WHY I APPRECIATE THE LCMS OFFICE OF INTERNATIONAL MISSION
On December 13-18, 2014 I was privileged to visit the Czech Republic along with the Rev. Dr. Albert Collver III (Director of Church Relations & Regional Operations), Pastor Tony Booker (Regional Director of LCMS Eurasia), Pastor James Krikava (Associate Regional Director of LCMS Eurasia), Deaconess Grace Rao (Director of LCMS Deaconess Ministry), Deaconess Dorothy Krans (Director of Recognized Service Organizations), and Mrs. Kay Kreklau (President, LWML International).
Though we spent a half day in Prague at the beginning and end of the trip, which included the Divine Service at St. Michael’s church with Pastor Tony Booker preaching and presiding, most of the time was spent in the northeastern city of Český Těšín, on the Polish border. In fact, several of us stayed in a small hotel just across the Olse River in Poland, in the sister city of Cieszyn.
The purposes of the trip were twofold: to continue talks between the LCMS and the Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (SECAC) and to lead a two day conference on the theology of mercy, both for the benefit of SECAC and its partner organization for mercy work, the Silesian Diakonia. My participation in the trip was an outgrowth of our congregation’s support of Missionary Jim Krikava who is one of five network supported missionaries (NSMs) that our congregation has adopted over the last 15 years. (From our side of things, we have known this as the Together in Mission program.) I was largely an observer at the talks with SECAC and at the Mercy conference, but also participated in many informal conversations. I had prepared a presentation on “Preaching Mercy,” but didn’t end up giving the talk due to conference schedule adjustments.
The Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession is the largest (non-union) Lutheran Church in the Czech Republic. While its formal incorporation dates from the early 20th century, her roots go back to the time of the Reformation through Kaspar Schwenkfeld and the local political support of Waclaw III Adam. Though the LCMS is not presently in altar and pulpit fellowship with this church body, the Synod did sign a working agreement with the SECAC on November 13, 2010. The SECAC is comprised of about 35 pastors and 21 congregations located in the northeastern Czech Republic in part of a larger region historically known as Silesia. Until World War I Silesia was the name for the territory located both in this northeastern part of the Czech Republic as well as in southwestern Poland. It was a very Lutheran area! In fact, still today, the overwhelming percentage of Lutherans in both Poland and the Czech Republic still live in this area formerly known as Silesia.
The Silesian Diakonia is an amazing organization for mercy work, which is closely affiliated with the SECAC and provides a full array of social services throughout Silesia. These services consist of 102 programs in 60 centers provided by 600 full time employees, 100 part time employees, and 115 volunteers. Orphanages, homeless shelters, and sheltered workshops are just a few examples of the types of services they provide for the benefit of 8,000 needy people. In Europe it is common to have such `diakonias’ or social service organizations that are affiliated with various church bodies (many of them Lutheran). These diakonias receive much of their funding from the government.
It was both surprising to me as well as horizon expanding to observe the depth of theological education of many of the pastors in SECAC. Almost all had four year university Bachelor degrees plus a seminary education. Some received their university education at the respected 14th century Charles University, in Prague. Several have studied at U.S. Lutheran seminaries. But it was also very interesting to note the differences between their theology and that which we confess as LCMS Lutherans. There is definitely still much work to be done if we are to grow together into the fullness of our Lutheran identity. These conversations, with Dr. Collver and Missionaries Booker and Krikava doing the talking for the LCMS, impressed on me the importance of confessing and taking seriously, not only the authority of Scripture, but also our subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, in matters related to international missions. On a side note, it was very impressive to witness the fluency in Czech, German, and Russian from Eurasia Regional and Associate Regional Directors Booker and Krikava! We’d have been lost without it… literally!
Besides the faithful and bold confession of the faith that was made by our representatives, I was also struck by the patience, respect, trust, goodwill, charity, and desire for cooperation in externals that was evident from all who spoke. I came to realize what a slow process such efforts at recovering a full and shared Lutheran identity can be, and how much it is aided by the values just mentioned. It also occurred to me that there are many similarities between the dynamics of `church talks’ such as these, and the kind of dialogue envisioned in the LCMS through the Koinonia Project. In the near future I hope to say more about this.
There is so much more that could be said about our interaction with these Lutherans of the Czech Republic, not the least of which is to reflect further on the Mercy conference and the things learned from our time with the Silesian Diakonia. But that will have to wait for another time.
I’d like to close by saying how much greater of an appreciation I gained for the dedicated hard work of the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM). From the things I learned about funding and budgeting issues, to aspects of the strategic plan, to the uniqueness of each Lutheran church body in the world, to the OIM’s critical relationship with LCMS diaconal work and our Recognized Service Organizations, the LCMS Office of International Mission works hard to advance the mission of our Triune God to all nations in a way that is fully integrated with everything else that our Synod does. My hope is that more and more congregations and individuals will read and take to heart the wealth of information regarding international missions that is already communicated through the Lutheran Witness, the Reporter, and the LCMS website with its various blogs. (Pastors can play a key role in publicizing this information!) And as this knowledge increases, my prayer is that we as individuals, congregations, districts, and the Synod will, by God’s grace, work increasingly closer together, in a mutually supportive and cooperative way, to advance the one mission of the Triune God—that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
Pastor Peter K. Lange, Senior Pastor
St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
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