The Best Support for A Missionary

The Best Support for A Missionary

Missionary to America John Cobos

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.” 



Rev. Mark Adrian, Pastor/Missionary

“Where there is growth in American Christian denominations, it is driven mostly by nonwhites, whether Catholic or Protestant, evangelical or mainline. Over the past half century, 71 percent of growth in Catholicism, for instance, has come from its Hispanic community. In the Assemblies of God, one of the few U.S. denominations to show overall growth, white membership slightly declined while nonwhite membership increased by 43 percent over 10 years.” Wesley Granberg-Michaelson*

The most important mission for a church in America is reaching an ethnic group different from their own. We are in the midst of a great change – from a time not so long ago when eighty percent of the people in America were White English speaking to a time not so far away when White English speaking people will be less than fifty percent of the population in America. 

Pr. Mark Adrian is the pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Tampa, Florida. He has been successful in reaching out to their increasingly Spanish speaking neighbors.  Pr. Adrian and Wesley Granger-Michaelson know this: unless an Anglo (White English speaking) church is reaching an ethnic group different from its own it is contributing to the demise of the church in America.

The same could be said for a homogeneous African American, Korean or other congregation.  And we are not talking only about numbers. As Granberg-Michaelson says in the same article, ““Multiracial congregations are expanding to draw 1 in 5 churchgoing Americans, and surveys report a higher level of spiritual vitality among them compared with racially homogeneous congregations.”

Pr. Adrian inherited his multi-ethnic mission. Previous leaders took the initial risk to call someone to help them reach Spanish speaking people in their community – a wise thing to do in Tampa, Florida, where 20% of the population speaks Spanish. Pr. Adrian came to Messiah Tampa partly because he wanted to be on the forefront of God’s mission to America. 

I asked Pr. Adrian what his advice would be for a congregation that wanted to reach out to an ethnic group different from their own.  This is what he said:

  1. Listen to God, and listen to the people of the new group you want to reach. Do not lay your ideas on the new ministry. How I would have proceeded is very different from the way those doing the work want to reach a new ethnic group for Christ.
  2. Take time to see who is a leader in the new group. Do not make that decision quickly or lightly. Who reflects the image of Christ, is spiritually and emotionally mature?Who among the new group has ideas the rest want to implement, and can lead the group from a vision to reality? Who is willing and able to invest four or more in a process to become certified to lead Christ’s people? This takes time to discover.
  3. Be prepared to sacrifice. The original church should realize they will have to give up some things, and this will cause consternation among the members. This can be managed if the people are mature Christians, and proceed in love, ready to forgive. 
  4. Realize one of the things you will have to sacrifice is space. Messiah does not have a large plant and at one point had to rearrange their times of worship so the new Spanish speaking service could succeed. In fact, the initiating church should be ready to give the new people priority for using the space. Sacrifice. It is not just a word, and to be taken lightly. 
  5. Speaking more about sacrifice, the new group may need financial support, at least for a while. The original church should allow the new group to fund raise among the sponsoring church’s members. But the group can and should be encouraged to develop resources as much as possible from among themselves, as well as finding support from other groups. 

According to Pr. Adrian, in the end there are many more blessings than sacrifices! The mothering congregation will learn about its community, and will find the new group may be even more ready to join in projects at the church than members who have been longer at the church. In his experience, the new ethnic members are more willing than many to help – help each other and help those in the mother church.

It was not our Lord’s intention that His Body be divided into separate pieces defined by language, culture  or skin color. His Great Commission Promise sent the church to every nation, to every ethnic group – as difficult as it was for Peter and the other early leaders to accept. 

The most important mission in America today is for a church to reach an ethnic group different from their own.  If it takes a miracle, maybe a sheet coming down out of heaven with strange food on it to open our eyes, so be it. However I would pray that we would be motivated by His Word alone.

Can the face of the church look more like the changing face of America, better still, more like the face of heaven as John describes in Revelations 7:9? 

*Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, RNS, January 10, 2019. See the full article under the “Resources” section of this website.



A Path To Missionary Service

A Path To Missionary Service

Missionaries to America Deaconess Flor and Rev. Miguel Sanabria, Sr.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

 His proud father set out the path for his oldest son.The ten year old boy stood quietly as the older man  made arrangements for him to enter a Roman Catholic seminary in Colombia, South America.

Everyone agreed that the boy, Miguel Sanabria, was smart; he loved going to class, he loved learning. But his father saw something more – saw the boy’s love for the Divine – saw the making of a priest. Parents could make that decision for their sons and feel blessed to have a child who could grow in service to the Lord. Miguel would not disappoint. The path he was on led  to more responsibility. 

Later, as a young man, he was singled out by his professors as someone with rare potential.  Miguel was one of two students from his seminary chosen to continue his studies at a higher level. After ordination an early assignment saw him serve as a university chaplain. A Cardinal recognized the promise shown by the young priest and invited Father Sanabria to accompany him to Rome. That path led to even higher service. Miguel  became a professor at the seminary in Colombia –  but  then God turned Miguel in a different direction. 

Realizing his father’s choice was noble he still knew he was not called to walk the road his father had laid out. Miguel Sanabria left the priesthood. It was a courageous decision. Recognizing Miguel’s talent and love for the Lord’s work, the church made him the head of all education programs for the Catholic Church in Colombia. That was only the first change.

By God’s grace  he later met Flor, they married and formed a partnership to follow a passion put in their hearts by the Spirit of God – the passion to bring the good news of Gods’ undeserved love and forgiveness to all. The assumptions the people of God had made about the Messiah were way off track. Jesus surprised them all. He came as a servant, a servant who died in our place, taking the punishment we deserve – so we could live with that heavenly Father forever.  To share that good news Miguel and Flor were put on a path that led them to Tampa. Today they minister to four new missions in Tampa, missions begun by the family of Deaconess Flor and Rev. Miguel Sanabria.  

Miguel’s earthly father would not have guessed his son would become a missionary.  Or that he would go with a wife and children into the mission field. And not in Colombia, even though there was great need in that country, but the mission field of Tampa, Florida. The Heavenly Father had laid out a different path.

 I wish I had a dime for every missionary who said to me, “I never thought  I would be sent to (you name it) Africa, China, South America.”  Let alone the United States.  All of which says to us, “For your thoughts are not my thoughts neither are your ways my ways, declares  the Lord.” ( Isaiah 55:8)” We do not choose God, God chooses whom He wants to serve where He wants them to serve. Few feel worthy or prepared to serve.

No one in my high school class guessed I would enter seminary, let alone manage missionaries. St. Paul was even less likely a candidate. Even after he gave in to the Voice on the Road (Acts 9) there were times he still couldn’t find the path. Eager to be a missionary in Bithynia in Asia, his path was blocked and he found himself a missionary in Europe. I wonder if he was disappointed; after all the prayers and planning he would have to forgo mission work in Bithynia. Who would have guessed that three hundred years later Nicaea in Bithynia would become the site of the first worldwide church council, and produce a creed endorsed by the Emperor of Rome? God’s way is full of surprises. 

There are still surprises your Father in heaven has in mind for you. 

Out of love a father in Colombia put his son on a path he believed would lead to serving a wonderful God as a priest in Colombia. His heavenly Father had another path. We can all remember that., and  pray Show me your ways, O Lord. Teach me your paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

What Does It Take To Start A New Mission?


Missionary to America Miguel Sanabria, Jr.

Last Spring I asked the President of the Florida/Georgia District Greg Walton to suggest a missionary I could interview for the Mission Nation website. He did better than that – he suggested the Sanabria-Cobos family in Tampa, Florida. Mark Adrian, the Pastor of Messiah, Tampa, works with this missionary family. As of today they have begun four new Spanish speaking missions in Tampa. 

Decades ago when I was the mission executive for the English District I worked with faith-filled congregations that asked if they could begin a new mission. Back then just asking the question was a bold move. The assumption was that districts began new churches. I had to remind pastors and church leaders that wasn’t always the case.

A young pastor reminded me of that – he had recently become the pastor of a church where his grandfather had been pastor. He showed me a church bulletin from his grandfather’s time in the 1920s; along with the morning service there was a scheduled “Mission Service.”  I asked him what that was. He told me that most churches in those days held worship in the morning for their existing church and another in the afternoon for the new church they were starting. It was assumed that every pastor would lead their church to start a new mission and lead an afternoon “mission service.”  How times changed. 

By the 1980s churches did not know they could start a new church. That was “district’s” responsibility. I made it part of my ministry to try and change that and encourage congregations to start a new church. When an existing church was ready to begin a new mission one of the questions I would invariably, and rightly, be asked was “What does it cost to start a new mission?”  So it is interesting that a modest church in an urban area like Tampa could begin three new churches. I was curious to know how the missionaries had done that.

So, what does it take to start a new mission? At Messiah Tampa it boils down to passionate sacrificial mission leadership by a team. I’ll try to explain. in 2007 Miguel Sanabria, Sr. led his family from Colombia, South

America to Tampa. In Colombia the senior Miguel had decided to leave the Roman Catholic priesthood after a distinguished ministry as an educator. After he left, the Roman Catholic church selected him to lead ministries in higher education in Columbia. He married and raised his children with a desire to make Christ’s love real to all – a challenge in a country being torn apart by crime and poverty.  

In America  Miguel Sr. was given an opportunity to use his education background. A Spanish speaking friend invited him to a meeting where theology was discussed. It turned out to be a meeting  of students in a seminary extension program. Run by the Concordia Seminary Hispanic Institute the seminars prepared students for ordination. Miguel did something significant – he invited his son, Miguel, his daughter, his son in law and his wife to attend the meetings. 

Miguel Jr. joined his father in Tampa to study for ordination in the Lutheran Church. Eventually  Miguel Jr, Miguel Sr, his son in law John Cobos would be ordained as missionaries to America. His daughter Yolima and wife Flor became deaconesses in that same effort. As a family they entered theological training. 

The family has given itself to bringing Jesus to a weakened American church. By God’s grace their passion to serve Jesus has overcome the obstacles of leaving their home and coming as missionaries to a foreign land.

What does it take to start a new mission? Not money, not luck, not an easy life – but passion, primarily the passion of Jesus, whose passion won freedom from death for humanity, whose Spirit moves us out of lives of comfort to step out onto a platform constructed of the love of Christ for all people. His passion is what creates new missions. 

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and calamities; in beatings, imprisonments, and riots; in labor, sleepless nights, and hunger; in purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, slander and praise; viewed as impostors, yet genuine; as unknown, yet well-known; dying, and yet we live on; punished, yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

To see the full video interview with Missionary Miguel Sanabria Jr, click here. 

To see the short introductory video, click here.





Winning Tampa Five Houses At A Time

Winning Tampa for Christ Five Houses At A Time

Missionary to America Yolima Sanabria Cobos

Yolima Sanabria Cobos has a dream to bring the Word of the Lord to everyone in Tampa.

Yolima did not grow up in Florida. Her early years were spent in the country of Colombia during a time of terrible unrest. Her father and mother, saints committed to serving Jesus, raised their children in the love of the Lord. This love was severely tested in Colombia, where drug cartels went to war with the country’s authorities. Political parties fought each other. As a young woman she saw violence take over her homeland.

Yolima became an activist for peace and order. Eventually this would bring her to the attention of lawless people who had the power to end her life and the lives of her loved ones; it eventually caused her to flee with her family to Tampa, Florida – along with many others who feared for their and their families’ lives. In one sense Yolima saw this as God’s salvation for her, but also as God’s way to bring more people to faith in Jesus.

America is seeing many immigrants and many Spanish speaking immigrants arriving from countries like Colombia, countries torn by war and violent divisions. Many immigrants did not hear the gospel in their homeland.

Concordia Seminary has perfected an Hispanic Institute to prepare Spanish speaking missionaries to bring the love of God to the new arrivals. Yolima’s father had extensive theological training in Colombia; he entered the Concordia program to enhance his skills and be ordained. The classes are based on a distance education curriculum and Yolima, the youngest of the three Sanabria children, found them fascinating. She asked to be allowed to sit in when professors from the seminary occasionally came to Tampa to supplement online classes. Yolima says “It was beautiful sitting in and listening to the professors.” She had a hunger to learn more – and applied for entry to the seminary’s deaconess program.

Messiah Lutheran Church in Tampa, the city where the Sanabrias emigrated, saw an opportunity to reach out to the new Latino population. Pr. mark Adrian and the members of Messiah  accepted the family as missionaries and provided support to begin new missions to the immigrants. Yolima became a deaconess-missionary. She is not paid by the church – income for her and her family comes from her position as a director for Mary Kay Cosmetics. But Mary Kay is only an avocation – her vocation is bringing Christ to those dispossessed from countries where mayhem and murder are too much a part of life.

In her Mary Kay job Yolima visits five homes a day, but she does more than provide cosmetics. It is her vocation to daily bring Christ into those five homes. Her heart’s desire is to reach all of Tampa with the good news of God’s love for human beings. She brings Christ with her to meet everyone along her way. Yolima’s passion to bring God’s Word to all people fulfills Jesus’ desire, the same desire that drove Him to a cross and then through His servants to bring His love to the whole world.

  “So the Master told His servant,’Go out to the highwas and the hedges and compel them to come in so that house will be full.'” Jesus to His servants in Luke 14:23.  

Thank you Lord for Yolima Sanabria Cobos.

The Church in A Donut

The Church in A Donut: Missionary to America Carl Johnson

Carl Johnson is not your typical missionary. He had to overcome several challenges to become a missionary with Lutheran Intercity Network Coalition in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was raised by a single mother in Atlanta. His mom worked full time; when Carl was nine years old his mother was the secretary of a megachurch, a church that had thirty thousand members and sent missionaries to Ethiopia. He went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Nevertheless, when he became a teenager, church had no appeal for him. 

Carl did what too many young men in the city of Atlanta did, he became involved in drugs, then when he was seventeen, the drug trade. 

At nineteen he went  to jail. He tried out Islam, becoming a Black Muslim (his brother is still a member of The Nation of Islam).  On probation for his first drug offense, he went back to selling drugs. He was arrested again, this time with a friend who had a gun in the car. This brought a more serious charge.

But Carl’s friend could not be found when it was time for trial. There were too many young people coming before the courts in Atlanta; room in the jails was tight, and it was expensive. Carl, the one who showed up for the trial, was let go. Tired of being arrested, trying to start a new life, he moved to New Jersey. That’s when his addiction to alcohol began.

Not able to hold a job in New Jersey, abusing alcohol, he tried to get away from his dependency by moving to South Carolina – that did not work either. At least during his time in South Carolina he was able to follow a new passion, cooking. He attended a cooking school and learned a marketable skill. That was not enough to keep him anchored. 

Still restless, Carl Johnson thought he might find a job and a sense of normalcy by moving to Orlando. By now he was a binge drinker, and his troubles continued. One day. after a night of heavy drinking, he woke up in a place he didn’t know. Stumbling home, he passed out in front of Orlando Baptist Church. A passerby called 911 and Carl was brought to a nearby hospital. He was examined, and released, but he had no one to call to help him; setting out by foot, he tried to find his way to the apartment he rented.

But Carl did not know Orlando very well, made several wrong turns, and at 3 am, still on foot, he was still two blocks from his apartment. His feet hurt from so much walking in shoes that were falling apart, so he took his shoes off and kept walking. A prostitute he passed on the street, seeing his sorry state, said to him, “I know how you feel.”  It was then he remembered the Bible story of the prodigal son, and felt himself sinking in mud in a pig sty.  He cried out to no one in particular, “O God, why me?’ He did not expect an answer.

Finally home, stumbling into his apartment, he fell into a deep sleep on his couch. After a couple of hours (and he remembers this clearly) it was 6 am –  he jumped up from the couch when he heard someone yell his name, “Carl!” He sat up, looked around, but there was no one there.

Now awake, Carl says he knew exactly what he had to do. He cleaned himself up and went to church.  After church was over, he was brought to a drug treatment program for young people struggling with an addiction, Teen Challenge. The third day after entering that  program, Carl Johnson knelt at the church altar and asked God for forgiveness and healing and prayed Jesus would be his guide. That is when his life changed, the Lord led Carl to Melanie,  a wife to share his life and ministry. Shortly after,  he entered training for Christian mission work. 

Carl did not know it, but all along he was being formed as a missionary, for a specific ministry. It’s not that God made him an addict, or forced him to jail or led him to “Prodigal Son Land” – but Carl was a vessel, a cracked vessel, that was useful for important ministry, a ministry that few other missionaries could serve. Melanie was his co-missionary. 

His first call was to be the assistant to the Pastor of a new church plant in St. Louis. He grew to hate church planting – church planting felt more like a job than a ministry. Joyce Meyers Ministries is located in St. Louis and presented a ministry he felt more called to – counseling men who had become addicted. He rejoiced in the blessing to teach Basic Bible to the men. Carl says, “This brought me to life. I learned so much.” Then an opportunity presented itself to minister at an established church in Ohio.

Carl could not get the story of Jesus’ feeding the five thousand out of his head, or his heart. He heard Jesus turn to him, as he had to his disciples, and say, “You feed them.” Using his experience in food preparation, Carl established a team to work to end food insecurity in the neighborhoods around the church. The church had only 200 members in a community of forty thousand population, but with volunteers and grants those two hundred served twenty five thousand meals, “One child at a time.” Carl’s vision was to duplicate this in ten major cities in America. He did not know how it would get done, but he wanted to try.  He prayed, “God provide for us, God provide for others.” That prayer changed to “God help us provide for others.”

People saw Jesus moving in that Ohio church. Carl prayed for a chance to expand the ministry, and that’s when the senior pastor said, “Carl, you are ready to be on your own. I know you have a dream; it is time for you to be the captain of your own ship.” 

A call came for Carl to lead a new church plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Oh no! Not a church plant,” he sighed. God has a funny sense of humor. But a cohort of ten missionaries would enter the Twin Cities to see where the Lord might start a new mission. Carl and Melanie wanted to begin in the “Donut.” As Carl tells it, if you look at the downtown of any major city you will see a ring where there are no churches and no Christian presence. It will usually be a poor area, a part of town where people will not have access to a church, or good food. People living in this area may be there for the anonymity:  plus Carl believed, “The city is a refuge for the sinner.”

He began the ministry by going around and meeting people – people at the barber shop, people at the bus station. It became apparent that this donut had bad housing and difficult access to affordable and healthy food.  He was not sure what he could do about the housing, but he had expertise in preparing food – more than twenty thousand meals worth! 

At first he cooked the food himself: he could create fifty meals for $50. They cooked a lot of meatloaf and lasagna. He found a theater that offered its space for people to come to eat. He put table cloths down and arranged for dinner music. But he was not able to build capacity beyond fifty hungry people.  He had to rethink this strategy. However, this first try was the base to build a multi-ethnic core group. That is when he met Ben Griffin, the head of Lutherans in Inner City Networking. LINC’s ministry is to partner with urban missionaries to add capacity to their work. Part of that capacity was providing Carl with formal practical and theological training to become an ordained missionary.  LINC also introduced Carl to potential funders, churches with the desire and capacity to help him. The ministry took off.

Carl was at a conference when the idea came to him: the “Donut” where we minister needs a place where city people can find quality food at a reasonable price – but it is not reasonable to have one store in one neighborhood and not give access to another area. “What if we started a grocery store in a storage container? We could move it from place to place on different days.” He approached engineers and architects  he had been introduced to. They loved the idea. Local farmers could be encouraged to bring their food downtown; meals kits could be developed for use by seniors and others who lacked mobility. He heard Jesus say, “You feed them.” His vision became, “Every church a grocery store.”

Carl Johnson may not fit your stereotype of a missionary, neither did St. Paul. Carl is a missionary, responding to God’s call to feed His people – with groceries, and with God’s Bread of Life.  

Found For A Purpose

Found For A Purpose

Missionary to America Professor Shang Ik Moon

Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know about me and what I am doing. I have sent him to you for this very purpose,that you may know about us, and that he may encourage your hearts.” Ephesians 6:21-22 

Professor Shang Ik Moon had seen the movie. It was a good thing, because chances for his survival were not good. 

The bullets flying and the bombs falling were just the beginning. It was after this, as a child on a dark mountain in South Korea, with snow piling up, cradling his infant nephew in his arms, hiding in a crevice away from the freezing cold winter  weather , with hostile soldiers moving around him, it was then that the memory came back. A classmate had invited Shang Ik to see the Jesus Movie. He hadn’t gotten a lot out of it, but he remembered one thing, Jesus saying, “I will be with you always.”  Now, for the first time, he prayed – “Jesus, be with me.”

 St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, cited above, was written from prison – a time when Paul must have been wondering how, if at all, his suffering would have a purpose. But Paul sends his representative Tychicus to comfort the Ephesian Christians in their struggles! What an act of love; what an act of faith.   Matthew quotes Jesus, “Lo (pay attention, this is important) I am with your always.” Sometimes it means just putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that He knows where we should go and we are just following Him, blindly, believing He is with us.  You and I know about that. I sure do.  

In 2016 LK Wood, the scion of the Wood Realty Company in St. Louis, asked for my help to write his biography. LK (Lowell Kenneth) had a story of survival and faith he wanted to share. I had never written a biography, and really wasn’t interested, I had my own purposes to fulfill,. But LK was persistent.  So, it turns out, was the Lord. 

I interviewed LK, recorded the interviews on audio tape, and wrote what he told me. It took months, and before I was finished LK, eighty nine years old, passed away. Patty, LK’s loving wife, wanted the world to know his story and brought the manuscript to a publisher, Rebeca Seitz. This had not been my understanding when the work began – it was supposed to be an account for LK’s family. The publicist concurred. What I had written was not for commercial consumption – but, she said, if I wanted to work with a coach, learn to write biography and rewrite the book, well, maybe there would be a future for the book in bookstores. 

To make a long story short, I worked with a wonderful coach, Julie Ieron, who had many books published. We took six months to re-write LK WOOD, AS EVERYONE SHOULD, for sale in book stores and on line. But that was just the beginning. I wondered what I would to do with this new skill. I realized the Lord had opened a new door for ministry:  I began Mission Nation Publishing Company to publish the biographies of new missionaries to America. These are courageous, intelligent, passionate men and women whom I had met while leading missions in the United States for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Missionaries like Shang Ik Moon.

When US Army Air Force Chaplain Eduard Vajda asked the Korean boy, “What is your purpose?” he had no idea. However, he was willing to go through the door Jesus was opening.  Decades later Professor Shang Ik Moon retired as the Provost of Concordia University. You can read the full story of how one child in the midst of a horrific experience in a horrific war found the purpose created for him by the God he had met in a movie.

Maybe you are just trying to put one foot in front of the other, unsure of where the Lord is leading. At those times, allow Him to cradle you in His arms, to carry you through the fierce storms and hostile challenges and bring you to the purpose He has for you.  This may be difficult, may even be impossible, and we may even have given up. That is why Jesus died in our place. Jesus did kep going, He followed  through on God’s purpose for His life; He did that for you and me and for all who are confused about where the Lord is leading. He said for us all and on our behalf, “Father, into hour hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus did not give up because it was God’s purpose for Him to love and forgive us all.

Still, out of His love, when you and I commend ourselves into His hands, in time He will reveal His purpose, He will help us to know Him, and He will encourage our heart. 



When One Door Closes…

When One Door Closes…

Image result for image tesfai tesema

Tesfai Tesema

“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 through a door in Saudi Arabia. For him it was a door of no return. 

Before his time in Saudi Arabia, the first door he walked through was a jail cell in Eritrea, He had been put in prison by the then communist government.  He never expected he would walk out alive, but he did. That door was “accidentally” opened. A miracle which allowed the atheist to escape and begin a long and danger filled trek 

to Saudi Arabia. There, another door unexpectedly opened – by a greater miracle than a jail door swinging open unexpectedly Tesfai  became a Christian – yes, 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 could legally emigrate to was Sudan. 

Life was  not easy in Sudan. Refugees were overwhelming the government’s capacity to care for them. People, Tesfai and other Christians, slept on the ground in a park. The small Christian community opened their arms to them, but while there was great love to share there wasn’t much treasure. No matter the challenge,  Tesfai led the refugees from Saudi Arabia dn the thousands fleeing persecution in Eritrea to begin worship services. The numbers grew. More churches were begun. The Word of God spread like wild fire. Then, another door opened – this one truly unexpected – a refugee visa to the United States.

Today Tesfai Tesema is a missionary in San Jose, California. He is opening doors for Eritreans and the door of a congregation of ethnically diverse young 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 a cross, the door to a grave, the door to salvation – the door that opens after one door closes, the door opened by our Lord to realms no human can expect. 

Needed: A Seat At the Table

Needed: A Seat at the Table

President Michael Gibson, Pacific Southwest District, The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod

“Listen, my beloved brothers: Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?” James 2:5

“Go into the Word of God – it transforms us! It’s not OK to be a country club.” Mike Gibson. 

To be honest, in my experience, many but not all District Presidents  are passionate about Christian missions. Mike Gibson, the first term president of the LCMS Pacific Southwest District, has made bringing more souls to Christ his first priority. That means challenging the ninety five percent White English speaking Lutheran Churches in America to “get real” and get out, to love all people, especially those unlike them. According to Mike,  the church of the global north, a church of privilege, has to listen and learn from the church of the global south, a church that has learned to lose all for the sake of the gospel.    

Not that the southern global church knows so much more – but it has been left out of the conversation. How would the church be different if there was a seat at the table for those “left out” of economic power, left out of political, church, local and world power even as we cater to those who have the most?  How would our lives be different if the “least of these my brethren” had a full seat at the global north table? If we listened to them, what would we learn? Mike Gibson wants us to listen and learn.

Mike grew up in an ethnically diverse community in Sacramento, California. As a consequence, the ministries he has served have brought him into close contact with a diverse population. He benefited from that life experience. He didn’t have to learn not to be afraid of someone who did not look like him, who spoke in accented English, whose faith challenged his. That kind of learning cannot be bought with money, it has to be acquired. This kind of learning is paid for with the profit from daily gospel interaction with people of different backgrounds. 

In the January 2019 issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research William P. Gregory searches the heart of Pope Francis’ missiology.

For Francis mission “involves love, and love always involves closeness to other people. To engage in mission means, ‘going forth, coming out of ourselves and drawing near to others…This was the point when he told pastors to be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.'”(Holy Thursday Homily, March 28, 2013).

Gregory goes on to tell us, “Put simply, in their intention to be faithful and in their intention to be missionary some things Christians in fact do are counter missionary in their effects and damage the church’s relationship with the potential recipients of the gospel. The problem in essence is the church ‘Pharisee problem.’ That is, the church often comes across looking and sounding more like the stereotyped scribes and Pharisees of the Gospels than Jesus himself.”

When I asked Bishop Gibson, at the beginning of your time in office what is your deepest desire, he responded: “Congregations were raised up in a particular place for a mission reason. But over the years we have moved away from this. I pray  congregations will ask ‘What have we done with our “place’? As a church we have to repent and ask ‘how  we can engage our neighbors with the love of Christ?'” As an example Gibson sites the church in the global south.

In his experience Christians coming to the United States from Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East have a lot to each the church in the north, in America. Mike sees these Christians as gifts God is giving to the American church. These Christians have suffered and sacrificed greatly to identify with their communities. By their lives of sacrifice and forgiveness, by their willingness to lose everything and hold back nothing they are the living proof of a God who held back nothing for the sake of the world. That is the kind of witness that attracts; that is the witness of Jesus. 

The new president of the Pacific Southwest District told me, “The church of the global north is better served by the church in the global south by listening to the south, to become students of southern Christians. This is something we all need. This is something the Spirit of God can use to revitalize His church.” 

Where do you have an opportunity to hold out a seat for a global southern partner?


Is Not Life More?


Missionary to America Samuel Kamissa

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? ” Jesus, in Matthew 6:25

“The missionary did not have to worry about his belly.” Samuel Kamissa

Missionary Samuel Kamissa earns his livelihood as an Uber driver in Los Angeles. That is a long way from where he grew up in western Ethiopia.

In his rural area there were  no local stores or churches. His mother was his Sunday School teacher, and she taught Samuel well. He loved the Lord and even more, loved telling others about the endless love of Jesus. Besides having no local church,  there were other challenges.

As a child he left his home at 6 am, walking to school, to arrive at his elementary school at 7:30 am. The same walk awaited him when school was over.


But there were more dangers to be faced than lions or snakes or even thieves.

At the age of fourteen Samuel Kamissa was put in prison by the communist government for making disciples. Did that deter him? No. As Jesus asked, “Is life not more…?” Samuel kept on making God’s love known, even when a well known pastor in another town, a leader of the Lutheran church body called “Mekane Yesu” (House of Jesus), was executed. The grace of God had become so alive in the young boy that when he graduated from high school he did not look for a job; instead, he went on foot to other towns and villages in rural areas. “Is not life more?

There was no organization to fund his work, although Mekane Yesu Lutherans supported what he was doing; Mekane Yesu asked their members to help him. Samuel says he did not worry about his belly. In fact, there were many such evangelists crisscrossing the country. Local Christians saw it as a privilege to open their homes to these messengers of God; they gave Samuel and the others food and a place to sleep. Early Christianity was a lot like that. The missionary did not worry about life, life in this world.  The early Christians knew life was more than food, the body more than clothing.

In time Samuel Kamissa was ordained and became the pastor of a local church. One day a new door opened. Samuel was given the chance to enter the mission field of the United States. For Samuel there was never a question of having  a certain amount of money to start a new church, even in America. Samuel started churches in San Diego and Los Angeles. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod partners with Mekane Yesu Lutheran Church. Mekane Yesu is five times larger than the Missouri Synod, in fact, it is the largest Lutheran church body in the world – and the fastest growing. We in America have a lot to learn about mission work and missionaries from our sisters and brothers in Ethiopia. The role money plays in mission development is one of those lessons.

In too many cases money drives the mission in America. In this country before we begin a new mission we assess our material wealth; in Ethiopia the driving force is the gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit impels Christians to bring the love of God to everyone; when Christians step out in faith to make the love of Jesus real to others, the Lord supplies all we need to get His message out.  As a missionary with Los Angeles LINC Samuel does not reach out to Ethiopians, or Africans only – but to all people. Some he meets when he gets behind the wheel to drive for Uber. 

In my opinion, unless and until money no longer drives the mission in the United States the gospel proclamation will be hindered and the number of disciples will not grow. However, I see signs this is changing. There is a new passion to share the gospel, there are new shoots springing up in America – many from outside the United States – one of those is  the number of missionaries from other countries, missionaries like Rev. Samuel Kamissa. Money is not the major factor in mission work. Life is more.