A timely illustration for seminary students

May 11, 2011

Dr. Dimitroff (second from left) and seminary students celebrate Victory Day, May 9

by James Dimitroff

May 9 is a national holiday in Ukraine (and in most of the former Soviet Union). It was universally called Victory Day as it marked the final capitulation of Nazi forces in World War II, with special reference to the Nazi onslaught that started against the Soviet Union in June 1941.

In Ukraine, which suffered occupation by Nazi forces between 1941 and 1944, memories are especially severe and tragic. And so even though Ukraine enjoys sovereign statehood today, the government still celebrates the victory over Hitler and his forces.

In the city of Odessa, the lilacs burst into bloom just before May 9. With spring in the air, Odessa seminary students decided, rightly, to respect the holiday and attend a festival honouring the World War II defenders of the city, and Ukraine in general. We drove downtown from the seminary and parked near the central train station. There, through the park, we visited several tank emplacements, saw a few of the remaining veterans proudly wearing their medals and vintage uniforms, and heard an orchestra play patriotic tunes.

Of course, being good Lutherans, the students arrived an hour and a half before the festivities began. That meant we needed something to fill in the time. “Why not walk to the Black Sea?” they suggested. It sounded like a perfectly reasonable idea, especially since the seashore was only “20 minutes” away.  Some 40 minutes later, we were still walking, but finally arrived at a lovely, private beach not yet open for business.

We got back to the city plaza in good time. We watched the parade and heard the patriotic music. The younger generation in Ukraine has a hard time imagining events of 66 years earlier. There seem to be more immediate concerns: high inflation in the economy (somewhere around 10 percent per month), unemployment and a muddled political picture.

As we drove back to an area called, ominously, The Catacombs, we stopped to see the underground tunnels used by partisans in their struggle against the Nazi occupation. These underground labyrinths weave an extensive net that extends for a hundred miles deep underneath the Odessa highlands and city proper.

Tomorrow we return to the seminary curriculum, which happens to be “The Nature of Sin.”  A perfect tie-in to what we saw today: results of unbridled sin and defiance of God’s love and law in the city of Odessa and world-wide. We will have lots to talk about as we look at humanity’s inhumanity, our inherent corruption, and God’s great love in sending us a Saviour who brought us redemption.

Rev. Jim Dimitroff is pastor of  Grace Lutheran Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Advertisements

LCC pastor reports from Ukraine seminary

May 1, 2011

 by James Dimitroff

Rev. Dr. James Dimitroff, who is fluent in Russian, is beginning a six-week seminary teaching assignment in Odessa , Ukraine.

May Day greetings to all from the heart of Odessa, Ukraine! May Day used to be the big political holiday with parades and fireworks. Now things are far more quiet. 

Arrival here from Toronto via Istanbul was hectic and slightly confusing. The Concordia Seminary, where I am to teach beginning tomorrow, was closed for the Easter holidays. All the students went home to villages and other cities for a few days’ rest with family. Only one student, Valery Verba, returned early to meet me at the Odessa airport. We had never seen one another, but amid the wild crush of frantic Odessans trying to return home from Turkey, Valery somehow found me easily.

The Ukraine immigration inspector was more officious. He demanded to know exactly how much cash I was carrying at that moment and the reason for my coming to Ukraine. I told him I was the Concordia Lutheran Seminary instructor but he heard only the word “seminar” and let me through with little trouble.

Odessa is in bloom—all the flowering cherry trees, apple trees and linden trees declare the glory of God’s creation. On the surface, it is a charming seaport with more than 1 million people living in and around the coastal areas. Pre-trip reading of a new book just released in 2011 (Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams) spells out the tragic history of this major Ukraine metropolis. True, there were decades of great export deals, a large Jewish cultural influence and the special flavour of Odessan humour. But so much was lost during the war years. Odessa was occupied by Fascist Romania as a “gift” from their Nazi allies. Horrendous pogroms and deportations followed.

When the Soviets regained control in 1945, they proclaimed Odessa to be a “Hero City” because it had resisted the Nazis for 87 days. There were only a total of four original “Hero Cities” that earned this special mention. This is important because next week, on May 9, Odessa will celebrate “Victory Day” as a national holiday along with many other former republics of the former Soviet Union.

Concordia Lutheran Seminary is a beautiful example of cooperation in international mission. The brand-new building, dedicated in August 2010, is comfortable and clean. Its location on the outskirts of Odessa means there is a haven of peace and quiet for the seminarians to study and apply themselves.

 This morning, I visited the Lutheran congregation pastored by Rev. Oleg Shewtshenko in downtown Odessa. As Oleg is away in Germany for a few weeks, the main sermon was given by Valery Verba, the only student I’ve met so far. Seminary students fill in at this congregation from time to time. That church too has been beautifully and tastefully rebuilt. It is the landmark St. Paul’s Lutheran, which towers over the city from one of its highest hills. For almost a century, ships arriving at the Odessa port would use the light from St. Paul’s steeple to be their beacon for navigation.

Our beacon is Jesus Christ. This morning’s sermon dealt with Our Lord’s powerful words to Thomas and Thomas’ subsequent declaration of new-found faith. In his sermon, Valery Verba asked the parishioners to examine their faith too, so that it is not found to wobble in the face of “Reason’s” so-called challenge.

Once again, may I wish you a blessed May Day from the Instructor’s Room in Concordia Lutheran Seminary. Keep the Odessa seminary and its students in your fervent prayers as they prepare for a lifetime of faithful ministry to the Lord and Beacon of our life, Jesus.

Rev. Jim Dimitroff is pastor of  Grace Lutheran Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.


New doors open for Lutheran education in Nicaragua

April 8, 2011

by Leonardo Neitzel

High school classes meet wherever there is shade

Agustin and Yadira own a ‘finca’, a small agricultural farm in the province of Leon. These Christian friends, concerned for the education of adolescents in their rural area, decided to start a secondary school on their property. The school is registered by the Nicaraguan government and Agustin and Yadira serve as principal and vice-principal. He is also a public accountant. Students attend intensive classes all day Saturday. The government pays the teachers, and students contribute 100 cordobas (around five dollars) a year. Fifty students attend the school whose classrooms are under trees and shady areas around the house. Agustin and Yadira share the ownership and work of the property with her parents and the large community of relative and friends who live around their home.

Agustin and Yadira heard about the Lutheran church’s Christian education program in Nicaragua and Agustin decided to check it out, taking part in Bible studies led by Lutheran Church–Canada’s missionary Pastor Maximo Urroz in the provincial capital of Leon. Having witnessed the Lutheran’s solid and strong Biblical teaching, and recognizing the great need for such education for their students, they invited the missionary to visit their farm to talk about the possibility of teaching the Christian education class of their school. Missionary Maximo accepted the invitation and now leads the Christian education classes on Saturday afternoons. According to the school’s statutes, religious education class is obligatory and students review and take Biblical and religious literature tests.

Dr. Neitzel presented the historical background, brief introduction and overview of the Book of Revelation to the students.

Different types of millenialists, ‘rapturists’ and heterodox groups have spread false and misleading teachings among the adolescents in that farm community, which has concerned the owners of the school greatly. Some of these teachings have to do especially with the second coming of Christ and the Book of Revelation. Confusion, fear and fanaticism among families and students have risen tremendously lately. In dialogue with missionary Maximo we agreed that the students would have an introduction and overview of the Book of Revelation based on Lutheran confessional teaching and a chapter-by-chapter study to follow. I had the privilege of presenting the historical background, brief introduction and overview on the book to the students.

Further dialogue between the owners of the school and the school community resulted in an offer for the Lutheran Church in that area to take charge of the entire school program. They are looking for solid Biblical and confessional teaching. For such there couldn’t be a better foundation than the Lutheran ‘solas’ — Sola gratia, solus Cristus, sola Fe, sola Scriptura.

It’s too early for us see where this is leading, but we have a great start. Missionary Maximo, farmers and the church community seem very encouraged by the new development.

One of the highlights of my Saturday at the farm was joining the family for a ‘sopa de gallina’ or ‘caldo de pollo’ (chicken soup) cooked in the style only farmers in that area know—very rich, strong, solid and mixed with every ingredient you could imagine for a tasty dish. The dessert was a one-hour seminar with the family and students on Revelation and the End Times.

God seems to be ‘revealing’ that He is opening a new door for our LCC mission into this farm community. May the Lord be praised!

Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel is responsible for Lutheran Church–Canada’s overseas missions.


Growth and opportunity for God’s mission in Honduras

April 7, 2011

by Leonardo Neitzel

My mission trip to Nicaragua this time included a visit to Honduras with the president of the Iglesia Luterana Sinodo de Nicaragua (ILSN) Pastor Luis Turcios. In Tegucigalpa we met with Pastor Edmundo Auger, a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod pastor serving in the Cayman Islands and with Tulio Cesar Mejia, who lives in Tegucigalpa, the capital city. We wanted to explore and discuss the possibility of mission work with LCC’s missionary, Pastor Douglas Aguillar, who is established and serving in the northern part of the country, Olanchito.

Tulio Cesar Mejia; LCMS missionary Pastor Edmundo Auger; LCC missionary Pastor Douglas Aguillar; and Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel discuss plans for expanding the mission work in Honduras.

Tulio, a young church leader, took Lutheran Church–Canada-sponsored seminary classes in the Iglesia Luterana Sínodo de Nicaragua (ILSN), worked as lay evangelist volunteer in Panama, and is currently conducting Bible classes with children in Tegucigalpa. Pastor Auger has mentored Tulio and is very encouraged with the work he’s doing.

At our meeting we agreed that Tulio should continue his seminary training at the ILSN as part of the new class starting in October 2011. He will work with Pastor Douglas and both men will report to the ILSN and LCC on their missionary programs. Rev. Auger will visit Tulio during the year, study foundational theological doctrine and related areas with him, mentoring and supporting his work with Pastor Douglas. Rev. Auger, in his kindness, offered to assist in special gatherings and mission outreach events in both places, encouraging our church workers in their family life as well as in the work of the mission.

Dr. Neitzel participates in the mission outreach in Olanchito, Honduras

President Luis and I travelled to Olanchito where Pastor Douglas gathers children and adults under trees to proclaim the Gospel. We had the opportunity to take part in one of these events which gathered about eighty people. There is a small and faithful group of people who own a piece of land donated by the Lutheran Church in Victoria, B.C. They would like to have their church built as soon as possible. Dr. Paul Loofs and his wife, Elia Enid de Loofs, originally members of the church in Victoria, live in Olanchito and have been of great blessing and very supportive of the work in that area.

The congregation’s challenge is now building a church, but they don’t have finances. They own the property, have a blueprint for a good-sized church building, a cost estimate, and are working on the building permit. They would welcome any financial support or labour work in their endeavour.

As in Nicaragua, it would be possible for LCC to arrange the building project in Olanchito to be carried out in stages until completion. A volunteer team of builders could lay the foundations in the first stage, then the walls, roof, doors and windows until it’s finished.

We pray and trust the Lord will provide these brothers and sisters with help from North American teams to help them build a place for them to continue worshipping the Lord and proclaiming His Gospel to the people in Olanchito.

Rev. Leonardo Neitzel is Lutheran Church–Canada’s executive responsible for overseas missions.


Ethiopian Lutheran church rises stronger after persecution

February 17, 2011

Dr. Neitzel with EEMYC pastors

by Rev. Leonardo Neitzel

 

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – The second day of the Ethiopian Evangelical Mekane Yesus Church (EEMYC) Theological and Missions Conference saw around 3.000 pastors and other church leaders gathered for education, inspiration and fellowship. It was a day packed with music, preaching and essays focusing on different areas under the major theme of mission.

Some statistics presented about the EEMYC filled our hearts with joy and gratitude for the boldness of our Lutheran brothers and sisters in regards to the expansion of the Lord’s kingdom in Ethiopia and beyond. We learned there are:

  • 7.000 congregations (The goal and plan is to reach 10.000 shortly.)
  • 3.000 preaching or mission stations
  • 5.6 Million members
  • 21 synods (which we call districts)
  • 34 Bible colleges
  • 5 seminaries

Following the fall of Ethiopia’s communist regime in 1991, Lutheranism grew quickly. Here are some of the factors related to that growth:

  1. Strong investment in Bible schools and Bible institutes;
  2. Production and distribution of Christian literature;
  3. National outreach plan for planting churches;
  4. Comprehensive and holistic ministry – ministering to the whole person, body soul and mind;
  5. Impact of the church’s persecution under the Communist regime. This fact revitalized the house churches, family prayer and Bible studies. In a certain way the Ethiopian Lutherans thank the Italian and communist regimes which banned missionaries from the country. When these missionaries were allowed to come back, the “underground church” was stronger and revitalized. As early Christian writer Tertullian says, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”
  6. Laity training and delegation for mission;
  7. Rediscovery of the power of the Holy Spirit in providing for the person in all aspects of life – spiritual and physical. People who had received a prayer during a difficult physical illness, a tragedy, or at a death-bed committed themselves completely to the witness of their faith in Jesus Christ. The church has a strong social ministry with a budget of about 3.1 billion birr (their currency) or about US$18.3 million.

 Theirs is this strong slogan and confession: “If the Lord is with us, who can be against us?”

 Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel is Lutheran Church–Canada’s mission executive


Ethiopian Lutherans are bold in their Christian faith

February 16, 2011

More than 2500 pastors and church leaders are participating in the conference

by Rev. Leonardo Neitzel

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – The first day of the Ethiopian Evangelical Mekane Yesus Church’s (EEMYC) Theological Conference was attended by easily more than 2,500 pastors, including Lutheran delegations from North America, Europe and African countries. This conference is the first of its kind in the EEMYC and is focusing on areas such as the biblical foundations for church, ministry and mission and practical aspects of mission.

The Lutherans in Ethiopia are vibrant in their worship, fellowship and interaction with all people, regardless of country, language and cultural background. The are also committed and bold in their stand on the Holy Scripture and on the Lutheran teaching and confession. We see they are deeply disturbed and challenged by the decisions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on homosexuality. During the conference they reaffirmed, by repeating several times in the audience, the Solas or Alones of the Lutheran Church’s theology – Christ Alone, Scripture Alone, Grace Alone and Faith Alone.

The Lutheran Church in Ethiopia, from what I have seen, is clear in its confession about God’s call to mission and ministry as well as about God’s goal for the Lutheran Church’s mission in Africa and around the world.

Praise God for such a vision!

Rev.  Dr. Leonardo Neitzel is Lutheran Church–Canada’s mission executive


God’s Spirit evident at Ethiopian conference

February 14, 2011

by Rev. Marv Ziprick

I was honoured by the Oromo community in Edmonton to accompany their leaders to attend a two- day conference (February 12 and 13) of the Mekane Yesus (Place of Jesus) Church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The theme of the conference was “ILAAMEE” (Give me your attention)—emphasizing the call of God upon our lives to bear witness to Jesus and share the Gospel.

On Sunday, Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel (representing Lutheran Church–Canada) and I were privileged to worship in Millenium Hall with more than 10,000 of our Oromo brothers and sisters in Christ. The three-and-a-half hour service was vibrant and inspiring. It reflected the Oromo culture in dress, music and dancing.

A highlight of the service was the children's choir.

More than forty young adults led the service in song. Speakers included a personal testimony from a man who was a Muslim and came to faith in Jesus. His message was simple: “Whatever you do for Jesus …it will not be in vain.” The preacher was Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba who spoke on the power of God’s Word… just as God spoke in the beginning and “it was so”…so, today His Word still has the power to create new life and bring and light.

Nine young adults were commissioned as evangelists

The Mekane Yesus Church in Ethiopia numbers 5.4 million members. It has a long and strong evangelistic thrust. It has sent missionaries to Asia as well as other African countries. During today’s worship nine young adults were commissioned as evangelists with the laying on of hands and prayer. They are being sent to parts of Ethiopia where the Gospel has not been heard.

In this conference the presence and power of God’s Spirit certainly has been evident. I admire their joy-filled spirits and their zeal in sharing the Gospel.

This week Rev. Neitzel and I will attend a theological conference attended by 2000 Oromo pastors as well as representatives from Lutheran Church bodies in Africa, Europe and North America. Please remember the participants in your prayers.

Following the conference I have the honour of attending a wedding at Nekemte (in western Ethiopia). One of our Oromo brothers from Edmonton will be married on Sunday, February 20.

Rev Marv Ziprick is senior pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church, Sherwood Park, Alberta and works with an Oromo congregation in downtown Edmonton.


%d bloggers like this: