News

Brazil’s Lutherans united against COVID-19

IELB President Geraldo Walmir Schüler leads worship online for the Second Sunday of Easter.

BRAZIL – Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing in March 2020, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brazil (Igreja Evangélica Luterana do Brasil – IELB) has been concerned with helping its members and pastors acclimatize to the current reality the world is facing. With the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, IELB President Geraldo Walmir Schüler encouraged congregations to suspend all onsite activities, including worship services. At the same time, the church made available to congregations a variety of resources to assist their ministry work during the pandemic.

Worship services were organized with the assistance of IELB’s communication agency IELBcom and pastors from the church’s national board, and transmitted live via the web radio station Cristo Para Todos (CPT) on Sunday mornings. Services were rebroadcast Sunday evenings. Since June, Cristo Para Todos has been highlighting the efforts of IELB congregations across the country who are broadcasting their own services. Every week, CPT’s Facebook page highlights the worship schedule of one of the IELB’s 59 districts, and on Sunday broadcasts the worship service from one of that district’s congregations.

While many IELB congregations have been livestreaming services and Bible studies for some time, others have only begun using this tool in response to the coronavirus. To assist pastors and congregations with this new work, IELBcom produced and made available technical tutorials to assist with recording and livestreaming as well as sharing CPT materials via social media. The latter tutorials were an adaptation from the “Media Training” workshop, which has been taught by the IELB’s communications department to students of Concórdia Seminary in São Leopoldo since 2017.

Moreover, many CPT radio programs have addressed the current crisis, providing guidance on how the church can help everyone to deal with the pandemics with caution, common sense, faith, and hope in God the Creator. (CPT podcasts are available in Portuguese here).

The Department of Christian Education had also increased the number of home worship service materials available from monthly to weekly, and the blog Criança Cristã (“Christian Child”) provides devotion and activities for children. In addition, the IELB’s website, with help from Editora Concórdia (the IELB’s publishing house) and Hora Luterana (Brazil’s Lutheran Hour), offers several materials to promote spiritual growth for the whole family.

In partnership with Editora Concórdia, the IELB celebrated its 116th anniversary on June 24, 2020—a celebration held online for the first time. The celebration had a special guest, the Brazilian musician and Lutheran, Carlos Magrão, and drew approximately 20,800 viewers via the IELB’s YouTube channel.

One of the IELB’s web conferences for church leaders.

The board of the IELB has also organized twenty-four web conferences in order to consult with congregational leaders and pastors from the entire country, gathering about 1,500 participants from all 59 districts through the end of July. “In these online meetings the Board has listened to reports on the situation in each place, answered questions, and provided information on what is being planned nationwide,” notes Aline Gehm Koller Albrecht, Vice President of Communications. “These moments bring stimulus, comfort in the Word of God, and encouragement to the Church to keep facing these challenging times, united and standing firm in Christ Jesus.”

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

Finnish theologian and missionary enters into glory

Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki

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.”

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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.

Estonian Lutherans commemorate persecution under the communist regime

Participants in the Estonian memorial’s tenth anniversary commemoration service.
Participants in the Estonian memorial’s tenth anniversary commemoration service.

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:

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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.

SELC Bishop Vesevolod Lytkin speaks during the commemoration service.

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.

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President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church passes on to glory

FLM President David Rakotonirina following his election in 2016.

MADAGASCAR – Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy – FLM) passed on to glory suddenly on July 11, 2020 from COVID-19 after a brief stay in hospital.

A funeral service for President Rakotonirina was held on July 12, 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a funeral open to the public was not possible, but the service was streamed online.

“President David Rakotonirina was a respected and committed confessional Lutheran churchman, and a good friend,” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “Oh, how blest are they whose toils are ended,” Dr. Quill said, quoting the hymn by Simon Dach. He further asked Lutherans around the world to keep David’s wife and family, as well as the Malagasy church, in their prayers.

FLM media marking the passing of President David Rakotonirina.

In addition to serving as President of the FLM, President Rakotonirina had assumed the presidency of the Council of Christian Churches in Madagascar (FFKM) in January 2020. In that position, he had encouraged the government to take greater steps to control the spread of the deadly coronavirus, and urged churchgoers to follow government health directives. The Malagasy Lutheran Church itself had distributed food, medicine, and prevention kits through its hospitals and health centres to various areas of the country.

Dr. Rakotonirina received his Master of Theology degree from the Graduate School of Theology in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar in 1997. He served in congregational ministry from 1997-2006. From 2006-2010, he served as president of the seminary Sekoly Teolojikam-Paritany Loterana Atsimoniavoko, while also pursuing graduate studies through Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW).

President Rakotonirina speaks during the 2018 ILC World Conference in Belgium.

Dr. Rakotonirina became President of the FLM’s Antananarivo Synod in 2012. On September 13, 2016, Dr. Rakotonirina was elected President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church. CTSFW awarded him an honourary doctorate of divinity in May 2018. He was also the recipient of several national awards from the nation of Madagascar.

During Dr. Rakotonirina’s presidency, the FLM pursued greater relationship with confessional Lutherans worldwide. In May 2018, the church voted to pursue altar and pulpit fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Later the same year, the Malagasy Lutheran Church was accepted into full membership of the International Lutheran Council on September 26, 2018, during the ILC’s World Conference meeting in Antwerp, Belgium.

The Malagasy Lutheran Church is one of the largest and fastest growing Lutheran church bodies in the world. The International Lutheran Council, of which the FLM is a member, is a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran church bodies and groups which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God.

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ILC supports Theological Symposium in Tanzania

Participants in the ELCT-SELVD’s 2019 Theological Symposium.

TANZANIA – From December 4-7, 2019, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) together with Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW) sponsored a theological symposium at Agape Lutheran Church in Kahama, Tanzania. Agape is a congregation of the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT-SELVD).

ELCT-SELVD Bishop Emmanuel Makala answers a question during the theological symposium.

In his opening sermon, ELCT-SELVD Bishop Emmanuel Makala encouraged the 142 participants (pastors, deaconesses, members of the Executive committee, and local lay people) with a reflection on Philippians 1:27. “Joy is found in the concordia of doctrine alone, even under persecutions,” he said. “Paul and his church were surrounded by heretics, just like we are. We need to be the light of the world. Otherwise, we would become like other preachers.”

“Our symposium has only one purpose—that is, we want to be strengthened by the Word of God, growing together stronger in confession,” he continued. “We are not here for political interest, but for faith. Our diocese in its constitution declares that everything is to be measured by the Word of God. Bishop and pastors can make mistakes but not the Word of God. The Word is always right. We are also given the Book of Concord. Before you say anything of your own, consult with the Lutheran Confessions.”

“The Lutheran Confessions connect us with other Lutherans worldwide,” the bishop continued, “as well as with those who went before us, including Luther, Paul, and the Apostles.”

Theological Education in Tanzania

CTSFW has been assisting the diocese at the request of Bishop Makala in the areas of pastoral and diaconal formation as well as continuing education since 2013—the very beginning of the new diocese. Three cohorts of pastoral and deaconess students have already graduated, and the number of pastors has increased from 15 to about 80.

The annual theological symposium, which held its first conference in 2016, plays a significant role in the life of the diocese. As new pastors are ordained and others join the diocese from other areas in Tanzania and Kenya, it is important for the ministerium to foster a common confession. For laity and lay leaders, a symposium is a necessary place where questions and concerns about Christian faith and life are discussed and answered. The ILC’s sponsorship of the annual symposium directly contributes to the maturing of this young confessional Lutheran diocese in Tanzania. The South East of Lake Victoria Diocese was accepted as a Recognized Organization observer member of the International Lutheran Council in 2019.

Dr. Daniel Mono translates into Swahili as Dr. Naomichi Masaki lectures on the the Scriptural basis of the Lutheran Confessions, and contemporary issues like the prosperity Gospel and the ordination of women.

The presenter for the 2019 symposium was Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, professor of systematic theology of CTSFW and director of the ILC’s Lutheran Leadership Development Program. He was invited to speak on three topics important to the diocese: (1) The Authority of the Bible in the Eyes of the Book of Concord; (2) The Prosperity Gospel vs Theology of the Cross; and (3) The Ordination of Women?

Several participating pastors who were trained at other theological institutions expressed thankfulness for Dr. Masaki and CTSFW, saying they “have a lot to teach the world about the truth of the Word of God” and that they appropriately stress the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, especially “when compared to other Lutheran churches.” One lay member of the Executive Committee shared that, as a result of the symposium, they now believe the ELCT had made a mistake in adopting women’s ordination.

Widespread interest in the presentations led the three-day symposium to be extended an extra half day for more question and answer sessions. At the close of the symposium, the chairman of the Executive Committee summarized the consensus of the participants, suggesting that the symposium be extended to meet twice a year and that it be extended to five days instead of three. Plans for future symposia hope to see two topics discussed at each event going forward: first, a study of the texts in the Book of Concord one by one, and second, a discussion of other biblical and contemporary issues.

Participants in the theological symposium engaged in lively dialogue—as well as a little fun!

Bishop Makala and the diocese expressed thanks to the ILC and CTSFW for sponsoring the theological symposium. “We had strong discussions among the participants, he wrote. “Lay people were excited and asked many questions, especially concerning women’s ordination. Participants expressed joy and eagerness to have more symposia and more time in each. Participants learned a lot from our facilitator Dr. Naomichi Masaki. We acknowledge that faith and knowledge have been enriched among the participants.”

“It is always such a great joy and privilege to serve in the SELVD, alongside Bishop Makala, Rev. Nzelu, and Dr. Mono,” said Dr. Masaki. “It is always nice to see my former students whenever I am back in Tanzania. But it is also rewarding to see how they have grown in their confession and matured in the ministry. Their ministry in SELVD is not easy. They daily face many challenges. Yet, they remain faithful to the Lord under the able leadership of Bishop Makala and his team.”

“I cherish the time I am able to spend with these men and women, both pastors and deaconesses, as well as lay people and lay leaders,” Dr. Masaki continued. “It was also a delight to meet new pastors whom I had not met before. The fruit of the Gospel here is so obvious. Indeed, the SELVD is a light in world Lutheranism. It’s a joy to help each other as brothers and sisters, and to rejoice together as Lutherans!”

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COVID-19 and ILC Churches in Germany and Nicaragua

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

Bethlehem Church in Hanover, Germany live-streams the divine service.

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

The ILSN shares a message for Easter Sunday via social media.

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.”

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

ILC Board looks toward 2021

Members of the International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors and staff hold meetings online.

WORLD – The Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held regular meetings May 26-27, 2020 via online videoconferencing, during which time the board continued planning for the ILC’s 2021 World Conference, as well as received a report on the ILC’s ecumenical discussions with Roman Catholics.

The International Lutheran Council’s 27th (12th) World Conference will take place September 21-24, 2021 in Kenya. Some on-the-ground preparations have been interrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but planning otherwise is progressing normally. The board will announce further information, including the conference theme, at a later date.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt holds a Zoom meeting ILC board members and staff.

During the May 2020 meetings, the Board of Directors also accepted the concluding report of the informal academic dialogue between the International Lutheran Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The document will be now distributed to the churches of the ILC for study and reaction, with plans to make official recommendations on the report during the 2021 ILC World Conference.

“The dialogue groups from both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic sides have done marvelous work,” said ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the final report. “I am grateful to them for their diligence, and for the results of their theological discussions. They deserve our sincere thanks.”

The board also considered ongoing membership applications during their meetings, as well as regular business such as reports from ILC programs, organizations, and world regions. The current pandemic has led to the postponement of several ILC initiatives, including regional conferences in Latin America and Europe, as well as classes in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program.

The board also approved an update to the ILC’s Mission Statement, which now reads:

The International Lutheran Council is a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran church bodies and groups which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. The ILC exists for the purpose of encouraging, strengthening, and promoting confessional Lutheran theology and practice centering in Jesus Christ, both among its members and throughout the world.

The next meeting of the ILC Board of Directors will take place online on September 21, 2020.

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Remembering World War II 75 Years Later

An Unexpected Visit

75 years ago the most terrible of all world wars ended in Europe…

A personal reflection by the The Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council

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It was at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Gross Oesingen, one of our congregations in the Lüneburg Heath region of northern Germany. A few months after the unconditional surrender of the German army some pastors of the then Evangelical Lutheran Free Church had assembled. It was November 1 of the year 1945. Among them was the local Pastor Martin Hein, as well as the Pastor from Hannover, Hans Kirsten. The worst war that ever emanated from German territory had ended with a resounding defeat and the signing of the instruments of capitulation just a few months earlier.

Perplexity and a sense of helplessness was keenly felt by all the pastors. All around them there were refugees on the farms and in emergency housing in the cities. There were still some food supplies, especially from the reserves of the military, but hunger and the first post-war winter were approaching.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door of Farmer Käppel’s house next to the church. Pastor Hein got up to open the door. A tall, lanky man appeared, dressed in suit and hat, accompanied by a GI in uniform, who had driven the American military limousine; they were obviously US-Americans. The visitor introduced himself, speaking German with a Texan accent, as the President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). “How can we help you?” John William Behnken (1884-1968) asked. “What can we do for you and your congregations?” He was LCMS President from 1935 to 1962. President Behnken was the first American church representative who was allowed to visit Germany. After his trip he personally reported to the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman.

Even today we can still feel the emotions of that moment. Not much earlier American troops and their allies had paid a bloody toll as they invaded Normandy in France in order to end the ravages of war by force. And just a few weeks later the question: “How can we help you?” The German pastors had not expected that.

It is a fact that The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod provided considerable help in the reconstruction and re-organization of the independent Lutheran confessional churches in Germany. The foundation of our Lutheran Seminary (now in Oberursel) was made possible in large part by the LCMS. Many congregations of the LCMS participated massively by sending Care Packages very soon after the war. The 75th Anniversary of Germany’s liberation provides opportunity to remember in gratitude the help offered so soon after the war

A change of scenery: In 2018 I visited one of the Lutheran congregations in London, England. My friend, the Rev. John Ehlers, had invited me to preach in the service. After worship Pastor Ehlers introduced me to an elderly lady and informed me that during World War II she had served as a nurse, and she frequently she had to take care of the victims caused by the German air raids. The lady said to me: “You’re the first German to preach in this church. It is good that our peoples are now so close to one another.” I have never forgotten this.

Without doubt May 8, 1945 was a day of liberation. All the horror which German refugees, the victim of the bombings, and the soldiers had to endure had its origin in that ideological dictatorship that caused this war and not the final outcome. In 1945 the full extent of the horror and the utter monstrosity of the mass murder of the Jews was not yet fully revealed, but almost everyone knew what was going on.

An American philosopher of Spanish descent, George Santayana (1863 – 1952), said: “He who learns nothing from history is condemned to repeat its mistakes.” I do not know know whether this is true in all cases. But it is one of the strengths of Germany’s policy of remembrance not to suppress the shameful crimes of the past but to keep them in our collective memory. President Behnken’s visit and the readiness to forgive on the part of that nurse in London I regard as more than just a sign for the power of Christian reconciliation. That reconciliation is based on Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.

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Hans-Jörg Voigt

COVID-19 and ILC Churches in Russia and Togo

Participating in Easter worship online, with ELCR General Secretary Pastor Mikhail Ivanov broadcasting from St. Mary Cathedral in Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

WORLD – The member churches of the International Lutheran Council continue to reach out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we highlight the work of ILC member churches in Russia and in Togo.

Russia

Russia now reports 187,859 cases of COVID-19 as well as 1,723 deaths so far. Different areas have enacted quarantines and lockdown procedures, with many citizens ordered to self-isolate, and a do-not-work order runs at least through May 11, 2020.

Rev. Igor Alisov of St. Trinity in Moscow prepares to lead evening devotions online.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria (ELCR) has moved much of its work online during this situation. On a daily basis, several congregations (and two dozen on Sundays) are live-streaming or publishing record videos of worship services, theology classes, Bible studies, confirmation classes, devotions, and more. Each week, Bishop Ivan Laptev and General Secretary Mikhail Ivanv go live online, answering viewers’ questions.

“The Church is exploring a new missions field in the internet,” the church reports. “The Word of God has come to every home. And even secular specialists—through the expertise in internet technologies—are becoming involved in the work of Christ.”

Other ongoing activities include online meetings of youth and the publication of Bible classes for children. The Theological Institute has implemented distance education programs.

The church is also reaching out with practical care as well, providing support for those in need of material assistance who have no other means of support.

“We are longing to meet with one another again, and with Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion,” the church reports. In the meantime, “we continue to pray, praise, and worship together as we joyfully celebrate the Easter season.”

Togo

In Togo, 145 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, as well as 10 deaths. In order to prevent the spread of the disease, several official measures have been taken, with gatherings restricted to 15 people are fewer.

Rev. Remy Lari Lamboni holds a worship service with five members of his parish in Sankpong, Togo.

The Lutheran Church of Togo (Église Luthérienne du Togo – ELT) faces a difficult situation ministering to its members during this crisis. “The coronavirus pandemic has affected our church negatively,” notes President Kolani Lambon Lare. “The public celebration of Holy Communion, Baptism, weddings, conventions, Sunday schools, and church meetings are all stopped.”

In remote areas, some pastors have been permitted to hold small gatherings of five to ten people. During these services, church members are asked to practice social distancing, wear masks, and wash with hand sanitizer. Some pastors are also able to provide baptism and holy communion in small family settings.

The church has no website, complicating their outreach to church members. The ELT has turned to WhatsApp to share devotions with members every Wednesday and Sunday. President Lare has also encouraged members to study their Bibles at home, and to pray against the pandemic.

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

COVID-19 and ILC Churches in Ghana and Haiti

ELCG President John Donkoh leads evening devotions online.

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

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.

COVID-19 awareness material shared online from the ELCG’s National Lutheran Youth Executives.

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.”

Haiti

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!”

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.