Extraordinary Measures in Extraordinary Times
The Synod’s missionaries serve in new and changing ways amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As the world grapples with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, billions of people have been impacted in one way or another — including The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) 100-plus missionaries. Throughout this changing situation, the LCMS Office of International Mission has walked alongside them, offering counsel and assistance at every step of the way. After careful consideration, more than 90 percent of the Synod’s missionaries opted to stay on their foreign fields and continue serving as best they could. Here are a few ways they have continued their ministry during the various restrictions and lockdowns.
Moving Online in South Korea
International Lutheran Church (ILC) in Seoul, South Korea, was among the first Lutheran churches to have to adapt to the emerging coronavirus pandemic. In late February, LCMS missionary Rev. Carl Hanson, who serves as pastor of ILC, realized that services were going to have to move online. Not only were public gatherings being restricted, but he was worried about the health of his Korean and expat members — some of whom travel several hours via public transportation to attend the church.
On Feb. 26, Hanson enlisted his daughters’ help to create a video devotion for Ash Wednesday. By the following Sunday, he had created the first of many prerecorded worship services.
Each week, the organist records herself playing the hymns on her piano at home. Different members then record themselves reading the Scripture passages and singing, and Hanson edits them all together with the sermon and liturgy and posts them to ilcseoul.org.
The congregation also has continued having Bible studies, fellowship events and game nights — all online.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Hanson said, noting that the online format has enabled the congregation to reconnect with former members who moved away. While they used to have about 100 people in attendance on a Sunday, they now get between 400 and 800 views each week.
“As wonderful as all this is, we still long for and need to see and encourage one another face-to-face,” he said. At the time of this writing, Hanson was looking forward to holding the first “socially responsible” in-person service on May 24, although online services will continue for the foreseeable future.
Uniting the Scattered in Spain
Spain has been among the hardest-hit countries during the pandemic, and its government declared a nationwide lockdown on March 14 that was only just starting to ease up by mid-May. During this time, the Synod’s two missionary pastors to Spain — the Rev. David Warner and the Rev. Adam Lehman — continued their work from their respective homes in Cartagena and Seville.
“The Lutherans in Spain are spread out, but interestingly that has kind of been a blessing for us during this time of quarantine,” Lehman said.
“Because of the spread-out nature of the Lutheran church in Spain, all of our services were being streamed via Zoom and Facebook Live even before the quarantine. This means that we were not ‘starting from zero’ and trying to figure out how to use technology to reach our people.”Rev. Adam Lehman
Instead, they were able to expand their online community by adding online coffee hours and office hours to their slate of services and Bible studies. This allowed Lutherans in different parts of the country to spend some time with their pastors and each other.
Despite the tough restrictions during this time, the Lehman family enjoyed joining their neighbors in a nightly round of applause for essential workers, while the Warners gained a newfound appreciation for taking out the trash.
As Spain begins to reopen and the mission team makes plans to safely gather for worship again, Warner said, “The Lord is our Rock and our Refuge, an ever-present Help in trouble. Clinging to Christ by His Word and Spirit, we know He will bring us through.”
Connecting with Puerto Ricans
2020 has been a less-than-ideal year for short-term mission. With the earthquakes and then the pandemic lockdown, four short-term mission teams were forced to cancel their trips to Puerto Rico.
LCMS missionaries from the Synod’s world regions brainstormed ways for people to serve without ever leaving home. The result of their discussion was an online project to pair native English-speaking volunteers with students desiring to practice their English.
Members of the canceled trips, members from past short-term teams and Concordia University System students were invited to participate. They received an overwhelming response, and 42 volunteers were matched with students from Ponce and Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. Other volunteers were connected with students in Russia and the Czech Republic.
Orientation sessions for the five-week program were held in early May to introduce volunteers to the LCMS’ church-planting work and help them understand how teaching English functions as a bridge into the community. If the program proves beneficial and viable, it may expand to include other countries served by LCMS missionaries.
The program “has been one of the wonderful, creative ideas to come out of COVID-19 isolation,” said volunteer Hilary Tew, who tutored a woman in Puerto Rico. “I hope the LCMS will continue these virtual missions opportunities even after people are able to resume meeting in person, because it is a great way to connect with and help people in the community who might not attend in-person ESL classes.”
Continuing Ministry in Taiwan
Even as many countries implemented strict measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, life in Taiwan continued as normal — albeit with a few more face masks than before.
“Because of Taiwan’s experience with the SARS virus of 2003, the government, health officials and general public were quite prepared to respond to this pandemic,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael Paul, an LCMS missionary to Taiwan.
In-person services have continued in the China Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC), the Synod’s partner church on the island, although Paul now wears a mask while distributing communion, during Bible class and while talking to students at the CELC’s seminary. His congregation also has started livestreaming services for those who have been discouraged by their employers from attending public gatherings.
“The biggest challenge … has been the difficulty to meet with non-Christian neighbors,” Paul said. “People are less willing to have social interaction with those beyond their family and close friends.”
Paul’s work also includes developing Lutheran resources in Mandarin. During the pandemic, use of these materials has increased, especially in places where worship is restricted or prohibited.
“There is a very great need for a stronger Lutheran voice in the Chinese church worldwide,” he said. “The pandemic has helped in a little way to let that voice be heard a little more loudly.”
Boosting Morale throughout Latin America
Most missionaries will agree that living away from family is difficult in the best of times. With lockdowns and curfews in many countries, the Synod’s missionaries are sheltering in place with various restrictions. Concern for the long-term effect on the mental health of these workers is paramount.
The Latin America and Caribbean region’s human-care team took a proactive approach by organizing a Spirit Week. Missionaries came together virtually for some light-hearted fun, submitting photos of themselves and their children dressed up for the daily themes, such as sports day, twin day and retro day.
Spiritual care also has been stepped up with daily written devotions and a prayer service in video format shared by the regional chaplain. In addition, six online Bible study groups are available for the missionaries.
Game nights, lettering workshops and hymn-sings have offered even more opportunities for social interaction. A favorite among the missionary children in the region is a weekly craft time, which includes an online game and Bible study.
“It is fun to play games with missionary friends from all over. And it helps to know that I am not the only one struggling right now,” said Abigail Warren, who lives in the Dominican Republic with her parents and two sisters.
More morale-boosting activities are planned for the future, with the goal of enhancing the mental and spiritual health of the Synod’s workers in the field.
Promoting Healthy Habits in Africa
Since 2016, LCMS missionary nurses Stephanie Schulte and Sarah Kanoy have been walking alongside local Lutheran churches in Africa, providing care and health education to those in remote areas. The Community Health Evangelism (CHE) lessons they teach — which pair a health concept with the Gospel — have become even more important during the time of COVID-19.
In February, Schulte taught several CHE lessons in Dapaong, Togo, including a lesson on how to prevent the spread of viruses. Schulte and Kanoy also recently worked alongside Deaconess Miriam Kimath of the Lutheran Church in East Africa to lead a weeklong CHE training seminar in Kahe, Tanzania. Together they trained 15 local church leaders on how to teach these lessons to others. And during the lockdown, Schulte and Kanoy taught 21 missionaries about CHE via video conferencing.
One popular CHE lesson explains what germs are and how they make people sick. It also includes instructions on how to build a “tippy tap” — a handwashing station constructed from locally available materials — for those who don’t have access to indoor plumbing.
Since then, the newly trained CHE leaders have taught these lessons to others throughout their communities. As a direct result of their hard work, approximately 20 new tippy taps and 10 new latrines have been built.
“In addition to increasing the health knowledge of their communities, they are sharing the Gospel and inviting people to their local Lutheran churches,” said Kanoy. “It is our prayer that, through this ministry, not only will the overall physical health of the community improve but, most importantly, by God’s grace the church will also grow.”
- Read more stories from the international mission field.
- Learn about the Synod’s missionaries.
- Support the Synod’s international mission work.
Pray with Us
Heavenly Father, Lord of eternity, bless all missionaries during this time of disruption and confusion. Provide for their needs of both body and soul. Bless their efforts as they continue to share the Good News of Jesus with the people among whom You have placed them. Let their witness declare Your wonders, as You call us out of darkness and into Your marvelous light. Strengthen and encourage the church to shine forth the light of Christ, that in the face of uncertainty and fear, all might trust in Your Son, our Savior, who conquered death and the grave and grants eternal life to all who believe. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Share Jesus with the World
Your generosity today makes possible your Synod’s witness and mercy efforts both at home and abroad.
Are you looking to direct your gifts for work that’s more specific?
Visit the LCMS online ministry and mission catalog to find those opportunities most meaningful to you!
Don’t see what you’re looking for?
Contact LCMS Mission Advancement at 888-930-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about all the options available.
LCMS missionary and communication specialist for the Latin America and Caribbean region.
Megan K. Mertz
Managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.