New Workers for the Kingdom

March 30, 2009
Consecration of Nahima Cabrera

Consecration of Nahima Cabrera

Ordination of Pastor Immer Montoya Ballesteros
Ordination of Pastor Immer Montoya Ballesteros
New Class of Pastors and Deaconesses
New Class of Pastors and Deaconesses

Sounds of thanksgiving to God flowed from Martin Luther Chapel as the pastors and deaconesses of Iglesia Luterana Sinodo de Nicaragua together with family and friends celebrated the graduation of 5 pastoral and 9 deaconal students from “Seminario Teologico Reforma Luterana (Theological Seminary of the Lutheran Reformation). This was the third seminary program held by the Mission in Nicaragua. But this class was unique. Three of the students did not come from the mission and churches of Nicaragua. Three (two pastoral and one deaconal) came from the Lutheran Church of Panama.

Following the graduation rite and sermon, President Luis conducted the rites of consecration and ordination. The eight deaconesses who had each received  a call to serve in her home congregation were consecrated and the three pastoral candidates also receiving calls were ordained. Linda Mayan, on behalf of LWML-Canada, presented each deaconess with a cross and I had the privilege of presenting pectoral crosses to the three pastoral candidates. Stoles that had been handcrafted in Nicaragua were placed upon the three pastoral candidates by Dr. Roger Humann. Letters from President Bugbee (LCC), from Milton Castillo Arosamena, the president of the Lutheran Church of Panama, and Mrs Judy Grande, LWML-Canada were also read. The graduates from the Lutheran Church in Panama were not ordained or consecrated at this event. They will be received their own church and in a service of celebration in Panama will be ordained and consecrated for service. Each of the graduates however was presented with the appropriate cross in anticipation of this special event.

The Nicaragua theological program held in co-operation with Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St Catharines, was coordinated by Dr. Roger Humann. During this past theological program, some 15 different professors and pastors including one deaconess were involved in preparing these gifts of God for the church. The church thanks them as she gives thanks to God for the services of Dr. Humann and our seminary partner, CLTS. A word of thanks is also expressed to the Marvin Schwan Foundation for their financial support of the program.

Guests at this years graduation were Dr. Roger Humann from Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mr. Eric Burgdorf from the Schwan Foundation and Dr. Jorge Groh, the Regional Director for Latin America of LCMS World Mission. We pray God’s blessing upon these new workers in the kingdom. May He strengthen them with the “grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

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Dorcas Sewing School Grad

March 24, 2009

 

Dorcas Sewing School Graduating Class

Dorcas Sewing School Graduating Class

Sewing Instructor Santo Alver Soriano
Sewing Instructor Santo Alver Soriano

On March 21st seven students graduated from Academia Corte y Confeccion “Dorcas”. (The Academy of Style and Dressmaking.) Pastor Luis Diaz Turcios, President of Iglesia Luterana Sinodo de Nicaragua, addressed the friends and families of the graduates speaking of Dorcas and how she fulfilled the role of both Mary and Martha.  The teacher Santos Alver Soriano who has been with the sewing shcool for six years spoke of how diligent the students had been in learning new skills. She expressed appreciation to all the women in Canada who pray for the school and continue to support it financially noting especially the support of LWML-Canada. Each graduate then modeled the garment they had made and came forward to receive their graduation certificates from Senor Roberto Jose Zepeda,  the administrator of the mission.

 The students in this year’s classed ranged in age from 19 to 53.  Having learned to  design and complete an entire outfit plus other projects they will now be able to use the skills to sew for their own families, for others, or work in a textile factory.

This was the first class since moving the school from Chinendega to the Mission Centre  and the number of students enrolled was lower than expected. It is hoped to turn that around before the next class begins shortly after Easter.  Teacher Santos is planning for an enrollment of 15 students for a morning class and 15 for an afternoon class. She is publicizing the school with flyers in churches and across the major street near the Mission Centre. One of the main ways of advertising is by loud speaker on a vehicle that travels the area and broadcasts as it goes. Word of mouth is an important way of advertising so former students will be enlisted to speak about the Dorcas sewing school to friends and family.

We join in congratulating this year’s class and we ask for your prayers as preparations are made for a new class of students!


Holy Cross Mission Team Visits Nicaragua

March 24, 2009
Caring for a farmer's horse

Caring for a farmer's horse

Project Time
Project Time
Holy Cross Mission Team
Holy Cross Mission Team

This past week, Iglesia Luterana Sinodo de Nicaragua and our LCC Mission were privileged to welcome a team from Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Kitchener, Ontario into our midst. The team consisted of 14 individuals; eight members were high school and university students. The team was led by Oleg Schewtschenko, our Synod’s Foreign Mission student from Ukraine presently studying at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario. Pastor Woody Hamp also traveled with the team

The majority of the team were involved in conducting a children’s program in two different communities in the Chinendega area. In the mornings they traveled to Santa Patricia and in the afternoons they carried out their program in El Piloto. I recall the reaction of the team after that first day. They were overwhelmed by the number of children who gathered. They had not expected to have such a response and they weren’t really prepared to work with that many children. But after several classes they were able to make the necessary adjustments to their program to meet both the numbers and the needs of the children. As the week went on, the team became more united and more focussed on their mission – and that was sharing the love of Jesus.

And the children loved it! That was easy to see in the faces of all the children who gathered each day. Those smiles the team will remember as they return to their homes and as they tell their stories. It was an uplifting and faith strengthening experience for the team and all for those with whom they worked.  

Another team member was a veterinary, Dr. Jeffrey Sommer.  He together with another team member,Victoria visited in the area around Rancheria tending to the needs of some 300 plus horses and cattle. Accompanying them were Pastor Marvin and Deaconess Elizbeth who not only kept order as the farmers gathered with their animals, but used the opportunity to visit sharing who they were and whom they represented. The best way to describe the response of Jeff to the whole experience is in what he said to me just before leaving. “Can you store my boots and work clothes here at the mission centre? I plan to come back and maybe bring along a colleague or two! Our thanks to Holy Cross for sending and supporting the team!


Thoughtful at home

March 5, 2009

I arrived back in Winnipeg after a double Wednesday. Travelling across the International Dateline takes away one day travelling west and gives it back travelling east. Either way, it makes for a long journey. My body isn’t sure that time it is, but at least the weather here is not extremely cold so the re-entry into winter wasn’t so bad.

I’ve had some time to think about my experience in Thailand and Cambodia and what I learned.

The first lesson is about God’s Spirit and the power of His Word. In both countries I saw how Christians, responding to God’s love in Christ reach out to their communities spontaneously—from the pastors in Phnom Penh who work with children in the garbage dump, to a pastor in Thailand who interrupts the traffic of young women headed for the streets of Bangkok. They simply saw the need and responded in faith. There were no committee discussions, task force investigations or budget discussions. They had no idea who would fund the work; but God did! He moved the hearts of men and women on the other side of the world to provide financial support. We have similar needs and similar outreach opportunities in Canada. And we don’t have to look halfway around the world for funding. Maybe we are too willing to let the government do the compassionate work of the church!

The second lesson relates to culture. Southeast Asia is more than 97 percent Buddhist—and that is in name only. A close look at the spirituality would show a veneer of Buddhism over layers of animism, and Hinduism, particularly in Thailand. The Christians know they are outnumbered, yet they faithfully attend worship, study God’s Word and find ways to make their presence visible. For them, to be a Christian sets them at odds with their culture. Many find themselves alone because their families have disowned them for turning their back on their culture. On the other hand, some families are intrigued with the Christian faith because they see the difference Christ has made in the lives of their loved ones. After coming to faith in Christ, one young man stopped stealing money for gambling from his father. And his father noticed and appreciated the change. He is still not a believer, but that time may soon come!

This minority status evokes a passion for the Gospel that is a hallmark of new believers and a new church. We who have grown up Christian and lived our lives in the church world often become complacent, even apathetic. We don’t always notice the signs of spiritual battle surrounding us. In Thailand, you can go 10 meters down any road without seeing a spirit house with a fresh offering or a Buddhist Wat or monk.

So much of our culture is equally heathen, just not as obvious. The danger we face is contented Christianity.

My third reflection on my Southeast Asia experience is how much we don’t ‘get’ when we read the Bible. Essentially, the Bible is an ‘Eastern’ book. It comes from a culture that is not ours, yet through God’s Spirit it still speaks to our Western minds. For the Eastern mind, it says so much more. This came to mind when I was preparing for the planning session with the Takuapa church. During a discussion with a long-time observer of Thai culture, I discovered that the concept of planning two or three years down the road is completely foreign. The culture is very much day-to-day. This reminded me of Jesus’ words: Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:34).

Our Western rationalism has also robbed us of understanding the ongoing battle waging in the spiritual realm. When you are face-to-face with Buddhist temples, monks chanting and people living in fear of evil spirits, Paul’s words about our battle “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12) become real. Eastern Christians understand this. Western Christians explain it all away.

Finally, I was reminded of the global nature of God’s family. Whether in Thailand or Cambodia or Canada, God’s love in Christ and His Word unifies us and His people are all different colours, shapes and sizes. On Sunday during the service, I joined about a dozen other believers in Takuapa, Thailand at the Lord’s Table. If given the chance, I couldn’t hold a conversation with them, or read their translation of the Bible, but I could share the reality of God’s forgiveness and strengthening found in the Holy Communion. We are brothers and sisters, thousands of kilometers apart, but united by Christ.


Southern reflections

March 1, 2009

We returned to Bangkok Sunday afternoon. The visit south was encouraging. It was good to see the new housing for the tsunami refugees and see the area rebuilt and slowly attracting more tourists. Saturday, I sat in on the council meeting for Takuapa Sahatay Lutheran Church. I couldn’t understand anything, but the agenda showed me they were going through the same kinds of discussions Lutheran Church–Canada’s Board of Directors will encounter next weekend, like budgets!

One of the reasons I came to Thailand was to help the board with some strategic planning. I knew coming into the exercise there would be some cultural differences.
In stilted conversation and translation we managed to talk about the church’s strengths and weaknesses, and from there we identified three areas upon which the church can concentrate some of its efforts.

The first was the need to identify future pastors and deaconesses. This is something every congregation needs to do. I posed the question “What if your pastors were not there to do all the things they do now?” Fortunately, everyone understood the question, especially the two pastors. We set a goal that by the next meeting of the council, each congregation will bring the name of someone they believe God may be calling to serve as a pastor or church worker. In the meantime, I also encouraged the pastors to train and equip lay people to help them in some of their responsibilities.

An issue that came up a couple of times was that Thais do not understand Christianity, or what they do know is not correct. (I think this is a worldwide issue!) Again, I suggested a two-pronged approach: pastors need to make sure members of their congregations know about their faith and the members need to be ready to talk about it and correct any misconceptions.

The third direction involved visibility. Make sure people know there is a vibrant Christian community of faith in their neighbourhood. Earlier in the day, the board discussed the annual joint Easter Service, where the two congregations and three preaching stations gather as a single community to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection. The board discussed the service, the began making arrangements for a church picnic on the beach afterward. There could easily be 75-100 people gathered. I suggested that once they are at the beach, that they have a brief resurrection hymn sing and an explanation of what Easter is about. It was wonderful to see faces light up with excitement as they saw how the church could be visible on such an important day. I wish I could come back to see how it works out!

I find visiting mission fields so encouraging. There is passion and excitement for sharing the Gospel. They want to see their family, friends and neighbours come to faith in Christ. The tyranny of works-righteousness found in Buddhism and animism is only broken by God’s grace. Here in southern Thailand, the message is proclaimed every Sunday by enthusiastic pastors and eagerly received by equally enthusiastic people of God.


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