Category Archives: Missionary Blog

Mission insights from new missionaries to America. Learn what the new missionaries are teaching American churches. For centuries America has been a Christian country but that is no longer true. America is a mission field. We can learn from those who are coming to us from countries that have been mission fields.

What Happened When Alex Looked Up

What Happened When Alex Looked Up

Missionary to America Alex Mammo

Sometimes it feels like there is no way out. Like Isaac tied to a sacrificial altar by Father Abraham, or Joseph sweating it out in Potiphar’s prison, or three witnesses facing a fiery grave for not forsaking their faith. Alemayehu (Alex) Mammo was taken prisoner in a bloody civil war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. High barbed wire fences and soldiers with rifles  fenced him in.  It seemed like there was no way out. Alex’s life journey had brought him to a place that looked very much like a dead end.

Alex grew up in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, but in the “suburbs.”

In those days the suburbs were past the edge of the city, cut out of a forest, with few modern comforts. He lived in a single room house with his single mother and a brother. His mother lived in that house for over fifty years. The living room, the kitchen, the bedroom were all part of that one room. But Alex was smart. He excelled in school and had plans for life as a professional, maybe in medicine – then the war began, Eritrean rebels fought to separate from Ethiopia. Family fights can be the most vicious.  

The seventeen year old joined the Ethiopian Navy as a medical corpsman. Stationed at the port of Massawa his base was set upon by rebel fighters. During the attack two thirds of the Ethiopian navy was destroyed, thousands were taken prisoner.  Even when Eritrean victors shared their food with the prisoners there was never enough for the prisoners to eat to keep the diseases at bay. Jaundice, malaria and hepatitis held many hostage. Alex expected to die in the camp.

Desperate, afraid, one day he walked  into the middle of the prison compound and looked up and thought to himself, “As the psalmist (David) said ‘There is but an inch between me and death.’ I understood what he said. There was no hope from north, or south or east or west. I understood one thing – there was only one opening from which nobody can stop you, to see up to heaven. So I started praying.” When Alex looked up he saw freedom: he saw his salvation. Alex looked up and saw salvation. 

Alex prayed. When he opened his eyes he saw others nearby he knew were Christians. He went to them and talked to them about God. One of the prisoners could play the guitar; they  left the courtyard to go inside to sing  hymns. Singing and praising God a sense of freedom  overcame Alex and he began to weep. He left to be alone, and fell apart, or was it together? At the end, after crying himself out, he swore to the Lord he would give his life to Him. You can hear the rest of the story from Alex himself by clicking the links below.

 When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but thy will be done,” the disciples could not have imagined what would come next – an arrest, jail, condemnation at trial, then death? Those who fought against Him (chief priests, elders and scribes) said,  “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God deliver Him.”(Matthew 27)  When Jesus looked up from his cross He said, “Into Your hands O Lord I commend myself.”  And later a grave opened. 

Whatever dead end you are facing, whatever fantasized final option, whatever prison real, concrete or self-made, even if  there is but an inch between you and death, Look up. 

Click here to see a short introduction to Alex’s interview.

Click here to see the whole interview

A Taco Bell KFC Church


Missionary Hiruy Gebremichael

The first thing to say is that this blog is not about an outreach to Spanish speaking people, or those who love fried chicken. It is affirmation for a growing trend of mission in American churches – the so-called “Taco Bell- KFC” Church.  This particularTBKFC church started a long time ago. Below is the story.

Rev. Hiruy Gebremichael did not plan to become a missionary in America. He was happy being a youth worker in Eritrea, East Africa. Unlike in other parts of the world, the church in Eritrea is functioning and Hiruy could share Jesus with young people, shaping their lives for service to the Lord. Then his wife took advantage of an opportunity to study in America and Hiruy went along. They ended up in Atlanta, and lived in a small town outside of Atlanta called Tucker. 

St. Mark Lutheran Church in Tucker, Georgia is known as “A small church with a big heart.”

In 2005 seeing the needs of immigrants in the community around them the church opened its doors to Eritrean refugees. Hiruy and other Eritreans were welcomed as brothers and sisters in Christ. Hiruy asked if they could have space to worship in their language. That’s when St. Mark decided to  begin a separate mission, a church inside a church. The churches had the same Bible and the same Creeds but they were to be different churches because they came from different cultures.

One time early on Hiruy was in downtown Atlanta, a black man, he saw a white handicapped man in a wheel chair  struggling to get out of the rain. It was pouring  – but Hiruy went out of his way to help him. The boy was taken back – “Why did you help me?”  Hiruy was surprised because in Eritrean culture if someone was in need others rushed to help. 

All the new church needed in the beginning was a small room. Now they could use their native language and sing their old songs, praising God the way they worshipped the Lord in Africa. As did the German, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian and other first generation immigrants. That was at first.

Then the  new church outgrew the room and a larger space was provided. That would not be the end. In 2009 St Mark reached a new level. The two churches decided to become one. Like Taco Bell and KFC. Two different restaurants, often found under the same roof. When this happened the church moved to one set of elders, one church council composed of members from Anglo and Eritrean worshippers. The new St. Mark gave financial support to Hiruy so he could complete the EIIT (Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology) program to become ordained. In time Hiruy was called to be the pastor of the united St. Mark Lutheran. 

I asked Hiruy “Knowing what you know now, what do you want to tell a church about your experience at St. Mark?” He had several things to say.

First, they still maintain two separate worship services, one in English and one in Tigrinian. But they also plan joint worship services during the year – like on Pentecost. Then they use hymns that have tunes familiar to both groups, but the people sing the words in their own language. Then it sounds like the worship St. John describes in heaven (Revelations 7:9). 

Second, it was important for the immigrants, but especially the children of the immigrants to learn English. They speak English in school and when they go shopping. In the church the Bible studies for children are in English. The younger generation is growing up in a diverse population. They look for that in the church where they choose to worship. The days of the mono-cultural church will diminish.

Finally, Hiruy believes God has sent him and other dedicated Christians to America as a sign of God’s blessing for the church in America – which for centuries has sent missionaries overseas to his and other countries. Today the church in America is under severe stress. “They taught us how to be missionaries. Now we are blessed to return the favor.”

I believe we will see a growing Taco Bell-KFC like church “franchise.” As America becomes more diverse there will be growing opportunities for young immigrant families to bring vision and energy to Anglo churches with mission eyes. As missionaries from other countries supplement resources of older churches the favor of the Lord’s blessing will flourish.   


“Moving from Homogeneity to Diversity”: Dan Gilbert and Terry Chan

How To Move from Homogeneity to Diversity In A Christian Congregation. Pres. Dan Gilbert Interviews Rev. Terry Chan.

What is the most diverse city you know? It is not New York.

The BBC says Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city in the world. Stockton, Ca. comes up as the most diverse city in America. New York City is said to have the most number of different ethnic groups, and one of the largest number of citizens with a Chinese background.

The town in New York City with the largest Chinese community is Flushing, Queens. It was established in 1683 as a colony of the Dutch. Flushing is where I grew up. (The Dutch named it “Vlissingen” but the English not able to pronounce it called the town “Flushing.”) 

When I was growing up in Flushing a mixed marriage was a German marrying an Italian. Things have changed. The ethnic makeup of my hometown has changed – probably yours as well. The ethnic diversity of schools and colleges has changed. As has diversity in the workplace. But not much has changed in Lutheran Churches. Every study shows Lutherans are 95% white English speaking. 

Terry Chan is an LCMS missionary to America in San Francisco. His congregation includes Asians and Hispanics, African Americans and European Americans. Terry was born in Hong Kong, his father was from Hong Kong but his mother was American.  His mother’s family first came to the United States from China in 1879. 

Terry has been a leader in Asian missions in the LCMS; he was the first chairman of the Chinese Ministry Conference. He is currently a member of the board of Mission Nation Publishing. Recently the missionary entered a doctoral program to answer the question how LCMS churches can move from homogeneity to ethnic diversity. Mission Nation intends to publish a book of his findings to help churches reach an ethnic group different from their own. 

President Emeritus Dan Gilbert sat down with Terry to find out what he has discovered. You can see the edited video interview below. Dan’s and Terry’s desire is that the LCMS will someday look like the picture in Revelations 7:9.

I will end with the question at the beginning of this blog: what is the most diverse city of all? In fact John gives us the answer in his Revelations, chapters 21 and 7. 

“I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,for the former things have passed away.”

After this I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

It is the only eternal city. You became a citizen when you were baptized.

To view the one minute intro to the interview with missionary Chan about how to reach an ethnic group different from your own,click here

To view the full twenty minute video of how to reach an ethnic group different from your own, click here