Bethesda Lutheran Communities Mill Neck Family of Organizations Concordia Lutheran Ministries

From the May 2011 Reporter Insert

By Kim Plummer Krull

When a Lutheran medical clinic opens this summer in Kisumu, Kenya, the facility will provide a new level of care for Africans with special needs, including developmental and hearing disabilities.

Along with launching a much- needed ministry, the clinic represents a partnership that includes two LCMS Recognized Service Organizations (RSOs) whose leaders firmly believe “when we work together, we can do even more than we can individually,” says Bethesda Lutheran Communities’ Dr. Jacob A.O. Preus.

“No one organization can do everything for everyone,” says Preus, Bethesda executive vice-president. “When we bring our resources, our competencies and our experience to partnerships, we can have quite an amazing capacity.”

Clinic in Kenya

Bethesda collaborated with Mill Neck Family of Organizations to develop the clinic, a vacant building at the compound operated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya. Bethesda (www.bethesdalutherancommunities.org) serves people with intellectual and  developmental disabilities. Mill Neck (www.millneck.org) provides services for people who are deaf and their families.

Mill Neck’s Rev. Steven Schumacher calls development of the clinic, which includes a pediatric surgical unit and testing for children with special needs, “one of those endeavors with multiple complexities” that works better with partners.

“This is not simply a care station but a project so large that the amount of time and funding needed would be too consuming for one entity to do alone,” says Schumacher, director of Deaf Ministry. “By working with Bethesda, we are more readily able to do this project and can continue to do other [partnership projects.]”

While the Synod’s RSOs provide faith-based human care services throughout the United States, many also serve internationally. To have a global outreach in today’s tough economic climate, LCMS leaders say partnerships are a must, with sister RSOs, congregations, districts and the Synod.

Group Homes in the Dominican Republic

Bethesda President and CEO Dr. John Bauer points to a new group home in the Dominican Republic as another example of an RSO partnership with Synod ministries, including LCMS World Relief and Human Care and LCMS World Mission. The group home, for orphans with developmental disabilities, opened this summer in Palmar Arriba next to a young LCMS mission congregation.

Over the past five years, Bethesda has collaborated in the Caribbean nation on a project that includes planting the first Dominican Lutheran congregations and launching ministry to improve the care of Dominicans with developmental disabilities. “Here’s a project where we helped train members of this fledgling congregation to reach out to children,” Bauer says. “It has all the components of witness, mercy, life together, which have long been at the core of what Bethesda is as an organization.”

LCMS partnerships are essential to the Dominican mission. “It would have been unwise for [Bethesda] to go into a country and attempt to start services for people with developmental disabilities. Instead, we came alongside people who were already there and offered advice and counsel,” Preus says. (Other partners in the Dominican include the Lutheran Church of Brazil, the LCMS South Wisconsin District and St. Michael Lutheran Church, Fort Myers, Fla.)

‘1001 Orphans’

In western Pennsylvania, Concordia Lutheran Ministries (www.concordialm.org) strives to be a good corporate citizen providing health care services. But more importantly, says Keith Frndak, president and chief operating officer, the RSO wants to be “a citizen in our LCMS family, a part of the church.”

Concordia designates a percentage of its annual budget to international mission work. “Just as we may criticize some congregations for being too inward, we want to make sure we deliberately look beyond our own RSO needs,” says Frndak, who also serves on the LCMS Board of Directors.

While Concordia lacks expertise in international needs with a Gospel focus, the RSO “looks to the Synod to find that combination and the best opportunities for us,” Frndak says. “They have the necessary staff, resources and exposure.”

One example: Concordia teamed up with LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) to launch “1001 Orphans” (www.lcms.org/1001). The orphan sponsorship program connects Kenyan children with ELCK families and congregations. WR-HC donors provide financial support.

“We couldn’t have found [ELCK Bishop Walter] Obare and started 1001 Orphans without LCMS partnerships,” Frndak says.

Working Together

While some RSOs tend to be “self focused” and want “solo project ownership,” Frndak says, “we are better together. If the church works together, we can make a powerful impact.”

Instead of dwelling on financial challenges, Bethesda looks at today’s economic situation as “less a crisis and more an opportunity to think about how we can improve ministry,” Bauer says. One result is a shift toward encouraging and enabling partners to start outreach to people with disabilities instead of Bethesda attempting to shoulder all such ministry.

In the United States, for example, Bethesda has training materials, consulting resources and religious life curricula to help congregations develop their own ministries to people in their communities who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

At Mill Neck, Schumacher agrees that partners can lead to stronger ministry. “We welcome opportunities to explore new and broader partnerships throughout the Synod to bring the Gospel to the deaf and their families in all parts of the world,” Schumacher says. “The only negative we see is a lack of time. Unfortunately, time does not allow us to tackle everything at once.”