Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016

Our Support Raising Journey


Bowling Alley in the Basement of St. John, Chicago
“On the Road Again…” Yes, that has been our theme song since January when we officially hit the ground running building our support network. Our first stop was St. John's, Chicago. Months before our call to mission work Craig was asked to be the M.C for the Higher Things Conference held at Concordia University, so it was an easy decision to go ahead and start at a congregation nearby. Pastor Rich Heinz and his wife Kristin were gracious hosts, and everyone was so kind to us! While we were kind of nervous and wet behind the ears, the congregation was genuinely excited about our mission work. We got such a kick out of the bowling alley in the basement. It was almost untouched since the 50s and was still being used! 
St. John's Lutheran, Chicago
The following weekend we presented at our home church Our Savior, Fenton, MO. The music director roped me in to play piano for the students while they sang for Lutheran Schools Day during the service. I was more than happy to oblige! They asked a lot of great questions during our Bible class PowerPoint presentation, which challenged us to fine tune a few things.

The next weekend found us at Trinity Lutheran in Jefferson City (which is the capital of Missouri).  Craig preached for three services, and we had the pleasure of hearing their children’s choir, adult choir, women’s choir, handbell choir as well as some fantastic organ. Lucky us! Again, such a warm reception and genuine interest in our mission work in Eurasia. It was fun to reconnect with former St. Johns, Orange Ca. members Paul and Pamela Haynes. They were both so helpful! Craig moved on to Ozark Lake to present at a Winkle and after I took a peek at the capital building and monuments I took the train home.
Paul and Pamela Haynes in Jefferson City












Handbell Choir at Trinity

After catching some nasty colds, we travelled all the way to Pittsburg Kansas to meet some Facebook friends, Pastor Ted and Michelle Cook. Pastor Cook serves both Zion Lutheran in Pittsburg as well as Trinity Lutheran in Fort Scott. Right away we were treated to a Mardi Gras dinner at Trinity Lutheran and enjoyed getting to know the congregation. I played for services the next morning. Serving a dual parish was an interesting experience!  A volunteer from Trinity (our first church) played the last hymn and postlude for services as all of the pastors and organist rushed off to Zion to start the service there. As I made my quick exit a man came rushing up with a plate full of goodies (nicely wrapped up for me no less) to take with me! When we arrived at Zion, someone was already playing pre-service music, and I took her spot on the bench as she whispered some directions to me. Talk about winging it! Craig did the PowerPoint presentation after one of those fantastic Lutheran church potlucks. Yum! Both Zion and Trinity were so welcoming and receptive! Pastor Ted and Michelle treated us to some Chicken Mary’s fried chicken. I bet you did not know that Pittsburg, KS is the epicenter of Midwestern fried chicken! Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s have duking it out for over 65 years and been featured in Food Wars on the Travel Chanel. Check it out(I won’t spoil it and tell you who the winner was): http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x12ip13_chicken-annie-s-vs-chicken-mary-s_tv. Soon our Facebook friends fast became some real life friends.  Craig wondered if Michelle and I were separated at birth. Of course we checked out some of the most interesting roadside attractions as we headed home. After all, the highway was at one time part of historic route 66. My favorite was a Sistine Chapel only with Precious Moments figures. A few days after we got home Craig headed off to Prague to work at the Network of Young Theologians Conference and we scheduled a rendezvous in Florida when he got back to the states.
Pastor Ted Cook and Pastor Donofrio
Precious Moments Chapel




Organ in the balcony of Zion 















Before we received our call to become missionaries we had planned a vacation to Orlando, Florida. We are So. California natives but had not experienced the land of the mouse in Florida. After we received the call we thought, “Hey, as long as we are there anyway let’s find a church nearby and do our presentation in Florida!” Craig found a local LCMS congregation (Ascension Lutheran) and just called the pastor out of the blue. This was the first time we had no connection to a church, so we weren’t too sure about it.  Sometimes the best experiences come from something that is unknown! Pastor Tom Eggebrecht and his wife Tammy were incredibly gracious, all of the services were Christ-centered, and again the congregation was so welcoming and supportive of our mission. We shared a fantastic Italian meal with the Eggebrechts, and they became immediate friends.
Ascension Lutheran, Casselberry, Florida
Craig and Pastor Tom Eggelbrecht

After a fabulous but intense two weeks of our Missionary Orientation we headed off to Chicago. Our final destination was Momence, Il but we needed our Gino’s East Chicago pizza fix first! This time we were more prepared and a little more confident thanks to all of the great training we received at the International Center. Pastor David Juhl and his wife Becky invited us into their home for two fabulous home cooked meals! Their talented daughter serenaded us on the piano as well as the violin and I had a great time creating  “Holy Week Art” made out of Legos with their boys! The congregation at Our Savior Lutheran was so friendly and warm!
Pastor David Juhl and Craig on Palm Sunday




That Last Supper and the Tomb in legos
One of the members of Our Savior Lutheran
(he has such excellent sense of fashion!)




Some look at missionary support raising as kind of a “necessary evil” or something we must endure to eventually get on the field. For Craig and I, it has been extremely valuable. The Support Raising phase of our mission work is our chance to meet people of the LCMS in a very personal way and get to know them. For us, it has been a real life experience of the family of believers from all over the country. We are excited about building relationships that will last for years to come.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

THE END OF TERROR


It’s March 22, 2016, today.  I was up late last night working on our missionary newsletter, so I rolled out of bed a little later than usual.  I wiped the sleep from my eyes and looked at my email to find a slew of emails from Missionaries in the region, “is everyone okay?”  “We have an Alliance Missionary” in Brussels, has anyone heard from him?”  “Has anyone heard from the Bishop of the church there?”

I immediately turned on the radio and started scouring the net to try to find out the latest.  There the pundits are blaming President Obama, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Belgians, and, of course, ISIS, who is taking credit for a coordinated bombing attack on the West.

I am soon to deploy to this region for the next five to seventeen years, I thought, “is this wise?”   “Am I putting my sweet Paula and myself in harms way?”  Then I remembered something that I said as I was teaching a Bible Class the other day, “the opposite of terror or fear, is faith.”

Faith always has an object and the object of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace who on Good Friday, swallowed up all fear as He took into Himself the death that we deserve.  He took the sins that we have committed onto and into Himself and exchanged it for His perfect, holy, righteous life which He credited to our bankrupt accounts.

As an aside, when you read the Bible, remember that faith always has an object, try replacing the word faith with Jesus and see how the text reads, it usually makes things pretty interesting.

So, we prepare to head off to Eurasia, with the backing of many saints who are upholding us in prayer.  We prepare to go and to proclaim the Gospel to over a billion people in over fifty countries, most of which were once devoutly Christian, but no more.  We go with no more and no less Divine protection than we have had in the states.

Let’s face it; life is unsure, it is scary at times, things rarely work out the way that we expect, but with Christ, there is peace and confidence.  We also know that when the Lord requires us, we will go, not a moment before or after.

We pray that Jesus will return soon and put an end to the madness that sin brought into the world, but until then, we endure.

We also know that thousands and thousands of Muslims in our region of Eurasia are hearing the Gospel, being baptized and are rejoicing in the mercies of Christ Jesus!

So in the end, we have an eternal perspective, knowing that “He who is in you, is greater than He that is in the world.”  - 1John 4:4

As we draw near to the cross of Christ on this Good Friday, let us keep in mind that Christ has descended into our death so that He might raise us eternally in His life.  As He took the punishment for the sins of the world on the cross, with His last breath, He inhaled into Himself the death of our sin and exhaled His life for the World.

This is the message that has defeated and is defeating those who would try to strike terror into our hearts.  May their invented, angry gods be met with the true God of mercy and peace.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"We Are Beggars, This Is True"


We Are Beggars. This is True
By Craig Donofrio

As I walked down the narrow cobblestone street in the Czech Republic, I almost tripped over him.  There he was in on his hands and knees, his face low to the ground, hands outstretched with an old and dirty Starbucks cup.  No eye contact, no pride, just total broken subservient begging. 

This isn’t the way that it happens in the States.  In the states, some guy walks up to you, looks into your eye and with a looming threat says something like, “I haven’t eaten for two days, do you have a couple of bucks, so I can get something?”  Then when you go into the store and bring him some chicken, he cusses at you because he wanted the cash, not food.  But in the Czech Republic, there is shame instead of pride (act or not). 

When I saw the beggars, I was reminded of what they found in Martin Luther’s pocket after he died, it was a scrap of paper that simply read, “We are beggars, this is true.” 

Before Almighty God, the one who made all things seen and unseen, who sees and knows the sins of your actions and of your heart, there is nothing of value that you or I could ever bring before Him that would merit His charity and mercy.  We are the stiff-necked jerk who thinks that we could dare to look God in the eye and say, “gimme something, or else.” 

We all have those sins of our youth, or maybe even those that we are currently engaged in on a regular basis.  You know what they are, those sins that you hope will never be found out or be brought back to light, ever!  You know, the things that would destroy you, or have destroyed you, the ones that you want to leave in the past, once and for all, yeah, those sins.   

Those who begin to know even a fraction of their sin, know what the proper posture is that we should take before the one true God.  Without even a filthy paper cup that we fished out of the trash, we are empty-handed and laid low.  When met eye to eye by our sin, with those nasty things that we don’t acknowledge or talk about, we are broken, humiliated, humbled and with terror, we beg for mercy, empty-handed beggars all.  

God in His mercy is a God for beggars.  He sent His son, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords into our meager, beggarly existence.  He laid aside His glory and His might to become a beggar who didn’t even have a pillow for His head.  He descended into our poverty when He submitted Himself to be baptized in the filthy waters of our sin and emerged for us breaking the bonds of sin and death. 

God isn’t interested in your sins.  He isn’t interested in keeping score, making sure that you keep at least one more good work than bad in your ledger. Instead, He is kind, gracious and whatever the superlative word for generous is – He’s that, to and for beggars, to and for you. 
 
Christ isn’t interested in keeping you in the gutter, but instead, Christ clothes you in His perfect righteousness through the baptismal washing of regeneration and in faith.  He credits the riches of His eternal kingdom to your empty hands and frees you to be generous with His wealth, which He freely entrusts into your care. 

It is an amazing thing to serve as a missionary in a foreign environment.  We see things that we would never see in the USA, but also in them, we see opportunities for the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We hear of the grace of Christ in new ways from converts from Islam.  We engage a society that has been religiously raped by decades of Communistic Atheism and secular rationalism.  In the face of all of this and more, we know and see that God’s Word, Jesus Christ and His extravagant, outrageous, free gift of grace prevails in all things. 

Soli Deo Gloria!