(The following, capsulated from the full report presented to the Conference in convention assembled on Saturday, June 24, 2017, is presented for the information of our brethren who were not able to attend.)
When we who “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 8:9) have “opportunity” to “do good…, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), it is neither profitable for them, nor is it evidence to us or to others that we are in fact “the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26), merely to say to brethren in need, “‘Depart in peace; be ye warmed and filled,’ notwithstanding [we] give them not those things which are needful to the body,” James tells us in his general epistle chapter two, verse 16. Therefore, with the generous support of the Conference brethren, motivated by the Gospel (II Corinthians 5:14) to “bear…one another’s burdens and so [to] fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) in our Christian sanctification to His glory, and assured of the Lord’s promise to grant us the ability to make good on our intentions (II Corinthians 9:8), we have been subsidizing three congregations of our fellowship, two of which are member-congregations stateside, and one of which is a congregation in fellowship in far-off Russia.
● St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Sauk Village, Illinois – The members of St. Mark’s, by God’s grace alone, have this past year been blessed with many good and perfect blessings “from above” (James 1:17a). Nevertheless, due in part to local economic conditions, St. Mark’s is requesting for this coming fiscal year $ 700.00 per month in subsidy, an increase of $ 50.00 per month or 8% MORE than last year. St. Mark’s has only fourteen communicant members, seven voting members, and eleven households, and the average attendance at services is approximately 15 souls. Nevertheless, that little flock raises $ 17,000.00 per year for its Pastor’s support by the freewill offerings of its people to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31), not to mention the funds needed to pay other regular expenses of the congregation. With the subsidy of the Conference, the congregation is able to salary its Pastor at $ 26,000.00 per year, which is about $ 1,000 less than the average household income of the members. However, in addition to the salary, the Pastor is provided rent-free housing, all utilities paid, for himself and his five young children, the cash value of which is approximately $ 4,800.00. Thus in their careful stewardship of the Lord’s money, together with the subsidy they have requested, St. Mark’s supports its Pastor at approximately the same level as the average among its people, the standard set by the Lord Himself in Luke 10:7. To God alone the glory! — The heartily recommended that the Conference in convention assembled approve the subsidy requested by St. Mark’s for fiscal year 2017-2018, and that the Conference congregations join in praying for the brethren’s continued blessings under the gracious hand of our loving and merciful God for Jesus’ sake. The ’s recommendation was unanimously adopted
● Good Shepherd Ev. Lutheran Church, Tucson, Arizona – Good Shepherd in Tucson has also been blessed by the Lord of the church in many ways during the past fiscal year. Attendance at worship services averages about 20 souls, and the members actively participate in the Bible Class and other opportunities for spiritual growth in grace and in the knowledge of God’s Word. The Pastor also has young people in a Confirmation class and adults under instruction preparatory for communicant membership. There are twelve households in the congregation, including twenty-two communicant members and eleven voting members. Two members are currently confined to their home and are frequently hospitalized. Approximately 30% of the Pastor’s support is derived from Conference subsidy. The average income per household is about $ 37,000.00, and the Pastor’s salary is $ 36,000.00. Housing is not provided by the congregation, but the Pastor and his wife were able last year to purchase a small home in the area in close proximity to the church. The congregation does provide cell phone service on a line that doubles as the Pastor’s phone and that of the church. The congregation has expressed its gratitude to the Conference brethren for their subsidy support and has requested subsidy in the same amount as last year, $ 900.00 per month, to enable it to maintain the Pastor’s support at or around the average level of its members (Cf. Luke 10:7). —The heartily recommended that the Conference in convention assembled approve that amount for the coming fiscal year and asked the brethren’s continued fervent prayers to the Lord of the Church for His abundant blessing upon Pastor Mensing, his family, and our sister congregation in Tucson. The ’s recommendation was unanimously adopted by the convention
● Orthodox Lutheran Church of Ekaterinburg, Ekaterinburg, Russia – This congregation has been suffering great tribulation for the sake of the Gospel, especially in the limitation of its Pastor’s ability to lecture and teach in local libraries and prisons as he had done in the past and also in the foreseeable loss of its rented worship facilities due to recent changes in the government’s regulation of small churches and religious organizations. The health of their Pastor also suffered a blow after he and the congregation’s secretary were attacked on the street this past January, and Pastor Schurganoff suffered serious injuries. In a recent e-mail, he wrote as follows:
In January, an unpleasant situation occurred. When I returned after service, I was badly beaten by a group of unknown people who said before that I should “stop my “American” sermons and get out from Russia.” I was with our community [congregational] secretary, who also suffered. I received severe injuries to my face, teeth and a broken collarbone. Now, due to severe damage to my teeth, I can hardly eat food. Unfortunately, after the statement to the police about this incident, the guilty people were never found. After this story, I had a strong psychological breakdown, and with great difficulty I continued my ministry with God’s help though. I’m sorry that I could not tell you about it at once, but I felt so bad. In particular, because of this psychological disorder, I delayed my last reports and prepare them only now.
In spite of the damage to his face, jaw and teeth, and a fractured collarbone, and although the police investigated the incident, no one was ever charged; and no restitution was ever made for the Pastor’s medical expenses which include approximately $ 3,000.00 for the restoration of his teeth. Nevertheless, after some time for recuperation and time also to process and recover from the discouragement, trauma and a certain amount of depression that resulted from the attack (PTSD no doubt), Pastor Schurganoff conducted all of the scheduled Sunday worship services and Bible classes and visited his members in their homes. Thanks be to God, who enabled him! (Philippians 4:13).
The congregation, according to its most recent profile, numbers twenty-nine communicants and eighteen voting members from eight households. Typical attendance at worship services, however, is only 12 souls, a situation that needs to be addressed in accordance with God’s Word (Third Commandment; Hebrews 10:25) for the spiritual welfare of His flock. The average household income is equivalent to $ 13,000.00 USD per year; and the Pastor’s income, supplied entirely by the Conference’s subsidy, is $ 12,000.00 annually. The Pastor and his family live in a rented apartment NOT supplied by the congregation, although the church contributes approximately $ 500.00 per year toward the cost.
It is difficult for us to imagine the conditions in Russia under which a small Lutheran congregation must operate when the huge Russian Orthodox Church, with its political influence, is the state-favored religion, and when there is open animosity and even hatred expressed and acted upon against Christ’s sheep and their faithful shepherd; and we beg the Lord’s protection of this little flock under the cloud of discrimination and adversity that overshadows it.
Brother Schurganoff had supplied your chairman with only occasional reports throughout the year primarily because of the failure of his computer and lately because of his health problems (of which the was not aware), but he recently brought them all up to date for our current information. He also wrote and contributed an edifying article for the Concordia Lutheran on Psalm 103:2 published in the November-December issue. If our people have not yet read it, we encourage them to do so.
During the past fiscal year, the Ekaterinburg congregation received from our Conference a total monthly subsidy of $1,200.00 as in previous years: $900.00 for the Pastor’s salary, $100.00 toward reducing the medical debt of the Schurganoff family, and $200.00 for the rental of the congregation’s worship facility. For the 2017-2018 Fiscal Year, the congregation has requested from us the same subsidy as last year, namely, $1,200.00 monthly, and reluctantly but urgently has asked our help in defraying the cost of their Pastor’s dental reconstruction. Although we are not sure at this point what the Conference might be able and willing to do concerning the latter expense, and a significant amount is not able to be added to the current budget, given anticipated receipts, your heartily recommended that the Conference in its budget approve at least the subsidy amounts requested and then urged the congregations to discuss what might be done to raise funds toward the Pastor’s orthodontic work. If nothing else, congregational (and even individual) contributions toward this need could be directed to the ’s chairman; and he would then promptly pass them on to Brother Schurganoff.
— We now want to include some information concerning our dear Nigerian brethren gleaned from an update received from Pastor Fyneface last Fall and from an e-mail received just the week of the convention:
● In September he informed us that Nigeria was going through one of the worst economic recessions due to misappropriation of funds.. Salaries were not being paid in almost all sectors, and people were literally dying of hunger. Terrorists were still killing people; some people out of frustration had committed suicide; mothers were selling their children for money just to get by. Offerings were very low in their churches, and some churches could no longer pay their pastors and workers.
● In the northern part of Nigeria Christians are being persecuted daily. Recently, eight Christians were burnt to death and many more in other places. The present president and his cohorts are planning to Islamize the country. “However, our God will not let it happen,” Pastor Fyneface wrote. “As they failed before, so will they fail again.”
● “Things are hard with us,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do than to endure the hardship. The hardship has caused a lot of deaths recently. The high cost of medical treatment and drugs is causing lots of deaths all over. We have buried thirty-six, and another fourteen are waiting to be buried only in Paul’s, Abonnema. The Rev Ellison Agborubere was buried on the 27th of August. Lots of tears were shed. All we can do is pray for the family. All the FLCN churches contributed immensely to foot the funeral expenses of Agborubere. Pray for us.”
● “We have established another church near Abonnema known as Christ our Savior Lutheran Church – Krakrama on the 26th of June. We have four families who are attending catechism class in order to be baptized. Brother Faith Asemebo and Pastor Thompson are overseeing them.”
● He said that they needed three dozen King James Bibles for the new members. It would be better, he said, that they buy them there locally from the Bible Society of Nigeria than for us to send them and they be stolen by postal workers; but he did not say how much they would cost, neither did he request that we defray the expense.
● He added, “We deeply appreciate you all for your enormous assistance and support spiritually, materially and financially which has been a great encouragement to us.”
● Then this past week (on Tuesday, June 20th) came an e-mail that highlighted some positive things that were happening. Pastor Fyneface wrote, “It is with great pleasure to update you with the activities of the F. L. C. N. churches. By the special grace of God, His work is going on smoothly despite the persecution, the hardship due to the poor economy, and our health challenges.” And he then included the following highlights:
- St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church – Port Harcourt, called Rev. Onimim Frank and Rev. Tonye Omoni to serve them as co-pastors. However, they will be helping other congregations as well.
- St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church – Abonnema, Newlayout, now has Rev. Graham Horsfall as their pastor. He is one of the students.
- St. Paul’s – Abonnema also called Rev. Faith Asemebo as co-pastor with Pastor Douglas and Pastor Fyneface. He will help Pastors Bestman and Thompson to oversee Christ our Savior Lutheran Church – Krakrama and St. Gabriel Lutheran Church – Buguma.
- The little congregation in Lagos still has problems finding a place for worship. The “house fellowship” is helping. Pastor Onesimus Ekele, we recall, left the congregation together with his family. Now that they have more pastors, the Lagos members will be visited more frequently, though travel for the pastors will be expensive.
- Deacon Charles is now serving St. Paul’s – Kula and Christ Lutheran Church – Ilama – Kula. But this will not stop Pastor Fyneface from visiting periodically. The Kula community has a political crisis going on that the Chiefs and the Rivers State government have been tackling, and the brethren are praying for peace.
Other news garnered from Pastor Fyneface’s e-mail —
● If not for the Lord’s doing, Mrs. Fyneface (Ibiere) could have died on the 12th of June due to high blood pressure and malaria. She is still receiving treatment at home administered by a visiting nurse since there is no money to go the hospital for the urgent attention she really needs. As it was, the care of the visiting nurse was itself quite costly. (Let us not take our healthcare here for granted, despite the political issues involved in it!)
● The Rev. God’stime Douglas, who had been widowed, is now remarried to a woman named Awoere from a neighboring “community” [“congregation”??]; and Rev. Faith’s wife gave birth to a baby boy on Sunday, Fathers’ Day.
● The seminary training program is still on, but challenges still remain getting the students all the necessary theological books such as the Concordia Triglota, copies of Christian Dogmatics by Mueller, Bible dictionaries and good commentaries. The on Missions is considering the possibility of purchasing Kindle tablets and pre-loading them with e-book copies of some of these books (if we can do so without paying high royalties to CPH). That surely would be preferable to purchasing the hardbound books here and shipping them to Nigeria.
● Pastor Fyneface still has not responded to our inquiry as to how many copies of the “blue” Catechism they need us to order from CPH and ship over to them, and we are still in the process of scanning and type-setting “The Pastor’s Companion,” the mini-agenda that their pastors need to do their work. It’s an ongoing project but one that we hope to complete this summer.
● Pastor Fyneface concluded his latest e-mail with the following words: “Once again, we express our deep appreciation for your unspeakable support. It is our prayer that you have a fruitful deliberation during the Conference convention to the glory of God Almighty and for the propagation of His unadulterated Word for the salvation of mankind. God richly bless you all.”
Regarding the work of all our congregations, large or small, thriving or struggling, here at home or abroad, we commend ourselves — our bodies, our souls, and all things — into the hands of our merciful and gracious God in Christ Jesus, “who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), confidently declaring with St. Paul: “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31b-32).
Pastor David T. Mensing, Chairman
and the 2016-2017 members of the Committee