At the 2018 Southern Illinois District convention, delegates passed Res. 1-02: “To Conclude Our Partnership with the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa.” We thank God for 18 fruitful years of partnership as we look forward to a potential new partner: “Resolved, that the Mission Board explore a new mission partnership with its recommendation given to the 2021 convention for approval.” Rev. Timothy Scharr, district president, asked Rev. Eric Wood, a member of the mission board and pastor of Immanuel, Okawville, to get himself a passport and prepare to explore. The following is Eric’s account of his trip.
For the first time since 2001, I have a valid passport. I used it to travel to Santiago de los Cabelleros, the second largest city in the Dominican Republic and regional headquarters for all LCMS mission work in Latin America (including Spain). I left Okawville the day after Ash Wednesday and returned home the following Tuesday. From Friday until Monday, I participated in a FORO (forum), a semi-annual meeting of missionaries and mission partners in the Dominican Republic.
I did not know exactly what to expect before I left my homeland. Anyone who has traveled internationally has an idea of what I mean. Having a sense of adventure is helpful for those doing international mission work, as is loving our Lord’s Church.
The Lord’s work happens in the Dominican Republic through missionaries who serve as seminary professors, pastors, deaconesses and other roles. The mission team has a nurse, a business manager, a communications specialist and a volunteer coordinator serving the region. Some missionaries have spouses and children with them. There are seminary students from a dozen countries, some of whom also have families with them. There are Dominicans serving as teachers and secretaries and a specialist working with disabled children. This is a young and growing mission, witnessing that Jesus lives.
The Synod sent our first missionary to work with disabled children in the Dominican Republic, Deaconess Danelle Putman, in 2005. She is still there and involved in the same work. Church planting, along with preschools, began later. In 2017, Seminariario Concordia el Reformador opened in the Santiago suburb of Palmar Arriba. The seminary is small, situated on the upper floors of a group home for disabled children on a narrow street that ends in the foothills of a low-mountain range. The seminary’s location may be “off the beaten track,” but it will train pastors for all of Latin America and Spain.
Other reasons for exploring this particular mission opportunity include:
▶ The seminary’s director, Rev. Joel Fritsche, served as a parish pastor in our district.
▶ The Dominican Republic is in our hemisphere and not far from our time zone, so it is a bit easier for us to visit than some other locations.
▶ With the semi-annual FOROs and opportunities for short-term mission teams, the Dominican Republic welcomes involvement from its mission partners.
Some may ask: “Apart from the convention resolution, why are we exploring at all? Why does our district want/need an international partnership? Isn’t there enough for us to do for the Lord in our own congregations, schools, communities, district and nation?” I admit there is much to do right here at home, no matter how narrow or wide that circle is drawn.
Remember what Jesus said to His apostles before His ascension?
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” — Acts 1:8
Few of us have actually been to Jerusalem, Judea or Samaria (or, for that matter, the end of the earth!), but we understand that we who belong to the one holy Christian and apostolic Church not only believe in the Holy Spirit, but worship and glorify Him with the Father and the Son as the God whose name we bear, the God who enlivens us who were once dead in our sins, the God who enables His Church to be His witnesses.
Witnesses where and to whom? To our own near neighbors wherever we live, to our own regions and to the end of the earth. Ever since Columbus and his contemporaries sailed over the horizon without falling into a void, the human race has been exploring every “corner” of this round earth. Each generation has its own exploring to do. Each generation that is born must also be born again by water and the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God.
As long as we remain in this world, the Church’s work of witnessing is never done. In fact, that’s why we are still here. When our work is done, God will take us to Himself in heaven, and even then the possessions He has given us may be left behind as a blessing to others.
Please keep the LCMS mission work in the Dominican Republic in your prayers, especially at the seminary. Also, please mark your calendars for Monday, June 17, when Rev. Fritsche will speak at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, Freeburg, about the work in the Dominican Republic.