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Inspiration from missionary visits inspires global commitment

Visits by missionaries to childhood churches of three area women instilled their commitment to their church and their faith, nourishing a global awareness of bonds with God’s children everywhere, a vision that permeates their involvement today.

As a result of participating in a two-week trip to the companion diocese of their Lutheran synod, the women are now visiting area congregations to inspire others.

The missionaries stirred their interest in being part of the global community, building relationships with all God’s children and understanding what it is to be the body of Christ working together, aware that the church is so much more than one congregation.

Tanzanian worship

Margie Fiedler and Ann Frerks help lead worship with Tanzanians.

These women joined 10 other people from the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), on a fall visit to the Tumaini Lutheran Seminary, a secondary school in Malinyi, Tanzania. 

They shared in the community’s life and work, which included completing a brick duplex to house school staff, joining daily worship and celebrating the graduation of a class of 80 of the 400 students.

For Margie Fiedler, who is now vice president for marketing, investment and gift planning with the national ELCA out of Coeur d’Alene, it was one of several direct contacts with the partnership.  She gave the commencement address.

For Marj Nishek and her husband, Wayne, of Trinity Lutheran Church in Bonners Ferry, it was a time to renew ties with Tanzania, where they served three years as missionaries and four years in an appropriate technology project, developing windmills, water pumps and biogas technology.

For the Rev. Ann Frerks of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Cheney, the experience was part of her three-month sabbatical.  She preached  at several morning and evening outdoor worship services students attended.

Since 1989, the synod has had exchanges with the Ulanga Kilombero Diocese of the Lutheran Church in Tanzania—hosting guests, receiving and sending exchange teachers and visitation teams.  In 1988, the national ELCA matched about 20 U.S. synods with dioceses in Tanzania.

Companionship changed us from the model of sending missionaries to help people financially and to bring Jesus to them.  As partners, we learn from each other,” said Margie, who is also on the national Global Ministries Committee and participated in two consultations with Tanzanian dioceses while she was the associate to the bishop of the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod from 1996 to 2004.

She said being partners means the diocese in Tanzania might send evangelists to help the church in the Northwest grow, sharing its resources for creating the fast growth in Tanzania.

We can understand what it means to be God’s children.  We can extend beyond our usual idea of ‘helping’ only by building a building.  It’s about building relationships, so we can bring peace and justice to the world.”

The companionship makes the world smaller, said Margie, who also promoted global ties by hiring international staff as director of Camp Lutherhaven and then of six Lutheran camps in Ohio.

“Now, instead of sending missionaries, we send funds to educate people there to be doctors, nurses, teachers and pastors among their own people,” she said.

To prepare the team before going, organizers suggested they go with their hearts and minds open to receive love, hospitality, ideas and evangelism.

The group will report at the 2007 Synod Assembly April 27 to 29 at the Doubletree Hotel in Boise.  Sharing their experience with synod churches is part of their responsibility.

Our role was first to be with the people there and then to make people here aware of the companionship, not just of the problems,” said Marj, who led the group with her husband. “The Tanzanians opened our eyes to life there.”

Their experience started with being greeted by hundreds of smiling and singing students in yellow T-shirts lining the road.

Marj Nishek

Marj Nishek meets a teacher's children.

There’s no way to understand what life is like in Tanzania without on-the-ground experience there, working and worshiping side-by-side,” said Marj, who serves on the Synod’s Global Mission Companion Task Force and helped plan the trip.

For her, companionship is learning from, living and socializing with people, learning to appreciate the beauty of the land and people as part of God’s gift.

“People in Malinyi wear their faith on their sleeves, expressing their dependence on God every day.  Their expression is natural and clear in their faces,” she said.  “We learned from them, so I am better able to relax, knowing God is guiding us, not asking us to do more than we can, but giving us the capabilities to do more.”

Ann learned where mission dollars go and what it means to be a companion, working side-by-side and sharing in people’s lives.  While some may question spending money on travel, she knows the power of building relationships and returning changed by them.

She has a new understanding of the Beatitude “blessed are the poor” after two weeks with the poor.  She returned wondering “if we really are rich,” because for Tanzanians she met, life is more than materialism. 

“They value relationships, not what people have,” said Ann. “Every day the pastor at the school says: ‘God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.’

In the midst of hardship and difficulties, God is constant,” Ann said, appreciating the connection through the national church with the global church.  “God helps us walk with people halfway across the world.”

Marj and Ann shared the backgrounds they brought.

While Marj and Wayne have a tree nursery in Bonners Ferry, they have lived there only on and off for 30 years.  Their older son, a forester, managed the nursery while they were away.

Growing up in North Dakota, the Nisheks started life together overseas in the Peace Corps.  They worked two years as volunteers in Bolivia and then in India.

Before going as missionaries to Tanzania in 1974, they settled in Bonners Ferry. Wayne worked a year with the Kootenai Tribe.

In 1986, the University of Arizona invited them to a four-year project at Lesotho Agricultural College. Wayne then went on the Peace Corps staff, and they stayed there three more years, followed by five years in The Gambia, where he was director of the Peace Corps and Marj worked with the American Embassy.  In 1999, they came home.

Ann, the pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Cheney since 2000, grew up in the Midwest and graduated in 1999 from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.  An internship in Wenatchee led her to move to Cheney, which was possible because her husband, David, is a self-employed contractor and can work anywhere.

Married after high school, she reared family and worked 12 years as a nurse in a long-term care facility.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in human services in 1993 at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh.

Her first mission trip was in 2001 to help rebuild after Hurricane Mitch in North Carolina.

Cross giving

Group gives crosses to graduates.

Ann was on sabbatical, caring for her father in August and September.  He died Sept. 16.  She left for Tanzania the week after he was buried. 

“It was important for me to go because Lutherans there do not ordain women.  They hoped a woman pastor would come,” she said.

Ann spoke slowly when she preached, because students understand just a little English.  Others in the group helped dramatize Bible stories to communicate.

“Life, work and worship there is physical.  They dance, sing and stand, involving their whole bodies,” she observed.  “The communal presence is powerful.  They know they need each other. They know they are dependent on one another for survival.”

Marj contrasted the short-term experience of accompaniment—seeing the best of a situation with hosts making a special effort to be sure everyone feels comfortable—with living in a situation for several years and experiencing the highs and lows of life, becoming part of what is happening, learning the language and being better able to communicate.

She values both opportunities, knowing that some people can go for only a short time, while others might volunteer to teach there for two years or more.

Synod churches raise funds to help pay teachers, carpenters and students’ tuition. In addition to supporting education, the synod also helps support a hospital.

The companionship team joined students and the community to do projects the companions chose—to finish building a house by helping carry and set bricks and sheets of roofing, and by participating in other activities such as helping prepare a graduation meal for students and guests.

“As we passed bricks from person-to-person or peeled garlic, we learned some words and shared some songs.  Children wanted to teach us words and learn words.  Communication was not a problem,” Ann said.

Now Ann hopes to stir curiosity at Emmanuel Lutheran about the companions in Tanzania.

“I felt I belonged in Tanzania, like coming home,” she said.

For information, call 838-9871.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © April 2007