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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fellowship Talks – Liberia Day 2

Representatives from the ELCL and the LCMS
On New Years Eve (31 December 2011), representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Liberia and The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod met on the grounds of the UHP Evangelical Lutheran Church and School for fellowship discussions. Before fellowship discussions began, children from the UHP Evangelical Lutheran School greeted the LCMS visitation team.

The UHP Evangelical Lutheran School Class President
Notice that the school uniforms are yellow and green. In Liberia, the color of the school uniform identifies the church confession. All Lutherans in Liberia use yellow and green. Even the buildings are painted yellow and green. The Methodists use blue and white for their uniforms.

UHP Evangelical Lutheran School
The construction of the UHP Evangelical Lutheran School building was a partnership between the LCMS Concordia Missouri Circuit and the UHP Evangelical Lutheran Church. Africa Regional Director, Dr. Michael Rodewald's father was instrumental in forging this partnership.

A School Girl Sits Near the Wisdom Board
The "wisdom board" reads in part, "If I had a formula for by passing trouble, I would not pass it round. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it. I don't embrace trouble. That is bad as treating it as an enemy. But I do say meet it as a friend, for you'll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it. Men of character find a special attractiveness in difficulties. For it is only through difficulties they discover their real potential."
Naomi Erber Poses with some Children
The ELCL has 16 Lutheran schools.

Dr. Collver with Bishop Amos Bolay in his WMLT Shirt
In October 2011, Bishop Amos Bolay travelled to Saint Louis, MO, both to attend the LCMS International Disaster Conference, where he received his Witness, Mercy, Life Together shirt, and to request for formal fellowship discussions from President Harrison between the LCMS and the ELCL. In December 2011, the LCMS responded by sending Drs. Albert Collver, David Erber, Joel Lehenbauer, and Michael Rodewald to Liberia for fellowship discussions.

At the 31 December 2011 meeting, Bishop Bolay addressed the LCMS and the ELCL's executive committee and church council:

"We in Liberia feel we are a LCMS church. You ask why? You are the church that started us. You started Bible translation in Liberia. When the Liberian civil war broke out in 1989, many of our people fled to the surrounding nations for safety. There as refugees LCMS missionaries ministered to us. After the war ended and our people were able to return to Liberia, we formed congregations in Monrovia. A few years ago, we asked LCMS missionaries to ordain some of our pastoral candidates. We were told that LCMS missionaries could not conduct the ordinations because we were not LCMS. This hit us hard because we thought we were LCMS. It was an awakening for us and made us desire even more to join the LCMS in partnership. We later learned that the LCMS missionaries referred to us as "Liberian Lutheran groups." It is true that we were once four separate Lutheran groups but now we are one, united in the teaching of the Bible. We believe that the LCMS teaches the Bible correctly and holds to the Confessions. We want to have fellowship with the LCMS because we believe the same. If our teaching is not the same as the LCMS', we want it to be. If we aren't doing it well, it is because we need better teaching. Powerful nations come to Liberia and promote agendas that destroy families and do not hold to the morals of the Bible. The LCMS is in a position to help us bear witness to our nation. We desire fellowship with the LCMS and await your response."
After Bishop Bolay finished his address, the entire room broke into applause. The moderator turned and addressed the LCMS delegation saying, "We await your response to our request for fellowship." This led to a several hour conversation about Lutheran doctrine, fellowship, and the LCMS' policies and procedures related to fellowship. There also was a period of Q&A where people from each church body could ask questions. The meeting ended with hope for the New Year.

Dr. David Erber, West Africa Area Facilitator
Fellowship is not made or created by the church, but recognized as a gift that the Lord bestows upon his church. Fellowship is recognized between church bodies. Drs. Collver and Lehenbauer will prepare a visitation report for the CTCR at its next meeting in April 2012. 

The procedure for fellowship is explained in Bylaw in the 2010 Handbook:
"When a small, formative, emerging confessional Lutheran church body (identified as such by the President of the Synod as chief ecumenical officer) requests recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with the Synod, and after consultation with the Praesidium and approval by the commission, such recognition may be declared by the President of the Synod subject to the endorsement of the subsequent Synod convention."

The remaining days of the visitation teams time in Liberia will be spent observing worship, becoming more acquainted with the people of the ELCL, and engaging in more conversation. As I write this, it is the wee hours of the New Year, 1 January 2012. Below are a few pictures from Liberia.

The signs of businesses always are interesting in Africa. The sign above reads, "Divine Glory Electronic Workshop."

Along the road in Monrovia.

Great beauty on the coast.

– Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations.
Posted 1 January 2012 from Monrovia, Liberia.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Bishop Amos Bolay Pictured in Gray Shirt on Right
When we (Drs. Collver, Lehenbauer, and Rodewald) arrived in Monrovia, Liberia, Bishop Amos Bolay of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia greeted us at Roberts International Airport. The purpose of our visit is to hold fellowship discussions with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Liberia (ELCL) was formed in May 2009 from the merger of four different Lutheran groups, each founded through the Diaspora of the Liberian Civil War through different initiatives of the LCMS, including LCMS World Mission. The newly-formed  ELCL has 350 congregations, 30 schools and 11,000 members. A choir from one of the local congregations came to the airport and serenaded us with a rendition of Psalm 23.

It was quite a surprise and honor to be greeted by the choir at the airport. More than that to hear Psalm 23 was tremendous. A portion of the piece is provided in the video above.
Some of the Choir Members
The choir members have a very busy schedule, greeting us at the airport, singing at a funeral on Saturday, and singing at church for the New Year's Eve service.

Later that evening, after traveling for two hours in traffic from the airport, the choir sang again.

Note the tail of the Delta Airbus 330 plane is taller than the fence perimeter of the airfield.

Liberia is in West Africa, bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire and it is part of Africa's "pepper coast." Liberia along with Ethiopia are the only two African nations not to be colonized by Europeans. Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves. The capital city is named Monrovia after James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States who supported the formation of Liberia.

A view from along the highway.

The Flight Into Egypt
Bishop Bolay mentioned that Islam both in Africa and in Liberia is on the rise. Many Africans have been taught that Islam is a more "African" religion than Christianity. Bishop Bolay teaches seminary students that Christianity cannot become more African than Jesus visiting Africa during the Flight Into Egypt (see Matthew 2:13-23). Not to mention the rich tradition Christianity had in Northern Africa after Pentecost and in the early Church. While the flight of Jesus to Egypt was to fulfill the Scriptures, "Out of Egypt I have called my son," our Lord's visitation to African has become important for Christians as a defense against Islam.

Our first day in Liberia concluded with dinner at Bishop Bolay's home. It was a great honor to visit him in his home.

After dinner we retired to the Lutheran Guest House for some rest after nearly 24 hours of travel.

– Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day in the Life of A Partner Church in Siberia

Saint Mary's Lutheran Church in Tomsk
While waiting in the airport in Istanbul, Turkey, I had the opportunity to watch a video titled, "The Other Half of the Truth." The video describes how the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC), a partner church of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, has a Life Together while she engages in acts of Witness and Mercy among the people of Siberia. Bishop Lytkin noted that while the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church is a small church, her parishes cover perhaps the largest territory in the world. If you are interested in seeing how a partner church works on a day to day basis, this video is well worth your time.

The video is noteworthy both for the story it tells and for its production quality. It also prominently features LCMS Missionary, Rev. Alan Ludwig, who works in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia. You can read about Rev. Alan Ludwig's work in Siberia on his blog. You can support Rev. Alan Ludwig's work by clicking here.

-- Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kyrgyzstan Trip

Today on our last day in Kyrgyzstan, we were able to travel to villages nearby Bishkek. The mountains provided a beautiful view. Some of the Russians who lived in Bishkek before the fall of communism told us that the hillsides had thousands of sheep tended by Kyrgyz on collective farms. After communism fell, the Kyrgyz moved into the cities, where there is high unemployment.

The mountains are not always visible from Bishkek due to smog. A short ways outside of the city, there is great natural beauty. In a village not far from the stream pictured above, fresh trout were for sale.

The scenery that we saw was not intentional, rather it was the view from the car window as we traveled from Bishkek to the outlying villages.

Along the way, we visited a national monument called "Father's Cemetery." Buried here are people who died during the Soviet revolution. This was first constructed around 2001. Within the past couple of months another monument (pictured above) was constructed to commemorate those who died in the May 2010 uprising.

This monument shows how people were murdered during the Soviet revolution with their arms bound behind their backs.

Pictured above is a Russian Orthodox church in a Kyrgyz village. Most people in Kyrgyzstan would like for only two religions to exist: Russian Orthodox and Islam. Most government officials are muslim. Because of this fact, other religious view points face great scrutiny and persecution. Other religious groups can legally exist but with strict regulation. If these other groups attract too much attention, they face additional attention by local officials.

A mosque in a Kyrgyz village. In 1993, there was one mosque in Bishkek. Today, there are more than 2,500 mosques in the surrounding territory.

A local restaurant in Bishkek, where we ate dinner. This restaurant did not accept credit card for payment, however, the waitresses used Apple iPod Touches to place the order in the kitchen and to tally the bill.

The Shumkar Hotel where we stayed in Bishkek was named after a southern mountain range in Kyrgyzstan.

The hotel offered swimming facilities. Unfortunately, none of us were into polar bear swimming.

A view from my hotel window.

The mountains at dusk.

We arrived and departed from the Manas International Airport around 4 am. The trip to Kyrgyzstan went well and I hope to return again.

-- Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Isanov St,,Kyrgyzstan

Thursday, December 8, 2011

LCMS Representatives Meet with Lithuanian and Belarusian Pastors

By Rev. Dr. Darius Petkūnas

“Ten years ago the Lithuanian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod entered into full pulpit and altar fellowship and this fellowship has already proved very fruitful in many areas of our church life,” stated Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis in a Vilnius meeting with Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, director of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) church relations and assistant to LCMS President Matthew Harrison who officially visited the Lithuanian church on behalf of President Harrison. Included also in the visit on December 3, 2011 was a seminar with Lithuanian and Belarusian pastors.

​Bishop Sabutis put special emphasis on the important relationship of the Lithuania Church with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belarus. He noted that in the centuries immediately following the Reformation the Lutheran Church in Belarus was a part the Lithuanian Lutheran Church. The situation changed after the Russian Revolution when Lithuania became an independent nation and Belarus was swallowed up by the Soviet Union. During this period the Belarusian Church suffered greatly and only those congregations in Polish territory were able to survive until 1939, when western Belarus also fell under soviet domination. In 1990’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union Belarusian congregations were reorganized and were administered by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States (ELCROS). For doctrinal reasons the Belarusian congregations found this arrangement to be unsatisfactory. They wanted an independent church with a strong commitment to the Lutheran confessions. They formed an independent Lutheran Church in Belarus. At the 2011 synod of the Lithuanian Church the Belarusian Church signed an agreement of collaboration with the Lithuanian Lutheran Church and put itself under the pastoral leadership of Bishop Sabutis, although by law the Belarusian Church must remain administratively independent.

Presentations at the seminar were given by Dr. Collver, who spoke on the trials and hardships faced by the Christian church through the ages and down to the present time, using 1 Corinthians as his model. Pastor Daniel Johnson of Marshalltown, Iowa spoke on the liturgy and its relation to catechesis in Lutheran congregations. Also participating were Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, newly appointed Director of Theological Education for LCMS International Mission and Dr. Charles Evanson, newly appointed LCMS Theological Education Advisor in the Baltic States. Dr. Evanson is already well acquainted with church life in the Baltic Churches. He has held numerous pastoral seminars in both Lithuania and Latvia and for several years served on the Faculty for Evangelical Theology at the University of Klaipeda, Lithuania, and at the Luther Academy in Riga, Latvia.

​Pastor Wladimir Meyerson of Bobruijsk, acting bishop of the Belarusian Lutheran Church, and Pastor Sergej Heil of Lida spoke of the current situation in the Belarusian parishes and the church’s theological education needs. Pastor Meyerson noted that although the Belarusian Church has only 11 congregations and 3,000 members, it is a vibrant and growing church, anxious to remain firm in its scriptural and confessional commitment. He stated that the Belarusian Lutheran Church has been officially recognized by the Belarusian government, and that the state recognizes the historic role of Lutheranism in Belarus and is supportive of the church’s work. Pastor Heil spoke about the educational needs of the clergy and congregations and the need for the adoption of a common liturgy based upon the old liturgical tradition as found in the 1897 St. Petersburg Agenda. Linguistic and other necessary corrections are currently under consideration in preparation for the publication of a new worship book, he stated.

​After the seminar Bishop Sabutis and Lithuanian and Belarusian pastors met together with Dr. Collver to discuss the needs and concerns of the churches and the implementation of assistance programs. Dr. Collver assured both churches of the commitment of the LCMS to provide educational and other support for their ongoing ministries.

- Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Vilnius, Lithuania

Arrived in Kyrgyzstan

We arrived at the Manas International Airport in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan at 5:30 am local time (about 2:30 am local time in Riga, Latvia from where we departed). The airport is named after "Manas," a great warrior who is believed or understood to have united the Kyrgyz people.

Dr. Quill, Dr. Collver, and Alexey Streltsov pictured above, discussing meeting plans early in the morning.

At the airport, we met up with Alexey Streltsov from Novosibirsk, Siberia, and then went to the hotel.

View from hotel window as sun rises.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Isanov St,,Kyrgyzstan

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Riga Latvia

Archbishop Vanags and Dr. Collver in the Archbishop's Office
After visiting the Lutheran church in Lithuania, we continued to Riga to meet with Archbishop Vanags and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. Archbishop Vanags discussed some of the challenges facing the Lutheran church in Latvia, in particular the secularism and consumerism that filled the vacuum left after the fall of communism. Before 1918, a little more than 50% of the population of Latvia was Lutheran. Today, there are about 440,000 Lutherans in Lativa. Around 10% (or 40,000) of those who profess to be Lutheran in Latvia attend church on a regular basis. Another challenge facing Latvia is the current economic conditions. Many Latvians have left Latvia for countries such as the United Kingdom. Many parish congregations are completely vacant because there are few or even no people left in some of the villages.

Drs. Quill and Evanson, Archbishop Vanags, and Dr. Collver
Archbishop Vanags, who also serves as the rector of the Luther Academy, took the opportunity of our visit to discuss theological education needs. He described to Dr. Evanson, LCMS Theological Education Advisor for the Baltics, and Dr. Quill, LCMS Director of Theological Education, the need for ongoing training for pastors particularly in the areas of preaching and pastoral theology. Archbishop Vanags explained that with the near elimination of the church under communism few people remember or have direct experience with how pastors are to provide for their people.

Drs. Quill, Didzis Stilve, Evanson, and Collver in front of the Luther Academy
Dr. Didzis Stilve provided us with a tour of the Luther Academy. In his office, he described the challenges involved in making the Luther Academy an accredited educational institution in Latvia. He explained that under Latvian law the professors are required to speak Latvian. This highlighted the necessity of President Harrison's desire to open LCMS seminaries to international students for advanced training so that they can return to their own countries and provide high quality theological education.

Outside of the Luther Academy Building
Archbishop Vanags explicitly mentioned how delighted he was that the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod had adopted Witness, Mercy, Life Together as her emphasis. Archbishop Vanags said, "At a recent meeting of the consistory,  the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia adopted the same three-fold emphasis of martyria, diakonia, koinonia although we call it something slightly different."

The visit to Riga, Latvia, was very brief, but important. Now we travel to Bishkek, the capital of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.

-- Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations

Some Photos from Riga:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hill of Crosses (Kryžių kalnas) in Lithuania

Hill of Crosses, Near Šiauliai, in northern Lithuania
5 December 2011

After leaving Palanga, we drove toward Latvia for a meeting in Riga. Along the way in northern Lithuania, we stopped at the Hill of Crosses (Kryžių kalnas). Rev. Dr. Darius Petkūnas explained that after the fall of communism in Lithuania, people began to bring crosses to this hill. No one knows exactly why the practice of bringing crosses to this place began, but today it is estimated that there are over 200,000 crosses on the hill.

Rev. Dr. Darius Petkūnas Speaking about the Hill of Crosses
The plaque Dr. Petkūnas points to reads, "The Hill of Crosses is a unique place in terms of both its scale and its history. At present some 200,000 crosses of various sizes adorn the hill. By continually putting up crosses there people express their devotion to Christ, pray for his help and mercy, and identify Lithuania as a Christian land. The site is a reflection of the nation's spontaneous religiousness and is probably the place in Lithuania that is most often visited by pilgrims today. The Hill of Crosses gained immense significance in the lives of Lithuanian believers during the Soviet era as a sign of resistance to the totalitarian regime. After the re-establishment of independence new life has been breathed into the Hill of Crosses and it has become a symbol of the entire nation's unshakeable faith, its past suffering and hope. The Hill of Crosses gained fame throughout the world on 7 September 1993 when Pope John Paul II visited it and celebrated the Holy Mass for 100,000 people who gathered there. In 1994 a cross was put up on the site using the crucifix that Pope John Paul II gave to Lithuania. The cross blessed by Pope Benedict XVI was added in 2006. At the foot of the Hill of Crosses stands a Franciscan monastery built with the encouragement of Pope John Paul II and consecrated in 2000. The Feast of the Hill of Crosses, reinstated in 1997, draws large crowds each year on the last Sunday of July."

Dr. Collver standing among the crosses
Of the Hill of Crosses, Pope John Paul II said, "(...) Here where our ancestors in the faith witnessed, by their martyrdom even to the point of death, to the love with which Christ loved us. Here in this spot of the globe, in ancient Rome, I am thinking especially of the 'Hill of Crosses' in Lithuania, to which I made a pastoral visit last September. I was moved by that other Colosseum, not of Roman times, but a Colosseum of our age, of this last century..."

Pope John Paul II continued, "I thought of those other Colosseums, so numerous, of those other "Hills of Crosses" that are on the other side, throughout European Russia, throughout Siberia, so many Hills of Crosses so many Colosseums of modern times..."

The Ten Commandments with an inscription referencing the 1st Commandment,
"Praise God! Not Graven Images." 
Pope John Paul II noted, "... at the end of the second millennium the Church has once again become the Church of martyrs. The persecutions of believers - priests, Religious and laity - has caused a great sowing of martyrdom in different parts of the world..."

Looking Back Upon the Crosses
The 20th century had more martyrs for Christ than any other century in the history of the world. Before the Communist Revolution in the early 20th century, Lutheranism was the second largest Christian confession in the Russian Empire after Orthodoxy. It was the third largest Christian confession in the world after Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Before 1918, there were 220,000 Lutherans in Lithuania. Today, there are 20,000. Dr. Petkūnas in his book The Repression of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania during the Stalinist Era details how Lutherans were persecuted more intently than Roman Catholics in Lithuania. The communist executed half of the Lutheran clergy in Lithuania.

The Cover of Dr. Petkūnas' Book
(A Link to the Book's Site in Lithuanian)
Before the Communist Revolution, Latvia had over a million Lutherans. Today, there are about 400,000 professed Lutherans. Of those Lutherans in Latvia today, about 40,000 are active members. In Russia proper, the Volga Lutherans and the Lutherans in Siberia fled, were deported, exiled to the Gulag, or executed. These numbers reflect only the Lutherans and do not include other Christians persecuted such as Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and other Protestants.

A Franciscan Monastery Resides at the base of the Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania serves as a good reminder of how the church was persecuted under Communism. It reminds how the 20th century martyred more Christians than any other era in the history of the world. During this Advent season, Jesus' words resound, "And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short." (Matthew 24:22)

A Cross Placed for Babies Who Died Before Birth
This cross was placed for babies who were never born due to abortion.

Dr. Quill, Dr. Petkūnas and Pastor Johnson
We departed the Hill of Crosses singing the hymn, "Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow" (Lutheran Service Book 428).

Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow,
Where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect man on thee did suffer,
Perfect God on thee hast bled.

-- Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations