Ascension Lutheran Church (ALC) in Ames, Iowa, was established over 50 years ago. Pastor Roger Twito has served at ALC since April 2009. Pastor Twito and Pastor Bill Moberly first met during the mid-1980s. Their relationship over the years led to Pastor Moberly leading an ALWM Harvest Connection Seminar at ALC in October 2014.
We were challenged to embrace God’s call.
ALC members who attended the seminar were challenged to consider the:
biblical basis for missions
realities of unreached people groups / persecuted church
attributes of a “missions mobilized church”
In addition, we explored how each of us as individuals could better utilize our gifts, talents and resources to embrace God’s call to missions. We were also introduced to Pastor Moberly’s book, Igniting a Passion for Missions: A guide for Church leaders.
The experience of the 2014 seminar laid the foundation for a more formal relationship between ALC and Pastor Moberly, which resulted in an ALWM Harvest Focus Workshop led by Pastor Moberly in April 2018. Pastor Moberly recommended we “set a course to develop a global mission infrastructure that is commensurate with your global mission vision.”
Key components identified to support development of this infrastructure included:
INCREASING PRAYER FOR GLOBAL MISSIONS
EXPANDING SHORT-TERM MISSIONS TRIPS
IMPROVING MISSIONS EDUCATION
HOLDING AN ANNUAL MISSIONS CONFERENCE
The outcomes of the Harvest Focus workshop directly inspired our first-ever missions conference in October 2019, which spanned seven hours on a Saturday and the duration of the morning services the following Sunday.
Featured speakers included Pastor Moberly; Mr. Tim Tjernagel, ALC-supported missionary serving with World Team in Cáceres, Spain; and Dr. Steven and Carol Anderson, ALC members and founders of Global Eye Mission.
Videos were shown of examples of our global work, including the Overflow Thrift Store in Ames (a creative non-profit ministry that supports local and global outreach, co-founded by Cathy Twito, Pastor Twito’s wife), and short-term mission trips taken by two of our college students to Cambodia and India. Powerful examples of how the Lord is drawing people to Himself and ministering to broken lives were described in challenging ministry environments in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Spain, Tanzania, Ukraine and Vietnam.
The 2020 ALC budget included support for a second annual missions conference. Plans were also initiated to conduct a Sunday School (SS) series focused on missions outreach in the context of the persecuted church during spring 2020.
However, our approach to the SS and conference ministries were greatly upended by the unforeseen pandemic, which of course massively impacted Christian communities worldwide across a broad spectrum of ministry approaches and basic life needs.
But the Lord used these difficult circumstances to guide us into ministry methods and interactions with other members of the Body of Christ that we would not have considered otherwise.
We revamped our approach to the SS format and shifted to an on-line Zoom meeting platform to host each SS session. This proved quite effective and flexible in regards to supporting the goals of the class in three very distinct ways, in spite of some technical glitches that occurred (e.g., unmuted participants who disrupted sessions due to background chatter, etc.).
The benefits of using the Zoom format included:
Allowing SS series to continue during most intense lockdown period.
Allowing local ALC members and “non-local” participants to join in.
Opening door for hosting several guest presenters from near and far.
The Spring 2020 SS series exposed participants to realities of intense persecution of Christians occurring in several Middle East and Asian countries. The SS interactions also provided the opportunity for dialogue with Christian leaders across a range of ministries who were engaged in Gospel outreach in multiple countries. This included discussion with a Christian leader during one SS session who joined us via a cell phone connection from an African country characterized by a dominant Muslim population and a tiny Christian community.
We debated whether to go forward with the 2020 missions conference due to the difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic.
We ultimately were led by the Lord to hold a one-day conference on Sunday, November 1, 2020, that coincided with the International Day of the Persecuted Church.
We hosted a small core group at our church for the conference and other participants via Zoom.
With the relaxing of pandemic-related constraints, our spring 2021 SS series “Advancing God’s Kingdom Around the Globe” was hosted in the ALC sanctuary with the option for participants to also access each session via Zoom.
We again connected with several “off-site” presenters located in other parts of the U.S. We were also able to connect again with the Christian leader in Africa and the pastor in Southeast Asia in two separate SS sessions, who each used cell phones to communicate via Zoom.
Recurring themes the Lord brought to our attention in this latest SS series included persecution pressure, the use of cutting-edge technology to present the Gospel, outreach strategies, and missionary/pastoral training methods.
We will conduct future mixed on-site/on-line SS series in a different ALC venue due to ongoing technological problems encountered in the church sanctuary. Our journey was definitely a learning experience!
(For detailed chart of presenters from the SS series sessions for 2020 – 2021, contact the author.)