From the May 2011 Reporter Insert

‘. . . we want to help move people into vision mode.’

By Kim Plummer Krull

A long with sharing a border, Minnesota North District President Rev. Donald Fondow and North Dakota President Rev. Dr. James Baneck share the conviction that God’s people are called to look outward, including reaching out in international mission fields. Instead of their districts attempting to shoulder mission work solo, both men believe in the power of partnerships. “It’s exciting that the Synod is looking to partner with districts in foreign missions,” Baneck says. “People in our congregations are interested in and seeking ways to be a part of international projects. It’s an opportunity for grassroots ownership.”

In this edited interview, Baneck (JB) and Fondow (DF) discuss a growing orphan care project in Kenya started by LCMS members in North Dakota and Minnesota and  partnerships that move congregations and districts beyond “survival mode” into  “vision mode.”

Q: When you traveled to Kenya in February, you got a firsthand look at Project 24 (www.lcms.org/project24), the orphan care program started by LCMS members in the North Dakota and Minnesota North districts in partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) and LCMS World Relief and Human Care. What do you want fellow LCMS members to know about this partnership project?

JB Project 24 began with a group of men asking ELCK Bishop Walter Obare, “If we partnered with you, what would you want us to do?” The goal is to build 24 rescue [orphan care] centers to raise up a generation of Lutherans and a generation of leaders—not only for the ELCK but for the Kenyan culture as well. [Six centers are now operating, with four more under construction and plans for another 10 under way.] I’d love to see our district take on building and maintaining a Project 24 site, supporting what these men began. It’s a great opportunity for our district to get involved in an international project.

Q: You both mention that districts and congregations need to fight a tendency toward an “inward” focus. How can partnerships help our church reach out internationally?

JB We can do so much more together than we can do alone. In Kenya, for example, the Minnesota North and North Dakota districts have a common interest through Project 24. It’s an opportunity to look beyond ourselves and serve internationally as individual members, congregations and as districts. The LWML, Orphan Grain Train and other ministries also work in Kenya. Instead of working separately, we need to look for ways we can work together and get more done together.

DF After our two districts did joint theological conferences, we started looking for a project we could do together to connect our members and as an opportunity to make an international impact together. People from our districts already are involved in Project 24, so why not build on that involvement, expand it and make it a formal mission outreach of the district? We believe that if we present a strong mission opportunity before the people, the support will follow.

Q: How do you see the new emphasis on witness, mercy, life together helping your district accomplish ministry goals?

DF It’s definitely a great way for looking at the overall work that the Lord has privileged us to be a part of. That threefold focus touches on who we are as the church and who the Lord would have us to be. We are to be witnesses in showing God’s love and doing acts of mercy out in the world together, not in a vacuum.

JB In the past, we’ve done each of those emphases, yet some people may have been afraid of a “social Gospel.” But when we connect mercy with who we are in Christ, it’s the church doing Christ’s work on earth. When you look at what we’re doing in Kenya with Project 24, it’s mercy work, witnessing by proclaiming the Gospel and it’s certainly life together. We’re not just being Christians here in this country, but having life together with our partners in Kenya. At the same time, [Kenyan Lutherans] have a lot they can teach us about the Christian faith.

Q: Our Synod faces challenges, economic and otherwise. Yet you sound excited about future mission and ministry opportunities. Why?

JB I am excited. When you go to Kenya and see people worshipping in corrugated metal churches and they are so joyful and lively, how can you dwell on our own financial shortages? We are so blessed. We have so many resources. The more we tell the story and show how we can partner together to benefit our brothers and sisters in Christ, people are going to want to be a part of that story.

DF When you make a connection with workers you help send into the field or a project you help support, it is exciting. Yes, there’s been a recession. Yes, our district has more congregations in communities of 2,500 people or less than any other district. There’s a tendency to focus inward and go into survival mode, but we want to help move people into vision mode. The Lord has called us to make disciples of all nations. When we’re faithful to our calling, people grow in their faith and want to go with their faith.