she said. “The Lord said, ‘Call them,’” so she picked up the phone on Nov. 2 and called. The number was for the LCMS International Center in St. Louis. Diane Grimm in the Church Information Center answered and listened to her story. Grimm was “all yeas, no nays,” according to Cromartie. She was then connected to Deaconess Sally Hiller at the LCMS Southeastern District, who connected her to disaster responders in the area. Cromartie reached engage. l cms .o rg

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The Rev. Wayne Puls cuts a piece of wood for a wall at Nanny’s Korner Care Center in Lumberton, N.C.

Construction is underway at Nanny’s Korner Care Center, which was damaged by Hurricane Matthew in October.

A volunteer holds a damaged photograph found at the day care.

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The Rev. Eric Hollar, associate pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church, Claremont, N.C., presents quilts to day-care center owner Bernice Cromartie.

Liz Garlington volunteers in the rebuilding effort at Nanny’s Korner Care Center.

Kathy Mathews on her cell phone as they drove to nearby Fayetteville. The Mathewses answered Cromartie’s call and turned the car around to meet her. They asked church member and contractor Victor Tucker and the Rev. Dean Herberts, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Norlina, N.C., to join them at the center. Tucker later sized up the mold-infested day care and felt the Lord’s call to help the saddened widow. “When He touches your heart with something, there’s nothing you can do but follow,” Tucker said. He now uses his skills as a general contractor to oversee the repair of the building. Volunteers from area LCMS congregations — Hope Lutheran Church, Wake Forest, N.C.; St. Paul’s, Norlina, N.C.; and St. John’s Lutheran Church, Conover, N.C. — answered the call for help at the day care, just one of over 100,000 structures in

North Carolina affected by the flood, according to the Rev. Eric Hollar, associate pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church, Claremont, N.C., and the Southeastern District’s on-site coordinator for Hurricane Matthew relief.

‘The Tool in God’s Hand’ A few months later in January, the Rev. Wayne Puls, senior pastor of Hope, was at a volunteer workday at the center when he cut a board just a little too long to affix it properly to the day care’s exterior. He called for help from Harold Haun, the church member and foreman on-site, who was working in a crawlspace. Haun sauntered out and helped the pastor recut the wood. The two were part of a group of volunteers from the congregation that were gutting the center. “It’s a chance,” Puls said, “to — as the old cliché says — be the tool in God’s hand, and let Him not just help fix a building, but I think it has an impact on

When He touches your heart with something, there’s nothing you can do but follow.”

her heart and her life, and that’s all to the glory of God, that’s not something we’re doing.” The mercy work, he said, “comes back to our church tenfold in ways of opening people’s hearts and [helping] them see what God can do through their simple, humble efforts.” Outside the center, the thud, thud, thud of hammers and the high-pitched whirl of a saw permeated the air. Volunteers Jim Kelliher and Gerald Jomp wrestled with a fallen chainlink fence. Jerry Garlington hoisted himself up from under the floorboards, hammer in one hand, crowbar in the other, and a breathing mask on his face. “That’s not a very pretty picture,” Garlington joked to a reporter standing next to him. Cromartie visited with and hugged the volunteers. “They were doing physical work, but they were helping me to heal. They would always pray with me, they really exemplified to … me that you’re going to make it,” she said. “I felt like giving up at one point … but [Kathy] said ‘you’re a strong, strong lady … your faith is great,’ and that’s the only thing I had.”

The Lutherans “were sent to me … for when this storm hit,” she said. “He really showed how He could take care of me.” In February, LCMS Disaster Response gave two grants to assist in this work: $8,000 to continue renovations of Nanny’s Korner Care Center and $10,000 for a disasterresponse trailer that can be used for years to come. Once repairs are complete, Herberts said they hope to provide ongoing spiritual care for the community. “I believe God is calling us to go deeper here [in Lumberton],” Hollar said. As he coordinates volunteer teams, the parish pastor is exploring a mission start in the town. It’s not easy work, but he knows it’s a place that needs Christ. “The Christian witnessing provided in Word and action for the community who desperately needed to know God was with them … and still is shining there on the corner of Nanny’s Korner Care Center,” Joel Mathews said. Erik M. Lunsford is managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications.

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Carrying the Banner that All Life Is Sacred T

he Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod joined in — but did not blend in with — the March for Life on Jan. 27. Lime-green hats marked the Lutherans as a cohesive group. But more than the hats, it was the eyes that attracted the attention of marchers and TV cameras. Fifteen feet wide and three feet tall, a pair of eyes held aloft by Lutherans bobbed and weaved its way down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. The same eyes were carried through downtown Chicago days earlier. Those same eyes, though smaller, have been seen on and on Facebook.

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Students from Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, Wis., take the Metro to the 2017 March for Life.

A Campaign for Life Many campaigns exist to oppose ideas or issues in our society, but the Synod’s “Eyes of Life” campaign is a dynamic conversation about life from God’s point of view. The conversations are not always easy. The stories are real; people are hurt and broken. But in all of the stories, in all of the situations, life is the gift of a loving God who sent His Son to die and to rise as life and light. In a world bent down under the weight of death, “Eyes of Life” is a conversation about life — from conception to natural death. “Eyes of Life” was publicly launched at the 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering in New Orleans in July. Singer Erin Bode sang “Right from the Beginning” — the song she wrote for “Eyes of Life” — in front of more than 22,000 LCMS youth and adults. The youth were encouraged to share their stories of life on social media using #eyesoflife.

Encouraging the Next Generation The young people of the church continued to voice their vision at the LCMS Life Conference, held Jan. 27–29. “LCMS Life Ministry was pleased to be able to

offer support to high school and college students so they could attend the march and the conference,” said the Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission. Two groups benefited from financial assistance: Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill., and St. Paul Lutheran High School, Concordia, Mo. “Their presence and voice is crucial in the ongoing battle for life,” Day said. “We pray the entire experience, especially the content of the conference, will help them stand strong in their communities.” Day’s hopes were realized in those who benefited from the financial support. “I want to extend a huge thank you to the LCMS for giving my Teens for Life group at my school, St. Paul Lutheran in Concordia, [Mo.,] a donation to help fund our trip to D.C.,” said Bethany Gillet, a student at the school.

A woman holds an “Eyes of Life” sign outside the U.S. Capitol during the March for Life on Jan. 27, 2017.

“Not only has it been the best trip of my life, but also an amazing opportunity to share my faith with people who watch what we do and to be in unity with hundreds of thousands knowing we are marching for the same reason.” “The best part about the March for Life was seeing how many other young people share the same passionate beliefs I do,” said Shannon Peters, another student at St. Paul. “I know I’m not alone anymore, and I feel like I really can make a difference in the movement for life. I am so thankful for the LCMS and other donors who made this experience possible for my classmates and me.” Since the launch of “Eyes of Life,” people have read the stories and shared their own on the website and through social media. The website has grown, and it now includes additional stories and a downloadable Bible study.

But in all of the stories, in all of the situations, life is the gift of a loving God who sent His Son to die and to rise as life and light. | GALLERY | | L EA RN MO RE |

“Eyes of Life” was intended to culminate in the 2017 March for Life. This vision reached fulfillment as Lutherans marched, carried signs and sang hymns about the author of life — teaching the world to see with a positive voice. “The March for Life and LCMS Life Conference were an incredible experience for me personally and for our group as a whole,” noted Jenny Minor, a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Montgomery, Ala., who came as a chaperone with the group from Concordia, Mo. “It was so uplifting to join in song with our fellow Lutherans as we marched peacefully and boldly in support of life. Everyone in our group was inspired and humbled to be in a crowd of so many people who all support our same belief in the sanctity of life at all stages.” Though the March for Life has come and gone, the conversation continues. There are more stories to share, more people to encourage. The world needs to learn to see with eyes of life. And so it goes on, all in God’s time, all in God’s hands. Read the stories and share your own at Dr. Kevin Armbrust is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.

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Q & A



od has filled our hearts with the desire to love our neighbor. But how do we do that?’ This was a question that the saints of River of Life Lutheran Church in Channahon, Ill., were asking ourselves a few years ago,” the Rev. Hans Fiene explains. “We found the answer in Swaddling Clothes, a program we designed to provide baby-related items to those who need them.” Fiene’s wife, Katie, now serves as director of Swaddling Clothes and assists other congregations in starting the program. Hear from Katie how this mercy work began.

parent that comes in is in need of a church family. We don’t do Swaddling Clothes to gain members. We run this program to do what Christians are supposed to do: help their neighbors.

What is Swaddling Clothes? Swaddling Clothes is a program that gives clothing, diapers, [baby] wipes and other child-related items to families in need. Providing for little ones can be overwhelming. We like to offer whatever help we can. We are a reliable and stable resource for families when they need it.

How has stocking diapers and organizing tiny clothes reminded you that our Lord gives value to each life? When you know the names and faces of the families that these diapers will be given to, when you know their struggles and challenges, it reminds you of how God loves us individually … and how Christ’s salvation is a gift that is given to us individually.

Why the name? For months, we called it “the mom store” because we couldn’t find the right title. Then my husband came home one day and said he had the perfect idea. Swaddling Clothes was indeed the perfect name. It brings us back to the Bible: “And she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger” (LUKE 2:7).

You have young sons. How do you explain the importance of life to them? It really isn’t hard to teach a child that life is sacred and has value no matter how small or how old. I wish I didn’t have to explain to them that there are others who don’t find value in all life. But it allows me to reiterate that it is extremely important to stand up, stand for and stand by what is right. It doesn’t matter what we find value in; it matters that God sees each and every life as equally valuable. What advice can you offer a congregation that wants to speak up for life? The beauty of a program like this is that each congregation can customize this program to suit the resources of the

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congregation or needs of the community. Doing something like Swaddling Clothes isn’t hard. It can be as big or as small as you need it to be. Action behind our words is a strong statement to our communities. What’s a memory from your work that stands out? My husband was able to baptize five kids from one family on Christmas Eve a couple of years ago. That was a pretty emotional and memorable event for the whole congregation. But not every child or

Adriane Heins is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness and editor of Catechetical Information for LCMS Communications.

MO R E O N L I N E Learn more about Swaddling Clothes and watch Fiene’s interview:



with Katie Fiene, Director of Swaddling Clothes

Reflecting Christ in the Community



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AST JULY, some 60 teenagers and adult leaders from Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Charles, Mo., piled into a bus and made the 10-hour drive to New Orleans. This wasn’t just a vacation for them. The group was headed to the 13th triennial LCMS Youth Gathering, where they would spend the next five days engaged in worship, learning, faith discussions, fellowship and fun with more than 22,000 other Lutheran youth and adults from all 35 LCMS districts and 14 countries.

“A lot of my close friends were going, and I heard from older students … who went to one,” said Sarah Franklin, a member of Immanuel and a junior at Lutheran High School of St. Charles County. “They said it was a life-changing event.”

Echoing Christ One of the main ideas throughout the July 16–20 event was that Christians echo Jesus’ love to those around them. “Our humility is an echo of Jesus’ humility. We receive his humble love and it’s reflected in us and through us to someone else,” tweeted the Rev. Matthew Popovits during the Gathering. Popovits, pastor of Our Saviour New York, Rego Park, N.Y., served as the “trusted voice” during the 2016 Gathering’s Mass Events. Thousands participated in the Gathering’s many organized servant events. Teens and adults also took to Twitter to talk about their own ways of echoing Christ’s love, using #IAmAnEcho. Some tweeted about praying with people on

the street, handing out water bottles to thirsty pedestrians and hugging police officers. Others posted about distributing meals to New Orleans’ homeless community. “Even have food for their dogs!” tweeted one teenage girl after posting a photo of a bag full of meals for the homeless.

Taking It Home Those echoes didn’t stop on the final day of the Gathering. The idea continues to resonate with participants well after they returned to their homes — whether in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Harlingen, Texas; Chiayi, Taiwan; or St. Charles. More than six months later, Isabella Schneider, another member of Immanuel and a sophomore at a local public high school, said the idea of being an echo “empowered” her to let go of some of her fear of sharing her faith with others. “As an echo, even when you are scared, God will speak through you,” she said, noting how reassuring that thought was to her.

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Youth from Immanuel participate in the 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering 5K on July 17. The race raised $30,000 to help refugees and immigrants.

Service at the Gathering

In just five days, Gathering participants echoed the love of Christ by: Filling more than 900 backpacks with school supplies; Building a frame for a Habitat for Humanity home; Donating 791 pints of blood, with a significant portion of that going to relief efforts after the police shootings in Baton Rouge, La.; Making 1,000 fleece hats for children with cancer; and Packaging 500,906 meals with Feeding Children Everywhere. Sarah Franklin (left) and Isabella Schneider pack food donations at Immanuel Lutheran Church, St. Charles, Mo., on Feb. 26. The items were then delivered to a local food pantry.

“Our humility is an echo of Jesus’ humility. We receive his humble love and it’s reflected in us and through us to someone else.” — Rev. Matthew Popovits

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“The Gathering is just a piece on their journey; it’s not the end.” — Jolene Siebarth

Sarah Franklin (left) and Isabella Schneider (center) talk with fellow youth group members Jacob Welch and Emma Tharp after delivering donations to a local food pantry.

Schneider is a leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at her school, where she often leads devotions using materials from her youth group’s Bible study. “She’ll take stuff we do in Bible study and take it to school to share with that group, which is awesome because it’s pretty much impossible for the pastor and I to get into the schools that are public,” said Jolene Siebarth, director of Christian education at Immanuel. “So the kids being the witnesses there is really important.” For Franklin, it was encouraging to hear the testimonies of the speakers at the Gathering, including many around her own age. “It’s really easy for youth to feel alone at times,” Siebarth said. “But knowing that God’s Word is alive and active … that message was definitely one that they heard from the speakers in sharing their testimonies of how God is alive and working in their lives.

That allows them to think about how they see God moving in their own lives.” Franklin also continues to draw on lessons she learned at the Gathering. Since she plays both basketball and golf, she found the session on showing Christ’s love through sports particularly helpful. At another session, she said she learned that when talking to a friend going through a struggle, she should “be more of a listener, instead of just spitting out Bible verses.” “You want to tell them that Christ loves them,” she said, “and listening is a great place to start.”

A Lifelong Journey Siebarth admits that taking a group to the Gathering is a lot of work. She spends nearly a year arranging logistics, helping the youth raise donations to cover their expenses, and preparing them to get the most out of their short

time there. But she says it’s worth it. “For a lot of them, hearing the speakers on the main stage at the Mass Events and having worship and serving with a large group and knowing there are all these people together for the same reason can definitely change their perspective on things,” she said. Among her youth, she often sees confusion about the messages they receive from the world versus what they hear in church. She builds on the opportunities they had at the Gathering to get together in small groups and dig deeper into those faith topics. She also keeps challenging them to ask themselves: “How am I an echo of Christ? How do I share God’s Word with other people?” One way she does this is by keeping her youth actively engaged in echoing Christ through service to others. In February, Franklin, Schneider

and others led a service project to collect and deliver food to a local Christian food pantry. Immanuel’s youth group also is gearing up to serve this summer at the Shoshone Mountain Retreat in Wallace, Idaho, through LCMS Youth Ministry’s annual servantevent program. The theme for the 2017 LCMS Servant Events is “I Am An Echo,” which delves into this topic from the Gathering through weeklong devotions and Bible studies. “I’m trying to instill in each of them that the Gathering is just a piece on their journey; it’s not the end,” Siebarth said. “Faith is woven through all of their life, not just those faith moments when you are with thousands of other Christians.”

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

|   MA K E P L A N S TO AT T EN D   |

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The next Gathering is set for July 11–15, 2019, in Minneapolis. Watch for more information at


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The Rev. Andrew Schlund (far left), LCMS missionary to Mexico, prays with parishioners before a council meeting at El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) Lutheran Church in Mexico City.

There are just certain cultural differences that I can’t put into words yet, but they certainly make life different here.”

For the Rev. Andrew Schlund, LCMS missionary to Mexico, life in the mission field couldn’t be further from that clichéd imagery. Instead, the missionary life is filled with council meetings, potlucks and the Divine Service. With a twist, of course. Since 2016, Schlund has served as pastor of El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) Lutheran Church in Mexico City. As a career missionary, Schlund will likely serve this small parish for at least five years, or perhaps longer, until one of the Mexican seminarians is ready to be ordained. “My mission work here in Mexico was originally to serve as a theological educator, and that’s still a great part of my work here, but it’s also become serving the congregation of Buen Pastor, a congregation that has been around for about 70 years,” Schlund explained. “It was originally an Englishspeaking congregation but now it has a bilingual ministry that tries to reach out to expats of the United States, but also has a good

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Spanish ministry too. They like to emphasize good doctrine and reaching out into the community to serve people and their needs.”

The Mission in Mexico Schlund is one of only two LCMS missionaries serving in the whole country of Mexico, which is quite a privilege and responsibility considering that the population in Mexico City alone is more than 25 million people. Together with the Rev. Daniel Conrad, another career missionary in Mexico, Schlund helps to affirm a Lutheran presence in the city while Conrad provides assistance in sending out workers to share the Gospel. Conrad also serves as interim pastor to a local congregation in Mexico City: San Pedro Lutheran Church. “I would say that [Conrad] is the lead missionary when it comes to the mission work in Mexico,” said Schlund. “He has a number of years of experience, and he’s in charge of

theological education. We have weekly meetings on Wednesdays to discuss the work at our respective churches.” Weekly meetings of pastors — it almost sounds like the circuit meetings pastors attend on the northern side the border. There are dozens of other similarities between Schlund’s work in Mexico and that of a “typical” parish pastor in the states: budgets, issues within the membership, visitation, feeding and teaching the people, and catechizing, to name a few. “We have a worship service every Sunday at 10:30 in a sanctuary that looks like many I have attended in the United States,” Schlund explained. “All of our people are in need of the grace and forgiveness given by Jesus Christ. “Currently it takes me a couple days to complete my sermon in both English and in Spanish and so that takes up most of my time,” he added. “I also have two confirmation classes, one for two adult Spanish speakers and the other for the son of an expat family. I am also working on learning more Spanish, as well as preparing the service for the coming Sunday. We also have an adult confirmation class about the basics of the Lutheran faith.” Of course, not every aspect of parish life is typical for Schlund, and he still has particular challenges to overcome, just like any other missionary sent to a foreign locale — especially

considering that he is still in his first year of serving as a pastor in the Lord’s Church. “I am a pastor fresh out of the seminary — this has made things more challenging for me,” he said. “I am serving a congregation, mostly in Spanish, and I do not have the experience that most pastors have. The language barrier has made it difficult to understand what is happening. There are times when I think I know what’s going on and then something happens that proves I did not understand the situation. There are just certain cultural differences that I can’t put into words yet, but they certainly make life different here.”

Schlund holds his daughter, Charlotte, as he greets church members and visitors after the Sunday service.

Church member Alejandro Arevalo (right) helps Schlund by leading a Bible study and assisting wherever he’s needed.

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Not all differences are so bad, of course. “The potlucks are more delicious here — sorry, congregations in the states!” he added. “It’s hard to beat authentic Mexican food, in my opinion.”


Un Buen Amigo Thankfully, Schlund has found an ally in the congregation, a well-catechized parishioner named Alejandro Arevalo, who now serves the parish by leading a Bible study and assisting wherever he’s needed. “Alejandro has been a key part of my adjustment to serving at Buen Pastor,” Schlund said. “He also serves as my assistant during worship, and he makes the bulletins. After church, our family and several other members pile into his minivan, dubbed the ‘Lutheran mobile,’ and Alejandro and his family give us rides home.” Schlund’s family — his wife, Kelsey, and daughter,

Charlotte — also have enjoyed the adjustment to life in Mexico City, despite the occasional challenge. “Overall, we really enjoy living in the city,” Kelsey Schlund said. “There’s lots of parks and delicious restaurants near where we live. Mexico City has many fascinating cultural and historic sites. Going out and exploring new places is fun for us, and it gives us many opportunities to practice our Spanish. “Apart from learning the language, the biggest challenge has been figuring out how to use public transportation,” she added. “This makes simple things, like running errands, more complicated. The traffic here can be horrible, so we need to strategically plan when we’re going out so we avoid the major rush hours.” Andrew Schlund agrees that transportation is quite the challenge on this particular mission field. “It’s been interesting trying to adjust to life without a car. However,

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we have found it easier to live without it. Uber has been our best friend.” As is standard anywhere in the world, children are often better than adults at overcoming challenges and learning new ways of life. “Charlotte’s adjusted well to life here,” Kelsey Schlund said. “She loves walking around the city and visiting new places. She’s picked up on some cultural norms, like kissing people on the cheek when they say hello and goodbye, and she’s learning some Spanish words. She’ll probably learn Spanish faster than we will!” Similar to the experience of other parish pastors, the joys of the ministry — whether one is serving as a career missionary in Mexico City or as a sole pastor in rural Nebraska — are bountiful and always rooted in God’s Word. “One of my greatest joys is learning about the passion that the members of this church have for this congregation,” Andrew Schlund said. “I would

like this parish to be focused on God’s Word, focused on His Sacraments, because I firmly believe that, from that, people reach out to one another, people gather other people into His Church, and we can be a place that is loving, caring, a place centered on Jesus and what He has done for us, focused on His work in the world, and gathering all nations to Himself. So I’d very much like it to be a place about the Gospel, and that’s my main goal.” Spoken like a true parish pastor.

Deaconess Jeni Miller is a freelance writer and member of Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta.

|   L EA RN M OR E   | Learn more about the Schlunds: |   H EAR   | Hear more from Schlund and Conrad:


The Wittenberg Project Ends … and



LUTHERLAND GIFT CAPS OFF CAMPAIGN The campaign to fund the renovation of the Old Latin School ended successfully on Jan. 4. Capping off the campaign was what LCMS Mission Advancement Executive Director Mark Hofman calls the “lasting legacy” of a gift from the board of Lutherland, a now-closed Lutheran organization. In appreciation for that gift, the chapel inside the renovated building will be named “Lutherland of the West Chapel.” Hofman said that “a band of generous people, congregations and organizations” responded to The Wittenberg Project — including one anonymous donor who led with a $1 million matching grant. Lutheran Church Extension Fund also collaborated with the LCMS and the ILSW by supplying a line of credit to help pay renovation costs as contributions or pledges were secured. Through Dec. 31, $4,164,396 was received in gifts and pledges. “To my knowledge,” Hofman added, “this may be the first named campaign where the LCMS accomplished a mission-focused goal and reached a challenging financial goal. Lutherland’s board, along with friends too numerous to mention here, made a conscious decision to combine their gifts and complete something no one individual could accomplish alone.”


hanks be to God!

The Wittenberg Project, a campaign that set out to renovate the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Germany, has officially come to a joyful completion. With the renovations behind it, now the work of the project begins. The International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School is now operating at full force as a multipurpose retreat and education center and outpost for proclamation of the Gospel. Since the center opened two years ago, thousands of visitors have worshiped, toured and bunked at the center — to engage in the city that made Reformation history. Between the numerous conferences, seminars and even college classes held onsite, the building has stayed busy most days of the year. Still, there are countless opportunities for Lutherans and supporters to engage in the new International Lutheran Center, especially as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches. “The center would love to see more congregational, confirmation and study groups of

A visiting group listens to a presentation at the International Lutheran Center.

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all ages come and stay here and really delve into all the treasures that Wittenberg has to offer,” said Kristin Lange, managing director for the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW). “Visitors can even book a long-term stay with a window looking over Luther’s church! Even if folks are not staying in the building, they can use the chapel, as many day-trip groups have done.” Tours of the International Lutheran Center can be arranged by appointment via an online form available


on the center’s website, Tour times follow general office hours during the week, and advance reservations are necessary to ensure that the director is available. For lodging needs, the center relies on a nearby booking partner, Colleg Wittenberg, which manages all reservations, check-ins and lodgingrelated questions. Potential visitors may click the “Lodging” tab at to inquire about upcoming dates and availability. “The Wittenberg Project reached a most important milestone in that we have received beloved gifts to pay off the building remodeling and renovation,” noted the Rev. Dr. Michael Kumm, chairman of the ILSW as well as chairman of the LCMS Board of Directors. “Now we have Lutherans from all over the world visiting and studying in Wittenberg, while staying at the Old Latin School. This project and its continued operation will play a pivotal role in educating and reaching out to Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike well into the future.” engage. l cms .o rg

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