Small world, big church: Mission engagement in Central America

Since 2014, the Minnesota South District and Central American Lutheran Mission Society (CALMS) have been working together to provide exploratory mission trips to Central America for pastors and lay leaders because it is the mission of our District to cultivate leaders who are intentionally engaged in the mission of God.

The Bible verse that drives these short-term mission experiences is Acts 1:8, where Jesus tells His followers,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (ESV)

In other words, we believe that as pastors and congregations become more involved and invested in the mission of God “to the end of the earth,” they will make an eternal difference in the lives of people there, AND their Christian witness in their own particular Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria will also be strengthened and enhanced.

Since 2014, this is exactly what has happened in and for our District congregations that have entered into five-year mission partnerships with Central American villages and / or congregations, and my home congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church of Medford, is one real-world example of just how great and how close the Christian ties that bind us together can become.

From Taguayni to Medford

The picture below is from one of Trinity’s recent trips to Taguayni, Guatemala. Over the years, the members of our congregation have gotten to know and appreciate and love their Guatemalan partners so much so that “those people” have become “our friends.”

Trinity, Medford, members with mission partners in Taguayni, Guatemala

Trinity, Medford, members with mission partners in Taguayni, Guatemala

More than just mission partners

Just a few short weeks ago, our congregation learned that we lost a really great friend. 

Isabel Lopez Martinez was brutally attacked and killed on his way to work in rural Guatemala. He was 43 years old, the father of five, and one of the earliest and most helpful bridge-builders between his community and our missionaries from Trinity. He was a man of peace who loved his village and constantly worked for its betterment. He was instrumental in making our congregation’s mission trips as meaningful and purposeful as they possibly could be.

Isabel Martinez and daughter Elsin

Isabel Martinez and daughter Elsin

Isabel’s family

Isabel’s family

So when Pastor Mark Biebighauser told us, one Sunday last month, that Isabel had been murdered, we all took the news pretty hard.

For a few minutes, it felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room.

And then we spent the rest of the morning remembering Isabel, talking about him, thanking God for him, and praying for his family and for his village. We also took a special door offering that will be used to help Elsin go to university. If she does, she’ll be the first person from her village to do so.

It was as all of this was happening that the unique and special reality of the situation suddenly dawned on me. Here was a small-town Lutheran congregation in southern Minnesota weeping together for a man and his family from an out-of-the way, never-been-heard-of village in rural Guatemala.

How does THAT happen?

How does it happen that we feel their pain? How does it happen that we share their grief? How does it happen that we not only care about Isabel and his family, but that we commit to doing something more, something concrete, something good and godly to actually show our Christian love?

Small world, big church, one body

St. Paul compares the church to a body, and then tells us that when one part of the body suffers, all the other parts of the body suffer along with it.

This is exactly what was happening that Sunday at Trinity.

That day, we realized that the world is a lot smaller—and the church is a lot bigger—than most believers typically think. And we learned that our Christian faith is a lot stronger and sweeter and more beautiful than we ever dared hope.

What a privilege it is to have known Isabel. What a blessing it is to have loved him and worked with him and been in mission with him. What a grace it is that we actually miss him. And what a unique gift it is and will be for the members of our Medford congregation to be able to recognize him when we get to heaven!

These are just a few of the ways that our congregation is being blessed through our becoming intentionally engaged in the mission of God.

We wish the same for you!

Rev. Dr. William Utech, Mission Executive
Minnesota South District – LCMS
and member of Trinity Lutheran Church of Medford, Minnesota