By Megan K. Mertz
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt travel around the world, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) Short-Term Mission unit has launched a new way to connect U.S. Lutherans with the international mission field.
The online resource, called Missions Unpacked, provides interactive programming so that individuals, families and groups can “learn, sing, eat and pray with missionaries and local church members in Africa, Asia, Eurasia and Latin America & the Caribbean” without ever leaving home.
“The pandemic refocused what our unit was able to do,” said Erin Alter, director of the LCMS Short-Term Mission Program. “We realized that there wasn’t an easy way for people to learn about LCMS international mission work. Where does somebody start if they are curious? So, we wanted to create an entry level way to explore what the LCMS is doing around the world, while inviting our members to be a part of that.
“The people of our church body are an integral part of what actually happens overseas, and so we want to keep that connection strong,” she continued.
More than 230 people registered for the pilot program, which took place between Jan. 18 and Feb. 14. Each week included a prerecorded video introduction, a live online presentation from an LCMS missionary, and cultural information from the region, such as video tours, recipes, language lessons and crafts.
At Alive in Christ Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., youth ministry developer Will Kiehl used the program during the church’s weekly youth night. About 20 youth — as well as a few children and adults — came together each Wednesday to watch video clips from the presentations and participate in the activities, while other church members joined in from home.
Highlights of the program for his group included making one of the recipes and hearing from LCMS missionary Chelsea Irwin, who just completed her first year of missionary service and who leads a youth group in the Czech Republic.
“The one thing that we all thought was interesting [about Missions Unpacked] was the strategy of the church,” Kiehl said. “We talked about the strategy of developing pastors to lead in their own countries, and what leads to that. … In the meantime, what can a lay person do over there, and how can we help?”
According to Anne Gonzalez, manager of LCMS Short-Term Mission Training and Engagement, the “goal is to help people take one step in terms of being more connected to the Synod’s international mission work — whether that’s subscribing to a missionary’s newsletter, following along on social media, or making a gift to support the work.
Although the pilot program has ended, Alter and Gonzalez are already talking about what new resources to add. They hope to hold a kid-friendly version this summer, with another session for adults in the works for next fall.
“We were encouraged to pursue this by the pandemic, but it’s one of those things where we say why didn’t we do this before?” Gonzalez said. “Even when we are able to send volunteers again, we want to continue to do this.”
Learn more about Missions Unpacked at international.lcms.org/missions-unpacked.
Posted Feb. 25, 2021