By Melanie Ave
The 35 new missionaries and their spouses stood before the altar at the LCMS International Center chapel in St. Louis June 14, where they were encouraged by LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison during the “sending service” to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
The service marked the conclusion of a two-week orientation where the missionaries learned everything from how to raise financial support to how to speak the Gospel effectively in the mission field.
The missionaries and their families from 16 states and Canada will soon be sent to the Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Germany, Guinea, Hong Kong, Kenya, Macau, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Singapore, Southern Asia, Taiwan and Togo. They join a group of more than 110 LCMS missionaries worldwide.
The new missionaries range in age and experience and include recent college graduates, mid-career couples and retirees.
During the sending service, Harrison told the missionaries, “Have courage. The Gospel gives you courage. Jesus was put to death for your transgressions.”
Musicians — including an organist, pianist, flutist and a high-school brass ensemble — led those gathered in the hymns and liturgy of the Church. A reception followed the service.
“I’m very thankful to the Lord for His graciousness and generosity in continuing to send forth laborers into the harvest field,” said the Rev. Randy Golter, executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission, which coordinates the work of missionaries. “It’s exciting to see how the Holy Spirit raises up men and women to answer His call. This is a distinct privilege for the church this day to be sending out another group of missionaries to speak His Word.”
About half of the new missionaries will serve as long-term career missionaries and the other half will serve as Globally Engaged in Outreach (GEO) missionaries, who typically stay in the field between one and two years.
The Rev. David and Vicki Riley and their 14-year-old daughter, Shannon, are headed to the Dominican Republic as career missionaries after having served a dual parish in southern Arkansas. A pastor since 1993, Riley also served in Kentucky.
David Riley said he had never considered serving the church overseas until he read an article about missionary service in which a question was asked: “Have you ever considered being a missionary?”
“I thought to myself, no,” he said. “Then the Holy Spirit said, ‘Think about that.’ Just like the Holy Spirit had called me into the ministry 20 years ago, now He was saying, ‘Think about being a missionary. This is an opportunity I am giving you.’”
Riley will become a specialized mission developer, where he will participate in teaching, preaching, pastoral care and church planting.
Admittedly, he is a little nervous about living in another country, learning a new language and moving out of his comfort zone. But that anxiety is tempered by excitement.
“I’m looking forward to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to individuals who may not have heard it before, or maybe they’ve heard it before but they’ve fallen away from the faith,” he said. “And then to have the opportunity to baptize individuals of all ages, not only infants or teenagers but people of all ages!”
Riley said that during the orientation he enjoyed participating in team-building exercises with other missionaries at the Wyman retreat center.
“We had a lot of fears and anxiety. We were asking, what about this and what about that?” he said. “The last two weeks have done a lot to prepare us and make us feel more comfortable. It feels good knowing we have people covering our backs.”
The Rev. Peter Haugen, 35, said he found sessions by the Rev. Dr. Detlev Schulz, professor and chairman of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., very helpful during the orientation because Schulz focused on why the Synod, from a theological perspective, is involved in overseas mission work.
“Our mission is a living Word and Sacrament ministry,” said Haugen, who with his wife, Bethany, and their four children, ages 7 to 12, will become career missionaries in Papua New Guinea.
“We’re not out there to get numbers,” said Bethany Haugen, 40. “We’re there to share the Word. God will do the rest.”
“We are called to be faithful,” her husband added.
New GEO missionary Caitlin Worden, 23, said missionary orientation helped her realize she is not alone in her journey to the mission field. She will soon be heading to Lima, Peru, where she will work at a community center that serves at-risk youth as part of her deaconess internship through Concordia Theological Seminary.
“It was really powerful to meet all the people at Synod who do so much to support me as a missionary,” she said. “When I am on the field I am not alone, the whole of the LCMS International Center is praying for me, creating resources for me and helping me. Our whole church is backing me as a missionary. Orientation opened my eyes to all the wonderful ways in which our whole church is working together to fulfill God’s mission.”
Worden said she is excited to see the Gospel at work in her life and in the lives of those she is serving.
“As a missionary I know that I will be leaving behind much and be outside of my element,” she said. “When I have nothing normal left in my life I will have only Christ to lean on. I am excited to see the things that He will do with me during this time. I know that the Lord has great plans for me and I can’t wait to experience them.”
The orientation began June 2 with a reception at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and concluded with the sending service June 14. In between, the missionaries participated in daily prayer, chapel services, in-depth education sessions, interactive learning and networking activities aimed at providing a solid foundation as they prepare for their service.
Session titles included “Confessing Christ Alone,” “Encountering Islam” and “Being Lutheran.”
During one session, the missionaries participated in an activity called the “plunge,” where they experienced being immersed in other cultural settings. For that, they traveled by bus to the Christian Friends of New Americans, a St. Louis-based LCMS Recognized Service Organization that cares for refugees and immigrants by helping them with language, offering classes on culture and connecting them with local LCMS congregations for pastoral care.
In another session, Dr. Mike Rodewald, LCMS regional director to Africa, brought a bag full of dried Mopane caterpillars — an important protein source for many people in rural southern Africa — for those who wished to taste something different from an American diet. The goal was to help illustrate that people from different cultures may look at the same thing but categorize and understand it differently.
During Rodewald’s presentation, titled “Barriers to the Gospel,” he encouraged the missionaries to ask questions of the people with whom they are working and not make assumptions. He also said they should avoid judging the actions of others without first knowing their motivations.
He added that it is important for missionaries to understand differences between guilt-based cultures, like the United States, and shame-based societies, which are most likely where the missionaries will find themselves.
“When we don’t understand those to whom we proclaim, our actions may unknowingly set up barriers to the very Gospel we proclaim,” Rodewald said. “We don’t want to be guilty of proclaiming what cannot be heard.”
The Rev. Dr. Brent Smith, LCMS regional director to Eurasia, discussed “engagement” with the missionaries and encouraged them to be patient because God will use them appropriately.
“Find out what God has already been doing in the place where you are going,” Smith said. “Be persistent. Sometimes you have to share the Word over and over using many different styles and forms.”
Because it takes a “tremendous” effort by the entire church to support missionaries, Golter encouraged LCMS members and congregations to help missionaries through their prayers and their gifts.
“We need more missionaries,” Golter said. “In the smallest of the LCMS’ five regions, Latin America, we’re 70 missionaries short. Come follow us. Follow Jesus into the mission field.”
For a video highlight of the sending service, go to video.lcms.org/archives/2298.
Learn more about LCMS missionaries at lcms.org/missionary or search for new and ongoing missionaries’ downloadable prayer cards and online “giving pages” at lcms.org/prayercards. To see a list of mission-service opportunities, visit lcms.org/searchopps.
Melanie Ave is senior writer and social media coordinator for LCMS Communications.
Updated June 15, 2013 / June 17, 2013 / June 21, 2013 / June 24, 2013