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.

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Reflections from Thailand and Cambodia

January 26, 2011

by Robert Bugbee

(Photos by Carol Harms)

Even though I’m back in my office chair in Winnipeg, in my thoughts I’m still very much back “on the road” as I recall a week packed full with visiting our mission partners in Thailand and Cambodia. Internet headaches aborted a report I sent while I was gone, but I want to report to all of you what’s going on there while everything is still fresh in my mind.

The trip was lengthy—made lengthier by a delayed plane from Vancouver to Tokyo that made me miss my connection to Bangkok. I arrived 35 hours after leaving Winnipeg. Dr. Leonard and Carol Harms, gracious hosts throughout my visit, got me quickly to a welcome shower and cup of coffee, because my first informal meeting with staff began four hours after I arrived.

A long first day

President Bugbee discusses outreach with “Boom” Monta Ekwanit, director of the Lutheran Hour Ministries office for Thailand

President Bugbee discusses outreach with “Boom” Monta Ekwanit, director of the Lutheran Hour Ministries office for Thailand

Bangkok is home to a number of our ministry partners: The “Thailand Concordia Lutheran Church” (TCLC); “Into Light Lutheran Church” (a congregation in Bangkok); “Journey Into Light” (the Thai name for Lutheran Hour Ministries); and “Luther Institute – Southeast Asia” (LISA, the agency that provides seminary training for pastoral candidates in that part of the world). A number of co-workers from these groups spent coffee and conversation time with me the morning I arrived.

In the afternoon of that first day, we were off to the airport again, and another flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We were met there by Rev. Vanarith Chhim, president of the “Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia” (ELCC). Pastor Vanarith, just 29 years old, was converted to Christianity in the 1990s, like most of his pastoral colleagues in the ELCC. He was also attracted by Luther’s Small Catechism and the clarity of our Law/Gospel approach to God’s Word.

Trained by LISA in Phnom Penh, Vanarith became an acknowledged leader of the church in his country despite his young age. Without any pushing or prompting by outsiders, the Cambodian Lutherans decided on their own to constitute their self-governing synod in 2009. The Cambodian government has formally recognized the ELCC a religious organization by, and already the new church body numbers dozens of congregations and/or preaching stations.

Encouragement and harsh reality

President Vanarith Chhim and President Bugbee in front of the building which houses Lutheran Heritage Foundation, LISA, headquarters for Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia (ELCC) and services are held in this building also.

President Vanarith Chhim and President Bugbee in front of the building which houses Lutheran Heritage Foundation, LISA, headquarters for Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia (ELCC) and services are held in this building also.

On my second day in the region, I met with the ELCC Board of Directors, and was heartened to hear these young pastors tell the stories of their conversions and their enthusiasm for having found their way to our Lutheran church. Many of them endured abuse and criticism from Buddhist relatives after their conversions. Still, their zeal for Christ, their desire for more resources translated and printed in their Khmer language, and their deep gratitude toward our Canadian church are a huge encouragement.

Of course, it’s hard to visit Cambodia without hearing something of the dreadful genocide which took place in the late 1970s. Though my schedule did not allow me to visit the infamous “killing fields,” I did see a former high school transformed into a torture-factory back in those days. I won’t go into details about the methods of torture employed by the regime, but they are chilling. It was especially upsetting to learn they treated babies and young children with the same harshness as adults.

The presidents beside a fish pond on Pastor Sem Sothea’s property. The fish provide food and income for the pastor and his congregation
The presidents beside a fish pond on Pastor Sem Sothea’s property. The fish provide food and income for the pastor and his congregation

My last day in Cambodia was taken up with a trip to the countryside. Near Kampot we had something like a “circuit forum” in which pastors, deaconesses and church members gathered to meet me, since they’d been unable to make the trip into the city. I saw one of the famous fish ponds and how it provides income for a poor pastor and his family, since the congregations don’t have the means to provide salaries for their ministers. (It made me proud of the Sunday school children back at Holy Cross, Kitchener, where I used to be pastor, who gave so much money for these projects. Yes, children, your love did make a difference!)

Church relationships

President Bugbee models the Thai shirt presented to him by President Ted Na Thalang of Thailand Concordia Lutheran Church.

President Bugbee models the Thai shirt presented to him by President Ted Na Thalang of Thailand Concordia Lutheran Church.

After two days in Phnom Penh, I returned to Bangkok for two days in that enormous city of 11 million residents, Thailand’s capital. The country, home to 67 million people, is noticeably wealthier and more advanced than Cambodia. LISA courses in this city have helped train pastors for TCLC. I’m so grateful for “our” Dr. Len Harms and all the time he has taken in retirement to devote to this work. His wife, Carol, has also embraced Thailand as a second home and offers warm encouragement to the Thai church and its people.

The full-day meeting with TCLC leaders was a wonderful experience. They outlined the history of their church, their hopes for the future, and their desire to join the Cambodians in establishing a special working agreement with LCC. They treasure the fact that, instead of sending North American missionaries to do the work for them, we invest in training native pastors who speak the people’s language and can understand them more deeply than we ever will.

I think I was at eight different airports during this trip. After a flight southward from Bangkok, I spent my final two days in the region around Takuapa and Khok Kloi, where we’ve had partnership with the churches for many years. This region is the tropical part of Thailand that dangles like a “tail” toward Malaysia (check your atlas at home; you’ll see). It’s also the stunning waterfront region where the tsunami hit the beaches six years ago. Yes, the scars are still there: large ships driven inland by the water that cannot be moved back to the sea; refugee-type housing for families who lost their homes. But the rebuilding has happened, too. Now it’s a very swanky tourist region, especially frequented by people from Scandinavia and Germany. Rubber trees, pineapple farms and elephants meeting you as you drive along the highway are par for this course.

…and finally

Friends, I apologize this has become so long. During my initial term of office I have attempted to visit all our major mission fields: Ukraine in 2009 and 2010, Nicaragua in 2010, and now Thailand/Cambodia in 2011.

Everywhere I go it’s a wonderful story of people whose lives have meaning now because of God’s Son, Who died for them and was raised again. Everywhere I go it’s a wonderful story of people who thank you for the approach taken by our Canadian church to equip them for their work so they can reach their neighbours. Everywhere I go it’s mixed with a little frustration that I cannot pack all of you into the suitcase and take you along, because the story of our LCC mission work is a story of money carefully spent, grateful partners in far-off lands, and people who by their courage and devotion teach and give us far more than we can ever give them.

God bless you all for your prayer support and gifts of love for this work! And thanks for taking the time to read these lines, which I send to all of you…

…in the love of Christ,

Robert Bugbee, president

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Early Christianity revisited in modern Ukraine

November 29, 2010

Dr. Threinen (third from left) and eight seminary students recently received copies of The Book of Concord in Russian.

by Norman Threinen

It never ceases to amaze me how personally relevant theology often is for students attending seminary classes in foreign mission areas! When I began teaching courses on Early Christianity and the Survey of the Bible at the seminary in Odessa, Ukraine, I expected that a study of the Bible would personally touch the student’s lives and professor alike; it always does in many ways. But the most memorable experience for me came as we looked at the growth of the church in the Early Christianity course. Quite naturally, the topic came up of the way people became members of the Christian church in the centuries following the period of the New Testament.

The topic prompted one student to tell his story. His wife came to faith after she accepted an invitation to attend worship from another young mother whom she met in a park. Merely tolerant at first, he came to faith when he saw how his wife changed following her conversion to Christianity and, as he waited for her after church. he observed how happy church people seemed in spite of really difficult times. Similar stories from other students told me this student’s story was not unique. Having come out from under Communism only twenty years ago, people are experiencing conditions much like those of the early Christians. It is simply amazing that despite having the Christian Gospel in this country for more than 1,000 years this should be the case.

Reflecting on the first weeks of classes, I am gratified to note that our student body of eight men are relating to one another well. Some have a better background of knowledge and some enter into the discussions more readily than others, but judging by the diligence with which they attend to their studies, all are serious about becoming pastors in the church. For some it means being apart from their families for periods of six weeks while they attend seminary. For all it will mean facing an uncertain economic future when they are finished seminary training since SELCU congregations have not yet learned to support their pastors.

I continue to appreciate the skill Pastor Oleg Schewtschenko brings to translating my lectures, and for the presence of my dear wife, Muriel.

Dr. Norman J. Threinen is rector of Concordia Seminary, Odessa, Ukraine


Nicaraguan church celebrates Reformation

November 1, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Ralph Mayan

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They came from congregations as far away as Rivas and Granada, from Matagalpa and Jinotega. More than three hundred people gathered in Martin Luther Chapel to celebrate the 493rd Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation this past Sunday. They joined in the liturgy of the church; sang hymns of faith including Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” They understood why they had come together.

“We have not gathered to celebrate the life of Martin Luther as if he were some kind of Lutheran saint. We celebrate what he discovered through his study of Holy Scripture. We celebrate God’s grace and that central Bible teaching that we are saved by God’s grace through faith on account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 

Fed with the Word of God and nourished with the body and blood of Christ, participants departed strengthened and encouraged for the work Christ has given to His church in Nicaragua. 

This was the first time the Synod has held such a large event. It was a challenge for the Synod Committee.  It had to consider transportation arrangments from the 22 plus congregations, table and chair rentals, and providing a light lunch for everyone following the service. With the support of volunteers, they met the challenge and the church was blessed. 

Members from small congregations were amazed at the number of people who gathered. They had no idea the church was so large! And everyone had the opportunity to meet brothers and sisters in the faith from other congregations and communities in the social hour that followed.


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


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


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


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