Nov 28, 2019

Sojourn at a solar-powered seminary

Venezuelan pastors, friends and families.
From November 18 to 23, Luz Maria and I were in the Dominican Republic for Foro Venezuela, an event hosted by Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod World Missions at Concordia The Reformer Seminary, Palmar Arriba. Foro means forum and ours was one of a series in which representatives of the LCMS, mission agencies and sister churches in Latin America and the Caribbean talk about what can be done to help proclaim the Gospel in the region.

As a rule, the foros are held in their respective countries to which interested parties from North America travel. For example, I was delighted to discover that this year’s Peru Foro was attended by members of Messiah Lutheran Church of Hays, Kansas, where I was a member while attending Fort Hays State University from 1976 to 1980. Not only did they visit the LCMS mission in Lima, Peru, but in particular the Los Olivos congregation where Luz Maria’s daughter, Yepci Santana, and her children now attend.

In other cases, such as Venezuela, it is a better idea to hold the meeting outside the country in question. LCMS World Missions made a special effort this year to bring all the national pastors of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela (including myself) to the Dominican Republic. In fact, all but one did. We were missing Edgar Coronado, pastor of La Fortaleza Lutheran Church in Maracay, who was unable to obtain a Venezuelan passport. It was noted, however, that because of increasing costs, this may be the last year that such a large group will be invited.

Luz Maria and I last visited the seminary in 2016 for a Latin American deaconess retreat. Since then a third floor has been added to what was a two-story building. The complex includes not only the seminary, but a Christian day school, Mercy Center and a home for the disabled. A local congregation meets in the chapel on Wednesday and Sunday. All the electricity for this complex is generated by an array of solar panels on the roof. The system is much like the one that we just installed, but on a much larger scale.

Reporting on projects

James Tino of Global Lutheran OutreachOn May 24, the first class graduated from the seminary. Among the eight graduates was Isaac Machado of Venezuela. On November 12, Isaac was ordained and installed as a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Spain in Madrid, the national capital. His parents, Elsy and Juan, were with us on our trip. Elsy, as national coordinator of LeadaChild projects, presented a report on the current state and future plans for projects in Venezuela.

LeadaChild is a Kansas-based organization that supports Christian education projects around the world. It has supported projects in Venezuela since 1996 and our mission in La Caramuca since 2006. Luz Maria and I were able to meet with Dr. Phil Frusti, executive director of LeadaChild.

Luz Maria with Dr. Phil Frusti.Luz Maria was responsible for gathering information and presenting a report on the distribution of medicines in Venezuela. This was made possible by the joint efforts of Global Lutheran Outreach, the Confessional Lutheran of Chile, Lutheran World Relief, LCMS Disaster Response and LCMS World Missions. Luz Maria and I were able to meet with Rev. James Tino, executive director of Global Lutheran Outreach.
David Preus.The foro program also included a shortcourse in ecclesiology taught by Rev. David Preus, a member of the seminary faculty. This was an intensive look at the mystical union between Christ and the church, the public ministry of the church by the external Word (preaching and sacraments) and the marks of the visible church on earth. Pastor Preus is the grandson of Robert Preus (“Getting Into The Theology Of Concord: A Study Of The Book Of Concord”, I have read it several times); grandnephew of J.A.O Preus, former president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod; son of Rolf Preus,has taught courses in theology for Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Concordia University Wisconsin, and St. Sophia Lutheran Theological Seminary in Ternopil, Ukraine; and a nephew of Klemet Preus, author of “The Fire And The Staff”, also an important book for me.
Deaconesses Elsy Machado, Elizabeth Hernandez, Caitlin Ramirez and Luz Maria.

Luz Maria with Abraham Ramirez.Friends old and new

During our stay, Luz Maria and I enjoyed the hospitality of Deaconess Caitlin Ramirez, who we first met at the deaconess retreat in 2016, and her husband, Jeancarlos, who is in his second year of study at the seminary, and their son, Abraham. One morning Caitlin hosted a breakfast for deaconesses from four different countries at her home in Santiago de los Caballeros.

With Jeancarlos Ramirez, Hector Paneque and Carlos Ventura.With Regnier John Fritz.I was able to reunite with Regnier John Fritz, who during our 2016 visit, was studying for the ministry. Now he is ordained and chaplain of the day school associated with the seminary. I also met Hector Paneque, a seminarian from Cuba. He explained to me that LCMS missionaries had planted churches in Cuba before Fidel Castro’s revolution. But after Castro seized power, the churches were closed and the missionaries returned to the United States. Missionaries from the Wisconsin Evangelican Lutheran Synod (WELS) were able to make another attempt to evangelize in Cuba during the 1990s. These missionaries were not able to stay permanently, either, but left one church which sent Hector to the seminary. This illustrated to me the advantage of having a seminary strategically located in Latin America: It would be hard to imagine a Cuban being able to attend seminary in the USA under present circumstances!

Sergio Maita with Irene and Andres.The Venezuelans who traveled to the Dominican Republic were met by Venezuelans already there. These included Sergio Maita, who is a member of the seminary faculty and pastor of Pan de Vida Lutheran Church in Santo Domingo; Sergio’s wife, Yoxandris, and their children, Irene and AndrĂ©s; Sergio’s brother, Arturo, now a missionary in Puerto Rico, along with Ruth Pollex Maita, Arturo’s wife, and their daughter, Mikaela; and Josue Ventura, and his uncle, Carlos Vionnel Ventura, who are both seminarians (Josue is the son and Carlos the brother of Adrian Ventura, once pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Maturin, Venezuela, and now a missionary in Santiago, Chile).

Hope for a new hymnal

Preaching of Ted Krey.Mark Braden preaching.Every day opened with Matins and closed with Vespers from a new Spanish Lutheran hymnal expected to be published in its entirety within this next year. Everyone was humming “El Magnificat”. Preachers included Rev. Iban Navarra, the third citizen of the Dominican Republic to be ordained as a confessional Lutheran pastor; Rev. Mark Braden, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Detroit, Michigan, adjunct faculty member of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and visiting professor in both Venezuela and the Dominican Republic; and Rev. Theodore Krey, regional director for the Latin America and Caribbean region of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and former missionary to Venezuela for eight years.

We returned to Venezuela in time to celebrate the last Sunday of the church year. Now, as we prepare for Christmas, we ask you to consider a years-end donation to Global Lutheran Outreach on behalf of Epiphany Lutheran Mission. Our travel expenses to the Dominican Republic were paid, but now we have to confront an economic situation in Venezuela that is more volatile than ever. We rely on donations from you to continue and extend our service to people who are in both material need and in need of the light of God's love.