Pastor Paul, as a former pastor of FELSISA many readers will know you, but could you say a few words about your origin?Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
I was born and raised on a farm outside Piet Retief, studied BComm in Pretoria and completed the national service in Bloemfontein. Thereafter, I worked as a bookkeeper and administrator. I met my wife Heidi, who taught at Wittenberg Schule, at a youth gathering one Sunday afternoon. Soon after we got engaged, I decided to enter the holy ministry.
In 1994 I went to the USA to study at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, where Heidi later joined me. I completed my studies and a year of vicarage in Crookston in 1998. Since there was a shortage of pastors in the FELSISA, I returned to South Africa and did a second vicarage at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Kempton Park. Thereafter I was ordained and installed at my home church Wittenberg as their pastor in December 2000.
Do you like to think back to your tenure in the FELSISA?
We have fond memories of the love and support we’ve received at Wittenberg, the beautiful country setting, the wonderful people, Wittenberg Schule, the positive working relationship with the elders and having family close by. I enjoyed playing tenor and missed it and the camaraderie of the brass band players during our early years in Wyoming. Since then, we’ve been in places where people did not know what it means to be a congregation, to be Lutheran, to have true Christian fellowship and serve in the church in various ways. In those situations, we’ve often thought back to Wittenberg and have implemented a few things from there.
A lot has happened since you moved abroad with your family. How did you adapt in the USA and the LCMS?
We moved to Wyoming in July 2006, after I received a call from the LCMS to serve as church planter. We thought re-adaptation should be fairly easy, since we had lived in the USA before. It proved to be more difficult, as the culture of the Mountain West is very different to that of the Midwest where the seminary is located and Northern Minnesota where we had done our vicarage. In addition, most of the population of Star Valley, Wyoming, was Mormon. Their faith, which permeates all parts of the culture and community, even the schools, was very different to what we had been used to. Adapting to life in that community while faithfully maintaining our Lutheran identity and heritage and that of our little flock, proved to be challenging.
However, in October 2011, when I accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran Church in Great Falls, Montana, a larger city congregation, we noticed a marked difference in the culture which was warmer and more welcoming. This helped us finally ease into the “American culture” and by the grace of God served there for 9 years.
During the time of acculturation, the familiarity of the language and theology of the LCMS, including the liturgy, was a source of comfort and stability.
During your time as a pastor in Montana you also wrote a doctoral dissertation. Can you tell us more about that?
Our experiences with the Mormons prompted me to learn more about that religion and how best to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I thus enrolled in the PhD in Missiology at CTSFW at the end of 2010. My research focused on Lutheran attempts to reach Mormons with the Gospel. In summary, the findings showed that Lutherans (especially the laity) need to “take them by the hand” and patiently walk the long road out of Mormonism with their Mormon neighbours or friends, encouraging them and attending catechesis and services with them. Like a cult, Mormonism has a strong grip on its people and it is very difficult for people to adjust to life outside Mormonism. The Lord has promised that His Word will not return to him void (Isaiah 55:11). So, we continue to preach and teach and let the Holy Spirit change the hearts of people.
How did you come to be called as a missionary?
In January 2020, I was at CTSFW to defend my PhD dissertation and was approached, if I would be willing to serve as missionary in the Cayman Islands. In addition to missionary to the people, they needed an adjunct professor at the seminary in the Dominican Republic, and someone who would explore possibilities of starting an Early Childhood Centre on Grand Cayman. With my fresh PhD in Missiology and Heidi’s recently earned master’s degree in early childhood education and years of experience, they believed we would be a perfect fit for this position.
Is the process of accepting a Call into the mission field different to that of a “regular” pastor?
It is very different, especially because LCMS missionaries need to raise their own financial support, before they travel to their respective mission fields. They need to raise enough funds to support their lives for two years, by traveling to congregations across the nation, giving presentations and establishing a support network. Every two years these missionaries need to return to the US and spend 2-3 months on “home service” reconnecting with this network and raise additional support for the next two years. Our first “home service” will take place during June – August 2023.
We started our support-raising in September 2020 and in January 2021 we moved to the Dominican Republic for a mission orientation, where we also began our Spanish studies. Although the work in the Cayman Islands is all in English, our region is mostly Spanish and the work at the seminary in the DR is done only in Spanish. In March 2021 we finally moved to Grand Cayman. This was at the height of the COVID lockdowns, which had its own set of challenges. We serve a small mission church, Safe Harbour Lutheran Church, which meets on our back porch on Sundays. We are currently actively planning and working toward opening an Early Childhood centre.
How was the adaptation to the Islands?
Interestingly, adapting to the heat and humidity of the Cayman Islands was not all that hard! It was almost like coming home again to the Indian Ocean where Heidi grew up. We do not miss the frigid long winters of Wyoming and Montana – although we do miss the beautiful Rocky Mountains and hiking in them as Grand Cayman is completely flat. The highest point on the island is the landfill which has been dubbed “Mount Trashmore”!
Tell us about your work as adjunct professor at the seminary in the Dominican Republic.
Since September 2022 I have been teaching weekly classes via zoom to students at the seminary, Seminario Concordia El Reformador, in the Dominican Republic. All teaching and learning takes place in Spanish. I have taught The Augsburg Confession and the Apology, and am currently teaching Pastor as Theological Educator. In May 2023, I had the privilege to attend the graduation of some of my students, as well as the annual symposia there.
How can we support missionary work in the Cayman Islands?
We welcome all prayers for our work on the island. Also, if you know of any South Africans who live and work here, or are contemplating moving here, please tell them about Safe Harbour Lutheran Church. We will gladly help them however we can. They are welcome to find a spiritual home with Safe Harbour Lutheran Church during their time on Grand Cayman. You can also sign up to receive our monthly newsletter via email to stay up to date with our prayer requests.
Many people associate the Lutheran Church with the German language. From your experience, what is it that unites Lutherans around the world, despite cultural and language differences?
20 years ago we would have never imagined that we would serve the Lord in the Caribbean. There is an extreme difference between South Africa, the mountains of Wyoming and Montana, and a tiny spec of an island in the Caribbean Sea, but it is the same Lord, the same Gospel, and the same gifts of the Lord to His Church. Here in our little mission congregation, we have members that hail from 8 different countries. After the Sunday service you can sometimes hear the members vising in English, German, Afrikaans, Spanish, and even Zulu – all the languages that we are familiar with! God certainly knows what He is doing! What unites us is the cross of Christ at the centre of our confession and life, as the Holy Scripture proclaims, and which we confess in the Lutheran Confessions. The order of service in our Divine Service is also a large unifying factor – no matter the language, you always feel welcome and “at home” in the service.
The interview was conducted by Pastor Andreas Albers and shortened by the editors. The full version can be accessed on the FELSISA website.