By Sarah Reinsel
On Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) International Center (IC) celebrated the retirement of two longstanding employees: Krista Miller, registrar and operations director of the LCMS Youth Gathering, and Ross Stroh, executive director of LCMS Accounting.
Miller worked for LCMS Youth Ministry for over 23 years. Stroh worked in various capacities for the Synod for over 32 years. Both employees were invaluable for their wealth of institutional knowledge and decades of experience, as well as their humble, behind-the-scenes service to the church.
‘Seen it all’
As registrar and operations director for eight Youth Gatherings, Miller managed registration, housing and transportation arrangements for a staggering number of people. Upwards of 20,00 people — and in some years, as many as 30,000 people — participate in each Gathering. Miller was the main contact point for hundreds of adult leaders, shepherding them through all the arrangements necessary to bring thousands of youth to a new city for a week.
“Krista probably spends more time on the phone with youth leaders … than anybody else does,” said Julianna Shults, program manager for LCMS Youth Ministry. “[It’s amazing] listening to her mentor … youth leaders to prepare them to bring kids to the Gathering, all day, every day for the whole year coming into the Gathering.”
“My indirect way of sharing the Gospel … is working [on logistics] with adult leaders and pastors … to help them minister to the kids better,” said Miller.
Her biggest task — managing registration and housing — entailed making contracts with hotels and ensuring that participant information and room assignments were orderly and accurate. Today registration is done online, but in the past it was all done on paper, with thousands of youth mailing their registrations to St. Louis.
Miller also handled travel arrangements and housing for hundreds of volunteers, as well as speakers, exhibitors and special guests.
“She has been doing the work that she’s been doing for longer than anybody else,” said Shults. “There’s not much she hasn’t seen or experienced. With that comes a whole lot of knowledge and wisdom. … I will miss being able to take a situation and put it in front of her. She’s almost always able to find a fair, Christlike way of dealing with difficult situations because she’s seen it all at this point.”
In addition to helping adult leaders, Miller was also the chief point of contact with the cities hosting the Gathering. Interacting with representatives from places like New Orleans, Orlando, San Antonio and Houston was a chance for Miller to reflect the love of Christ. “[To them] I represent this church body, and I’m the only person they see from the corporate standpoint,” she said.
Over the years, Miller developed relationships with city representatives and especially with the hotels that housed thousands of Gathering participants. “New Orleans, for example — they love us. The hotels love us. They know us, and they love our kids,” said Miller.
“Each Gathering, there are a number of additional behind-the-scenes things Krista would do for participants and volunteers to make their Gathering experience wonderful,” said the Rev. Dr. Mark Kiessling, director of LCMS Youth Ministry. “By taking care of these details, she made sure participants could spend more time together in God’s Word, Christian fellowship, receiving God’s gifts and serving their neighbor.”
Miller also did similar logistics work for other programs and events hosted by LCMS Youth Ministry, such as the National Lutheran Youth Workers Conference and YouthLead.
“She has a blessed ability to see projects to the end to make sure that they’re done well and done correctly,” said Kiessling. “She’s mentored me along the way. It’s been a blessing to work with her all these years.”
In retirement, Miller is looking forward to traveling with her husband and visiting her children.
‘True gift of service’
“I can’t thank God enough for what you have done, how you have served,” said the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, LCMS president, in his remarks during a chapel service where Ross Stroh was recognized.
“Every day … questions come up — when to spend, when not to spend, how much has been spent, are we on a trend, what’s the overall yearly picture look like, how did it look the three years prior … what’s our normal course of action, how are we sitting in regards to this fund, do we have enough mercy funds to move ahead with this, is it wise to do that … and a hundred other things,” Harrison continued.
As executive director of LCMS Accounting and Financial Services, Stroh oversaw the preparation, on behalf of the LCMS chief financial officer (CFO), of all budgetary, accounting and financial records for corporate Synod. He has served in this role since December 2013.
“Ross’ positivity and knowledge … have been invaluable to me during my first year with the LCMS,” said Nathan Haak, Synod treasurer and CFO.
Stroh began working for the Synod in 1992, overseeing budgeting and finances for the LCMS Office of International Mission and some 64 foreign-mission fields.
“Every time I bump into Ross there’s always something to talk about, and there’s always a smile on his face. … Somebody with that kind of institutional insight is invaluable,” said David Fiala, mission advocate for LCMS Mission Advancement. “Ross has been a real gift and an encouragement to so many of us over the years.”
Fiala first met Stroh in the 1990s, when Stroh would give presentations to missionaries on how to manage their finances. Stroh himself used to be stationed on the mission field. From 1990 to 1992, he was a business officer in Panama City, Panama.
“I really loved that,” Stroh said. “And then I moved to the mission department, and it was really neat because I felt closely involved with the missionaries and the mission.”
“It has been a joy to work with Ross over the past 13 years,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kumm, chairman of the LCMS Board of Directors. “Not only was he exceptionally good at his job, but [he] was content to do it while being behind the scenes and supporting the CFO. I am very grateful for Ross and the work he has done. He has a true gift of service, and also a wonderful sense of humor to go along with it.”
Stroh has been succeeded by Chris Wood, formerly the executive director of LCMS Internal Audit. Wood brings years of experience, technical knowledge and familiarity with the mission of the LCMS to this new role. He has 24 years of service with the LCMS.
In some parting words of advice after his chapel recognition, Stroh said, “On those rough days … just remember that we’re here, every day, and we get to serve God and His mission every day.” He is looking forward to traveling, reading and doing charity work in his retirement.
“I’ll still be helping out a little bit around [the IC],” he said. That is good news for the IC and good news for the Synod.
Posted March 9, 2023