Odessa seminary enters second year

September 21, 2011

by Norman Threinen

Seminary students in Odessa with Dr. Threinen (right) and interpreter, Marya

After a two-day delay leaving Toronto due to Hurricane Irene, I was finally on my way to Odessa again on August 30. This is my fifteenth trip in as many years to the country from which my German ancestors emigrated more than a century ago.

Since seminary classes would not begin for a few days after my arrival, I took a two-day side-trip for research purposes to Lviv. This city was once called Lemberg when it served as the capital of the Austrian province of Galicia in the days when my ancestors lived in the area. Coincidentally, my modest guest accommodations were in the facilities of the former German Lutheran Church which had been handed over to the Baptists after the collapse of theSoviet Union in 1989.

On September 6, Concordia Seminary,Odessa opened its second academic year in its new building. With the local pastor Rev. Oleg Shewtschenko conducting the service, I preached on 1 Kings 3:5-9 with the theme, “What is your dream?” Our current six students attended along with Marya my interpreter, a young lady from Dnepropetrovsk where Lutheran Church–Canada missionary Rev. Alexey Novrotsky serves.

For the first six-week session in this academic year, I am teaching two courses. A study of the book of Genesis will occupy the students’ attention in three-hour blocks of time in the mornings and Christian Ethics studies fill similar periods in the afternoon. After this six-week session, other professors and pastors from Canada will teach courses throughout the year to prepare the students for their vocation as pastors. The seminary is not admitting new students until the current students have graduated in 2013.

Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen

Having taught these students for three months in September 2010, I am pleased to see a notable growth in maturity in their theological outlook and a greater seriousness about preparing for the ministry. Although the size of the student body has diminished from a year ago, I recognize greater cohesion in the group including our student from Moldova. Spirited discussion still takes place both in the classroom and in such places as the seminary dining room, but it is all an essential part of shaping future theologians and pastors for the Lord’s Church.

A grant from LWML-Canada is funding the installation of more adequate kitchen facilities, and plans are in place for additional development of the seminary facilities including a separate chapel. The overall setting in which theological training currently happens is already far superior to that under which previous classes of pastors studied.

The seminary program itself, including travel of faculty to Ukraine, is  funded by generous Canadian donors through the Concordia Lutheran Mission Society.

Our thanks to all who have, through their prayers and gifts, supported this mission of training of Lutheran pastors in Ukraine which is so vital for strengthening the Lutheran Church and for the expansion of the Gospel in this former Soviet Union country.

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

Advertisements

Six-hour service marks Nigerian anniversary

September 12, 2011

Archbishop Christian O. Ekong of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria

Dear friends,
This past Saturday and Sunday I was in Uyo, Nigeria, near the headquarters and seminary of the Lutheran Church in Nigeria (LCN). My good friend, Archbishop Christian O. Ekong, invited me to take part in this moment of joy to mark the 75th anniversary of their church, which began in 1936 with the arrival of the first Lutheran missionaries. In those days they called Nigeria “the white man’s grave,” because tropical diseases and other dangers took the lives of a number of mission workers. Some of their resting places are still very near the LCN headquarters.

The services were held in “Luther Hall,” a huge, open-air “cathedral” which seats thousands for worship. I had the honour of preaching on Saturday for the festival service that day. It was lengthy!

Then came Sunday, which brought likely the longest service I ever attended in my life. Worship began by 10 a.m., and we were just leaving the church before 4 p.m. There was no stopping for lunch, either! Several thousand attended the Sunday communion. Offerings are received multiple times during the service, and each time it can take 30-40 minutes, because all worshipers come forward, pew by pew, many walking rhythmically or even dancing.

This is the rainy season. Torrential rains cause multiple power outages, though the hotels very often turn on their generators immediately so you don’t go without power for long. At the end of Sunday’s marathon service, with heavy rain falling on the metal roof of the cathedral, you could scarcely hear the pastors’ voices, even when they shouted loudly and used microphones.

The rainy season makes some roads almost impassable; others become bumpy, and your spine really feels it, as mine did when I was seated in the rear of a van right over the wheel well. Along the roadside are people’s homes, often sporting a table in the front of the house where they sell food, electronics, or any other items to help their income. People carry enormous loads of fruits, grains, and even building materials on their heads as they walk along.

The young people at the Lutheran gathering on Sunday made quite the impression. Many of them belong to organized groups with their own uniforms and put on marches for church festival days. So many of them are incredibly polite and friendly, sometimes running up to a Canadian visitor like me, anxious to carry my briefcase, other times bowing or asking for the favour of having our picture taken together.

I’ll write a bit more in the coming days once I have collected my thoughts a bit. I’m now on the long trek back home, waiting for a flight here in Lagos, the former capital, which will take me to Amsterdam … then another to Toronto … then another to Winnipeg.

I sincerely hope you will pause and thank the Lord for the growth He’s given our friends in Nigeria these 75 years. Their synod is now bigger than ours! I hope also you will pray today and often for the witness God wants us to give to Christ in our beloved Canada, and in the communities, neighbourhoods and workplaces where He allows us to live.

Sincere greetings from Nigeria,
Robert Bugbee, President


President Bugbee reports from Nigeria

September 9, 2011

Dear friends,

I greet you all this Friday morning from Lagos, Nigeria. I arrived here yesterday after lengthy flights from Winnipeg, Montreal and Paris. It’s the first time I’ve set foot on African soil, and I treasure this chance to bring encouragement from all of you to our ministry partners here.

Today I’ll fly another 90 minutes farther east and am scheduled to end up at Obot Idim, the site of the seminary and synod headquarters. The Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) is marking its 75th Anniversary this weekend, and I have the honour to preach at the festival service set for Saturday, September 10. I am here by invitation of their Archbishop, The Rev. Christian Ekong, who serves with me on the Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). Bishop Ekong is the area representative for Africa, as I am for North America.

I read a good bit about Nigeria in the airplane on the way over. I’m amazed to learn its the most populous country in Africa, and seventh most populous in all the world. Analysts say the economy will grow at a rapid pace in the coming decades. And now the Nigerian film-making industry (called “Nollywood”) is the third-biggest in the world, after the Americans’ “Hollywood” and “Bollywood” in India!

Our churches in Nigeria, however, are the primary reason I’m here. They’ve grown to rival LCC’s size, and function in several hundred locations across the country. If I can manage Internet access throughout this anniversary weekend, I’ll write you again to tell you a bit more. We’re in the rainy season right now, and have had four power outages just in my first day here. None of them lasted very long, but I was awakened in the night several times by torrential rains.

In the meantime, if you are reading these lines, why not pause to pray that God would bless our partner church here, and not just as an organization. May He bless our friends to find ways to get the Good News of Jesus, crucified and raised again, into the hearts and homes of those who do not know Him. As I send this off, I’m pausing to pray that blessing for all 322 LCC congregations in Canada, too.

In Christ our dear Lord,

Robert Bugbee, President


Visit to Ukrainian village parish inspiring for LCC pastor

May 14, 2011

by James Dimitroff 

Seminarian Yuri, Rev. Sasha Yurchenko, and Elder Misha greets Rev. Dimitroff (right) at the door of the church.

Wednesday’s (May 11) invitation to travel to Kagarlik was a bit out of the ordinary. Usually church is held on Sunday, even in small villages. The added invitation to attend Holy Communion made the trip all the more appealing. Besides, this was an opportunity to visit the home village of one of our seminarians and meet his family. In an effort to become better acquainted with the students, it was an offer I wouldn’t want to decline.

Kagarlik is about 40 kilometres away from the million-plus city of Odessa. Wednesday’s preacher was to be Rev. Sasha Yurchenko, who graduated from the first Ukraine seminary class almost 11 years ago. As we drove toward Kagarlik, one could see endless fields of yellow-flowered canola. No wonder so many people have remarked on the similarity between Ukraine and Saskatchewan. Other fields awaited seeding, but overall the agricultural enterprise seems efficient and up-to-date.

To get to Kagarlik, the car passed through the even smaller village of Kamenka. I remembered that Kamenka was the site of the original seminary LCC helped staff and organize in 1998. I hoped we would pass by that first seminary building, but later was told that the church area in Kamenka is now, unfortunately, in ruins.

As we arrived in Kagarlik, the entire congregation was already seated. I entered along with senior pastor Yurchenko, church elder Misha and seminary student Yuri. After singing a number of beautiful hymns, the normal style in Ukraine of two consecutive sermons followed.

My student, Yuri, preached first on Luke 24. He brought out the important message of Our Lord’s constant caring and companionship along the road of life. Next, Rev. Yurchenko spoke. He impressed me deeply with his God-given ability to zoom in on important Bible themes. His style was intense and full of vigour.

After almost half an hour, the congregation sang a few more hymns before Communion began. The tradition in this congregation, and possibly others in Ukraine, is to allow individual congregants to pray personal prayers aloud, just before consecration of the elements. On this day, some seven people raised their voices to ask for help at the throne of grace. Personal prayers also followed, once the sacrament was finished.

All congregation members in Ukraine receive Holy Communion kneeling—but there are no pads or pillows. This meant everyone knelt and rose on the linoleum, without a mishap. When my turn came, I hoped I would not tip over, and fortunately, there was no problem.

It was my pleasure to bring greetings to this congregation from all the believers in Lutheran Church–Canada. The congregation, in turn, sent back praise and glory to God for the faithful support LCC has given over the years to seminary training and congregational support of the small, confessional Ukraine Lutheran Synod (SELCU).

Following the service I was delighted to meet Yuri’s wife and six-year-old daughter. The elder, Misha, announced that this coming Saturday would be a work day for the congregation–the entire third floor needed painting. Many volunteers offered to help.

Even though the village is one of thousands scattered in southern Ukraine, Kagarlik was very special. Here we see the Lord’s hand steadily at work, bringing Word and Sacrament to all who believe, even on a Wednesday afternoon. I am still trying to determine why Sunday was unavailable and it may have had to do with the church repair and painting set to begin Saturday. But in any event, this was a most memorable village that formed a solid contrast with metropolitan Odessa. Odessa may be “Mama” in the local slang (meaning flamboyant and intrusive) but Kagarlik is faithful, devoted to the Lutheran confessions, and inspiring!

Rev. Dr. James Dimitroff is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He is currently teaching seminary classes in Odessa Ukraine.


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.


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.


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


%d bloggers like this: