By Paula Schlueter Ross
PITTSBURGH — Water was an oft-mentioned, and noticed, part of the 35th Biennial Convention of The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, held here June 27-30.
Flanked by the “Golden Triangle” of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers and under scattered rainfall from the heavens, more than 3,100 LWML members were reminded that “only Christ can quench” their thirst with His “living water” and were urged to be “quenchers” by sharing that “wellspring of God’s love” with others.
Under the theme “Quenched! by the Water,” from John 4:14, nearly 600 voting delegates adopted the LWML’s most ambitious mission goal ever: $1.83 million — $5,000 more than the previous $1.825 million goal — for the 2013-15 biennium.
Those funds, or “mites” — to be raised by the 71-year-old organization’s members nationwide over the next two years — will be used to support grants for 18 mission projects that were chosen by delegates from a total of 30 submitted for consideration.
Mission grants to be funded during the 2013-15 biennium, in the order they were adopted, are:
- $30,000 to Lutheran Church Charities, Addison, Illl., to train K-9 Comfort Dogs for LCMS chaplains.
- $72,000 to the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, Macomb, Mich., to provide Lutheran children’s books for Southeast Asia.
- $100,000 to Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., to train “indigenous pastors and deaconesses in confessional doctrine.”
- $100,000 to help rebuild Nord Est Haiti Lutheran School in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.
- $58,553 to Jesus Our Savior Lutheran Schools, Winnebago Tribe, Nebraska, for staff and curriculum.
- $99,000 to Lutheran Special Education Ministries, Farmington Hills, Mich., to serve at-risk children and those with learning needs.
- $100,000 to Lutheran Friends of the Deaf to distribute Bible story books to deaf children in places such as Kenya and India.
- $95,000 to the Native American Outreach Training Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, to train Native American Lutheran leaders.
- $100,000 to LCMS U to strengthen and expand campus ministry.
- $80,000 to Lutheran Ministries Media, Fort Wayne, Ind., to provide DVDs of its “Worship for Shut-Ins” program to retirement and nursing-care centers nationwide.
- $50,000 to Concordia College Alabama to help prepare church and school workers for congregations in low-income and minority communities.
- $50,600 to Voice of Care, Chicago, which works to bring the Gospel to the developmentally challenged, for upgrading office technology and producing resources so others can start similar ministries.
- $100,000 to Rebecca’s Garden of Hope, Orlando, Fla., to develop Christ-centered educational materials, update computers and fund travel for training congregational leaders to provide tutoring for at-risk children.
- $20,000 to MOST Ministries, Ann Arbor, Mich., to provide student scholarships for short-term mission trips.
- $100,000 to build permanent housing in Haiti through the LCMS Building Homes and Hope in Haiti program.
- $40,000 to Lutheran Public Radio, Collinsville, Ill., for a part-time bookkeeper.
- $85,000 to Concordia Gospel Outreach, St. Louis, to provide Christian educational support to children in India.
- $65,559 (a partial grant toward this $100,000 request) to St. Paul Community Lutheran Church, Pontiac, Mich., for mission outreach.
Elected to two-year terms on the Nominating Committee were Rae Ann Spitzenberger, chairman, of Queens, N.Y.; Sharon Goertzen, Hampton, Neb.; Jennifer Huecker, Bunceton, Mo.; Leslie Jaseph, Crownsville, Md.; and Carli Zygowicz, Belvidere, Ill.
Elected to four-year terms were:
- the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Roegner, St. Louis, pastoral counselor.
- Joy Dougherty, Toledo, Ohio, recording secretary.
- Eden Keefe, Aiken, S.C., vice-president of Christian Life.
- Nancy Bogenhagen, White Lake, S.D., vice-president of Communication.
- Shelley Moeller, Rock Island, Ill., vice-president of Gospel Outreach.
Setting the stage for the four-day convention was the Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bronx, N.Y., who alternately preached and sang — equally beautifully, in the opinion of many — during a 26-minute sermon that was embraced by convention-goers.
“It gave me chills,” said Eva Rogers, a member of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Oviedo, Fla. Others used adjectives such as “amazing,” “enthusiastic,” “wonderful,” “inspiring” and “uplifting.”
The first-time live-streaming of the opening service, it was announced later in the convention, was viewed by people at some 1,880 sites in 46 states and seven countries.
Just as Jesus “knew” the past life of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and offered her “living water” to quench all thirst in John 4:14, “He knows me and He knows you,” Taylor proclaimed in the sermon. “And He chooses to meet us and fill us with the only thing that will ever quench our thirst: Himself.”
And, just as “many people believed in Christ because of that woman’s testimony … How many different towns and villages, cities and suburbs, farms and parishes will believe in Him because of your testimony?” Taylor asked.
“We may have come here parched and pressured,” he added, “but — glory be to Jesus — we are departing transformed and renewed.”
Bible studies on John 4:1-30 were led over two mornings by author Donna Pyle, founder of Artesian Ministries (artesianministries.org), which offers resources to promote the study of God’s Word.
When He approached the Samaritan woman, who had had five husbands and was currently in a relationship outside of marriage, “Jesus was not concerned about reputation, He was concerned about relationship,” said Pyle, who told the convention she was invited to attend church by a friend in a bar when she was 23. “God did not discriminate about who receives ‘the living water’ — and neither should we.”
When the “wellspring” of God’s love is in us, “it gushes out” like an artesian well and “it looks like joy,” she said, adding, “there’s not one sourpuss Christian that’s changed my life.”
As Christians, she said, “Our job is to be the biggest hose on the planet,” and she encouraged convention-goers to “drench everybody in your path in Jesus’ name.”
As she began her keynote, Dr. LuJuana Butts — noted author and former professor of education at Concordia University System schools in Selma, Ala.; River Forest, Ill.; and Bronxville, N.Y. — said she was expanding the convention theme to “Quenched! by the Water … for Such a Time as This.”
Butts told audience members that they “have gifts from God” and they “are a gift from God,” and that “wherever God has placed you, He has put you there as a ‘quencher’ for such a time as this.”
Sharing the stories of other “quenchers” — including the Bible’s Esther, the traveling revivalist whom the Holy Spirit used to bring Billy Graham to faith, the Samaritan woman at the well, Lutheran educator Rosa Young and even Butts’ elderly mother, who used the telephone to talk with, encourage and pray for others until the end of her life — Butts asked LWML members to “look upon every circumstance in which God places you as a God incident where you have been quenched by the water and He has positioned you as a quencher for such a time as this.”
Butts said “we have been quenched by the water to serve … love … and be the presence of our Savior in the lives of others,” adding that “you don’t have to” but “you get to be His quenchers in the world.”
In her report to the convention, LWML President Kay Kreklau addressed “the hard part first” — the death of her husband, Mark, on June 13, 2012. Emotional at times, Kreklau said her family has been “overwhelmed by your love and your support,” and she thanked LWML members for the thousands of cards, hundreds of memorials, and the flowers, gifts, phone calls and prayer shawls she received.
During the past biennium, she said, the LWML has produced new Bible studies — including the new “Overflowing Abundance” DVD by Donna Pyle — and new Mustard Seeds devotionals; offered new resources, like “The Planning Zone” and “Women in Mission University”; and explored new uses of technology, such as WebEx online meetings for its executive committee.
Kreklau spoke of her two mission trips to see “mites in action” in the Dominican Republic and at Haskell Indian Nations University, and of what “a joy and a privilege” it was to ride “The Lutheran Hour” float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., earlier this year.
She said the auxiliary “must continue in Bible study and prayer,” and she encouraged members to “focus on missions, not meetings.”
Said Kreklau: “God has brought you to this convention and when you go home you have a responsibility to plant seeds and share the joy and the information of the convention which is about Christ, in Christ and dedicated to Christ. You have a responsibility to encourage mite offerings and share mission stories so that God’s Word will continue to be proclaimed far and wide through the LWML missions.”
She reminded attendees of the LWML’s primary targets for 2013-15: nurturing faith in Christ, making mission meaningful and sharing encouragement.
“The LWML has existed for 71 years and by God’s grace will continue to thrive because we are quenched by the water and the Word and will do God’s work in God’s time and in God’s way. You are the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League! With God’s help, go and tell the world!”
Highlighting John 4:39, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison reminded the audience that many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus “through the word of the woman” at the well. One in three people under age 30, he said, are unaffiliated with the church — even some of those in our own families.
Harrison said the 6.1-million-member Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus in Africa needs 12,000 more pastors and its leaders have “come to [the LCMS] to help them with theological education.”
He showed family photos, including one of him and his wife, Kathy, and told LWML members that Kathy “scoops up stray people and loves them. And so do you.”
Saying “outreach is really significant,” he urged the women to invite others to Bible class.
“You have the love of Jesus in your hearts … and in your hands and feet. … You’re Jesus people,” he said.
He also introduced his mother, Nancy Harrison, onstage, and said she had been invited by her mother-in-law to attend her first LWML meeting 56 years ago and has been with the auxiliary ever since.
Earlier in the convention, Harrison surprised the audience when he joined song leader Dr. Dina Vendetti onstage to accompany her piano on his banjo to “When the Saints Go Marching In” as well as a medley of selections from several hymns, including “The Church’s One Foundation” and “How Great Thou Art.”
The Rev. Randall L. Golter, executive director of the Synod’s Office of International Mission, thanked the LWML for its partnership in mission.
“When God sends missionaries through us, we are there with them,” he said. Calling LCMS missionaries “the church’s heroes,” he introduced two missionaries who also addressed the convention:
- Iantha Scheiwe, who serves in Hong Kong as executive director of the Concordia Welfare and Education Foundation, recalled addressing the 2007 LWML convention with her husband, the Rev. Joel Scheiwe, never imagining that today her husband would be preaching weekly in Asia to a congregation with Chinese and expatriate members.
“Now I stand here, looking to the future,” she said. “I see that in another 10 years China could have more Christians than any other nation in the world.”
She spoke of her pastor grandfather, who had never realized his dream to serve as a missionary but, traveling to farflung mission fields during his retirement, realized that “at each mission site there was an individual that he had either baptized, confirmed or married.” He had been serving in missions, perhaps in a different way, but as God had directed, she said.
- Christel Neuendorf, LCMS regional business manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, who with her husband, James, also a missionary, serves in the Dominican Republic.
Neuendorf said the Great Commission — God’s “to-do list” — “can seem overwhelming,” but it is an opportunity “to serve and to share.”
She invited attendees to think about who brought them to be baptized and who they, in turn, have influenced with their faith — particularly those who don’t have the support of a Christian family.
Also addressing the convention were:
- Maggie Karner, director of LCMS Life and Health Ministries, who said she has seen in her travels how LWML contributions have supported mission work worldwide, including establishing pro-life centers in Russia.
- the Rev. Ted Krey, a missionary and regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the LCMS, who spoke of LWML funding for a new Mercy House orphanage for children who are baptized and no longer orphans but now part “of the family and body of Christ.”
- the Rev. Will and Patricia Main, co-directors of Lutheran Student Ministry at Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, Kan., who described their on-campus work where “God is doing great and wonderful things” among the Native American students. Wearing a native headdress, the Rev. Will Main thanked the women for their support.
- the Rev. Dr. John Nunes, president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore, who thanked the LWML for its support that has brought water to an area of Mali, West Africa, and “transformed” it; helped the Lutheran Malaria Initiative save lives in Africa; and provided “life-saving quilts” to people worldwide. Nunes challenged the LWML to create and ship 500,000 quilts this year to those who need them — something no other group has done — and said “it takes Lutherans and Lutheran women to make this happen.”
During an evening entertainment session, singer/songwriter Mia Koehne played the piano, sang and talked about her life. Koehne performed “You Are Not Alone,” a song she wrote for a suicidal friend, and said that song is now featured in the new movie “Home Run.”
We’re often surprised at how God uses our life experiences for His purposes, she said.
In the closing worship service, the Rev. Dr. Victor Belton talked about the pain of losing both parents, and asked how do we overcome the “drought” of loss so that we can go forward as “quenchers”?
The answer, he said, is found in the mystery of the body of Christ: The baptismal grace of the water in your life becomes your “overflow” in times of drought “as we bear one another’s burdens” as encouraged by St. Paul in Gal. 6:2.
“The birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ for me, for you, is the example of overflow for the sake of others in grateful obedience to our loving Lord Jesus,” he said.
Other guests, activities
Interrupting the four-day convention agenda with humor as the fictional “Mrs. Fred Rogers” was Elaine Bickel, who addressed Kreklau as “Your Purple Majesty.”
“Who collects mites?” she yelled in mock horror during one session. “The rest of the world is trying to get rid of [dust mites, termites] and you collect them?”
The convention recognized author and editor Dr. Marlys Taege Moberg for her many contributions to the LWML over the years. Moberg’s latest LWML book, Wherever God Sends Us, debuted at the convention. “You will be amazed, inspired and blessed as you read it,” Kreklau said.
Also featured were processions of 40 LWML district banners, six past LWML presidents, 67 Young Women Representatives, 38 multi-ethnic Heart to Heart Sisters dressed in clothing from their homelands, and some 30 children — spraying attendees from water bottles as they passed — who were taking part in “Camp Kidsburgh” activities.
The convention offered servant events that included a blood drive, quilt- and fleece blanket-making, preparing Bibles for prison ministries, filling bags for college students, making “Gospel bracelets,” producing braille materials and decorating cards of encouragement.
Convention participants brought “Gifts from the Heart” including quilts and a variety of kits for babies and adults that were distributed to Pittsburgh-area organizations.
In addition to live streaming the opening worship service, the convention included a couple of other “firsts,” such as a procession of “Unsung Heroes” from each LWML district. Among them was 90-year-old Charlotte Reid, a member of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C., since 1955.
Asked why she was named, she responded “I don’t know,” but she added that she was “surprised and honored” to receive the recognition.
Dorrie Aldrich, Reid’s friend from Mount Olivet, told Reporter that “whenever anything needs to be done where the women of the church are involved, [Reid] is ready, willing and able to do it, to coordinate it, to go, to plan.”
Aldrich said Reid is “very committed and very involved in serving others” and the congregation is “very pleased that the district selected her.”
Reid said LWML conventions make her “feel spiritually renewed,” and she especially enjoys the friendships and music. Highlights this time included “the sermon on opening night … I thought it was fantastic. … And, of course, this recognition,” she smiled.
Another first-time event was the Saturday-night “Block Party” featuring music, “flash-mob” singing and activities such as feet-washing, picture-frame decorating, jewelry and greeting-card making, “teapot karaoke” performances and giveaways of keychains, glowsticks, blinking rings, chocolate, popcorn and a myriad of other items.
Although the Mission Mite Pledge Walk was moved indoors because of rain, it nevertheless raised $69,392.60. And a pre-convention golf outing, Tee Up 4 Mites, delayed because of rain, brought in $5,200.
Daily offerings at the convention (as of July 31, 2013) were $52,562.98, to go toward the 2013-15 mission goal; $27,899.70, to be shared equally between the Pittsburgh Lutheran Center for the Blind and Camp Bethesda in Cypress, Texas; $30,504.22 to LCMS Disaster Response for Hurricane Sandy relief; and $25,560.53 to the auxiliary’s Heart to Heart Sisters program.
It was announced during the convention that the 2019 LWML convention will be held June 27-30 in Birmingham, Ala. Other upcoming conventions are planned for June 25-28, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa, and June 22-25, 2017, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Why do they come?
Margie Herrmann from Vernal, Utah, has been attending LWML national conventions since 1999. Why? “When you live in Utah, you know what you are? You’re a [Lutheran] minority. And oh, is it fun to get over here and see all these Lutheran women! … It’s wonderful to be around so many Lutheran women, and you just learn so much,” she said.
Susan Sohn and her daughter, Betsy, both of Baltimore, were attending their fourth and third, respectively, LWML national conventions. Susan said she comes because “it’s exciting, it’s uplifting, it’s fun.” In fact, she met a close friend, Teresa, at her first LWML convention and the two have been attending them together ever since!
“It’s all about the Word in action — that’s what it’s about,” friend Julie Schafer, also of Baltimore, said of the convention, her first. Will she attend again? “Oh, I’m already planning that,” she said.
Sohn said it was an “eye-opener” for her and her daughter when they attended their first LWML convention and heard the missionaries talk about their ministries. “And then I remember [daughter Betsy] walking away saying, ‘Now I really understand what the mite thing’s all about.’ ”
Betsy Sohn, 27, said she plans to be part of the LWML for the rest of her life.
Viola Lupai, a Heart to Heart (H2H) Sister from South Sudan, Africa, has been involved in the LWML cross-cultural program since it began a decade ago and has mentored others. At this year’s convention, 14 H2H Sisters were trained as leaders to start H2H programs in their districts, zones and societies.
“We learned a lot from the women here, from the leadership here,” Lupai told Reporter. “That’s the reason we are always here — to learn, then to take the message back home to different parts of Africa.”
Leslie Colligan, president of the LWML’s New England District, attended the Pittsburgh convention with her husband, Joseph Colligan.
At her first convention eight years ago, she went solo as a delegate but “would call him every night and say, ‘You will not believe this, you have to come next time!'” He’s come along ever since.
“It’s a lot of good fellowship and friendship,” Joseph Colligan said. “It’s a good time.”
Leslie Colligan said she enjoys “the work” of the convention. “The mission work that these women do is astounding. The Lord uses them mightily and it is amazing what they do,” she said. “That little bit of change, those quarters, nickels, dimes, a few five-dollar bills — it adds up to millions!”
But the real story is even bigger, she notes: that $1.83 million mite goal for 2013-15 is only a quarter of the money raised, since LWML districts typically keep three-fourths of what they receive to fund their own projects.
“We have just voted in the 18 mite goals here [in Pittsburgh], but our district has 19 mite goals that we’re working on” with a $55,000 biennium goal of its own, she said.
“It is just phenomenal what these women are doing,” she added. “God is using them.”
Updated July 9, 2013 / July 31, 2013