A weekend full of blessing in Ukraine

August 24, 2010

Bishop Viktor Graefenstein, SELCU; Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, pastor of SELCU's Odessa congregation and LCC president, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee

by Robert Bugbee

Treasured friends,

It is Tuesday morning as I write these lines from “my” dormitory room in the new Concordia Seminary at Usatovo, Ukraine, a suburb of the great city of Odessa on the Black Sea. International guests are gradually drifting away to Norway, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Germany and Canada after the dedication festivities this past weekend.

Saturday was the big day. There is no room in the new seminary building large enough to accomodate the number of worshipers expected, so the congregation of almost 175 met on the plaza facing the main portal of the building. The front steps served as chancel and preaching platform. A lengthy morning service (over 2 hours) began at 10 a.m., at which the building and its contents were dedicated to the service of the Triune God.

I had the honour of serving as the first preacher on the text from Genesis 28, “This is none other than the House of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Later LCC missionary to Ukraine, Rev. Alexey Navrotskiy, preached a second sermon. A ceremonial key was delivered to Bishop Viktor Graefenstein, who conducted the Rite of Dedication. Greetings were brought by international guests in attendance.

In the early afternoon the many guests sat down at picnic tables on the grounds and ate dinner consisting of meat balls, potatoes, cold salads, Ukrainian bread, and sweets.

A second service commenced at 5 p.m., at which seminary president Dr. Norman Threinen was formally installed into office and also served as the primary preacher. Bishop Graefenstein followed this up again with an additional sermon. This service was the formal opening of the seminary session, where classes will start September 1. The young men who will constitute the incoming class presented themselves at the stage and were accepted into the school by Word and prayer. Among the congratulatory messages read in the evening service were letters from longtime LCC missionary to Ukraine, Rev. Roland Syens of Kitchener, Ontario, from Terry Goerz, president of the Concordia Lutheran Mission Society, and from LCC President Emeritus Edwin Lehman. Bishop Graefenstein concluded by telling the very strange and wondrous way in which President Lehman had established the first contacts between the Canadian and Ukrainian churches back in the mid- 1990s.

On Sunday at Noon, the local Odessa congregation began a communion service which included the installation of Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, known to many LCC people from his three-year stay at Concordia Seminary in St. Catharines. Pastor Navrotskiy, Bishop Graefenstein and I all served as preachers for the occasion. After the installation rite, a very poised Pastor Schewtschenko presided over the communion service for the 90 worshippers. We did not leave the chapel until almost 3 p.m.

At long last, the building is done (well, except for a few “touches” here and there). It has been a long wait. Now the real building will begin. As the farm fields around Odessa are yielding mountains of tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelons right now, we trust the Lord to bring forth a rich harvest of faith and love from the Word seed which will be planted in the classrooms of this wonderful new facility. What a joy to be here!

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, is president of Lutheran Church—Canada

Pastor Oleg Schewtschenko reflects on celebrations in Ukraine

August 21, 2010

Grace of our Lord and the Love of God be with you all!

It was long way, it took us long time, we had some difficulties and we had so much support!!! But the day of dedications has come! What a JOY! I hope you are part of this joy with us.

Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko

We are so thankful for everything what God is doing in our lives, we are thankful for you your prayers, concern and support! Yes there are still so much that has to be finished on the building, the big kitchen, some lights and some other small but important things… but very soon this all will be done and we will be able t use our new Mission Centre to the glory of God!

Even though it is very early in the morning… but when I am looking out of my window I can see more and more people coming to share my joy with me. People are staying outside and talking to each other, there is a smell of fresh coffee and bread, and some other wonderful things that we will enjoy for the breakfast. I see some people reading their Bibles and some other talking to the guests. David writes: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” I think today we can truly be all in unity and rejoice in our Lord and Saviour!

It would be so good if you would be able to be here and to share this Joy with me and my Ukrainians friends. But even thought you are not here you continuing to be in my prayers and my heart even today!

Only in bit more that 24 hours will come the day for me to be installed as the pastor in Odessa congregation. I thank the Lord every time I remember you about the time I could be with you and be part of your family. Tears comes to my eyes when I am thinking about all that time, I see your faces and smiles… So you will be with me even that moment!

I continue to treasure your friendship, love, encouragements and prayers…

In Him, who is Our Lord, Saviour and Brother

Pastor and friend Oleg

Last minute preparations for celebrations in Ukraine

August 17, 2010

by Norman Threinen

Having suffered through many hot Ukrainian summers in cramped quarters, I was looking forward to teaching in the spacious new seminary and mission centre as I left home August 2. The new facility is in Usatowa, a suburb of Odessa. 

Concordia Seminary, Odessa, Ukraine will be dedicated August 21, 2010

On my arrival, I noted that a great deal of work was still needed in preparation for the dedication. The three paid workers from Western Ukraine were busy painting walls and doing cement work.  About a dozen volunteers from various congregations of the church were installing door frames and generally readying the grounds. We expect about 200 guests and visitors from Canada, Germany and Ukraine will attend the building’s dedication and the opening of the seminary August 21.

Although classes will not begin until September 1, my early arrival give me the opportunity to become acclimated and to interview and orient prospective students, develop budgets and buy a few books for the library. A week after my arrival, I moved into the two-room suite for instructors which, thankfully, is air-conditioned.  I was happy to have my wife Muriel join me August 13 to give a woman’s touch to make the suite more hospitable for future instructors. 

It was helpful that Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko preceded me by a few days and occupied an unused student room in the building. He will be installed as a co-pastor with Bishop Graefenstein of the Odessa congregation on August 22.  He has also consented to serve as my interpreter for the first round of courses when classes begin. 

There is a strong indication that the long-expected gas hook-up for the building will become a reality in September. The neighbour from whom the gas connection needs to come is now anxious to proceed and the political barriers have also been overcome.  We still don’t know the cost since much of the work to bring the gas line to the building must be done manually. Since finances have been stretched to the limit to finish the interior of the building and to equip it to a basic level for use, completion of this aspect of the project will be a great relief. 

Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen, is rektor of Concordia Seminary, Odessa and professor emeritus of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton.

A new perspective on conventions from LCMS

July 16, 2010

After planning and managing six LCC synod conventions, I took the opportunity to travel to Houston, Texas to see how our sister synod, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod put theirs together.

First, it’s about ten times the size of ours. We have about 125 voting delegates, LCMS about 1200. With all the various advisory delegates, board members etc, we top out at about 230. In Houston, the count was around 2000.

As I thought about it, the logistics of putting together such an event are the same. People must be housed, fed, transported, and meet in the right rooms at the right times, however the number of volunteers and staff to make that happen is significantly larger.

With a church population bordering on 2.3 million, the paperwork for the LCMS takes a forest of trees. The Convention Workbook runs 327 pages; Today’s Business containing such things as resolutions, devotional orders of service, ongoing agenda items, minutes and announcements was already at page 544 by Wednesday with two-and-a-half days to go.

Keeping procedure orderly and on schedule is no easy task, especially when discussing and voting on major structural changes to the church body, but President Gerald Kieschnick is a skilled and efficient chairman. Having electronic voting available is also an asset. I wondered how long it took to count results when everything was done on paper with so many and often complicated ballots!

Debate on issues was very passionate, but rarely uncivil. When someone transgressed, the theme of the convention, One People-Forgiven came into play with confession and forgiveness.

Often from the floor delegates would talk of division within the synod. No one denied the reality, however, through the words of Bible study leader Ted Kober of Ambassadors of Reconciliation, devotion speakers and video vignettes by district presidents speaking about life experiences with forgiveness and reconciliation, delegates are aware of the need to offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation within the church. On Friday, the convention will hold a Service of Reconciliation preceded by opportunities for personal confession and absolution.

The convention agreed to a major restructuring of LCMS at this convention. Discussion reminded me of our LCC convention in 2002 when we went through a similar process. A lot of the discussion in Houston was very detailed. One delegate I spoke with on the shuttle bus who hadn’t attended a convention since 1995 was surprised by the what looks like “micro-management.” It may boil down to what a delegate speaker during debate indicated was a “lack of trust.”

Delegates have so far adopted restructuring and governance resolutions by slim margins: usually around 51 percent for; 49 percent against. Other resolutions have healthier majorities so it looks like not everyone is convinced about the need for restructuring, despite the words of the treasurer who said the LCMS is in a “financial crisis” and can not continue with business as usual. Upon adoption of the major restructuring resolution, an online viewer commented via Twitter that because of the change, he would have to start looking for a new church! I guess some people take their church structure more seriously than its confession and theology!

One facet of the election process is completely foreign (as far as I know) to what happens in LCC. What are essentially lobby groups publish lists of their preferred candidates. The goal is to sway the elections to their particular polity. Keep in mind, the elections here comprise a fair number of people as opposed to the 18 currently needed to fill positions in LCC!

What is really magnificent, however, is worshipping and singing hymns with such a large number of people. The congregational song is hearty in this cavernous convention space which was transformed creatively for the opening worship service. That service included examples of each “style” of music used in LCMS congregations. Styles ranged from pipe organ to jazz piano—all in one closing hymn. Unfortunately, rather than giving everyone something to which they could relate, comments indicated many found something to dislike!

This is the first real “social media” convention for LCMS, so I’ve been monitoring Twitter and Facebook for comments. At the same time, the results of elections and adoption of resolutions is communicated immediately. The convention adopted rules that regulate the use of electronics by delegates. They agreed to turn off cell phones or at least put them on vibrate, and not text message or use laptop communications in the voting section. Guests, visitors and news media were exempt. This is something we will need to discuss for our convention next year.

In some areas, some of the issues discussed at this convention could be a precursor for our own future conventions. There is great concern over last year’s decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) to ordain those in same-sex relationships and how the general direction of ELCA impacts cooperative relationships with LCMS in such things as world relief and social services. Another LCMS resolution dealt with how the church body should relate to some of the conservative groups formed by those who have left ELCA. The LCMS response may be instructive for LCC should we find ourselves in a similar situation.

Being here has given me some ideas for our LCC convention and affirmed some things we are already doing. I’m looking forward to working with our own volunteers in Hamilton over the next year as we plan our 2011 convention

Lutheran missionary reports on Bangkok situation

May 15, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Leonard Harms

Carol and I are waiting in the departure area of the airport in Phnom Penh Cambodia. We have been watching the news closely. At the present time there are no reasons for us to fear returning to Bangkok. The news has certainly not been good. The military has decided to surround the area in which the dissidents have made their headquarters and rallying point. The Red Shirt takeover of that part of the city does not affect us where we live. We are about 26 km from where that action is located. However, there is a strong military presence to and from the airport and on highways approaching the city from the North of Thailand. The government is trying to prevent the dissidents from invading the city in large numbers. They have been successful

The social and financial impact of the past few months will take a long time to settle out. As you can imagine, foreign governments are advising their citizens not to travel to Thailand. However, it still remains quite safe for those of us who do not go downtown to the tourist areas. Foreigners are understandably not coming to Thailand in great numbers.

However, God is watching over all of us in the church here. We remain safe and we do not take chances. Next week Carol and I will be in the Phang Nga province to visit our brothers and sisters in Takuapa and Khok Kloi. We will be about 500 km from the far south where there is a continuing Islamic insurrection. We will still be safe.

Remember our brothers and sisters in Thailand Concordia Lutheran Church in your prayers. We remain comforted and protected in God’s loving hands.

Connecting with people is key to outreach everywhere

March 6, 2010

By Dr. William Mundt

Bangkok, Thailand – Phase one of a two-week teaching trip to southeast Asia has now come to an end for me and seminarians Jeff Swords and Wayne Zhange from Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario. They are assisting me in teaching while broadening their own horizons in regards to overseas missions and cross-cultural outreach.

Dr. William Mundt (left) consults with Dr. Leonard Harms prior to a teaching session in Bangkok.

The first week of classes ended Friday afternoon, March 5, at the Lutheran Institute of Southeast Asia centred in Bangkok, Thailand. Dr. Len Harms, former LCC mission executive coordinates training opportunities out of that centre. Twelve Thai pastors and deaconesses spent the week training in basic evangelism, mission and apologetic principles based on the Bible and lessons from the early church, and the history of missions.

Their final assignment was presenting their own proposals for intensifying outreach activities in the areas where they serve. Projects they identified included support for seniors, craft and a home-based bakery instruction for housewives, special open-house events, concern for the Thai native population (the Akha) and so on. If all these methods sound familiar, it may be because they are much like what LCC pastors and congregations might do.

The sights, sounds, tastes, smells and scheduling (Thai time is different!) may vary, but ultimately outreach is about speaking the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the needs of people we connect with daily.

Throughout the Bible and mission history, such personal contacts have proven most successful. The challenge now is for those trained to become trainers for the next two years in the cities and villiages where they already serve. The goal is to train and equip and encourage their members to be a part of the local mission.

After prayers and fond farewells from these brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we now know as friends also, we depart for Cambodia where a large group of eager learners will soon arrive at the Chin Tong Guest House, Phnom Penh, for a similar class beginning Monday afternoon, March 8.

After that we return, in stages, to St. Catharines, exchanging +40 degree Celsius dry weather for somewhat cooler and wetter conditions at home.

Rev. Dr. William Mundt is a professor of theology at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Nicaragua seminary candidate ordained in Panama

February 9, 2010

Candidate Perez is ordained into the Holy Ministry to serve in Panama

Iglesia Evangélica Luterana de Panamá (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Panama – IELPA) ordained and installed a pastor who graduated from Lutheran Reformation Theological Seminary, Nicaragua in March 2009. Demetrio Pérez was one of two pastoral ministry students from Panama and comes from the Kuna tribe, a native community in Panama. Rev. Jorge Villamil, who serves a Kuna congregation conducted the January 31 Service of Ordination and Installation. 

The new pastor will serve Bethel Mission at the Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) community in Panama. Although Pastor Pérez and fellow Panamanian Jose Angel Fernandez graduated from the theological education program last year, the IELPA delayed ordination and placement until congregations became available. Snr. Fernandez is still awaiting his ordination and first call. A deaconess, Yazmina Perez also graduated with the two pastors and is serving a congregation in the community of Balboa. 

“Having these students from Panama in the seminary class demonstrated to the Nicaraguan students the unity we share in Christ and in our Lutheran confession,” noted Rev. Dr. Ralph Mayan, volunteer missionary in Nicaragua. “It was especially touching to welcome Demetrio Pérez’ parents to the graduation in their Kuna native dress.” 

The Panamanian students are the first from another Lutheran church body to receive their theological training in the Nicaragua seminary program. The church in Panama became aware of the program when The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod seconded Rev. Pedro Quintero, a graduate from the first Nicaragua seminary class, to serve in the Panama mission. The three-year course operates under the guidance of Rev. Dr. Roger Humann and Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ont.

At the end of the Global Encounter

January 21, 2010

by Ian Adnams

For the past two days we have been in Geneva meeting with representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and World Council of Churches. Although Lutheran Church-Canada is not a member of either organization, the presenters brought context to much of the work we saw in Palestine.

We also met with the general secretary of ACTalliance through which CLWR is working in Haiti. The report on that meeting is at www.lccinfodigest.ca.

Throughout this Global Encounter, I have been able to coordinate the news releases to LCC and the national media using my Blackberry. With the time difference, I could be travelling on a bus to a location reading e-mails and working with stories that would appear the next day.
Wireless connectivity is a blessing in times of crisis. The downside is having less time to reflect on immediate experiences because one is also dealing with a different kind of reality half-way around the world.

I hope my reports from Israel and Palestine have shed some new light on the situation there. I know I will bring a broader understanding to the news from the Middle East as we continue to pray for peace.

Time in Cambodia

January 17, 2010

by Dr. Edward Kettner

On Friday afternoon, January 8, the group flew from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia.  Siem Reap is the site of the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.  The earliest of these temples were built in the 12th century, during the time Hinduism was the chief religion of Cambodia.  The temples reflect the stories in the Hindu writing known as the Ramayana.  We spent Saturday touring the various temple sites, going from one to another by tuktuk, looking at the unusual buildings and carvings.  This tour helped us to increase our understanding of the religious background of the region, though the current predominant religion in Cambodia is Buddhism.

On Sunday we went by bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, a journey of about six hours.  On Sunday evening we attending worship at a local congregation, with the service being led by an LCMS missionary       stationed in Cambodia, and with Dr. Harms preaching the sermon.  On Monday morning we took a van to a village about 80 kilometers outside of Phom Penh, where we met members of the congregation, particularly the children of the congregation, along with the pastor and deaconess who serve them. The children of the community greeted us with a short play, acting out the story of the Good Samaritan for us.  We were told that because Christianity has come to this village the incidence of alcoholism and domestic violence is far less than it is in other villages.  Though there is a strict male-female hierarchy in the society, it is the women who are strongest in their gospel proclamation.  The deaconesses bring the faith to the women in the villages, and by their influence their husbands also come to know Christ.  In this particular village the pastor has moved to a Lutheran understanding of the faith because of the work of the deaconesses.  Pictures attached show the students in dialogue with the people of the village, and the Pastor, his wife, his daughter, and others.

Seminary classes began Monday afternoon, taking place at a guest house near the Phnom Penh airport.  The class contains both pastors and deaconesses, who are all eager learners.  Once again, the Edmonton students each took part in leading one of the class sessions.  They find in a challenge to work through a translator and to make sure that what they teach can be understood by those coming from a Cambodian culture.  When the class as part of their devotions one day sang “Jesus Loves Me” in the Khmer language, it really brought home the fact that the good news of Jesus is meant for people of all nations.  Attached pictures show some of the deaconesses in classes, students teaching the class, and the entire class along with the Edmonton students.

During the week, the students also had the opportunity to to visit the infamous “Killing Fields,” where many people had been put to death by the followers of Pol Pot, who had attempted to reinstate a completely rural agrarian society in Cambodia through the “re-education” and murder of anyone deemed to be an “intellectual.”  This sobering experience showed them the depths of human corruption that Christ came to redeem us from.  They also visited the church at the city dump, again seeing how people in terrible poverty are nevertheless able to worship God with dignity.

Tell me the stories of Jesus and show me where they happened!

January 16, 2010

by Ian Adnams

Think back to Sunday school and all the stories of Jesus. His call to Peter, James and John to become fishers of men. Healing the centurion’s servant and the man lowered from the roof by his friends. Giving fishing lessons to fishermen and then preparing a barbecued fish breakfast for them. Or feeding 5000 and turning the Law upside down with a series of blessings found in the Beatitudes.

I’ve seen the places where this happened. Today we spent the day in Galilee. Naturally, there were churches built on several sites, but with the land’s history of invasion and conquest, you can see the sense in trying to build something to protect special places.

We visited the place where Jesus taught the Beatitudes and where He fed 5000 people. These may not be the exact places, but we do know they were nearby. In each place, someone from the group read a passage from the Gospels relating to the site. Around us in many locations were other tour groups from places like Nigeria, Poland and the U.S all doing the same thing. The Holy Catholic Church meets in Israel!

Capernaum was the most interesting place. It is one of the few sites where what’s left for us to see is the ruins of what existed in Jesus’ time, as opposed to ruins left by an invading force. From historical evidence archaeologists have identified the house of Simon Peter. It is very close to the Synagogue where Jesus taught. From the shape of the building, archaeologists believe the house eventually became a church, likely starting as a small congregation meeting in Peter’s home.

One interesting detail our tour guide pointed out was the nature of the stone construction. Whereas the Jerusalem area is mostly constructed from limestone, most of the ancient buildings in Galilee are made from volcanic rock. The gray basalt foundation of the Synagogue is still visible, even though a rebuilding at some point used limestone. The ruins of the many homes are also gray basalt.

Of course the sea of Galilee figures prominently in all the stories and it was moving to stand on the beach where Jesus reconciled with Peter after the resurrection and to reach down and touch the sea’s clear water.

An afternoon boat ride on the lake was equally memorable. First, knowing that 16 of the 22 passengers were Canadians, the crew hoisted the Canadian flag to the playing of O Canada through the sound system. Then, with a clear sky, calm lake, the shores of Galilee in view (including many of the places we visited earlier in the day) through the sound system came “How Great Thou Art” followed by “Amazing Grace.” After ten days of hearing how Christians are trying to bring hope to what seems like a hopeless political situation, and visiting key locations in the life of our Lord, the two songs touched the heart and brought to a fitting conclusion an encounter we will never forget.

Tomorrow we say good bye to the land but not to the memories, education and inspiration we have all gained. Sunday evening we arrive in Geneva, Switzerland. There we will learn firsthand how the Lutheran World Federation and Actions of Churches Together (ACT) and working to bring hope and relief to those suffering in Haiti.

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