Dear friends and partners in God’s mission,
So much has happened in our Eurasian mission since this past spring. I will do my best to give you the highlights. In April, the Trifa and Preus families traveled down to Sofia, Bulgaria to visit my student, Deacon Arthur Boshinov. Arthur is in his third year of seminary studies. He has a heart of gold, and is fully committed to spreading the gospel in Bulgaria. We also traveled to the city of Peshtera, where we met Turkish pastor, Rev. Feymi Madjirov and his Finnish colleague, Jouni Haverinen, who serve the Turkish-speaking Lutherans in that area. Their denomination, the Istanbul Lutheran Church (ILK), consists of four churches—two in Bulgaria and two in Turkey. Bahadir Argönül, also my student at the Riga Luther Academy, who serves as Lutheran pastor in Istanbul, was featured through video at the LCMS convention. It was a real joy to meet all of these people, but especially our dear brothers in Sofia. The church there is quite small but the saints are thoroughly dedicated to the gospel. They were overjoyed to see all of our children, one member even shedding tears of happiness at seeing them. We so enjoyed our fellowship with the Divine Service in Arthur’s home.
Later that month, I took my girls, Rebekah and Lena, to Madrid, Spain. There, we had a brief conference focusing on the pressing needs of the church in Spain and we discussed our next steps for serving that vast land with the preaching of the gospel. Pastor Isaac Machado, a Venezualan pastor and former student of mine in the Dominican Republic, is serving as “alliance missionary” in Spain. He is covering nearly two thirds of that expansive country, serving churches in Madrid, Toledo, Galicia, Asturias, Logroño, Barcelona, and Seville. We pray to the Lord of the harvest, that he send faithful laborers into that harvest to assist our dear brother in Spain.
Meanwhile, I continue to serve alongside Pastor Sorin Trifa as we seek to establish a church in Romania and the Balkans. We have nearly finished our building for the Ukrainian refugees. Our sanctuary is complete, and the builders are still putting on the finishing touches on the upstairs apartments, which our Ukrainian guests will begin to occupy by the end of October. Our short-term vicar, Michael Wenz, a seminarian from our sister church in Germany, arrives in the first week of October. He will assist us in our ministry among the Ukrainians. Besides preaching and teaching Bible class, Michael will conduct a thorough study of the refugee situation in Romania to assist us in connecting these Ukrainian souls to the saving means of grace we are called to administer. In this way, by God’s grace, we will succeed in converting our humanitarian mission into a mission of spiritual care.
At the same time, we are in the process of canvassing the entire metropolitan area of Brasov for gospel outreach. We have decided to distribute leaflets with information concerning our church, our physical address, basic content of what we believe and teach, and how to connect to us and our ministry. LCMS missionary, Rev. Andrew Fedder, who has recently taken up residence in Brasov, will assist us in this colossal effort. We are confident that we will experience the spiritual growth (both intensive and extensive) that we desire to see. We know and trust that God himself has planted this vineyard, and he will see to its growth.
As you may remember from my past missionary activity in the Dominican Republic, I served as a professor of Dogmatic Theology and Church History for over five years. Since taking my post at Riga Luther Academy, where I work from my office in Brasov, I have assumed the responsibility of teaching biblical languages. Last year, I taught biblical Greek and this semester I am teaching biblical Hebrew. This has been a huge challenge, since I am now peering into textbooks I had closed more than twenty years ago. And I thoroughly enjoy it! I love to witness the students grasp the language in which the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets to write. And, besides, I consider biblical languages to be an essential component of our future pastors’ theological education. In order to focus more on languages, I relinquished the directorship of Praxis and Mentorship to another missionary, but I remain close to my students from all over Eurasia and Africa. By God’s grace, a dozen new students have enrolled in the program, and our faculty at Riga is also growing. We look forward to the remainder of this academic year.
Since last spring, my family and I have immersed ourselves in the Romanian language. Unlike our experience in the Dominican Republic where we were required to learn Spanish for day-to-day living, and where I used the language exclusively in my work, we have much less opportunity to speak Romanian here since so many know a little English. But I am confident that as soon as our evangelism campaign has extended to the villages and we meet more Romanian families, more opportunities will arise. This is also essential – I firmly believe that we each need to hear the gospel preached in our own native tongue, for it is with the language of the heart that the devil is most persuasive and dangerous. Likewise, the Romanians need to hear the tender voice of their Good Shepherd in their own tongue, even if it is filtered through my own American accent.
The past summer came and went faster than I could catch my breath. I suppose it began towards the end of May when the Luther Academy faculty met in Riga to make plans for the coming academic year. Throughout June and July, I built my Hebrew class, prepared my seminar for the Corpus Christi Youth Conference, and wrote my speech for the LCMS convention. The Corpus Christi Conference took place in Liepaja, Riga. We had about 200 people from 17 different countries in attendance. I presented on the topic of “Vocation and Authority” from a biblical, Christian perspective and heard fantastic presentations and sermons from other lecturers as well. Four of my kids joined me, and they were very edified and reinvigorated through their experience. It became very evident to us all that, despite the darkness hovering over the Western world, droves of people across Europe (and especially youth) are returning to Christ.
From Liepaja (departing from Riga), I flew to Milwaukee where I presented to the LCMS convention on the topic of Church Planting. If you have not read or heard my speech, you may find it in an email we sent in early September. Soon after I returned from Milwaukee, my family and I traveled to Riga to attend a missionary retreat in nearby Jūrmala, Latvia. For most of this time, I was occupied with meetings and planning for the conferences we intend to host over the coming year. With the help of other missionaries, I hope to make some significant progress on this massive effort.
Through all of these tasks, as we continue planting and watering at God’s command, we go forward in cheerful hope that God will give the increase he promises. Thank you all for your generous support of this mission. I ask for your continued prayers.
Your brother in Christ,