A Missionary and Catechist to Eurasia by Douglas M. Denzler

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. (Isaiah 6:8)

JohnsonFam

The Johnson Family

One Sunday evening last spring my wife and I were watching Ben Hur when we received an unexpected phone call. My former pastor of my home congregation in Marshalltown Iowa and godfather to my son had some very exciting news to share with us. Rev. Daniel S. Johnson had been called to be Catechist and Pastoral Care Specialist to Siberia and the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Belarus). I knew that he was deeply involved in the Russia Project-Concordia Theological Seminary directed by Rev. Timothy Quill and the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society (SLMS). He had traveled to Siberia every year since 2002 as a representative of the CTS Russian Project or SLMS as well as being a parish pastor in Iowa.

Rev. Johnson’s path to becoming a missionary began in 1999, when Dr. Timothy Quill contacted him to lecture at the Biblical School in Siberia. His involvement in the Russian Project at CTS – Ft. Wayne continued until 2011 when Dr. Albert Collver, director of LCMS Church Relations, asked if he would be interested in such work on a full-time basis. The bishops of the churches in the region had requested the LCMS send experienced pastors to teach and catechize their pastors and laity.

During the time of the Soviet Union, all clergy in Siberia were executed or exiled to Stalinist death camps and church buildings were destroyed. Men in the Baltics were not allowed to receive any form of seminary training. Many Baltic pastors were executed or sent in exile to Siberia. During the 1920’s all the Lutheran churches in Russia were closed. By the late1930’s all Lutheran churches in Siberia had been torn down. Almost all church leaders in Russia were sent to gulags.  Few of them survived the imprisonment.  Many may have been sentenced to death at their trials.

After the fall of the Soviet Union the Church experienced resurgence. During the early 1990s, Dr. Wallace Schulz, 2nd Vice President of the LCMS, organized a series of theological seminars on the campuses of the Fort Wayne and St. Louis seminaries. Among the 200 visitors from the nations of the former Soviet Union were Pastor Vsevolod Lytkin and several young members of what became the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). In 1995 Pastor Lytkin asked Dr. Schulz for help in training pastors and deacons in Siberia. The Russian Project was established at the CTS Ft. Wayne seminary and the majority of pastors that were trained in the Russian Project are now serving as missionary pastors in Russia as well as in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia. Today, the central location for the SELC is located in Novosibirsk (as well as Lutheran Theological Seminary). There are LCMS pastors and professors that teach at the seminary.

The road to being deployed is a challenging one. To achieve such funding in our current economic times is no small feat. Since June 25, 2012, Rev. Johnson has been traveling to congregations and visiting individuals who have indicated an interest in providing financial support toward the Siberian and Baltic mission. His Sundays usually include preaching and or assisting with liturgy with a 1 hour PowerPoint presentation on the Siberian and Baltic mission. Included in the 1 hour presentation is a 20-minute video about the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). The purpose of the video is to show the donor the condition under which the SELC pastors operate. Knowing the conditions in which the pastors serve gives an indication of his role as a catechist to these pastors and church leaders. After he has reached his funding goal, the synod will then set a date for deployment.

In short, the missionary must secure his own funding (for all aspects of his mission) before he is released by the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM) for deployment.

Because the LCMS does not fully support its missionaries, they are directed to solicit their own funding. Such funding necessary to sustain a career missionary is usually estimated to be $150,000 to $200,000 each year. This includes all the expenses that a domestic congregation may incur to retain a pastor, such as salary, housing, health insurance (but in the case of an expat family, this can often be much more expensive), payments to the synod’s retirement plan and professional expenses. The additional expenses are the cost of moving overseas, taxes to the host country (which in many cases is much more than U.S. Income tax), legal expenses to relocate to a foreign country that include work visa, and residence visas for each family member relocating with the missionary. The other expenses are missionary training, language study (which usually involves the employment of a private tutor or language software), purchasing furniture and household items that cannot be moved to a foreign country. The synod will only pay to move 3500 pounds of household furniture and goods and 500 pounds of a missionary’s library. Therefore, as a catechist, his library will be a valuable tool of his trade. He must be selective on which books are moved which amounts to a small portion of his entire library. The synod does provide a loan that assists the missionary in purchasing a work vehicle. But this cost (along with all other expenses paid to the missionary as he conducts his work) is included in the total funding the missionary must secure prior to deployment.

Personal matters need to be taken care of before Rev. Johnson is deployed to the field. Preparations include medical checkups, visa preparations, and moving preparations. They have also sold their vehicles and some of their household items. His wife Amy has also given up her career and job of 15 years in order to move with her husband. Since they own their own home in Marshalltown, IA they had to find someone that would be able to take care of it (their son, Luke will be moving in and caring for the home). They will receive 4 weeks of vacation a year in which they can return to their home as well as continue to build a support network.

During the months before deployment, the OIM has kept Rev. Johnson busy. Building his support network has been very stressful and exhaustive work for him and his family, but is eager to deploy and begin his missionary work to train and equip future generations of pastors in Siberia and Baltic States.

If you are interested in finding out more about where Rev. Johnson will be going and what he will be doing go to http://www.lcms.org/johnson or email him at [email protected] to subscribe to his monthly newsletter.

To learn more about the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society go to http://siberianlutheranmissions.com/.

A video on YouTube titled “The Other Half of the Truth” which depicts life in Siberia and the struggles of Lutheran pastors can be found here:

For the Johnson family prayer and support sheet (PDF) click here.

 


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