by Lisa McIntosh

When Matt Schubert became mission facilitator/church planter at Rockingham Mandurah Lutheran Church (RMLC) in Western Australia earlier this year, he didn’t know what God had in store for him and the congregation’s outreach ministries beyond 2020.

RMLC, which worships across two sites south of Perth, began a church-planting journey more than four years ago, praying for guidance. In following God’s lead, they committed to support a mission facilitator position for three years and to plant a new church. But, as a relatively small congregation, they knew they wouldn’t be able to source all the necessary money from within their immediate community.

Chairperson Monika Tropiano admits to ‘some anxiety’ – in addition to quiet prayer and contemplation – over how RMLC would raise the $250,000 they needed to make the outreach ministry sustainable.

Meanwhile, the 16-member Redeemer congregation at Nairne in the Adelaide Hills – more than 2700 kilometres from RMLC – had been planning to support a church plant in northern Adelaide with some of the proceeds of a 2006 land sale. But that South Australian church plant didn’t materialise and so, when the Redeemer members learnt of the need at RMLC, they donated $50,000 to the Western Australian church. Matt and the leaders of RMLC were thrilled by God’s goodness. ‘This gift towards our church-planting endeavour in WA is an incredible example of Christian maturity’, Matt says. ‘The question that these people asked was not “What’s best for us?”. They instead asked, “What’s best for God’s mission?”.

‘The nature of any missionary work – church planting included – is that I spend a lot of my time with people who don’t initially value gospel ministry. In a very real sense, the Nairne congregation are standing in the gap for not-yet-Christians, placing value on a ministry the unconverted don’t yet value, supporting a church which is yet to exist.’

In response to the gift, RMLC Pastor Steve Liersch says, ’If it were not COVID times, I would have hugged anyone I saw. Praise God! Prayers have truly been answered. This reflects that God is up to something within our church and the wider LCA. Only he could have orchestrated such an amazing and inspiring gift.

‘I hope that Matt’s next few years here will not only bear fruit with people coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, but also in that process the Holy Spirit will use him to inspire others to be involved. We have already had adult baptisms as a result of Matt’s ministry and this will hopefully show even more how everyday people, conversations and opportunities can be used by God for eternal blessings and current inspiration for his church.’

This is the latest chapter in another story of God’s faithfulness in bringing good out of disappointments or hard times. When the Redeemer congregation was given a parcel of land by John and Maureen Nitschke in the late 1980s, they intended to build a church. Established 33 years ago, the congregation has never had its own worship centre, instead holding services in the local Uniting Church building.

But when the land was deemed unsuitable by the local council due to parking requirements, Redeemer members were led by the Holy Spirit to turn their disappointment into blessings for others. They aimed to support a church plant in the Adelaide Hills, but plans for possible developments in their local area stalled, according to Nairne chairperson Michael Gladigau and other members.

‘We wanted to be good stewards of the gifts we were custodians to’, they say. ‘The Holy Spirit moved us to investigate looking into giving some of this money to (the LCA’s) New and Renewing Churches. God is always leading us and answering prayers, as he knows best. We need to trust him. Our vision is limited. God is omniscient.’

What they learnt regarding church planting, together with prayerful consideration on how the funds would be used for furthering the planting of God’s word, led them to first make a gift of $50,000 to a church plant in south-east Queensland in 2018. At that time the recipients – LCA/NZ church planter Chris Podlich and the young leaders of Beyond Church in northern Brisbane – believed God was calling them to move.

Approximately 2000 kilometres from Nairne, Beyond had been planted out of Living Faith Lutheran Church at Murrumba Downs in 2015. Now it was time to step out in faith into the heart of the unchurched community they had been preparing to serve. But, Chris says, they didn’t know where they would establish a new base or how they would fund setting up their own church facilities. Within a 48-hour period, God had shown them the ‘how’ and the ‘where’, with Nairne committing its financial gift and a local state school agreeing to welcome them into their campus at Griffin.

The move has enabled Beyond to establish its distinct presence as ‘a church that unchurched people love to attend’. It has grown from one service to two; one small group to nine; one youth environment to three; one team of eight leaders to multiple teams that have more than 50 leaders in them; and service projects that began with 10 people serving having grown to involve more than 30 people in them.

As with Rockingham-Mandurah, before COVID-19 adult baptisms had become a regular feature of life and ministry at Beyond.

Chris has met with members of the Nairne congregation when he’s had the chance and says the two donations they have made to Beyond have brought much more than financial benefit.

‘It’s something that I’ve personally drawn on and I know our leadership team has drawn on as an encouragement when things get hard,’ he says. ‘When you ask, “Is this worth it?” and you look back on those times, you think, “Well, God clearly thinks it’s worth it”. God’s been moving in people’s hearts. Clearly God’s behind this. These gifts change lives.’

Another example of the life-changing power of local mission through church planting is occurring in Epping, a north-western suburb of Sydney, around 1300 kilometres from Nairne. In 2019, Redeemer provided seed money towards staff for a multi-ethnic church plant out of LifeWay Lutheran Church. Lead Pastor Mark Schultz says the gift was an ‘incredible encouragement’ and an answer to prayer as LifeWay wrestled with how to do mission and ministry in a changing community, with 59 per cent of people speaking a language other than English at home and a third of the suburb being recent arrivals.

‘It enabled us to get into the local schools and work with young people as they straddle multiple cultures, and employ Mandarin and Cantonese speakers to be bridge-builders between cultures’, Pastor Mark says. ‘Walking in mission is a constant journey of trust; it’s easy to hold back because we fear a lack of resources, but reminders like this draw us back to a faithful God, in whom we lack no good thing.’

LifeWay has now embarked on another step of faith. In conjunction with the NSW District, it has just employed a church planter, Danny Brock, to plant LifeWay Westside, a greenfields multi-ethnic church near the new International airport in Western Sydney.

Michael and the Redeemer folk say hearing the grateful responses from people who have received the gifts gives them ‘a feeling of joy and thankfulness that we are able to help others through the blessings we have received’.

‘We are reminded of the wonderful miracle that Jesus performed when feeding the multitudes with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread’, they say. ‘This one block of land is enabling multitudes to know of God’s love for them. We hope that God’s word will be proclaimed to as many people as possible and people will be led to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.’

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When Matt Schubert became mission facilitator/church planter at Rockingham Mandurah Lutheran Church (RMLC) in Western Australia earlier this year, he didn’t know what God had in store for him and the congregation’s outreach ministries beyond 2020.

RMLC, which worships across two sites south of Perth, began a church-planting journey more than four years ago, praying for guidance. In following God’s lead, they committed to support a mission facilitator position for three years and to plant a new church. But, as a relatively small congregation, they knew they wouldn’t be able to source all the necessary money from within their immediate community.

Chairperson Monika Tropiano admits to ‘some anxiety’ – in addition to quiet prayer and contemplation – over how RMLC would raise the $250,000 they needed to make the outreach ministry sustainable.

Meanwhile, the 16-member Redeemer congregation at Nairne in the Adelaide Hills – more than 2700 kilometres from RMLC – had been planning to support a church plant in northern Adelaide with some of the proceeds of a 2006 land sale. But that South Australian church plant didn’t materialise and so, when the Redeemer members learnt of the need at RMLC, they donated $50,000 to the Western Australian church. Matt and the leaders of RMLC were thrilled by God’s goodness. ‘This gift towards our church-planting endeavour in WA is an incredible example of Christian maturity’, Matt says. ‘The question that these people asked was not “What’s best for us?”. They instead asked, “What’s best for God’s mission?”.

‘The nature of any missionary work – church planting included – is that I spend a lot of my time with people who don’t initially value gospel ministry. In a very real sense, the Nairne congregation are standing in the gap for not-yet-Christians, placing value on a ministry the unconverted don’t yet value, supporting a church which is yet to exist.’

In response to the gift, RMLC Pastor Steve Liersch says, ’If it were not COVID times, I would have hugged anyone I saw. Praise God! Prayers have truly been answered. This reflects that God is up to something within our church and the wider LCA. Only he could have orchestrated such an amazing and inspiring gift.

‘I hope that Matt’s next few years here will not only bear fruit with people coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, but also in that process the Holy Spirit will use him to inspire others to be involved. We have already had adult baptisms as a result of Matt’s ministry and this will hopefully show even more how everyday people, conversations and opportunities can be used by God for eternal blessings and current inspiration for his church.’

Western Australia District Bishop Mike Fulwood says he is ‘so thankful’ for the way God’s Spirit works to inspire people. ‘Wow – God is good’, Bishop Mike says. ‘That people we have never met are supporting mission to people they have never met, is something straight from the heart of God.’

Monika is hopeful that the donation will allow RMLC to move from being focused on its own needs ‘to being a part of the mission of God and sharing our faith so that others will come to know the transformation that following Jesus can bring’.

This is the latest chapter in another story of God’s faithfulness in bringing good out of disappointments or hard times. When the Redeemer congregation was given a parcel of land by John and Maureen Nitschke in the late 1980s, they intended to build a church. Established 33 years ago, the congregation has never had its own worship centre, instead holding services in the local Uniting Church building.

But when the land was deemed unsuitable by the local council due to parking requirements, Redeemer members were led by the Holy Spirit to turn their disappointment into blessings for others. They aimed to support a church plant in the Adelaide Hills, but plans for possible developments in their local area stalled, according to Nairne chairperson Michael Gladigau and other members.

‘We wanted to be good stewards of the gifts we were custodians to’, they say. ‘The Holy Spirit moved us to investigate looking into giving some of this money to (the LCA’s) New and Renewing Churches. God is always leading us and answering prayers, as he knows best. We need to trust him. Our vision is limited. God is omniscient.’

What they learnt regarding church planting, together with prayerful consideration on how the funds would be used for furthering the planting of God’s word, led them to first make a gift of $50,000 to a church plant in south-east Queensland in 2018. At that time the recipients – LCA/NZ church planter Chris Podlich and the young leaders of Beyond Church in northern Brisbane – believed God was calling them to move.

Approximately 2000 kilometres from Nairne, Beyond had been planted out of Living Faith Lutheran Church at Murrumba Downs in 2015. Now it was time to step out in faith into the heart of the unchurched community they had been preparing to serve. But, Chris says, they didn’t know where they would establish a new base or how they would fund setting up their own church facilities. Within a 48-hour period, God had shown them the ‘how’ and the ‘where’, with Nairne committing its financial gift and a local state school agreeing to welcome them into their campus at Griffin.

The move has enabled Beyond to establish its distinct presence as ‘a church that unchurched people love to attend’. It has grown from one service to two; one small group to nine; one youth environment to three; one team of eight leaders to multiple teams that have more than 50 leaders in them; and service projects that began with 10 people serving having grown to involve more than 30 people in them.

As with Rockingham-Mandurah, before COVID-19 adult baptisms had become a regular feature of life and ministry at Beyond.

Chris has met with members of the Nairne congregation when he’s had the chance and says the two donations they have made to Beyond have brought much more than financial benefit.

‘It’s something that I’ve personally drawn on and I know our leadership team has drawn on as an encouragement when things get hard,’ he says. ‘When you ask, “Is this worth it?” and you look back on those times, you think, “Well, God clearly thinks it’s worth it”. God’s been moving in people’s hearts. Clearly God’s behind this. These gifts change lives.’

Another example of the life-changing power of local mission through church planting is occurring in Epping, a north-western suburb of Sydney, around 1300 kilometres from Nairne. In 2019, Redeemer provided seed money towards staff for a multi-ethnic church plant out of LifeWay Lutheran Church. Lead Pastor Mark Schultz says the gift was an ‘incredible encouragement’ and an answer to prayer as LifeWay wrestled with how to do mission and ministry in a changing community, with 59 per cent of people speaking a language other than English at home and a third of the suburb being recent arrivals.

‘It enabled us to get into the local schools and work with young people as they straddle multiple cultures, and employ Mandarin and Cantonese speakers to be bridge-builders between cultures’, Pastor Mark says. ‘Walking in mission is a constant journey of trust; it’s easy to hold back because we fear a lack of resources, but reminders like this draw us back to a faithful God, in whom we lack no good thing. God is a God of abundance and provides for his church in surprising ways.’

LifeWay has now embarked on another step of faith. In conjunction with the NSW District, it has just employed a church planter, Danny Brock, to plant LifeWay Westside, a greenfields multi-ethnic church near the new International airport in Western Sydney.

Michael and the Redeemer folk say hearing the grateful responses from people who have received the gifts gives them ‘a feeling of joy and thankfulness that we are able to help others through the blessings we have received’.

‘We are reminded of the wonderful miracle that Jesus performed when feeding the multitudes with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread’, they say. ‘This one block of land is enabling multitudes to know of God’s love for them. We hope that God’s word will be proclaimed to as many people as possible and people will be led to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

‘What is the point of having money in the bank, when there is a need to support those led to spread the gospel, people with gifts of listening, praying and leading people to Jesus? This became our ministry, part of God’s plan to spread the gospel, as he wants all to be saved.’

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by Lisa McIntosh

While the tragedies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have upended many lives, ‘getting back to normal’ is not something the people of Mawson Lakes Community Church (MLCC) are hoping for.

Like many other church communities, the people of this LCA/NZ congregation in Adelaide’s north have undergone some dramatic shifts in their ministries since March this year. But for MLCC it wasn’t just a case of temporarily ‘pivoting and innovating’ while churches were closed – instead it’s been a matter of ushering in sustainable change.

For Pastor Chris Mann that attitude is biblically based.

‘Every time there’s a crisis, what God wants people to do is to embrace something new – you find that all through the Bible’, he says. ‘And so when people say they want to go back to the way things were, I find that sad and disheartening. They’re missing what God has for them.

‘We’re wired by God for new things, especially in hard times. So the question really is, “What is the ‘new’ that God would have us do during this time?” Newness gives the direction, hope and structure to people that they desperately need in hard times. So we want to keep on going and see where God would take this.’

Before COVID-19, MLCC had an out-of-date website and little social media presence. When shutdown occurred, decisions were made to employ staff to improve and increase the church’s online presence, including through its website at www.mlcc.org.au

Creating an online community using live-streaming – a focus even after face-to-face worship returned in South Australia – has enabled the congregation to support those unable to meet in person, says Amy Dahlenburg, who oversees the communication of church culture through branding, online presence and community connection. She says the congregation has utilised online social media platforms Facebook and Instagram, as well as making weekly community calls through internet conferencing system Zoom and sending out newsletters.

Today MLCC describes itself as ‘one church, two rooms’ – one virtual, online room and one face-to-face room on Sundays.

Pastor Chris says the most important thing MLCC has learnt as a community through the pandemic is to be as inclusive as possible. ‘We’re serving people with online church who always needed to be served, but would only be included through people visiting them in their homes when they were able to’, he says. ‘Now they’re part of the worship service and they feel included. They were always important, but now they feel that they are.’

Having connected with people interstate and overseas through online worship, MLCC is working on improving its ability to follow up those connections. And Pastor Chris says some people who first connected through online worship have started coming to in-person worship once that was available. ‘We’re probably at around about half-a-dozen people who have started coming face-to-face, who we didn’t have contact with before COVID.’

Those without internet access haven’t been forgotten. Amy says MLCC has had church members on a phone cycle to make regular calls to anyone who wasn’t online. Most of these connections were through the church’s small groups.

‘We also encouraged members, when it was safe to do so, to invite people to their houses to watch the live-stream’, Amy says. ‘We still encourage this to help people who are still unable to come to face-to-face church and don’t have internet access, but who may be able to get to a friend’s house or have someone bring a device and sit with them.’

As the congregation’s shepherd, Pastor Chris says his biggest personal learning has been around the capacity of other leaders. ‘We’ve always had an emphasis on “team”, but relying on the expertise of other people and developing a real team ethos among all the leaders, that’s really increased for me as a pastor.’

They’ve also gained new volunteers, some of whom weren’t previously regular worshippers, even though they were part of the MLCC community.

‘People have become motivated, but also their skills have become more valued’, Pastor Chris says. ‘Every church community has people who love that community but don’t come most Sunday mornings. They may just feel there’s not a role for them. We have people who weren’t regular worshippers but have been volunteering regularly, because they care about the church and they care about the people in it.

‘We have a fundamental belief that God has already given us the gifts that we need to do what he wants us to do, so we’ve asked ourselves “Who are the people who’ve got the abilities we need?”.’

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by Faye Schmidt

Early this year I decided that I would retire from paid employment and relocate from Melbourne to Adelaide to be near my daughter as I enter my final years.

Then COVID-19 happened. Like many others, I began working full-time from home.

As part of a team within the Victorian Government which provided funding support to organisations, businesses and individuals to ease the financial impact of the pandemic, I worked long hours and it was a stressful time.

Knowing I would be moving, I submitted my request to police to enter South Australia. I received an automated email with an entry reference number and advice that if I hadn’t heard back within three days to proceed to the border and that my entry would be reviewed there.

My final day of work was 9 July. On 14 July my belongings were collected by removalists to be freighted to Adelaide. The next day I drove, with my cat on board, towards the SA border.

I was terrified. I was now in limbo. Would my paperwork be sufficient? What if they wouldn’t let me in? I had a cat and so couldn’t stay in a motel. I couldn’t go back – I had no furniture and my home was up for sale. I have never been so stressed and tense.

At the border I gave police my entry number and was questioned about my accommodation arrangements and family connections in Adelaide. I was directed to a COVID-19 test. After the test, I drove a few kilometres before stopping to send a text to my daughter that I was through the border. I broke down and cried in relief.

After a police visit to check that I was self-isolating, the following week I finally received an official response to my request to enter SA – I had been denied! Police advised me that I was very lucky as had I not already been in Adelaide, I would not have been allowed into SA.

I share my story because this whole process highlighted even more for me what it means to live under the grace of God.

LCA/NZ Bishop John Henderson cited Romans 8:38,39 in many of his COVID-19 communications to our church: ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

What a stark contrast this is to the fear, stress and anxiety I experienced with my border crossing! God requires no paperwork, no justification for entry to his kingdom, no barriers to be overcome. Christ has overcome all separation between us.

As Paul says in Romans 8:37, ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’.

Faye Schmidt is now a member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Adelaide and serves on the LCA/NZ’s General Church Board.

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When Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) began 70 years ago, it was formed so that our Lutheran family could walk alongside people in need. That’s exactly what people like you still do today, says Jen Pfitzner …

At the end of World War II, Europe was left in ruins and millions of people were forced from their homes.

War-scarred people needed new places to live and Australia needed new workers – so began a 20-year exodus of more than 300,000 people to Bonegilla Migrant Centre near Wodonga in Victoria.

The journey from Europe took weeks. Arriving at Port Melbourne, weary families then boarded a train for the rattly eight-hour journey to Bonegilla – just a few lights in a siding in a paddock. These people looking for a better life must have wondered where they’d ended up!

Yet our Lutheran family was there, welcoming them with open arms. Helping them find their feet. Listening to their worries and hopes for the future.

In 1947 many of the migrants arriving at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre were Lutherans, so the Lutheran pastor in Albury, Rev Bruno Muetzelfeldt, began visiting the centre.

Often there were more than 1000 Lutherans at Bonegilla at a time, so Pastor Muetzelfeldt became the full-time chaplain. The Lutheran ministry to migrants expanded to place Lutheran pastors on the ships coming to Australia.

Then, once the government found migrants a more permanent home, the Lutheran team at Bonegilla let the local pastor know they were coming. This meant people had a pastor supporting them from their homeland to Bonegilla and then to their new home. Their faith may have been the only constant through this unsettling time. What an amazing comfort people our Lutheran family helped provide!

In 1950 the newly formed Lutheran World Federation (LWF) decided a base was needed in Australia to help with refugee resettlement and the Lutheran church’s aid agency was born – Lutheran World Service-Australia (LWS-A).

By 1955 the Lutheran team had helped resettle 2350 refugees and more staff were needed. Brian Neldner joined the team as a case-work assistant. He would go on to serve people through LWS for almost 40 years.

In 1960 Pastor Muetzelfeldt took on a senior position at the LWS headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Brian Neldner became the head of LWS-A. Lutheran Pastor Norman Sander was called to be chaplain at Bonegilla.

In 1964 Brian Neldner moved to Tanzania to head up the new LWS program there and Adelaide businessman Sid Bartsch became the new director of LWS-A.

When the LCA was established in 1966, it was agreed that LWS-A would be its channel for overseas aid. Mr Bartsch promoted the emergency, refugee and development work of the Lutheran World Service around the globe. He encouraged Australian Lutherans to support this work.

This is how the work through LWS-A moved from receiving help primarily from LWF to resettle refugees, to giving help to others!

In 1971 the Australian Government decided to close Bonegilla, so the LWS-A office moved into Albury.

By this time the need for help for migrants had declined, so support increasingly shifted to aid and development around the world, with a focus on refugees. This continues today, with ALWS supporting work in refugee camps where nearly 1.5 million displaced people live.

Through LWS-A, Australians supported the worldwide work of LWF and responses to disasters and emergencies, rather than specific projects. This generosity and trust mean gifts could – and still can – be used where needed most urgently.

In 1974 LWS-A received funds for the first time from the Australian Government’s Development Assistance Bureau (ADAB, which is now DFAT – the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade).

But just when it seemed that support for migrants coming to Australia was no longer needed, things changed. Refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, plus eastern Europeans, and later people from Central America, fled to Australia to find safety and security. Backed by the Australian Government, LWS-A supported nearly 2000 families to begin new lives in Australia. The Australian Government continues to trust ALWS to deliver community development work, with a rigorous process every five years to maintain accreditation.

By 1985 it was clear that LWS-A needed to become an Australian organisation, rather than a branch office of an international one, with one reason being that the Australian Government wanted to work with Australian organisations. The LCA and LWS in Geneva agreed the office should be called Australian Lutheran World Service. In 1991 ALWS became the aid and resettlement agency of the LCA.

The first director of ALWS was architect Gary Simpson. He and the new ALWS Board continued to make sure donations were used efficiently and effectively to help people in countries like Mozambique, Cambodia and Nepal. ALWS also reached out to victims of war and disasters, in places like Rwanda, East Timor and Malawi.

Organisations responding to disasters must coordinate their efforts to ensure resources are deployed quickly and effectively. That’s why Action by Churches Together (ACT Alliance) – a group of churches and church-related organisations of different denominations working together – was formed in 1995.

That year Peter Schirmer became the assistant secretary of ALWS, with the job of creating resources for teachers. These resources – class activities, videos, presentations and more – are used by more than 70 per cent of Lutheran schools across Australia today. After 10 years Peter took over as director of ALWS.

When the Boxing Day tsunami struck in 2004, support for Indonesia began through its largest Lutheran church, HKBP. This work grew to include other LWF churches in Indonesia, in partnership with LCA International Mission and Lutheran Education Australia, with generous financial support from the LLL.

Our Lutheran family embraced the first Gifts of Grace catalogue in 2008, sending support for life-changing assets such as goats and chickens around the world.

Chey Mattner became ALWS director in 2013.

In 2017, when the first Walk My Way refugee education support event was held, our ALWS family, supported by the Australian Government, gave more help than ever before – $8.6 million!

In 2018 Jamie Davies became director.

In 2019, as part of the GRACE Project, ALWS supporters helped more than 40,000 refugee children go to school – matching the number of students in Lutheran schools in Australia.

In 2020 even COVID-19 couldn’t stop our Lutheran family’s support, as Walk My Way became Walk YOUR Way and people like you walked, wheeled, woofed and even toddled your way to help others.

Today our church through ALWS works in 11 countries. Last year the ALWS family helped 297,498 people with the same spirit of service as Pastor Bruno 70 years ago. Walking alongside people. Side by side, every step of the way.

Thanks be to God for the blessings brought through ALWS, as together we seek to bring love to life.

Jen Pfitzner is ALWS Communications Support Officer.

 

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When Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) began 70 years ago, it was formed so that our Lutheran family could walk alongside people in need. That’s exactly what people like you still do today, says Jen Pfitzner …

At the end of World War II, Europe was left in ruins and millions of people were forced from their homes.

War-scarred people needed new places to live and Australia needed new workers – so began a 20-year exodus of more than 300,000 people to Bonegilla Migrant Centre near Wodonga in Victoria.

The journey from Europe took weeks. Arriving at Port Melbourne, weary families then boarded a train for the rattly eight-hour journey to Bonegilla – just a few lights in a siding in a paddock. These people looking for a better life must have wondered where they’d ended up!

Yet our Lutheran family was there, welcoming them with open arms. Helping them find their feet. Listening to their worries and hopes for the future.

In 1947 many of the migrants arriving at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre were Lutherans, so the Lutheran pastor in Albury, Rev Bruno Muetzelfeldt, began visiting the centre.

Often there were more than 1000 Lutherans at Bonegilla at a time, so Pastor Muetzelfeldt became the full-time chaplain. The Lutheran ministry to migrants expanded to place Lutheran pastors on the ships coming to Australia.

Then, once the government found migrants a more permanent home, the Lutheran team at Bonegilla let the local pastor know they were coming. This meant people had a pastor supporting them from their homeland to Bonegilla and then to their new home. Their faith may have been the only constant through this unsettling time. What an amazing comfort people our Lutheran family helped provide!

In 1950 the newly formed Lutheran World Federation (LWF) decided a base was needed in Australia to help with refugee resettlement and the Lutheran church’s aid agency was born – Lutheran World Service-Australia (LWS-A).

By 1955 the Lutheran team had helped resettle 2350 refugees and more staff were needed. Brian Neldner joined the team as a case-work assistant. He would go on to serve people through LWS for almost 40 years.

Many of the migrants coming to Australia had left family at home. So support in these early years involved helping to bring loved ones to Australia by working with LWF offices in Europe. The Lutheran team also helped provide travel loans for family members.

LWS-A also supported some Lutheran churches with grants – they needed more room and services now that many migrant Lutherans were joining them.

In 1960 Pastor Muetzelfeldt took on a senior position at the LWS headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Brian Neldner became the head of LWS-A. Lutheran Pastor Norman Sander was called to be chaplain at Bonegilla.

When the government began helping migrants to come to Australia, travel loans were not needed as much. Because the repayment of loans had been so good, Mr Neldner was able to set up the Secondary Purpose Revolving Loan Fund to help with resettlement.

In 1964 Brian Neldner moved to Tanzania to head up the new LWS program there and Adelaide businessman Sid Bartsch became the new director of LWS-A.

When the LCA was established in 1966, it was agreed that LWS-A would be its channel for overseas aid. Mr Bartsch promoted the emergency, refugee and development work of the Lutheran World Service around the globe. He encouraged Australian Lutherans to support this work.

This is how the work through LWS-A moved from receiving help primarily from LWF to resettle refugees, to giving help to others!

In 1971 the Australian Government decided to close Bonegilla, so the LWS-A office moved into Albury.

By this time the need for help for migrants had declined, so support increasingly shifted to aid and development around the world, with a focus on refugees. This continues today, with ALWS supporting work in refugee camps where nearly 1.5 million displaced people live.

Through LWS-A, Australians supported the worldwide work of LWF and responses to disasters and emergencies, rather than specific projects. This generosity and trust mean gifts could – and still can – be used where needed most urgently.

In 1974 LWS-A received funds for the first time from the Australian Government’s Development Assistance Bureau (ADAB, which is now DFAT – the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade).

But just when it seemed that support for migrants coming to Australia was no longer needed, things changed. Refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, plus eastern Europeans, and later people from Central America, fled to Australia to find safety and security. Backed by the Australian Government, LWS-A supported nearly 2000 families to begin new lives in Australia. The Australian Government continues to trust ALWS to deliver community development work, with a rigorous process every five years to maintain accreditation.

By 1985 it was clear that LWS-A needed to become an Australian organisation, rather than a branch office of an international one, with one reason being that the Australian Government wanted to work with Australian organisations. The LCA and LWS in Geneva agreed the office should be called Australian Lutheran World Service. In 1991 ALWS became the aid and resettlement agency of the LCA.

The first director of ALWS was architect Gary Simpson. He and the new ALWS Board continued to make sure donations were used efficiently and effectively to help people in countries like Mozambique, Cambodia and Nepal. ALWS also reached out to victims of war and disasters, in places like Rwanda, East Timor and Malawi.

Organisations responding to disasters must coordinate their efforts to ensure resources are deployed quickly and effectively. That’s why Action by Churches Together (ACT Alliance) – a group of churches and church-related organisations of different denominations working together – was formed in 1995.

That year Peter Schirmer became the assistant secretary of ALWS, with the job of creating resources for teachers. These resources – class activities, videos, presentations and more – are used by more than 70 per cent of Lutheran schools across Australia today.

During this time Gary and Peter also visited the communities ALWS was helping overseas in order to learn more about the needs of the people and to show them that our Lutheran family’s care for them goes far beyond financial gifts.

After 10 years Peter took over as director of ALWS.

When the Boxing Day tsunami struck in 2004, support for Indonesia began through its largest Lutheran church, HKBP. This work grew to include other LWF churches in Indonesia, in partnership with LCA International Mission and Lutheran Education Australia, with generous financial support from the LLL.

Our Lutheran family embraced the first Gifts of Grace catalogue in 2008, sending support for life-changing assets such as goats and chickens around the world.

Chey Mattner became ALWS director in 2013.

In 2017, when the first Walk My Way refugee education support event was held, our ALWS family, supported by the Australian Government, gave more help than ever before – $8.6 million!

In 2018 Jamie Davies became director.

In 2019, as part of the GRACE Project, ALWS supporters helped more than 40,000 refugee children go to school – matching the number of students in Lutheran schools in Australia.

In 2020 even COVID-19 couldn’t stop our Lutheran family’s support, as Walk My Way became Walk YOUR Way and people like you walked, wheeled, woofed and even toddled your way to help others.

It’s impossible to acknowledge every person since 1947 who has made our church’s aid agency what it is today. However, this small taste of ALWS history shows how God has used the energy, passion and kindness of our extended Lutheran family to bless the lives of many people hurt by poverty, conflict and injustice.

Today our church through ALWS works in 11 countries. Last year the ALWS family helped 297,498 people with the same spirit of service as Pastor Bruno 70 years ago. Walking alongside people. Side by side, every step of the way.

Thanks be to God for the blessings brought through ALWS, as together we seek to bring love to life.

Jen Pfitzner is ALWS Communications Support Officer.

 

ALWS TIMELINE

1947 – Pastor Muetzelfeldt begins visiting Lutheran migrants at Bonegilla Migrant Centre

1950 – Lutheran World Service-Australia is formed

1955 – By this time 2350 migrants have been helped

1960 – Brian Neldner heads up LWS-A and works to establish a loan fund for resettlement

1966 – LCA is formed. New LWS-A head Sidney Bartsch encourages the LCA to move to support the global work of LWS

1971 – LWS-A office moves to Albury

1974 – LWS-A receives Australian government funds for the first time

1978 – Resettlement support for refugees from Asia, after the Vietnam War

1989 – Official document signed on 10 July to form ALWS

1991 – ALWS becomes the aid and development agency of the LCA

1995 – ALWS becomes a founding member of ACT Alliance (emergency response)

2008 – The first Gifts of Grace

2017 – $8.6 million in support – most help ever!

2019 – GRACE Project supports 40,000 refugee children to go to school

2020 – TODAY: 11 countries + emergency help in others. Thanks to our incredible supporters!

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Australian Lutheran World Service had its beginnings at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre, near Wodonga in Victoria, when Lutheran Pastor Bruno Muetzelfeldt began ministering to newly arrived migrants from war-ravaged Europe. Bonegilla operated from 1947 to 1971, accommodating more than 300,000 displaced persons and war refugees. Today, one in 20 Australians is thought to be descended from Bonegilla migrants and last year ALWS provided care to nearly 300,000 people across the globe. To follow are the reflections of some whose families were at Bonegilla. You can read more memories by members of the ALWS family at www.alws.org.au

‘I was six when I arrived at Bonegilla with my parents on 22 December 1948. My dad was Estonian and mum Latvian. We had left a cold European winter and were about to experience our first hot summer Christmas. My mum arrived wearing a fur coat! We came on the ship Protea with 700 passengers. We then travelled by train to Bonegilla. Our new home! Unlined Nissan huts. I remember the steps going up into the huts. They were very cold and very hot! I am truly thankful for our life in Australia. And it all began in Bonegilla and the kindnesses of so many, including Lutheran churches and ALWS.’

– Margrit Friebel (nee Schmidt)

 

‘The buildings were actual Nissan huts – curved corrugated-iron buildings, with no inner wall linings. I can remember Mum looking hot and fanning herself. She told me years later how much she hated the heat initially. Men often sat in groups. Probably smoking, playing cards and talking.’

– Ivar Schmidt

 

‘I was only 14 months old when we arrived from Italy, so my memories are my mum’s. When they first arrived, the hut they were placed in had wet mud floors and there was dried vomit still on the cot. Not such a welcoming start! On their wedding anniversary, Mum smuggled in a small gas burner to cook a special meal in their hut. She placed each part of the meal under the quilt covers to stay warm until all parts of the meal could be eaten together! So many at Bonegilla were carrying scars from World War II. It is the grandchildren who have really reaped the benefits of their decision to come to Australia and from their hard work.’

– Barbara Mann

 

‘Dad shared how he felt sad for the people arriving by train, often at night, at a little siding in the middle of nowhere and then being bussed to the camp. They would look so lost, with their suitcases and children clutching their hands. It would move him to tears. He said, “All I want to do is to do good for these people, for they will be the next generation to build our country”. The people were always so grateful. This was a new opportunity after the harrowing times of the war.’

– Elizabeth Stolz, daughter of Pastor Norman Sander

 

‘As I was only a toddler, my “recollections” of life at Bonegilla come from my parents. Due to World War II and the dire economic situation, my parents were devastated that they couldn’t return to Hungary; their only hope was to emigrate to Australia. My parents struggled with being so far from their families, but making friends with other migrants made life somewhat tolerable. The food was so bland that it left Mum with a life-long aversion to lamb! Mum and I were in Bonegilla for four months and joined Dad in Geelong where he had found work and accommodation.’

– Pastor Ernie Kiss

 

‘The language of love prevailed in spite of general language difficulties … We were not concerned as to what religion the people followed, we all just wanted to help them in their need. In adopting this attitude, we were sure of doing a Christ-like thing.’

– LCA Pastor Norman G Sander, chaplain Bonegilla Migrant Centre, 1960–1970

 

About Bonegilla Migrant Camp

  • The name comes from the Aboriginal word for ‘deep water hole’
  • It operated from 1947–1971
  • The camp welcomed 309,000 displaced persons and war refugees
  • People at Bonegilla were from 50 countries, mostly non-English speaking
  • There were 24 accommodation blocks, each with a kitchen, mess hut, shower and toilet
  • Men and women were in separate quarters
  • There were 800 buildings with a capacity of 7700 beds by 1950

 

In 2020 around the world

You are part of a global effort helping 1,432,865 displaced people …

… from Somalia, South Sudan, across eastern Africa, Myanmar, Syria, Bhutan …

… in Kenya, South Sudan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Nepal and Myanmar.

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Across its 70-year history, ALWS has been blessed with passionate leaders, who take seriously the trust placed in them. Here are their messages of thanks to you …

 

‘Now my stomach is full’

In the 1980s I got a letter from a chap I’d never heard of. He said: ‘Thank you for the scholarship you gave me in Botswana. I’ve just completed my PhD at Oxford and am going to go back to my people.’ I also think of the man I met in Ethiopia in 1970 and again three years later who said: ‘When you came here three years ago my stomach was hitting my backbones. Now look, my stomach is full.’ It was a great privilege to work for ALWS/LWS.

– Dr Brian Neldner (1960–1964)

 

Guests, not inspectors

I remember my first visit to the field. I requested permission to have a site inspection of LWS projects. I received a response advising that LWS doesn’t do site inspections, but visits, as guests of the communities. That advice was in my mind as I visited projects around the world. I’ve been heartened by the support from faithful and generous Lutheran people around Australia and New Zealand, especially from Lutheran schools. Thank you and thanks to God who provides for his people.

– Mr Gary Simpson (1991–2000)

 

Shaky handwriting

In my time at ALWS, a pensioner periodically sent a $5 note with a note in shaky handwriting apologising that this was all she could manage on her meagre pension. Truly the widow’s mite. I felt as great a responsibility in the use of that $5 note as I did for the biggest gifts. ALWS’s donors are the lifeblood that brings love to life through ALWS’s life-saving and life-sustaining programs. May God bless you and the work of your gift.

– Mr Peter Schirmer (2000–2012)

 

‘It is for others’

During a visit to Queensland, an elderly woman gave me an envelope. Within it was a $10 note and a message: ‘I can no longer give as much as I want but please accept this. It is for others’. I kept a copy as a reminder of the enormous responsibility of making each dollar count. Later that year, I met teachers in Djibouti and told them this story. They said every time they used chalk donated by ALWS, they would think of her. Thank you for all you’ve done ‘for others’.

– Mr Chey Mattner (2012–2018)

 

Achieving change – together

In January I visited a camp for internally displaced people in Myanmar. Hakim, the leader of a parent-teacher association, told me: ‘In my home, we had no access to education. Here at the camp, our kids go to school. I am very pleased with what we have accomplished together!’ Not only are 2500 children in the camp now safer, learning and ready for the future – but the adults also radiate confidence, hope and pride. Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place.

– Ms Jamie Davies (2018–present)

 

Two leaders are no longer with us. We thank them for their wonderful service:

Rev Dr Bruno Muetzelfeldt (1950–1960) and Mr Sidney Bartsch (1965–1990).

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ALWS partners and supporters express gratitude

 

I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude towards ALWS for acting as a faithful partner with LWF here in Burundi. Your support since 2009 is restoring hope, dignity and self-reliance for 2052 families, with flow-on benefits to another 8885 families. We see immediate positive results, and credit all the successes to the invaluable supports you provide.

Claudette Nzohabonimana

National Country Director, LWF World Service – Burundi Program

 

On behalf of the Rohingya refugee community here in Cox’s Bazar, and the Bangladeshi host people, I give sincerest thanks to ALWS on your continuous support. You have been most valuable as you bring love to life for these vulnerable people, especially as we struggle with COVID-19. Through your support 14,000 refugee and host community people are cared for.

Bhoj Raj Khanal

LWF Emergency Hub Coordinator, Asia & the Pacific

 

Congratulations ALWS on reaching your 70th anniversary. As the Member for Mayo and as a Lutheran school mum I have been proud to be involved in ALWS events like Walk My Way … what a blessing you have been to the thousands of people you have reached out to with practical support, in the spirit of Christian love.

Rebekha Sharkie MP

Federal Member for Mayo

 

Representing communities where ALWS had its origins, it is a privilege to note this important anniversary. When a previous crisis saw the need to relocate homeless and displaced citizens after World War II, the Lutheran church here in my home town of Albury was ready to welcome them at Bonegilla Migrant Camp. There can be little doubt the love and assistance so many received helped turn Australia into the wonderful multicultural and peaceful democracy we are now. For this we owe ALWS our thanks.

The Hon Sussan Ley MP

Federal Member for Farrer

 

It is a fantastic endeavour by successive generations of the Lutheran community to support refugees and displaced people in many parts of the globe through ALWS, and then make the connections back to settlement and building communities in Australia. Longstanding ALWS involvement in ACFID networks serves to strengthen and improve the work of the broader Australian development community and we are grateful for this.

Marc Purcell

Chief Executive Officer, ACFID

 

Since 1999 ALWS has been a valued partner to the Australian Government’s efforts to reduce poverty and create prosperity and stability in our region and globally. ALWS responded to the call to confront the COVID-19 scourge, rapidly pivoting six of their ANCP programs, reaching over 90,000 people. On behalf of DFAT, I congratulate ALWS on 70 years and look forward to working together into the future.

Jon Burrough

Director, NGO Program and Partnerships Section,

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

 

The LLL is blessed to have partnered ALWS during your 70-year history. Whether supporting the ALWS Awareness Program in Lutheran schools, or sponsoring Walk My Way, or helping fund community development work in Indonesia, LLL sees the great value of working together in partnership. This extends to LLL savings account holders who make this support possible for ALWS. We thank and praise God for each and every one of them.

Allen Kupke

Chief Executive Officer, LLL

 

I thank God for the people of ALWS who work to keep our eyes ‘focused outward’. ALWS helps us see more clearly our neighbours in faraway places who need us to share with them some of the abundance that the Lord has given us.

Bishop Paul Smith

LCA Queensland District

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