by Ian Adnams and Mathew Block
Five years ago, Lutheran Church–Canada’s (LCC) 2008 synodical convention voted to celebrate LCC’s 25th Anniversary with a national outreach-oriented event, to be held in conjunction with that year’s triennial National Youth Gathering (NYG). In the intervening years, LCC’s auxiliary, the International Lutheran Laymen’s League (Lutheran Hour Ministries), introduced Regional Outreach Conferences (ROC), events where Lutherans could receive inspiration, encouragement, and practical training for sharing their faith. Organizers brought together LCC’s anniversary event and LHM’s outreach conferences, thereby drawing on the experience, resources and expertise of LHM but with a Canadian focus. And so was born Reach Out Canada.
On July 5 in Winnipeg, Reach Out Canada welcomed men, women, and children from southern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta to LCC’s first-ever national outreach conference. A short distance away, at the University of Manitoba, youth and the leaders began gathering for the NYG. The theme for the gathering was Stand Firm, based on a passage from Exodus: “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still’” (14:13-14).
The featured speaker at Reach Out Canada was Rev. John Nunes, an LCMS pastor who grew up in Hamilton, Ontario (Pilgrim Lutheran Church) and earned his Master of Divinity at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines. He serves as executive director of Baltimore-based Lutheran World Relief. His engaging style, unbridled energy, and passion for the Gospel immediately grabbed everyone’s attention. He based two of his presentations on Luther’s Seven Marks of the Christian Church—Word of God; Baptism; Holy Communion; Confession and Forgiveness; Ministry; Congregation and the Cross and Suffering—and how each has a role in equipping Christians for sharing their faith.
Joining Rev. Nunes was Rev. Gregory Seltz, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour. Drawing on his experience with outreach in Florida, New York City, and Los Angeles, Rev. Seltz spoke of “sharing your story with others,” telling what God has done and is doing in our lives. He also noted the importance of being a good listener and understanding what is important to another person as you share your faith. “Any worldview that doesn’t include Jesus will eventually come crashing down,” he said.
The Friday evening and Saturday morning sessions began with singing, led by Adam Mlodzinski—a worship leader at a Winnipeg congregation of the North American Lutheran Church—followed by a Bible study conducted by Rev. Dr. Glenn Schaeffer, Mission Executive for LCC’s Alberta-British Columbia District.
Saturday morning featured a wide-ranging Q&A session with Rev. Nunes and Rev. Seltz. When asked to give advice for effective witnessing, Rev. Nunes encouraged people to “splash around in the promises of God”—understanding what God has done for them—and to learn how to forgive “at home,” noting the importance of reconciliation. For Rev. Seltz, his parting words were to “bloom where you are planted,” saying you don’t have to search for witnessing opportunities; just “be better witnesses where you are.”
Meanwhile, over at the University of Manitoba, more than 370 youth and leaders were kicking off their own gathering. Friday night saw main speaker Dr. Micah Parker come to the stage. Dr. Parker is a member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and lives in Riverside, California. He is Athletic Director at California Baptist University, the founder of TrustGuy Ministries, and a published author on peer motivation and leadership in athletics. Dr. Parker spoke to the youth about what it means to trust God, using Proverbs 3:5-6 as theme verses in the discussion. Along the way, he illustrated key principles with stories from his own life. The death of his first wife, he explained in one case, changed his relationship with God. But even this tragedy highlighted the necessity of trusting God in all situations—especially when everything seems to be going wrong.
Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of Lutheran Church–Canada, served as Bible Study leader for the gathering. He led youth through the stories of biblical figures who “stood firm” in the faith. He began Friday night with the story of Moses and the Israelites fleeing the Egyptians, explaining that their deliverance wasn’t because they were great people; it was because God is merciful. “The people who receive the Lord’s salvation did not deserve it, had no right to demand it, and they didn’t even always have the right attitude toward Him,” President Bugbee said. Instead, “God’s salvation—His rescue—comes as a gracious gift from Him. That’s true of the rescue the Israelites got by the Red Sea, and it’s true of the salvation you have received through Jesus Christ.”
Over the next days, President Bugbee would lead the youth through the stories of David and Goliath, Rahab and the spies, Daniel in Babylonia, and, finally, Peter (focusing on his great confession, his denial of Christ, and restoration by Him). “Standing firm is not so much about disciplining yourself, imagining ‘I can do anything I set my mind to,’” President Bugbee said. “It’s about clinging to Jesus, Who is your Strength, and taking the help He offers.”
Peace by Peace, the worship band from Peace Lutheran Church, Winnipeg provided music for the gathering, alongside Rev. Lorne Manweiler who played organ. Sarah Wemyss served as emcee, and special guests included the band Lost and Found and theatre troupe These Guy. Rev. Dr. John Oberdeck (Concordia University, Wisconsin) also led sessions for youth leaders on effective youth ministry. Leaders received free copies of his book Eutychus Youth: Applied Theology for Youth Ministry. Nights at the NYG saw various options for youth to learn from presenters, play music, and more.
On Saturday afternoon, ROC participants traveled to the University of Manitoba campus to join the NYG for a main session and workshops. Here, the youth had the opportunity to hear Rev. Nunes, and the adults enjoyed the music of Lutheran duo and perennial gathering favourites Lost and Found. Rev. Nunes took his theme from a song by Lost and Found: “Everybody in the Whole World Matters.” He told the story of losing his dental retainer and having to rummage through garbage to find it. With vivid, humourous descriptions his talk made the point that in Jesus Christ, “God did the ultimate dumpster dive,” sending His Son to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil.
The balance of Saturday afternoon saw youth and adults attend more than 18 breakout sessions designed to help sharpen their witness, better understand their faith, and prepare for upcoming events. One of the most popular workshops was led by the Fitz Family who taught youth (and a few adults) how to juggle, face paint, and make balloon animals as a way to engage people in conversation —skills that would prove useful later in the day at a public outreach event. Another group of youth and adults formed an ad hoc choir under the leadership of Bradley van Middelkoop. They learned and rehearsed songs to sing at LCC’s 25th Anniversary service Sunday morning.
Early Saturday evening a convoy of buses left the campus for The Forks, Winnipeg’s number-one tourist attraction where members of Winnipeg-area congregations joined the ROC and NYG for an outreach event. In a festive atmosphere, NYG emcee Sarah Wemyss, the Fitz Family, and Lost and Found performed while ROC attendees engaged passers-by in conversation and shared printed materials from Lutheran Hour Ministries. Youth who had trained earlier in the day created balloon animals and painted faces. As the evening closed, Rev. Seltz proclaimed the Gospel message to the hundreds gathered in the Market Square with the theme “Jesus brings real celebration to life.”
Following the pastor’s message, Rev. Mark Dressler, chaplain for the NYG, encouraged all to gather under the large canopy where he led Evening Prayer. Many visitors to The Forks that evening heard God’s Word read publicly, and listened in as believers prayed together and sang praises.
25 Years for LCC
Sunday morning saw a special joint 25th anniversary worship service take place at the University of Manitoba. More than 650 people gathered, including many from three Winnipeg congregations whose worship services were cancelled so they could be part of the anniversary service. Led by Rev. Dressler, the service featured hymns accompanied by Rev. Lorne Manweiller on the organ and Peace by Peace, the worship band from Winnipeg’s Peace Lutheran Church.
President Bugbee preached at the service, focusing on society’s current self-absorption, something clearly visible on social media sites like Facebook. “Does God have an answer to the self-flattery that crowds Him out and turns countless people in on themselves in this world of ours?” the president asked. “He does! It’s a word of love and faithfulness that reaches to heaven and sky.”
He then drew attention to the current triennial theme “In Your Light, we see Light” from Psalm 36, saying that in Jesus Christ “God offers you the light you need to navigate your way through this baffling time in which we live. In Jesus Christ, God can give you the sense to know when to speak, when to keep silent; when to push, when to yield; what to say and the best tone with which to say it. And Jesus Christ is the Light we have to offer to other people.”
Making the way home
With encouragement from God’s Word, Reach Out Canada participants departed Winnipeg inspired and prepared to touch the lives of family and friends in their own communities with the Good News of the Gospel. To help cover the costs of Reach Out Canada, LCC received grants from Lutheran Laymen’s League of Canada, Lutheran Women’s Missionary League-Canada, LCC Central District, Lutheran Foundation Canada, and FaithLife Financial.
Stand Firm, however, continued for a number of days following the 25th Anniversary Service. On Sunday afternoon, youth fanned out across the city to take part in servant events. Some visited Canadian Lutheran World Relief’s warehouse, where they put together We Care Kits. Others sorted clothes and prepared emergency food kits at the New Compassion Store House. Still others visited with residents of Siloam Mission’s Supportive Housing Facility or did yard work at Salvation Army residences for adults living with intellectual disabilities. Some gathered to do work at Beautiful Savior Lutheran School. The rest spread out across Winnipeg cleaning up litter, painting over graffiti, and beautifying the University of Manitoba campus.
Monday was spent at award-winning Grand Beach. Tuesday was the final day of the NYG. Youth said goodbyes to new-found friends and made their way home, equipped with new tools to Stand Firm in their faith—and share that faith with others.
As Lutheran Church–Canada celebrates its 25th anniversary, that’s precisely what we all need to be doing: standing firm in the faith we received from our forefathers, and reaching out with the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world around us.
Dr. Ian Adnams is former editor of The Canadian Lutheran and Mathew Block is the current editor. Some photos courtesy of Rev. Mark Danielson.