Lutherans Engage the World | Winter 2021

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Winter 2021


Winter 2021 Lutherans Engage the World is published quarterly by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. © 2021 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. 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

Cross and Resurrection Lutheran Church, the Chapel at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich., overlooks a cluster of on-campus residence halls. PHOTO: LCMS COMMUNICATIONS/ ERIK M. LUNSFORD

Secure in Christ’s Victory “Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll … . And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’” (REV. 5:1A, 2). Who is worthy? No one but the Lamb, the Lion of Judah, the promised Messiah, the Son of God. His opening of the heavenly scroll resides not in dream or fantasy, but in the reality of His victory, won for all upon a cross, declared in the resurrection. In what has been handed from the Father to His Son, Christ exercises His authority forever to deliver His faithful saints from every evil. What is recorded in this scroll that only Jesus can open? The shining destiny of the people of God. No matter the darkness, terrors and agonies of suffering and death that we face in this earthly life, Christ is in charge. Too distracted, too fearful and anxious, we too soon forget: Nothing — no earthly wickedness, no demon or devil, no worldly ruler or powers or wars, no pandemic, no abundance or deprivation — can alter God’s righteous judgment. From beginning to end, A to Z, that sacred Word in the Old and New Testaments — opened by the Lamb of God once slain, the Lion who ferociously slew death and hell itself — brings you His hope and divine encouragement, giving you the confidence and strength to remain forever faithful to His promise of eternal glory. To forgive. To bring you to everlasting life. Wherever and whenever Christ is preached, that ministry continues in amazingly diverse circumstances, as exemplified in this issue of Lutherans Engage the World. He is proclaimed as crucified for our sins, for in that blessed death is shown His victory for you and me. In His hands, Rev. Kevin D. Robson Chief Mission Officer, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod


We’d love for you to join us on the journey. 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 Two pastors forge a bond as they encourage and sharpen one another’s skills. College students enjoy trivia and pancakes. Missionaries are cared for by those they serve. An immigrant vicar is embraced by a Midwestern parish. Volunteers serve those devastated by disaster. The stories in this issue of Lutherans Engage the World come from across the globe, spanning cultures, ages and experiences. What they have in common is the people of God gathered together around Word and Sacrament, mercifully caring for each other. The light of Christ and the warmth of His love, shone and shared by the communion of saints in all these places, burns brightly in this dark world. Enjoy these stories of your church bearing witness to Christ! In Christ, Pamela J. Nielsen Associate Executive Director, LCMS Communications


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Sinners Who Need the Word of God Kevin Armbrust and Erik M. Lunsford Campus ministries in Champaign, Ill., and Ypsilanti, Mich., provide what is most essential for college students and those in their community: the Word and Sacraments.



The Centrality of the Word Erik M. Lunsford The architecture at historic Trinity Lutheran Church, Detroit, guides us to Christ on the cross and in His Word.

Preach It Kevin Armbrust

Two pastors are honing their preaching skills through PALS, Preach the Word and their growing friendship.



Mercy After Disaster Stacey Egger For 15 years, Lutheran Early Response Teams have brought care for body and soul to those devastated by natural disasters.

Departments 2 Q&A With Missionary Johanna Stinnett 12 Witness Moment

A former skeptic studies to become a pastor.

20 State of the Synod

A snapshot of the work of the LCMS in 2020.


In 2015, the Rev. Eric and Johanna Stinnett received a surprise call from LCMS Missionary

Recruitment asking if they’d be interested in serving as missionaries in Ethiopia. At first, Johanna says, they were “floored.” But after much prayer, the family of six packed up and moved from small-town Montana to big-city Addis Ababa, where Eric teaches at Mekane Yesus Seminary. In this interview, Johanna talks about Ethiopia and what it has been like to live in another country during the COVID-19 pandemic.


What’s your favorite thing about serving in Ethiopia? One of the things I love about Ethiopia is that everyone is religious in some way. … Raising our kids here has the benefit that no one mocks them for their faith. The everyday greeting always ends with እግዚአብሔር ይመስገን , which means “thanks be to God.”


How has the pandemic impacted your life and work? A typical schedule used to be Eric leaving for classes up the hill from where we live on the seminary campus and us homeschooling. … When the coronavirus arrived, the seminary students were told that they were going home for two weeks, and all schools

were shut down by the government. That time turned into six months. … We also had to cancel our summer plans to see family and reconnect with our mission supporters. The separation from family has been hard.


What has it been like to live in another country during this time? Living in Ethiopia during COVID did give rise to some fears and anxiety — not all of it on our part. When the rest of the world was exploding with cases, there were hardly any in most of Africa. When it did come, the first case was identified in a foreigner. A few more cases were confirmed in foreigners, and so an antiforeigner sentiment developed for a while. … We were able to

have house church with the other LCMS missionary family, the Rabes, who are here with us. We were so thankful to continue to hear God’s Word in person and to have another Lutheran family here with us in mission.


During this challenging year, what has helped you through? We are thankful to God for the intentional reaching out to us by the nationals of the church here and those we call our friends. They have regularly texted and inquired after us and about all of you in the United States. News of the U.S. coronavirus numbers came, and many people here were praying for all of you.


How have you continued to share the Gospel? Staying through the pandemic strengthened our relationships with the church here. It also gave the opportunity to continue to share the Gospel and learn new ways of teaching. While classes were out, Eric was asked to do a TV series emphasizing Lutheran identity and talking about Scripture alone, grace alone

and faith alone. The audience that Mekane Yesus TV reaches is estimated to be 30 million people. So, where one door was shut, another was opened, and the Gospel was proclaimed.


What would you say to another family considering missionary service? If the Lord could use us, ordinary people from Canada and Montana, who knows what He may have in store for you? It has been difficult for us at times, but the Lord has also granted us many blessings and a good, albeit unusual, life here — did I mention there are jackals, monkeys and hyenas on our compound? Life is full of good things and tough things on the mission field, but Christ holds us secure in His everlasting and redemptive love. Megan K. Mertz is managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.




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Missionary Johanna Stinnett


Campus ministries in Champaign, Ill., and Ypsilanti, Mich., provide what is most essential for college students and those in their community: the Word and Sacraments.


The Rev. Michael Schuermann, pastor of University Lutheran Church — also called UniLu — is at work amid ever-changing circumstances on the campus, serving students, faculty, staff and members of the community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Family of UniLu On the evening of Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, students brought blankets and snacks as they gathered outside the church for a trivia night. This was the first night that many on campus were free to leave their dorms due to coronavirus


his ministry has helped me in my faith, helped me see the light in darkness,” said Jodie Olivia Werner, a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) who attends University Lutheran Church in Champaign. “Going to church has really helped a lot.”

restrictions. Schuermann and his wife, Katie, enjoyed fellowship with the students as they participated in the trivia rounds. Katie safely distributed snacks according to local guidelines and helped a team during the trivia questions. This event took place in an outdoor tent provided to the church by the LCMS Central Illinois District Church Extension Fund. The brisk night stood in contrast to the

Kayleigh Meinzen, Jack Brennan, the Rev. Michael Schuermann, Jamilyn Martin and Andrew Combs discuss an answer during a trivia event at University Lutheran Church, Champaign, Ill.

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Maggie Brennan listens during the trivia event.

Students gather for an outdoor trivia event at University Lutheran Church, Champaign, Ill., on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, next to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

warmth shared among the students who gathered with their “family” at UniLu. “I was really struggling in my faith when I first got here ... I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t come here my freshman year. And I’m still coming here, and I’m in grad school,” said MacKenzie Wells, a student in the veterinary school. “We’re family — we’re very close here. ... It’s nice to be around people your age in your situation that believe and think the same things as you do. In classes, it’s not always that way. It’s cool to meet other people that feel the same way about things.” Campus ministry has a long history in the LCMS that dates back to September 1920. The work in Champaign began in 1941, when the Rev. Erich Heintzen was student pastor. Heintzen purchased a house on the corner lot where the church is currently located.

For the first decade, students met in the campus Episcopal church. With the increase of students following World War II, the present church building was built in 1951 and dedicated in 1953. A student center was added to the church in the 1960s. Schuermann now serves this congregation as its sixth called pastor. Unlike many campus ministries, which operate through chapels as an extension or outreach of a local congregation, University Lutheran Church is a congregation of the LCMS.

When asked about the difference between this parish and other congregations, Schuermann noted, “In many ways, much of it is not that different. ... They are sinners who need the Word of God, who need the Lord’s Supper, who need to be prayed for, … who have questions, who wander off into sin. ... They need a pastor who is there when they give into the temptation to sin.” Although the ministry in many ways is similar to that in any parish, the students at

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|   H EA R  | From the Rev. Bryan Schindel and others at the pancakes outreach:

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Katie Schuermann directs Jack Brennan and Christopher May to snacks.

UIUC face the teaching and promotion of anti-Christian and even anti-God worldviews. Schuermann noted that many on campus advocate a materialistic worldview, in which people are really just stuff — matter that has been vivified through some process, and that will die one day. That death is the end. Ironically the other popular worldview is anti-materialistic, wherein people are defined not by their flesh, but by ideas and self-identity, including gender fluidity and the attendant neutral pronouns. Both of these views push students away from Jesus Christ, to find identity and meaning in humanity and in themselves. University Lutheran Church offers a place for students to ask questions and to hear the proclamation of the true Good News of Jesus Christ. Occasionally, students will stop by to ask about the

Mitch McCullar reads a trivia question to teams at the University Lutheran Church event.

church and the Bible’s teaching. Weekly worship and Bible class provide times to hear the Word and receive the blessed Sacrament. “It is so important for parents to do the work of finding a place with a campus ministry. This should be high on your list ... is there a faithful Lutheran church or campus ministry on campus? If not, you should probably not consider that school,” said Schuermann. “When you visit the school, visit the campus ministry. ... It is best to have that connection before you come.” Schuermann also

reminds his students, “Even when the university has events planned on Sunday, skip them and come to church. It’s more important to have those connections made.” Thousands of LCMS students have gone through this campus ministry over the years, with many attending even after their undergraduate studies conclude. “I’ve been at UniLu since 2010. I did all undergrad here, and it was kind of my social group and a great faith center for me. I was in the hard sciences, where there weren’t a lot of people who were

Christian, and even if they were Christian, they weren’t really vocal about it, so it is always nice to come here and have a place where I could be active in my faith without fear of what might happen,” said Jonathon Schuh, a professor of engineering at UIUC. “I’ve been here for a very long time; it just feels like home, and it’s a great place.”

Friday Night Pancakes at EMU Eastern Michigan University (EMU) is a public university in Ypsilanti situated near the

University of Michigan and Concordia University Ann Arbor. With nearly 18,000 students enrolled in 2019, it’s hardly a small school. It can be a difficult experience for a new or returning student at any university to find community. Under a pandemic, that challenge is even more difficult. Hannah Schindel described the student body as “starving for community.” They are filling that void through pancakes. For 10 years, Cross and Resurrection Lutheran Church, the Chapel at EMU, situated directly on the

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Meghan Campbell prepares for the pancakes outreach at Cross and Resurrection Lutheran Church, the Chapel at EMU, Ypsilanti, Mich.

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Volunteers make pancakes and waffles for the pancakes outreach.

Hannah Schindel greets visitors to the pancakes outreach.

school’s campus, has served up an outreach for the students. It’s here where volunteers from both the church and university mix ingredients from scratch while hungry students order free heaping stacks of hot pancakes and waffles and their choice of sweet and buttery condiments on the side. It’s an event tailored to the circadian rhythms of college students — 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. “A large majority of our students that come here are not Christians and are very upfront about it,” said the Rev. Bryan Schindel, senior pastor at Cross and Resurrection in

Ypsilanti. “They don’t know anything about the church. They have not gone to church. They don’t have a church background, and they also want to know why we do this.” On a brisk Friday evening in Ypsilanti, a hungry young man wearing pajama pants and who defined himself as an atheist sat down with socially distanced friends at a table in the church’s fellowship hall. Schindel joined the conversation as the students devoured pancakes and waffles piled high in white takeaway containers. Outside the church, with its triangular

“Our hope and our prayer is that through our conversation with them, we can show that the Lord has a lot of love for them.”

— Evan Rogers, student at EMU

architecture and stony steeple, both the exterior sign and a planted banner pushing pancakes welcomed a steady stream of students indoors. On most Friday nights, attendance runs into the hundreds. Members of the church serve pancakes and share the love of Jesus Christ with their closest neighbors. “Our hope and our prayer,” said volunteer pancakes leader and EMU student Evan Rogers, “is that through our conversation with them, we can show that the Lord has a lot of love for them.” Schindel saw a need for the outreach when he was a chaplain working ride-along with police. The students were looking for things to do on Friday evenings after the student center movies let out for the night. Some students got into trouble, so Schindel wanted to provide a place to go when nothing else beside the bars were open. Students came up with the

idea for pancakes, and the congregation latched onto it and generously supported the ministry. Over time, word of the outreach spread, and hundreds of students gathered each week. Some students joined the congregation during their years at EMU, while others remained in orbit with the event. “I just think [the pancakes outreach] has been a remarkable little bit of light in the midst of that kind of cloudiness,” Schindel said. “I love how nice and personable everyone is,” said student Paris Brister. “You can talk to them about normal stuff, but also about God.” Brister was with a group of friends who have visited the event before. “We serve people not only spiritually, but also their physical needs,” said Hannah Schindel. “Also, there is something special about eating with people … it brings people together.” As she delivered

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Da’Sharel Nichols spends time with friends at the pancakes outreach.

Students leave Cross and Resurrection after the outreach event.

part of that person’s life because I know You’re going to use them mightily,” he said. The Rev. Bryan Schindel (right), senior pastor at Cross and Resurrection Lutheran Church, the Chapel at EMU, talks with a visitor.

pancakes and sat down to talk with seated students, she struck up conversations easily. As students walked to the fellowship hall, some stopped on their way and prayed in the sanctuary. On this particular Friday evening in October, three friends sat down at a table. As two toasted with disposable cups, the other snapped a photo to remember the night. Meanwhile, church member Brian Perkins prayed nearby with another visitor. “I feel like the Lord wanted me to be here,” said Perkins,

who has been with the outreach for years and whose favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:28. “The only reason I’m on Earth is to serve God, and the way I’ve found to serve God is to serve people … all people are God’s people whether they realize it or not.” Schindel said that as pastor, it’s a tough reality knowing that your faithful students move on after their time in school, but it gives him joy being a part of their lives during this time. “Lord, thank You for letting me be

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Providing the Essentials Campus ministry provides what is most essential for college students and those in their community: the Word and Sacraments. In a setting fraught with moral temptations and philosophical influences, in a time of exploration and questioning, the Word of God grounds students in the unchanging truth of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Schuermann noted, “If they are not grounded in the Word, if they don’t have a local guide, a pastor, to help them work through these challenges,

these are great temptations, and they face those things daily.” Schindel, Schuermann and others in campus ministry listen, care for and find opportunities to interact with students on campus. But most importantly, they, like all pastors, serve with the Word and Sacraments. And whether it is pancakes or trivia nights, whether it is individual discussions or group meetings (when possible with restrictions), everything done in campus ministry hangs on Christ and His salvation given through the Word. Dr. Kevin Armbrust is director of Editorial for LCMS Communications. Erik M. Lunsford is managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications.




TWO PASTORS ARE HONING THEIR PREACHING SKILLS THROUGH PALS, PREACH THE WORD AND THEIR GROWING FRIENDSHIP. The Rev. Jacob Hercamp preaches during the Divine Service at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, LaGrange, Mo.

The Rev. Jacob Hercamp leads the Divine Service at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, LaGrange, Mo.


he Rev. Jacob Hercamp met the Rev. Merritt Demski at an LCMS PALS (Post-Seminary Applied Learning and Support) facilitator’s conference in St. Louis. About four months later, Demski, administrative pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waterloo, Ill., reached out to Hercamp, pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, LaGrange, Mo., to see if he was interested in working through Preach the Word (PTW) together. Hercamp agreed. “Preach the Word is great. I get to do what I enjoy and to hone my craft,” Hercamp said. “The teachers in the modules remind me to make sure that in every sermon people are hearing Christ for them.”

PALS and Preach the Word have been very helpful for Jacob and our family.”

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PTW and PALS PTW was started in 2015 as a voluntary program for LCMS pastors who want to improve their preaching. Participants usually meet together in a triad to work through videobased modules on topics like the use of story in preaching, using biblical text in sermon preparation, and leveraging technology in preaching. The


ninth module — “Preaching in a Post-Christian World” — was released in November 2020, and more modules are currently under development. Each module contains much to think about and discuss, and Hercamp and Demski usually spent about a month watching the modules and

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preparing on their own. Then, they met together with their wives — Emily and Veronica — and their children. This arrangement proved to be a blessing to both families. “PALS and Preach the Word have been very helpful for Jacob and our family. It is good any time you have the

opportunity to connect with others,” said Emily Hercamp, Jacob’s wife. “We have always found value in doing that.” Thus far, Hercamp and Demski have worked through four modules and are beginning work on a fifth. “It has been great to get to know another pastor who has a different educational background and such different experiences than myself. I graduated from the seminary in St. Louis, and he graduated from Fort Wayne after spending some time in England,” said Demski. “It has been a blessing to get to know him and his family and for us to be able to shape one another through our experiences and strengths.” But then the pandemic happened. And, like everything else, this gathering was put on pause.

Preaching God’s Word Hercamp is pastor of St. Peter’s in LaGrange, Mo., an agriculturally oriented town filled with family and history. It is not uncommon to see grandparents with their grandchildren in the pew each Sunday.

Our friendship gets me out of my bubble and helps me to see pastoral and homiletical issues from different perspectives.” — REV. MERRITT DEMSKI

Demski, administrative pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Waterloo, Ill., prepares his upcoming sermon.

Yet, with devastating floods (1993, 2008 and 2019) and the closure of the town’s foundry and public school, LaGrange has struggled recently to attract people. On top of the local struggles, there are not a lot of Lutherans in the area. St. Peter’s is the only LCMS church in Lewis County, as well as the northernmost congregation in eastern Missouri. Some people drive from near the Iowa border — nearly 50 miles — to attend. St. Peter’s stands stalwart in the face of change. The congregation, founded in 1855, recently repaired and restored the sanctuary to its original 1908 design, finding beautiful artwork under layers of plaster. In the early days of the coronavirus, Hercamp contacted the local health department to find out what was allowable. “I took my cues from other churches and pastors I know,” he said. “I tried to be proactive — stay ahead of the curve, so that we didn’t have to be reactive.” When the state shut down, Hercamp had 29 services scheduled for Holy Week, with nine on Easter, to keep people safe and appropriately distanced. But even with all his preparation, his plans

were thwarted when the governor issued a stay-athome order. “We livestreamed everything ... with my wife and children singing for the livestream,” said Hercamp. Once people were allowed to gather again in smaller groups, Hercamp offered midweek in-person services in addition to Sunday services. “I grew up here. ... With COVID, Pastor has done an amazing job of reaching out on various avenues and ways,” said Leanne Merrill, who works as a nurse at a local hospital. She recounted how she was able to share the Gospel due to the livestream. “One of the people at work, who was on hospice, was dying, and I played the service for her on my phone. Her family couldn’t visit.” The midweek services allow Hercamp to implement what he has learned through PTW. “We’ve been extremely blessed ... people have embraced the midweek services and are coming to hear God’s Word.” As the pandemic continued, Hercamp contracted pneumonia and had to quarantine. Though never officially testing positive for COVID-19, Hercamp’s regular platelet donations (something he began

before the coronavirus) now show antibodies. “We are holding the best we can in the midst of the Lord’s storms,” said Hercamp. This observation also is reflected in a painting of the cross of Christ on a rock, recently added to St. Peter’s as part of their 165th-anniversary celebration. Abby, a high school senior and member of St. Peter’s, contributed the painting, and another member is currently constructing a frame for it to match the woodwork of the sanctuary. This group of God’s people rejoice in God’s grace and continue to trust in Him through the changes of this life.

Continuing in PTW The online availability of PTW means the modules are accessible even after a group has completed them. “The wonderful thing about the modules is that I can go back and re-watch the videos to review the things I learned,” Hercamp noted. Hercamp and Demski are beginning their work on “Preaching the Baptized Life,” the seventh module of PTW. “I recall homiletics from seminary, when we learned how to preach the whole baptismal life,” said Hercamp.

“I’m looking forward to learning from Dr. Lessing how he encourages us to preach the whole baptized life in our sermons. ... Christ has died for you. Christ has saved you. ... We need to hear that every Sunday, but we also need to talk about how that affects our daily lives.” Though unable to gather in person, Hercamp and Demski continue to benefit from PALS, PTW and their growing friendship. “Our friendship gets me out of my bubble and helps me to see pastoral and homiletical issues from different perspectives, which have been a blessing to my preaching and congregation,” Demski said. “I’ve really enjoyed Preach the Word. It gives me a new perspective,” explained Hercamp. “I love reading books and exegesis, but if you can’t preach it, what’s the point?” Through all of the changes and adjustments of the last year, the call to preach the Word remains. And sinners still need to hear the proclamation of Law and Gospel. As these two pastors go about this critical task, they have found that they continue to benefit from what they have learned and practiced through Preach the Word.

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|   WATC H  | A video with Dr. Samuel Lee:


After a career in theoretical physics, Dr. Samuel Lee is studying to become a pastor to reach out to the Chinese population in Milwaukee.

From Skeptic to Seminary W

hen Dr. Samuel Lee came to the United States more than 30 years ago, he did not believe in God. Now, he’s in his second year of the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and he leads a Chinese fellowship at Elm Grove Lutheran Church in Elm Grove, Wis. Lee says that God used friendly Christians and the theoretical physics research he was doing at the time to point him to Christianity. “I solved a long-standing problem [in physics], but then I found more problems from that. Questions kept coming. Why, why, why? From those things, I realized this is not something we can fundamentally grasp. There’s some mystery behind it,” he recalls. “I became humbled. … I knew there was a God.” After attending several different churches, Lee eventually found his way to a Chinese fellowship group that was meeting at Elm Grove

Lutheran Church. He met the pastors there and started learning about Lutheran doctrine. “From my own personal experience and also my own reading and understanding of the Bible, I believe the Lutheran confession is exactly what the Bible says — grace only,” Lee says. “I had my own personal experience with that. I have contributed nothing to my own faith.” As he works through the SMP program, Lee also serves as vicar at the Elm Grove church, where he is under the mentorship of Senior Pastor Eric Skovgaard. The church and the LCMS South Wisconsin District are working together to support his studies, with the hope that he will one day plant a church for Mandarin speakers in the area. “Recent Lutheran Church Extension Fund studies show that we’ve got about 5,800 Mainland Chinese people within about a 15-mile radius of my office. The fields are ripe,” Skovgaard says. “The first years of the mission

church would be very much Chinese-language driven so that first-generation immigrants and visiting scholars would have a natural home.” Lee’s background in science makes him an ideal person to reach out to skeptics who think as he once did. Plus, Skovgaard jokes, Lee is a “oneman greeting machine” who has no trouble striking up a conversation. Early on, he took it upon himself to become the unofficial greeter for the church’s 1,000 members. Prior to the pandemic, Lee was holding a Bible study for about 30 Chinese speakers each week. After their meeting, people usually stayed for a meal and fellowship time. Even though in-person gatherings have been suspended

for now, he is still holding the Bible study online and reaching out to people individually. A few of the ministry’s participants have already become members at Elm Grove Lutheran Church, and Skovgaard and Lee are looking forward to seeing the ministry develop even more after Lee’s ordination in the fall of 2021. “We saw God opening a door here. The mission field has been brought to us here in America,” Skovgaard says. “We’re going to keep plugging ahead and hoping that God will open the appropriate doors.”

Lee says that God used friendly Christians and the theoretical physics research he was doing at the time to point him to Christianity. engage. lcms .o rg

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The Centrality of the Word “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (JOHN 8:31–32). Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit is a photographer’s

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playground. But most importantly, the architecture guides us to Christ on the cross and in His Word. In these photographs, LCMS photojournalist Erik M. Lunsford explores Historic Trinity’s magnificent sanctuary using black-and-white instant film.


Listen to Lunsford talk about working with film at

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Mercy After Disaster

LERT volunteers bring help and hope in Christ to those impacted by tornadoes, floods and other disasters.

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For 15 years, Lutheran Early Response Teams have brought care for body and soul to those devastated by natural disasters.



the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans. In the hours and days that followed, the Category 5 storm would bring immeasurable devastation by flood and wind — becoming one of the costliest and deadliest storms in U.S. history. Over half of the 140 LCMS congregations in the Southern District, as well as many members of those congregations, were among those affected. The destruction was local, but the pain was felt across the Synod. As donations from Lutherans across the country came in to LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WRHC), the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, who was WRHC executive director at the time, had an idea: Instead of continuing to pass donations on to outside disaster-response organizations, what if the LCMS were to use these donations to do work for and through her own congregations? That’s when the Lutheran Early Response Team (LERT) program was born. Like the Synod, the LERT program is organized locally: Each team is based within an LCMS congregation. They often find themselves working next to other teams from their district, coordinated by their district disaster-response coordinator. In the 15 years since the LERT program was created, teams have formed in congregations in nearly every LCMS district. An estimated 20,000 volunteers have gone through LERT training (a one-day, six-hour event led by an official LERT trainer) at one time or another, according to the Rev. Michael Meyer, director of Disaster Training for the LCMS. Teams have traveled across the country to respond to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and earthquakes. They have come together to serve local needs in their congregations and communities, such as doing repair work in elderly members’ homes, clearing trees from church lots, and even washing windows and cleaning gutters — sometimes apart from any disaster. And they have done it all in the name of Christ.

A Distinctly Lutheran Response The first iteration of LERT training was created shortly after Katrina, an updated model was designed in 2013, and more updates — including the addition of an official chainsaw training track — were added in 2020. However, the mission of LERT has remained the same from the start. “The question we ask is, ‘Why should the church be engaged in disaster response in the first place?’” said Meyer. “And that lays the framework for everything else.” For these Lutherans, the answer to that question is clear: The needs after a natural disaster, and thus the opportunities for care, go much deeper than mucking out a home or removing a fallen tree, though those things are certainly important. “All of this is in service to the Gospel and to point people to Jesus,” said Meyer. “It’s acute for them in the physical sense, because of the disaster, but it’s acute for them also in a spiritual sense, because in the midst of this, the devil is prowling around seeking someone to devour. So, we stand in the gap and profess Christ clearly.” For this reason, LERT volunteers, even those who have traveled from out of town, always provide their services in the name of the local LCMS congregation, which connects those they serve with Word and Sacrament ministry in the area. They also are

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LERT teams are well prepared for the work ahead. Here, volunteers gather for a morning briefing in January 2016 before going out to clean up flood-damaged homes in Watseka, Ill.

trained to be ready to provide spiritual care to those they serve — through listening, by offering the consolation of the Gospel, and through prayer. LERT volunteers speak of the many fruits they have seen this approach bear, among both Christians and non-Christians. Bryce Cramer, a LERT trainer from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Murphysboro, Ill., remembers vividly an elderly man his team helped on his first deployment, who reacted in a hostile way when they offered to pray with him on the first day. After two days of work on his property, when they tentatively offered again, he replied, “You know, I think I would like that.” On a subsequent deployment in the same area, Cramer stopped by that man’s house

to check in with him. “The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘I haven’t been to church yet, but I’ve been thinking about it.’ … I just know the Holy Spirit had been working on him. … And that’s why we go. Because you never know how the Holy Spirit is going to use us,” said Cramer. “I’ve seen people within our own congregation who hadn’t been to church in years, and they’ve been back every week since the storm,” said Paul Pacey III, a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fairhope, Ala., which served as a base for LERT recovery efforts for weeks after Hurricane Sally devastated the area in September. “So much of the world tells us that nobody cares about you, you’re on your own, you’ve got to make it on your

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own,” said Pacey. “And this group just is completely the opposite. They are living examples of God’s love.” By the time the LERT volunteers arrived at Redeemer, Pacey had already hired a contractor to remove the tree that had fallen on his home in the storm. The teams cleared several other downed trees from his property. But what Pacey appreciated even more was

the opportunity to watch fellow Lutherans showing God’s love in his neighborhood. “I felt very proud of my church,” he said.

‘Are You the Lutherans?’ Composed of volunteers and supported by the LCMS and their districts, LERT teams are able to provide their

The Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response, surveys a home in Point Clear, Ala., that was damaged by Hurricane Sally in September 2020.

|   L EA RN MO RE  | To s et u p a t ra i n i n g event at you r c on gregat i on , c ontac t you r d i st r i c t of f i c e or LC MS D i sa ster Res p on s e at l cms .o rg /d isaste r.

Above: LERT volunteers respond following a tornado that swept through Delmont, S.D., in May 2015.

Word starts to spread quickly. “We would have people driving by and stopping, and rolling down their windows and saying, ‘Are you the Lutherans?’ … Because people were saying, ‘The Lutherans in the yellow vests, just go talk to them, they’re doing it for free.’ It made you feel good to be a Lutheran.”

For Years to Come LERT volunteers provide assistance following disasters in Missouri and Iowa.

services free of charge. After large-scale disasters, the estimates that many homeowners receive from contractors and even charitable disaster-response organizations can be immense: regularly $10,000 to $20,000 for work such as removing a tree from a home. This summer, Kris Schuldt deployed twice each to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Lake

Charles, La., when his team from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wentzville, Mo., responded to a derecho and two hurricanes. “It brings tears to a lot of people’s eyes when we say, ‘It doesn’t cost you anything.’ They say, ‘Why?’ And we say, ‘Because we’re from the Lutheran church, and we’re just here to help you,’” Schuldt said.

While tens of thousands of Lutherans have gone through LERT training since the program’s origin, Meyer said that LCMS Disaster Response only has the official records and contact information of a fraction of these volunteers. In the coming year, they plan to implement a new volunteer management software that will change this. This software will enable Disaster Response and the individual LCMS district disaster-response coordinators to recruit new LERT

volunteers, track current volunteers, and communicate about training opportunities and volunteer needs across the country. Meyer is hopeful that around 15,000 LERT volunteers will be catalogued in the system by the end of 2021. An official chainsaw training track was also added under the LERT umbrella in 2020, modeled after a training conducted by forestry expert Tim Ard for various LERT members in February 2020. This will help LERT meet the demand for individuals with chainsaw skills after windrelated disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes. As it grows and expands, said Meyer, LERT will maintain the same focus: “We want this work to be done safely, and we want it to be done in the name of Christ.”

Stacey Egger is a staff writer and editor for LCMS Communications. engage. l cms .o rg

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As the LCMS looks to the future, the four regions of international work will be …


Office of International Mission




1 D EVELOPING the Livonian Lutheran Project



3 S UPPORTING refugees fleeing Islamic

persecution and confessing faith in Christ Jesus;

1 D EVELOPING a Mandarin Chinese theological education program to serve Taiwanese Lutheran church bodies;



churches and form pastors in the BalkanMediterranean region;

lay Lutherans throughout Europe;



2 FILLING requests for missionaries to plant

4 PROVIDING resources for a network of young



into an accredited English route to ordination to serve Eurasia;

2 E XPANDING collaboration with the Australian Lutherans to provide advanced theological education to partners;

3 E NCOURAGING historic church partners to

decrease dependence upon the LCMS for core functions and support;

4 P RODUCING Lutheran resources in multiple




languages, especially Mandarin Chinese;



1 S UPPORTING 14 seminaries that must limit



Looking to the future, the Ministry to the Armed Forces is ...


enrollment for lack of resources;

20 • LUTHERAN S EN G AG E   |   WI NT E R 20 2 1


The full State of the Synod report will be published online at and before the end of the year.

church partners, particularly in central and eastern Africa, to provide theological training;

3 R EINTRODUCING alliance missionaries in Africa;

4 H ELPING church bodies meet unexpected

COVID-19 regulations, public-use building codes and credentialing of church workers;

Recruiting more LCMS pastors to serve as military chaplains to fill a desperate need for LCMS military chaplains to care for the spiritual needs of the men and women who selflessly serve our nation in the Armed Forces. Expanding Operation Barnabas to continue encouraging, training and supporting LCMS congregations who reach out with the Gospel of Jesus Christ to veterans in their communities.

2 C ONNECTING with interested, potential

1 M AINTAINING partnerships with 16 LCMS districts and Lutheran Hour Ministries;

2 S UPPORTING nine church partners,

including church planting with our largest partner in Brazil;

3 E NABLING the Dominican regional seminary

to continue offering pastoral and deaconess formation in 14 countries in which there is no route to ordination; and

4 P LANTING 40 churches in 10 countries.

THE STATE OF THE OFFICE OF NATIONAL MISSION PROGRAMS 1. Black Ministry 2. Campus Ministry 3. Church Planting 4. Deaconess Ministry 5. Disaster Response 6. Domestic Grants 7. Health Ministry 8. Hispanic Ministry 9. Life Ministry 10. Recognized Service Organizations 11. Revitalization 12. Rural & Small Town Mission 13. School Ministry 14. Soldiers of the Cross 15. Specialized Pastoral Ministry 16. Stewardship Ministry 17. Urban & Inner-City Mission 18. Veterans of the Cross 19. Witness & Outreach Ministry 20. Worker Wellness 21. Worship 22. Youth Ministry

Office of National Mission The Office of National Mission’s work touches almost every facet of the church’s domestic mission and our life together. The ONM’s leading experts work collaboratively to support congregations and bring solutions to our Synod’s most daunting domestic problems. The ONM brings biblically solid, confessionally Lutheran, thoroughly researched, field-tested, proven and mission-focused help for those who bring the Gospel to the nations and seek to make disciples for life.

Before COVID, National Mission …

•• Held the first Making Disciples for Life con-

ference, bringing together people from across the LCMS to share resources and encourage one another. Participant reviews were overwhelmingly positive;

•• Awarded grants for multicultural outreach by congregations and LCMS districts; and

•• Filled the long-vacant director of LCMS Life

Ministry position with Deaconess Tiffany Manor, who will build a loving, life-protecting network domestically and internationally.

Since COVID, National Mission …

•• Provided researched, theologically reliable

aids and expert guidance to LCMS congregations and districts;


LCMS Pastoral Education The Church Worker Recruitment Initiative seeks to …


1.  Increase engagement between influencers and youth potentially interested in church-work vocations; and 2.  Increase enrollment in church-worker formation and education tracks of the Concordia University System institutions and LCMS seminaries. The Church Worker Recruitment Initiative will equip critical influencers to identify, encourage and form young people (K–12) on the path to church work.

•• Hosted daily chapel services with the new LCMS Worship director, the Rev. Sean Daenzer, and other national leaders;

•• Established a Soldiers of the Cross fund for

COVID needs and raised a combined $3 million to help church workers and provide aftercare programs for exhausted caregivers;

•• Created and published extensive Bible studies on COVID-related topics such as fear, making tough decisions, grief and more;

•• Responded to major disasters throughout

2020 and continued training and improving our responses, even during the pandemic;

•• Helped the church master face-to-face and electronic means of bringing the Gospel to the world; and

•• Launched the MDFL Internet Resource

Center beta-testing site, a one-of-a-kind webbased repository of congregational resources that is easy to navigate, intelligence driven and theologically solid.

Where is the LCMS Annual Report? The most recent and prior annual reports, as well as the audited financial statements and annual budget summaries, are made available in electronic format at Interested individuals can request a print copy of the annual report by contacting LCMS Mission Advancement at mission. or by calling 888-930-4438.

The full State of the Synod report will be published online at and before the end of the year. engage. l cms .o rg

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