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.

God’s amazing world in Myitkyina

Posted on November 19, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Christa VonZychlin and the Rev. Wayne Nieminen are ELCA missionaries in Hong Kong. To support Christa and Wayne, or another of the ELCA’s over 240 missionaries in the global church, go to www.ELCA.org/globalchurch/donate.

A refugee camp filled with Kachin State children.

A refugee camp filled with Kachin State children.

A little bit about our recent Mekong Mission Forum teaching trip to Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar:

Of all the Mekong countries, Myanmar (or Burma) has the highest number of Christians. Much of this is due to the perseverance of a husband and wife American Baptist mission couple, Ann and Adoniram Judson, who established a Christian mission in Myanmar 200 years ago! The Myanmar Baptist Convention is expecting more than 20,000 visitors for the celebrations in Yangon next month. Of course, those old-time American missionaries just got the ball rolling. Since then there have been generations of faithful indigenous ministers, pastors, Christian parents and grandparents, and yes, Myanma/Burmese/Kachin missionaries who have attempted to live lives of service, witness and love in extremely difficult conditions, in response to the gospel.

Wayne and I had the great adventure of visiting the Kachin Theological College, in Kachin State, Myanmar. We had the opportunity to teach alongside a fantastically diverse group including Kachin Baptists, Independents, Anglicans, one Presbyterian (Dr. Lal Tin Hre from the Association of Theological Education in Myanmar who was the chief organizer of everything), two Lutherans (us!) and even one Roman Catholic priest! We Americans talk about ecumenism, but these folks are living it. When times are hard, when you are a minority ethnic group AND belong to a minority religion, when you realize the gospel calls us to be counter-cultural, then you unite for continuing education events. Beautiful!

Along with a trip to the site of the Myitsone Dam project (halted last year due to the outcry among environmentalists and the Kachin people who fear for their lives if the dam should break) and taking a boat ride in the cold and fast moving river we also had the opportunity to visit the beautiful Prayer Mountain, overlooking the exotic Kachin State landscape. Many people come up to pray for this land and its people who have been embroiled in war for years with the Burmese military (whose fighter jets we saw flying overhead, in what seemed a menacing show of power over the Kachin people).

We were able to briefly visit a camp for “internally displaced persons” filled with children. The children at the camp just shouted with joy as (together with the Kachin Baptist Church members) we shared the gospel with them through a simple children’s song. I imagine the sounds of the angels are no sweeter to God!

We also heard about a nearby camp where there are three toilets for 500 people, (a young Swedish guy working for UNICEF told us this … and thankfully it appears that, together with the local people, UNICEF is working to help this nearly unbelievable situation). Don’t take your toilets for granted, people!

We then heard from one of the Kachin ladies about her mission trip of encouragement and medical help in yet another camp, nearer to the Chinese border, where people have to learn how to function without arms and legs that have been amputated because of landmine casualties and lack of medical facilities.

As we begin to head into the Advent/Christmas season, (decorations are up all over Hong Kong when we arrived back last night) I am newly aware, again, of the real gospel of Advent/Christmas — that into this hurting and dangerous world, God sent his son, fully human, a vulnerable baby, born to a poor family, in a land occupied by the Romans, where babies could be slaughtered upon the whims of a ruler.

What love is this that God gives to us, and which we are called to share in practical ways?

‘You could do my baptism!’

Posted on June 12, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Christa VonZychlin and the Rev. Wayne Nieminen are ELCA missionaries in Hong Kong serving in theological education. Here Christa describes an experience she had on a recent trip to Cambodia. To support Christa and Wayne, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Sarin, (left) and his father, who was recently baptized.

Sarin, (left) and his father, who was recently baptized.

On day three in Cambodia, I was invited by Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong alumni Sarah and Sarin to go out to the countryside, outside of Phnom Penh, where Sarin’s parents live in a small village. Sarin’s dad had been crippled years ago while living in a refugee camp, so his tiny mom has worked to sustain their family with small business and farming projects.

Sarin was the first in his family to become a follower of Jesus Christ, and one by one the rest of his family came to faith, too.

Except for his dad, who understandably, had a lot to wonder about this God, this Christ Jesus, this new Lord of his son’s.

However, through divine interventions –  and maybe through the new, fresh voices of Sarin’s bride, Sarah, and the beautiful grandchildren they gave to Sarin’s dad – maybe because of their regular visits, their persistent love and because of some dreams, over the last few years Sarin’s dad has been given some amazing dreams, he discovered that God’s Son is for real.

It was a beautiful story and a moving testimony to me of the power of God’s Spirit to draw people to Christ, even in the countryside, even in Cambodia, where recent human history seems to contradict the existence of a caring, loving God.

“So where were you baptized?” I asked, just out of curiosity.

“Baptized, I haven’t been baptized yet.  But –  (he said in Khmer, with Sarah as our translator, but he was looking directly at me) you’re a pastor.  You could do my baptism!”

And there was a basin of water.  A congregation was easily, enthusiastically summoned.  An “acolyte” was found to add more water to the basin.

As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, “Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be.  (Acts 8 – The Message translation of the Bible.)

And I kid you not, my Bible just “happened” to be bookmarked at exactly this passage that day.

‘What do you guys do?’

Posted on April 24, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Christa von Zychlin and the Rev. Wayne Nieminen are ELCA missionaries in Hong Kong. Christa here explains a little of what their work in Hong Kong entails. To support Christa and Wayne, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

 

Wayne Nieminen and Christa von Zychlin

Wayne Nieminen and Christa von Zychlin

Just this week a U.S. pastor from a sponsoring congregation — yes, you too can sponsor us here in Hong Kong and I bet you don’t even have to be Lutheran :) — asked us the very good question:
What do you guys do there in Hong Kong, anyway?

Happy to oblige I sent him  a longish e-mail, which I then realized I could re-post and share with our thousands … hundreds … tens … well, at least with our one loyal follower (shout-out to my mom in Wisconsin — Hi Mutti!)

Specifically, Wayne and I are a husband and wife Christian pastoral team. Wayne is the guy with a Ph.D., so he teaches pastoral care and counseling to Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) students from Hong Kong, mainland China and many other countries, especially those from the Mekong region (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam).

Wayne is part of a Hong Kong and international faculty at LTS, which has theology students in many levels, from barely post-high school (and struggling with English) to those working on advanced-level  doctorate degrees.

Besides teaching classes, Wayne is working closely with three graduate students, each of which has been trained to minister in a special area when they return to their home countries:

1) Conflict resolution — this student has experienced situations in which church conflicts have erupted in violence and even death.
2) A Christian sex education program for adolescents — this student will be ministering in an area with some of the world’s worst sex-trade trafficking and where ignorance abounds and deaths through self- inflicted abortions are said to be disastrously high.
3) Internally displaced persons who now have some hope of returning to their ancestral lands. After enduring years of being on the run, their children stolen to serve in the army, their fields sown with land mines, men killed, women raped — this student will bring discerning questions, listening ears and Christian hope to these civil war refugees.

And meanwhile, yours truly is working as coordinator of international student affairs, which means I get to do boatloads of paperwork, such as dealing with scholarship accounts and applying for student visas. But I also get to do some hands on pastoral stuff, such as visit LTS alumni and their ministries in places like Cambodia and Myanmar. I’m also currently working with a dynamite Indonesian student on a Bible study/English conversation class with Muslim and Christian Indonesian domestic workers here in Hong Kong.

 

A first trip to Cambodia

Posted on January 17, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Christa VonZychlin, an ELCA missionary in Hong Kong, started 2012 with a visit to Cambodia. More of her photos from the trip can be viewed online. To support Christa, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

The Mekong River.

The Mekong River.

Finally, a set of pictures from my first visit to Cambodia New Year’s 2012. In 2012 you will be hearing more about my new job as Mekong mission forum assistant coordinator. Our family trip to Cambodia was my first trip to the country and my first chance to see the Mekong River (from whence comes my fancy new job title).

Cambodia was beautiful. We landed in Phnom Penh. We saw some LTS graduates and took a river boat down to Siem Reap. We also visited the amazing temples of Angkor Wat.

ELCA missionaries Wayne Nieminen and Christa VonZychlin in Cambodia.

ELCA missionaries Wayne Nieminen and Christa VonZychlin in Cambodia.

Later in the year I will visit again (I think), and one of our LTS alumni has promised me a motorcycle ride to her home and a home-cooked meal, which will include home-grown snails from her family’s pond. I love my life and can’t wait to see what else the new year will bring! I do know I have an upcoming trip to Myanmar (Burma) very soon. And what hopeful news we are hearing from that country lately.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”  – God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah

Christa VonZychlin
Jan. 13, 2012

Love and learning amid the bedlam

Posted on December 20, 2011 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Wayne Nieminen and the Rev. Christa VonZychlin are ELCA missionaries in Hong Kong. To support Wayne and Christa, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Some of the members of the Truth English Bible Club.

Some of the members of the Truth English Bible Club.

 

Five weeks of Truth English Bible Club — count them five long weeks. Almost all of the kids came back every week. They loved the crafts and didn’t want to leave. In fact, I think we might be in trouble with the school because they were late for their bus back to China so often. I think. I don’t actually know. Sometimes it’s good not to know.

You can’t help but love these kids but they are rowdy! Maybe, for just a moment, they contemplated the God of the universe who created jewels of all colors, and children with all kinds of interests, curiosities, and capabilities — maybe, maybe.

So that’s what I did on Thursdays these past couple of months. We had 24 kids enrolled, six adults and bedlam. It makes me appreciate my “real” job (or my paying one, anyway) which is now with international seminary students, who are calm, interested and glad to be at school! And they don’t jump on the chairs and tables (or at least not as much)!

Who knows which of the things we work for are worthwhile, which are of lasting significance, which are worth our time and talents and treasures?  I love the season of Advent because it reminds me, in the midst of the world’s frenzy, that there’s power and strength in toughing things out (for a season), waiting them out, watch and see, which things show signs of fruition.

“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” – I Corinthians 4:5

Christa

 

Sharing the good news of Christmas

Posted on December 17, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Ted and Janey Zimmerman are ELCA missionaries in Hong Kong. To support the Zimmermans, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

The Meridian Star at the Central Star Ferry Pier in Hong Kong.

The Meridian Star at the Central Star Ferry Pier in Hong Kong.

 

Greetings!

Members of Ping An Tang (Peace Lutheran Church) worshiping in a third-floor apartment every Sunday read together Luke 2:17. In response, on Christmas Eve they plan to go to Hong Kong’s famous Star Ferry Pier and “spread the word concerning what has been told to them about this child (Jesus).” Even the youngest children will go with their parents after Christmas Eve services to sing together and share with strangers the joyful story of Jesus come to earth for us. It is an adventure indeed!

Christmas morning, the families will come again to church with the children weary from being out so late but happy that they are fulfilling their shared understanding of God’s word.

Our own family will not go along to the Star Ferry Pier. After services, we will come back to our own apartment and share our special traditions with our beloved family. Perhaps it is our daughter-in-law who grew up in China who loves our Christmas traditions the most! She never had toys as a child and is delighted with Christmas gifts — and now toys for their child, our granddaughter.

We missionaries live on the periphery of cultures keeping what is special to us, yet respecting and rejoicing in the differing perspectives and responses to our common faith. It is our common faith that is deepest and joins us all here in Hong Kong with you all, making it a small world indeed.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom his favor rests” Luke 2:14.

May the hope of Christmas give you peace and joy,

Janey and Ted Zimmerman

Fast food

Posted on June 21, 2010 by Hand In Hand

Fast food in Hong Kong

ELCA Missionary the Rev. Christa von Zychlin and her husband, the Rev. Wayne Nieminen, are in the U.S. this summer to visit sponsors.  Long-term missionaries return for “home-assignment” visits every 22 months.  Learn more about ELCA Missionary Sponsorship opportunities by visiting www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.  Find “missionary stories” and bulletin inserts at www.elca.org/handinhand.   Here is an edited excerpt from Pr. von Zychlin’s blog, MarathonAngel.

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;  with singing lips my mouth will praise you
(Psalm 63:5).

Fast food in Wisconsin

It’s been a week already since our fifteen hour direct flight from Hong Kong to Detroit, followed by a one-hour flight from Detroit to Green Bay.  It was wonderful to fall into the waiting arms of my (one and only) sister, niece, Middle Son and  Eldest Son.

First order of business, before driving on to our home in Sister Bay and getting to see my 86 year old mother, the really important thing we had been looking forward to was a stop at Culver’s, home of the butterburger!

So here’s the first of my mini-series on comparisons & contrasts between our life in Hong Kong and our life in Wisconsin.

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