By Paula Schlueter Ross
Twenty-nine new missionaries will soon be starting work in more than a dozen countries on behalf of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.
The missionaries — who range in age and experience from recent college graduates to mid-career couples — completed a two-week orientation at the Synod’s International Center in St. Louis that focused on training, equipping and encouraging them under the theme “Credo: Created to Live … Forever!” (from 1 John 5:11).
The orientation ended with a July 6 “sending service” at the International Center chapel. Preaching at that service, LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr. told the missionaries, “You are sent by Christ Himself. He has filled you with His precious Gospel. … In His strong name, you are sent. You are never alone, for the living Lord Jesus will never abandon you. Confessing His name, you can go, knowing that you are not the one who builds the church. Jesus is.”
The Rev. John Temple, a member of the Synod’s Board for International Mission, which placed the missionaries, thanked them for their willingness to answer God’s call and said the LCMS would “continue to think about you and pray for you and your families and all the places that you’re going throughout the world.”
About half of this year’s group will be serving as long-term career missionaries; the others, as GEO (Globally Engaged in Outreach) missionaries, serving one- to two-year terms.
The latter group includes two deaconess students who will be serving internships on the mission field. Rachel Powell, a 22-year-old from Concordia University Chicago, will serve in Lima, Peru, and Katie Ziegler, 27, who attends Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., is headed to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Both will serve human-care ministries — caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the poor — and both say God “opened doors” for them to serve as overseas missionaries.
Powell said “the idea of serving in the foreign mission field is something that’s been floating around in my mind and my heart for some time,” but that “God orchestrated the whole thing” to make it happen when she met a missionary at the Synod’s 2011 Beautiful Feet mission conference for college students. She kept in touch with that missionary, Bruce Wall, who encouraged her to apply for mission service.
Ziegler said her interest was sparked by a seminary presentation by the Rev. Ted Krey, regional director for Latin America with the Synod’s Office of International Mission. She thought the timing was right for overseas service, since she’s young and single, and the idea of working with a mission team rather than on her own appealed to her.
“One thing led to another, and doors were opened, and there weren’t doors being closed so I just kept walking through the doors” until her missionary internship was nailed down, she said.
Both said the orientation was very helpful because it answered a lot of questions and because of the personal connections they now have with other missionaries — “a neat support system, even if it’s not face-to-face, definitely in prayer,” said Powell.
Shara Cunningham, 41, spent almost three years as a GEO missionary in South Africa before answering a recent call to serve as a career missionary in Kenya.
Ten years ago, she says, the thought of serving as a missionary had never occurred to her. But when she heard a group from her church, Christ Lutheran in Phoenix, Ariz., talk about their short-term mission trip to Peru, she suddenly — and unexpectedly — felt certain that God was calling her to go. Nine short-term mission trips later, she found herself in South Africa as a long-term GEO missionary, working with orphans and women.
She “fell in love” with Africa, she says. As a black woman, she “blended right in” and was accepted right away, she said. And the relationships she developed with the people there were a wonderful bonus.
“When somebody invites you to their home,” Cunningham explained, “you sit, you have tea, you talk. You become friends, you become part of their family.” She attended African weddings and special ceremonies, and grieved when she had to leave South Africa — and her dear “family” — behind.
So she prayed about serving again, for a longer period, believing “this is God’s purpose for me. I just prayed that wherever He sends me, I’m willing to go. I did not know that Kenya was in His plan.”
When she applied for mission service and was asked about serving in Kenya, “there was no hesitation” before she said yes. “As long as God continues to call me to be part of His mission, I will gladly do it,” she says.
Cunningham’s call is to serve as a mission-service coordinator, planning logistics for short-term mission teams from the United States and working with Kenyan church leaders to identify areas where volunteers might serve.
“I couldn’t plan this,” she says. “It’s all God-driven.” And, she adds, she couldn’t be happier.
That sentiment is shared by the Rev. Jeffrey Horn, 42, who has known he wanted to be a pastor and a missionary since he was a kid growing up in Los Angeles. “I was concerned that there were people who had never heard of Christ and were lost in sin apart from Him,” Horn told Reporter. “I wanted to help.”
As a youngster, his playmates were from Iran, Vietnam, Mexico and other countries. “It seemed natural, and I loved it,” he said. In college he took part in two short-term mission trips to Africa and the Philippines, and as a student at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, he spent three months in India. “All of these were valuable learning experiences,” he says, cementing his desire to serve as an overseas missionary.
But when he graduated from the seminary, the timing wasn’t right for missionary service, he said, so he spent the next 15 years serving as a pastor — most recently at Zion Lutheran Church in Garrett, Ind.
Now, with a call to serve as a career missionary — teaching theology to seminary students and pastors of the Gutnius Lutheran Church in the highlands of Papua New Guinea — “everything seems to be coming together,” he says. “Without those years of experience serving as a pastor, I wouldn’t be ready to teach men to be pastors in Papua New Guinea. I hope and pray that the lessons God taught me through serving the people at my congregations will help me to teach the men in Papua New Guinea how to serve the people God gives them in their congregations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Horn will be accompanied by his wife, Lora, and children Chris and Maggie. After a brief visit to Papua New Guinea this fall, the family plans to move to the mission field by next spring. Until then they are learning Pidgin and raising financial and prayer support.
They are “confident,” Jeff Horn said, “that if God has called us to go and serve, then He will give us the skill to do so and provide the means that are necessary to make it happen.”
Nancy Kunert, one of three English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) instructors at this year’s orientation, attended her first LCMS missionary orientation 50 years ago, before she and her husband, Daniel, began their missionary service in what is now Papua New Guinea. That was in 1962, when orientation lasted six weeks instead of
two and it took at least 10 days for a letter from home to arrive overseas.
Kunert spent 25 years teaching English on the mission field, then another 20 or so teaching EFL in Oregon, California and Hawaii, where she now lives.
Even though the missionaries are going to different countries, they still have similar needs, Kunert says. They’re “going to be separated from family” and “living in a strange culture,” and the annual orientation offers coping skills for those challenges, as well as presentations and discussions on topics such as self-care, communication, raising financial support, income, health insurance, witnessing and building relationships.
Now 71, Kunert has no plans to stop teaching EFL, and says she considers it “a wonderful privilege” to share with — and learn from — each year’s new group of missionaries.
With modern technology — email, texting and being able to “Skype” with family and friends back home, for example — today’s missionaries are blessed with more ways to “enrich their ministries,” she says.
But the missionaries themselves haven’t changed much — they’re still enthusiastic, sincere about their faith, and believe God is calling them to serve, she adds.
Helping with orientation “energizes me,” Kunert told Reporter. “I go home and I’m pumped up because I’ve met these people who are so excited about sharing the Gospel.”
The Rev. Dr. David Birner, interim co-executive director of the Office of International Mission, called this year’s new missionaries “a great mix” of ages that includes “all the experience” of older people “along with the energy of youth.”
Birner said he was “impressed” with their “level of professionalism and the working knowledge that this group has for international issues — issues around Islam, issues around cultural adaptation, their awareness of global issues and how those issues can impact our work around the world.”
Moreover, he added, they will be “serving in all kinds of capacities — as pastors, teachers, laypeople … and they’ll be going to every one of our regions around the world, bringing a depth of leadership and professionalism to our existing great mission staff.”
The new missionaries join an LCMS global mission team of more than 1,000 short-term missionaries, military chaplains, international educators and other career and GEO personnel.
For more information about this year’s orientation, including a video of the sending service, visit www.lcms.org/missionaryorientation.
To see a list of mission-service opportunities, visit www.lcms.org/searchopps.
Posted July 18, 2012