By Helen Beringen
Be careful of barbecue conversations, because you never know where they might lead! Especially if you are newly retired and have an open mind about where God might be leading you.
This was certainly true for retired Openbook Publishers (formerly Lutheran Publishing House) General Manager Warren Schirmer, 73, and his wife Marianne, 69, when they met an interesting guest at a friend’s barbecue in Adelaide back in 2010.
The guest? Lutheran Church in Singapore mission director Rev Dr William Chang, who was visiting Adelaide. And the friend hosting the barbecue was Glenice Hartwich, from LCA International Mission.
Warren says he had no plans for his future in retirement but had been convinced by friend Mal Hyde that it needed to have ‘purpose’. ‘You’ve got to have purpose in retirement’, Mal, a former Commissioner of South Australia Police, had told him. ‘After you retire it doesn’t stop there, and it’s about what you do in retirement.’
So, when Dr Chang started talking about the need for a new church plant in Cambodia, which was supported by the Singaporean church, Warren got to thinking about how he could help. Before the snags were cold, Warren had agreed to lend a helping hand. This was despite knowing little about the mission challenges in the South-East Asian country formerly ruled by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, who carried out the Cambodian genocide from 1975 to 1979.
‘Cambodia was right out of our comfort zone, but we did say yes’, Warren recalls. ‘How does the Holy Spirit work? I have been totally driven by the gospel. My family has always been involved in the church … and here was part of the church family desperately needing volunteers to support the local Lutheran church.’
The couple, married since 1979 and 40-year members of St Johns Lutheran Church at Unley in suburban Adelaide, then went on their first reconnaissance trip to Cambodia and were hooked.
‘Both of us got busy working with the Lutheran Church in Singapore’s mission and we became very closely linked personally with the Cambodians’, Warren says.
The Lutheran Church in Singapore had started a hostel for about 60 students from the provinces who wanted to go to university, providing them with a safe place to live, assistance with their university fees and ministry support.
For Warren and Marianne, a retired educator, it was all about working with the locals to provide a helping hand, while sharing the gospel. ‘Living closely to people who are first-generation Christians and seeing the excitement in their faces, it was amazing the way God works through that’, he says. ‘Despite the leadership challenges of being a young church and the need for self-determination, God is at work there.
‘With the Pol Pot regime, a whole generation was wiped out, and one of the biggest assets that Australia has is an older generation with their wisdom and time. If we are called there, why wouldn’t we do that?’
Marianne says she has a sense that we are so blessed living in Australia, that we can use the blessings that we have in any way that God might direct us. A survivor of breast cancer for 26 years, she believes that when you are given a second chance, there is a reason you’re still here, so use it.
‘Instead of asking why this happened to me, it’s “Why not me?”’, she says. ‘Why has God left me here? That is what has driven me. God’s got me here for a purpose.’
After the Schirmers reported back to the LCA Assistant to the Bishop – International Mission, Pastor Matt Anker, on 10 years of support to Cambodia, he then asked them to help with Papua New Guinea (PNG) mission work in 2019.
But their task of helping to refurbish the Gaubin Mission hospital on Karkar Island off the coast of Madang in PNG was stalled by COVID-19.
So, this year, instead of going to Cambodia or PNG, the Schirmers have bought a small caravan and are hitting the road over the next few months. And they are looking forward to using the opportunities God will show them.
‘Maybe during COVID God is calling us to be more active in the streets we live in, with our neighbours’, says Warren. ‘We are very blessed. We have our health, and we are able, so let’s just let God use us somewhere.’
If you would like to consider serving as a volunteer in mission, please phone Nevin on 08 8267 7300 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org