I was introduced to Chad Kirchoff when he proposed using his expertise as an entrepreneur in starting Fitness Centers for church planting. He had a grand vision of reaching the unchurched.
It only took a few minutes for Chad to light a fire with District and National LCEF Representatives as to how he could reach over one million people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. As co-founder of a national fitness enterprise called “Snap Fitness,” Chad was willing to turn his business ability into reaching the lost for Jesus Christ.
After graduating from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis with a degree as Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP), Chad began the fitness ministry at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Hastings, Minnesota. The ministry was named, “ReDo Fitness, A Church with Muscle.”
The community noticed the attention Chad’s ministry was making. He has Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, Muslims, Atheists, etc. showing up and asking questions. All this time Jesus is being proclaimed and souls are being won for Christ for eternity.
The result is what’s happening above the fitness center in the church sanctuary – worship, baptism, communion, confirmation and weddings.
Chad has not reached one million people yet, but he’s working at it with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Joan Devee Dixon, Peace Lutheran, Hutchinson, Mn
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.
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.
“Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested of him, ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus.’” John 12:21
Alex Merlo sits back in his chair and smiles. He is remembering the dedication of the San Pablo building, the beginning of the worship service. The organ cared for so long by the Anglo congregation was in full voice as the congregation sang the theme song of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” At least that’s the way it went at the begining.
Suddenly, a transition in the music, a bridge, as the mariachi band picked up the melody and the singing continued but in Spanish and English lifting the worshippers to see beyond this world to a multiethnic host surrounding the throne of God, praising Him. But there is more to the story.
Recently Pres. Dan Gilbert sat down with Pr. Merlo to understand how this happened. You can see their interview by clicking the link below. What follows is some of what Dan Gilbert learned.
Alex Merlo began life in Honduras. Like many from Central America his family, like the Germans before them were looking for a better life. They are also people of deep faith, although not usually Lutheran Christians.
Pastor Jock Ficken of St. Paul Lutheran in Aurora, Ill. saw the opportunity to partner with with Alex and under Alex’s leadership St. Paul reached out to its changing neighborhood. As Pr. Ficken looks back he believes there was too much paternalism in how the Anglos related to the new Spanish speaking members. “We Anglos understood we had to work with people of a different culture. What we did not see was we had a culture that the Spanish speakers had to navigate.” Sin is real, people are broken. It took patience to navigate the cultural side roads. It took forgivess to get them back on track. Jesus died for every ethnic group – He is the Bridge that unites us. “By grace we are saved” became not just a Bible verse; this became the guidestar to a successful Hispanic mission.
As more Spanish speaking immigrants moved close to the old German church Pastors Merlo and Ficken realized there was an opportunity for both ministries to grow. St. Paul helped San Pablo transition to become the lead mission at the Aurora location. Arrangments were made between the partners for San Pablo to own the building and the Anglos to move elsewhere.
The intention of the Anglo church was to provide a place where Spanish speaking people could worship. The sanctuary had been built by other immigrants, people of faith from Germany fleeing persecution. The walls of the church in Aurora, Illinois had absorbed German, but later as the children of the immigrants adapted English, the walls learned those words. Now Spanish would grace the walls. That is not the end of the story.
The Spanish mission in Aurora attracted young couples with children. At school their children spoke English. The Spanish speaking parents loved the mariachi music, loved their language, but saw the need for their children to grow into Anglo culture. An English worship service was added. The neighborhood and the church are becoming more diverse. The gospel continues to be shared in Spanish and English.
Pr. Merlo credits the Anglo leaders, especially Pr. Ficken, with being good mentors. “They cared for us, they opened their hearts to know us. They showed us Jesus.”
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.
In eighteen years as head of national missions a few experiences stand out. One of these I wish I could erase.
Once a year our national church’s Board for Missions would deepen its understanding of the challenges and joys of mission work by traveling to a mission field. That year it was a trip to Los Angeles to visit urban churches.
One of the churches was in an area that at one time had been a middle class African American neighborhood but the neighborhood was changing . Spanish speaking immigrants were moving in. Store signs were in Spanish. African Americans were moving out. As we approached the church we saw a haggard building covered with graffiti – a sue sign the church was disconnected from its community.
Inside we spoke with the long time president of the congregation, an older man who had left the neighborhood to find a nicer home in the suburbs, as had most of the African American members. It was my assignment to conduct a conversation to help our board understand ministry in one of the most diverse cities in America. But when I asked “What is your vision for the church for ten years from now?” the president responded, “To have church where our older members can be taken care of and from which they can be buried.” The members of our board could see my jaw drop.
I heard a remarkably different and more wonderful account when I spoke with Rev. Elstner Lewis, pastor of St. Philip Lutheran Church in the Woodlawn and Hyde park neighborhoods of Chicago. St. Philip, the first African American LCMS Church in Chicago was committed to reach the people in their changing neighborhood. Their passion can be traced back to the missionary who founded St. Philip in 1937. Rev. Marmaduke Carter. Dr. Carter was a missionary for the old Synodical Conference. The name “Marmaduke” has an Irish background. The Irish Marmaduke was a missionary in the sixth and seventh centuries. Recognized as a saint he founded more than thirty churches in Ireland.
The American Marmaduke came out of Virginia. After graduating from Concordia Seminary, Springfield Illinois in 1921 Carter was ordained a missionary and sent to Lutheran farmers in Nebraska and Minnesota- an African American bringing Christ to White Europeans. He learned to speak, write and preach in German.
In 1924 he came to Chicago to begin St. Philip Church. At that time the neighborhood was becoming African American, working class folks who were rising into middle class. He stayed as Pastor of St. Philip for forty years, and saw the church grow to more than five hundred members – middle and upper middle class African Americans. In time the church was complemented by a parochial school. However, as all communities, the neighborhood would change again.
A while after Pastor Lewis arrived the middle class members had begun moving to larger homes in the suburbs. Listening to the new people moving into the now older and less expensive homes Elstner Lewis adjusted worship. Gone was the cassock and surplice, no alb and stole – in came the academic gown, the more traditional African American hymns and a little more free wheeling worship. St. Philip thrived. Then, another change.
The community is not far from the University of Chicago and the nascent Obama Library. The neighborhood is becoming gentrified. American Korean and American European professors and students from nearby colleges have begun attending St. Philip Lutheran. Elstner Lewis response? Listen to the people.
Rev. Lewis knows his community. The issue is always how to make the love of Christ real in word and in deed to the people of the community. That is a reasonable response. Reason can be used in a ministerial or magisterial way in this world. If a strategy is used in a ministerial way, in service to the Word of God, it can be a blessing.
Pr. Lewis told us, “We are going to have to develop a mission strategy to reach out to the community. As we become a more diverse church we will have to change. Right now we are talking about what that means. One thing is things will not be the same.” Right now it appears there is a need for a more formal worship and more traditional Lutheran forms and hymns. This came from listening to the community.
Pr. Elstner says the older African American members at St. Philip refer to the younger more diverse members as “our children.” And they are the children of Marmaduke Carter.
I think Dr. Carter would be amazed and thankful that the mission he began still reaches people in the community – like the ones He preached to on Midwest farms and the more diverse neighborhood in the city where he served.
“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” Psalm 84:10
Tesfai Tesema walked out through a door in Ethiopia. For him it was a door of no return.
The door he walked through was from a jail cell. He had been put in prison by the then communist government in Ethiopia. He considered himself an unbeliever, an atheist. But his mother in Ethiopia never stopped praying for him. Tesfai did not expect he would walk out of the prison alive, but he did. The door was “accidentally” opened, a miracle that allowed the atheist to escape and begin a long and danger filled trek across the Danakil desert to find refuge in Djibouti. Abandoned by his guide, he and two companions were left at the mercy of a group of Muslim nomads.
After spending time in the impoverished country of Djibouti, he made his way to Saudi Arabia. There, another door opened – by a greater miracle than a jail door swinging open. Tesfai became a Christian – in Saudi Arabia. As a part of the Saudi underground church he used every means to tell Muslims about Jesus. Unable to contain the joy and hope and love that lived in him, he caught the attention of the wrong people.
One day he came home to find a threatening note from the local police. To save his family he had to exit the country. It is a truism that when God closes one door He opens another.
The only country he and his wife Abeba could legally emigrate to was Sudan.
Life was not easy in Sudan. Refugees were overwhelming the government’s capacity to care for them. Tesfai and other Christians had to sleep on the ground in a park – in danger from thieves and incessant mosquitos. Nothing could stop their proclamation of the gospel of Jesus.The small Christian community opened its arms to them, but while there was great love to share there wasn’t much earthly treasure. No matter the challenge, Tesfai led refugees fleeing persecution in Ethiopia and Eritrea to begin worship services. The numbers grew, worshipping first under a tree, then in a small office and then in larger spaces. More churches were begun. The Word of God spread like wildfire. Then, another door opened – a refugee visa to the United States.
Today Dr.Tesfai Tesema is a missionary in San Jose, California. He is opening doors for Ethiopians and doors to Jesus for ethnically diverse millennials. Who could have believed an atheist from Ethiopia could be brought to the United States as a Christian missionary?
This was no accident. Jesus made a bold claim in John 10: 7,“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved…” In Tesfai’s life this has proven to be true many times. It is true in my life and, I expect you can say the same.
Doors close on you and me all the time, but one door always remains open, the door to salvation – the door that opens after one door closes, the door opened by our Lord to realms no human can imagine.
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.” Ephesians 4:11
It seems from the beginning there were apostles besides the Twelve ( see Acts 14:14, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7; 1 Thess 2:7, Galatians 1:19). Who are these apostles? Are there apostles today? Paul, writing somewhere between 60 and 80 AD, lets the Ephesians know God has given gifts to His church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Over the centuries the roles have mostly collapsed into the one gift, “pastor.” In a Christian country that might make sense – where most are Christians all that is needed is a pastor to care for the needs of those already won to Jesus. That is the mindset we still have in America. But what about on a mission field? It would take someone from a mission field to help us. Like the missionary from Ethiopia, Rev. Alemayehu Wedajo.
Rev. Wedajo grew up on a mission field – a country where a cruel authoritarian government was attempting to cleanse his ancient Christian country, Ethiopia, of Christians! But God preserved witnesses to His love. One of those was an eleven year old – Wedajo.
Wanting to know more about his family’s beliefs one day he picked up a Bible, and could not put it down. He says “a fire began to burn in my soul.” At twelve he began telling others, teaching and preaching about Jesus to anyone who would listen. This earned him a place in an Ethiopian prison, but the faith grew – his faith and faith in the hearts of the prisoners.In prison the Christians prayed and fasted. Miracles occurred, people were cured of illnesses and injuries. Out of what was supposed to be a purge of Christian faith the seeds of the Mekane Yesus (Place of Jesus) Church was watered, sometimes in the blood of martyrs.
After the communist government fell the people were even more hungry to know about God, to come to love and serve Him. Wedago heard a call to leave Ethiopia and come to America, but in a dream Wedajo heard the Lord say, “Not now. This is not your time.” He served the Lord as an ordained evangelist, and went from from place to place, wherever the wind of the Spirit blew, and he asked people, “Do you know who Jesus is?” In time he became a pastor over a congregation with twelve thousand members. He preached to a larger number of people over the radio. Then he became an apostle. The gifts St. Paul spoke about are needed on a mission field. But what is an apostle today? And how is that different from a pastor?
Maybe we should take a close look at the apostles Barnabas and Paul (Acts 14:14). We remember Jesus calling Paul into public ministry, stopped in his tracks on his way to imprison and/or murder Christians in Damascus. But Barnabas? Paul and Barnabas became apostles when the church in Antioch laid hands on them and prayed and sent them off – to do what?. To go around the world planting new missions, raising up leaders in those new missions and moving on (Acts 13, 14:22).
Paul stayed only long enough to raise up leaders, then, on to the next mission field. The missionary meaning of “apostle” lasted for centuries, and still today we talk about an “apostolic mission.” To confess the church is “apostolic” is to say we hold to the teaching of the apostles, but just as much it means the church is at its soul missionary.
Rev. Wedajo came to the United States and immediately began to start a new mission. From the start his goal was to identify those whom the Lord would send to be evangelists and apostle-missionaries. Why? Because that is the way church develops on a mission field. Even if Americans could not see it this apostle from Ethiopia saw clearly the church in America needed help. In decline for many years even as the population of America grew, Wedajo could see that he was on a mission field.
Alemayehu Wedajo does not call himself an apostle. I don’t know if he would accept others using that description. But he would call himself a missionary, a missionary to America.
Out of the mission he started he intentionally raised up and is training six missionaries, preparing them to leave Silver Springs and find where the Lord wants a new church to begin. Remember Paul and Barnabas? Apostles, missionaries, just what is needed for a mission field. In America, most pastors see themselves as caring for one group, a congregation they were called to serve. The congregations also sees things that way. That is how things are done in a Christian country, but not on a mission field.
“Why are you debating about having no bread?” Mark 8:17.
Is it just me, or does it seem the Twelve were a little dense? Jesus seemed to think so.
I mean, imagine the scene in Mark 8:17. Jesus had just fed four thousand, excluding women and children. His disciples had witnessed this. The Lord and His disciples then climbed into a boat to cross to Dalmanutha, near Magdala (the possible hometown of Mary Magdalene). Along the way they became hungry; it was then they realized they had taken only one of the loaves with them – and that was not enough. “They began to discuss with one another the fact they had no bread.”
Jesus is astonished. “Why are you debating about having no bread?” “How many baskets were left over?” Of course there were seven baskets of leftover bread, but beyond that, these church leaders had the Bread Maker with them in the boat! What more do they need? What more do you and I need?Paul Lauaki was in need.
His family had moved to northern California from the Island of Tonga. Paul grew up as a Christian but somehow missed the part of the Bible that says, “God’s way of putting people right with Himself has been revealed, and it has nothing to do with the Law. The Law and the Prophets witness to it, but GOD PUTS PEOPLE RIGHT THROUGH THEIR FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.” (Romans 3:20-22)
As a young man Paul was tied up in the belief that in order to be blessed by God you had to work for it – the more you worked, the more blood, sweat and tears, the more the blessings would fall down. Only it wasn’t happening for him. He worked hard to feed the hungry, to shepherd younger Christians – and the blessings did not fall on him. Depressed, angry, disappointed, his faith was tested and he fell away from church. His love was gone: “I love God, but I hate the church.” Until a friend confronted Paul with the grace of God – those words, “God puts people right” and other arrows of Christ’s love found their mark.
He became part of a small group with a few young adults at a church in Menlo Park.
The friends wanted others to experience the undying love of Jesus. They began a ministry called “SOYL,” “School of Young Leaders.” And Paul thought he was done, that was it, he had been part of a group to start a new young adults mission. Not so fast.
The purpose of SOYL was to empower young adults eighteen to twenty seven to become leaders who would impact the San Francisco Bay area with the love of Jesus. This would be a six week program focusing on eleven young adults who were hurting, who did not realize they would always be imperfect but that they were loved – by a perfect God. Six weeks teaching young adults to know God’s undying love – knowing that love would overflow into the lives of others. But who should lead this program? Paul was tapped.
Paul was terrified. He had thought of himself as a failure; no ministry he had started had been successful. But he had experienced something new, the radical love of God. The Tongan kid who had given up stepped up. When the love is gone Jesus will come. All we have to do is listen to Him.
SOYL has grown into a summer course employing thirty seven local pastors, held in four different churches in the Bay area. Volunteers first come to know the love of Jesus, go through faith formation, and are formed as leaders. They help themselves and others learn new life habits, better communication skills as they serve where needed in local communities. They began with no bread and watch as the Lord of Life multiplied the loaves.
Maybe one of you reading this blog has really messed up, and it is obvious not only to you but to many around you that you are one of those”no loaf” disciples. Listen now to the words of the Bread Maker: As you go on your way, make disciples, baptizing and teaching, but remember – pay attention to what I have to say – I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS.
Missionary John Cobos grew up in a city in the mountains of Ecuador, a long way from his mission in Tampa, in distance and customs.
Thirty years ago, before Missionary Cobos came to America life in Ecuador was difficult – at one point 30% of the population was unemployed. At nineteen and eager to make a better life for himself he joined his father and brother who had come to New York to find opportunity. With the support of his family he began studying law and devised a plan to complete most of his studies in America and return to Ecuador to begin his own law firm. But the Lord had other plans.
A door was opened for him and his brother to begin a dry cleaning business. With no work prospects if he returned to Ecuador John took the opportunity. Looking to extend the dry cleaning business, he came to Tampa. There the Lord had another surprise.
One of the workers he employed in the dry cleaning business invited the young man to church, to Messiah Lutheran, to serve in her wedding as her godfather. At the wedding he met Yolima Sanabria. Yolima’s father is a missionary to Spanish speaking people in Tampa and John was attracted – to Yolima and to the idea of serving as a called representative of Jesus.
With a push from Pr. Sanabria, John became a part of Concordia Seminary’s “Hispanic Institute.” On line classes allowed John to continue to run his dry cleaning business and to serve the Lord as a missionary. Income from the business gives him and his young family the monetary income they need. Preaching and teaching the Word of God gives John the fulfillment he longed to have when he decided to come to the US. But he and Yolima could not sustain the mission on their own. The best support for a missionary is partnership.
Every new mission and every missionary would long to have a partner like Paul had in the Philippian Christians. This was the first church Paul established in Greece, sometime between 49 and 51 AD.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written about ten years after the church was established. Paul was in prison and wrote in part to thank the Christians in Philippi for their support. He had seen them go through much in ten years; they were not a perfect church – but they had been faithful and sacrificial. So he wrote to them, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In every prayer for all of you, I always pray with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (St. Paul to the Christians in Philippi, Chapter 1 verses 3-5).
Forgive me when I say too many “partnerships” are vandalized by three things, things that kill good partnerships: suspicion, selfishness, and ignorance. This is not necessary. At Messiah in Tampa it took a while for the Anglo church and the new outreach to Spanish speaking immigrants in the church’s neighborhood to trust each other. The secret to the ten year partnership they enjoy is found in the respect and trust the two groups have invested in each other – this is also one sign of good leadership. It is also found in each group’s willingness to sacrifice – the church sacrificing space, money and even dedicated times of worship in order to accommodate the mission. The mission in its sacrifice of talent and time – John is a bi-vocational missionary. Not only does he have to balance time with his family and his calling to missionary work, but add to that running a small business.
Jesus the Carpenter knew about sacrifice – He left His Father and all the saints in His heavenly home. He sacrificed His life for us and now is our Partner in the greatest work imaginable, the temporal and eternal salvation of human souls. Mathew 28:18-20 is a great commission but it should better be known as the Great Promise. When we go on our way to make disciples Jesus’ promise is, “Lo (which means “pay attention to this – this is important”) I am with you always.”
When Christians partner with Jesus’ in His mission they value each other’s sacrifice, they are willing to make offerings of themselves to each other and they sincerely respect what each has to give away. When such a partnership exists they have more of a chance to say what Paul did in his letter to his partners in Philippi, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”