STM-Gothenburg Program: Its History and First Graduates

Dr. Masaki is currently overseas in Europe, teaching classes on the theology of the Lutheran Confessions at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg. He is there as a part of the International Lutheran Council’s Lutheran Leadership Development Program, with students ranging from pastors to presidents to bishops and general secretaries, from the Lutheran Churches in Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Madagascar.

While there, Dr. Masaki also had the chance to attend the first graduation exercises of the STM-Gothenburg program, a joint labor of the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg (FFG, which comes from the Swedish name “Församlingsfakulteten”) and CTSFW. The program takes four years to complete on a part-time basis, allowing the students to both pursue advanced study and continue serving the Church and their congregations as pastors.

“Very proud of our first fruits, Rev. Janne Koskela of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), Romans Kurpnieks of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL), and Rev. Hannu Mikkonen of ELMDF,” Dr. Masaki wrote on his Facebook page. “It was a great celebration! A wonderful day! Again, congratulation, Janne, Romans, and Hannu!!”

Top row, left to right: Dr. Masaki and Rev. Romans Kurpnieks
Bottom row, left to right: Rev. Janne Koskela and Rev. Hannu Mikkonen
(Photo courtesy Rev. Konstantin Subbotin.)

Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD, of the Scandinavian House Fort Wayne (which helps graduate students from Scandinavia study at CTSFW by providing low cost room and board), followed up with an article on the history of the program and the great need–and incredible remnant of confessional Lutherans–in the Nordic and Baltic regions, as well as in Eastern Europe. A slightly shortened version was uploaded to the main CTSFW page, but you can read his full, original article here:

The graduates, LSTG faculty and board, and CTSFW faculty on the steps in front of the LSTG house. In no particular order: Rune Imberg, Jakob Appell, Timo Laato, Torbjörn Johansson, Roland Gustafsson, Frederik Brosche, Daniel Johansson, Patrik Toräng, Romans Kurpnieks, Bengt Birgersson, and Janne Koskela. Three of our own are among them: Drs. Masaki, Nordling, and Ziegler. (Photo and description originally shared by Dr. Masaki on Facebook.)

The first three graduates of CTSFW’s STM Extension Program in Gothenburg, Sweden, received their degrees in a special ceremony in Gothenburg on Sunday, February 24. Two pastors from Finland and one from Latvia were the first to complete all the requirements, with several more expected to finish over the next year. The program began in 2014 as a joint effort of CTSFW and the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg (LSTG).

The STM Extension was organized at the request of LSTG to meet an urgent need in the Nordic and Baltic regions for advanced theological training on a confessional Lutheran foundation. The former state churches in the Nordic region have succumbed to liberal theology and reaped empty pews, with average attendance below two percent and the percentage of babies baptized dropping steadily. The STM program largely serves confessional movements, several of which joined the International Lutheran Council last fall. In the Baltic region, the STM Extension serves the Lutheran churches recovering from the devastation wreaked during decades of Soviet occupation.

What was totally unexpected, however, is that many students are also coming from Eastern Europe, from as far as Russia, Ukraine, and Romania. The LCMS Office of International Mission has found this program extremely helpful for their efforts supporting confessional Lutheran churches in this region. So have sister churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. As a result, this extension that originally hoped to attract seven or eight students now has about 24 from nine different countries.

Dr. Ziegler (middle) with Rev. Appell (left), who serves both local congregation Immanuel Lutheran as well as LSTG, at a restaurant celebrating the graduates’ achievements. (Photo courtesy Rev. Janne Koskela.)

The program is offered through three one week “Intensives” per year, normally taught in Gothenburg. Each year CTSFW faculty teach two courses and LSTG faculty teach one. The CTSFW faculty who have taught in Gothenburg thus far include Dr. Naomichi Masaki, the STM Program Director in both Fort Wayne and in Gothenburg, and Professors Rast, Gieschen, Ziegler, and Pless. Dr. Roland Ziegler is teaching a course on Justification this week.

The Gothenburg Extension came about because it was becoming increasingly expensive and increasingly difficult for young pastors to leave their families and their parishes to spend five quarters in Fort Wayne. Yet the need for advanced study was so great that LSTG asked CTSFW to consider an extension. The format of the program, with three one-week sessions per year (and much work before and after the classes), makes it possible for these pastors to attend. With solid support from the CTSFW Administration and Regents, CTSFW has been able to say, “Yes!”

The program is funded by several LCMS congregations and individuals through the “Bo Giertz Fund,” named after the late bishop of Gothenburg best known in America for his novel, The Hammer of God. This fund has so far been able to cover operating costs for both schools, as well as tuition and fees for students from the Nordic and Baltic regions.  The LCMS Office of International Mission supports the Eastern European students, and several Nordic foundations help Nordic and Baltic students with travel expenses. A local congregation of the Swedish Mission Province, Immanuel, provides lodging for the students. It is noteworthy that the Pastor of this congregation is The Rev. Jakob Appell and its President is The Rev. Dr. Daniel Johansson … both of whom earned their STM degrees at CTSFW, as have several other leaders of the confessional movement in the Nordic lands.

For information about donating to the Bo Giertz Fund, contact the Advancement Office at [email protected] or by calling (877) 287-4338.

Seminary Guild: Dr. Don Wiley (Spanish Language Formation)

Yesterday at the Seminary Guild’s monthly meeting, Dr. Don Wiley presented on the role and importance of Spanish Language Church Worker Formation in the Church. Dr. Wiley joined the faculty just this past May for this reason (also serving as Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions), though his first introduction to the Spanish language occurred in his own student days at Seminary, when he was unexpectedly given the opportunity for a two-year vicarage to Panama. “God gifted me to learn quickly and well,” he added, noting that the only other language he’d studied before those two years was German while getting a degree in engineering.

First, he explained the difference between Hispanics and Latinos. “Hispanic” refers to all native Spanish speakers, of which there are about 500 million worldwide (the second largest group behind Mandarin; English is 4th, though it’s a common trade language and often people’s second language). A Latino (or Latina, for women) is someone who can claim Latin America as their origin. Most Hispanics are Latinos, but not always: someone from Spain is Hispanic but not Latino, while a Brazilian (who speaks Portuguese) is Latino but not Hispanic.

However, both share this: they’re a cultural category, not a racial or ethnic one. Hispanics and Latinos can be white, black, native, Central America; even Irish and German. For example, Sergio Fritzler, who joined our ordained staff last May (he and Dr. Wiley were welcomed together), is a blonde, blue-eyed Latino of Germanic origins. Spanish is his native language, the Dominican Republic his home. Ultimately, whether a person prefers to be called “Hispanic” or “Latino” differs by region.

Dr. Wiley also shared some statistics on why Spanish language formation is such an important aspect to ministry: in 2003 Hispanics become the largest minority in the US and in 2018 they made up 18.1% of the population (about 58.1 million people). It is estimated that by 2020 minority children (of all ethnicities) will outnumber the majority, by 2045 minorities overall will outnumber the majority (Dr. Wiley used the term “Anglos” to refer to Caucasians, emphasizing the idea of culture and origin rather than race), and by 2060 nearly a third of the country’s population will be Latino.

Unfortunately, as of 2015 only 0.5% of our LCMS membership is Hispanic. “We must be intentional about reaching out,” Dr. Wiley urged. It’s the second fastest growing demographic in America (Asian is the fastest, but much harder to proselytize to the entire group because they splinter along many language lines, while Hispanics certainly have different dialects but ultimately speak the same base language), and a large mission field within our own borders.

The Spanish Language Church Worker Formation that takes place through CTSFW began in earnest in 2015, but overseas in Buenos Aires where we worked with our partner Church of Argentina. Thirty international students began taking online courses. In 2016, we began our Specific Ministry Program-Español/English (SMP-EsE) with two men here in America. One of those men unfortunately had to drop out, but the other is about to be ordained and installed at Nueva Vida in Springfield, Virginia. Dr. Wiley is hopeful that we’ll have three new men in the coming year.

We have also been working to develop the seminary in the Dominican Republic. Seminario Concordia El Reformador was inaugurated in August of 2017; both Dr. Just (who we featured before for his part-time mission work in that rea of the world) and Dr. Wiley are familiar faces there. The seminary has 15 international faculty, including Drs. Just and Wiley.

Dr. Wiley also explained the SMP-EsE program at CTSFW, which was specifically designed around a Latin America system. It’s structured on a four-year format, with introductions to the New Testament, Old Testament, and confessional doctrine in the first year, with the following three years expanding on the same list of classes: Gospels (featuring both Old and New Testaments), Baptism, Preaching, and the Lord’s Supper. Students are usually ordained between their second and third years.

Costs for the program are also kept extremely low. Why? “Often Anglo congregations are very desperate at that point, and ready to reach out to the Hispanic community that has sprung up around them,” Dr. Wiley explained. The churches have no funds, and neither do the students, who are usually immigrants. The program can’t happen without the support of the Church.

As to Spanish language development among our current students, Dr. Wiley does Spanish Greek Readings, encourages additional incorporation of Spanish into coursework, and is looking into Spanish Language Distance Deaconess Program. He also holds a weekly Spanish over Lunch session for students interested in improving and honing their Spanish language skills.

More recently, an opportunity opened up in Columbus, Indiana, when a Hispanic pastor retired. Pastors with minimal Spanish skills can lead worship as well as serve the Lord’s Supper to this congregation, but are unable to preach the Word in Spanish. Instead, Dr. Wiley and some of the seminary students here record sermons in Spanish, which they upload to the “CTSFW en Español” YouTube channel and is then played during church. A member of the congregation who recently returned to Mexico and found himself hungry for a good Lutheran sermon can now continue to receive Law and Gospel sermons.

Because of the relationship between immigration and language, Dr. Wiley highlighted the importance of integration alongside offering services in Spanish. The first generation may never learn English—or at least not well—but the children of immigrants not only learn English but usually marry English speakers. But if a church that has a Hispanic service hasn’t welcomed them as full members of the congregation, then those children rarely stay in that church, especially when they marry. Dr. Wiley recommends holding joint Sunday School between the services, which connects those children to both language groups within their home congregation.

Dr. Wiley asked one final question of the ladies of the Seminary Gild: what can congregations do?

“Recognize the importance,” Dr. Wiley began. “These are people for whom Christ our Lord died and rose again to bring them forgiveness, life, and salvation.” And stay committed to a program. “Communities have long memories,” he explained. If you start a program to reach out to Hispanics and then drop it, no matter how good the reason you may have had, you’ve indicated that it wasn’t that important. Restarting is infinitely harder than starting, because you’ve already broken trust.

He also pointed out a common source of tensions between Hispanic and English congregations sharing a church: the kitchen. Cultural differences often make themselves known in surprisingly mundane ways, which is why patience and flexibility is so important. “God’s Word, the Sacraments—we do what God has given us to do,” he said, arguing that sometimes inflexibility is important. “But the stuff that doesn’t matter…have patience and flexibility.”

Dr. Wiley finished by asking for prayers, both for Hispanic/Latino communities and for more workers to this harvest field. He knows of at least three congregations who are looking for bilingual vicars. And finally, he asked for encouragement. “These are our neighbors,” he said. “Please support the formation program here and everywhere.”

Student Mission Society Presentation: Rev. Trifa, Romania (Part 2)

Today is part two of yesterday afternoon’s post. Quick recap: Rev. Sorin-Horia Trifa is the only pastor in the very young Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania. He was recently here for two weeks of intensive classes as he works towards a Master of Sacred Theology (STM) degree. He’s since returned to Romania, but shortly before he left he spoke about his home country and church body in a presentation hosted by the Student Mission Society. Yesterday’s post summarized Romania’s history, setting the stage for the challenges and opportunities they face today. You can read about it here.

Because Romania is a country of three major ethnic groups (Romanian, German, and Hungarian), the main Christian denominations tend to be split along cultural lines, serving more as a cultural tradition than a religious practice. Everyone in the country uses Romanian as their everyday language, and so church for the Hungarians and Germans is a place to practice their language. In fact, every church in Romania has three names, reflecting each of the three languages—and that’s not three different translations of the same name, but literally three different names.

The primary church body in Romania is the Orthodox Church. Many believe that to be Romanian is to be Orthodox. “If you leave the Orthodox Church, you leave your family, your identity, your Romanian community,” Rev. Trifa said, speaking of a common fear. He knows of at least one priest who teaches that, even if you come back to the Orthodox Church, there is a chance that you may still go to hell.

On the other hand, the German Lutheran Church in Romania has adopted liberal theology and focused their services exclusively on German speakers, abandoning the Romanians even after the fall of communism and 90% of the Lutherans in the country emigrated. Most of their churches have closed, some sold to the Orthodox Church, others having become museums, and still others repurposed as sheds and garages. There are over 250 Lutheran Churches in Transylvania but only 50 parishes are active. About half of these pastors are women.

“They are Lutherans but not Christians,” Rev. Trifa explained of the church body. “‘Lutheran’ means something cultural—but not Christ or the Bible.” As he spoke, he showed picture after picture of fortified churches, gorgeous in their architecture and surrounded by the incredible Romanian countryside. He is both proud of this visual history and simultaneously aware of the great tragedy on display. “The church buildings are not important; not if the church is closed. Just a monument. No more Gospel, no more liturgy: just a museum. People pay to have photos taken there. Difficult to call them churches. A building is a church when Christ is there.”

The Hungarian Church (a Reformed church) has never been interested in doing anything for Romanians either, their services held in Hungarian and their doctrine ranging between very liberal and deeply pietistic. And despite the doctrinal differences, many of these churches across denominations partake in the Lord’s Supper together. “The Lord’s Supper becomes nothing,” Rev. Trifa said. “Just a tradition.”

However, with neither the German nor Hungarian churches interested in offering anything outside of their own languages, the Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania has an incredible opportunity. “To understand the meaning of grace—it’s a big mess by the Hungarians and Germans on this subject—” Rev. Trifa said “—it is our duty to have Lutheran books as resources.” Even the Book of Concord has never been translated into Romanian, despite the fact that the Reformation took place in the country almost 500 years ago. Today, the Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania is one of the only church bodies using Romanian. “Wonderful,” Rev. Trifa remarked, “and shameful.”

Translation, then, is a big part of their focus. They want to be able to explain why confessional Lutheranism matters, why doctrine matters, why the right teaching of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper matter. They work to make these resources available and free. So far they have translated “The Small Catechism,” “Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation,” “The Means of Grace in the Confessional Lutheran Church,” and hundreds of theological articles, which are available on their website.

“I’m so happy that God chose to put me here,” Rev. Trifa said, who grew up in the Hungarian Church. “He’s given me the opportunity to share the Gospel with the country and people, where the Reformation began so long ago.” He grinned and added: “My dream is to make the Lutheran Church Great Again.”

Begun in the autumn of 2016, the Confessional Lutheran Mission in Romania was an initiative of LCMS Eurasia and the St. Michael Lutheran Church in Prague, Czech Republic. The first Romanian service took place in Bucharest (Romania’s capital) on December 4, 2016, the liturgy adapted from the LSB into Romanian. After a year of vicarage at St. Michael’s in Prague, Rev. Trifa was ordained and installed at St. Paul Confessional Lutheran Church in Bucharest on October 8, 2017.

They currently have 11 confirmed members, five catechumens (all adults), and five children. There are an additional nine adults and six children who regularly attend but have not yet enrolled for catechesis, plus dozens of others who occasionally attend. (Rev. Trifa spoke briefly of the handful of liberal pastors interested in their confession once they discovered the mission; one felt particularly torn. “You could see the agony in him.”) Services take place on Sunday evenings, following an hour-long class for catechumens. Rev. Trifa and his wife also host a midweek Bible study class and meal every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in their home.

The Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania is also known in the academic world. As a PhD student at the University of Bucharest and a student in the STM program in Gothenburg, Sweden (CTSFW partnered with the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg in order to offer advanced study to our confessional Lutheran brethren in Europe), Rev. Trifa is known in academic circles and is often invited to speak at various international theological conferences. “God makes something very, very interesting,” he said of the—so far—54 opportunities. “Silence the Hungarian and German Church, just so we can be loud. [The international theological conferences] ask for us—not the Germans or Hungarians.”

The Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania also have a mission in Italy, holding a Saturday church service every month in Padua, Italy. There is a very big Romanian community in Italy, as the two languages are very similar, and thus easy to learn. “Learn [Italian] in two months even for low-educated people,” Rev. Trifa explained. “One week for high-educated.” When the mission first began, they worshiped in Romanian, but after only two or three weeks decided to switch to Italian, translating even the liturgy. He knew it would open up the mission field to the wider Italian population.

Dr. Masaki, who teaches at the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg almost every summer, knows Rev. Trifa through the STM Program very well. “An exemplary student,” he said of Rev. Trifa, following the close of the presentation. “He is doing a great job as pastor, missionary—he is doing the maximum.” Throughout the presentation Rev. Trifa urged his listeners to come see Romania and the church for themselves, and Dr. Masaki echoed that sentiment: “He needs support. He’s alone.” Rev. Trifa’s wife is known for her hospitality, their home always open to both their congregation and their many guests.

“I invite you to discover the land and discover the church,” Rev. Trifa said. “To share the Gospel. And they need this, almost 500 years after Reformation in Romania; they need the Reformation.”

The final slide in his presentation asked that we pray for the Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania. “To preach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with faith and passion in Romania and in Italy. To translate Lutheran materials into Romanian, including the Book of Concord. To have our own Church building in Bucharest, Romania.”

From left to right: Dr. Just, Rev. Trifa, and Dr. Masaki. Dr. Just can trace his family history back to the church building in Romania where his grandparents were baptized.

Student Mission Society Presentation: Rev. Trifa, Romania (Part 1)

One of the students with us for two weeks of graduate intensives was Rev. Sorin-Horia Trifa, studying for his Masters in Sacred Theology (STM). Rev. Trifa is the only pastor of The Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania, and an LCMS Alliance Missionary. The Student Mission Society invited him to speak about his home country, for which he has a deep love. “I saw [the Romanian flag] also here,” he said, pointing in the direction of the library, where we keep flags representing all the nations of our current students, “and I am very proud.” About 92,000 square miles with 19.6 million people, Romania is barely 100 years old, the result of the merging of three countries: Transylvania, Walachia, and Moldavia.

To understand Romania is to understand her history, particularly that of Transylvania. “Transylvania is important to the understanding of the whole country,” he explained. Rev. Trifa comes from the Transylvania part of Romania, though he had to move to Bucharest, the capital, to best serve the Romanian people. He grinned as he informed the audience: “Transylvania is very beautiful, and it is more than Dracula.”

First conquered by the Roman Empire in 106 A.D. (Romanian is still closely related to Latin as a language), for centuries, Transylvania was part of the Kingdom of Hungary and the Austrian Empire. Because it was constantly under the threat of Turkish invasion, the Habsburg and Hungarian empires sent Germans and Hungarians to defend the border, which is why Romania is still home to three major ethnic groups: Romanians, Hungarians, and Germans.

However, the country changed hands at a very important time. In 1526, the Ottoman Empire defeated the Kingdom of Hungary and declared Transylvania an independent state, simultaneously banning any form of religious persecution. The country became a beacon for persecuted Lutherans. A former student at Wittenberg, Johannes Honterus, opened a printing press to begin distributing Lutheran materials, beginning the Lutheran Reformation in Transylvania around 1543. First the Germans, then the Hungarians, embraced the reformation. In fact, in 1568, the multi-ethnic and multi-religious country (Catholicism persisted and Calvinism inspired some of the Hungarians to join the Reformed Church) proclaimed freedom of conscience and religious tolerance at the Diet meeting at Turda, becoming the first country in modern European history to create such an edict.

In 1699, control of Transylvania turned back over to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Over 200 years later, the Transylvanians declared their independence from the Empire at the end of WWI, joining the Principality of Romania (the principality had been formed by the unification of Wallachia and Moldavia, who got around a ban on their unification by electing the same king) on December 1, 1918 to become the Kingdom of Romania. Romania was ruled by a German dynasty until the end of WWII.

A very dark period in the country’s history soon followed: the Soviet Union punished Romania for being on the side of Hitler, brutally and decisively. Their King was forced to abdicate and a Stalinist government took over. “Romania was vandalized—this is the word—” Rev. Trifa said, “—by the Soviet Army.”

Hundreds of thousands were imprisoned, exterminated, tortured, deported, and starved for being enemies of the people. “Who was this ‘enemy of the people’?” Rev. Trifa asked. “Those who believed in God and go to church.” Among them were Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed Christians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Seventh-Day Adventists. Their obedience to God threatened their obedience to the communist regime.

Dozens of thousands of believers among these groups were forced to join the Orthodox Church, but religious holidays like Christmas and Easter were banned. Owning a Bible could get you sent to prison for years. Their churches were demolished, and thousands of priests and pastors arrested, tortured, and killed. “The list is huge,” Rev. Trifa said, showing the pictures of several of these men, after telling us their names and their church body. “We have no time to tell all of them here.”

“People went to the Church in secret, baptized in secret, prayed and read the Scriptures in secret,” he continued in his presentation slide, next to a painting of Christ in prison. If your activities were reported, the entire family would be terrorized by the police. “Not kill but re-educate, if you know this word,” Rev. Trifa explained. He spoke personally of his father’s mother, who had been imprisoned for two years in order to terrorize others. She was so terrified that, even after the Soviets left, she refused to talk of her family or her home from before her arrest. Rev. Trifa’s history on that side of the family begins with his grandmother, their genealogy cut off. They never found it if she even had siblings.

With the stage officially set, we will tackle the second half of Rev. Trifa’s presentation tomorrow afternoon, from the state of the newly formed Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania (begun in the fall of 2016) to how the history of the country has shaped the challenges—and the opportunities—for confessional Lutheranism in Romania.

Update: Part 2 now available HERE.

Dr. Just: Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain

Dr. Just at a service in the Dominican Republic. Photo courtesy Johanna Heidor, official photographer for the Latin America, Caribbean mission region.

About a month ago, Dr. Just (our Chairman and Professor of Exegetical Theology as well as Director of Spanish Language Church Worker Formation) was installed at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis as Associate Executive Director of Regional Operations in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain. Dr. Just has been serving as a half-time career missionary officially since March, though he has been working with Spain for many years prior, teaching at the Seminario Concordia El Reformador in the Dominican Republic. Though this new position will change the scope of his duties on the mission field, he will continue to teach full-time during the Winter and Spring Quarters here at CTSFW.

Dr. Just (right) was installed alongside Mr. Christian Boehlke (associate director of St. Louis operations). The President of the Synod, Dr. Matthew Harrison, presides. Photo courtesy Erik Lunsford, LCMS Communications.

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Dr. Just has been in contact with the Spanish language and Latin culture since he was 13 years old, when his father moved the family to Mexico City in 1966, then later to Bilbao, Spain, first igniting his son’s interest in the area. Now Dr. Just will oversee LCMS mission work in the Spanish-speaking world. Including both Dr. and Mrs. Just, 101 people serve in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain, 20 of whom are ordained pastors. Of these 101 missionaries (including families), 79 are LCMS and 22 are from partner churches (called “alliance missionaries”).
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Dr. Just has been busy. Over the summer and fall he taught Greek Readings and Pastoral Theology courses (on Luther’s Small Catechism and the importance of visitations) in the Dominican Republic, preached in Madrid, Spain, gathered with mission partners in Jamaica and Minnesota (where they discussed the overwhelming human care needs in Puerto Rico following the hurricane), and attended the LCMS International Mission Meeting in San Diego where Dr. Detlev Schulz (Co-director of International Studies and Director of the PhD in Missiology Program here at CTSFW) presented on altar and pulpit fellowship with the Synod’s partner churches. He also had the chance to attend an ordination in Bolivia, Pastor Osmel Soliz who was the first pastor ordained from the seminary in the Domincian Republic. Three other Bolivian students from this seminary will be ordained next summer.

Students in the Dominican Republic. Photo courtesy Johanna Heidor.

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You may also recall the installation of Rev. Sergio Fritzler (as Director of SMP Español/English, which is a joint distance learning program between CTSFW and Seminario Concordia El Reformador) and Dr. Don Wiley as Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions, and Assistant Director of Spanish-Speaking Pastoral Formation. Dr. Just will play a role in overseeing these men as well; CTSFW and her faculty continue to have an impact on world-wide Lutheranism.‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍

This information was gathered from Dr. Just’s November newsletter regarding his mission work. You can keep up with his travels and his work overseas through his Facebook page at or by reading his newsletters here:

Faculty Travel: Pless & Masaki

We have a handful of faculty overseas at the moment, taking advantage of the quarter break. One is Dr. John T. Pless, in Sweden at a mission conference. He gave two lectures at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Gothenburg, his first on “Confessing Christ in a Hostile Culture: A Lutheran Response to the New Atheists” and the second on “A Confessional Lutheran Approach to Missions Today.”

Because of the location, he had the opportunity to reconnect with many friends, including pastors who had earned their STM at CTSFW. The names of these men and their connections to CTSFW can be found in the description of each photo.

With Pastor Jakob Appell (left) and Pastor Daniel Lars Brandt (right).
With the family of Dr. Daniel Johansson (far left).
Dr Bengt and Maria Bergesson. Dr. Bergesson, now retired, received an honorary doctorate from CTSFW.
Lunch with Pastor Fredrik Sidenvall , a leader of the confessional movement in Sweden and principal of a large Lutheran high school (575 students) in Gothenburg. Pastor Sidenvall has spoken at the Symposium at CTSFW and is a good friend of our seminary.

Dr. Naomichi Masaki is another of our faculty currently out of the country, this time in Nigeria. He will be in Africa until this weekend, teaching at the Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary in Uyo. His three classes are on the Lutheran Confessions, the Lord’s Supper, and a Theological Seminar for all students, and will also preach at chapel every day .

Dr. Masaki has reported that the weather is very different from Fort Wayne (90 degrees Fahrenheit and “like being a sauna!”) and he added this, concerning the seminary and his students:

“Quite encouraged by a confessional Lutheran atmosphere of the seminary. Thoroughly enjoying to study with eager and promising young pastoral students. Shortage of pastors and theologians is the urgent need of this growing church body. Let us remember this seminary in our ongoing prayers!”

He has also had the opportunity to visit the Rev. Dr. Christian Ekong, archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria at his headquarter office. Dr. Masaki expects that he will have further opportunities for preaching, teaching, and meeting others. “In the foreign field you will be asked to do something only on a very short notice,” he wrote. “I am accustomed to it.

“I do know that I will be able to observe a funeral tomorrow morning. I will visit a village church on Sunday where I might be asked to preach. There will be a traditional kind of dinner on Wednesday next week at the seminary. And at the national convention perhaps I will be asked to bring a greeting from LCMS.”

God’s richest blessings to our brothers and sisters in Africa (and across the whole world), and to Dr. Masaki as he finishes his journey in Nigeria and returns back to us here in Fort Wayne in time for Winter Quarter.

Dr. Masaki with some of his Evangelist 1 students. The typical formation process is two years as an Evangelist 1 then 2 student (similar to pre-seminary), followed by two years of serving at a church, then three more years of study (as a Pastoral 1, 2, and 3 student), followed by another two or three years of service in a congregation, and finally ordination.
This is one of Dr. Masaki’s Theological Seminars, typically hled for all student on campus. “A lively theological conversation is taking place every day,” Dr. Masaki noted on his Facebook page. “Quite enjoyable!”
Lutheran Confessions with the Pastor 1 students.

Gothenburg Site: Pless

Dr. Pless (in the blue and black sweater) and his class.

Prof. John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions, is in Gothenburg, Sweden, this week, teaching a course on “Baptism and Catechesis” at the Lutheran School of Theology. A few years ago, CTSFW partnered with the Gothenburg school in order to offer the Master of Sacred Theology degree to our brothers in Christ at this European site, and a number of our faculty take frequent trips to teach intensives during the program. The pastors in Dr. Pless’s class represent many countries; he has students from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Latvia, Romania, and Moldova.

Församlingsfakulteten and the chapel. The words on the altar are Swedish, and come from Matthew 7:7: ““Ask, and it will be given to you.”

Convocation: Lutheranism in Latvia

The preacher for daily chapel this morning was the Rev. Romans Kurpnieks-Logins, a pastor and District Dean from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL). His accent, you may have noticed, is very strong. “I think in Latvia, and then translates in English,” he explained during yesterday’s hour-long convocation on the challenges and opportunities for proclaiming the Gospel in Latvia’s post-soviet and post-modern culture. He has been here on campus with us for the fall quarter as he studies for his Master of Sacred Theology (STM), and will be returning at the end of this week to his family and congregations in his home country.

Latvia’s oldest cathedral is over 800 years old and was built by the Roman Catholic Church, but the country’s cultural identity is Lutheran and can be traced back to the Reformation. “Riga,” Rev. Kurpnieks said, speaking of Latvia’s capital city in the early 1500s, “decided very quickly to be Lutheran.” It happened one day that the Roman Catholic monastery held a procession outside of the city walls, opening the large, heavy gates (times were dangerous in the 16th century and the gates were a necessary security measure) to let themselves out. “They went out to have procession, city government closed the doors on them, and that’s how Lutheranism came to Latvia,” Rev. Kurpnieks explained succinctly.

The ELCL is the largest denomination in Latvia (followed by Roman Catholicism and then the Russian Orthodox Church), and the only Lutheran church body in the country. “Just one Lutheran church in Latvia, so you don’t need to say confessional or conservative,” Rev. Kurpnieks said, describing the difference in Lutheran identity in Latvia as compared to the United States and other nations. “I thought every church, congregation, and pastor use incense.”

However, in becoming a pastor and then a District Dean, Rev. Kurpnieks’s world widened and he found that it wasn’t so. “I discovered that the Lutheran world is not only in Latvia or congregation where I am, but is much larger with many, many problems.” The ELCL is in association with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), whose doctrine aligns similarly with the theological liberalism of the ELCA here in America.

At a LWF conference, Rev. Kurpnieks discovered his fellow attendees scrutinizing him as they discussed topics like abortion, euthanasia, gender roles, and marriage. “All of them look at me because they know I am from Latvia and they know my Archbishop,” he said. Archbishop Janis Vanags, the head of the ELCL, “is famous,” as Rev. Kurpnieks put it, “for what he does not do.”

He does not, for example, ordain women. Before this Archbishop the ELCL had done so, but he put an end to the practice and the church body made it official in their constitution in 2016. It puts the Latvian church in a very different position to their brothers in the LWF. While out with a friend later (a fellow pastor from Chile), Rev. Kurpnieks declared: “I was in minority.”

His friend turned to him. “You weren’t in minority. You were alone!”

Latvia itself is a very different case. Culturally Lutheran, many Latvians claim they are Lutheran in much the same way that Americans often claim they are Christian despite their belief (or unbelief), because it’s a historical part of the national identity. “It’s easy life as Lutheran in Latvia,” Rev. Kurpnieks explained, but then added, “Not so with youth. But we have many opportunities.”

The lost youth may be due to Latvia’s history with the Soviet Union. Located on the border of Russia, Latvia was occupied and annexed by the Soviet army in 1941; many of their church buildings were seized and repurposed as storage spaces and garages, and their pastors martyred. A handful of churches remained open during Soviet times, but for those ministers who refused to work with the KGB, their lives ended either immediately or in the Gulags. Rev. Kurpnieks spoke of a woman in his congregation who remembers when her father, a Lutheran pastor, was pushed out of a third floor window by the KGB.

Rev. Kurpnieks grew up in Soviet times, and was not baptized until he was in his mid-twenties. He and his wife had been together for five years when “Suddenly, for some reason, we wanted to get married,” he explained. “I don’t know why—no, now I know: it’s God’s will.”

They wanted to have a church wedding in one of the beautiful, centuries-old chapels owned by the Lutheran Church. The pastor said okay—on his terms. Within four weeks, they were baptized, confirmed and married. The next Sunday they attended Divine Service. “I was immediately—” at this point Rev. Kurpnieks mimed the motion of grabbing someone and holding them in a tight hug, then went on. “God took me and there was no question. I don’t know how to explain. I never struggle with the importance of the Lord’s Supper. Now I realize there is much struggle.”

“Many people come like this,” Rev. Kurpnieks, speaking from his own experiences as a pastor. “They say, ‘we want fast’—usually because she is pregnant.” Though they are unbelievers, many Latvians also want their children baptized because that is how it’s been done for centuries. They also hold annual cemetery celebrations in Latvia, a festival going back to ancient times in which every Latvian goes to the cemeteries to care for the graves. They also set up tables among the gravestones and gardens for eating, drinking, and dancing. “In every place—even in Soviet times when the church was punished—they always invite pastor to say something,” he explained. The pastor always prays and sometimes holds a small ceremony; just one more opportunity to speak of Jesus.

“They come themselves,” Rev. Kurpnieks went on, explaining the evangelical landscape in Latvia. “We don’t need to go to the streets. They ask themselves. Pastors don’t have time to go do missionary work because people come.” And every time they come the answer is always the same: yes, we will perform this marriage/baptism/etc., but you must take confirmation class first. “I am a boss,” Rev. Kurpnieks said, “if they want something.”

Following the Soviet devastation of not only the church’s property but of her under shepherds, the Lutheran Church in Latvia is poor. Latvia has nearly 2 million people but the Lutheran Church there has only 42-43,000 registered members across 298 congregation. Most of them are small with less than 50 members in attendance on a Sunday morning. These 298 congregations are served by only 112 pastors, most of whom have at least two parishes (and still others three or four depending on their size). Rev. Kurpnieks himself has two while simultaneously serving as District Dean over 23 congregations.

“I made ten times more before,” Rev. Kurpnieks said of his life prior to the pastoral ministry, “but I am very happy.” He fought the call for years, feeling unprepared financially (students at the seminary in Riga, Latvia, have full-time jobs and attend classes in the evening, many of them knowing they will work for multiple parishes for no money save what they earn at their day jobs), but God in His great wisdom made an under shepherd of Rev. Kurpnieks anyways.

Now he is finishing his studies in the Master of Sacred Theology program. He is a “first fruit” of the CTSFW STM program in Gothenburg, Sweden, as Dr. Masaki described him. Six other Latvians are in the program. And why the STM Program? Why CTSFW? “I really don’t know better Seminary in the Lutheran world,” Rev. Kurpnieks said. “I don’t say that just because I am student. I start this program just to be sure I promised to do what I say in my ordination vows: ‘I will continue my studies.’”

Our prayers go with Rev. Kurpnieks as he returns to his home, his family, and his congregations in Latvia; to our brothers and sisters across the seas; and to all those who are “as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Convocation: Bringing the Reformation to South Sudan

For the 501st Anniversary of the Reformation, the Rev. Peter Anibati, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Sudan/Sudan (ELCSS/S), spoke during today’s convocation hour on “Bringing the Reformation to South Sudan: Pastoring through Civil War, Famine, and Spirit Worship.” Bishop Peter is here at invitation of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation (LHF), who have been instrumental in the support of the ELCSS/S.

The 150,000 members of the ELCSS/S are scattered across five countries, refugees of the civil and tribal wars that plague South Sudan. The church body came into existence in 1993 (they will be celebrating their 25th anniversary on December 2), in the midst of the Second Sudanese Civil War between the Muslims of the North and the Christians in the South (fighting back against forced Islamification). Though South Sudan has since been granted independence, their politicians still fight, killing each other – and the people of South Sudan – over power.

The South Sudanese are dominated by constant fear, hunger, and poverty. Millions have died in the decades of armed conflict. They have no access to basic services like shelter, food, clean water and sanitation, health care, and education. More than 80% of the population is illiterate. The fighting has driven the people from their homes, their ranches, their farms; Bishop Peter spoke of watching little children climb trees in order to eat the leaves. South Sudan has two planting seasons but there’s no point in sowing what no one will be around to harvest. “It’s all gunshots and killing,” Bishop Peter explained.

The impact of warfare is profound. The ELCSS/S’s 150,000 members across 200 congregations are served by 66 ordained pastors, none of whom work for a salary. They are, in many ways, volunteers. Traveling by foot or on bicycles (save for those lucky few who own a motorbike), these pastors visit congregations only once every two to three months, at which time the congregation is finally able to receive the Lord’s Supper and baptize and confirm new members. Between pastoral visits, congregations are served by trained laypeople called evangelists.

These 66 ordained men visit congregations across South Sudan and in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and UN protected refugee sites. While on the road they always wear collar and cross, so that the people know they are neither a rebel nor a politician but instead recognize them as men of God. Some have been killed anyways. The people may know who these men are but, as Bishop Peter explained, “The bullet doesn’t know anyone.”

Oftentimes, members or even whole congregations have to run as the fighting shifts into their area. Their pastors run with them. There is no permanence in Sudan; no one knows where they may be tomorrow. “The church is not a building,” Bishop Peter said, showing a picture of a congregation gathered under the shade of a tree. “It is the people.”

To help alleviate the lack of pastors, the ELCSS/S has started a seminary which ordains men through a four-year program like ours—three years of academic study and one year of vicarage. Twenty-two men are in the program. The ELCSS/S is also working on training Sudanese pastors to become professors since they are currently dependent on visiting professors (our own faculty among them) to teach their seminarians.

What they have in financial support has largely come from the United States. In a church body made up of refugees and the survivors of war, they must reach out to their brothers across the sea for help. “Without the Lutheran Heritage Foundation,” Bishop Peter said, “it would be almost impossible to have all this happening.” The church depends on members to give, but their members have nothing. Instead, the people of South Sudan reach out to the church to come to their rescue.

And herein lies the strength promised in weakness. It is this “nothing” that has caused the ELCSS/S to grow and thrive. “There is great demand for the Gospel message because all else has failed the people of South Sudan,” Bishop Peter said. “The membership has increased greatly. The Good News is spreading.”

To start a congregation, the ELCSS/S begins by identifying a place where there is no Lutheran church. They then hold a 2-3 day seminar in the area, using LHF translated materials (books like Luther’s Small Catechism and “The Good News About Jesus”). Many already know the Lord’s Prayer, but they have never heard an explanation for it. “This catechism is a very powerful tool,” the bishop said, explaining that as soon as the people hear or read these resources in their language, they grow excited and want to learn still more. A congregations begins because, having learned of the truth of the Gospel, they desire access to it.

Bound by the biblical teaching of grace alone, the ELCSS/S has a powerful message that resonates with a people broken by war and desperate need. “People try to look for something that can give them hope. They ask, ‘Why is this happening?’ Traditional religions – all other religions – can never give. All they do is demand, demand, demand. But what can a refugee really do?” Bishop Peter asked. Refugees have nothing. Literally nothing. And for those sitting in darkness: “Christ on the cross has given all. This is what comforts them.”

Thousands have been drawn to the ELCSS/S by the power of the Gospel message. “God works through the Word,” Bishop Peter explained. “The Word is powerful. We just speak what is there. We don’t know how it works. But God knows.”

Bishop Peter finished his presentation with these words:

“In all these, the Word continues to spread and the church is growing. Our government and politics may have failed but Jesus is the only hope. With Him we are secured and have life in abundance even in the face of suffering, poverty, death and war.

“Thank you and God bless.”‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍

You can learn more by visiting or by contacting the Lutheran Heritage Foundation at [email protected] or (800) 554-0723.

Convocation: Israel Dig

Joshua Schiff (left) and James Neuendorf (right).

Yesterday’s convocation hour featured students James Neuendorf and Joshua Schiff, who were involved this past summer in an archaeological dig funded by CTSFW’s Lois Ann Reed Endowment for Biblical Archaeology. They called their presentation “From Dan to Beersheeba” or “Why CTS Students Absolutely Need to Go to Israel.”

James Neuendorf, as you can tell, is an excellent photographer. This is just one of many pictures he took during their dig in Israel.

They began with Luke 2:15: “Let us go…and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” Like the shepherds running to see the Christ child (whose faith did not need to see to believe what the angels told them, but rather desired to see what they already believed), these students too wanted to see what they knew to be true. Though they couldn’t see the Biblical events themselves by going to Israel, they could, in the words of James Neuendorf, “see the context of these real historical events.”

The purpose of the dig itself was a last shot at testing Dr. Yonatan Adler’s thesis: that ritual cleansing continued despite the destruction of the temple. The ritual cleansing refers to Leviticus 11:33: “And if any of them [things that are unclean] falls into any earthenware vessel, all that is in it shall be unclean, and you shall break it.” It was very expensive to have to continually break your earthenware vessels, so the Israelites found a loophole by creating vessels out of stone, which would not have to be smashed to pieces whenever something unclean fell in them.

The students’ (made up of mostly Israelis, with a couple of international students like our own two seminarians thrown in) were organized into teams, and each team were put in charge of a small square area in an old chalkstone deposit in Cana, Galilee, where these stone vessels would have been produced on site (they lived offsite, in a little town you may recognized: Nazareth). A metal detector was used to look for dateable material, like coins, which would be able to prove that this practice took place after the temple’s destruction.

It took two weeks to work down to bedrock in a single square, even by digging more aggressively (using a type of hoe) than normal. They didn’t have to be as careful in a stone quarry as you would in a site that contains a lot of household items. However, they didn’t find much besides stone vessels, “which was fine with us because we don’t really agree with Dr. Adler,” Josh and James admitted with a grin.

They also had regular lectures in the afternoon and had the opportunity to visit digs not open to the public. To enrich the experience, they created study guides for each place they visited (“We went to every Biblical site not currently being hit with rockets”), filling their Bibles with notes.

One such place was Tabgha, the location of the feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14), which is also the location where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him (John 21). In doing so, the seminarians realized that in two different times at the same location, Jesus told His disciples to feed His people. They felt the impact of how that would have struck the disciples themselves.

Matthew 14:16: “But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’”

John 21:15: “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’”

Tabgha, where Jesus preached to and fed the 5,000. And how does one person speak to 5,000? When James and Josh visited, they realized that it was a natural amphitheater. They took turns testing it out, listening to each speak across the space. “Now, I’m not into mysticism,” Josh said, “but it was an incredible feeling to stand where Christ preached and pray the Lord’s Prayer.”

James and Josh said that one of the most valuable experiences and greatest opportunities was walking with and working alongside Israelis. Since their coworkers were primarily Jews, they ate kosher food three times a day, saw how it was for these men and women to keep the Sabbath, and got to experience what these restrictive laws would have meant day-to-day in Jesus’ time, which is hard to capture simply by reading. Though some of the experience was modernized, it still provided context.

They were also, as they put it, “Stunned by how many questions they asked about Jesus.” Though sharing your faith in Israel is illegal, you are allowed to answer questions, and their coworkers had many. There are a lot of Christian sites in but not a lot of Christians, despite the country’s dependence on Christian tourism. Religious groups in Israel simply do not cross lines into each other’s neighborhoods, so their coworkers had either barely or even never interacted with Christians before.

In fact, Dr. Adler, who was in charge of the dig, was getting so many questions from the Jewish students that he finally sat them all down and asked the seminarians to explain Christianity. Josh, a second-year, said with a laugh that he insisted they not start the talk until they woke up James, the fourth-year, who then walked them through Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. Later, when trying to explain the idea of a one-sided covenant (that God comes to us in salvation), James pointed out that the Lord’s covenant to Abraham in Genesis 9 too was one-sided; that God – not Abram (as he was then known) – walked through the animals that had been cut in half. They rushed to their books. “There was an audible, ‘He’s right,’” James said.

That is itself typical. Jews in Israel do not actually know much about the Old Testament or even the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). “They don’t even know what the tabernacle is,” Josh explained. Their lack of understanding of Christianity does not stem from a misunderstanding of the Christological aspects of the Old Testament, but rather a lack of knowledge of the Old Testament itself. The Jewish sects in Israel – of which there are many – long ago set aside Scripture for legalistic code.

James and Josh also had the chance to meet a Messianic Jew when visiting a replica of the tabernacle. The woman asked if they were Christian and, upon their “yes,” spent the rest of the tour with a knowing look, winking at them as she pointed out aspects of the tabernacle that pointed to the Messiah. “If you can’t see Jesus in every strand of this place,” she said, “then you’re blind.”

On this evening they had kosher pizza on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and answered questions from their Israeli coworkers about Jesus. They shared the good news about Jesus where Jesus once called Simon and his brother Andrew to be fishers of men.