By Paula Schlueter Ross
LCMS World Mission would like to place 130 GEO missionaries and 100 short-term mission teams in overseas mission fields during 2011.
The Globally Engaged in Outreach, or GEO, missionaries typically serve a year or two, sharing their faith in endeavors such as teaching — English-as-a-foreign-language in schools and informal settings; agriculture; healthcare; computer technology; and any number of occupations.
All GEO missionary and short-term opportunities are designed to benefit long-term mission efforts through local congregations and LCMS career missionary activities.
Mikayla Stephenson, a 25-year-old from Tomball, Texas, is serving as a short-term missionary researcher in Mongolia through February. Based in Ulaanbaatar, the country’s capital, Stephenson told Reporter via e-mail she is “getting to know the growing Lutheran church here in Mongolia, to see what God is already doing in these people’s lives and if there might possibly be a way we can support the sharing of the Gospel here.”
Her work takes her around the country, interviewing Lutheran pastors in different regions, as well as representatives of local and international organizations.
Stephenson, who had previously served on short-term mission teams to Mexico, Honduras and Kenya, learned that a researcher was needed in Mongolia while chaperoning a summer youth trip to Central Asia last year.
She had always wanted to serve in Mongolia, she said, and believes the opportunity to do that was made possible by God.
She “wholeheartedly” encourages every Christian to consider missionary service.
“Why? Because Jesus Christ, our loving Savior, not only commands us to love one another (Matt. 22:39) [and] to care for the hungry, the outcast, the sick (Matt. 25:40), but I know that this is the greatest way I can reflect God’s love in my own life,” she says.
Stephenson says one of her favorite Bible verses is from 1 John 5: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Serving on mission trips — even for a week — provides “a practical reality-check for my faith,” she says. “Each day’s work is often long and tiring, but so worthwhile! By fitting eyeglasses for a poor, single mom, teaching a young child the parable of the prodigal son for the very first time, or constructing a simple wall for a dedicated pastor, my focus can’t help but be wrapped up in serving others.
“This reminds me that I am not the center of my own universe. God and God’s work ought to be my main concern — sharing the Good News of Jesus.”
Stephenson says she’s also reminded “that God loved me enough to send His son to die for me — and I can’t help but live each day in thankfulness.
“God brought this opportunity to serve in Mongolia directly into my life and provided the support needed to make it a reality. I simply knew I had to respond to this opportunity by saying ‘Here I am, Lord — send me!’”
GEO missionary opportunities are available in more than two dozen countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. And, while some of the positions require a college degree or special training, many don’t, according to Erin Alter, GEO missionary program director.
Typically, those who serve “interact with the same group of people on a regular basis” and “do a lot of front-line evangelism,” Alter says.
“Key” characteristics for missionaries to have, she says, are a strong faith in Christ and “a willingness and a desire to learn” and “to take direction and do what is needed.”
Opportunities for how missionaries may serve come from those already on the field — LCMS career missionaries and local church leaders — who tell LCMS World Mission “this is what we really need in order to make the biggest impact, in order to do what’s needed to bring the Gospel to this place in the most effective way,” says Alter.
Jennifer Prophete, who coordinates those who serve on a short-term basis (less than six months) on behalf of LCMS World Mission, says the majority of those she works with serve in “relationship-based” ministries, typically teaching English-as-a-foreign-language or leading English Bible camps for children.
Prophete says she would like to “connect as many congregations to the mission field as possible.” Last year nearly 500 people served on short-term teams through LCMS World Mission, and “we’d like to see that continue,” she told Reporter.
“It’s not too late to sign up for summer mission opportunities — we still have many needs to fill,” she said.
Dr. David G. Poedel, pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Phoenix, and seven others from his congregation lead a weeklong “English Bible camp” in Poland last July. It was the first time the 60-year-old congregation had sent a mission team overseas, according to Poedel, who is of Polish heritage.
“We raised sufficient funds for our airfare, our lodging in Poland, meals for the children in the camp and all of our support for the 12 days we were in Poland,” he said. “LCMS World Mission and the Center for Mission Education [of the Evangelical -- Augsburg Church in Poland] provided us with three days of orientation, which was extremely well done.”
Poedel’s group served a Lutheran congregation in Swietochlowice, a working-class mining town in the mountains of Silesia. More than 60 children ages 3 to 14 attended the camp, which focused on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and included crafts and outdoor games.
Poedel worked with local pastor Rev. Marcin Brzoska — the two supervised the doctrine being taught at the camp, led worship and started a friendship that “will continue into the years, we are both sure of that,” Poedel said.
The entire Mount Calvary congregation was “very energized” by the trip, according to the pastor. A fundraising yard sale was held before the trip, and team members “made regular presentations … so that the congregation had ownership and the opportunity to support the effort,” Poedel said.
When the team returned, they prepared their favorite Polish dishes and held a “Taste of Poland” meal for the congregation.
“This mission trip has done more to bring the new members of the congregation together than any other activity we have undertaken in the past four years of my tenure,” said Poedel, who is making plans for the congregation to send its second team to Poland this summer.
Beyond that, he is hoping the mission trips also will “equip a core nucleus of folks in my parish who will get excited about doing in Phoenix what we’re doing in Poland — imagine what we could do [in Phoenix] with the amount of money we raised and earned to go to Poland!”
Prophete says those who are interested in serving on a short-term mission have three options: they may serve with a team of members from their own congregation, they may serve on their own, or they may join another team that needs members. Teams typically include six to 10 people each.
So, “even if your congregation isn’t ready to send a team just yet, you can still serve,” she said.
Current needs include teams to construct playgrounds for Lutheran churches in Kyrgyzstan, serve on a traveling medical van in Kyrgyzstan, lead English Bible camps in Slovakia, and teach English in Vietnam and Hong Kong.
Adds Alter: “The opportunities are there, and the need is there. God has opened the doors for work to be done in these places, and He chooses to work through us, through His children, to reach out to people who don’t know about Him.”
God, she says, “calls different people to different things, so if He’s calling you to do this for a short time, for a longer time, for your life’s work — whatever it is — be open to His direction and be willing to walk with Him in that because it is amazing when you get to be part of it. Such a privilege and a joy.”
For more information about mission service — including current mission opportunities — visit www.lcmsworldmission.org/service. Or, call LCMS World Mission at 800-433-3954 and ask to speak to a placement counselor.
Posted Feb. 16, 2011/Updated Feb. 17, 2011