The Story of a Volunteer: A Congregation Reaching Out

Volunteers are the life force behind Lutheran Indian Ministries (LIM) mission work. Some come through alone, yearning to make a difference in any small way. Others come as part of a larger team, hoping to make a lasting impact. But what does a dedicated mission team look like?

St. Paul Lutheran Church in Trenton, Michigan, is a prime example of an active church mission group—its members aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty as they share the love of Christ in an unfamiliar community.

“Our policy manual calls for us to be involved in local, national, and foreign missions,” said Rev. John Bush, senior pastor at St. Paul. “We support Pan deVita L.C. in southwest Detroit, Lutheran Indian Ministries in Neah Bay, Washington, and C.A.L.M.S. in Guatemala. We’ve sent teams to the Czech Republic, India, Mexico, Ghana, Venezuela, Viet Nam and Haiti, among others.”

The church has responded to a need in Neah Bay, Wash., where they have been sending mission teams to work with the Makah community over the past few years.

“Mission Ministry is important to us because, to a member, we realize that we do not own the Gospel—that it is our duty to share the love of Jesus Christ,” Rev. John said. “Sometimes that love can be shared in our own neighborhoods or places of business or our schools. But Jesus also told us to be His ‘witnesses’ to the ‘nations.’ The Makah Nation is important to God, therefore, it is important to us.”

St. Paul’s, with a membership around 1,300, got involved with Lutheran Indian Ministries five years ago when they were looking to support a national mission.

“The first year, the pastor came out and came to Neah Bay so that he would know what it was like and talk to the people there,” said LIM Volunteer Coordinator Rosemary Sternbeck. “And so the first year was kind of a fact-finding trip. Not every congregation does that.”

Mission teams typically stay for a week and work on various projects, including leading vacation Bible school (VBS) and working on light construction projects. During previous trips, the St. Paul group worked on building a community center, as well as running a VBS program for children. In recent years, the building and construction projects have grown to encompass those members in the community who are in need.

“We’re also building a Cultural Arts Center and a carving shed that’s part of it—it will provide different things when it’s finished that will help to promote the Native culture and also be useful for Sunday-school classrooms and such, ” said Winston Wilson, who serves Lutheran Indian Ministries at Makah Lutheran Church in Neah Bay, adding, “So the groups have worked on that. Groups have also worked on the yards of elders. They have come out and helped rebuild a deck or do different construction projects for people who are in a difficult place.”

Rev. John said his church members enjoy the work they do at Neah Bay, and many members support the project in various ways.

“Normally, 300 to 400 people will pray for the team daily, so we all are attached to the team while they are away,” Rev. John said. “Our experience with Neah Bay has been rewarding to the congregation as a whole.”

The members of the upcoming summer mission trip face a week of hard work, but they will find many rewards along the way.

“I have always told our people that God will do marvelous things through them and to anticipate God changing their plans,” Rev. John said. “We always know that we are going there for Him, and that we will meet the needs that He needs met. Each team returns mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted. All feel the power of God working through them and are humbled by the experience.

“We think very highly of Lutheran Indian Ministries and look forward to many years of serving together.”