By Paula Schlueter Ross (email@example.com)
The Rev. Micah Glenn remembers the day Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo. It was Aug. 9, 2014, a Saturday afternoon, the day after his 30th birthday, and Glenn, a seminarian, had just begun serving his yearlong vicarage in Huntsville, Ala.
He also recalls watching on TV the weeks of violence the shooting triggered — the rioting, looting and destruction — and worrying about the safety of his parents, who lived in Ferguson then. And still do.
Glenn, too, had lived in that house from sixth grade on, attending public elementary and middle schools in Ferguson and considering himself, at one point in his life, a lot like Michael Brown: a troubled teen with an uncertain future.
Now Glenn — who understands Ferguson’s people and their challenges as only a fellow resident can — is beginning his first call as a new pastor: executive director of the Lutheran Hope Center in Ferguson. He and the Rev. Dr. Antonio J. Lopez — who will serve Hispanic people along the Mexican border in Brownsville, Texas — attended orientation June 13-17 at the Synod’s International Center in St. Louis as the church body’s newest U.S.-based missionaries.
Both ministries are “very reflective of our hopes for multiethnic ministry — reaching into the heart of our cities, having a pivotal role in racial reconciliation in America, working with at-risk youth, and reaching out to our neighbors who are least like us as a church body,” notes the Rev. Steven Schave, director of Church Planting and Urban & Inner-City Mission with the LCMS Office of National Mission.
Glenn and Lopez join fellow national missionaries Rev. Peter Burfeind in Toledo, Ohio, and Rev. Adam DeGroot in Philadelphia, who attended a weeklong orientation and Service of Sending at the LCMS International Center in January. (Read a related story, ” ‘Mission Field: USA’ launch includes sending two national missionaries.”)
In his sermon for the June 17 “sending service,” Missouri District President Rev. Dr. Lee Hagan noted that Christ died for all people — including Muslim terrorists, gay Hispanics in Orlando, Fla., and those who get a paycheck from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
“They are all prodigal sons and daughters, sinners in need of the healing salve of the Gospel,” Hagan said in reference to Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.
And as Glenn and Lopez are sent “not to the ends of the earth, but to places nearby, places familiar, they are sent to work among people for whom Christ offered His life on the cross,” a God who cares for — and forgives — each and every one of His children, no matter what their sins might be, Hagan said.
With a nod toward famed LCMS Chaplain Henry Gerecke — who ministered to Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, assuring them that they were loved and forgiven by God — Hagan told the missionaries “this is what you are sent to do: help people” who may not live, or dress, or speak like you, “to hear the voice of the Father who loves His children and desires to restore them by His grace.”
New missionary Glenn, a lifelong Lutheran, strayed from his home congregation, Chapel of the Cross Lutheran, as a young adult but returned after accepting a job as a night attendant there, eventually becoming a youth- and young-adult ministry leader and, at the urging of fellow members, enrolling at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
In his ministry at the Lutheran Hope Center, which is under construction and expected to open at year’s end (read a related story, “LCMS, partners break ground for Ferguson ‘Empowerment Center’ “), Glenn will work in partnership with five local LCMS congregations to improve the lives of people — particularly at-risk youth — in Ferguson and surrounding North County communities through tutoring and mentoring programs, Bible studies, sports camps, parenting classes and a food pantry. He also will provide Word-and-Sacrament ministry at nearby Grace Lutheran Chapel in Bellefontaine Neighbors, Mo.
Like a lot of the young men he wants to help, Glenn sports a number of tattoos — seven, to be exact, pretty much covering the upper half of his body — as an expression of who he is. Among them are colorful renderings in honor of his wife, Dorothy; his parents and four siblings; his friends; his Christian faith; and his birth state, Hawaii.
But, unlike those other young men, he’ll be wearing a clerical collar, an immediate sign that “this guy’s a pastor” and “this is who I am, this is why I’m here,” he said.
Glenn says he wants to get out into the neighborhoods, meeting people “where they are,” and convince teens that “school isn’t just something they have to do until they’re 18” but “can actually be a channel for them to have a career, a life.” And that God’s love — reflected by the LCMS — is there for them, ever-present and unconditional.
“We’re bringing hope into this broken community through the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and “only through that is there going to be any real change effected in the hearts and minds of people,” noted Glenn, who describes his call to serve in Ferguson as “providential.”
“I’m the lone black pastor in the LCMS from Ferguson, Mo., and I just so happen to be graduating and getting ordained at the time this ministry is going up,” he told Reporter. “If God’s not doing it, who is?”
The other new national missionary, Lopez, has “always” considered himself a missionary, even before he was ordained, pointing to Jesus’ words in Matthew 28: “go, and make disciples of all nations” — a message for “all Christians.” There’s no distinction, he says, “between being a Christian and sharing your faith,” and he believes that “evangelism begins in your home, in the family.”
Lopez, who is fluent in Spanish, will be installed as pastor of El Calvario Lutheran Church, Brownsville, July 31, but his missionary call also includes the expectation that he will help start a campus ministry at the University of Texas at Brownsville, and a new church plant in North Brownsville.
The three-pronged ministry is a tall order, even for Texas, but Lopez says he “absolutely” feels led by God and he’s “excited to see what the Lord is going to do.”
Neither he nor his wife, Rebecca, and their three children ages 11, 13 and 15, wanted to leave their comfortable life in Maywood, Calif., outside of Los Angeles, where Lopez served as pastor of Palabra de Dios Lutheran Church and spent time with his mother, who lived nearby. Rebecca recalls praying many times, on her knees and in tears at the church’s altar, that God would “change her heart” because having to make the difficult decision about whether or not to accept the missionary call was “breaking” it.
But she did come to the realization, she says, “that this is what God wants” and now has an unexpected feeling of “peace” about starting anew in Brownsville.
“I think there is no better place than being in God’s will and finding God’s will in your life,” she adds, even though the journey can be difficult, she acknowledged.
Both said the weeklong orientation was very helpful to them — it was “encouraging” to meet the other missionaries and “hear their stories,” Antonio said, and daily chapel services were “very comforting” with messages about “trusting God and knowing that He will provide for your needs,” something that “was exactly what we needed to hear.”
Antonio admits there are “very unique challenges” in Brownsville, which is at the Mexican border, noting that from October 2015 until this May more than 10,500 Cuban immigrants have crossed into the U.S. through that city.
“I’m excited about the possibility of opening up some sort of contact or outreach” to them, he said, much like Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care in El Paso, Texas, already is doing (see related story, “Lutheran ministry extends mercy to Cuban sojourners“), and Rebecca asked Synod congregation members to remember that “prayer and support” is so important to missionaries who serve on their behalf in mission fields in foreign countries and — like the Lopez and Glenn families — in their own backyards.
In addition to the national missionaries, a group of 15 new overseas missionaries — who will serve in a dozen countries — attended a two-week orientation June 13-24 at the International Center.
For more information about LCMS missionaries and opportunities to serve, click here.
Posted June 24, 2016