By Cheryl Magness
In 2016, the LCMS launched Mission Field: USA, an initiative dedicated to supporting and increasing church-planting efforts across the Synod. Since that time, the initiative has been actively involved with church-planting projects around the country and has provided a wide range of church-planting assistance to LCMS congregations, districts and circuits.
Missionaries are called by local agencies — congregations, districts and Recognized Service Organizations — while using a national network support model to fund their mission. Since the inception of the initiative through the initial pilot projects, the Rev. Dr. Steven D. Schave, director of LCMS Church Planting and LCMS Urban & Inner-City Mission, says the goal has been to continue to increase local “ownership” of the planting process while at the same time providing national resources.
“Mission Field: USA seeks to bring all of the Synod’s resources to bear,” says Schave, “by walking alongside districts and congregations in the shared goal of planting new churches. Mission Field: USA helps generate awareness about the importance of church planting; provides training, coaching and mentoring to those who request it; offers guidance in the area of funding; helps build connections between congregations; and serves as a catalyst in the Synod’s ongoing mission to plant new churches.”
‘In the margins’
The latest missionaries to be sent under the national model are the Rev. Martin and Kathy Schultheis, who serve in the Sandtown-Winchester community of Baltimore, Md. Schultheis, who also serves as senior pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church and School in Catonsville, Md., was involved in ministry to the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood for several years before becoming a national missionary. He was installed as a missionary during a Service of Sending on Nov. 19, 2019, at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis.
Schultheis has been designated by his congregation, in partnership with the LCMS Southeastern District, to bring the Gospel to Sandtown-Winchester, an area often described as “in the margins” due to its high rates of poverty, gang violence and drug activity.
Rev. Schultheis says, “Since the unrest around the [April 2015] death of Freddie Gray, who was from Sandtown-Winchester, many from our congregation and other area Lutheran congregations have been involved in the community … including efforts that finally led to signing people up for food and medical assistance, providing referrals for drug/alcohol detox and rehab, and connecting people to legal, housing and mental health assistance and more.”
Schultheis continues: “Two other Lutheran congregations, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Glen Arm, Md., and Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Baltimore, have provided an outdoor hot meal once a month, feeding about 150 people each time. During those meals, I have had the privilege of planting spiritual seeds by sharing the Word, praying with and anointing people for healing. …
“This has been very well received. … We have found that people who have felt beat up by society, circumstances and even themselves, have been so responsive to hearing about a God who simply loves them and values them fully.”
Schultheis says the congregations involved have also provided clothing and back-to-school supplies in partnership with the urban retailer DTLR as well as with the LCMS Office of National Mission, Lutheran Church Extension Fund, the Southeastern District LWML and more.
Crisis care alone, however, was never the end goal. In 2017, Emmanuel, along with Tina Jasion, a member of St. John’s, Glen Arm, and LeChelle Redd, a school parent of Emmanuel Lutheran School and now also a church member, formed Faith and Work Enterprises, Inc., a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to providing employment opportunities in the community. Jasion was serving as a director of Christian outreach at the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland at the time, while Redd has years of experience leading workforce development programs in the city and ties to the Sandtown-Winchester community.
In partnership with local Lutheran layman and business owner Paul Wockenfuss of Wockenfuss Candies (wockenfusscandies.com), Faith and Work established Pennsylvania Avenue Chocolates, a social enterprise that offers participants classroom instruction in needed skills as well as actual work experience. According to Schultheis, those who complete the 12-week program “will learn about how valuable they are in the sight of God as they also ready themselves for the workplace and as we connect them to employers in the area.”
With his congregation’s support, Schultheis will devote half of his time to his work in Sandtown-Winchester. As the Gospel is planted and more relationships are formed, Emmanuel will serve as the mother church for a new church plant in the neighborhood.
Emmanuel has, for years, been the lead LCMS congregation in outreach to the area, providing financial support, board members and material donations. Emmanuel’s grade school mounted a “pin pal” (not “pen pal”) campaign, writing cards with encouraging words and Scripture verses which Redd, who now serves full time with the nonprofit, then pins around Sandtown-Winchester for people to take — something Schultheis says the residents enjoy. Member volunteers have also helped make hundreds of chocolate bar samples that are now being used to raise emergency funds for people in the community.
“Through all of this,” Schultheis says, “we have become a staple part of the community.” But to continue and build on the work that has been started is going to take more money. This is where the larger church comes in.
“We treasure it,” Schultheis says, “when the greater church recognizes the worth of people … who often get labeled as addicts, drug dealers, prostitutes, homeless and mentally ill, and yet who are beloved in the sight of God and for whom He sent His Son to suffer and die. One congregation can’t — and isn’t meant to — do this work alone. We have many resources in Baltimore and are using them for the Lord’s work, but financial resources tend to be less in abundance. Any financial support brings the giver right onto the corner or into the abandoned building that is used as a house or, God-willing, into the chocolate kitchen with men preparing for their first job with us — and the potential for eternal impact grows that much more.”
Posted March 6, 2020