The role of Lutheran missionaries has changed since the 1800s, when pastors were sent into countries overseas to spread Christianity. Today’s ELCA mission personnel live and work in a mutual relationship model called accompaniment.
And at the invitation of ELCA companion Lutheran churches overseas, both clergy and lay personnel serve in a variety of roles including as doctors and nurses, accountants, music teachers and seminary professors. They are supported by congregations across this church through ELCA Missionary Sponsorship, a program that encourages communication, prayer and financial support for missionaries.
Angela and Martin Zimmann recently moved their family from Toledo, Ohio, to Jerusalem to serve as special assistants to Dr. Munib Younan, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and as co-pastors at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, the English-speaking congregation in Jerusalem.
“Remember to look to the father who welcomed the prodigal son as your example of the means of grace in this ministry,” Younan said to the Zimmanns during their installment. “Remember that love is stronger than hate, peace is more powerful than violence and grace is the final word from the cross as our crucified Lord pleads for our forgiveness. This is the grace that raised Christ Jesus on Easter morning.”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land is a church of approximately 3,000 members in six congregations throughout Jordan, Palestine and Israel. The church’s work is concentrated in humanitarian ministries, which include schools, youth programs and women’s outreach.
For the Zimmanns the opportunity comes at a perfect time. They were concerned how their two children, Seth, 13, and Chelsea, 9, would react to being moved, but Seth and Chelsea have taken it in stride and understand their family’s commitment to a life of service.
“They are both delighted with this opportunity and fully engaged at both school and church. The children have been raised with the philosophy of welcoming and serving, as we were a foster family in the United States and had many children in our home over the past five years. This is simply another way to serve the people of God,” Angela says.
A ‘mind-blowing’ opportunity
Ask Seth to describe himself, and he’ll tell you he considers himself “kinda standard.” A high school freshman who plays the tuba in band, Seth describes himself as an indoor person and talks about dabbling with technology.
Seth describes his initial reaction to the move as disbelief but has grown accustomed to the idea. In fact, Seth says he expected he would one day take a mission trip with his church youth group but never thought his family would serve abroad. He says the idea is “a little mind blowing.”
Chelsea, a shy yet bubbly 9-year-old who loves stuffed animals, her cat, Gavin, and enjoys arts and crafts, says she had a hard time picking only three stuffed animals to take along. Ultimately she decided on an Ewok, a Chibi Cthulhu and a turtle.
Chelsea talks excitedly about experiencing Christmas Eve in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, where people gather with candles to sing “Silent Night” in their own languages. She also says she and her mother will make frequent trips to the market to shop for their meals. Both are looking forward to the food in Jerusalem citing hummus, baklava, lamb and gyros as favorites.
Of course, both children will miss friends. Chelsea plans to keep in touch through Facebook. Seth, however, says it will be difficult to go from texting or calling friends to using the Internet. As for comforts of home — both worry that bacon and peanut butter will be in short supply (or quite expensive).
A new adventure
Seth is keen to explore Jerusalem’s many biblical and historical sites. He has been reading about walking trails in the area. He wants to travel these trails saying they are something he doesn’t have in snowy Ohio. Seth also looks forward to hosting the youth groups visiting from the ELCA’s Southeast Michigan Synod every other year.
Chelsea is most excited for one change. Previously, her parents worked at different congregations meaning the family didn’t attend church together. Chelsea looks forward to Sundays as a family now that her parents work at the same church.
Before coming to Jerusalem, Angela served in the ELCA Southeast Michigan Synod. She is an instructor of homiletics and has taught at both the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pa., and Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Martin served as assisting pastor at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Temperance, Mich., and also taught at Bowling Green State University.
The entire family acknowledges that challenges lie ahead in their new home away from home, but they are excited to see what God has in store.
Angela said she and her husband understand the challenges of serving in a region that is in constant conflict. “Christians comprise less than 2 percent of the population, although this was the birthplace of the Christian faith,” she says. “The church in the Middle East is often caught in the midst of the struggle, and strives to be a voice for peace with justice. We see all people as God’s people, God’s children. As the Bible tells us clearly in Galatians 3:28, we ‘are all one in Christ Jesus.’”
The church provides a “safe haven for all who walk through the door,” Angela says. “The welcoming sense at the church is a great relief in an area of tension and conflict.”