Riga Latvia

Archbishop Vanags and Dr. Collver in the Archbishop’s Office

After visiting the Lutheran church in Lithuania, we continued to Riga to meet with Archbishop Vanags and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. Archbishop Vanags discussed some of the challenges facing the Lutheran church in Latvia, in particular the secularism and consumerism that filled the vacuum left after the fall of communism. Before 1918, a little more than 50% of the population of Latvia was Lutheran. Today, there are about 440,000 Lutherans in Lativa. Around 10% (or 40,000) of those who profess to be Lutheran in Latvia attend church on a regular basis. Another challenge facing Latvia is the current economic conditions. Many Latvians have left Latvia for countries such as the United Kingdom. Many parish congregations are completely vacant because there are few or even no people left in some of the villages.

Drs. Quill and Evanson, Archbishop Vanags, and Dr. Collver

Archbishop Vanags, who also serves as the rector of the Luther Academy, took the opportunity of our visit to discuss theological education needs. He described to Dr. Evanson, LCMS Theological Education Advisor for the Baltics, and Dr. Quill, LCMS Director of Theological Education, the need for ongoing training for pastors particularly in the areas of preaching and pastoral theology. Archbishop Vanags explained that with the near elimination of the church under communism few people remember or have direct experience with how pastors are to provide for their people.

Drs. Quill, Didzis Stilve, Evanson, and Collver in front of the Luther Academy

Dr. Didzis Stilve provided us with a tour of the Luther Academy. In his office, he described the challenges involved in making the Luther Academy an accredited educational institution in Latvia. He explained that under Latvian law the professors are required to speak Latvian. This highlighted the necessity of President Harrison’s desire to open LCMS seminaries to international students for advanced training so that they can return to their own countries and provide high quality theological education.

Outside of the Luther Academy Building

Archbishop Vanags explicitly mentioned how delighted he was that the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod had adopted Witness, Mercy, Life Together as her emphasis. Archbishop Vanags said, “At a recent meeting of the consistory,  the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia adopted the same three-fold emphasis of martyria, diakonia, koinonia although we call it something slightly different.”

The visit to Riga, Latvia, was very brief, but important. Now we travel to Bishkek, the capital of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.

— Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations
Some Photos from Riga:

Pastor Naether and Family 1894, LCMS Missionary to India

Who Is A Missionary?

Pastor Naether and Family 1894, LCMS Missionary to India

Pastor Naether and Family 1894, LCMS Missionary to India

NOTE: Because different church bodies have different definitions of what a missionary is, the LCMS frequently receives questions from partner and sister churches regarding who the LCMS considers to be a missionary. The article below is an attempt to help answer that question for partner and sister churches, but also may serve to be helpful for others as well.

Who is a missionary? It seems at first glance to be a simple question to answer. Yet upon more thought, the answer becomes more difficult. One of the dictionary definitions of a missionary is “a person who undertakes a mission”—not the most helpful of definitions. While there are some secular usages of the term, the word “missionary” is most frequently associated with the work of Christians in spreading the Gospel of Jesus. In a sense, every Christian is a missionary in their vocation, but there is a more specialized usage that the church generally recognizes. The word “missionary” first appeared in English around the 17th century. It comes from the Latin missio which means “to send.” Missio is a translation of the Greek apostéllō, from which we get the word “apostle.” The Apostles were sent out by Jesus. One of the keys to understanding both the Biblical and churchly use of “missionary” is that it is a person under orders and sent out by the Lord through the church.

In The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the 2010 Handbook refers to missionaries as “ordained” or “commissioned.” (2010 Handbook, Bylaw 4.4.3b, pg. 193.) This would seem to imply that “missionaries” of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are either pastors or teachers. Indeed, since the beginning of the Synod’s foreign mission work at the very end of the 19th century, both pastors and teachers were the primary workers sent into the mission field. This is appropriate as the Witness (Martyria) task of the church in a public way is carried out by pastors through preaching and teaching, and in other pastoral care settings. Teachers who provide religious instruction and an example of the Christian life to their students also carry it out. The establishment of Lutheran schools on the mission field has assisted and supported the church’s task of Witness (Martyria). However, even in the early days of the Synod’s foreign mission work, the people “sent” were not limited to pastors and teachers, but included other professionals who provided assistance and support to the work done by the pastors and teachers.

For instance, in the Synod’s mission work to India (1890s) and Nigeria (1930s) the pastors and teachers who were sent quickly saw the need to show Mercy (Diakonia) to the people they were serving. Within a year of arrival, the pastors in Nigeria requested the services of a physician and a nurse to provide care for the body. In India, the missionaries established hospitals that are still in use today! Just as the Lord Jesus cared for the body by feeding and healing, so, too, does His Church. Yet these physicians and nurses sent to the mission field were not necessarily ordained or commissioned. Nonetheless, the church considered them missionaries because they were sent with the authorization of the church to support the Witness (Martyria) of the church by providing Mercy (Diakonia). The care of the body also provided the physicians and nurses the opportunity to share the faith with others as they carried out their primary task of Mercy (Diakonia).

With the development of modern jet aircraft in the 1960s and a greater discretionary income, it became easier for people to travel to once distant lands. This development afforded the possibility of incorporating other people onto the mission field who could further support the work of gospel proclamation. To alleviate the missionaries (now pastors, teachers, doctors and nurses) of the burden of financial matters and administration, business managers were sent onto the field to support the work of the church’s Witness (Martyria) and Mercy (Diakonia). Eventually, other needs and opportunities presented themselves, such as the desire for instruction in the English language. While not always a direct witness to the Gospel, teaching English as a Foreign Language with Christian materials permitted the opportunity to enter otherwise closed countries. In some cases, this allowed for the later formation of a church in a closed country. It also provided the opportunity for nearly any English-speaking Lutheran to serve overseas. Once again, the teaching of English is in service to the church’s Witness (Martyria), and not a replacement. Again, a mark of distinction for these other workers is that they were sent by the church.

So back to the question, “Who is a missionary?” The key is that missionaries are sent by the Lord through the mediation of His Church. While the names and position titles have changed over the years, this is how the church has always done mission, even back to the time of the Apostles when Saint Paul first brought along Luke as a physician. A missionary for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a person called, that is, ordained or commissioned, or appointed (medical personnel, business, administrative, or other worker) by the appropriate sending agency (the Board for International Mission) who is sent to bear Witness (Martyria) to the Gospel of Jesus, to show Mercy (Diakonia), or to support those who do as we have a Life Together (koinonia).

— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations

Hill of Crosses (Kryžių kalnas) in Lithuania

Hill of Crosses, Near Šiauliai, in northern Lithuania

5 December 2011

After leaving Palanga, we drove toward Latvia for a meeting in Riga. Along the way in northern Lithuania, we stopped at the Hill of Crosses (Kryžių kalnas). Rev. Dr. Darius Petkūnas explained that after the fall of communism in Lithuania, people began to bring crosses to this hill. No one knows exactly why the practice of bringing crosses to this place began, but today it is estimated that there are over 200,000 crosses on the hill.

Rev. Dr. Darius Petkūnas Speaking about the Hill of Crosses

The plaque Dr. Petkūnas points to reads, “The Hill of Crosses is a unique place in terms of both its scale and its history. At present some 200,000 crosses of various sizes adorn the hill. By continually putting up crosses there people express their devotion to Christ, pray for his help and mercy, and identify Lithuania as a Christian land. The site is a reflection of the nation’s spontaneous religiousness and is probably the place in Lithuania that is most often visited by pilgrims today. The Hill of Crosses gained immense significance in the lives of Lithuanian believers during the Soviet era as a sign of resistance to the totalitarian regime. After the re-establishment of independence new life has been breathed into the Hill of Crosses and it has become a symbol of the entire nation’s unshakeable faith, its past suffering and hope. The Hill of Crosses gained fame throughout the world on 7 September 1993 when Pope John Paul II visited it and celebrated the Holy Mass for 100,000 people who gathered there. In 1994 a cross was put up on the site using the crucifix that Pope John Paul II gave to Lithuania. The cross blessed by Pope Benedict XVI was added in 2006. At the foot of the Hill of Crosses stands a Franciscan monastery built with the encouragement of Pope John Paul II and consecrated in 2000. The Feast of the Hill of Crosses, reinstated in 1997, draws large crowds each year on the last Sunday of July.”

Dr. Collver standing among the crosses

Of the Hill of Crosses, Pope John Paul II said, “(…) Here where our ancestors in the faith witnessed, by their martyrdom even to the point of death, to the love with which Christ loved us. Here in this spot of the globe, in ancient Rome, I am thinking especially of the ‘Hill of Crosses’ in Lithuania, to which I made a pastoral visit last September. I was moved by that other Colosseum, not of Roman times, but a Colosseum of our age, of this last century…”

Pope John Paul II continued, “I thought of those other Colosseums, so numerous, of those other “Hills of Crosses” that are on the other side, throughout European Russia, throughout Siberia, so many Hills of Crosses so many Colosseums of modern times…”
The Ten Commandments with an inscription referencing the 1st Commandment,
“Praise God! Not Graven Images.”

Pope John Paul II noted, “… at the end of the second millennium the Church has once again become the Church of martyrs. The persecutions of believers – priests, Religious and laity – has caused a great sowing of martyrdom in different parts of the world…”

Looking Back Upon the Crosses

The 20th century had more martyrs for Christ than any other century in the history of the world. Before the Communist Revolution in the early 20th century, Lutheranism was the second largest Christian confession in the Russian Empire after Orthodoxy. It was the third largest Christian confession in the world after Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Before 1918, there were 220,000 Lutherans in Lithuania. Today, there are 20,000. Dr. Petkūnas in his book The Repression of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania during the Stalinist Era details how Lutherans were persecuted more intently than Roman Catholics in Lithuania. The communist executed half of the Lutheran clergy in Lithuania.

The Cover of Dr. Petkūnas’ Book
(A Link to the Book’s Site in Lithuanian)

Before the Communist Revolution, Latvia had over a million Lutherans. Today, there are about 400,000 professed Lutherans. Of those Lutherans in Latvia today, about 40,000 are active members. In Russia proper, the Volga Lutherans and the Lutherans in Siberia fled, were deported, exiled to the Gulag, or executed. These numbers reflect only the Lutherans and do not include other Christians persecuted such as Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and other Protestants.

A Franciscan Monastery Resides at the base of the Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania serves as a good reminder of how the church was persecuted under Communism. It reminds how the 20th century martyred more Christians than any other era in the history of the world. During this Advent season, Jesus’ words resound, “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Matthew 24:22)

A Cross Placed for Babies Who Died Before Birth

This cross was placed for babies who were never born due to abortion.

Dr. Quill, Dr. Petkūnas and Pastor Johnson

We departed the Hill of Crosses singing the hymn, “Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow” (Lutheran Service Book 428).

Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow,
Where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect man on thee did suffer,
Perfect God on thee hast bled.
– Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations