In my early days, I got to know the Wild West through the eyes of Karl May and by reading nearly a hundred of his thrilling adventures as Old Shatterhand in cohorts with Winnetou the Apache even before I was confirmed back there in Uelzen, Natal. I was reminded of these never-ending adventures by my new friend Roni Grad from Catalina Lutheran, Tucson, AZ. He told me on this road trip, that many Germans under the influence of Karl May go on a pilgrimage down into the wilds of Arizona following his literary footsteps - only to die of thirst, sun exposure and insufficient preparedness for the tough conditions in this barren land. Karl May never set foot onto American soil and obviously isn't a helpful guide to realities on the ground. Still, he got our phantasies running wild across the wide open plains of the prarie, through endless forests of Ponderosa Pine thirsting for news adventures, which were to come just as surely as the sun rose in the east and sank in the west. Driving through these deserted plains and seemingly endless stretches of wilderness, I can understand that yearning to get out there and breathe this freedom and go through uncharted lands. My purpose was not so much to seek thrilling adventures, facing up to cut-throats and gun-slingers like Old Shatterhand did. Rather, I was sent on this tour to raise funds much like missionaries have done since St. Paul efforts for the "First Christian Church of Jerusalem." However, there are subtle differences. The greatest missionary was self-supportive as he depended on tent-making for an income. His fund-raising was to aid those brothers and sisters, who were waiting for the Parousia in the real mother-city of the Church - Zion, the city of David. I'm charged with raising funds ($60k) to meet the goals of the "International Luther Society of Wittenberg" so that I'll be employable as missionary at the "Old Latin School" in Wittenberg hopefully. It's a challenge, but I'm confident, that it will work out ok. After all, I had nearly 3 months on the road - one month in the Northern parts of the US based in Pieper Hall at CTS Ft.Wayne, IN, one based in the house of Mr. Darin Storckson & son Francis in St. Louis and the last one on the road visiting old friends and making new ones. I'm sure, that it will go better every time. I hear, that missionaries of "Operation International" have at least 5 months, but they also need to raise far more than my goal. Still, they have their meetings arranged and their route plotted out in their own homeland. I'm somewhat in a strange and foreign land. Karl May is sadly passé, so I got hold of a more contemporary writer. One, who is actually from the US. It's the retired CIA operative Jason Matthews. Afterall, we're all out to go into the heart of the secular world and plant a confessional base right there in Wittenberg with it's only just 10% baptised minority up against overwhelming crowd of "unreached". Well, Matthews dug deep to paint an electrifiying spy-thriller just in time to make some sort of sense of the upheaval caused by fired FBI boss James Comey's slime-ball: "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership". This is only due on the racks tomorrow, but is already keeping talkhosts busy and newspapers clogged. As I was reading this in late night episodes, I couldn't help myself at thinking: "These psychological portraits seem strangely familiar and eerily close to what I've come across in my dealings with friends and foes on my ways." You get the good, the bad and the ugly. It's the way it is. Just like home really. So, if you want to think about this time in the west, switch on the sound track played by these Belgians, read on and you'll understand, what I mean.
It already started in 2017. With the help of Deaconess Grace Rao (OIM) I had booked another round at the mid-winter Symposium at CTS Ft.Wayne and looked forward to meeting friends and colleagues, listen to solid papers and confessional arguments - just like every year. The "Winterreise" all over again. Wonderful prospects and not at all dull or boring as some wise cracks from down south would inject. And yet it was to be altogther different and the backdrop for an entire alternate setting. This time around, I was not a Seminary teacher, but OLS delegate - not to gather inspiration and moderation for upcoming teaching, but rather to seek funding for a possible posting. It was a 6 month contract and test, before the OLS would decide on the feasibility of calling me into this new area. Lots of open questions and grey areas as I was giving up old, proven and familiar ways - without much fixed hold or support. Very much like old Abraham leaving the house and home of the fathers - even if not with the sure promised of the Father, he had all along. Still, I do have the assurance of our Lord and God: Don't be afraid, for see, I am with you all the way + then I did not really go into a strange and foreign country, nor was it entirely different to the past visits and to the previous tasks. See, I came to stay with true brothers of the faith and real close friends over many years already: Mark & Amy Loest, Erik Skovgaard, Daniel & Linda Preus, Randy & Rachel Asburry, Larry & Amy Rast, William Weinrich, David & Dorothy Scaer, Carl Fickenscher, Cameron McKenzie, Gary Zieroth, Michael & Danielle Grosse, Randal & Elisabeth Golter, Detlev & Cornelia Schulz, John & Sarah Nordling. And I made a whole row of new friends too: Martin & Sammy, Darin & Francis, Roni Grad, William Hartely, Nancy & Tom, Terrance & Claudia, Jerry & Jean, Peter & Marcia, Sarah Gulseth, Matthew Schmitzer and so on. Of course, I've got real family here too and adopted family. Detlev in Columbia, MO, Grace in St.Louis, MO and Mark & Nicole in Nivot, CO. Seeing them and being with them and breathing in their presence is such a joy, encouragement and blessing! But it's not just familiar and friendly faces and people. I've also worked for the past 18 years supported by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod since World Mission Africa Area under Ken Greinke started to help fund my position in the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. They did so consistently and basically to help this church to have me teach Lutheran theology at its Seminary. That made the call into that post possible in 2000 - and so it continued without any cost to the local churches: FELSiSA & LCSA - because World Missions and then OIM consistently supported the LTS with an annual amount starting off at $25k back at the start and ending off at $45k in 2014 because the LCSA had requested this support. When the support finally did end, the local churches were quick to withdraw their support too. So, I'm back at square one and looking for direct support from friends of the Old Latin School and supporters of Lutheran missions world wide - this time in post-communist and secular Wittenberg, Germany. My schooling in old South Africa (1967-1979) was relatively cheap - at least my father never complained about that. He paid uniform, school fees and boarding school without ever letting us know, that it was a challenge. University was possible due to a bursary from the Hans Merensky fund and additional support from the Kirchdorf Trust. Both were non-refundable and plain & gracious gifts, so that I did not have to work to earn my living. Instead, I could read, study and complete as many courses as I wanted and could handle. Of course, I also did some missionary stints up in Botswana with Wilhelm Schnell building churches, parsonages and schools and then with Gottfried Stallmann down in Salem - without payment, but after all I had my bursaries and they were so kind and hospitable to host me as a son in the house. Bleckmar Missions at first was the missions of Lutheran Free Evangelical Lutheran Churches before it turned into a branch of just the SELK - and so they were keen and able to help support a missionary student, who was willing to move into global missions after concluding his studies. They too supported me with basic funds, so that my father's and aunt Ida's help was extra super bonum additum. This should make it abundantly clear, that I never really earned my living, but rather was supported to pursue a theological profession by willing and gracious donors and supporters all along -without any merit or worthiness on my part. It is, what it is - and it still is like that today. Praise be to God from whom all blessings flow +
Pastor Martin Keller from Wegan, Indiana was the first pastor to have me come over to St. Pauls there in the hills and wide ranging fields with literally hundreds of sandhill cranes resting on the way to their summer range. It was in the precious season between Epiphany and Lent - right there on Sexagesimae. I got to use the beloved Lutheran Hymnal, heard the lessons from the poetic King James' version and got presented with original Walther writings too e.g. the original version of the first "Der Lutheraner". Now, that made my heart miss a beat or two. The hospitality of this delightful Keller family in the parsonage was overwhelming and I did not only get to know the delightful treats of the farming community, but also the special joys of a good Bourbon destilled in those parts framed by dear and caring folks, even as I started off on my fundraising efforts by preaching the gospel (Mk.1,29-39) and sharing the story of the "Old Latin School" (Wittenberg). All in all it was as close to a perfect introduction to the good life of an American pastor, whose heart is Lutheran and therefore does all to make his foreign brother at home in the civilized, but rural, very hospitable and friendly Mid-West as you will get. Sounds to me very much like being back home in Wittenberg (Mpumalanga). No wonder, I was so content and comfortable with the Kellers all along. I couldn't wait to get back there again and it actually did work out, but that's part of the next story.
Going fundraising during Lent is not such a stretch and has it's definite advantages. Congregations meet at least twice for divine services. They are focussed on what IX did for us, how he became poor so that we would become heirs of heaven and all divine gifts and treasures too. Being thus enriched, we are able to share with those in need and especially support the spreading of the gospel beyond the boarders of the church and with those living outside the Christian world - caught up in secular ways of life and going about their days and nights as if there is no God. Unreached by the salvific preaching of IX in the communion of saints. That's why he entrusted the mission to his people, that they would go to the very ends of the world and reach out to those, who don't know, trust and love him yet. We have learnt that fasting and bodily discipline is not a goal in itself, but rather helps us to free up means and potential to give away to those, who are in need of it. People don't use as much for themselves - eat, drink and spend less on themselves - and therefore have more to share with good projects like mission in secular Wittenberg and outreach amongst unbaptized heathens in Germany. In those places we say: "Eine einfache Milchmädchenrechnung!" i.e. straightforward maths.
Just before Ash Wednesday I got into St. Louis, MO and got set up by Darin Storckson to stay with him and his son Francis for the rest of the month of February. Not only did he clean up my laptop computer thoroughly, but he also did my laundry regularly. His son was the chef of the house and got 3 super meals on the table every day besides going about his college work and fencing practice. He also took me along to the Baptist University of Missouri and on their classes outing to the Basilika in downtown St. Louis. That was an impressive outing especially as the young teacher together with an old member of the diocese did an outstanding job of giving us an insight into the rich history and mission tradition of this magnificent cathederal. I was grateful, that I could pick up my training program in the in-house gym and didn't loose too much conditioning there. Besides visiting CPH and it's CEO Bruce Kintz - significant benefactors of the Old Latin School, having a radio interview at CFUO with dear Andrew B Bates and Sarah Gulseth, staying over at the IC and stopping at Gran Crü, I got to see bison close up at Lone Elk Park with Dr. A.B. Collver III and even lit up a cigar with President Matthew Harrison DD. I must admit, that I realized too late that I had no money with me. That was not some sly trick on my side (cf. Professor Douglas Judisch), but just poor planning on my side. The President covered up for me most graciously and paid for that light Nicaraguan cigar, that the salesman had suggested to the foreign novice and strange customer. Still, that cigar was a delight and not only because it was shared with good friends and most gracious hosts, who go all the way to realize this new prospect and hopeful route. They went to great lengths to organize my schedule and set up appointments with prospective donors of the Wittenberg Project. Preaching the gospel and presenting the story of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW) was very much on the cards and my regular occupation. It remains challenging doing that while not at home without your books and tons of distractions flooding your alert mind constantly. Especially if that doesn't only go on for 2-3 weeks, which is bad enough, but for more months than that. On invitation by P. Sell at Our Saviour I preached on Ash Wednesday (Mk.6,1-6.16-21). Invocavit was at Holy Cross (Mk.1,9-15). That brought back good memories of my first visit there with P. Wally Hischke - May his soul rest in peace + many years back. Now it was his daughter Deborah, who introduced me to her pastor Kyle Wright. During the preaching and teaching sessions I caught up with the elder and long-time optician Dr. Gary Meier, who took the Storcksons and me out to lunch afterwards. The 2nd lenten service was in Village Ladue (Mt.18,21-35) with P. Kevin Golden. This was the long-time church of P. Wally Hischke mentioned above. This time around President Dr Harrison introduced me there and I got a chance to catch up with Linda Preus and make new friends with long-time supporters of the Old Latin School and the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW). Pastor Randy Asburry and his dear wife Rachel invited me to Hope Lutheran for Reminiscere (2nd Sunday in Lent: Mt.15,21-28). I had been a guest of this congregation a number of times. Pastor Daniel Preus and deaconess Grace Rao are members there and P. Asburry had visited us in Pretoria years back too. As always this was a very encouraging and happy occassion even though it was Lent and really still very much caught up in winter too.
Returning to CTS Ft.Wayne and getting ready to visit prospective donors up in Wisconsin and Michigan and out West and South, I had my work cut out. Driving up north past Valparassio and into Chicago got me the first close up with the traffic police. It was the only one this time. I'd taken a smooth right at a stop sign and immediately they were on my tail. However, they did appreciate my foreign accent and lack of resistance, but willing cooperation so they gave me back my hard-earned SA Driving licence and let me pass on to my fundraising pitch with an old German and rather liberal one at that. Afterwards I met with my old friend P. Skovgaard from Elm Grove Lutheran and we caught up around lunch somewhere in the suburbs. At first I had thought, I could combine this with a trip to Frankentrost Lutheran up in Mitchigan. However, looking closely that made no sense. It was better to just return to Ft.Wayne and go North-East towards Detroit later. That happend around little Easter: Laetare (4th Sunday in Lent: John 3, 14-21). Pastor Mark Loest and his wife Mindy hosted me for a wonderful long weekend. He had organised meetings with potential donors and in between shared the joys and beauties of this Bavarian outpost right there on the American flats. This actually was successful and I got my 2nd confirmed pledge for support of the OLS and my mission there from these visits here - and a ticket to Noah's Arc Encounter. That was a wonderful surprise and great opportunity. P. Loest organized, that I could do a presentation at the pastor's fraternal at St.Lorenz and had me enjoy the Chicken Fry at their congregation too. Special recipe with marinated chicken roasted on huge grills outside in the snow and drizzled continuously with homebrewed beer or was it "just" Bud Miller lite? It tasted delicious anyway and it was such a pleasure meeting these farmers and families in action there at Immanuel. As I write down these memories, P. Loest messaged me, that the congregation had just voted on supporting the mission project in Wittenberg at the Old Latin School. They are the first congregation to do this pledge. I'm so grateful, that they have come on board in a significant way. Hopefully, their good example will pave the way for others to follow suit. Like Zion Lutheran in Ft.Wayne. Professor John Pless had taken me along to church on the first Sunday in the land and P. Douglas Punke had arranged for me to come on the 5th Sunday during Lent (Judica) to preach on Mk.10,32-45: We're on the road again... We had an intersted crowd at the Bible study with Professors like David Scaer and James Voelz in attendance, but also the grandmother of Kristin Lange and even some German speakers. Kristin's grandfather, who was serving in another congregation that day met me the day after at Kramer chapel. That was a great delight and pleasure! We sure hope, that the supporters of my successful predecessor as managing director of the Old Latin School Kristin Lange will continue with their faithful support even after she leaves at the end of this month and we are hoping to follow up on her excellent work.
Well, three months were nearly over and instead of flying back to Germany before Easter the Board of directors of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW) decided, that I should remain in the USA and not jeopardize my visa application by giving the false impression as if I already was employed at the Old Latin School. Rather get that visa in South Africa first and then move to Wittenberg subsequently. So, in a very short time, I put together a round-trip starting in Ft.Wayne at the end of March and ending up there again in nearly a months time. Going with a rented Hyundai, I planned to visit old friends and try to connect with some new ones too - all the way to Mesa, Arizona. That was mainly because Ulrich Schroeder from Dresden had stressed the importance of meeting with William Heartly over there. After confirming with Dr. Albert B. Collver III in St.Louis that it was ok to do this, I got into the car and started the trip, that would take me over 5k miles across the beautiful landscape of the Mid- and South-West. Here is the map: https://goo.gl/maps/auis3NiArip
Moving SE via Indianapolis to the Noah's Ark Encounter I was stunned by the sheer size of this ocean-going liner. As I drew closer and up the stairs towards the entrance, the enormity was matched by the thunder claps and roaring noise broadcast through impressive speakers. I was overwhelmed by the shocking impression of being left outside of the saving ark and succumbing extra ecclessiam and outside of God's grace. This was a deeply moving procession under the wrath of God. The three storied inners were impressive too and pointed more and more directly towards IX as our only saviour and redeemer. He has come to draw us through the door of holy Baptism into his Father's favour. He is the door to eternal life by his blessed forgiveness of all our sins. I'm glad I got to see this and recommend it heartily to everyone. Thanks to Tom and Nancy Braun, who donated that ticket. I was greatly blessed to have seen it. And later on I found that Mark & Nicole Ringelmann (Niwot, CO) were also sponsors of this endevour even though they had not yet had a chance of visiting the finished artifact of biblical dimensions. It sure is an impressive model of that ancient bible story.
I stayed overnight with the Kellers in Wegan, IN and he assured me, that he was more than willing to come over to Wittenberg to fill in for me as long as I was having to wait for my visa. We'll see, wether the powers that be will take up his offer. As usual I enjoyed their company and gracious hospitality very much, but time was pressing, so I moved on early via the Benedictine monastery at St. Meinrad to Columbia, MO to visit with my son Detlev and catch up with his progress and well being before moving on to Topeka and Kristin Lange's people - her pastor J.S. Bruss and father President of the Kansas District of the LCMS Peter Lange at St. John's Lutheran. I hope, that these men will be able to continue the support given to the work of the Old Latin School their daughter and congregant member Kristin Lange managed so well even as I'm designated to follow up with this task.
In Colorado I thankfully could stay over with Angelika's cousin Mark and his lovely wife Nicole even as I was scheduled to meet with President Allan Anderson at Mt. Zion in Boulder for the Maundy Thursday service, Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller at Hope Lutheran in Aurora for Tre Ore on Good Friday and the Grosses at Mt. Calvary Lutheran on Easter Sunday trying to gain congregational and district support for the Old Latin School in Wittenberg. Sadly I missed out meeting P. Gary Rahe and his wife at St. Peter's Lutheran in Holyoke. I'm hopeful, that it will work out next time. From here I had to take big steps and climb high mountains, cross big rivers and grand canyons as I travelled south through some of the most beautiful scenery I've seen in my life. I was driving most of the day, but enjoyed my downloaded music and dwelt on this and that for more hours than I usually give to such thoughtful meanderings.
I had an important meeting scheduled in Mesa with Professor William Hartley, who is running an international student exchange program and wants to include the Old Latin School into his itinerary. He's going to try to start that off even this fall. Let's see, how that can work out. I think, we have a good understanding and I hope to see him succeed with this program on the long run. Not only because he's got room for me to teach on Luther and also the confessions, but because I think it would be great to have a bunch of students from Concordia - we're thinking 15-25 at first growing to groups of 30 and more - filling those halls in the Old Latin School with life faithful and hopeful.
In Tucson, Arizona I finally got to meet Roni Grad - an old FB friend! This was a highlight of this trip. He introduced me to his faithful congregation at Catalina Lutheran. Sadly his brilliant teaching pastor Michael Morehouse was on holiday, so I couldn't meet him, but Roni stood in for him excellently and gave me a good impression of what they do there and at the student ministry at the University of Tucson. He greatly encouraged me to start a student ministry at the Leucorea in Wittenberg too. That's been on my frontburner ever since. These Lutherans in Tucson have supported the Old Latin School for years already and I'm hopeful that they'll continue with their efforts even as Kristin leaves and I try to fill her shoes and go in her footsteps down the road forward.
From Tucson I travelled via El Paso and San Antonio to Lake Jackson, South of Houston. There I stayed with Pastor Terrance Adamson and his beloved wife Claudia. Not only did I get a chance to dip my toes into the Mexican Gulf, but I also tasted shell less crab and some prime Texan steaks. They really did spoil me. I walked the streets of Lake Jackson and was taken by their huge trees, many birds and georgous flowers in all sorts of colours and forms. This was good preparation for the busy Sunday ahead. The Old Latin School was not familiar to these congregants, but I sure do hope that with the encouragement of P. Adamason, the congregation will take up the challenge and support the work down the line significantly. As they say in German: "Die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt!" (Hope remains to the last) P. Adamson is himself well read about Germany, but also South Africa. As a retired teacher of German (Germanistik) he is also able to read Afrikaans. This came as quite a surprise down there in Texas.
Going up from Texas and driving through Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, where I stopped over for a final visit with my dear son Detlev, the road took me all the way to Davenport (Iowa), where I had my last scheduled stop on this trip at Trinity Lutheran with Pastor loci Randal Golter and his dear wife Elisabeth. Here I was finally back in winter. Snow was coming in from Nebraska and it would catch up with us even before I got done on Sunday. There was however a lot to be done before the end of it. On Saturday there as a chance to speak at a LWML meeting on "The Church in motion". Just before the session started I got to meet an old friend and long-time missionary: Bob Bartellt. 35 years ago he had served down in Khakea - right in the Kalahari desert. He had made a big impression on Angelika and myself as we were still engaged in the student ministry of St.Paul's Lutheran in Arcadia. P. Helmut Neddens had invited him to preach and teach at our camp up in the Magalies Mountains and my wife and I will never forget him. Now he was suddenly before me again. That was such a joy and pleasure. It brought back good old memories of mission aspirations back then and also showed how far we had moved since then. Bob naturally had aged and so had we. I had visited Khakea since Bob & Elaine had left Botswana with their kids in 1992 - the year I had been ordained/installed in Wittenberg, MP. It was like ships passing in the night. I was fascinated to hear about his children growing up and moving on as missioanary kids do - real 3rd culture kids. I enjoyed sharing these updates with Bob over the hurried lunch, because we were scheduled to move on with the next paper at the missionworkshop at Trinity on "Constants in Context" (Bevans & Schroeder), which I used as a backdrop for my ideas on sharing the main articles of faith from the Christian Catechism as manifested in the order of the divine service giving the constants through contextual changes throughout the ages. We had 2 hours for this workshop before we were to preach in the first service of this weekend at 17h00. The sermon was based on Lk.24,36-49 ("Easter changes everything"). Although I tried to restrict myself, I got to 17 minutes in no time and every time for all 3 sermons held that weekend. I even got the presentation on the Old Latin School for the Bible Study squeezed into 45 minutes, but we had to cut the questions shorter than we had hoped for. I've got a lot to work on and polish up. P. Golter has shared a whole truck-load of good tips, which I'll have to consider and incorparate as I try to improve on the presentations and preachings. Hopefully all these ongoing efforts will eventually translate into real support for the International Lutheran Society in Wittenberg. There is not much time left and the decisions whether this work will be continued with me are overdue. Still, we can't be hasty and need to be patient and go step by step. I hope and pray that the required financial support will be forthcoming even as I start packing my bags and flying back to Germany. The clever people in St.Louis probably know more and I will get to hear that sooner or later according to the military and intelligence criteria: The need to know!
Today was the graduation of my only daughter Friederike. She's finished Law School and busy doing her Articles in family law. I'm proud of her progress and that she has gone so far on her very own. I'm too far away to be of any real use. That's been tough. My father-in-law never was seperated from his wife in the course of his duties. Every day he could start and close off with his beloved wife. With me that has been quite different. Without my hard-working and dedicated wife I could not have afforded to teach in Pretoria. She kept our household going and the kids through school and university. It seems that that was still the easy part then. Now, I can't go to Germany without her. She's the German citizen and only through her can I get permission to work over in Wittenberg. Of course that means, that she has to give up her lucrative tenured post at the University and all that without real assurances of whether these plans for me are going to work out or not. Talk about taking a leap of faith even as we are warned not to put our trust in princes or the sons of men. That is why, I am so grateful for all the very real encouragements and signs of support I have received from you on this long and winding road. I've met good old friends, who have come a long way with me already. I'm thankful for that opportunity. I've even made new friends and that is very special too. More than enough reasons to be joyful, content and sincerely grateful. Today I heard that Immanuel Lutheran up in Frankentrost have pledged their financial support for the Old Latin School and my service there. That is a good start. Together with the previous personal pledges and more hopefully coming in too, it will just be a question of time to get the requirements fulfilled so that we can get started with the real work in Wittenberg. Then we will not just be talking about what we want to get done, but what we are actually doing. That's something, I really look forward to. Trusting God and hoping for the support of his faithful people, I remain confident. I'm also looking forward to being reunited with my wife Angelika and the rest of my family back home even as we wait for positive updates on the way forward. Thank God, he is faithful and he will surely not drop us from his favor, because he is gracious, merciful and full of compassion and does not deal with us according to our iniquities, but according to his unfailing love and enduring favour. In this assurance, I look forward to starting in Wittenberg rather sooner than later and also to seeing you there too sometime soon. Please know, that You are most welcome and do feel free to be our guest, so that we can share some of the hospitality I have so much come to enjoy this third of a year right here in God's very own country. May God bless you, all of America and the rest of the world too +