By Cheryl Magness
In 2021, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) Short-Term Mission unit launched a new way to connect Lutherans in the U.S. with those serving in the international mission field. The program, called Missions Unpacked, provides interactive, online resources that enable individuals, families and groups to learn more about the Synod’s international mission work without ever leaving home.
While Missions Unpacked grew out of a desire to provide a way to learn and connect with the Synod’s international mission work during the pandemic’s wide-ranging stay-at-home orders, its usefulness has continued to be seen even as the effects of the pandemic ease and travel opens up. There are many people who, while they may not be able to travel, are nevertheless interested in learning more about international mission. There are others who may have thought about getting personally involved in mission work but who would like more information before making a commitment. Missions Unpacked has something for all of them.
The Rev. Dr. David P. Stechholz, president emeritus of the LCMS English District and a member of the LCMS Board for International Mission, calls Missions Unpacked the Synod’s “best kept secret.”
“But we don’t want it to be a secret,” Stechholz adds. “The opportunity to see and hear our missionaries live truly connects each viewer to the international mission field. You can even direct questions to the missionary and his or her family, making it wonderfully personal.”
Stechholz compares Missions Unpacked to mission festivals he recalls attending when he was growing up in Rochester, N.Y. “Members of the area congregations, and of course my family, always went. As a child, I was inspired by the service, the singing and especially by the shared message of a ‘live’ missionary. … Missions Unpacked — whether for children or for adults — provides a new technological opportunity to hear the story of the saving Gospel’s spread worldwide and in specific regions, countries and cultures.”
A Missions Unpacked event runs for four weeks, with one week devoted to each of the Synod’s four international regions: Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Eurasia and Asia. Each unit includes a prerecorded video introduction about that region; a live online presentation from an LCMS missionary in the region; and cultural information such as video tours, recipes, language lessons and crafts.
In addition, the program is supplemented by several free, downloadable resources:
- A guide with questions to aid in reflecting on the introductory videos;
- A collection of short, mission-focused devotions written by LCMS international missionaries; and
- A “celebration guide” with ideas for planning a fun, educational wrap-up event.
Each unit also includes a collection of “digging deeper” recommendations for further reading and study.
The first Missions Unpacked event took place Jan. 18–Feb. 14, 2021. Another event, specifically designed for children, was held June 21–Aug. 8, 2021. The most recent event ran Jan. 24–Feb. 20 of this year. Erin Alter, director of the LCMS Short-Term Mission Program, says more are planned. The dates of the next programs, for both children and adults, are yet to be decided, but Alter shared that a new edition of Missions Unpacked — this one for teens — will be released this summer.
“It can be used as part of a youth retreat or lock-in, or during youth nights,” she said. “Each session covers a different region and includes Bible study as well as other activities.”
Brenda Anderson, a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Gorham, Maine, took part in the most recent Missions Unpacked event. She said it helped her to gain a deeper appreciation for what the church’s missionaries do.
“It’s one thing to read newsletters from those we pray for and support,” she said, “but to have a peek into all aspects of their lives and ministry takes us to a whole different level.
“I particularly enjoyed our visit with the Rev. James and Angela Sharp. As a resident of Maine, I could relate to them serving in Uruguay, the most secular nation in South America. … All of the missionaries [have] such passion for the Lord and those they serve. It encourages those of us on the stateside mission field to do the same.”
Kathy Eisenbraun, a retired LCMS teacher and a member of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and School in Columbus, Ind., said she and her husband, Paul — also a retired LCMS teacher — have personally supported several missionaries over the years. “Never having traveled outside the United States, I find seeing and hearing about these mission places to be very informative,” she said. “I hope that the program will continue and that more people will watch.”
There were 367 registrations for the 2022 Missions Unpacked event, over a hundred more than last year. Some of those registrations represented groups, so it is difficult to know exactly how many individuals took part. But it appears that the Synod’s “best kept secret” may not be a secret much longer.
Posted April 26, 2022