By Megan Mertz
Eight new missionary families were equipped, encouraged and sent out to begin their international service with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) during new-missionary orientation, held May 28–June 1 at the LCMS International Center (IC) in St. Louis.
This year’s group included a mix of career and GEO (Globally Engaged in Outreach) missionaries who will all serve in either Eurasia or Latin America and the Caribbean.
During the week, sessions focused on the practicalities of being a missionary, building a network of support and communicating with donors. The missionaries also met many of the staff members at the IC who will support them throughout their service.
“There are so many people here to help us be successful, and that’s been really encouraging,” said deaconess student Kathryn Phillips, who will serve a two-and-a-half-year internship in the Dominican Republic. “I know that Christ is going with me, but I also have this big support network behind me here.”
The Rev. Dr. John Bombaro, who will serve as a theological educator in Latvia, said he especially enjoyed the week’s emphasis on worship and pastoral care. “Each of us were constantly being addressed personally and with application to the specific ministries that we’ll be entering. It’s also deeply devout,” he said, reflecting on the daily chapel services. “The IC is clearly about our congregations, supporting ministry and supporting missions.”
To his new role, Bombaro brings a wide range of experiences. He spent nearly 12 years serving Grace Lutheran Church in downtown San Diego before being called up to active duty as a chaplain in the Navy Reserve. He’s finishing up a tour at the Pentagon while also preparing to move back to Europe, where his family previously lived for seven years.
“I appreciate that the church is willing — especially today with fewer and fewer people having children for a variety of reasons — to take on the risk of a larger family,” Bombaro said. “We have four kids, not the largest that’s ever been on the field, but I’m grateful that the church sees our children as assets.”
The group also included two people who will serve as associate regional business managers — vital positions that provide the business and project-management expertise necessary to keep the Synod’s many mission and mercy projects running smoothly around the world.
Cynthia Pine will serve in this capacity for the Latin America and the Caribbean region, working out of the field office in the Dominican Republic. She’s fluent in Spanish and spent years working and studying in locations around the region.
“I never imagined myself in this role,” she said, describing how the seed was planted just after Christmas when her friend, LCMS missionary Rev. James Neuendorf, called her and suggested that she had skills that would be invaluable in supporting the region’s mercy centers.
“The thought that I can be a support person for those who are preaching and teaching is very exciting to me,” she said. “Becoming a missionary was a way to draw together two really important parts of my life, which were my love of Latin American language and culture and my faith life.”
New this year, orientation included a “dry run” of the presentations the new missionaries had been perfecting all week.
“We took the entire class off the IC campus to a local congregation and had them present to an audience comprised of local congregational members that had not had any previous contact with them,” said Kendall Cortright, director of Missionary Services for the LCMS, who led orientation this year. “Those that shared feedback noted that the authentic experience was invaluable.”
After a long week of learning, orientation culminated in a “Service of Sending” on May 31. In his sermon, the Rev. Daniel F. McMiller, executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission, encouraged the new missionaries as they prepared to go out — first to build their networks of support, and later to serve on the mission field.
“In your loneliness and times of insecurity, this is [Christ’s] promise to you: He has called you and appointed you,” McMiller said, recalling his own experience as a missionary years ago. “Through His call through His church, He is your security, your hope, your community and your confidence. No matter the people, the place, the complexities to come, in Christ the King, you are complete, you are whole, you are more than competent.”
Most of these missionary families will return to St. Louis in September for a follow-up week of training, when they will focus on their transition to their fields of service.