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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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


Last minute preparations for celebrations in Ukraine

August 17, 2010

by Norman Threinen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Medical care and Gospel witness

June 21, 2010

A pastor (left) shares God's Word with people waiting outside the medical clinic

by Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel

Since its beginning, the medical clinic of Iglesia Luterana Sínodo de Nicaragua (ILSN) has provided a special opportunity for the church to care for the peoples’ physical needs as well as for Gospel witness. I have met former patients and heard stories of people who came to the clinic, who besides the medical treatment received God’s Word, a prayer and were comforted in their anxieties by the ministration of the love of Jesus Christ as Saviour.

A beautiful example is from Anastacio Cerda Ortiz. He came for medical treatment and was approached with God’s Word by the president of the ILSN. He became interested in the work of the Lutheran church and today is a faithful member of the church, present every Thursday at the Clinic to build friendly relationships with patients, to pray for them if needed and to share the Gospel with them. He is also involved in the church work and has his own business during his spare time selling bread on the streets.

In 1982 an interesting paper was presented by Soritua Nababan at the Lausanne Grand Rapids Consultation titled “Your Kingdom Come.” It highlighted the close connection between physical care of others and Gospel witness or between “evangelism and social responsibility.” It certainly applies to the work of the ILSN medical clinic as well as to any other care mission and ministry developed by God’s people. It says:
. . . First, social activity is a consequence of evangelism. That is, evangelism is the means by which God brings people to new birth, and their new life manifests itself in the service of others. Secondly, social activity can be a bridge to evangelism. It can break down prejudice and suspicion, open closed doors, and gain a hearing for the Gospel. Jesus sometimes performed works of mercy before proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. Thirdly, social activity not only follows evangelism as its consequence and aim, and precedes it as its bridge, but also accompanies it as its partner. They are like the two blades of a pair of scissors or the two wings of a bird. This partnership is clearly seen in the public ministry of Jesus, who not only preached the Gospel but fed the hungry and healed the sick. In his ministry, kerigma (proclamation) and diakonia (service) went hand in hand. His works explained his words, and his works dramatized his words. (Soritua Nababan, “Your Kingdom Come”, pp. 179-192 Lausanne Grand Rapids Consultation, June 19-25, 1982).

As God’s church we “unlike so many, [we] do not peddle the Word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God” (2 Corinthians 2:17). As we serve we don’t do it for earthly reward or profit. As we serve others we rejoice in the opportunities to share the forgiveness and salvation Jesus provides for all people. We don’t serve for own sake but for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our greatest joy and reward will be at the very end of the ages when we will see those whom we have served joining us for eternal life. It will be our reward of grace when Jesus will say to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” Matthew 25:23. Jesus will say to his own at the very end “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40.


Christian education hits home in Nicaragua

June 17, 2010

By Rev. Leonardo Neitzel

We have been impressed with the way pastors, missionaries, deaconesses and “maestras” daily carry out the church’s mission and ministry in Nicaragua with children. The foundation of the work is the Holy Scripture. Besides tutoring and reinforcing lessons in math and Spanish and assisting them daily with homework assignments, they teach and lead the children in God’s Word as they provide exercises through Bible stories and memorization of verses.

Dr. Neitzel tells a story to more than 100 children gathered in Santa Patricia


Martin Luther’s Small Catechism is the next important tool in their teaching. In the community of Santa Patricia we had the privilege of spending time interacting with more than 100 children and workers communicating through our “Portuñol” (a mix of Portuguese and Español) – and what a blessing it was to hear them recite Scripture verses, parts of the Small Catechism, pray the Lord’s Prayer and sing.

The way the church leaders and the community value these important ‘tools’ and handle them interactively with the children is a great reason for our gratitude to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This Christian education process, seen in church and in family circles at home, highlights one of Martin Luther’s educational methods throughout his entire ministry and in his own family. Is the Lord trying to teach us a lesson today as we sometimes seem to put aside the Holy Scriptures and the Small Catechism in favour of other earthly priorities?

We thank and praise the Lord for giving Iglesia Luterana Sìnodo de Nicaragua the understanding of His will towards the Christian education of His church. As Martin Luther says, “the Holy Spirit is present in such reading and repetition and meditation, and bestows ever new and more light and devoutness, so that it is daily relished and appreciated better, as Christ promises, Matthew 18:20: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”


ILSN Establishes Mission and Goals

March 31, 2010

By Rev. Dr. Ralph Mayan

A year ago the church wasn’t ready for it. But now with their first convention behind them, it was a time for a new beginning. The pastors and deaconesses together with other leaders in the church sat down on three separate occasions to consider their strengths, weaknesses and challenges in the light of Christ’s mission. The result of this activity was an ILSN Mission Statement and series of goals for the next two years.  

Recognizing the two-fold “mission” responsibility that Christ gave to his church and reflecting upon the Mission Statement of Lutheran Church–Canada, ILSN set as its Mission Statement the following:

Iglesia Luterana Sinodo de Nicaragua will, through its members, proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that by the power of the Holy Spirit those who do not believe may come to faith and that those who believe might be strengthened in faith and life.

 In carrying out this mission, the Synod set the following goals.

 1. By the grace of God, ILSN will work to increase its membership by 100 persons per congregation.  

2. By the grace of God, each congregation will work towards having regular bible studies for women and men with a goal of doubling their present attendance.

3. By the grace of God, ILSN will seek to prepare an equal number of musicians for the church as there are pastors so that the use of music in public worship might be enhanced.

4. By the grace of God, ILSN working with LCC Mission will strive towards being an indigenous, self-supporting church body.

 The Synod Committee appointed working committees for evangelism, education and worship. Each Committee is now in the process of establishing their strategic plans and course of action. Responsibility for the fourth goal rests with LCC Mission-Nicaragua. The Mission has already begun work on business plans for the the establishment of “Small Businesses” in support of ILSN.

 In order that the pastors and deaconesses of the Synod might continue to grow in ministry, the Synod also added the following goals:

1. By the grace of God, our pastors and deaconesses will participate in 4 continuing education programs per year.  Although the Planning Session requested that the Synod Committee appoint a Continuing Education Committee to work with LCC Mission-Nicaragua in identifying course work that would benefit the Church, several areas were already identified by participants: Evangelism Strategy; Ministering to the Abused; The Christian Family; Managing time for work and family; Pastoral Care; Congregational Administration; A teaching practicum for teachers. The arranging of these programs remains the responsibility of LCC Mission-Nicaragua.

2. By the grace of God, our pastors and deaconesses will strive to develop a disciplined devotional life.  Both pastors and deaconesses spoke of times when they lacked in zeal for their work and often would not complete their tasks. While they recognized that some of this had to do with poor planning (and so the request for assistance in time management,) they expressed a greater concern for their own “walk with God.” Zeal comes from the Lord; He gives it through Word and Sacrament. We need to be people constantly in the Word.”  

Sitting on the outside, we might be tempted to say that Iglesia Luterana Sinbodo de Nicaragua has set an ambitious plan for this biennium. I don’t see it that way. The goals were already there in the hearts and minds of the church, but had not been individually identified. (Something like not seeing the trees for the forest.) The process helped the church to identify them and now by the grace of God with these goals in mind the church can move forward with singleness of purpose and godly zeal in proclaiming the Gospel so that by the power of the Holy Spirit those who do not believe may come to faith and that those who believe might be strengthened in faith and life.


Connecting with people is key to outreach everywhere

March 6, 2010

By Dr. William Mundt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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