By Pamela J. Nielsen
At its one-day meeting on Sept. 4, the LCMS Board for International Mission (BIM) worked through a full agenda of reports informing their work in setting the policies that guide LCMS mission efforts around the world. A regular feature of each meeting is the report from one of the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM) regional directors, who provides a spotlight on the work of a single region.
Good news from Asia
Reporting via Zoom from the Asia region’s base in Chiayi, Taiwan, the Rev. Charles Ferry, regional director of LCMS Asia, provided a fast-paced and comprehensive review of work in his region, peppering the facts and details with stories of people being served and the impact of the Gospel on their lives.
“We’ve gone full steam with translation and resource development projects,” said Ferry, adding that one of the blessings of the last year has been that LCMS hymnal projects in Taiwan and Indonesia “have made significant progress.”
Ferry noted that the hymnal projects, as well as translation work being done to fortify seminary training, are “all in direct response to what they’re asking us for [on the field].” He explained how LCMS partner churches in the region have studied Lutheran Service Book, saying that they want what the LCMS has. “What a wonderful joy it is to have these things that people recognize as wonderful treasures,” said Ferry, “and then be able to work with them and have a part next to them helping to provide that.“
“Another exciting project that we’re involved in is pastoral education for the Chinese-speaking world,” said Ferry, as he underscored the partnership with the China Evangelical Lutheran Church, planted by LCMS missionaries some 50 years ago.
“They need faithful pastors,” Ferry explained, “and once again, the LCMS is recognized as the expert in theological education [and pastoral formation]. They are asking us to be the primary providers of instruction and resources in this pastoral formation program that we are developing together.”
Ferry also reported that he has spent considerable time analyzing the priorities and budget for OIM’s work in Asia and is taking the opportunity to re-evaluate and bring everything into greater alignment with the Synod’s seven mission priorities as he works to steward ever tighter budget dollars.
Reporting on key vacancies in the region, Ferry expressed the urgency of finding the right people to fill the posts. He underscored the need for pastor and teacher missionaries fluent in Chinese.
“Please pray in your personal and corporate prayers,” said Ferry, “that the Lord would continue to send the right people to serve in these roles.”
The need to plant churches
Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison echoed Ferry, sharing his concern about mission work that does not lead to the planting of churches where the faithful may gather to receive Word and Sacrament.
“If you look at the Book of Acts, it is very clear from the beginning,” said Harrison, “that the Gospel spread from Jerusalem out to the ends of the earth — but the context in which that Gospel spread included the church.” Harrison highlighted Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
While emphasizing the blessings and opportunities that come through personal evangelism, Harrison said that it must lead people to the church, where the gifts of God are found.
“Look at the epistles of Paul,” Harrison said, referencing First Corinthians. “When Paul was a missionary, what did he do? He planted orthodox churches and established orthodox leaders to pass the Gospel on.”
Harrison added that Paul “encouraged lay leaders to be articulate and knowledgeable about the Gospel of Christ and the Scriptures” and noted that theological education, one of the strengths for which the Synod is known, is “precisely to the end of growing the church.”
OIM Executive Director Rev. Dan McMiller echoed Harrison on church planting and the role of theological education on the mission field. “We are about providing pastoral presence in the mission field for the sake of planting churches,” said McMiller. “Whether we’re starting new work or working with a church body that’s in formation, or [working] with a mature church body, it is our emphasis to have churches planted and help our partners in establishing clear routes to ordination [to fill those pulpits] through effective pastoral formation.”
The latter is the most frequent request coming from our church partners as they seek our help, noted McMiller.
Budget cuts have consequences
In their reports to the BIM, both McMiller and LCMS Chief Mission Officer Rev. Kevin Robson drove home the point that reductions in budgeted Fiscal Year 2021 expenditures will have a significant impact on LCMS mission and ministry efforts.
Robson shared that he provided the Synod Board of Directors with a “no-holds-barred assessment of our situation … in order to give a very right evaluation and a thoughtful response to the opportunities that are before us … [even as we are] faced with the uncertain forecast in an environment [that includes] the social unrest here in the U.S., the upcoming elections, the pandemic, and an increasing hostility towards Christianity within a declining Synod demographic.”
McMiller reported that the Synod’s deployed missionaries continue to enjoy nearly 100% support while describing how the budget cuts and position eliminations impact the support provided by OIM staff to those missionaries.
The OIM continues a full-court press to find and recruit accounting professionals willing to deploy long term across the globe to fill existing or recently vacated positions that support LCMS mission projects and work on the ground. The navigation of global banking, finance and real estate laws in each of the four international regions requires a high degree of accounting acumen along with a deep desire to serve the church.
Efforts bear fruit
As the meeting wrapped up, McMiller reflected on his joy at the impact of theological education around the world in his time serving the Synod: “We see the fruits of good teaching in pastors who come out of seminary … not only faithful and hardworking in their teaching, preaching and administering of the Sacraments, but … supported by their own people.”
Posted Nov. 2, 2020