By Paula Schlueter Ross
If every Lutheran church body is already doing outreach, then what’s so special about the Ablaze! movement?, wondered Dr. David Tswaedi, bishop of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. Ablaze! is LCMS World Mission’s initiative to reach 100 million people with the Gospel by 2017.
As a member of the steering committee for Ablaze! International, which met Dec. 9-10 in St. Louis, Tswaedi says he now has a better understanding of the Ablaze! concept and is anxious to share it with his church body’s 22,000 members in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland.
Ablaze! is important, he says, because “it is a concerted effort by Lutherans [worldwide] to be excited about reaching people with the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ together.”
The planning meeting helped Tswaedi understand “where do we,” as a partner church, “fit into this picture?” he said. “Are we hoisting the American flag, or are we hoisting the Jesus flag? Now we know that we are partners.”
The meeting brought together partner-church leaders from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America with LCMS World Mission staff to discuss the Ablaze! initiative and plan the agenda for an Ablaze! International Conference, July 6-9 in St. Louis.
Representatives of the Synod’s 30 partner church bodies have been invited to take part in the gathering, which is designed to:
- affirm the church bodies’ common mission focus.
- explore key issues in mission expansion, such as the relationship between church planting and social ministry.
- identify and share effective mission practices, including “what works” in church planting, leadership formation and human care.
Dr. Allan Buckman, chairman of the Ablaze! International steering committee, calls the July conference “a milestone event” because the Synod and its overseas partners will be “coming together for the express purpose of planning for the worldwide expansion of confessional Lutheran mission initiatives.”
Dr. Carlos Winterle, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) and a member of the Ablaze! International steering committee, says the Ablaze! initiative fits right in with his church body’s centennial celebration next year.
Winterle says he wants to see every IELB congregation sponsoring “a social program for outreach, with a missionary emphasis” among the poor, homeless and those who are alone. His goal is “to put all of the congregations in the Ablaze! vision, to share the Gospel with all these people they have contact with, reinforcing the theme of the IELB Centennial: Christ for All – Yesterday, Today and Forever.”
Other partner-church members of the steering committee for Ablaze! International are Dr. Diethardt Roth, bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Rev. Allan Yung, president of the Lutheran Church–Hong Kong Synod.
Roth said Ablaze! is needed to “re-energize mission work worldwide,” particularly “in the land of the Reformation and in Europe, which we need after 500 years.”
Sharing ideas will enable partner churches to “help each other and motivate each other in evangelism,” said Yung. “This means a lot to us as the Hong Kong Synod continues to partner with LCMS World Mission for the expansion of Lutheran work in mainland China.”