Lutherans Engage the World | Spring 2020

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Spring 2020


Spring 2020 Lutherans Engage the World is published quarterly by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. © 2020 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 Chrissy Thomas Rudy Blank

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

Cover image

The Rev. Osmel Soliz Bernal, an LCMS alliance missionary serving in the La Victoria district of Lima, Peru, walks through a local park with children who attend the church’s Castillo Fuerte afterschool program.

the world

Life Together in the Crucified Christ The church — the Bride of Christ, the sum total of the baptized faithful — is at her pure finest when she simply lets the “facts of life” shine forth with the radiance of the Son of God. He lives, all glory to His name. “O death, where is your sting? … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 COR. 15:55B, 57). This is, in fact, life under God’s exquisite plan: that He does not unleash divine vengeance upon you for your sin, but rather puts forward — to you and the entire world — unconditional forgiveness and sure salvation from unthinkably horrendous defeat. This is eternal life; it bears no punishment or penalty, because God has already suffered your punishment and paid your penalty in Christ. By declaring sinners righteous in the shed blood of His Son, God defines and delivers His life for the world. He has made His life yours and made you His. And now, He has sent His church into the world to proclaim this life, to give away the transformative power of His life to others. Going, making disciples for life, baptizing and teaching. Carried forward by His Word and Sacraments into God’s life of mercy and grace, there is a joyful gratitude, a deep humility and a confident hope that looks far beyond the crushing weight of sin. You may notice this in the slice of genuine life that’s captured in the following pages. This is your life too — our life together in the incarnate, crucified and risen Christ. It’s a life that willingly bears the sorrows and burdens and trials of the neighbor — not out of an obligation of guilt, but from the freedom that comes only by God’s declaration of His life upon you. 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 is framed by two statements: “[Teaching] the grace of God in Christ for our salvation” (Page 5), and “We show the love of Christ to people who are hurting and in need” (Page 13). This is what making disciples for life looks like — witness and mercy here, there and everywhere to hungry souls. Take a break to sit down with this issue and see how God is working through His church! In Christ, Pamela J. Nielsen Associate Executive Director, LCMS Communications


Physical 3 Promoting and Spiritual Health in Peru Kevin Armbrust

A Mercy Medical Team traveled to Lima, Peru, in February to assist Lutheran pastors as they connect with the community.



United in the Mission of the Church Megan K. Mertz

Meet three of the Synod’s missionaries who are serving in the Czech Republic, Papua New Guinea and Kenya.



Standing Before the Throne Pamela J. Nielsen Memorial Lutheran Church is located in the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area of the United States, and the congregation’s doors are wide open with the Gospel.

Departments 2 Q&A With Chaplain James Buckman 12 Mercy Moment Chainsaw training equips LERT members. 14 Witness Moment Combining faith and learning in Omaha, Neb. 20 Update Hope amid Puerto Rico’s earthquakes.


Few people have ever visited Antarctica,

but Chaplain (Air National Guard Lt. Col.) James Buckman was deployed there for nearly two months in 2019. Buckman, who also is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Lake Forest, Ill., has served in the U.S. military for 36 years — 13 of those as a chaplain. He’s incredibly busy, but he loves both roles and is thankful to his wife, Cathy, and their five children for supporting him as he provides spiritual care to people in many different situations.



Why did you go to Antarctica? I was selected by the Chaplain Corps at the National Guard Bureau to be the chaplain for all American servicemen, scientists and support staff in Antarctica during my deployment, which lasted 52 days. … Every week we had VIPs visiting — National Geographic, the BBC, congressmen, senators, foreign leaders, top military brass. … As the chaplain, I was often called on to give a tour of our chapel and talk about caring for the religious needs of a

diverse community. I relished the opportunity to talk about our First Amendment and the importance of protecting this right wherever Americans find themselves.


What was a typical day like? Weekdays began with a 6 a.m. Bible study in the Chapel of the Snows, unless I was out making a visit. Then I would have breakfast and begin my workplace ministry at McMurdo Station. The 1,200 scientists and support staff there work on a wide variety of projects. So, during the week, I would see our firefighters, hospital staff/patients, NASA folks and scientists at Crary Lab; call on our airmen working our two airfields, which

are located out on the Ross Ice Shelf; have lunch with and provide counseling to our New Zealand partners (military/ civilian) who are at Scott Base; … maintain contact with my parish back home; prepare for Bible studies and preaching; and vacuum/clean the chapel. There’s no janitor in Antarctica.


What were some of the challenges? When you offer a Bible study, you will likely have very few LCMS church members in attendance. You could easily have a Muslim, Mormon, Jew, atheist, etc. An LCMS chaplain needs to be able to give a reason for the hope they have, but to do so gently and with respect. The military has made decisions which we do not agree with morally. Fortunately, our church body has a very strong endorsing agent who, with the president of our church body, has made it clear to the Armed Forces Chaplaincy that LCMS chaplains will not be performing certain functions due to

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our historic understanding of Scripture.


Was anything surprising about Antarctica? How your body really does adapt to extreme cold. After being in the South Pole, I just have a whole different perspective on “cold” in America. More importantly, I was again surprised by how much people want to talk about faith, God and salvation. And I was definitely surprised to see how much this trip to Antarctica reinforced my belief in a six-day creation and a worldwide flood.


How do you balance being a parish pastor and a military chaplain? Communication, transparency, gratitude, … prayer, and you simply have to work more hours. Megan K. Mertz is managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.


Chaplain James Buckman


Promoting Physical and Spiritual Health

A MERCY MEDICAL TEAM traveled to Lima, Peru, in February to assist Lutheran pastors as they connect with the community. engage. lcms .o rg



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The Rev. Walterson Siewert (right), an LCMS alliance missionary in Peru, shares the Gospel with a man who asked GEO missionary Courtney Zalmanoff (left) about grace after a public health education class hosted by the church in Los Olivos, Peru.

What does this word ‘grace’ mean?” a man asked GEO missionary Courtney Zalmanoff, who serves as assistant volunteer coordinator for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region. The man had just read a flyer from the Peru Lutheran mission in the Los Olivos district of Lima, Peru. He received the handout after he attended a public health education class hosted by the Lutheran church in Los Olivos and led by LCMS laypeople from Illinois and Iowa and LCMS missionaries. Over 80 people showed up and learned about how to eat a balanced diet and the importance of hand hygiene. The team also presented on basic wound treatment and gave the children dental supplies. This health instruction class afforded the Rev. Walterson

People here are very open to hearing as we teach the truth about salvation by God in Christ.” — Rev. Walterson Siewert

Siewert, an LCMS alliance missionary from Paraguay who is the pastor of La Misión Luterana del Perú in Los Olivos, and Vicar Elvis Carrera, who is studying at the LCMS seminary in the Dominican Republic, the opportunity to connect with the community. The pastor opened with a prayer, and the vicar closed with a discussion of God’s role as our creator and sustainer, pointing to His provision for not only our physical needs but, most importantly, our need for salvation. As people were leaving, the team handed out flyers explaining the teachings of the Lutheran

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church and gave out a number for further information. As the man continued to ask questions of Zalmanoff, Siewert joined the conversation. The man was concerned that he would never be good enough to earn salvation. Siewert shared the Good News of God’s grace in Christ. “People here are so open to hearing the truth. They want it,” explained Siewert. Within hours of the health class, others contacted Carrera seeking more information about the church. Urban Latino outreach? Check. Over 10 million people in one locale? Absolutely.

People who claim to be Christians but don’t attend worship? Yup. Christians who struggle to identify the truth of the Scripture? In abundance. Atheists? Plenty. People who long for truth and hope in the midst of a life proliferated by daily struggles to survive? More than you can count. Parents who want better for their children but are ill-equipped to enable that desire? In spades. But most of all, sinners who need a Savior, and a small church with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? By God’s provision, yes. The constituent elements make for both fruitful labor and challenging work. With the Lord’s promises to work through His Word and Sacraments, the Peru mission operates to fulfill the prayer of God’s kingdom come and His will done. The mission currently works

in two primary locations. Siewert and Carrera work in Los Olivos. The Rev. Osmel Soliz Bernal, an LCMS alliance missionary from Bolivia, is pastor of La Iglesia Luterana de La Victoria.

In Los Olivos Siewert described the primary work of the congregation at Los Olivos as “[teaching] our Lutheran heritage ... [teaching] the grace of God in Christ for our salvation. “There are a lot of religions out there. People here are very open to hearing as we teach the truth about salvation by God in Christ.” Lima is largely Roman Catholic, but like most large cities, many are lost in a web of false teachings and sin. Into this situation, the Gospel goes forth, shining the light of Christ and drawing people to His love and salvation. Like every congregation, the saints at Los Olivos gather each weekend to receive God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. Siewert and Carrera visit their members throughout the week and provide opportunities to hear the Word: midweek Bible study, youth group, women’s prayer meeting and Sunday school/Bible study. The church also works to reach out to the community, especially sharing the Gospel and giving information about the church to those who walk by on the street. “I look forward to serving as a national pastor in the future,” said Carrera, who will be ordained this summer and will serve in Peru. Carrera grew up in Los Olivos and is a son of the congregation. “I’ve seen these neighborhoods my

whole life. They are getting to know the Lutheran church and learning about the faith.”

In La Victoria In the La Victoria district of Lima, Soliz, who previously served as a vicar in La Victoria, continues the work begun by LCMS missionaries. In addition to serving the congregation, he works with Castillo Fuerte: Casa de Misericordia (A Mighty Fortress: Mercy House). “I like teaching and being with the children,” Soliz explained In addition to free afterschool care, tutoring, outdoor activities and food, Castillo Fuerte instructs children in the Scriptures and the catechism. Soliz leads the children through the entire Bible every two years; holds chapel twice a week, where they focus on the catechism; and teaches confirmation to the older children. He is working to establish a youth group and other activities for the children who are too old for the Castillo Fuerte program. This work is continuing to bear fruit. Soliz has baptized several children who come to Castillo Fuerte and confirmed a few of them. He has also reached out to the children’s families and has instructed many adults in the faith. Like most urban congregations, La Victoria faces difficulties. Although the community is marked by its poverty, the price of real estate — including rental facilities — is astronomical. “The community is receptive, but this area is industrial and dangerous, therefore not very optimal for a church. ... but the field is ripe for sowing,” Soliz

Top: Members of the LCMS Mercy Medical Team pray before wrapping up their work in Los Olivos for the day.  Middle: Vicar Elvis Carrera (right) talks about Jesus Christ with George during a home visit with members of the MMT.  Bottom: The Rev. Osmel Soliz Bernal, an LCMS alliance missionary in Peru, greets children after school at Castillo Fuerte: Casa de Misericordia in La Victoria.

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Members of the CHE MMT lead a public health education class hosted by the Lutheran mission in Los Olivos.

A student studies the catechism after school at Castillo Fuerte: Casa de Misericordia in La Victoria.

continued. “The people don’t have a lot of resources, but the Word of God is still heard and received.”

Community Health Education “The pastors asked us to come help present first aid for the home ... since a lot of people just don’t have the knowledge to treat simple things,” said LCMS career missionary Erin Mackenzie, who serves the LAC region as volunteer coordinator. The LCMS Office of International Mission assembled a small team from Illinois and Iowa to travel to Lima as a Community Health Education (CHE) Mercy Medical Team (MMT). The team provided support for the pastors in Lima through medical education opportunities and by accompanying the pastors and vicar on visits. “Short-term teams work alongside the pastors and vicars to support the church,” explained Zalmanoff. “Teams from America help the pastors

as they form [the] relationships needed to go forward to bring people into the church.” “They help us in the work we are doing. They give a lot of good advice about nutrition and how to take care of the body. People want to learn this, so it helps us talk to these people and tell them about the church,” said Siewert. “The mission is pretty small, so when we have a bigger group, they feel larger, part of the Body of Christ.” The CHE MMT went out with Siewert and Carrera to visit members. “My house is quite small, but my heart is very large. You are very welcome,” George declared, as he welcomed Carrera and members of the CHE MMT. George, a professor of mathematics at the local university, learned on the internet about Luther and his strength to stand up and fight for what is right. George wants to ensure that his family learns the truth about God and belongs to a community of people with values. After conversations with Siewert,

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George and his family started attending worship. The presence of the CHE MMT also afforded Carrera an opportunity for further conversation. During this time together, George expressed his appreciation for the church and took advantage of the vicar’s presence to ask questions people everywhere have — inquiries about the Trinity, Christian symbolism, and faith and grace. “So many of the members and parishioners here are so full of love and are soaking in God’s grace and love,” said Ginger Diven, a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, East Dundee, Ill. “We are all here to worship our Lord — that’s the main thing.” Siewert began a home visit with a young mother by reading Psalm 127 and thanking God for her son. The following

conversation would sound familiar to all new mothers. Angela had questions for the medical professionals about how to care for her 10-monthold son, Eliam. She also expressed the common worry about her inability to be the perfect mother. After providing some tips, the people of the CHE MMT encouraged Angela and, along with Siewert, prayed with her. “This MMT is all about education. As a doctor, I can bring in the details that laypeople don’t know, especially in the home visits,” said Dr. Jennifer Olson, a member of the CHE MMT from Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, Indianola, Iowa. “To give that same peace, hope and love that God gives, and to share that with others through health care is a big blessing.”

“Short-term teams work alongside the pastors and vicars to support the church.” — COURTNEY ZALMANOFF

who are at home during the day,” said LCMS missionary Jamielynn Tinkey, human life coordinator for LAC. “Our Savior, when He was on earth, took care of physical needs as He provided for the most important need, the spiritual need. We are trying to do the same thing here. ... The Lord is at work as the CHE team is making connections with people, and we pray that will result in those people coming to church.” A girl shows her mother the dental hygiene kit she received at a public health education class hosted by the Lutheran mission in Los Olivos.

In another visit, the CHE MMT members traveled with Carrera to visit a family who were refugees from Venezuela. “I can’t promise you roses. But I can promise that God will be faithful to His Word,” explained Carrera after reading from Matthew 6. Following confession of the Creed and readings from Scripture, Carrera encouraged the family to share how God brought them to Lima. After recounting the harrowing tale of roadblocks and near disasters, the husband (whose name cannot be used) summarized by saying that God has truly blessed his family. Looking at the group, he smiled largely and

said (in Spanish), “We need to be in the Word constantly so that God can feed us.” The husband took this opportunity to express his desire to have a better relationship with his son than he had with his father. Carrera encouraged him to find the root of that improved relationship in the church, reminding the family that God welcomes us into His house each Sunday to give His gifts of forgiveness and salvation. “We were able to visit members that Pastor hasn’t been able to visit yet, because they are single women or women

Coming Together to Share Christ “Even though there is a language barrier and a culture barrier ... we can show them that they are loved and they are not alone,” said CHE MMT member Samantha Hoyt, who served in the Lutheran Young Adult Corps in 2019. “People feel like they have to struggle to make ends meet. People told us that the fact that you are here right now shows us the love of God.” Whether from Los Olivos; Indianola, Iowa; or East Dundee, Ill., Lutherans worked together in the ongoing mission to witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus. “I just love the people ... we all want truth, and that is Christ,”

said Mel Schroeder, a member of Immanuel, East Dundee, Ill. “I grew up thinking that missionaries were only the people who start churches, but anyone can be a missionary — you live out your life and you love people as Christ loved you.” “Not speaking the language has forced me to look at how people interact,” said CHE MMT member Douglas Hoyt. “At church on Sunday ... I could follow the liturgy even though I didn’t understand the words. ... I felt like I belonged with that group, because we are all doing the same thing I have done my whole life ... the liturgy ... Communion. And then at dinner, we all interacted, even though we don’t speak the same language. ... To be part of it is phenomenal — beyond words.” “Our goal is still the same. Our work is still the same,” observed Zalmanoff. “Our goal is to spread the Gospel, plant Lutheran churches and show mercy. And that is what the church is doing here and throughout Latin America.”

Dr. Kevin Armbrust is director of Editorial for LCMS Communications.

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About MMTs: About work in Peru:

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Meet three of the Synod’s missionaries who are serving in the Czech Republic, Papua New Guinea and Kenya.


e h t n i d Unite f o n o i ss Mi h c r u h C t he R BY ME G A N K . ME RT Z

ACH DAY PROVIDES unique and varying opportunities. It’s 5:30 a.m. This morning, my alarm echoes throughout the apartment building. Devotions with coffee — always coffee — and a hearty breakfast. I’m out the door by 6:20 a.m. for a morning prayer group in our basement clubroom where mission activities and Sunday service happen in the community of Havířov-Šumbark. Conversations with a few students follow this prayer time, as others leave for work or school. An hour later, a new group arrives. This time it’s retirees coming to learn English basics, which is a way to further connect with the community. After singing 123s and ABCs, I assign homework and we chat for a bit (many times about God). Then I head home for an hour to write emails and prep for English Talk Group, an English conversation and Gospel sharing gathering for high school students every Wednesday night.

This week, I meet a friend for lunch: soup, meat, sauce and dumplings. I zip over to a Polish (but still in the Czech Republic) elementary/middle school for an afternoon lesson. On the way back through Havířov (population of 75,000), I pick up Daniel, a 15-year-old, new Lutheran who’s also now my godson. We talk, maybe read the Small Catechism, open Scripture and have some more coffee. Then it’s time for a powernap and an espresso. In the evening, I am back in the same basement clubroom for a Lutheran church plant meeting and time of prayer with the Czech team. Upon returning home, I am grateful for the multitude of opportunities God provides each day to meet people where they are and to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them. This day, as every day, is His.

Benjamin Helge

HAVÍŘOV-ŠUMBARK, CZECH REPUBLIC Benjamin Helge has been serving with the LCMS since 2013. His role has expanded over the years, and he now coordinates all the GEO missionaries serving in Eurasia, while also teaching English in local public schools and leading weekly mission clubs in both the English and Czech languages. During the summer months, Helge helps organize English Bible camps in the Czech Republic and Poland.

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ULLET TRAINS or bicycles. High-rise apartments or humble cinderblock houses. Fried rice or fufu. The daily lives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) 100-plus missionaries vary greatly, depending on their locations and roles. As they spread the Gospel, plant churches and show mercy, they walk and live alongside the people they serve. It’s not easy; adapting to a new culture and language can be challenging, confusing and lonely. But by God’s grace, there are also moments of great joy. No matter where they live or what they eat, the Synod’s missionaries are united in the one mission of the church: to make known the love of Christ.




Britt Odemba



Britt Odemba has served the LCMS as an educational consultant to Kenya since 2012. In this position, she oversees Christ’s Care for Children: Kenya, a sponsorship program of the LCMS that works in conjunction with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya’s Project 24 boarding facility program for children in need. Odemba also previously helped restore Karama Academy, a Lutheran school in the largest slum in Africa.

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ALWAYS START MY DAY with my little family, as my husband and I eat breakfast with our 2-year-old and 4-year-old. We pile into the car and drive through Kibera slum to go to my mother-in-law’s house, which is on the other side of the slum. On the way, we pass school children in their uniforms, adults waiting to catch public transportation, and vendors selling chapatis or mandazis (Kenyan breads and pastries) to the people walking by. After dropping the kids off, I stop by Karama Academy in Kibera to meet with the head teacher and to go into each classroom to pass my greetings to the students and teachers (a Kenyan tradition). I spend some one-on-one time with each staff member before heading out to the East Africa Field Office outside of Nairobi city. In the office, I check for any emails from the site managers or the director of our Project 24 program. I also spend time updating the database for our child sponsorship program, Christ’s Care for Children: Kenya, and send any of their letters back to my counterpart in the Synod office.

In the afternoon, I may sit in on a meeting or two and then write thank-you notes or other correspondence to my supporters back in the states. After a full day, I sit in Nairobi traffic and am rewarded with a cup of chai and quality time with my family when I finally arrive back at my mother-in-law’s house. Here in Kenya, missionary life is about relationships. To an American, it may seem like we are wasting time. But here, it is important to spend time with people and build relationships. Passing greetings to people and sitting down with one another for fellowship is when the Gospel is shared. That’s why it is such an important part of my day — both with the staff and my own family. I have learned a lot from this culture and have embraced these wonderful moments as mission moments.

Lutz assists with a medical clinic in the mid-1990s.



Julie Lutz serves as mission service coordinator in Papua New Guinea, where she works to strengthen and support the ministry and service of those in the Synod’s partner church, the Gutnius Lutheran Church, and the LCMS mission team. Lutz has been serving with the LCMS in Papua New Guinea since 1986.


ISSIONARY SERVICE in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a ragged, rough and bold calling — a calling only possible because of the grace of God. While many missionaries do go to the unreached, work still remains here to help the nascent church rise to meet the challenge of a soaring youth population. We work with faithful families, pastors, Sunday school teachers and Lutheran schools to help strengthen our partners in Christ in this monumental task. A “typical” day — and I chuckle to think there could be a typical day — begins with the screeching of hundreds of Rainbow Lorikeets roosting in the eucalyptus tree outside my house on the grounds of Immanuel Lutheran Hospital. Breakfast and quiet devotional time might conclude before the first knock at the door, but likely not. The flow at the door is sporadic but ongoing: workmen getting their orders for the day, patients from distant areas who need attention, students who have questions, pastors seeking encouragement. It is all expected in a culture where relationships are paramount. Around the knocks, I carry out the day’s office work. My office is in our house. My son Anton, who is also an LCMS missionary, has an office and

workshop in our home as well, though he is frequently engaged in ministry away from home. I have a variety of projects to work on. Some are administrative tasks for our mission team, the LCMS and the PNG government. Other tasks are more focused on preparing ministry resources. Missionaries are still needed here in this “Christian” country. In many parts of Papua New Guinea, superstitions about sorcerers and witches who magically kill others are driving extreme violence against accused men, women and children. Under God’s protection we have begun to respond, but more needs to be done. It’s a privilege to be part of the effort to prepare media and print resources, workshops, and Bible studies to combat false belief and strengthen faith in our Almighty God.


Julie Lutz

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Helps LERT Volunteers Share the Gospel After Disaster BY K E V IN ARM B RUST

“Have a complete plan and follow it,” said Tim Ard from Forest Applications Training as he stood under a 100-foot tree needing to be felled. “Your hinge is your friend.” Men from eight districts of The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod (LCMS) listened as Ard taught them how to cut down trees, buck and limb fallen trees, and clear debris in a safe and beneficial manner. These men will take the information gained at this training to their districts to train other Lutheran Early Response Team (LERT) volunteers on chainsaw technique and safety. “Unified training leads to a unified response,” said the Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care Disaster Response. “When a disaster strikes, we work out of a local LCMS congregation. … We do everything in the name of Christ. It is a way, in dark times, for the church to be the light of Christ in very tangible ways. … People have been extremely receptive. Even people of different faiths and religions receive help with thanksgiving. And we share the Gospel with them.” This “train the trainers” event took place on the property of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Panama City, Fla. Hurricane Michael hit Panama City on Oct. 10,

2018, damaging the church and many of the trees on its 15acre property. Although much work has been done, many trees still need attention.

the process,” said the Rev. Randal Ehrichs, pastor of Good Shepherd. “The training here on our grounds has been pure gift to us.”

The Rev. Randal Ehrichs (center), pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Panama City, Fla., prays outside the church during the chainsaw training held by LCMS Disaster Response.

“These guys want to serve their neighbor with chainsaws, certainly, but ALSO WITH THE GOSPEL.” — Rev. Michael Meyer, director of disaster training for the LCMS

When planning this event, “we thought of Good Shepherd in Panama City,” said the Rev. Michael Meyer, director of disaster training for the LCMS. “During this training, we are helping get rid of some of those trees so that they don’t become a problem and a liability.” “They have been the hand of the Lord. They were the first on the ground with our district president. It’s been like having a big brother with you and helping you through

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Storm chasers often infiltrate communities after disasters and charge thousands of dollars to remove damaged trees or debris. But the LERT volunteers want to serve their neighbor for free. “These guys want to serve their neighbor,” said Meyer, “with chainsaws, certainly, but also with the Gospel.” David Ricks, chairman of Lutheran Disaster Care, a Recognized Service Organization of the LCMS,

agrees: “We take the Gospel with us when we go. We pass out the 40-day devotional booklet from LCMS Disaster Response. We meet with the family and have a prayer before we begin. … Some people have shown up at the local Lutheran church as a result.” Following a disaster, people with chainsaw skills are in high demand. That’s why LCMS Disaster Response wants to equip LERT members to provide this service safely and efficiently. “This chainsaw training serves to increase our dedicated volunteers’ capabilities and give them added capacity to extend mercy to those who haven’t the means or skills to perform this dangerous work in their communities,” said the Rev. Robert Wurst Jr., LERT volunteer manager for the LCMS. “LCMS Disaster Response is working to support our volunteers in the many ways they serve with Christ’s love.” Wurst is a recent addition to the LCMS Disaster Response team, and he brings a unique skillset to the position. While serving as a parish pastor, he also worked with the local fire department. He brings organizational skills as well as practical skills. “With him, we will do a better job of managing our database of volunteers and implementing them cohesively,”

explained Meyer. “There is a saying, ‘Spontaneous volunteers are the second disaster for any disaster.’ We do not want our volunteers to contribute to that. We want to match up volunteers with the opportunities so they can serve in the best way possible.” This chainsaw training is meant to be repeated in LCMS districts, but it will also be part of a curriculum being developed for the church. LCMS Disaster Response is preparing a suite of resources to cover safety, personal protective equipment, the physics of felling trees and clearing debris on the ground, and strategies including critical incident stress management. “LERT is mainly a mercybased group,” said Micah Pobanz, an attendee from Messiah Lutheran Church, Hays, Kan. The 23-year-old joined LERT after helping people in Kansas City following tornadoes, and he wants to help his district train others for similar situations. “We show the love of Christ to people who are hurting and in need.”



Right: The training class was held on Good Shepherd Lutheran Church’s property in Panama City, Fla., so that attendees could assist with cleaning up hurricane-damaged trees while learning safe chainsaw skills. Below: Tim Ard of Forest Applications Training watches as the Rev. Robert Wurst Jr., LERT volunteer manager for LCMS Disaster Response, cuts into a tree during the class.

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sparks faith and learning IN NEBRASKA



The mixed-age classroom in Omaha, Neb., provides an alternate way to reach families with the Gospel.

“I love the fact they are in God’s Word,” teacher Kayla Marty said of the students in her mixed-age classroom at Concordia Ignite in Omaha, Neb. The second- through fifthgrade students are brothers and sisters in Christ, but they don’t fight like real brothers and sisters. “We’re a family,” said fourth-grade student Alayna Thrasher. The class is built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ and housed in St. Mark Lutheran Church. This modern, one-room schoolhouse is under the umbrella of Concordia Lutheran Schools of Omaha, which also includes an elementary academy, junior high and high school. Ignite is a “micro-school” concept that “takes the silos away from the ages,” Marty said. By putting

different ages together, Marty revels in the “aha” moments when older students help younger students overcome challenges in their work and when younger ones get pulled up academically by their older peers. “Micro-schools, cottage schools and other educationally sound models are showing up in many of our LCMS districts as alternatives to traditional classroom education and as partners to the homeschool model,” said Robert Cooksey, head of Concordia Lutheran Schools of Omaha. “While every model is unique in some way, the

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variety of offerings expands our reach for the sake of the Gospel.” Ignite is also joined by other Synod schools that have embraced the “micro-school” concept, including St. John School, Ellisville, Mo.; Inspire at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in St. Charles, Mo.; and Veritas Academy in Wylie, Texas. Last September in Marty’s classroom, students sat in a circle on the rug and debated a topic, asking questions to ignite more debate. They used a curriculum and other supplies purchased with money from an LCMS Domestic Development Grant. Before that, they settled into stations to use technology. When Marty quizzed two students in a small group, others nestled

into comfortable chairs with class work. “It breaks down social barriers, where students might compare themselves,” said Concordia Academy Principal Nathan Domsch. “It’s OK to work at your own pace.” The theme for the class is “A Champion’s Journey,” based on Hebrews 12:2: “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” “We can only consider ourselves champions because of what He did for us,” Marty said. “We keep that first and foremost at the center of everything we do.” Erik M. Lunsford is managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications.



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Church members worship at Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, on Sunday, Feb. 2.

Memorial Lutheran Church is located in the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area of the United States, and the congregation’s doors are wide open with the Gospel.


t can be easy to overlook Memorial Lutheran Church and School, Houston. Its modern, one-story structure is dwarfed by a high rise and squeezed between shops, restaurants and residences. Yet, people keep finding their way here, and the members are eager to welcome them. The parish, which was started by people of European descent some 60 years ago, regularly receives new members who come in by a friend’s invitation, the church sign, a flyer, church transfer, Baptism and confirmation.

Bringing Christ to All “Christ — that’s the big thing which is very important in this church,” said Solomon Chafamao Abiye, a Lutheran from Ethiopia who learned about Memorial from a flyer 16 • LUTHERAN S EN G AG E   |   S P RI NG 2 0 2 0

on a bulletin board. “We are all one in Christ, and we are invited by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to this unity.” At Memorial, people from many different countries regularly gather around Word and Sacrament. “The church looks like all people, all nations,” said member Steve Hernandez. “What our Lord and Savior commands, to go and baptize all nations, doesn’t mean simply your little part of the world. To walk into our sanctuary and see that, that is probably one of the most beautiful things.” “We don’t look at what somebody’s background is,” said member John Coulter. “We look at them as just like everybody else in the pews: sinners who God has saved.” But the diversity here is not just ethnic. “Memorial has all types of people and we

welcome them all,” continued Coulter, who with his wife converted from the Episcopal church 26 years ago. “There are a lot of professionals, engineers, people who work for NASA, people who work in the oil industry … every field you can think of.” Jessica Rosenwinkel’s family transferred in after relocating to Houston for work. “There are a lot of things that make Memorial a good fit for our family,” she said, “the most important is the preaching and the catechesis. … The preaching is always Christ-focused.”

Inviting People In “As a result of preaching … the people have their own personal relief at God being so gracious to them in Christ and having fully redeemed

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (REV. 7:9–10).

them. ... Well, what does that look like when they carry out their Christian lives?” asked the Rev. Dr. Scott Murray, Memorial’s senior pastor and the Synod’s third vicepresident. “They have gotten extremely good at reaching out to people … in some remarkable ways.” The Tanzanians in Houston have come to Memorial primarily through word of mouth. That’s how lifelong Lutheran Matthew Mohono came to Memorial, and the cycle continues as each new member extends the invitation to their own friends. “We invite people, and I think that’s the very best way [to bring people into the church] nowadays,” he said. On a recent Saturday evening, the Tanzanian community of Houston gathered at the home of the Karaze family, members of Memorial, to mourn the death of a relative

People from the Tanzanian community in Houston gather at the home of a Memorial member on Saturday, Feb. 1, to mourn the death of a relative in Tanzania.

in Tanzania. This provided an opportunity for them to share their faith in Christ and the resurrection of the dead. “It’s a get-together when someone dies … relatives, friends, Tanzanians, Kenyans, we come together to console one another,” said Johanes Karaze. “There are Swahili hymns, [and] we pray.” And there was food — lots of traditional Tanzanian food. The Tanzanians at Memorial have been active in inviting their African friends to join

them at Memorial for worship and fellowship opportunities that bring the African community together at the church.

Teaching the Faith Memorial also has an active ministry to Telugu-speaking people, and they recently celebrated their 33rd Baptism. “Most of them were [formerly] Hindu,” explained Assistant Pastor Sagar Pilli, who started this ministry to people from southern India who are now

living in Houston. “They listened to God’s Word here [at Memorial], they took classes from me, and that clarified their questions about Baptism, conversion, God, salvation. It was a very good and long effort to teach them, patiently answering their questions before they received Baptism.” Such conversions are not easy. Pilli, who grew up Lutheran in the midst of the all-encompassing Hindu culture of India, explained the challenges, “Sometimes it is leaving the family or the religion that has been part of them for years, so it’s a difficult thing. They can wear the same dress, eat the same food, but they have to leave the idols and other gods and worship Christ alone as their Lord and Savior.” Pilli sees his job as moving the Telugu from point A to point B by teaching the basics of the Christian faith engage. l cms .o rg

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If you’d like more information about doing outreach in a diverse community, the Synod’s new initiative Making Disciples for Life can help. There are resources available, and the ministry leaders for outreach and church planting are eager to serve you. |   L EA R N MO R E  |

The Rev. Sagar Pilli, assistant pastor at Memorial, leads a Telugu Bible study between Sunday services. Students walk together following chapel on Monday, Feb. 3, at Memorial Lutheran School.

as found in the catechism and addressing all the cultural questions about Hinduism and Christianity. “At that point, if the person is willing, we move to Baptism,” said Pilli. After Baptism, the teaching continues as Murray instructs them in preparation for communicant membership. “I had a woman take my adult instruction class six times,” explained Murray, who sees preaching and teaching as the primary tasks of the church and its pastor. “I have seen such joy in people who I’m instructing, and they are having this ‘aha’ experience. And that’s true whether they were born into a Jewish family or a Telugu or Houstonian family.”

Taking the Faith Home Anna Kavugha-Ssekyanzi, a Tanzanian who has been at Memorial for more than 30 years, first learned about the church when she saw the sign while driving down the road. “I told my husband, ‘Wait, this is so close to home, and this is a Lutheran church. Let’s check it out.’” For the last 25 years, she’s been on the faculty of Memorial’s thriving day school, which offers a classical curriculum. Like the

congregation, there is great diversity among the students and faculty. “We [the teachers] are strong in helping the children with their religion curriculum so when these children take home the weekly lessons and memory [work], most tell their parents,” Kavugha-Ssekyanzi said. “I have had email, texts and conferences of parents saying, ‘Thank you for the way you teach, … now I am learning about religion from my child.’” God is blessing their efforts and working through His Word. Kavugha-Ssekyanzi is godmother to no less than 11 of her students who have come into the church through Baptism. “Our school stands out as we preach, speak and teach the truth, the beauty of being Christian.”

Food and Fellowship As you might expect, Texas brisket, smoked overnight, is a congregational specialty and is front and center at parish dinners. But on any given weekend, unique and aromatic flavors fill the air of the fellowship hall as smaller groups gather. Whether the food is prepared from traditional recipes and spices handed down in families from Texas, Africa or India, all are invited to join

|   WATC H   |

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Students from different grades pray and sing together during morning Matins at Memorial Lutheran School in Houston. Teacher Anna Kavugha-Ssekyanzi teaches her first-grade students at Memorial Lutheran School.

these frequent feasts. “Food is an important part of our culture, so it is homemade,” said Pilli. He explains that Telugu families start preparing food a day or two before a fellowship meal. “After the [worship] service in our culture, they want to stay here, because this is a meeting point; [it] is here they want to tell their stories, fellowship, eat and go home.” The congregation values these gatherings, and its facilities include a well-equipped kitchen. The church opens its doors to the Telugu and Tanzanian communities and others who want to use the facilities for meetings and

meals. Church members bring their friends to these ethnic gatherings that often become a first step toward learning about Christ and joining the church.

One, Though Many Murray recalls the remarkable decision by the lay leaders when the opportunity to begin the Telugu mission began. “The congregation said, ‘We don’t want to have a divided worship.’ They just said, ‘It’s incumbent on us as Christian people to have unified worship, where we are all saying the same thing the same way, and so they became very

intentional about bringing in this community.” “When we were first talking and approached with the potential for the Telugu mission … very quickly it became a consensus that we really wanted them to worship with us and be in our church service,” recalled Coulter. “That’s what the Telugu wanted as well. It’s worked out very well for all of us, although they do have their separate culture and we are welcome to be part of it. They invite us all the time.” “They kind of shake things up a bit,” added Vicar Martin Hill, a student from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. “With a lot of the cultures that are here … the Word of God keeps it all the same and that’s kind of the fascinating thing. You walk in here and you are hearing the same word being preached [and] studied in Bible study, often the same hymns and the liturgy. So, through it all, Christ and His

First-grade student Cosette Tran listens during class.

work in the church wherever you may be … Houston, India, Tanzania, wherever … that is still the same message preached to everyone.”

Have No Fear “If you’re in a situation where your neighborhood is changing and it’s become ethnically diverse or quite different from the people in the pews, first of all, don’t be afraid,” said Murray. “Never sell short the people of other ethnicities in your neighborhood — or their ability to love, treasure and digest what we are teaching. We should have no fear. We are teaching the truth.” Referencing Revelation 7, Murray continued: “These are the people who will be gathered around the throne of the Lamb in eternity, … why should we be afraid to have them around the altar of the Lamb together with us?”

Deaconess Pamela J. Nielsen is associate executive director for LCMS Communications. engage. l cms .o rg

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A Kingdom Not Shaken The Synod’s missionaries provide a message of hope even as the ground continues to tremble in Puerto Rico.


n Jan. 7, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico in the early morning hours, damaging buildings, complicating recovery efforts still underway from 2017’s Hurricane Maria, and causing renewed fear among the island’s already harried residents. More than 500 earthquakes of at least magnitude 2 have hit Puerto Rico since Dec. 28, and the area continues to experience daily tremors. In the midst of this, The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod (LCMS) is there, caring for people in the cities of Mayaguez and Ponce. Mayaguez sustained minimal damage, but in Ponce many

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buildings were damaged, including the Synod’s new mercy center. Thankfully, the Rev. Charles St-Onge, regional facilitator for the Synod’s Latin America and the Caribbean region, reports that they quickly found a temporary space for ministry. “Rev. James and Deaconess Christel Neuendorf, with the assistance of Deaconess Intern Stephanie Wilde, continue to follow up with affected families,” he says. “There are many who are now interested in Baptism and membership, thanks to the Gospel spoken and the care shown to them in the hours and days after the earthquake in the name of Christ.”

The Neuendorfs, who have been living and serving in Ponce for the last year,

SHARED THE FOLLOWING ACCOUNT IN THEIR NEWSLETTER. “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken — that is, things that have been made — in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (HEB. 12:26–29). The last month has been a journey of faith and a trial of perseverance. Shepherding the flock across five different locations and moves since December has been nerveracking and stressful. Seeing our brand-new property split from top to bottom by cracks through which the light of day can be seen has been disheartening. Canceling renovation teams and instead ordering demolition (for the dividing walls which were crumbling) has been demoralizing. The ground still shaking every day has been wearying and unnerving. Sharing in the grief and panic of those who have lost everything, whose children must sleep outside in a tent for weeks without answers, who have nowhere left to turn and no hope for a future, has become our daily labor and burden. Every day the rules change, the situation remains unclear, and we stand on ever shifting ground both literally and figuratively.

Top: Missionary Pastor James Neuendorf shares a comforting hug with an earthquake survivor in Ponce, Puerto Rico, after worship. Bottom left: Deaconess Christel Neuendorf and missionary Blake Warren unload bags of relief supplies. Bottom right: Pastors James Neuendorf and Anthony DiLiberto provide earthquake survivors with pastoral care in the municipal refugee center in Ponce.

So, why are we so overwhelmingly excited, eager and amazed? Why is the best description of our reaction worship, reverence and awe? Because we have a kingdom which cannot be shaken! The Lord has allowed our buildings to be damaged so that He could build His church, which is not built by human hands. He has stripped away all but the essentials from everyone, so that hearts would be called to the essence of the Gospel. Because those things are only means by which He delivers His Son to His people.

In the past month, your missionaries and your brothers and sisters in Ponce have been given the chance to publicly share the clear and unfiltered hope of the Gospel of Jesus to more than a thousand people. We have been privileged to be Jesus’ hands of mercy to those who needed a better and lasting peace, His feet to those who felt alone and abandoned, His voice to those who did not know Him, His ears to those who needed someone to listen. He is working in and through His people by the power of the Holy Spirit to work miraculous

change and faith like the blossoming of spring from the cold ground after a hard winter. In the devastation that surrounds us, there is new life bursting forth everywhere! The outpouring of support from the LCMS has enabled us to take a central role in the immediate disaster response with supplies and support, allowing us to work closely with the city leadership each day. Our tiny church of fewer than 20 people played a central role in the first spiritual response for the entire city on the day of the biggest quake. We have been able to provide pastoral counseling and care for leaders, from the mayor to the justice department to becoming the de facto chaplain of the Ponce police force. The ground has been prepared, and we are sowing the seeds of the Gospel as broadly as we can. Some seedlings are already showing above the ground! In God’s infinite wisdom, our lack of a safe location to gather during the week has meant the opening of five separate devotional gatherings each week in different places. Several families have asked for confirmation instruction, and others are seeking Baptism, one of which we did immediately. Most of the others have begun instruction. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” This article also can be found on the LCMS International Blog at

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In conjunction with a conference for Recognized Service Organizations

JAN. 14–16, 2021 / CHICAGO

In conjunction with the LCMS Life Conference and the March for Life Chicago Learn more!

Laypeople, pastors, church workers and Synod leaders are invited to come together to discuss needs, challenges and blessings as we carry out our shared mission. Come listen, learn and share resources. These days together will benefit our church as we exchange ideas and encourage each other.

LC M S JOHN 10:10