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.

Missionaries reflecting on mission service – Kristopher and Rebecca Hartwig

Posted on January 7, 2012 by Franklin Ishida

Kristopher and Rebecca Hartwig served in Tanzania from 2004 to 2011, though they both had lived there when they were younger. Kristopher is a palliative care/hospice physician by training and Rebecca is a nurse. They both worked with a palliative care home-health team out of Selian Lutheran Hospital, helping terminally ill people with control of their symptoms, emotional and family support, and spiritual care.

To support any of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to


Missionaries reflecting on mission service – Richard Young

Posted on October 1, 2011 by Franklin Ishida

Prior to becoming a pastor, Richard Young had a full-time private practice of obstetrics and gynecology in Nevada and traveled around the world giving seminars to OB/GYN doctors. After practicing for 14 years, he felt the call to ministry and was ordained. He immediately accepted a call to be a missionary in Guyana as a doctor and a pastor in 2001. Richard is  known for being dedicated to holistic ministry; using health care skills within the context of ministry as a witness and service of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Guyana. He completed service in 2011. 

To support any of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

Crossing over to new opportunities

Posted on July 9, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Kristopher and Rebecca Hartwig, ELCA missionaries, work with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania by developing hospice and palliative care teams throughout the country. They will be concluding this service in July. To support the Hartwigs, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

Kristopher and Rebecca Hartwig, shown with Heidi and Nathan, will conclude their service in Tanzania in July.

Kristopher and Rebecca Hartwig, shown with Heidi and Nathan, will conclude their service in Tanzania in July.

Dear friends in Christ,

Please find our letter for this month below.

Crossing over

Rebecca wrote a piece of music of this title, and it somehow expresses our feelings of transition.  Looking ahead, there are a host of new possibilities, which we trust in God to be made good, even as we have anxieties and uncertainties. Looking behind, there is gratitude, some sense of relief and more gratitude. It is never easy to leave community and friends, yet now we must.

Crossing over, in Biblical language this mostly refers to the Jordan River. The Israelites could not enter the Promised Land until they had crossed over that river. That a whole generation was denied the crossing (Moses et al), and that Joshua’s leading of the next generation across the river was just as miraculous as crossing the Red Sea, are signs and warnings and wonders in the history of our faith.

In hospice work, crossing over often refers to the passage from life to death. It is a way of expressing that special time as a process, somehow analogous to childbirth in being fraught with anxiety but, inevitably, something which must come. There is mystery here, as we have had cause to contemplate with close proximity to such recent crossings.

Interestingly, in the New Testament the one reference to “crossing over” that I could find was from John 5:24, referring to exactly the reverse of the hospice meaning: “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.””

We depart from the continent July 17, a day after Nathan’s high school graduation, then rushing to Anchorage for Kirsten’s marriage to Ray. From Aug. 1, we will be based at the ELCA Missionary Apartments in St. Paul, Minn. Over the subsequent several months we will look forward to seeing many of you, sharing our stories and the different ways in which all of us have crossed over. Please pray for us that our crossing might be filled with grace, that we might be gracious within the process and eager for the new promises, yet unseen, that lie ahead. And may we never forget the life to which we have come, in Christ, which is, in a mysterious way, our Promised Land.

Kristopher and Rebecca Hartwig

Cancer patients provided pain relief

Posted on March 30, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Kristopher and Rebecca Hartwig are ELCA missionaries serving in Tanzania. They relay news of finally having access to morphine to help cancer patients:

Rebecca and Kristopher Hartwig

Rebecca and Kristopher Hartwig

My colleague, Dr. Paul Mmbando, called it a “morphine boom.”

Since working in Tanzania from 2004, our steady work and advocacy to gain access to oral morphine as a key drug to treat cancer pain has failed to get even one of our rural Lutheran sites to access it.

In late January that all changed.  The director of Matema Lutheran Hospital, Dr. Joseph Mwakilulele, called us *to announce that he had just left the capital city with a supply of oral morphine.  We were thrilled!  It was a huge effort on his part, and seemed to give us a certain window of opportunity.

A carefully worded email from Paul, showering appreciation here and there, got us more response than we had even hoped for.  By the next week, the director of the Tanzania Food and Drug Authority (TFDA) was asking for details on what the barriers were to oral morphine in the rural areas.  He then requested that Paul and another colleague come to his office with any other applications for morphine that could be mustered.

Miraculously, within three days there were 12 further applications with the requisite photos and signatures, scanned to our emails and presented to the TFDA.  By last week, 13 hospitals were given certificates of permission to stock this drug!

In the world of hospice this is a memorable breakthrough.  That it would happen with such a collective team effort of Tanzanian professionals is very, impressive.  My role as a part of that team, even in the background, is one I treasure greatly.

Speaking of treasures, it is another reminder of a rich verse from Isaiah, 45:3: “I will give you treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

For people suffering great pain, relief from that pain is something that is in a secret and inaccessible place for too many people in this world.  That there is the prospect of pain relief, and that it might come in such a way that those same people would indeed know the Lord God, who calls them by name, well, that is a true gift of mercy.

Kristopher and Rebecca Hartwig

Missionaries reflecting on mission service – Paula Powell

Posted on February 15, 2011 by Franklin Ishida

Paula was in South Africa with the Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa where she worked with the HIV/AIDS program. She served July 2006 through June 2010. Prior to her service, Paula resided in Greeley, Colorado.

A Faith borne out of persecution

Posted on March 25, 2010 by Franklin Ishida
Zhao Qin-

Pastor Zhao Qin-lin

When Zhao Qin-lin was young, he remembers his grandfather singing a song. The lullaby-like song that Zhao remembers, “Jesus protects us … ,” had to be sung late in the evening, after his grandfather had spent many hours in the fields during the day, because of fear of persecution. This was during the Cultural Revolution in China, the period between 1966 and 1976 during which there as widespread social and political upheaval in China; a time when, in addition to the persecution of anyone suspected of harboring anti-socialist ideas, religions were persecuted, churches closed and Bibles destroyed.

“My grandfather would take the Bible and put it in a clay jar and bury it,” recalls Zhao. That was the only way to hold on to this treasure of their faith in a time of great upheaval.

Now, years later, Zhao serves as one of the pastors of Luzhou City Church in southeastern Sichuan province. As a Miao ethnic minority, he often heads into the mountains to trek among the Miao congregations that are a part of the Luzhou parish. This is all possible because of the flourishing ministry of this parish that counts somewhere between 28,000 and 30,000 members in four congregations, 15 preaching points, and 53 home gatherings.

The ELCA works closely with Luzhou church, assisting with social ministry projects, health care ministries, grassroots leadership training, and rural development. Among the Miao, in particular, irrigation ditches have been built to allow crops to be grown higher up on the slopes of valleys; library books  provided to isolated schools; and one new church built.

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

Lunch with sex workers

Posted on December 14, 2009 by Franklin Ishida
Persons living with HIV/AIDS in Indonesia

Persons living with HIV/AIDS in Indonesia

Megan Bradfield (ELCA Global Mission staff), Phil Baker (Regional Representative) and I were visiting HIV/AIDS projects in Indonesia implemented by the HKBP – the largest Lutheran Church in Asia. One stop was at a local prison where the church works among the people who have been imprisoned for various crimes including drug abuse and sex offenses.

As we came out of the prison, Megan asked me what was next. I replied “lunch with sex workers.” Megan started laughing. I wondered what it was all about and Phil was curious, too. In response, she replied, “Because you said ‘lunch with sex workers.’” I said this was true as our next program was to have lunch at a restaurant with sex workers and drug abusers. Megan said “it was not because of what you said; I was laughing because the way you said it.”

We did meet up with a dozen men and women who had been invited by the HIV/AIDS staff. Meeting for lunch was an incentive for them to come to talk to us. After lunch we went back to the project office to have a conversation with these people.

A man described that he was HIV positive and his wife was not only HIV positive, but she also had tuberculosis. They have four young children; two of them HIV positive. He was in tears when he described that his wife was unable to work because of her poor health and that the entire family was dependent on his income alone. He told us how hard he works for a small income driving a mini cab as he pays major portion of his earnings to the owner of the mini cab. He told us that he is grateful for the treatment and care he receives from the HIV/AIDS project, though that was insufficient at times.

A newly married couple told their story about how they realized that the husband was HIV positive immediately after their marriage. They do not want to have any children at this point. The wife told us that she is trying to support her husband and praying for his healing.

Two young women involved in sex trade told us about their painful stories. One of them was HIV positive. They told us the stories of how poverty and hunger brought them to this trade, and how they don’t like what they do but they do not have any other alternatives.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, with the abundance we enjoy in our lives, let us not forget the true meaning of the celebration – the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to this world, walked amongst the sick and the downtrodden, and died on the cross for us all.  No matter what differences we have among us, one issue remains a constant – there are many who need our help and our prayers.  Pray that we all make a commitment for the upcoming New Year that we will come together as one and serve those who the world sees as “one of these least.”

Richard Sarker
Regional Representative, Asia Pacific

One new life is God’s grace

Posted on August 24, 2009 by Franklin Ishida
Baby Chen En, held by Pr. Liao, her mother standing behind, and surrounded by hospital staff

Baby Chen En, held by Pr. Liao, her mother standing behind, and surrounded by hospital staff

Luzhou City Parish in southeastern Sichuan Province, China, has been at the forefront of holistic care for the community. One way in which it does this is through health care. In addition to its own community health clinic, located next to the main church, and outreach health functions, it cooperates with Luzhou Hospital. ELCA funds have assisted Luzhou Church in providing care for those living in poverty as well as directly funding neonatal care instruments at the hospital. 

Recently, a couple gave birth to a child with special medical needs. But they used up all their money for the early medical expenses and decided to take the baby home. But everyone knew the baby could not survive once back at the village. 

Luzhou Church staff made it possible for the baby to remain in the hospital and her life was saved. Pastor Liao named the child Chen En (En means grace in Chinese) to express thanks to God. Now, Chen En has been discharged, a more healthy child.

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

Thinking like a Nigerian

Posted on August 20, 2009 by Timothy Fries

The folowing is a slightly abbreviated version of a blog post by ELCA Missionary, Mary Beth Oyebade.

My Grandma had major heart surgery in Rochester, MN in June. My mom, dad, aunt and uncle were at the hospital before, during, and after the surgery. But within a day or two, they started to go to their respective homes. I was horrified. I said, “But who’s going to stay with Grandma?!” My mom gently explained that what they were doing was acceptable. They didn’t need to be with her 24/7. And moreover, my Grandma really didn’t need constant company if she was going to get adequate rest. I understood what she was saying, but I still felt a twinge of guilt that someone wasn’t sitting with Grandma.

In this area of my thinking, I have become very Nigerian. If you are hospitalized in Nigeria, you have to bring someone to take care of you – especially for your feeding and bathing. It is just expected that a family member is always present.

In a similar vein, as I was making various presentations this summer, I noticed I was using some Nigerian terminology, and I couldn’t think of how to express that thought in American English. For example, I would mention that we train youth on computers, and that having these computer skills would enable them to get a small job. “Small job” didn’t sound right in the U.S. In retrospect, I could have said, “Youth are able to get part-time or entry-level jobs with these computer skills.” I can tell that I have been here a long time.