by Chris Zweck

Deep in southern India, a warm February morning dawns over Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala. The city streets are abuzz, as millions of women take part in the city’s biggest Hindu celebration: Attukal Pongala.

Women have come together from all over the country to praise the goddess Attukal Devi. They have sat for days in sweltering heat, paying tribute to their families and the goddess by lighting small fires on stone shrines. The sky is thick with smoke; the sound of trumpets and drums rings through the air as people thank the Hindu deity. However, not far from the celebrations, in the outer regions of this city, God’s word, planted more than 50 years ago, is still growing in miraculous ways.

In the locality of Kuzhivillai, the Bethel Lutheran Church stands as a proud testimony to what God accomplishes through his followers. Led by Rev C Sundara raj, the congregation, of more than 400 people, sings praises and gives thanks to God.

Just east of Kuzhivillai, in the area of Ponvila, another Lutheran church, St Peter’s, is also thriving. With more than 300 families, this church is slightly larger than Bethel. Both churches successfully run community programs, including Sunday school, youth prayer associations and women’s leagues. These churches share a special bond: both were built during the 1970s, under the guidance of Australian missionary Rev Paul Schirmer.

Pastor Schirmer was driven by his dedication to serve God. He was sent to India in the mid-1960s, serving there until his death in 1975. After almost 40 years, both churches fondly remember his work. A senior member of the Bethel congregation says that without Pastor Schirmer their church would never have been built. ‘Our church was founded in the year 1958. For nearly 25 years we did not construct the church’, he said.

‘After the entry of Pastor Schirmer in the year 1975, we constructed the church by his financial help. Many people in the area were invited to the opening, during which he also baptised ten children. Without him we would not see the church.’ Pastor Schirmer’s wife Irma, who accompanied him throughout his time in India, recalls how God constantly used her husband’s organisational gifts. ‘We spent our first five years living in Meenangadi among local hill people’, she said.

‘The communities were very poor, with many people living in substandard housing and unable to send their children to school.

Paul organised the building of a hostel for boys, where they could be housed and fed while attending school.’ While living in the Wynad district, Pastor Schirmer accompanied local missionaries into surrounding Hindu communities, to preach God’s word and evangelise among the people. ‘The pastors told Bible stories with the aid of a flannelgraph, and film strips were shown at night with Paul’s assistance’, Irma said.

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 by Tom Kitson

Bruce Lee was not only a famous film star and one of the greatest martial-arts fighters of all time; he was also a hero who inspired millions. He died unexpectedly in 1973, ironically while filming The Game of Death. He was only 32, and at the height of his powers.

Together with Lee’s fans around the world, eight-year-old Alfred Yau was shattered by the news. Lee, the real-life action hero, was an ‘iron man’, invincible in the eyes of the young Alfred, and an important figure to look up to—and not only because Lee was a superstar, but because he was Alfred’s uncle.

The family was tight-knit, and Alfred had caught up with his famous uncle just a week before his death. At the funeral, seeing Lee’s lifeless body in the casket, Alfred was alarmed to feel death very close to him.

‘I realised that one day I would die, just like Uncle Bruce. I asked myself, “What is the purpose of my life? If life is so short and we all die, then why are we here in the first place?”

For years Alfred struggled with these haunting questions, with no resolution until he moved from Hong Kong to Toronto in Canada, in order to finish high school and study at university. It was there in Canada that he got his answers … and his life turned in a completely new direction.

About two decades after leaving Toronto, on 15 March 2014, at LifeWay Lutheran Church in Epping, Sydney, Alfred was installed as the church planter for the New South Wales District’s new Asian Church Ministry, based in Bennelong.

New South Wales District Bishop Mark Lieschke, who has come to know Alfred over the past 18 months, says, ‘He’s very passionate about the gospel. You can see it in how hard he works to make connections with people so that he can share the gospel with them.’ Strangely enough, it was a non-religious friend who had unintentionally introduced Alfred to the gospel, back in Toronto. Others—Christian friends and family— had invited Alfred to church, but he had persistently fled from Christ. Once, in a desperate situation, he’d prayed to God and promised to follow him, but had promptly forgotten his promise after he got the miracle he’d prayed for.

But on this particular day, at the church meeting with the non-Christian friend, the minister was preaching on Matthew 16:26: ‘For what good will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?’

Alfred remembered Uncle Bruce and how he had lost his life in his prime. All those disturbing old questions came flooding back to him: ‘What am I here for? What is the purpose of my life?’

The minister continued: ‘Don’t run away from God. Confess your sin and lay down your burden before him. Don’t run away.’

Born in Hong Kong, educated in Toronto and now planting a new ministry in Sydney; Alfred Yau is excited to share the meaning he has found in life since Christ found him.

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 by Sheree Schmaal

It takes a special sort of determination to challenge the status quo, especially in institutions that cling to tradition. People who do so are often perceived as difficult, obstinate, stubborn. But without them the Lutheran Church in Australia and in Papua New Guinea might be bearing less fruit today.

In the spring of 1949, the president of Lutheran Mission New Guinea (LMNG) came to the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia (UELCA) with an urgent appeal. Australian pastors were needed to serve with pastors from Germany and North America in the rapid Lutheran expansion into the untouched Central Highlands.

Four of the eight UELCA pastoral students due to graduate from Immanuel Seminary in 1950 volunteered for service in New Guinea. Rufus Pech was one of them. His credentials for challenging the status quo had been established even before he had set foot inside the seminary.

In 1941, Rufus and three other young aspirants to the ordained ministry had drafted a memorandum—or was it a manifesto?—setting out two conditions upon which they would enrol at Immanuel Seminary: ‘(1) instruction was to no longer be in German, but in English; and (2) “Doc Hebart” was to be the principal’. At the time, there had been no new enrolments to the seminary for some time. The document was hand-delivered to UELCA General President Rev J J Stolz.

Somehow the painful decision to accede to the youngsters’ request was made by the church and seminary leaders. So it came to pass that, from 1942 onwards, English was the seminary’s medium of instruction. (The second ‘condition’ could only be met after the end of World War II when Dr S P Hebart was called as principal.)

After completing a course with the Summer Institute of Linguistics— Wycliffe Bible Translators, Rufus was ordained and commissioned in his home congregation, Holy Trinity, at Appila, South Australia. He arrived in Lae on his 24th birthday.

Rufus Pech has had a keen interest in gardening since his bachelor days in New Guinea. He’s equally passionate about his other gardening activity—planting and nurturing God’s word in human lives.

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 by Yolande Schefe

This story begins on the promise of a cruise ship that will carry precious cargo to a safer, more fruitful life in Australia.

But the reality is a series of open boats, carrying hundreds of fearful asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia, all desperately hoping to arrive alive and to find welcome here.

The story does not unfold in the same way for every single one of those passengers, but in the case of almost 40 Iranian and Sri Lankan asylum seekers, refuge, love and compassion were waiting when they were eventually settled into the Australian community under bridging- and communitydetention visas.

Allocated to houses surrounding St Paul’s Lutheran Church in the Geelong suburb of Grovedale (Victoria), some of the asylum seekers soon took up regular Sunday worship at the church. So began a new chapter in the congregation’s journey in faith.

THE PAST

The trauma that many asylum seekers leave behind is unimaginable, but the grace with which they carry their pasts is inspiring.

K— fled Iran with his wife and two young daughters. The family arrived in Geelong about nine months ago. He spoke about the threat of violence he and his family left behind.

‘I have problem with Hezbollah’, he said, of the violent Shia Muslim military group in Iran (and other Middle Eastern conflict hotspots).

‘After I leave my country, they attack my family. My brother was in hospital for 20 days.’

They were threatened because K—’s marriage was opposed by his wife’s uncle, a member of Hezbollah, who wanted her to marry someone within the group, a Hezbollahi.

‘I cannot be quiet’, K— said. ‘But if you say something, they don’t like it.’ The last time K— saw his family was four months ago, when he spoke to his mother on a video call. Since then, internet has been cut and he has lost all contact.

‘I have problem at home—the future is dark’, he said. ‘They aren’t really safe; they can’t leave. Until Hezbollah stay there it won’t get better.’

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by Rebecka Colldunberg

The 2011 Queensland floods caused major devastation and disruption. But even though this is still evident three years later, the people of the Ipswich parish are looking beyond their own troubles to help others in need.

‘I love a sunburnt country.’ Every Australian worth their Vegemite knows these classic words from the iconic Australian poem My Country by Dorothea Mackellar. The young author continues … ‘of droughts and flooding rains’ … before painting a romantic picture of drought-parched plains soaked by rain, drying up once more, before being saturated again in an endless, repetitive cycle.

You could easily forgive Queensland farmers if they fail to see the romance in this. As of March this year, 80 per cent of the ‘Sunshine State’ was droughtdeclared— the largest drought-stricken area recorded in Queensland history. Crops are perishing and desperate farmers are being forced to shoot their livestock, once-healthy beasts now reduced to skin and bones. Most distressing of all is that a growing number of farmers, lost in desperation and depression, are choosing to take their own lives rather than wake up every morning to an outlook more desperate than the day before. Just three years earlier, 75 per cent of the state was declared a disaster zone for precisely the opposite reason. As devastated Queenslanders trudged around their homes in filthy, mudcovered gumboots, drought was the last thing on their minds.

But time moves on. The earth has dried and, for most of us, the floods are a distant memory.

This is not the case for the Ipswich Lutheran Parish in Queensland, however.

‘Don’t believe what you read’, says the normally upbeat Rev John O’Keefe. ‘Everything is not okay again. Many homes and lives are still in a state of total disrepair.’

Pastor O’Keefe is now serving as LCAQD Director for Ministry and Mission, but in 2011 he was pastor of the Ipswich Lutheran Parish and witnessed the devastation of this natural disaster firsthand. From day one of the flooding the people of the Ipswich Lutheran Parish were there to serve those affected by the floods—and they haven’t stopped since. In fact, in 2011, the parish took their mission to bring aidto the community so seriously that they employed tireless member Betty Taylor in the role of crisis care coordinator. Betty describes how, in the early days of the disaster, most affected people assumed that their insurance claims would be paid. Unfortunately, many claims were denied as insurance providers found loopholes in their policies.

‘This was a shock for so many people’, sighs Betty. ‘Even some of the families who had insurance claims paid are still struggling to have work completed, and some families who had their claims declined will probably never be able to completely repair their homes. I am still in contact with many of these families.’

Throughout 2012 and 2013, well after flood news stopped selling papers and the media scrum had departed, the parish continued to assist the community. During this time many floodaffected people found the stress and the mountain of work ahead of them too much to bear. Seeing the anguish, the parish took on another staff member, an experienced counsellor.

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by Julie Hahn

I was a blubbering wreck. Which surprised me.

We were attending a funeral and my heart ached for the family. But that did not explain my over-reaction. As I searched in the bottom of my handbag for tissues and asked Chris to find his handkerchief, I tried to figure out what the problem was. A quick run-through of the calendar in my head reminded me: it was the week in which the baby we had lost would have celebrated a birthday.

I realised that my reaction was explainable and that the emotions overwhelming me were really my own grief. So I was able to acknowledge that my feelings were valid and put them on hold to deal with later. I cleaned myself up, and, at last, offered my condolences to the family.

Grief is like that.

It surprises us with emotions that seemingly bubble up out of nowhere.

Sometimes there are obvious triggers: we see something that reminds us of our loved ones; we meet someone who knew our loved one and we pick up our mobile to call them, only to realise … they’re no longer on the other end of the phone. We watch a movie, a television program, or even an advertisement and the tears begin to roll down our cheeks—for apparently no reason. But if we pause for a moment to think about it, we may recognise it as grief.

But anniversaries are another matter.

Some anniversaries are obvious. Birthdays and Christmas, wedding anniversaries, and anniversaries of deaths are occasions when we know we will miss our loved ones terribly. People close to us usually understand our grief and might even anticipate it.

But other anniversaries are much more personal and private. Some we want to remember: the first time we met, the first time we held hands, the time we went on a trip somewhere special.

Sometimes anniversaries are not even about grieving for a person, but for an event that happened, or something we had hoped and planned for that never happened.

Other anniversaries we don’t wish to remember—but they still live on secretly in our hearts.

Being aware that anniversaries we don’t consciously think about may still pop up and surprise us can help to reassure us that we are not going insane. Somehow, our subconscious is reminding us that this matters to us.

We can acknowledge our grief—which is easier to do if our memories are pleasant—or we can try to lock it away. But if we continue to hide grief deeply within us it can breed like a cancer and cause us to become bitter and angry, poisoning our thoughts and attitudes on the inside, even though we may smile on the outside.

Finding someone whom we can trust to help us acknowledge our grief is …

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by Rebecka Colldunberg

Deep in the remote mountains of Myanmar, where clouded leopards prowl and the pig-tailed macaques flock; where the air is relentlessly humid and spires of Buddhist temples peep through the forest canopy; there live 25,000 Christians.

This surprising modern statistic is the result of the efforts of English missionary Rev Reginald Arthur Lorrain and his corset-clad wife, Maud Louise. In 1907 they left their comfortable Edwardian life in England for the unknowns of what was then colonial Burma. Just over a century later, the 25,000 members of the completely indigenous Mara Evangelical Church support themselves financially, providing their own pastors and evangelists, and maintaining an active mission program among other tribal groups in Myanmar.

Unfortunately, during the decades-long civil war between the Myanmar military and fighters for democracy, the church lost many of its members, who fled to nearby Malaysia as refugees. After ten long years a group of Mara people was finally resettled in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine. But their faith has not wavered despite their struggles, and their little community, now far from home, has remained strongly bonded and has even developed its own title: Mara Evangelical Church in Australia (MECA).

‘With the Mara Evangelical Church having become a member of the Lutheran World Federation in 2010, the MECA knew the name Lutheran’, Rev Cecil Schmalkuche said as he explained how the refugee congregation came to be intimately entwined with his own. ‘As most members were living in Sunshine, the congregation sent Samuel Mauthili to our church of St Matthew’s in Footscray.’

‘He was short, gently spoken and humble. Little did I know that big things would come from that brief meeting.’

Pastor Cecil smiled as he recalled his first meeting with the MECA representative on the threshold of the church. ‘He was short, gently spoken and humble. Little did I know that big things would come from that brief meeting.’ Samuel asked if his congregation could hire the church for worship. When St Matthew’s Church Council accepted the request, three leaders of MECA— Khai Cinzah, Ra Ko Cinzah and Samuel Mauthili—decided to hire the church premises. ‘The meeting took place in February 2012’, Pastor Cecil continued. ‘After that, our relationship developed quickly.’

In fact, the relationship flourished so well that very soon the two congregations were not only sharing the same church—but also sharing the same pastor. Despite language barriers, an agreement was reached that once a month the St Matthew’s pastor would preach (with the assistance of interpreter Khai Cinzah) to the MECA congregation.

‘Every six weeks or so both congregations worship together’, Pastor Cecil said. ‘Even though the church is overcrowded on those days, the mutual acceptance before the Lord is joyful. Right from the beginning I have been convinced that the advent of the Mara congregation is a special blessing from God.’ The special relationship between the two congregations has proved to be one of communal respect, love, sharing and …

 

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by Andrew Jaensch

Throughout the Book of Job we hear him questioning God’s way of acting, and we observe God respecting his challenge. God was big enough for Job’s questions. He is big enough for our questions as well—in particular the kind of questions aroused by our reading of Scripture that puzzle us, trouble us and perplex us.

‘God is big enough for our questions’ was the title I gave to my research project. I explored how Australian Lutheran College (ALC) Lutheran Strand students respond to a critical approach to study of the Bible.

Initially I was concerned that the term ‘critical approach’ could sound alarm bells for some Christians, and I was tempted to use a softer-sounding expression, one that was less likely to be misunderstood. But I stuck with the term because it is used widely in education and scholarship. The original Greek notion of criticism is about arriving at a judgement, coming to a decision; it’s about discernment. My own experience of a critical approach began at the then Luther Seminary, and it was very unsettling. But, looking back, I can’t help but roll out the old adage ‘No pain, no gain’; Christians should not be surprised if engagement with critical study of the Bible produces intellectual and spiritual pain for them.

A few years ago I became much more intentional about introducing my ALC students to a critical approach to study of the Bible. I considered the kinds of questions about the Bible that invite a critical approach to it. Here are some of them:

  • what to make of the apparently conflicting accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2
  • questions about the authorship of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible); did Moses really write them all?
  • the idea that Jesus’ words recorded in the gospels may not have actually come from Jesus’ lips at all, at least not in the way the gospel writers have expressed them.

While recognising that a critical approach to the Bible can raise disturbing questions for some Christians, I am also deeply conscious of the importance of distinguishing between a book (the Bible) and the One to whom that book points (Christ).

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by Rosie Schefe

Robin Mann and Dorothy Stiller first became an ‘item’ on 15 April 1966 as Year 12 students at Adelaide’s Immanuel College, sparking a lifelong musical collaboration as well as a marriage.

Their first performances, singing folk music, were for school houseconcerts. The partnership was so strong, musically and romantically, that it continued as Robin and Dorothy entered university and teachers college respectively, with the couple performing as a duo in clubs and churches around Adelaide. They were married late in 1969, immediately following Dorothy’s graduation from teachers college.

In 1969 Rev John Sabel (then tertiary chaplain) introduced a worship program at The University of Adelaide, where Robin helped lead the music. Rev Dr Les Grope (then pastor at St Stephen’s, Adelaide) organised the first Sunday evening worship services for students in 1970. Robin and Dorothy played at this first of the monthly services. They played at their last in 1998.

Following a performance at Scots Presbyterian Church in Adelaide in 1971, assistant minister Rod Jepsen asked Robin and Dorothy if they’d be interested in joining a band. Kindekrist was born, becoming one of Australia’s early Christian rock bands. The group produced four albums in the first decade and continued to perform together for another two. Although some of the musicians changed over time, the mixture of theological backgrounds largely held, appealing to a mainstream, ecumenically minded audience.

‘We played everywhere. One of our St Stephen’s services was televised and then another at St Peters [Adelaide’s Anglican Cathedral]’,

Robin said. The demands of recording and regular performance, especially for worship, meant that Robin’s song writing skills were brought to the fore and honed by necessity. ‘No-one else wrote the kind of church music that I wanted to hear’, he said.

Work began in 1979 on All Together Now, a project initiated by the LCA’s Board for Congregational Life (BCL). With Robin’s reputation as a songwriter well established, it was natural that a significant number of his songs were chosen by the selection committee. The first committee included Geoff Strelan, Neil Reichelt, Sharon and Craig Schlenker and Robin Mann.

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by Kendrea Rhodes

Lying here, I feel love washing over me, covering me head to toe, the inevitable inbound wave. I can’t avoid it. I feel the gift of life, just now, just in this moment.

I am in hospital with my baby in my arms. My beautiful baby boy. I relish the joy of him … his perfect mouth and fat little fingers, his immaculate fingernails, his hearty cry. I smile.

But my joy dies as quickly as it came, and of course the wave ebbs; all waves do. In the pit of my stomach is a clenching sickness. I have nowhere, no-one, nothing. How will I keep this perfect child alive?

My name is Som.

It’s as if there is only me and my baby. But of course his father must exist, too—even though I have scrubbed him from my mind, disinfected every nook in my brain that his memory stained. He lied. He already had a wife and children. How could I have been so stupid?

I can hear the woman—no, the mother—next to me. She screams in agony. She has no money for medicine. As the nurse moves around her, the flimsy curtain separating us flutters. In a fleeting instant I glimpse what might have been my own fate: sickly sweat, blood and pain. Her baby died, and I feel guilty.

My baby lives and I can’t look after him. But, oh, look how beautiful he is!

I think about my own mother. I want her to comfort me, I want it so badly. But I have invited the monster of shame into our household.

‘Your sick father needs looking after’, she said. ‘We need money for food’, she said. ‘We can’t feed another mouth’, she said.

‘You must give that child away’, she said. The memory kills me inside.

I relish the joy of him … his perfect mouth and fat little fingers, his immaculate fingernails, his hearty cry. I smile.

A lady from the hospital comes to me. She has a different aura. She carries hope. She wears it openly, so that even I can see. O, what a garment … hope. I long to wear it. I close my eyes, but the lady doesn’t go away. She is still there, waiting for me to be ready. She touches me gently. She tells me she has good news for me.

I don’t believe her. I open my eyes, but only because it’s not polite to feign sleep. She tells me there is a place for me, somewhere to go. There are people who will help me, protect me and care for me.

She says it’s called the Home of Grace and I can live there with my baby for two months, while I find my feet again. There are other mothers-to-be and new mothers and babies there too. I could make decisions about what’s right for

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