Oriented Toward Christ
Even amid a pandemic, the church continues to walk by faith as new missionaries are trained and sent.
The word “orientation” originally meant to face toward the east, where the sun rises. Though the word certainly carries more meanings now, this original meaning was evident during missionary orientation in St. Louis in early August. A small group of four new LCMS missionaries gathered — yet remained socially distanced — for an abbreviated and intense week of learning and preparing to serve our resurrected Lord and His church.
“Missionary orientation imparted an amazing, exhausting and wonderful week of learning,” noted Justin Logston, a new LCMS missionary to Belize. “Having the opportunity to attend missionary orientation in person was magnificent, and I am grateful to the LCMS International Center team for going above and beyond to give our group that chance.”
Changed by COVID-19
COVID-19 changed many aspects of missionary orientation, and the staff of the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM) worked to ensure the safety of all involved with this vital week. Physical spacing allowed for proper social distancing. Masks were worn at all times. Many presenters gave virtual presentations in lieu of being in the room.
Speaking about mission work in light of COVID-19, OIM Executive Director Rev. Daniel McMiller said, “The work remains the same. There are restrictions, but we have been blessed with opportunities for virtual gatherings that have been quite successful. … I’ve asked our regional directors to develop online possibilities for meetings. We are also at this time working on many projects, including translation projects with our partner churches.”
Despite masks and other precautions, the fellowship and encouragement that happened during the week blessed all those involved. “Missionary orientation was a great opportunity to network with other mission-minded people,” said Barbara Rebentisch, an LCMS missionary to Asia. “It also provided an encouraging, supportive environment in which to refine mission statements and improve communication skills.”
Rebentisch, who has been living in Taiwan for many years, will serve as a Chinese theological resource developer in Chiayi, Taiwan. Her primary task will include translating theological materials into Chinese and editing those already translated. Since Rebentisch is fluent in both Chinese and English and knows Lutheran theology, she brings a needed theological eye to the resources that were previously translated. Many of these materials were translated by professional translators, most of whom were not Christian let alone Lutheran. This means that translational decisions were made that may not be in concert with biblical and confessional theology. Rebentisch also will translate new materials and serve as a translator for visiting professors and pastors.
Another new missionary who attended orientation will serve as a teacher in Central Asia. To her new role, she brings decades of experience. “COVID may have caused a detour in my ultimate plan to rejoin a team as they open a language center in Central Asia, but unplaced, willing missionaries don’t sit for long!” said the missionary, who may help pastors in Ukraine brush up on their English skills as she waits for travel to open up again. No matter where she serves, She unites her love of her Savior with her love of teaching children and shares God’s love in Christ with those in her care.
Also in attendance were Jordan and Justin Logston, who will serve the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region in Belize. Jordan will work with children and outreach programs, including expanding English-as-a-Second-Language offerings and a new youth outreach program in Seine Bight. Justin will serve as a communicator for the region, providing multimedia support for the LAC.
Stepping Out in Faith
During an Aug. 7 Service of Sending in the LCMS International Center chapel, McMiller told these four new LCMS missionaries that the entire church stands behind them, but more importantly, their Lord’s promise to be with them “to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20) is true as they go where He has called them.
Other missionaries, who attended orientation online or at other times, have also begun their service during these challenging times. Deaconess Sandra Rhein recently began her work as a sacred music educator for the Asia region, Rachel Krause serves as a refugee outreach missionary in Germany, and the Rev. Dr. Gerald Paul has accepted a Divine Call to serve as a missionary in the Cayman Islands. Paul will be joined by his wife, Heidi.
“We are grateful for the church’s continued support of missionaries throughout the four regions of the Synod’s endeavors, and we are confident that the Lord will continue to provide,” said McMiller. “We operate in faith, following His will to send missionaries.”
As the Lord Himself orients our eyes and our lives toward His love, the church goes forth in the work of His Kingdom, until Christ returns. The world continues to change, yet the promises of God remain steadfast in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, in the Word and Sacraments given to His church. And the Gospel continues to bear fruit, as a new cohort of missionaries prepare to serve in various locations around the world.
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Pray with Us
Lord of the church, through Your earthly ministry You ushered in the Kingdom of God and bid Your people to witness to this world of the abundant love and mercy of Your Father. As You conquered death and sin on the cross, so empower Your church to faithfully proclaim Your saving Gospel, that all might hear and believe. We thank You that You continue to call missionaries through Your church to serve in various ways and in many places. Bless those who prepare for service and those who continue to serve in the field, that every effort might draw all people to Your saving cross, O Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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Dr. Kevin Armbrust
Director of Editorial for LCMS Communications.