Strengthening ties with our British partner church

October 18, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee 

I write these lines on Monday morning (October 18) from Cambridge, England, where I attended the 56th Annual Synod (Convention) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). 

There are few Lutheran Christians in Great Britain. German-speaking Lutherans organized two congregations more than 100 years ago, and were long-served by the Missouri Synod until they organized their own self-governing church body in the 1950s.  The number of congregations now stands at 14. Like many western European countries, a real “post-Christian” mindset has overtaken Britain. To be sure, there are many impressive and monumental churches, cathedrals and chapels, but worship attendance is quite weak, and the number of practicing Christians is low.

Rev. Reg Quirk, former president of ELCE; Rev. Jon Ehlers, newly-elected president; and Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, LCC president.

Our friends in the ELCE wisely founded Westfield House as a theological college (seminary) many years ago. Although small, this institution has not only trained pastors for the ELCE, but also welcomes students from English-speaking partner churches (like LCC!), and is increasingly devoted to providing theological training for students from the third world, notably African countries.

Since the ELCE is small, the convention was a simple and rather intimate gathering compared to the more formalized gatherings we conduct in North America. In addition to the business discussed and decided upon, the convention takes time to receive a verbal report from every congregation. One can see how delegates, especially from far-flung regions of Great Britain, regard this convention as a reunion. Everybody knows everybody, it seems! And, in addition to native-born English pastors, the ELCE includes quite an array of servants:  pastors originally from Australia, Brazil, Canada and Finland! 

The ELCE Chairman (Synod President), Dr. Reginald Quirk, completed nine years of service in this office at this convention. He will continue as pastor of Resurrection, Cambridge, and as the seminary president at Westfield House next door to the church. At the convention’s closing service, I was asked to preach, and the Rite of Installation brought the new chairman, Pastor Jon Ehlers of Christ Lutheran Church, Petts Wood (a southern suburb of London) into office.

On Sunday, Dr. Quirk requested I preach again for the morning service at Resurrection Lutheran Church, which I was happy to do. Conducting the service was “our own” Pastor Joel Humann, originally from Canada, who has served as an ELCE parish pastor, and now seminary professor, for roughly a decade. 

Difficult as the work is, and despite setbacks, the ELCE has launched a number of mission starts in British cities in recent years. I am deeply impressed by the consecration of pastors, some of whom supplement their incomes from small congregations with outside work as teachers, for example. And I ask you to pray especially for congregations now vacant in northern England (St. Timothy’s in Sunderland) and Scotland (St. Columba in East Kilbride), where interim pastors living many hours away in the south of the country now serve.

I have treasured the warm welcome offered to me by this partner church of ours, and by Reg and Yvonne Quirk, who opened their home to Gail and me during our visit. God keep us strong and faithful for the work He’s given us to do, and open our eyes to the lessons we can learn from the struggles … and the devotion … of others near and far!

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is president of Lutheran Church–Canada

Children’s Reformation celebration in Nicaragua

October 14, 2010

More than 100 children learned about the Reformation

by Rev. Dr. Ralph Mayan

More than one hundred children and their deaconess teachers gathered in Martin Luther Chapel in Chinandega for the first-ever Children’s Reformation Celebration Saturday, October 9.

Each congregation selected five children from their Christian Children’s Education program and made arrangements for them to travel to the event. The day’s activities, all led by different deaconesses of the church, included a devotion, Reformation presentation, Bible study and artistic crafts. Marco Antonio Martinez led the children in hymns and a variety of actions songs at various times throughout the day. From the enthusiasm of the children in their singing, this part appeared to be their most favourite.

There is always time for a piñata

No celebration in Nicaragua takes place without piñatas for the children to break. This celebration had three on hand and the children released tons of energy as they broke open those piñatas to get the goodies inside.
Before returning home, (some had a three-hour return trip) the children enjoyed a hearty serving of Gallo pinto, a traditional Nicaraguan meal.

The day was a wonderful success; the deaconesses demonstrated their leadership and organizational skills and the children were enthusiastic in their participation.

The first hour of this Children’s Reformation Celebration (which included the devotion, Reformation presentation and interviews with pastors and deaconesses) was broadcast live on one of the local radio stations. The church is using these live broadcast events as a build-up to the major church-wide Reformation Celebration to take place at the Mission Centre October 31.  Please pray for God’s blessing on this outreach tool.

Be prepared to share the hope within you!

October 5, 2010

Never one to miss an opportunity, Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel, Lutheran Church–Canada’s mission executive discusses the Gospel on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He is currently there as a member of a review team assessing the ongoing relief work to which Lutherans in Canada contributed $1.2 million.

What happens to quilts and We Care kits?

October 3, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Ralph Mayan
Have you ever wondered what happens to those CLWR quilts you made or maybe those various CLWR kits you put together? It was my privilege to participate in the distribution of some of the Children’s Kits and quilts made available to us through a container received from Canadian Lutheran World Relief.

CLWR We Care Kit distribution

Our travel took us first to Somotillo, about 65 kilometres north of Chinandega. There we were met by 38 children and their teachers. I shared with them the story of “We Care” and Canadian Lutheran World Relief and then reminded them of One whose care goes beyond anything that we could ever provide; the care of our good and gracious God and His love for us in Jesus Christ. I joined our Mission business manager, Roberto Jose Zepeda and our Synod president, Pastor Luis Diaz, in distributing first, the Children’s Kits and then a quilt for each child. Perhaps I distributed the one you made!

He loves his quilt

On our return trip we stopped at another community, Villa Salvadorita. There 41 children waited for us. We gave kits and quilts to all of these children as well. These were just two of the 22 communities where we have distributed CLWR quilts and kits since we received the CLWR container in May.

Our thanks goes to Canadian Lutheran World Relief and all those ladies and men, boys and girls who made quilts and prepared kits for distribution through CLWR. Our thanks also to those who provided the funding to enable CLWR to send shipping containers like the one we received to developing countries around the world. We join with the children in Somotillo and Villa Salvadorita in saying to you all, “Gracias!”

Sewing school: social ministry and church worker support

October 1, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Ralph Mayan

Deaconess Maria del Carmen Martinez and Deaconess Heyling Ordońez.

I am reminded of the ladies of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League-Canada (LWMLC), their commitment to Christ’s mission and their generous mites each time I enter the building that houses “Dorcas,” our LCC Mission Sewing School. The school began in 2001 with an initial grant from LWMLC; each year those grants have continued to come and that has permitted the mission to keep this social ministry program going. The instructor for the program is Santos Alvir. To date some 70 students have graduated from the program.

The school teaches design/pattern making and sewing to women (and some men too) who come with no marketable skills and in most cases are too poor to enrol in any other school. Their goals are lofty, they want to be able to support themselves and their families, but without this initial training, their chances of doing that are slim. It’s a joy to know that some of our graduates are now employed in one of the local clothing factories and others have opened little shops in their homes and now make and repair clothing.

In October 2010, the mission will open its own small clothing factory and will employ at least three graduates. Our product will be the 900 “school uniforms”  that we currently purchase each year for the Children’s Christian Education Program. The profits of this new business will help support the stipends paid to our pastors and deaconesses. It is part of the overall program in assisting the church to be self-supporting.

Three News Students with Instructor

This past summer our “Dorcas” sewing school expanded its operation and now holds weekly satellite classes in Rancheria. On my visit to the school last week, I was introduced to 19 students; three of whom were just beginning. While they were receiving lessons in pattern making, others were preparing their initial project out of paper, while still others were at the treadle machines. I was pleased to see Edila, the wife of Pastor Marvin from El Viejo in the class. Two of our deaconesses from El Piloto were also learning the skills: Deaconess Maria del Carmen Martinez and Deaconess Heyling Ordońez.

This social ministry project, as with other social ministry projects, makes contact with people at their human need and provides opportunity in this context to share grace and love of God with all the students.

Mission includes healthy teeth and bodies

October 1, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Ralph Mayan

In the next several “On the Road” articles we will visit a number of social ministry projects operated by our LCC Nicaragua Mission. In this article, I introduce you to Dr. Rodolfo Mendoza, our Mission Clinic dentist. Dr. Mendoza graduated from the Faculty of Dentistry at the National University of Leon in 2004 and he joined our team at the Medical Clinic in February this year.

It is my first visit since returning to Nicaragua. Dr. Mendoza has a wonderful smile on this face as he expresses his thanks for the new dental chair installed in the centre as well as other supplies donated to the clinic by Canadian Lutheran World Relief. It is much easier to operate than the old chair (a 1950s model) and much more comfortable for the patients.

Dr. Mendoza and patient

Dr. Mendoza arrives at the clinic each Thursday around 8:30 a.m. During his morning hours he sees about five adult patients. In the afternoons, he sees mostly children. This afternoon he saw six. Most patients, both young and old have problems with cavities. He fills them and provides a cleaning. There was a time when there were a lot more extractions, but now he sees fewer and fewer. He also spends time helping children and their parents develop good cleaning and brushing habits.

Our Medical Dental Clinic opened on Easter Monday of 2009. On staff are Dr. Mendoza and our physician, Dr. Benjamin Garcia who has served here since the beginning. Our objective is to provide treatment for the pastors and deaconesses and their families; to provide on-going care for those whom visiting medical mission teams have identified; and provide clinic services to members of the community. In addition to providing the care of a doctor and dentist, the clinic tries to have any prescription medication on hand as most patients find it difficult to purchase their prescriptions. Theannual $10,000 medical clinic budget is supported by generous donations apart from the Synod’s mission budget.

God’s timing should never surprise us

September 20, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Ralph Mayan

The congregation of Estrella de Belén Luterana in La Resistencia, a barrio of Chinandega, Nicaragua gathered in celebration this past Sunday to celebrate an answer to prayer and a gift of land from God through St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Leduc, Alberta.

Two Sunday’s ago, the congregation had been worshipping in the local community centre (as they have for many years) when their worship was interrupted by a loud disturbance outside. Two of the community’s political organizations were disputing responsibility for the centre and the right to put their flags on the building. The dispute was getting out of hand and fearful that someone might get hurt or even killed, the worshipping community left the building.

Worshippers in front of the house

Since it was their desire not to be identified with either group or caught up in the dispute, Pastor Luis and the congregation decided that it would not be wise to continue to use the centre. But where would they worship and where could the children gather for their Christian Children’s Education Program during the week? They would have to meet in someone’s home and pray that God would provide in due time.

Pastor Luis leading worship

And God did! Little did this small community of Estrella de Belén know that on the very Sunday this disturbance occurred a note would be sent from St. Peter’s in Leduc indicating their desire to take on a building project in La Resistencia which included the purchase of land for a church. Within two weeks land was purchased with a small house on it. Worship was conducted in that house yesterday and today the children will gather there for their Christian Education Program. St. Peter’s Lutheran will be sending a volunteer team to work with the congregation in building their church the latter part of March 2011.

President Bugbee’s marathon Maritimes tour

September 12, 2010

Dear friends,

It’s Sunday night and I am at Trudeau Airport in Montreal, winging my way back home to Winnipeg after a weekend preaching tour of our LCC stations in Atlantic Canada.

I flew Friday from Winnipeg (via Toronto and Montreal) to Charlottetown, capital of Prince Edward Island. Locals tell me it’s a shame it was overcast. I only caught sight of our tiniest province when the plane descended through the clouds on its final descent to the runway. Glad we weren’t late! I arrived about 5:15 p.m., and the first service was set to begin at 6:30 p.m.

Pastor David Milette of Moncton met me at the airport, and within minutes we were driving through this calm, picturesque little capital city to “All Souls Chapel,” the sacred site for our worship. All Souls stands beside the Anglican cathedral of Charlottetown (called St. Peter’s), and the host congregation has graciously offered this place for services free of charge. In recent years, a number of Lutheran people have moved to PEI, but there is no Lutheran congregation. Pastor Milette and the mission-minded church in Moncton have reached out with monthly services for a while now, aided in recent months by a seminary summer vicar who lived in Charlottetown.

A handful of worshipers arrived for the service. Pastor Milette presided, while I preached and tried my hand at the chapel organ. Afterward we lingered and talked with those who attend, most of whom are not native “Islanders,” but have come from far-flung places like Calgary, Winnipeg, Nova Scotia—and, in one case, a woman who returned to her native PEI after decades in western Canada.

Later we drove the “Confederation Bridge” and returned to Moncton, arriving just before 1 a.m. Pastor Milette’s wife, Doris (a former treasured church member of mine from St. Catharines, Ont.), opened their home and a guest room, where I quickly drifted off to sleep.

Moncton is called the “hub” of Atlantic Canada, and it became the hub of this weekend’s travels. On Saturday I drove with Pastors Milette and Paul Williams the three hours to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. We stopped in Truro for wonderful seafood (at Murphy’s Fish-and-Chips downtown … try it when you’re in Truro). One of the proprietors seemed gladdened by having three pastors in the restaurant, and asked me to pray for her business as we left, which I gladly did. There is an extraordinary friendliness here among waiters in restaurants, I find.

By 4 p.m. we were ready to begin the service at Faith in Dartmouth. Members assembled in the small house/chapel as I preached again. Afterwards, we had an indoor picnic downstairs in the fellowship room. This congregation may be an outpost, and may be small, but the people obviously treasure each other’s company. Members stayed for a long time, chatting and telling the stories of how they came to live in this area and find their way to our church here. A graduate student from Ontario, a Nova Scotia native trying to get re-adjusted after years in Saskatchewan, and others with fascinating stories of their pilgrimages in life and in the faith fill our time. It was already dark when we got into the car for the three-hour return drive back to Moncton.

Sunday morning brought a service at Good Shepherd, Moncton, a place whose progress I’ve followed with interest since the 1980s, but which I had never visited. This was a big day for the congregation! In the morning I preached at the regular service, then enjoyed a wonderful fellowship dinner. Then, I took an after-lunch tour of Kingswood Academy, a day-care in a new building right next door to the church.

Upstairs in the same new structure Concordia Academy is launching its first academic year as a Lutheran school. Kingswood is a stunning success and is already hoping to expand the building, since many young families are streaming into Moncton. The hope is it will prove a source of students for Concordia, and the Lord may provide many mission prospects through these ministry efforts.

At 3 p.m. we marked the opening service for the new school year where I preached the last sermon of the weekend. I’m deeply impressed by the devotion of Pastor and Doris Milette and by the willingness of Concordia’s new developer/principal Deacon Shelaine Clasper, who recently accepted the call here after ten years in Prince George, B.C. (Not to mention her “grit” in driving alone all the way across Canada to get to Moncton!)

There’s much more to tell, and … I’m convinced … great prospects to expand the Lord’s work and ultimately to plant congregations in Atlantic Canada. As I rush off to my next airplane, I ask you to hold these preaching stations, their leaders and people, in your prayers.

Greetings in Christ, the Harvest’s great Lord,

Robert Bugbee, President

From Ukraine to Canada via Germany to visit a partner church

August 29, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee

After five memorable days in Ukraine attending the dedication of the new “Concordia” Seminary at Usatovo near Odessa, I paused for a few days in Germany to connect with some of our partners there from the Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK, Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church), with whom LCC is in full pulpit-and-altar fellowship.

The centrepiece of this visit was two days in the northern German city of Hannover, where the SELK has its synodical headquarters. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt and his wife, Christiane, graciously hosted me at their house, which is actually their synod’s “parsonage” for its bishops and their families. Bishop Voigt has led this church since 2006. A native of the former East Germany, he also served a congregation there for 13 years before his election to the synod’s top leadership post.

The SELK, like Germany in general, has worked hard to bring the two parts of the country closer together since reunification 20 years ago. In addition, Germany struggles with a growing secularism, indifference toward the Gospel, and the tensions that arise as the number of Muslim immigrants in the country continues to increase.

On September 1, Bishop Voigt becomes the new chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), succeeding LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick, who was not re-elected this past summer to another term as his church’s president. Voigt and I serve together on the ILC’s Executive Council, in which Lutheran Church–Canada is the representative for the ILC’s North America world area. We conferred about how best to prepare for a number of changes coming to the ILC, not only in the area of leadership, but also as Lutheran churches in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe are attracted to the ILC’s strong commitment to Holy Scripture and its rejection of the same-gender blessings now causing so much turmoil within Lutheran churches in North America and Europe.

During a stop in Hermannsburg. (l-r) Rev. Hans-Heinrich Heine; Rev. Axel Wittenberg; President Robert Bugbee; SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt; Rev. Markus Nietzke.

On one of my days in Germany, Bishop Voigt drove me out to the country north of Hannover to visit the SELK’s mission headquarters in the village of Bleckmar. There I met the executive secretary of the Bleckmar Mission Society, Pastor Martin Benhöfer, and toured of their mission centre. The Bleckmar Mission Society historically works in South Africa and Botswana, but is now also active in Europe and southeast Asia, where it has come into contact with LCC’s missionary ties in Thailand.

Just a few miles away from Bleckmar lies the historic town of Hermannsburg, where a spiritual revival movement in the mid-1800s caused many people to leave the liberal Lutheran state churches and to found very robust biblical Lutheran congregations which flourish to this day. Pastor Hans-Heinrich Heine (of the so-called “Big” Holy Cross Church in Hermannsburg) provided a walking tour of the town and told stories of the congregation’s intense commitment to missionary work both past and present. During our walking tour we also stopped off at the “Little” Holy Cross Church nearby, where we were welcomed by Pastor Markus Nietzke.

Though radically different from life in Ukraine, this brief stop in Germany was a great encouragement. Faithful German Christians, like their brothers and sisters in Canada, don’t have it easy confessing and serving Jesus in a society that seems to have lost its way. But their dedication to the Lord’s work is a reminder to us that it can be done! God give us the grace and the heart to keep busy, since He knows what He’s doing placing us in the time and place where we are!

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is president of Lutheran Church–Canada

Looking back and looking forward: God’s blessings in Ukraine

August 26, 2010

by Norman Threinen

What a difference twelve years has made in the work of theological education in Ukraine! 

In July 1998 when I arrived in Odessa to begin seminary education it was directed largely at lay pastors who were already serving congregations; Bishop Viktor Graefenstein was the only ordained pastor in an emerging church which would become the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU). At that time, there were only two city congregations and two village congregations involved. 

Dr. Threinen (centre) and members of the first seminary class in Kamenka

Although I was received warmly, the customs and immigration process was quite scary.  On forms which had no English, I had to make a precise accounting of money I was carrying; I could only guess what my answers should be! Officials searched all my luggage. And after I arrived, the first order of business was taking my passport to the police station to register my presence.

In 2010 all of this is changed.  Ukraine does not require a for Westerners staying less than six months. No accounting of funds under $1,000. No luggage checked. No registration with the police.

There is of course a significant change in the facilities for seminary training. In 1998 the church arranged a somewhat comfortable apartment for me in Odessa, but the seminary classes were held in the village of Kamenka, an hour away. The “classroom” space was an apartment used by the small congregation in the village. It was a three-room apartment plus a kitchen but one room was stacked to the ceiling with humanitarian aid from Germany, another with sacks of flour used by the bakery the church had acquired to provide funds for the mission. The remaining room was not only where we taught, but the congregation used it for worship so there was constant assembling and re-assembling. Students sat on backless stools with make-shift desks on their laps. 

Ukrainian summers can be very hot and with up to ten men seated side-by-side along the whole length of the room, the atmosphere was stifling. There was no air conditioning, of course, and no fan to move the air. In contrast, now we have a substantial building which includes a faculty suite and a large classroom.  

Twelve years ago, students who provided transportation for me slept in the church office in Odessa. Others slept crowded in a room in the apartment block where we held the seminary classes. The new seminary building has a dormitory on the second floor which will more than accommodate the current student body of eight. 

Whereas twelve years ago we ate our meals in the small kitchen where everyone was wedged in, the new seminary building has a kitchen and a separate dining room.

The first seminary graduates in 2001 included Oleg Schewtschenko, now pastor in Odessa (third from left); and Alexey Navrotskiy, now LCC's missionary in Ukraine (fifth from left). Also in the photograph are Dr. Leonard Harms and Dr. Norman Threinen (far left); Rev. Roland Syens (front row second from right) standing beside Bishop Victor Graefensten (front row, third from right).

As far as the students are concerned, most of them in 1998 were seasoned lay leaders, some more teachable than others. In 2010, none of the students is in that category. As to being teachable, that is still to be determined. 

The Kamenka facilities did not have sufficient heat to accommodate classes in winter. However, the new seminary building makes it possible to run the theological program throughout the school year rather just over the summer. During summer students were tempted to pressure the professors to adjust classes to enable them to go to the sea on occasion. 

We also hope students will not feel the need to go home every weekend and thereby focus more on their studies. 

I look forward to this phase in theological education in Ukraine. The Lord has blessed us under adverse conditions; from one pastor in 1998, the church now has fifteen.  I fully trust He will continue to be with us as He has promised, “Lo, I am with you always.”

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

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