A Vast Community of Support
Mission Central in Mapleton, Iowa, plays an important role in raising awareness in support of the Synod’s missionaries.
The middle of an Iowa cornfield is a strange place to start a hub for international mission work. Yet, that’s exactly where “Old Missionary Gary” Thies started Mission Central in 1994 — first in his basement in Mapleton, Iowa, then in a converted farmstead across the highway.
“All I had to work with was a desk, a phone and one empty four-drawer filing cabinet. I prayed that God would fill that up with the names of people who want to tell others about Jesus,” said Thies. “And He did!”
Mission Central was originally a collaboration with what was then LCMS World Mission. When the Synod underwent restructuring following the 2010 convention, Mission Central became part of LCMS Mission Advancement, where it has continued unimpeded in the vital work of telling the church about the Synod’s 100-plus missionaries. Today, many of the voluntary gifts and offerings God’s people joyfully provide to keep those missionaries on the field flow through Mission Central.
Thousands of people have made the trek to Mission Central since its beginning. The Synod’s missionaries stop by during home service, which is a regularly scheduled time for them to reconnect with supporters, family and friends. Last year alone, 52 busloads of visitors traveled to Mission Central to tour the site and hear about the Lord’s command to take the Gospel into the world.
Tours include time in the on-site Creation Theater, which uses taxidermied animals donated by a friend of Mission Central to tell the story of how God created the world and all that is in it. Just up the hill from the theater, the Barn Museum is stocked from floor to rafters with interesting items from all over the world — such as carved idols from Papua New Guinea and “spirit money” burned as part of ancestor worship in Asia.
“There’s no other place like this,” Thies says, explaining how God provided everything for the sole purpose of educating visitors on why sending missionaries to proclaim the hope found only in Jesus Christ is so important.
In August, nearly 100 people converged on Mission Central for the installation of the Rev. Steven Schulz as pastoral advisor and visitor host. In this role, Schulz will assist Thies in telling the stories of the Synod’s missionaries, welcoming visitors, and coordinating the flow of information between Mission Advancement in St. Louis and the staff at Mission Central. To his new role, Schulz brings more than 30 years of experience as a parish pastor in Iowa District West and the North Dakota District.
He first met Thies 29 years ago while attending his first district convention. “I’m really excited about working with Gary and raising mission awareness,” Schulz said. “A lot of people don’t realize you can adopt missionaries and email them. My hope is that the Lord can make use of me here.”
Thies is excited too. “This is an answer to prayer,” he said, following the installation service. He hopes that “the good work that God has provided here” will continue for years to come.
But he also took a moment to dispel a misconception about Schulz’s arrival: “I’ve had several people call me and say, ‘Gary, we’re so happy that you have Pastor Schulz. Now you can retire.’ That is a lie,” Thies said with a glimmer in his eye. “The truth is, God willing, I hope to come to Mission Central and be a part of Mission Central as long as I can crawl across the road.”
A Whole Synod Approach
In addition to Mission Central, there are several other ways to connect to the Synod’s network of missionaries around the world.
Individuals and families can set up recurring giving in support of one or more specific LCMS missionaries as part of Mission Senders. Working with Michelle Beckmann in Mission Advancement, anyone can build a personal relationship with a missionary family that ultimately results in helping more people to hear the Gospel. Learn more at lcms.org/missionsenders, or call Beckmann at 888-930-4438, Ext. 1047.
Together In Mission
Congregations and church groups are invited to partner with LCMS missionaries through Together In Mission (TIM). TIM congregations and groups are able to set up a yearly commitment to support a missionary family, and then renew that support from one year to the next as local conditions allow. Learn more at lcms.org/togetherinmission, or call coordinator Julie Loehring at 888-930-4438, Ext. 1651.
Get to know many of the Synod’s missionaries at your own pace by exploring the roster online at lcms.org/missionarysupport. Or learn about how to integrate missionary support into your charitable plans through a conversation with an LCMS mission advocate. Find a mission advocate at lcms.org/your-mission-advocates.
Megan K. Mertz
Managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.