By Paula Schlueter Ross
Fan into Flame, the synodwide campaign to raise $100 million for new Ablaze!-related mission projects, has received $44,185,311 in gifts and pledges, as of Feb. 20.
Ablaze! is the initiative of the LCMS and its partner churches worldwide to share the Gospel with 100 million people — “unreached” or uncommitted to faith in Christ — by 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Authorized by the Synod’s 2004 national convention, the Fan into Flame funding campaign is slated to run through the July 10-17, 2010, convention in Houston, although many of those who have made pledges are expected to honor them after that date.
With just over 16 months left — and the campaign nearly halfway toward its goal — planners and others who’ve been involved in the effort say they are pleased with its progress. Ten LCMS districts have completed Fan into Flame campaigns, 16 are involved now, and several others are planning to start them.
Even if the total falls short of the $100 million goal, the campaign still will have raised awareness about mission-centered stewardship and raised an “unprecedented” amount of money for God’s mission worldwide, according to Jeffrey A. Craig-Meyer, who oversees the fundraiser as associate executive director of Development Services with LCMS World Mission.
Perhaps best of all, he noted, those funds already are being used by congregations, districts, and LCMS World Mission for evangelistic efforts such as financing mission trips, planting congregations, reaching out to immigrants, sharing the New Testament with American youth, and calling missionaries for service both within — and outside of — the United States.
Each congregation and district that contributes to the campaign receives back a portion of the funds they collect. These 15 percent “distributions” — received four times a year — are to be used for new, Ablaze!-related outreach projects.
With funding from its $1 million-plus Fan into Flame effort — which exceeded its goal by 715 percent, netting the congregation a return of $150,000 — First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Cedarburg, Wis., plans to train members for outreach, fund adult day care programs, provide financial assistance so that “unchurched” families can send their children to the congregation’s school, and organize and fund overseas mission trips.
The congregation sent 15 of its members to Guatemala Jan. 29-Feb. 7 with $6,000 in partial funding from its Fan into Flame campaign. Working in cooperation with the Central America Lutheran Mission Society, the Immanuel group replaced the roof of a Lutheran church, built houses for two families, operated a medical clinic, and distributed food, quilts, hygiene kits, religious coloring books, crayons, and Spanish-language Christian books and CDs.
Without the Fan into Flame funds, the congregation’s mission team would likely have been much smaller, according to leader Lori Newhouse. Since their return, she said, those who took part in the trip have been “thirsty to be involved in mission work, both locally and internationally, as a result of this experience” — an added bonus.
Since the Southeastern District launched in 2007 its Fan into Flame effort, known districtwide as “Ablaze for God’s Mission,” it has used its campaign distributions to start 23 new mission projects, including congregations in Apex, N.C., and Richmond, Va.; urban ministries in Norfolk, Va., and Baltimore; Chinese ministries in Rockville, Md., and Falls Church, Va.; outreach to Spanish-speaking people in Landover Hills, Md., and Hickory, N.C.; and an Open Arms child care center in Leesburg, Va.
Southeastern District President Jon Diefenthaler said he expects at least 120 of the district’s 205 congregations to take part in the campaign. As of Feb. 19, the district had received gifts and pledges totaling $5.7 million toward its $6 million goal, he said.
“I am gratified by the number of congregations that have participated in ‘Ablaze for God’s Mission,'” Diefenthaler told Reporter. He said the district also is inviting its congregations to give a one-time special Lenten offering on what it calls “Ablaze Miracle Sunday,” March 29.
“Our office is already being swamped with requests for materials,” said Diefenthaler, who added that he “fully expects” the district to reach its $6 million goal on — or before — its May 1 deadline.
“I say this because throughout ‘Ablaze for God’s Mission’ it has become clear to me that people throughout our district want Ablaze! to succeed, and it is our hope that no one who wants to support this effort will fail to get an opportunity to do so.”
Craig-Meyer also believes that a good number of LCMS congregation members want to support mission work, and he is “amazed,” he said, that the campaign’s last quarter — October, November, and December 2008 — turned out to be “the best quarter yet,” with a record $5,523,982 in gifts and pledges, including two $1 million pledges and a $600,000 cash gift.
January 2009 also set a record for every previous January during the campaign, Craig-Meyer said, with $2,857,430 in commitments.
“This tells me that, even in the face of this lagging economy, there is still a lot of belief that ‘this is the mission of the church, we have to support it, so let’s go!'”
The funds received so far in the campaign are “a tremendous blessing,” he said, and have enabled the Synod to place nine new missionaries; distribute free MP3 audio Bibles to more than 55,000 children and teenagers at LCMS schools and the National LCMS Youth Gathering; renovate and reopen St. Michael Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg, Russia; and begin other mission-related efforts.
“This campaign effort has helped to focus once more for people the concept of stewardship,” Craig-Meyer said. “The fact that we are given everything by God, and blessed by that, therefore we need to give back.”
To learn more about Fan into Flame, visit the Web site www.fanintoflamelcms.org.
Among items available on that Web site is a free annual report on the campaign. To request a printed copy, call 800-977-2017.
Posted March 4, 2009