By Melanie Ave
“You missionaries will leave behind your homes,” said the Rev. Ted Krey, LCMS regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, as he addressed those gathered Feb. 14 for the “sending service” of the Synod’s newest missionaries.
“Maybe you will feel isolated. Perhaps sickness will come upon you,” he said. “Remember, where the table is set, and the Lord’s [Supper] is celebrated in the Divine Service, there your Christian family is found.”
The sending service marked the end of a two-week orientation for the 16 new missionaries and their spouses at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis.
The purpose of the semiannual orientation is to equip and encourage new missionaries. During the orientation the missionaries learned what life will be like overseas, ways to build a network of supporters, and how to take care of themselves and others while in the field.
The new missionaries include recent college graduates, couples, professionals and families from seven states including Texas, Wisconsin and California.
“As you go out, learn the food, the customs,” Krey said, “but rely only on the Word.
“Do not become complacent in your new homes, but rather press forward, press on toward that heavenly Jerusalem.”
The missionaries will be sent abroad later to nine countries including Peru, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Togo and the United Kingdom.
Most of the missionaries will serve as long-term career missionaries. A few will be shorter-term missionaries, serving between one and two years.
The Rev. Randy Golter, executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission, said the LCMS loves its missionaries because the Lord does.
“The Lord is making history, as He always has, using His church and her missionaries to speak the reality of the forgiveness of sins in Christ,” Golter said. “The Lord is working His mission and we’re privileged to be a small part of it.”
Missionary orientation is typically held once a year in the summer. But this year, the LCMS Office of International Mission, which oversees missionaries, decided to hold a winter orientation in addition to a second one in June to help get missionaries to the field more quickly.
The winter missionary orientation began Feb. 2 with a reception at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Bridgeton, Mo., and ended with the Feb. 14 sending service at the LCMS International Center.
Daily activities began with morning prayers. Chapel services were held most days, followed by educational sessions, interactive learning events and networking activities — all aimed at giving the missionaries a solid foundation.
“We began each day in prayer and ended the day in prayer,” said the Rev. Micah Wildauer, 34, of Milwaukee who will be a theological educator in Togo, West Africa. “We have prayer in the middle of the day with our families and with our fellow servants here at the International Center.
“It isn’t just about you going and doing the preaching and serving, but also receiving that spiritual feeding and foundation while here.”
Another highlight of the orientation came during the first week when the Rev. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., presented on the “Mission of the Cross.”
“What is astonishing is the global reach of LCMS mission work,” Schulz said. “The participants at missionary orientation will be sent all over the world. Those of us who are onlookers need to understand that the anxiety level for every one of these missionaries is very high and we must give them our support as best as we can.
“To this end, I personally want to contribute by conveying to all participants a perspective on missions that sees its continual need and value for all people around the world.”
Schulz shared his past experiences as a missionary and provided them with an understanding of missions that integrates theology, missionary experiences and local challenges.
“In the midst of all these changes, the Word of God remains the same and through it people are called to Christ,” he said. “It is God’s Word that brings us all together, and Scripture reminds us that mission is not only about us but God’s mission in and though Jesus Christ.”
During chapel service Feb. 11, the Rev. Dr. Edward Grimenstein, associate executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission, preached on Eph. 6. He encouraged the missionaries to proclaim the Gospel boldly, no matter the difficulty.
“If you haven’t already,” he said, “you will be having conversations with Muslims who will accuse you of worshiping three gods or conversations with Buddhists who will try to comfort you with a word about reincarnation. So what are you going to do?
“Sounds like it’s time to put on the armor,” Grimenstein told the missionaries. “Boldly speak the Gospel. But as you do, please be sure to speak a bold Gospel that is boldly patient and boldly kind and boldly unchanging.”
Various educational sessions were held throughout the two weeks including discussions titled “Confessing Christ Alone,” “The Logistics of Life” and “Stress Inoculations.”
In one session, missionaries traveled by bus to the Soulard Farmers Market in St. Louis and learned “Photography 101” with LCMS staff photojournalist Erik M. Lunsford.
In another session, the Rev. Dan McMiller, director of LCMS missionary recruitment, gave the missionaries insight about avoiding “level confusion.”
He encouraged the missionaries to be aware of the many aspects of the people and places where they will be living and traveling, from anthropology to political ideology.
McMiller recalled a time in the 1990s when members of a rural congregation in Chile got upset when his congregation in the city addressed him informally instead of formally.
“We got stuck in the middle of the debate between the Chileans,” he said. “We tried to let them resolve the conflict.”
McMiller told the missionaries that their knowledge of the social sciences can be tools to help them understand the many issues they will be confronting.
“Does this mean that the Gospel needs contextualization?” McMiller asked. “No, the Gospel doesn’t need contextualization, but you do, as the messenger. You better understand how you might get in the way of the message.”
The Rev. Edmund Auger and his wife, Deaconess Cherie Auger, both 62, attended new missionary orientation although they are longtime LCMS missionaries, having served in Guatemala and most recently in the Cayman Islands. The couple is now headed to their next assignment in Latin America.
Speaking from his experience as a missionary, Auger said there are many fine points to interpreting the environment and the people in a foreign country.
“You find yourself moving in and out of context,” he said, “maybe even multiple times in the course of a day or a week.”
The Augers said they appreciated being able to meet people face-to-face at the LCMS International Center who help care for them and support their work.
“It’s good to put a face with the home base leadership of operations,” Auger said.
“I think as a missionary in the field, I want to know that someone has got my back,” Cherie Auger added. “I want to know there is someone I can trust and I can go to.”
One of the days, the missionaries traveled by bus to Christian Friends of New Americans, a St. Louis-based LCMS Recognized Service Organization that cares for refugees and immigrants by helping them with language, offering classes on culture and connecting them with local LCMS congregations.
Afterward they headed to Jay International Food Co., a global food market in St. Louis.
“There are a lot of different smells going on,” LCMS Program Manager Erin Alter told the missionaries beforehand. “Fresh. Frozen. Fried. Try to find something from the place where you are going.”
Inside the store, the Rev. Dale Kaster and his wife, Suzanne, looked for the flag of Ghana, the West African country where they are headed.
As a theological educator and someone who “loves telling people about Jesus,” 51-year-old Kaster of Jacksonville, Fla., will be training men to serve as pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana.
“Did you see that carrot back there?” Kaster asked his wife after passing the produce aisle. “It was as big as my arm.”
Kaster, a self-described adventurous eater, said he looks forward to sampling the cuisine in Ghana. At the market, he snapped a picture of his wife holding a can of “GhanaFresh” palm nut cream.
“All right,” he said jokingly, “We’re ready to go.”
Truly, Kaster said he is ready to transition from parish pastor to missionary.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the people of God, people who need my training,” Kaster said. “I look forward to helping them with their skills and understanding of Scripture for the pastoral office. I want to do that by showing them.”
At the international market with his 15-month-old daughter, Liza, strapped in a carrier to his chest, Wildauer of Milwaukee scoured the aisles for food that he and his wife, Robin, 28, might find in Togo.
The people of Togo eat a lot of rice-based soups and boiled food, Wildauer said. “I’m told when the fruit’s in season, you eat it up,” he said.
The couple bought a package of dried mangoes, a favorite for their son, Sam, 3.
Getting used to new types of food is only one aspect of life that is about to change for the missionaries. They also must adjust to living in a new country, away from friends and family.
Several of the missionaries requested prayers and encouragement from LCMS members and congregations.
Deaconess Gail Ludvigson, 63, of Fort Wayne, Ind., said she would like to have a “spiritual support group” in the United States. She is headed to the Dominican Republic where she will serve a seminary, congregations and a ministry for people with disabilities.
“It would be wonderful to have people from the broader church giving me support like that,” she said.
Ludvigson said the work of missionaries is often misunderstood.
“We’re there to build a church in the Dominican Republic that belongs to the Dominicans,” she said. “So everything we do is to support our brothers and sisters who are Dominican. We don’t want to take over.
“That’s not our goal. The goal is to have them tell us what they need and offer it to them so they can be self-sustaining.”
The LCMS has been involved in mission and outreach since 1851 when it established its first mission board and sent its first overseas missionary to India in 1895. Today, the LCMS trains, sends and supports called and appointed, and long-term, short-term and career missionaries throughout the United States and in various countries around the world where there are mission stations, partner churches, schools and mission relationships.
Learn more about LCMS missionaries at lcms.org/Missionaries or search for their downloadable prayer cards and online giving pages at lcms.org/prayercards. To see a list of mission-service opportunities, visit lcms.org/searchopps. To download an application to serve as a missionary, go to https://www.lcms.org/service and see the links under “Applications” at bottom right.
Melanie Ave is staff writer and social media coordinator with LCMS Communications.
Megan K. Mertz, a staff writer with LCMS Communications, also contributed to this report.
Updated Feb. 17, 2014