Pressure Points (July)

With Dr. Bruce Hartung

Q:  So, what were you doing for the last eight days?

A:  I confess.  While this is a real question asked by my soon-to-be 96-year-old aunt, I am using it as an excuse to write this column about an event that I have attended for the past 14 years: orientation for new long-term volunteer and full-time career missionaries of LCMS World Mission.  You see, my editors would prefer that this column respond to questions, rather than to editorialize.

This year’s orientation was June 14-28, including the eight days about which my dear aunt was inquiring.

At each orientation, I interview all volunteer and career missionaries, giving them an opportunity to talk about themselves and helping them reflect on their participation in missionary activity in the context of their Christian service and their personal strengths and vulnerabilities.  Thus, I do provide a service.

But if the truth be told (as I hope it most often is in this column), I gain much more than I give.  So I will tell you a bit, generally, about the people I met during these eight days this year.

Career missionaries and their families are impressive enough.  Either leaving domestic ministries or heading out from our seminaries, these folks — committed to outreach on foreign soil in the name of Christ — are looking to spend years, not just weeks, in another country.  They will tell you it is the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives that draws them into such service.  I agree, of course.  But I also look at them and see resilience, courage, talent, and hope.  I also wonder if I would have such courage.

In addition to career folks are the long-term volunteer missionaries, impressive in their own right.  “Long term” is essentially one-to-two-and-a-half years (with some possibly extending their terms).  Most are in their 20s, many right out of college.  They will tell you it is the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives that draws them into such service.  I agree, of course.  But I also look at them and see youth, enthusiasm, energy, commitment, skill, and a sense of adventure.  I also wonder if I, at their age, had even a small amount of their zeal for Christ.

Some other volunteers are in their 60s, turning their “retirement” years into a “refirement,” as they choose to trade an RV or a retirement lifestyle for a time of ministry and service outside the United States.  I see in them dedication, wisdom, competence, service, energy, and great joy.  I also wonder if I, in my 60s and looking at retirement in the next several years, would have their energy for such service.

I promised all these missionaries that they would remain in my prayers and thoughts over the years, and they will.  I ask that they be in your thoughts and prayers, too.  And should you be so moved, I hope that you would contribute to their work.  You can find them listed soon at http://www.lcms.org?12022.  And, most certainly, these ongoing mission opportunities for service might be options for some of our readers, as well.

For me — as you can perhaps tell — I am greatly touched by rubbing shoulders with the folks at LCMS World Mission’s orientation.  It is an experience that leaves me honored to be part of their lives, humbled to be of small service to them, and wondering about the next steps of service and ministry.  This is putting your life where your mouth is.  Such things are always impressive.

Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  He can be reached at hartungb@csl.edu.

Posted July 2, 2007

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