(Keith Luhrs is the chapter leader of the Bethany Lutheran chapter of the Brothers of John the Steadfast in Naperville, Illinois.)
Back in October, the Bethany Lutheran Church, Naperville, IL, chapter hosted a panel discussion on a number of topics concurrent with the recent synodical election and future of the church. Several members of BJS chapters from around Chicagoland were in attendance. After the panel discussion, one of those chapters issued a challenge to the Bethany chapter to help raise funds for a teaching project that was being organized by a Lutheran missions group in Africa. What follows is how two BJS chapters worked together by using the new media to raise funds so that those who are thirsting for the true Gospel would hear it from properly trained, confessional pastors.
The BJS chapter at St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lockport, Illinois, asked the Bethany chapter to participate in a fundraising mission for a teaching project being organized by the mission group Lutherans in Africa (LIA) for the Lutheran Church in Guinea, which is a country in former French West Africa. The Lutheran Church in Guinea is 200 congregations strong but only has one ordained pastor and five vicars. Young men who wish to enter the ministry and receive proper training are sent to the nearest seminary in the country of Togo, which is a long way to east from Guinea. Lutherans in Africa, under the leadership of Pastor James May who is based on the other side of the African continent in Nairobi, Kenya, organized a teaching seminar for the Guinea Church to be conducted in the local language of Kissi. Pastor May put out the word that $5,000 was needed to fund the project. The funds were need by the end of November.
The St. Paul’s chapter, under the leadership of Michael Polinski, heard about the project and brought it to the attention of the Bethany chapter. St. Paul’s vicar, Andrew Packer, obtained information about the project and where funds could be sent. Michael and his fellow Brothers organized a Reformation fundraiser event consisting of a German lunch for the Guinea church teaching project. St. Pauls then challenged Bethany to participate in raising funds for the project for the short time that was available. Bethany sent out a solicitation to its chapter members and organized a free will offering for the congregation. St. Paul’s collected $2,993.00 and Bethany collected $976.50 for a total of $3,969.50 of the $5,000 that was needed for the entire Guinea church teaching project. St. Paul’s won the challenge hands down but a lot was learned along the way and, more importantly, the proper teaching could be done so that locally trained clergy and staff can properly minister to their congregations. Vicar Packer provided much support and acted as a conduit to get the funds to Lutherans In Africa.
Lutherans In Africa works in the following African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso (previously Upper Volta), Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Republic of Congo (formerly Congo-Brazzaville), Cote d’Ivoire (the former Ivory Coast), Guinea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia. Pastor James May runs the ministry out of Nairobi where he and his family lives. LIA’s guiding scripture is Acts 8: 27-31, the teaching story of Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.
Bethany’s own Cantor Phillip Magness recently worked with Pastor May in the Republic of Congo, helping to record and teach 23 hymns and 7 pieces of liturgy to local congregations and church leaders, as well as teaching from the French Lutheran Hymnal. Teaching is done by hearing and repeating since there aren’t enough resources for books and similar instructional aids. Attention has been turned to the church in Guinea because of the lack of properly trained clergy and the intense desire to hear the true Gospel by faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone. Along with the teaching seminar, the Guinea church desires to have the Small Catechism translated into Kissi.
What I found most amazing is how so many people who have so little truly desire to hear God’s Word and partake of his Sacraments. It’s that pure and simple, without the traditional trappings that we in the West take for granted. The confessional Lutheran Church is growing by leaps and bounds in Africa, as well as Asia. The Brothers of John the Steadfast can and does support these efforts.