By Phil Jaseph
From Guinea to South Africa, missionaries sent by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to Africa left their respective fields to enjoy spiritual refreshment and Scriptural reflection during an April 1-5 retreat in Mombasa, Kenya.
The Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, LCMS director of Church Relations and director of Regional Operations for the Office of International Mission, led the retreat, focusing on the Gospel of Mark in daily Bible studies. Jesus’ continued insistence in that Gospel that no one — including His disciples and those whom He healed — reveal His nature as the Son of God was perhaps an unusual context for mission work. While the idea of a missionary who won’t reveal his identity or background sounds strange, God had a plan in His Son that those who witnessed Christ’s power would proclaim Him the Son of God through their own faith, Collver noted.
Collver departed early to support the Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, LCMS director of Theological Education and dean of International Studies/associate professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., who suffered an aneurysm in Adelaide, Australia. Dr. Michael Rodewald, the Synod’s departing regional director for Africa who begins serving as executive director of Lutheran Bible Translators June 1, led the remainder of the retreat.
“We do not need to worry about coming to Africa to ‘change the world.’ Jesus already did that,” said Rodewald. “Some people come to Africa because they want to make a difference. However, for us as Lutheran Christians, we understand that any real difference has already been made through Jesus on the cross. We serve in thankfulness for what God has done through His Son.”
Pastors attending the triennial retreat — including the Rev. Dr. David Erber, the Rev. Jacob Gaugert, the Rev. Tim Heiney, the Rev. Fred Reinhardt, the Rev. Dr. Carl Rockrohr and the Rev. Shauen Trump — assisted by teaching God’s Word, sharing homilies and leading liturgy.
Trump chose to focus on Psalm 121, one of the psalms of ascent, and one that he found particularly appropriate for missionaries. “This psalm focuses on a traveler or pilgrim journeying to Jerusalem to visit the temple. His eyes are lifted up to see the golden spire stretching above the mountains of the surrounding valley,” Trump said as he set the scene.
“In the context of our Lenten pilgrimage, Psalm 121 can also take on a deeper meaning for us as Christians. Substitute Mount Golgotha for ‘the hills’ of Verse 1. That is where our help comes from,” he said.
The retreat also provided an opportunity for socialization with old and new friends. New missionaries like Rachel Cassada, an elementary school teacher serving in Ghana, and the Rev. Jacob Gaugert, a theological educator at the Lutheran Center for Theological Studies in Togo, said they appreciated the fellowship and having time to debrief from challenges in their fields.
“It is hard to ‘get away’ and recharge when you are out in the field,” said Gaugert, a career missionary. “Everyone needs time to relax for a moment. The retreat was a great balance of work and leisure.”
Cassada, a GEO (Globally Engaged in Outreach) missionary, said she found the opportunity to “discuss spiritual, emotional and physical difficulties, as well as share the positive aspects of missionary life” to be beneficial.
“The fellowship was the most important part of the retreat for me,” she said. “It was very faith-building and I left feeling very refreshed and ready to jump back into my life on the field, feeling encouraged, renewed and ready for what God had planned next.”
Kristin Matasovsky, a GEO missionary and elementary school teacher in South Africa, enjoyed the personal aspect of the retreat. “When you are on the field, and with Africa being so big, it really shed light on the other ministries we have going on here,” she said. “The newsletters are nice, but nothing beats spending quality time with the people who write them.”
Missionaries at the retreat also acknowledged the service of the Rev. Tim and Beth Heiney and Dr. Michael and Cindy Rodewald as the couples prepared to conclude their missionary service with the LCMS Office of International Mission. The Heineys served almost 30 years as LCMS missionaries in Ghana and Guinea. Michael Rodewald — who with his wife also spent nearly 30 years in Africa, most of them with Lutheran Bible Translators (LBT) — will begin serving June 1 as LBT’s executive director. The Rodewalds have served as LCMS missionaries since 2008 (Michael Rodewald was regional director for Africa) and were based most recently in Pretoria, South Africa.
Reflecting on their service in Africa, the couples shared their experiences and advice.
“For those considering mission work, be ready to sacrifice. The Bible tells us to be ready even to the point of death, a totally foreign concept in our day and age,” Beth Heiney said. “We don’t see that so often anymore, thankfully. But there are always lessons in the hardship that God allows us to experience. And in the end, we are the ones that end up growing in our relationship to Christ.”
Tim Heiney advised adaptability: “Be flexible, and don’t make elaborate plans for the future. Situations constantly change in Africa,” he said. “Don’t think that you have the situation figured out, because you never will. Pray continually to God for direction. He knows every detail of the situation. He alone knows exactly how each person can best be brought to Him. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. All the best moves that ever happened in our ministry were never things that we planned and figured out.”
Michael Rodewald urged new missionaries to keep an open mind about their own abilities and cultural perspectives. “One is always a learner no matter how long one serves in a cross-cultural context. Always realize that you don’t know what you don’t know and that while you are limited, God’s Word is not,” he said. “Partnering with Africans and seeing their understanding of how God works in the world has been eye-opening and created spiritual growth for me as I continue to understand better that the Gospel is for all people.”
With Rodewald departing from service as the Synod’s regional director for Africa, two pastors will serve as co-regional directors for Africa for the near future: the Rev. Dr. David Erber, area facilitator for West Africa, and the Rev. Shauen Trump, mission facilitator for Kenya and Tanzania. The Rev. Fred Reinhardt will serve as area facilitator for Francophone, or French-speaking, Africa.
“Our LCMS focus in West Africa at this time is to expand our missionary staff,” Erber said. “We have two new missionaries on their way to Ghana, and two new missionaries on their way to Togo. Other new missionaries are a need for West Africa in the coming months.”
Trump highlighted the many areas in which LCMS missionaries in East Africa can continue to serve and expand in ministry.
“Whether we strategize to walk with our partners in planting churches, expand and support theological education at the seminary level, support partner churches in service and outreach to widows and orphans, collaborate with partners in evangelism, consolidate our own staff in locations where we can support them and guarantee access to the sacrament, or open new placements for teachers in primary and secondary schools, we can ultimately have no other priority in ministry than this: Christ Jesus, and Him crucified.”
To learn more about where missionaries of the LCMS serve throughout the world and how you can support them, visit lcms.org/international.
To learn more about LCMS missionary service opportunities, visit lcms.org/service.
Phil Jaseph is LCMS communication specialist for Africa and a GEO missionary based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Posted May 16, 2014