NICARAGUA – An eruption at Nicaragua’s San Cristobal Volcano on March 9, 2021 showered the nearby area, including the city of Chinandega, in ash but otherwise caused no major damage.
Following the eruption, Nicaragua’s National System for the Prevention, Mitigation, and Attention of Disasters encouraged locals to remain calm but stay two kilometres from the crater of the volcano. San Cristobal is Nicaragua’s largest volcano and is considered moderately active.
The Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (Iglesia Luterana Sínodo de Nicaragua – ILSN) is headquartered in Chinandega, and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) has a mission centre in the city. ILSN President Marvin Donaire confirms that people in the area are doing fine despite a bit of ash in the air, and that they are grateful the eruption proved to be minor. Staff at LCC’s mission centre also write that the volcano has returned to its normal state.
Rev. Mark Smith, Lutheran Church–Canada’s Missions Executive, expressed thanks that the situation in Chinandega seems to have returned to normal. He also encouraged Lutherans around the world to remember their Nicaraguan brothers and sisters in prayer:
Almighty God, whose loving care is everlasting, with relieved hearts we are grateful that the latest volcano eruption of San Cristobal in Nicaragua wasn’t as severe as first feared. We implore You to continue to watch over and protect Your people in Nicaragua, especially those faced with dangerous ash and debris in the air. We also pray that You strengthen the faith of Your Church through Your Life-giving Word that she may bring comfort and aid to those in need; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua and Lutheran Church–Canada are both members of the International Lutheran Council.
WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has announced Rev. Roger B. James will serve as its new Assistant to the General Secretary.
“It’s a pleasure to be joining the International Lutheran Council,” said Rev. James. “The ILC plays a vital role supporting the mission and ministry of confessional Lutherans worldwide, and I look forward to assisting in that work.”
Rev. James will be installed on January 31, 2021 in a service at New Hope Lutheran Church in Ossian, Indiana (USA), with Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the ILC, preaching. Rev. James will officially begin service with the ILC on February 1.
“It’s with great joy that I welcome Roger to the International Lutheran Council,” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary. “He brings a wealth of international experience with him, especially in Asia, which will be of great service to the ILC. May God bless our work together on behalf of Lutherans around the world.”
Rev. James and his wife Amy served as missionaries in Asia for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) from 2012-2020. While living and working in Sri Lanka, Rev. James served as the LCMS’ South Asia Area Director, regularly traveling also to India and Bangladesh.
The past few years he has spent serving as a theological educator at the Lutheran Church in Philippines’s (LCP) Lutheran Theological Seminary and Training Center in Baguio City. Prior to his work as a missionary, Rev. James spent twenty years in pastoral ministry in Michigan and Minnesota in the United States.
Rev. James holds a Master of Divinity from Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) and a Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana).
The ILC’s Board of Directors issued a call to Rev. James in November 2020.
KENYA – The Rt. Rev. Francis Nyamwaro Onderi, former Chairman and Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK), entered into glory on November 17, 2020.
In 1996, Rev. Nyamwaro was installed as the first bishop of the ELCK, following a decision of the church a year prior to transition to an episcopal structure. Prior to that transition, he also served as the church’s last chairman. Rev. Nyamwaro would continue to serve as bishop until his retirement.
In a post announcing his death, the ELCK highlighted some of his accomplishments as head of the church body. “It was during his watch that the Lutheran Church grew, and reached all the then-nine provinces of the Republic of Kenya,” the church notes, including work among Somali refugees in the north-east of the country. The church also praised his work among the Borana in Marsabit and the Digo in Kwale, as well as new outreach to the Kalenjin, the Masai, Sumburu, Kamba, Kikuyu, Meru, and Embu. Work in traditionally strong Lutheran areas, like Kisii, Luoland, and amongst the Pokot, also expanded during this period.
“He was first of all a pastor and servant of God, and should be honoured as such,” the church writes.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
FINLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) will hold an election for bishop in January 2021, following Bishop Risto Soramies’ request to be released from the duties of bishop.
“I turn 75 next year,” Bishop Soramies notes in an announcement to the church. “I have had the joy and privilege of serving Lutheran congregations as the bishop of our church. As a young man, I missed the chance to serve in congregations where priests know their flocks and flocks know their priests. I couldn’t even imagine being allowed to serve such congregations and pastors in my old age.”
“In my opinion, now is the right time for a generational change,” he said, citing Ecclesiastes 3:1—“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He further expressed his thanks to the pastors and congregations of the ELMDF for the opportunity to serve with them.
Bishop Risto Soramies was ordained bishop of the ELMDF on May 4, 2013, shortly after the official founding of the ELMDF as an autonomous church body. Prior to his elevation to the episcopacy, Bishop Soramies served as a missionary for more than 40 years to Turkish immigrants in Germany as well as in Turkey itself. He was the founding pastor of the Istanbul Lutheran Church in Turkey.
At a November meeting of the College of the Priests, the ELMDF’s clergy put forward two candidates for bishop: Rev. Esko Murto and Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola. The ELMDF’s Consistory has since examined both candidates and declared them eligible for election as bishop.
Rev. Murto was ordained in 2007, and currently serves as pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Tampere. He previously served as Dean of the Luther Foundation Finland, and has served as assistant professor at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario). Rev. Murto holds a Master of Theology from the University of Helsinki and a Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana).
Dr. Pohjola was ordained in 1999, and currently serves as Dean of the ELMDF. He previously served as Dean of the Lutheran Foundation Finland, and as a visiting researcher at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario). Dr. Pohjola holds a Master of Theology from the University of Helsinki, a Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), and a Doctor of Theology from the University of Helsinki.
The election of the bishop will take place January 16-18, 2021, in advance of an extraordinary diocesan meeting to be held remotely on January 23. The assembly must then confirm the results of the election. All clergy and representatives of each congregation are eligible to vote for the ELMDF’s new bishop.
The installation of the new bishop is planned for August 1, 2021.
FINLAND – Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki, a major figure in Finnish Lutheranism and African missions, passed away on July 6, 2020 at his home in Uusikaupunki. He was 75 years old.
Dr. Simojoki left a deep spiritual impact on Finland and more broadly on missions. He was known as a powerful preacher of the Gospel, a versatile theologian, a courageous ecclesiastical debater, and a prolific writer and wordsmith.
Dr. Simojoki was ordained by Archbishop Martti Simojoki at Turku Cathedral in 1972. He served the parishes of Kodisjoki and Pori before being elected pastor of Lappi in southwest Finland. During this time, he became acquainted with the spiritual heritage of the so-called Prayer Revival of Western Finland. He served as the longtime editor of the movement’s magazine Länsi-Suomen Herännäislehti.
Dr. Simojoki was a founding member and longtime General Secretary of the St. Paul’s Synod in 1975, a forum and think tank for the confessional Lutheran defence of the office of the ministry in public discussions—including in the theological debate on woman’s priesthood, a debate which led to deep divisions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
In 1989, Dr. Simojoki was invited to serve as a missionary of the Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland to Kenya, where he served as a teacher at the Matongo Lutheran Theological Seminary and as pastor to a congregation in Nairobi. While serving in the field, he completed his doctoral thesis on the reception of the Book of Revelation in Finnish theology, which he defended at Åbo Akademi University in 1997.
In 1996, with the support of the Association of the Western Finland Prayer Movement, he joined the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, pioneering their work in Africa. In that role, he led numerous translation projects of Lutheran literature into dozens of African languages. He taught in many countries across the continent, including in Kenya, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Together with Rev. Dr. Robert Rahn and Rev. Andrew Mbugo, he helped found the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Sudan and Sudan. He also helped lead Gospel ministry efforts in hostile places like Somalia, Afghanistan, and Turkey. Before retiring in 2010, Dr. Simojoki completed a translation of the Lutheran Confessions into Swahili.
Dr. Simojoki helped to establish the Finnish Luther Foundation in 1999, and was subsequently also involved in the founding of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF). He served as chairman of the church’s Lutheran Hymns committee, producing a number of new hymns through original writing and translation.
His membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese led the Turku Archdiocese to defrock him from ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in 2014. He spent his remaining years helping to build the Mission Diocese. In 2014, the Mission Diocese published a Festschrift in honour of his 70th birthday, the title of which summed up Simojoki’s spiritual heritage: It is True as it is Written.
In retirement, Dr. Simojoki continued to serve as pastor to the Laitila congregation of the Mission Diocese. His ministry there bore witness to the focal point of his teaching and ministry: that God works through His Holy Word. From week to week, he focused on teaching and preaching. The gifts of Christ were to be distributed as they were instituted, so that even the weakest may possess the grace of Christ. The day before his death, he preached his final sermon at the congregation’s summer festival in Pyhäranta.
Dr. Simojoki is survived by his wife Marja, their six children, and twenty-four grandchildren.
Rev. Dr. Simojoki’s motto was Ps. 118:17, a fitting memorial to the faith of the great theologian and churchman: “Non moriar sed vivam, et narrabo opera Domini – I shall not die but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.”
From a report by the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, with information also from a report by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.
The ELMDF is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
RUSSIA – Ten years ago, Bishop Vesevolod Lytkin of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) consecrated a monument in the Estonian graveyard at Estono-Semionovka, commemorating the Estonians who suffered during the years of political repression under the communist regime. This time of persecution rapidly eroded the once-majority Lutheran faith among Estonians.
In the lead up to 2020, the SELC had been planning a commemoration prayer service to mark the tenth anniversary of the installation of the monument in Estono-Semionovka, with Bishop Tiit Salumäe of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) also intending to participate. However, the interruption of international travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic made his attendance impossible, so EELK Bishop Tiit instead sent a video address to Siberian Estonians.
During the commemoration service, SELC Bisho Lytkin reflected on the persecution of Estonian Lutherans, and what Christians today can learn from their story. The text of his remarks follow:
Brothers and sisters, friends,
We just read from the Gospel about the cross. But we did not only read; we stand near a cross. This cross is erected here in memory of our ancestor—the people who came to Siberia to live and to work, to build a happy new life for themselves and their children.
You know, some people often say that Lutheranism is a “German faith.” But, according to the statistics, at the end of the 19th century there were more Estonian Lutherans in the Tomsk province than German Lutherans. So, we can say that on this land, Lutheranism was an Estonian faith.
But in fact, Lutheranism is a non-ethnic faith. In Siberia, there were many people who spoke different languages and confessed Lutheranism. Someone estimated that Lutherans spoke 26 languages. Can you imagine?
Our ancestors, no matter who they were by ethnicity, suffered many trials. When they arrived here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they did not know what awaited them. At that time the Russian government was trying to populate Siberia. A great many people from the western outskirts of the Empire came here to start a new life. It was difficult here, but there was freedom. Labour brought results and joy—as it should be.
The immigrants built houses, farms, and then schools, and in some settlements even churches. And where there were no churches, pastors from bigger towns came to visit the parishioners. Those who lived here in this place were parishioners of the parish of Saint Mary in Tomsk.
They did not know what awaited them. They hoped for the best. And then it began… The Russian revolution, civil war, forced collectivization, the confiscation of property, persecution for the faith, and the enlargement of villages, reorganized in order to deprive people of their roots—of their past.
We must keep the memory of them. Because without memory, we simply do not have anything left. Without memory of our ancestors, we ourselves are nobody.
Moreover, how wonderful it is that the top of this monument is crowned with a cross. Frankly, I remember how ten years ago, when I was asked to consecrate this monument, I was a little worried. What would be in it? What is this monument? But when I saw the cross on top, I calmed down and rejoiced. When I saw the cross.
Why are crosses placed in cemeteries? Because the cross is a sign of victory over death. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth to die on the cross for our sins. He died and then He rose from the dead. If we believe in Christ, we will live forever. Earthly death will be for us not a cessation of existence but a gate to paradise.
Christ died on the cross for the sins of each of us. And now for every person the cross of Christ means a choice: either we ourselves will answer in the Last Judgment before God for our sins, or we will believe and trust in Christ, Who died for us, instead of us. Either God’s judgment will condemn us to eternal perdition, or Christ will become our Savior.
This is what I want to say: I am so sad to see that among the descendants of the settlers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there are very few who still believe in God. They live like unbelievers, sometimes even like pagans. They don’t remember God, they don’t pray, they don’t go to church.
But our ancestors believed in God. And they lived and died with faith in Christ. That is why we are gathered here today: to thank God for the faith that He gave to our ancestors. For eternal life—the symbol of which is this memorable cross.
Siberian Estonians were persecuted for their ethnicity, for the fact that they knew how and wanted to work, for the faith that they did not renounce even in the face of death. Their life was terribly difficult: they got into the most terrible meat-grinder. But they carried their cross to the end. They lost their lives for the sake of Christ and saved their souls for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now they are in heaven. And that means we will meet them again. And we will embrace them and bow to them—our brothers and sisters, who during the earthly life carried a heavy cross… and now live forever.
WORLD – Lutherans across the world continue to respond to the COVID-19 crisis with spiritual and physical care. In this post, we highlight the response of member churches of the International Lutheran Council in Germany and Nicaragua.
Germany has reported 183,564 cases of COVID-19, with 8,605 deaths. The country acted quickly to enact lockdown measures after the disease began to spread, leading to the closure of schools, the closure of national borders, and the imposition of curfews and stay-home orders in various parts of the country. Restrictions were also placed on church gatherings. Recently, some of these pandemic containment measures have begun to be relaxed.
From the beginning of the crisis, Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) has worked hard to provide continued pastoral care to members in unusual circumstances. A special crisis group was struck to provide pastors and congregations guidance and assistance about how to deal with the situation, as well as offering comfort and spiritual guidance. Churches moved quickly to offer services and other programs online, as well as offering services over the phone for older parishioners. Devotional resources for holding home services have also been made available.
“All the things that developed in our congregations with the various online services are a cause for much gratitude,” noted SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt. “How many possibilities are suddenly arising in our congregations which—without this insidious virus—we would likely never have thought of.” Bishop Voigt is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.
The SELK was clear from the beginning the Lord’s Supper could not be consecrated online. Some churches have been able to resume in-church services since May 17, albeit with reduced numbers of parishioners, so pastors are working hard to administer communion to members who have gone without—sometimes conducting two or three services each Sunday in order to accommodate the reduced number of participants allowed to attend each service.
In this time of turmoil, Bishop Voigt encourages Christians to take comfort in the words of Jesus Christ: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“In these days,” Bishop Voigt comments, “may this promise be our strong consolation.”
Nicaragua currently reports 370 cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths. The country has refrained from mandating the social distancing and quarantine measures common in other parts of the world.
The Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (Iglesia Luterana Sínodo de Nicaragua – ILSN) reports widespread concerns that there may be more sick than currently verified by testing. In the midst of this unease, the church is offering spiritual support and guidance to people as they are able.
The ILSN took steps early on to keep members and their communities safe, suspending normal church meetings and activities. Large gatherings were suspended, with pastors instead meeting with small groups of people at a time to administer the means of grace. They have also distributed printed devotional material as well as offering services and messages online.
Some programs have had to be suspended for the time being, including the church’s large education program for children. The children’s feeding program, however, continues to be offered by deaconesses and volunteers, as it supports people in some of the poorest parts of the country. The program has been adapted to follow appropriate safety guidelines: rather than gathering children together in church buildings for meals, prepackaged food items are instead being delivered to the houses of impoverished children and families.
“We see how blessed our deaconesses in Nicaragua are in their dedication and service to the poor in their communities,” notes a recent update on the ILSN situation via The Canadian Lutheran magazine. “Their faith has opened their eyes to the needs of the people, and has inspired and led them to find ways to address those needs, even in the face of a daunting pandemic.”
For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.
WORLD – Lutherans continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic spreading around the globe. In this report, we focus on the response of ILC member churches in Ghana and Haiti.
Ghana has reported 2,719 cases of COVID-19, with 18 deaths. In response to the crisis, the country banned all public gatherings on March 15, including worship services. Several regions have been gone into partial lockdown or quarantine.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG) has urged its members to follow all government protocols and remain at home. At the same time, the church is working to identify members at risk because of the lockdowns. “We note that in some communities, the majority of people live from hand to mouth, and cannot stay at home and isolate themselves, because that would bring about their swift starvation,” notes ELCG President John Donkoh. Thanks to support from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the ELCG is rolling out a range of various activities to reach out to the needy and less privileged in their communities.
The church is also launching an interactive online program in collaboration with the Lutheran Media Ministry, to keep faith alive for youth, women, compassion children, and their parents. Each Sunday, regional pastors preach in turns live via Facebook, and sermons are translated into local Ghanaian languages where broadcasts are taking place. At the same time, the church encourages its members to also engage in personal study of Scripture, to pray, and to continue studying the Catechism.
The Lutheran Media Ministry Studio in Accra is also assisting with Christ-centered programs to share the good news of Jesus with the whole country. From Maundy Thursday through Easter, the church presented a series of messages on suffering, death, and the resurrection of Christ to the nation via FM radio.
The church is also responding to questions of faith and fear from the general public as well as major media on various theological topics.
“This is a very challenging time, but we don’t lose heart because Jesus has overcome the world,” says ELCG President Donkoh. “The period of lockdown has been uncomfortable for many…. People are grieving that life has not worked out as they had hoped.”
“We seem to be living in a broken world,” he continues. “A world with bad news. COVID-19 is indeed disorganizing our normal life.” And yet, he says, “the Holy Spirit through the blessed Word relieves us from the fear of death, and gives us the power to triumph over this great and final foe. Through the great power of the Gospel—the good news of Jesus’ blessed death for those who are subject to death, and His glorious resurrection from the dead—we are gifted with hope in this world.”
The country of Haiti has reported 100 cases of COVID-19 and 11 deaths so far. To arrest the spread of the disease, the Haitian government has restricted gatherings of more than 10 people, including at churches.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (Église Évangélique Luthérienne d’Haiti – ELCH) is reaching out to people during this difficult situation, which is aggravated by recent instability in the region. The church reports that a lack of infrastructure in the nation also creates challenges; a majority of the population, for example, do not have access to electricity.
The ELCH is relying on WhatsApp—a form of communication in widespread use in the country—to distribute messages, sermons, and other information to congregation members. But this is often an imperfect solution, as those without regular access to electricity may not be able to read or hear sermons until several days later.
Visitations are also prohibited in order to prevent the spread of disease, effectively preventing pastors from visiting the sick.
“In this time of distress, we focus on God,” notes ELCH Secretary Thomas Bernard. “As we are battling with this pandemic, God is the only one who can save us with His message of grace and forgiveness. As Christian leaders, we encourage our members to remain faithful in times of suffering because through suffering we may be equipped to comfort others. We know that even in times of suffering, ‘God is still our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble.’”
ELCH President Eliona Bernard sends greetings to Lutherans around the world, encouraging pastors and church leaders: “May our Lord continue to equip and strengthen you all so that you continue to faithfully serve His flocks!”
For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.
GERMANY – Like many churches and organizations around the world, the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School (OLS) in Wittenberg has been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Together we rejoice in the victorious resurrection and gracious reign of our Lord Jesus Christ over all, even as we mourn the suffering worldwide under the pandemic,” writes Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Weber, Managing Director of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW), in an Easter update. “Lord, have mercy.”
Worship services across Germany have been banned to help curb the spread of the disease, but Dr. Weber continues to reach out to the people of Wittenberg with mp3 sermons. In normal times, the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School provides a place for people to learn, grow, study, meet, retreat, and experience the Gospel in Wittenberg, the birthplace of the Reformation.
Like many businesses, the bookstore at the Center was closed for an extended period due to government regulations, and was only able to reopen on April 20. But the hospitality business—including hotels—remains suspended indefinitely, significantly impacting that aspect of the International Lutheran Center’s work.
“We are still very much in shut-down mode here in Luthercity,” Dr. Weber notes. “Things have practically come to a standstill: no tourists, no buses, no ships on the river, no cyclists, the market square deserted, and parking bays available all over.” With tourism suspended, the work of the ILSW in sharing the Reformation witness to the Gospel has been complicated. Several future events scheduled to take place at the Center also remain up in the air.
Dr. Weber encourages Christians everywhere to pray for those affected by COVID-19. “We prayerfully bring before God those suffering and facing hardships due to this pandemic,” he says. “May the Triune God continue to grant healing and salvation as we call on Him in our good Lord Jesus’ name. We pray for a vaccine son. We thank Him for those many people who have been healed and who continue on the way of recovery.”
The International Lutheran Council is part-owner of the ILSW and the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg. For more information on its vital work, visit www.oldlatinschool.org. You can support the ILWS through online giving via the ILC website. Just select “Wittenberg Outreach.”
You can also donate by mail:
International Lutheran Council
P.O. Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118
For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.