by Rev. Glen Thomas
In a world saturated with messages, only one message rises above all others to bring eternal hope, joy, and peace. Christ proclaimed this message Himself: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25–26 ESV).
Our seminaries in Fort Wayne and St. Louis continue to prepare many messengers to proclaim this message faithfully and vigorously worldwide.
A few of these messengers are featured in the following story. They come from very different backgrounds, and they serve in very different environments.
The following story and related stories in this issue also highlight the importance of identifying, informing, and encouraging appropriate candidates for pastoral ministry. Every person in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod can participate in this vital activity.
This issue of The Lutheran Witness also coincides with Pastoral Education Month, a collaborative effort between the LCMS Board for Pastoral Education and our two seminaries. While not designed exclusively for use in May, Pastoral Education Month materials may be accessed online at www.lcms.org/pastoraleducation.
These are exciting and challenging times for our seminaries. Blessed with dedicated students, visionary leadership, renowned faculty members, and devoted staffs, our seminaries continue to form faithful, mission-minded messengers. May our prayers, encouragement, and support attend them!
—Rev. Glen Thomas
Executive Director, LCMS Board for Pastoral Education
Into All the World
Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. —2 Tim. 4:2 ESV
The known world has grown since the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the young pastor Timothy some 2,000 years ago. His words, however, continue to be appropriate for pastors today.
The Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ does not change, and the varieties of ministry today are quite similar to the time of St. Paul. America, like ancient Asia Minor, is a crossroad of cultures, lifestyles, and beliefs. Immigrants and foreign-born workers bring their languages and culture to urban and rural locations alike. An array of belief systems—both religious and secular—compete in the public forum. So Paul’s words ring true for more than 5.000 pastors who actively serve in LCMS parishes and other ministries here at home and around the globe. They are the messengers who preach and teach the Word, that life-giving message of God’s enduring love for His people. These messengers are also ministers with the Word—correcting, encouraging, and comforting the people of their congregations.
As the Synod marks May as Pastoral Education Month, here are examples of “One Message—Many Messengers.”
Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor: ‘A Profound Honor’
“We have members representing 25 different cultural groups,” says Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor, describing Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in The Bronx, N.Y. Even as it celebrates its 80th anniversary, the congregation, he says, is “A growing, vibrant, liturgical, exciting community of faith.”
The pastor as shepherd is a dominant image for Taylor, who has served Redeemer for seven of his eight years in ministry. “Following the Good Shepherd is a joy, knowing that I am one of His sheep who has the privilege of being one of His undershepherds,” he says. “I get to see people through many stages and times in their lives and am able to proclaim the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to them.”
Taylor also speaks of the need for a Lutheran confessional revival, explaining, “That involves knowing who you are. Lutherans have beautiful theology and so much to share with the world.” The task, he continues, is to proclaim what Jesus Christ has done, continues to do, and will do when He returns in glory. While it is a familiar message to many, it is a foreign message to the world, he adds. “It’s our opportunity to proclaim Jesus Christ.”
Rev. Richard Schlak: ‘Front Line of Spiritual Struggle’
Seeing people respond to the Word is one joy in being a messenger, says Rev. Richard Schlak, who served 17 years as a missionary in Venezuela. “In the ministry, we are in a spiritual struggle. When you proclaim God’s Word, you don’t always see results immediately. But every once in a while God pulls back the curtain, and you can see what He’s been doing behind the scenes.
“In Venezuela, I made mistakes; still the Lord accomplished His plan,” Schlak remarks. “When we trust Him and follow what He has laid out for us, even if we make mistakes, He brings it to the place He wants it to be.”
Some challenges are age-old, like the battle between natural man resisting the Gospel and the Spirit-led rebirth, Schlak says. And today brings complications such as postmodernism (“your truth may not be the same as my truth”), which affects U.S. and Venezuelan culture alike.
Schlak also cites challenges in his current role as a trainer of Spanish-speaking church workers to plant new ministries. “For many Hispanics, it feels like betrayal of family, one’s people, to change over to become a Protestant,” he remarks. “And in the U.S., first-generation immigrants may not have geographic roots or income, so they move around, and it’s hard to build up a church on that basis.”
Schlak is now director of the Lutheran Hispanic Missionary Institute in El Paso, Texas. Supported by both the Rocky Mountain District and LCMS World Mission, the institute seeks to ground Hispanics in basic Lutheran theology with emphasis on evangelism and missions. The institute works closely with the Center for Hispanic Studies in St. Louis.
Hiruy Gebremichael: ‘The Call Is Following Me’
As a new teacher in a Lutheran school in his native Eritrea, Hiruy Gebremichael, a third-generation Lutheran, was encouraged to become a pastor. “I kind of hid myself at the time, but I could not escape from the call,” he relates, smiling.
For years, Gebremichael stayed on the periphery. He taught school, worked with youth ministry, learned sign language, and taught in deaf schools. Eventually, he became secretary for youth work for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea, a position he held for seven years.
In 2003, he entered pastoral training and started as an evangelist—only to be interrupted. His wife, Nardos, an accountant, received a job offer in Atlanta, Ga. So, Hiruy joined her in the United States.
And the call followed him.
In Atlanta, he met other Eritreans of Lutheran background. “But they were not attending church,” he says. “We started to discuss ‘why not start a church here?’ After a year, I met Rev. Ray Borchelt, pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church, and the church welcomed us. So, right now we are sharing the same facility.”
On his way to becoming a pastor, Gebremichael is serving Eritrean Wengelawit Lutheran Church, now numbering about 30 members. (Wengelawit means “evangelical” in the Tigrigna language of Eritrea). He is a vicar, having completed the basic theology sequence in the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology.
“Right now, I’m serving only the Eritreans with our Tigrigna language,” he says. “We have to plant, not only for Eritreans, but for other immigrants, including other immigrants who speak English.”
And the call?
He laughs: “Yes, I couldn’t escape it.”
Rev. James Holowach: ‘Never Time to Look Back’
“It was an eye-opening and enlightening experience—learning about the amazing things taking place in worship, recognizing God’s gifts, who He is, and how He is with us.”
Rev. James Holowach, 48, describes a worship conference that began his transition from medical doctor to pastor. As a musician and elder responsible for his congregation’s music and worship, he was drawn into the theology of worship.
As he continued to study, he became interested in teaching and catechizing. To do more, Holowach realized, he would have to change careers. So he left a 15-year medical career to study at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne.
“Pastoral ministry is very fulfilling,” he says. “It is full of unique challenges and unique rewards.
“First and foremost, every worship experience and opportunity is a joy for me,” says Holowach, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Jackson, Miss., since graduating from the seminary in 2004. “I also enjoy teaching confirmation, working with the junior and senior high school students and seeing the lights go on as they begin understanding God’s Word and its relevance to them.”
The congregation, numbering 39 people in 2004, has grown to 102 and begun outreach to the deaf in the community. Holowach has baptized eight infants and one adult. “It’s getting noisy in church,” he remarks, adding that the older, original members are almost giddy at hearing children in worship again.
“I haven’t had time to miss medicine,” Holowach says. “I’ve never had time to look back.”
—Mr. Roland Lovstad