At 32 weeks into the pregnancy, Karen Dymke discovered via an ultrasound exam that her third child was to be born with half a brain.

‘If I ever go to hell it will be to an ultrasound room’, she says. ‘I was called back at 32 weeks’ gestation to have a routine ultrasound check regarding my third child’s kidneys, which had been identified as slightly dilated. It was not a big deal, they said.’

After the initial check-up, they were told all was well. They then learnt there was a new ultrasound machine which would enable them to see the baby in more detail if they wished. They agreed but, as the new details of the baby emerged, the mood in the room changed.

‘The technician who had been very chatty became quieter and quieter’, Karen says. ‘She left the room. She came back with another person who took over. She left the room. We all looked at each other. The head doctor came in and took over.

‘He said, “I’m very sorry. There is something wrong with the baby’s brain”.’

Karen says a great debate ensued as to what to do. Her specialist wanted to operate urgently as the outlook was ‘dire’. But the radiographer assured them that often things can look bad on ultrasound but can rectify themselves.

She was able to go to a full-term pregnancy. On 6 December 1990 Jordan was born.

‘He looked perfect. You would have had no idea that anything was wrong’, she says. ‘There was no pressure in his brain, yet half of it was missing. They had no idea why or what to do and the prognosis was really negative. Would he talk? Would he walk? His function would be really limited.’

Karen spent more than a month with Jordan in hospital. There was a long and seemingly constant stream of appointments, tests and surgeries.

No-one seemed to know why this had happened.

Looking back, almost 30 years on, she says the first year of his life is a blur. Her marriage broke down and she relied on the help of her parents and in-laws as she cared for Jordan and her two young girls.

Her Lutheran church families in suburban Melbourne – firstly at Croydon and later at Box Hill – rallied around with support, love, prayer, house cleaning and whatever else was needed for the single mum and her family.

‘I have no idea how I would have survived my life if it wasn’t for my church family and also for our immediate family’, Karen, who remarried and had a fourth child, says. ‘Church family adds an amazing additional layer of community and support and care and concern.’

But, ultimately, she says Jordan’s birth was a ‘watershed moment’ for her.

‘It just changes your whole perspective of the world,’ she says. ‘I’ve got a little picture of Jordan from when he was born. The world changed from that moment.’

Jordan didn’t learn to walk until he was about three years old and didn’t talk clearly until he was eight. He still struggles with language due to having had a stroke at two. Already known to have cerebral palsy, Karen thought his struggle with reading was due to dyslexia but, when he started high school, he was diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability. This was a terrible shock as he had always seemed so bright and aware.

Now 29, he is above average in abstract reasoning, has a wicked sense of humour, lives independently and works full-time as an artist producing work across a range of media for two studios. He also plays basketball in a Special Olympics team, has been a cross-country running champion and goes to the gym regularly. As Jordan will tell you, he is ‘as handsome as he was when he was born’!

Despite the challenges Jordan and his family have faced, Karen says he has been her ‘gift’.

‘But if I had found out at 32 weeks that an option was to maybe abort that baby, I would not have the gift that I’ve got today’, she says. ‘It hasn’t always been easy. There have been surgeries, missed milestones, lots of appointments, personal challenges.

‘But I wouldn’t give him up for the world. I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for Jordan. He has taught me patience, humility and to have a sense of humour – we survived by having a sense of humour. And to never, ever judge anyone as less than you.

‘I don’t believe that God gives you suffering, but I think that from suffering we can learn lessons and it wakes us up.

‘God has held us up through family, our church family and dear, faithful friends walking beside us. They are the hands and feet of Jesus.

‘Having the gift of a child who’s born with a disability is about stripping away all of those expectations we have of perfection. Instead we receive a gift who teaches inclusion and love.

‘Please, please respect each life. Each life is precious. Each unique. Each a gift. Each teaches us how to love. Jordan and I stand testament to that.’

Karen and Jordan Dymke are members at St Paul’s Lutheran Church Box Hill, Victoria.

Watch a video about Karen and Jordan at www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQmjCtE4YGI

See Jordan’s art at https://qart.endeavour.com.au and https://www.artsproject.org.au

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This month marks 75 years of Lutheran media outreach in Australia.

On 2 September 1945, The Lutheran Hour program was first broadcast on Australian radio, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to thousands of people around the nation. The Lutheran Hour’s Rev Dr Walter A Maier was heard on 36 radio stations across capital cities and many large rural centres around Australia.

The program drew responses by mail from 106 people, while 45 Australian pounds was received in donations. The mission of the ministry was ‘Bringing Christ to the nations, and the nations to the church’. A key Bible verse from the early mission of The Lutheran Hour was Isaiah 55:11: ‘My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will … achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’

Since then, radio outreach messages have been Australianised and the program’s name has changed several times, with titles including Face to Face and, more recently, Messages of Hope.

The outreach messages have also been produced for TV and, in recent times, adapted for the internet and social media, including inspiring images and short videos. Outreach booklets, sharable and printable electronic files and other resources have also given hope to thousands of people, says Lutheran Media Director Pastor Richard Fox (pictured). Outreach messages also go out to families and children through the online game app Happyland, while people of all ages can worship online and by DVD.

You can also help reach more people by supporting Lutheran Media with a donation at www.lutheranmedia.org.au or by phoning 1800 353 350.

To learn more about Messages of Hope, go to www.messagesofhope.org.au or www.messagesofhope.org.nz

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by Helen Beringen

It was a baptism of fire raining down on the head of Elisabeth Clarke that sparked her unique ministry almost a decade ago.

Well, it was actually a box of about 50 cardboard cut-out candles falling from a box that caused her (pre-) light bulb moment. At the time the active retiree was baptismal co-ordinator for Immanuel Lutheran Church at Gawler, north of Adelaide.

Then it hit her – the box of candles. The decorations had fallen onto her head from a cupboard in her small church office. Thankfully, no damage was done.

But it got her thinking. The candle decorations, now scattered on the carpet, appeared just in time for the upcoming Pentecost Sunday.

‘I thought “Holy smoke, I might just use these candles somehow”’, she says. And so they went up around the church foyer, becoming her first display.

So began a ministry that has created inviting and interesting spaces in church foyers – areas which Elisabeth says are often relegated to being busy, cluttered storage spaces.

Her displays have ranged from seasonal wall-mounted decorations and brightly coloured posters, to inviting displays of tracts for people to take. In her current congregation of Immanuel, North Adelaide, Elisabeth has made a large wooden cross – which she found sitting unused in a corner – the centrepiece of her all foyer displays.

‘I made Christ the centre of everything I did’, she says.

Elisabeth says the concept of presenting a peaceful space to all who enter is a way of blessing everyone who walks through the church doors.

Her prayer is that foyers will not be a forgotten entrance but used to share welcoming messages about the church and its seasons, such as Lent, Easter, Advent and Christmas.

She has even included displays of stolls, the ecclesiastical vestments worn around pastors’ shoulders. Elisabeth, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, has shared the beauty of those raiments in many a display.

Elisabeth’s work has also shown that foyers can provide great mission support. ‘I used to have tracts displayed hanging from tree branches and sitting underneath. People would pick up tracts and share them with friends’, she says. ‘It was like a little mission outreach in the foyer.’

And now, as some congregations slowly reopen their doors to worship, the challenge will be how we can ensure our entry spaces become inviting, peaceful spaces again.

‘It’s a real challenge, in the current circumstances’, says Elisabeth. ‘Going forward, as our churches reopen, how can we bless people walking through the door?’

Taking the time to think about what the foyer can do to inspire people to feel comfortable within their church family is key, she says.

‘We are inviting people into a place of peace. When they come in and out of church they always feel that sense of peace … it has a good feeling about it’, she says.

Her efforts are reflected in her favourite hymn, based on the prayer of Francis of Assisi, ‘Make me a channel of your peace’ (Lutheran Hymnal no. 858).

‘It comes back to God being in this heart of this,’ Elisabeth says.

Seeking advice on how you can create a welcoming church foyer? Email Elisabeth at elizabethstolz5@bigpond.com or phone her on 0447 250 202.

Helen Beringen is a Brisbane-based writer who is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and humbly in our community. By sharing stories of how God shines his light through his people, she hopes others are encouraged to explore how they can use their gifts to share his light in the world.

Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor lisa.mcintosh@lca.org.au

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by Amy Dahlenburg

As I write this, I have one child crying because he wants to watch TV instead of doing school work. I have another child fed up with her little brother because he’s complaining when she’s trying to encourage him to do his work.

I am in my new home office juggling two jobs while trying to keep the peace in my household so I can get some work done. Today I had a phone meeting with my boss with a sobbing child on my lap. Meanwhile, my husband is upstairs in his own online meeting as he’s also trying to work from home.

This is our current reality. We can’t see anyone else; all we have is each other. We still have our responsibilities, but we’re feeling the underlying stress of change and anxiety as well.

Other mums are messaging me, complaining that their kids aren’t doing their school work or are leaving a mess around the house. The themes coming through these conversations are grief and anxiety.

There is grief from loss of freedom, from loss of an income or the loss or illness of someone dear. Kids are grieving the loss of their routine, missing activities they love and seeing their friends.

There is anxiety from the uncertainty. Will I catch the virus? What if someone I love dies from it? Where is God in this mess? How will I get through this?

I was asked by a friend today, ‘What are you doing to cope?’. My answer was simple. ‘I’m not coping’. However, I am doing the best that I can. I am acknowledging that some days the grief of all we’ve lost or could lose is overwhelming.

Acknowledging grief and taking time to adjust is important. We need to give our kids that space, too. So although I would have preferred today to have had my meeting without a crying child in my lap, I knew he needed that safe place to feel those feelings overwhelming him. I was not going to put more pressure on him to cope when his life has been turned upside down by an event he can’t fully understand.

As a person who suffers from anxiety, this ever-changing situation has been a challenge. But I have learnt through past traumas to look for the small blessings. God has placed beauty all around us, reminding us that he loves us and is blessing us.

After the death of my baby son, I learnt to look for things that often go unnoticed: water droplets on a flower petal, a sunrise making the sky light up, or a butterfly on a flower. I remember driving home from a difficult hospital appointment when it had been raining. When the sun came out, my eyes were opened to the beauty as the trees and the road glimmered and sparkled. It was enough to make me smile though my heart was full of pain.

Gratitude is an antidote for fear.

It can feel similar with God. We long to see his hand working but all we see is our hardship and fear. Even if we can’t see Jesus in our situation, we can look for him in the small things. God has placed love notes all around us through nature and people – little reminders of his presence and care.

Jesus doesn’t promise to take away our hardships, but he promises to be there with us. He’s feeling the pain and the grief, too. When we focus on Jesus and his love for us, the grace he offers us even when we’re down and angry, and the hope of an eternity with him, our perspective can change. We may start seeing how this situation can have some silver linings.

Amy Dahlenburg and her family are members of Mawson Lakes Community (Lutheran) Church in South Australia. She has also shared her story through Lutheran Media’s Messages of Hope. You can listen to the program here.

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by Tim Stringer

In June 2017, I began my first round of intensive classes in St Paul, Minnesota, as part of the Doctor of Ministry degree in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary there. It was a daunting prospect to travel to the other side of the world to undertake post-graduate study, yet I was excited to stretch myself in a field of ministry dear to my heart.

One aspect of the study was to write a thesis and I had begun to home in on an area of research. For many years I had been watching online preaching to learn the craft. On the way to St Paul, I travelled to Nashville and met with the production manager of a church whose streamed sermons I had been watching for several years. I wanted to know the motivation behind streaming sermons to multiple campuses and to discover what their joys and disappointments were.

As the thesis research project would need to be contextual, I shifted my focus to the streaming of worship, which has been happening in the Lutheran Church of Australia for many years. I met with Pastor Richard Fox of Lutheran Media and asked whether I could conduct an exploratory case study into the experiences of users of worship streams from St Michael’s Hahndorf, in South Australia, and Good Shepherd Toowoomba, in Queensland.

I was interested to discover where people were accessing the streams from, and whether there was a sense of community and connection with the congregations and pastors providing the streamed worship. My thesis title became, ‘Reaching the Diaspora: Streamed Worship in the Lutheran Church of Australia, Cultivating Koinonia and Ecclesia’.

One key finding of my research was that while people highly appreciate being able to access Australian Lutheran worship online, they desire to worship in person. We are a sacramental church and this is an aspect of worship missing online. At the time of my research, it was difficult to find doctrinal statements that addressed the challenges of receiving holy communion in the virtual realm. But soon every denomination needed to have a document stating their position.

As I read and talked with people in preparation for thesis writing, I discovered that most people considered that building community and connections in the online space was difficult and not ideal. Many also considered that gathering virtually was not true gathering.

I submitted my thesis draft in the week of 30 March 2020 – coincidentally when most churches around the world were forced to close due to the global pandemic. Pastors everywhere were rushing to find a way to deliver worship to congregations which could no longer gather in person.

Suddenly millions of people had become ‘diaspora’, dispersed from their traditional form of worship – face-to-face – on a Sunday morning. Of course, for most people, this was an alien experience. Most had never considered online services to be legitimate worship. And yet what we have found in these past months is the sense of connection and community that has been maintained, or even cultivated, through online worship. It is still probably not most people’s first choice, but many congregations have discovered people who have connected to worship in the online space and whom they have not seen in the physical worship space for some time. Some have never worshipped with the congregation before.

I think people are feeling vulnerable and in search of reassurance. It is much easier to step inside a virtual church than to face people who then want to talk to you. I know at least one of my fringe connections has engaged every week online, while in my seven years as pastor here has never attended in person other than perhaps for annual social events. For people like this, we need to continue to provide the streaming option.

I was blessed to have spent several years preparing my understanding of online worship being legitimate. In February 2019, I attended the funeral of a former work colleague from my mining days at Roxby Downs in outback South Australia. I sat at my desk in suburban Melbourne and connected via live-streaming to the funeral in Adelaide. I felt connected, both to the mourners present at the funeral home hundreds of kilometres away and to others with me online. My personal sense of being in community with those people again after almost 20 years was strong. At that time I wondered whether the same could happen for regular worship.

What I have seen in these COVID days is that people, who were perhaps not even aware that online or streamed worship existed, have been thrust into a space they were not ready for, and yet so many have accepted it and even thrived in it.

A couple of years ago I asked the seminary whether it might be possible to defend my thesis via Skype, then fly over for graduation rather than remain in the USA for the whole six-week process. I was told this could not be done.

But at 1.30am on 11 May, I successfully defended my thesis, from the other side of the world. Then on 31 May at 3.00pm US time – 6.00am on 1 June in Melbourne – I stood in my tracksuit pants, hoodie and ugg boots in my lounge room as I was ‘called forward to receive my diploma’ (on my TV screen via YouTube streaming).

What was once considered impossible was now a reality – I had defended my thesis and graduated with a doctorate from the other side of the world. It was legitimate and it was real. How quickly attitudes and realities can change when necessity becomes the mother of invention.

In a recent survey of my congregation 75 per cent were happy to continue to worship online. We have quickly learned that online worship is a legitimate option and the Holy Spirit is at work wherever we gather. It may not be perfect, but it is what we have. Praise the Lord!

Dr Tim Stringer is pastor of Victoria’s Greensborough Parish in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and a member of the LCA/NZ’s General Church Board.

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by Lisa McIntosh

The coronavirus pandemic has been a terrible global tragedy in the true sense of the word, with a huge death toll. It has also swallowed up jobs and businesses and sent economic shockwaves around the world.

And there are other less-seen costs, too, resulting from the isolation that lockdowns or restrictions have caused, in the areas of mental health, domestic and family violence, addictions and relationship stress.

Even for people not personally affected by the loss of loved ones, health or livelihood, the virus has taken away things many of us have taken for granted in our comfortable lifestyles in Australia and New Zealand. Work, school, family, social activities and even church life have been affected. No restaurants, no sport, no pubs or clubs, and no church on Sunday – at least, not the type of church we were used to.

All of a sudden, congregations were forced into the digital online world, streaming, meeting, or sharing worship via various internet platforms, emailing sermons and other faith-life resources to some parishioners and physically delivering them to others.

Amid all the suffering from COVID-19 though, God has given us some precious and, in the context of the 21st century, rare gifts. He has given us the gift of more time, less busyness and distraction, and the chance to rest in him and reflect on what it really means to be the body of Christ, his church in the world. In doing so, he has challenged us to look outside ourselves and what we have been used to.

Some of the LCA/NZ’s leaders in local mission believe these gifts present an opportunity too good to miss in fulfilling the Great Commission, and that many of us are looking for something other than a return to ‘normal’.

The South Australia – Northern Territory District’s Assistant Bishop for Mission, Pastor Stephen Schultz, says that, pre-COVID, many of us saw worship on Sunday as the be-all and end-all, and that we would offer worship only on our terms and expect community members to simply come to us and fit in with us. He says this model is flawed.

‘Basically, you’d rock up to church and tick a box to say, “Yep, I’ve done that, I’m a good little Christian”, and away you’d go’, he says. ‘And we’ve been thinking that model of church needed to break down. But that was going to require a culture change, and a culture change takes years, maybe generations.

‘And then “bang”, along comes COVID and what normally would take years, we’ve been able to achieve in months. So from my perspective, we don’t really want to miss this opportunity and the rhetoric we’re hearing from people is that we don’t want to go back to the way things were.

‘Of course, some people have seen this as a momentary disruption. But this is not a disruption, this is a revolution. This is an opportunity for us to rethink “church”.’

Pastor David Schmidt, Queensland’s ministry and mission director, says that, after speaking with and listening to many people from across the church, there is a view that many of us have ‘developed a very narrow understanding of what word and sacrament are about’.

‘My interpretation of what I’ve been hearing is that we’ve thought it’s simply about what happens in the sermon on Sunday morning and getting holy communion’, he says. ‘But what was reinforced from a conversation I had this morning with a bunch of pastors was that the word is actually incarnational. It’s got to be out there and transforming lives.

‘Some people have been wanting to go back to church for no other reason than to have holy communion. But it’s important to recognise that we are sacramental when we are engaged in the world around us and to start understanding that word and sacrament is not a narrow perspective in our Lutheran world. It’s actually
a broad perspective.’

Dr Tania Nelson, the LCA’s executive officer for local mission, says the restrictions and isolation of the pandemic have by necessity changed some of the ways we engage in discipleship. And, she says, recognising people’s limitations and responsibilities in the way we serve them is also important, as was reinforced by a recent conversation with an LCA/NZ church planter.

‘Generally, we might bring people together for a pastor’s study group one evening a week, but how can young families do that? They possibly can’t – let alone single-parent families. So this pastor started up a Bible study group online in the midst of COVID, and he’s reflecting that the group members probably won’t ever meet face-to-face because the online meetings have been so successful. That way you can put your children to bed and then meet, and husband and wife can take part. No-one really wants to return to a face-to-face group because this is more accessible for people. For busy people with commitments, it’s the perfect way to be discipled.’

Pastor Brett Kennett, who serves as the Victoria and Tasmania District’s pastor for congregational support, says there is a will among the pastors and leaders he supports to ‘change and adapt’ with what is happening in the world, making use of technology to enable us to reach more people, rather than to “snap back” into how things were done pre-COVID.

‘One of the regional pastors, even while being able to have a small live Bible study group, has put a big flat screen monitor at the end of the table and has combined that with Zoom so that his wife, with a little one at home, (and others) can join in the study. I asked him whether he saw this as a paradigm shift and he said, “No, but I see it as a major augmentation”.’

Pastor David says the enforced slowdown for many people has meant the chance to reflect on what is truly important in terms of home, work and church life.

‘People who want to go to church while they’re still at home provide our congregations with opportunities. But how do we engage with those people in meaningful ways, so that we don’t just teach them to be really clever Christians, but rather to engage with their next-door neighbours over the fence? I think that’s the key area that we need to work on.’

It seems that if the pandemic has proven anything, it is that God’s light and love can shine into even the darkest, most desperate situations and bring the hope of new life – and that he never rests from building and shaping his church on earth. We just have to be open to him working in us and through us.

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