Students turn break into `Mercy Expedition`

By Kim Krull

Mention spring break, and the poverty-stricken, AIDS-challenged African island of Madagascar may not be the first destination that comes to mind.  Likewise, distrimercy missionbuting fish and rice to hungry families is a far cry from frolicking with friends at the beach.

But that’s how six fourth-year students from Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS), Fort Wayne, spent their Feb. 23-March 5 vacation, participating in LCMS World Relief/Human Care’s first Mercy Mission Expedition.

Seminarian Jesse Cearlock calls the trip a privilege and a valuable learning experience.  “Opportunities like this are important for future pastors, as the culture in the United States has successfully separated the care of the body from the care of the soul,” Cearlock said.  “The Malagasy Lutheran Church provides a model of how we should care for both the body and soul of the children of God.”

Giving LCMS college and seminary students a taste of ministries that touch both physical and spiritual needs is the purpose of the mission expeditions.

“Our LCMS young people are our church’s future,” said Rev. Matthew Harrison, executive director of LCMS World Relief/Human Care.  “They are hungry for opportunities to participate in works of mercy, to discover ways they can share God’s love and help people in need.”

Other Mercy Mission Expeditions are in the works, in the United States and internationally.  In May, LCMS World Relief/Human Care’s Deaconess Grace Rao accompanied deaconess students from Concordia University, River Forest, Ill., to Lutheran centers for street children and other human-care ministries in Latvia.  In June, two groups of college students plan to head for the Gulf Coast.  One crew will assist with hurricane clean-up efforts; the other will help staff Camp Noah, a faith-based program for children affected by last summer’s devastating storms.

Participating students must be members of LCMS congregations and, after their return, must plan on giving presentations back home about their ministry experience.  LCMS World Relief/ Human Care funds the trips.

In Madagascar, the seminarians worshipped with members of the Malagasy Lutheran Church, one of the world’s largest (3 million members) and fastest-growing Lutheran church bodies.  They visited seminaries, a Lutheran school for the blind, and a Lutheran hospital.

The students distributed food and clothing at the Good Samaritan Center in Fianarantsoa, using a $2,000 gift from the CTS Student Association.

Cearlock said he never would forget serving families with such famished faces and tattered clothing.  “Yet these people patiently waited for us to arrive and for the blessing to be said,” he said.  “As they were filled physically, they understood that it was the Lord who provided for them both in body and soul.  As they sang the ‘Doxology’ in Malagasi before departing, they showed that it is from Christ that all good gifts flow.”

Other participating seminarians were Ross Johnson, James May, David Menet, Steve Parks, and Joshua Schneider.

CTS Professor John T. Pless accompanied the students on the trip.  This was his return to the island where he previously led workshops on the Christian response to HIV/AIDS for Lutheran clergy and others, sponsored by LCMS World Relief/Human Care at the invitation of the Malagasy Lutheran Church.

“Six seminarians came away from this trip with a profound respect for the struggle of a poverty-stricken church seeking to maintain its confession of Christ Jesus while serving the neighbor in love,” said Pless, who plans to lead another Mercy Mission Expedition to Madagascar next spring.  “I’m confident that these students will be more compassionate pastors and merciful undershepherds of Jesus Christ, wherever He may send them, because of this trip.”

For more information about Mercy Mission Expeditions, contact LCMS World Relief/Human Care’s Deaconess Lauren Braaten at (314) 346-6320 or lauren.braaten@lcms.org.

Posted June 5, 2006

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