News

COVID-19 and ILC Churches in Bolivia and Paraguay

The Evangelical Christian Lutheran Church of Bolivia distributes food to those in need.

WORLD – Member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) continue to provide spiritual and physical care to members in the midst of unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, we highlight the response of ILC member churches in Bolivia and Paraguay.

Bolivia

The nation of Bolivia has reported 138,695 cases of COVID-19 to date, with more than 8,300 deaths. There are currently 28,846 active cases of the coronavirus in the country. Early in March 2020, the government moved to close borders and enact quarantine measures throughout the country. Church services were restricted in Bolivia early on.

The Evangelical Christian Lutheran Church of Bolivia (Iglesia Cristiana Evangélica Luterana de Bolivia – ICEL) is working to support its members during the crisis, even as the virus affects some of its own members. ICEL President Limberth Fernandez himself fell ill with COVID-19 but has since recovered. Sadly, a staff worker of the church’s radio station in Sucre has passed away from the disease. President Fernandez further reports that “we have had many cases of members and their families affected by the virus, as well as other deaths” in the past few months.

ICEL President Limberth Fernandez provides a daily devotion via the church’s Facebook page.

In response to to the pandemic, the ICEL moved quickly to provide online devotional resources for members. The church’s pastors, vicars, and missionaries, have provided daily devotional videos via the church’s Facebook page, in both the Spanish and Quecha languages. The church has also led a national study of Luther’s Small Catechism which has been well-received.

Congregations themselves have stayed connected through the use of online platforms like Zoom.

Still, President Fernandez notes, online outreach is an imperfect solution, as many members of the ICEL do not have easy access to the internet. “It is impossible for us to reach a large number of our members who are from the countryside,” he says, “places where they do not have access to the internet or that unfortunately are not trained in the use of these technologies.”

The church has provided support for Bolivians in practical ways too, including through the distribution of basic necessities. The church continues to look for additional ways to support people.

A growing challenge for the ICEL is the financial stress that the pandemic has placed on the church. “We have received almost nothing in offerings during this time,” says President Fernandez. The church is working hard to find alternate sources of income to ensure the salaries of pastors can be maintained.

Paraguay

Paraguay has reported 50,344 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with nearly 1,100 deaths. Just under 16,500 cases remain active in the country. In early March, the government suspended school classes and other group events, with quarantine measures being introduced shortly thereafter.

IELP President Eugenio Wentzel leads online devotions.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana del Paraguay – IELP) continues to serve people with practical and spiritual support in the midst of the current situation. “Our country was one of the first in the region to impost quarantine, which prevented massive infections,” notes IELP President Eugenio Wentzel. But the downside has been an increase in unemployment. For this reason, the IELP has focused on distributing basic necessities to people, including food baskets as well as health and hygiene items.

Like other churches, the IELP has relied on the internet to reach members during the pandemic. “From the beginning,” President Wentzel says, churches “have been working virtually with different platforms to carry the message of the Gospel, with biblical studies, services, and devotionals.”

Different regions of the country have different restrictions, meaning some congregations have been allowed to hold face-to-face services in groups of up to fifty; some areas have allowed gatherings of twenty; others have had to rely on virtual gatherings only.

As a result of the restrictions, the church body also held its annual National Convention assembly virtually this year.

A challenge for the church remains calling and installing pastors during the current crisis. “Our church depends on sister churches to provide candidate pastors for vacant parishes,” notes President Wentzel. The closure of borders makes it difficult to call or transfer pastors. In one specific case, he says, one pastor who has accepted a call has waited months for circumstances to allow him to move to his new parish.

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

ILC welcomes second Tanzanian diocese into membership

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WORLD – The Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Council held online meetings September 21, 2020, during which time the board voted to accept the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania – Lake Tanganyika Diocese (ELCT-LTD) into membership.

Bishop Ambele Mwaipopo, ELCT Lake Tanganyika Diocese[/caption]
“As we evangelize, we have come to realize that the ILC is the faith-based organization with which to cooperate, for it can help strengthen us to witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ boldly,” said ELCT-LTD Bishop Ambele Mwaipopo, noting the ILC’s strong confessional Lutheran theology. “The ILC can play a role of nurturer so that the ELCT-LTD keeps in the right direction.”

The ELCT-LTD, which is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), counts more than 10,000 members, 35 pastors, and 22 congregations. It grew out of mission in the ELCT in two Tanzanian administrative regions, namely Rukwa and Katavi, and was formally constituted in 2014. The ELCT-LTD was registered as a legally autonomous diocese in 2015.

“It’s a joy to welcome the Lake Tanganyika Diocese into membership,” said ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt. “We look forward to encouraging and learning from one another in the years to come, and to building a deep and abiding spiritual relationship. May God continue to bless the ELCT-LTD as it carries out its vital ministry in Tanzania.”

Bishop Ambele Mwaipopo, ELCT Lake Tanganyika Diocese

Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary for the ILC, also expressed joy over the Tanzanian diocese’s acceptance into membership. “We thank God for this new partnership between the International Lutheran Council and the ELCT-LTD,” he said. “I look forward to getting to know Bishop Mwaipopo and his diocese better as time goes forward.”

The ELCT-LTD has been accepted as a Recognized Organization member, a category which allows organizations other than independent church bodies (for example, councils, districts, dioceses, organized movements, and individual congregations) the opportunity to partner with the ILC. It joins the ELCT’s South East of Lake Victoria Diocese, which was also accepted as a Recognized Organization member of the ILC in early 2019.

Additional information on membership in the ILC, and how to apply, is available here.

Other Business

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

The September meeting also saw the ILC’s board discuss additional membership applications, and make plans for the 2021 ILC World Conference, tentatively scheduled for September 21-24, 2021 in Kenya. Because of current uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, final decisions on the feasibility of an in-person conference will be made in early 2021.

The board also heard regional reports, as well as reports on ILC programming, like the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, which is currently paused during the coronavirus crisis. Reports on supported projects in Nigeria and in Wittenberg, Germany were also received.

During the meeting, the Board approved the appointment of Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo to fill a vacancy on the ILC’s Seminary Relations Committee. Dr. Omolo is Principal of the School of Theology at Neema Lutheran College, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana. He joins Dr. Jun-Hyun Kim (Lutheran Church of Korea); Dcn. Dr. Cynthia Lumley (Evangelical Lutheran Church of England); Rev. Dr. Sergio Schelske (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina); and Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod).

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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.

You can support the work of the ILC through online giving. You can also donate by mail:

International Lutheran Council
P.O. Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

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Papers from ILC’s 7th World Seminaries Conference Published

ONLINE – The papers from the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 7th World Seminaries Conference have now been published and are available online.

Seminário Concórdia, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangelica Luterana do Brasil – IELB), has published the papers in its academic journal, Igreia Luterana (“Lutheran Church”), Vol. 81, No. 1 (2020). 400 copies of the journal have been published simultaneously in both English and Portuguese, and a copy will be sent to each ILC seminary.

The papers are also available to download free online in both English and Portuguese at revistaigrejaluterana.com.br.

Papers include:

  • Confession is Crucial and Context Counts – Werner Klän (English / Portuguese)
  • Christology in Asia – Sam Thompson (English / Portuguese)
  • Lutheran Identity in a Post-Christian Context – Christoph Barnbrock (English / Portuguese)
  • Spiritual Warfare in a Lutheran Perspective – Nicholas Salifu (English / Portuguese)
  • No Longer Married, But Still Engaged: The Role of the Christian Church in the Face of Declining Influence – Joel Biermann (English / Portuguese)
  • Ecclesial Lutheran Identity and the Church’s Mission in the Face of the Reality of Favelas – Samuel Fuhrmann (English / Portuguese)
  • Migration and Mission – Douglas Rutt (English / Portuguese)
  • The Theological Curriculum and its Construction – Anselmo Graff (English / Portuguese)

The volume also features an introductory essay by Anselmo Ernesto Graff entitled “Both good and bad things globalize” (English / Portuguese).

The 7th World Seminaries Conference took place October 15-18, 2019 in Baguio City, Philippines. Further information on the 2019 World Seminaries Conference is available here.

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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.

You can support the work of the ILC through online giving. You can also donate by mail:

International Lutheran Council
P.O. Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

Burkina Faso: “We Are Very Discouraged…”

Lutherans struggle in Burkina Faso, a nation riven by rising terrorism, internal displacement, and food insecurity

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BURKINA FASO – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is urging prayer for Lutherans in Burkina Faso, as the church there struggles in the midst of widespread violence and terrorist attacks.

The nation of Burkina Faso has faced multiple terrorist attacks over the past five years, with targets ranging from military and police, villages, markets, schools, and churches. The United Nations reports that violence in the nation has led to the displacement of more than one million people as of August 2020—an increase of more than 453,000 since the beginning of 2020, and a dramatic change from early 2019 when there were 87,000 internally displaced people in the country.

Today, five percent of the entire population is now displaced. More than 2,500 schools have been closed, and health care access has been significantly decreased in the areas most regularly affected, especially northern and eastern parts of the country.

Members of the small Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burkina Faso (Église Évangélique Luthérienne du Burkina Faso – EELBF) have not escaped the growing violence. Over the past three years, the EELBF has seen twelve of its members killed in terrorist attacks. Several others have disappeared and remain missing.

“We are very discouraged,” confessed President Tanpo Tchiriteme of the EELBF. “We ask for your prayers that peace would return. Pray also for those who have lost family members—orphans and widows—and for all of us.”

Of the missing, he adds, “we hope that by the grace of God we will find them.”

The displacement of people in Burkina Faso has led to the closure of multiple EELBF congregations and preaching points, complicating Gospel-proclamation and practical care for members in the beleaguered nation.

“Our sisters and brothers in Burkina Faso are suffering,” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council. “I encourage Lutherans around the world to lift up the nation of Burkina Faso in prayer. O God, be merciful to a suffering people. Bring an end to the growing violence and grant your people peace. We especially pray for the pastors and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Burkina Faso. Grant them the peace which passes understanding, and give them strength and hope to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—good news sorely needed in these difficult times.”

Those wishing to support the work of the EELBF during the current crisis can donate via The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), which has supported work in Burkina Faso since 2000. Gifts should be designated for “Mercy Work.” 

Even before the rise of terrorism in the country five years ago, Burkina Faso faced significant challenges. Burkina Faso remains one of the poorest nations in the world, with about 40 percent of the country living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. As of 2018, the United Nations estimated that nearly one million people in the country needed food security support, and that more than 187,000 children under the age of five could be expected to face severe malnutrition.

These challenges have been aggravated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of displaced people, the extreme poverty, and the lack of access to health resources makes it difficult for people to practice safe hygiene and social distancing. As of August 24, 2020, the country has recorded 1,328 cases of the coronavirus, with 55 deaths. 223 cases remain active.

The pandemic has not slowed instances of terrorism either. Since July 27, 2020 sixteen schools in the east part of the country have been burned down, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. On August 7, 2020, gunmen also attacked a cattle market in an eastern village, leading to the death of about twenty people with many others injured.

Prayer for Burkina Faso:

Gracious God, heavenly Father, You know the shock and sorrow that the events of these days have spread across the land. We are helpless before the evil that afflicts us and therefore cry out to You for comfort, shelter, and protection. Mercifully embrace the frightened in Your love, empower the weak with Your strength, restrain the wicked by Your might, and preserve the righteous in Your grace, giving us Your peace and turning tragedy to triumph; though Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

– From the LCMS Pastoral Care Companion

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The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burkina Faso is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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.