Stories from the Global Church

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

Feet to forest

Posted on April 16, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Jane Gingrich is spending a year of service in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar, as part of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. Here is an entry from her blog in which she records her experiences. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to

This is where I live: Fianarantsoa!

This is where I live: Fianarantsoa!

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

The three days of Easter spill into four days in Madagascar. As in North America, each church celebrates a little bit differently, but among Malagasy Lutherans in my community of Fianarantsoa, this is how it looked:

On Maundy Thursday afternoon, people began to gather in the church as early as 3 p.m. Officially worship began at 5 p.m., but washing the feet of over 1,000 congregation members takes time! Every person’s feet are washed as they arrive, then prayer and the hum of singing begins as more and more people gather. By 6 p.m. most everyone is inside the church, freshly cleansed in an act of loving service. Singing, prayer, and the Meal mark the night and everyone returns home around 9 p.m.

Friday is a day of rest. At 6 p.m. worship begins and only a small crowd gathers for a solemn service of prayer, song, sermon and paschal litany. Jesus’ crucifixion is marked and all depart in silence. No stripping of the altar, no snuffing of candles — a simple liturgy of the Word to mark Christ’s sacrifice.

Sunday morning everyone wears new clothes and arrives for worship at 9 a.m.! The morning celebration of Christ’s resurrection is marked with lots of singing, choirs’ songs, baptisms (three at the church here), receiving of new deacons of the church, Eucharist and enthusiastic joy among members! Lunch is a time of gathering for families, relatives and friends. Then Easter Sunday is for relaxing, playing games and enjoying time with family.

Easter Monday struck me as being quite different from back home: It was a church picnic to celebrate Easter a second time! Gathering at 7 a.m. to pile into trucks and vans, as many congregation members as showed up traveled out of town into a nearby forest to lay out mats and blankets to sit on. Then food started to come out of baskets for preparation; women peeled carrots, chopped zucchini and made salads. Rice started cooking and homemade natural juices were pulled out of baskets. As the food cooked, we gathered in worship: prayer, singing, Bible reading, sermon, prayer and song! An incredible journey out into the woods to celebrate Christ’s return to creation! Being that the text was the “Road to Emmaus” story, it seemed most fitting to me that we were out in the world to celebrate Christ being among us again!

After worship, a meal — all shared what we had brought and enjoyed common food cooked together. Then the whole afternoon was filled with exploring the wooded area, singing and dancing traditional dances, and hearing jokes, stories and lots of laughter shared!

Happy Easter!

Easter in eastern Russia

Posted on April 28, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Bradn and Natasha Buerkle are ELCA missionaries serving as pastors in Novosibirsk, Russia. To support the Buerkles, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to


Kulachy is a special Easter food in Russia.

Kulachy is a special Easter food in Russia.

The Orthodox Church celebrated Easter a week later than the Western Church this year. Nearly every year (insofar as the church calendars only rarely coincide) I mourn at the lack of a unified witness in the  celebration of Christ’s resurrection. At the same time, I try to make the best out of the situation, knowing that most of the people in our congregations will, in one way or another, celebrate Easter twice — and it’s hard to argue with that.

There are a number of unique characteristics of the Easter season in Russia. Special foods are prepared, like “kulachy.” They are blessed in front of churches or in supermarkets on Easter or in the days immediately before. The main service in the Orthodox church is a beautiful Easter vigil filled with lots of liturgical “special effects” — the clergy make two changes of their vestments, the church goes from dark to light, there is a special procession around the church filled with everyone singing “Christ is risen from the dead / trampling down death by death / and upon those in the tombs restoring life!”  The Easter night service is broadcast on national TV stations. This year, as usual, major politicians took a prominent place at these services, though this year many are criticizing the church for its obvious moves towards strengthening its financial and political position.

Yet for those who call the Orthodox Church their home, the whole week after Easter is special. During “Bright Week” (and only during this week throughout the entire year) the doors of the iconostasis, separating the sanctuary from the altar, are left open. This represents the stone rolled away from the tomb.  More than anything else the week after Easter is a time of joy — there’s no fasting, there is much singing and, as I’ve noticed this year, a whole lot of bell-ringing. During this week the Orthodox church opens up its bell towers for anyone who wants to try to be a bell ringer.

A recent news report said that as many as 35,000 people attended Easter services. That is wonderful! Yet, given that our city has just passed the 1.5 million mark in population, there is clearly still much to do in order to reach people with the good news of the resurrection.

Easter in Slovakia

Posted on April 22, 2011 by Hand In Hand
The children carried palm branches.

The children carried palm branches.

The Rev. Arden and Janna Haug are ELCA missionaries based in Bratislava, Slovakia. Arden is the ELCA’s regional representative for Europe. They have two sons, Vitali and Alexei.

Dear Friends,

In Slovakia, Palm Sunday is known as “Flowering Sunday.”  It is a wonderful description of the season.  Apple trees, plum trees, forsythia and magnolias are all in bloom.   Slovaks often bring branches from these trees or pussy willows to be blessed as a part of the Sunday morning liturgy on Palm Sunday.

In the Bratislava International Church, we celebrated the day with traditional greens palms and dry tan palm crosses.  When I was in Great Britain for a regional meeting of the Lutheran World Federation, I searched high and low for palm branches, but I was told in one liturgical supply house after another that in England, “palm crosses is what we use.”   The English save their palm crosses, as Americans do their palm branches, for Ash Wednesday

The adults waved palm crosses.

The adults waved palm crosses.

services the following year.  I scoured the city for palm branches and then decided to experiment and have a multicultural Palm Sunday.  The children entered the church with palm branches swaying and shouting loud “hosannas,” and the adults followed waving their palm crosses and reverently singing, “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”  It was a wonderful way to begin our Holy Week observance.

In the Slovak language, the word for Easter is Vel’ka noc, which means Great Night.  The name the Great Night comes from the early tradition of Orthodox Christianity and its important midnight Easter Vigil.   Following the old Slavic liturgy and custom, the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection takes place in the midnight hours.  The good news of Easter is proclaimed “on the first day of the week, and early dawn, when the women went to the tomb.”

At midnight the priests and congregation walk around the church three times, and on third round, they stop at the entrance of the church.  The priest knocks on the door, and then announces to the congregations standing in the darkness, that the tomb is empty. This leads to the Orthodox Easter greeting which has become our own familiar Easter greeting, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

A blessed Easter from Central Europe!

The Haugs

For the Sake of the World, con much amor

Posted on June 27, 2010 by Hand In Hand

The English class of Cristo Rey Lutheran congregation (Lima, Peru) studied the script and watched For the Sake of the World, a video presentation that explains how ELCA global ministries are funded. 

This was more than an English-language exercise for the class, for they are “hand in hand” investors in ELCA global ministries.  Their English teacher and pastor, Dana Nelson, is a sponsored ELCA missionary.   During Lent, the class used the ELCA World Hunger 40-day calendar and coin box.  “When Easter came,” writes Pr. Nelson, “we emptied all of our boxes together on the classroom table and found that together we had collected 87 Peruvian soles  (about $30 U.S. dollars) to donate to ELCA World Hunger.   The students collected this money con mucho amor (with much love).   They were so excited to watch the video presentation and see how their gifts are being used to help people all over the world.

Find the six-minute video presentation online at or contact to request a DVD.–Sue Edison-Swift.

Evidence: An Easter story

Posted on April 11, 2010 by Hand In Hand

 The following is drawn from a recent blog post by the Rev. Christa Von Zychlin, an ELCA missionary serving in Hong Kong.–Sue Edison-Swift

 The Thursday before Easter I got a phone call from my 86 year old mother back in the United States. It was just past midnight her time in the U.S., even though it was in the early afternoon here in Hong Kong. It was a very unusual time for her to be calling me. She said something to me on the telephone but all I heard was “Torsten” (my son’s name), “hospital” and “car accident”

My mother very quickly added, “He’s okay! He’s okay!” “I picked him up from the hospital…the cars are both destroyed, but it’s a miracle, Torsten and his friend and the other driver, they all had their seatbelts on. They all had airbags in the cars. And they all only have cuts and bruises from this big accident.”

My son is alive and well.

She went on to say that Torsten’s friend was driving the car, and the other car had pulled out right in front of them.

Because of the time difference between us, I had to wait the whole day before I could speak with my son personally. Meanwhile, though, he sent me pictures of the crumpled cars.

If I thought it was all a bad dream, now I had evidence that this accident was very real.

The next day, I was finally able to call my son, using Skype, so that I was able to see him, and hear from him personally about what had happened. And do you know what nearly the first thing he said was?

Do you want to see my scars and bruises?

And my grown son pulls up his shirt to show where the seatbelt had left a dark purple bruise across his shoulder, and he pushes down his belt to show where the airbags had left a big red welt on his hip.

My son looked at me and smiled. “It’s a miracle I’m alive,” he says.

In just that same way, but of course a hundred times more intense, does Jesus show the disciples his hands, and pulls aside his robe to show them his side, where the spear had made a deep ugly gash in his skin.

Peace be with you, he says.

My guess is that Jesus smiles as he says this.

It’s such a human thing to do, to show your scars after a near escape from death. But in Jesus’ case, he hasn’t just escaped death, he has defeated death.

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”– John 20:19-20

An Easter seasoned with thanks giving

Posted on March 30, 2010 by Hand In Hand
Operation Thanksgiving Easter greetings (OT-G: Easter) have started arriving at my desk.   With the arrival of 90 cards (a shoebox full!)  from Lutheran Church of the Abiding Presence (Burke, Virginia), we now have at least one card for each of our 188 missionary households.   Thanks, too, to the other congregations on the OT-G: Easter honor roll:  Augustana Lutheran (Hobart, IN);  Walnut Hill Lutheran (Dallas, Texas); Grace Evangelical Lutheran (Westminster, MD)–especially Megan and Emily; Alma Lutheran (Mead, Neb.) and Thabor Lutheran (Wausa, Neb.).

Since Easter is a season, there’s still time to participate!  Send your cards to arrive in the office by April 26.  Get the details at (the OT-G: Easter button is on the left).  Remember, send cards directly to any specific missionaries, members of the armed forces and other service personnel connected to you; send “random acts of Easter joy” greetings for missionaries to ELCA Global Mission Support, 8765 W. Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631.

It is a joy to open the packets of Easter greetings, and a privilege to send them off to our missionaries!  Pr. Twila Schock, Kathleen West and I–your Global Mission Support team–thank God for you and for all you do to support the “Hand in Hand” global ministries of the church.
Easter blessings!  Sue Edison-Swift

OT-G Easter

Posted on February 25, 2010 by Len Mason

You are invited to participate in Operation Thanks-Giving: Easter.  Here’s how:

1.  Gather the supplies (construction paper, markers, crayons) and the people (family, Sunday School, congregation, Bible-study group) to make Easter greetings.  Consider setting up a card-making station as part of your Easter breakfast.

2.  Make Easter greetings for ELCA Missionaries, troops, and other personnel who serve away from home.

3.  Mail cards directly to the personnel connected to you (e.g., family, friends, and sponsored missionaries).

4.  Send your  Easter greetings for ELCA missionaries to OT-G Easter, ELCA Global Mission Support, 8765 W. Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631.   Cards will be mailed on April 14 and May 14.   The cards will fairly distributed among our 180 missionary households. 

How many OT-G greetings should I send?
From one to 180, it’s up to you.

Do they need to be in individual envelopes?
Sending all your OT-G greetings in one envelope is preferred.  If you do send cards in envelopes, please do not seal the envelopes.

Is it OK to include our church name and e-mail address?
Yes!  While a “thanks for the thankfulness” reply is not expected, many of the missionaries receiving Operation Thanks-Giving cards did reply when an e-mail address was provided. 

Should we send a donation along with our OT-G cards?
A donation to ELCA Missionary Sponsorship: Where needed most (MSG0340) is appreciated but not required.

We had such fun making cards!  Where do I send pictures?
Cool!  After securing permission to share the photos (especially those featuring children) e-mail the best one, two or three to Sue Edison-Swift.

Where do I learn more?
Find Operation Thanks-Giving stories and pictures on the Hand in Hand blog digest (a OT-G category button is on the left-hand column).  Learn more about ELCA Missionary Sponsorship at  Contact the Global Mission Support teat at

Thankful for you,  Sue Edison-Swift





Easter Vigil experience gives new meaning to baptism

Posted on October 26, 2009 by Franklin Ishida

Singapore is the meeting point of many church traditions within Asia. One of the challenges for Jeff Truscott, ELCA missionary teaching worship at Trinity Theological College, is to introduce students to the theology and practices that have shaped church worship throughout history.

Truscott and students experiencing an Easter Vigil

Truscott and students experiencing an Easter Vigil

In a recent class, he led his class in experiencing the Easter Vigil. Many students come from non-liturgical traditions. For them and even those who do have liturgies, the vigil gave new meaning to baptism within the context of the theology of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Truscott reports that students found special meaning in the service of light and the service of readings from the Old Testament. “The strong symbolism in the service communicated powerfully to them,” he says.

After this vigil experience, students submitted a paper that reflected on how they could use, adapt, and possibly augment this service for use in their own churches and traditions in different Asian countries.

This was just a start. Next semester, Truscott plans to have his worship and liturgy class celebrate the entire Paschal Triduum during a one-day long retreat/workshop that will be open to the entire seminary community.

Y. Franklin Ishida
Director for Asia and the Pacific, ELCA Global Mission

Walking with the risen Lord: An Easter Devotion

Posted on April 13, 2009 by admin

This Easter Devotion, written by The Rev. Mark Holman, is based on Luke 24:13-35. It appears in the Spring 2009 issue of Hand in Hand, the new ELCA Missionary Sponsorship quarterly newseltter. The devotion is written by the Rev. Mark Holman. Easter blessings!   Sue

Only Luke tells this story of Jesus’ tender patience: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Later, their eyes were opened when Jesus blessed, broke, and gave the bread.

We have not yet walked the road to Emmaus, but we, and the people we serve, have walked plenty of stony roads in and around Jerusalem. Daily, we walk through 3,000 years of biblical history. At the same time, we participate in some of the pivotal events that will be reported in tomorrow’s international media.

We walk with people who grieve the loss of their precious homeland and now endure the incessant humiliations of occupation. We join in the struggle for peace and justice in a climate often simmering with vengeance and retribution. Most of all, in faith, we walk with the risen Lord who continues to be revealed when scripture is opened and bread broken. He is the one who brings life and sets us free.

dsc_0067b-785782The Rev. Mark and Marcia Holman are ELCA missionaries. Pastor Mark serves as pastor of the English-speaking congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem. Marcia serves to strengthen community life among the women and men called to serve in Palestine.