Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 1:7b (NIV)
Greetings in the name of Christ!
My name is Rev. Matt Shields. I am currently serving St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church inFlanagan, IL, a NALC/LCMC congregation. I grew up at American Lutheran Church (NALC) in Rantoul, IL and First Lutheran Church (NALC) in Pontiac, IL. In 2008, these two congregations, as well as St. Mark Lutheran Church (LCMC), sent my wife and I to South Africa to participate in a mission program for young adults.
In July of 2018, I joined the ministry of Awakening Lives to World Missions (ALWM) (alwm.org), a NALC “Ministry Partner,” in order to develop an international mission program that wouldengage and serve young adults (ages 19-25) in NALC and LCMC congregations. We are currently developing relationships with people and ministries in Vietnam, Cambodia and South Africa where young people will have the opportunity to live and serve.
One of the main goals of this program is for young adults to grow in Christian faith through cross-cultural experiences. When my wife and I served in South Africa in 2008-2009 wewere far from our friends and family. Living in a different culture where people spoke a different language and ate different foods was mentally and emotionally difficult. We had lots of fun serving all the children at the Lutheran daycare center and seeing elephants in the wild! But, we also had tough times where we questioned why we had come and what God was doing in and through us. We learned a lot about South Africa, but even more importantly we learned a lot about God and grew in our faith.
Another goal of this program is for young adults to grow as future mission-minded leaders of the church who possibly pursue a vocation as a missionary or pastor. In college, my wife and I thought God was calling us to be long-term missionaries. The time we spent in South Africa helped clarify my calling that God actually wanted me as a pastor here in the United States. However, my time in South Africa has helped me be a “missionary” pastor who always seeks to understand the culture of the people that I serve and build relationships of trust that lead to discipleship in the Gospel. As the missionary to India and missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin wrote: “The traditional sending agencies have, in general, totally failed to recognize that the most urgent contemporary mission field is to be found in their own traditional heartlands” (The Open Secret). In other words, the United States is a mission field and we need the next generation of leaders in our church to have that mindset.
We have two requests to make of you. Please pray for this program and all of theministries of ALWM. We need all the prayers we can get! Also, please share this information with young people in your congregation and your youth leaders. Share this with high school students who are nearing graduation. Share this with college students and recent graduates. Share this with young people whether they are interested in going into ministry or not! We need your help spreading the word about this opportunity.
There are two versions of the program that we are working on. A short-term version (4-6weeks) will be in South Africa partnering with a Bible institute. This shorter trip will start in June of 2020. Young adults will stay in South Africa for 4-6 weeks serving in various ministries near the institute and sitting in on a class about engaging the Muslim community in South Africa with the Gospel. This is a great opportunity for young people to have a more in-depth experience in a new culture over their summer break. English is widely spoken, so learning a new language will not be necessary.
The long-term program (10-12 months) will be in partnership with current ALWM ministries in Vietnam and Cambodia. Young adults will live in Ho Chi Minh City where they will work with the Vital Links for Humanity Clinic and Dr. Hang, the Gospel Kids Orphanage . They will also have an opportunity to go help with the annual Lutheran youth retreat in Cambodia with Rev. Sam Chim.
Pastor Matt Shields serves on the staff of Awakening Lives to World Mission. ALWM is an NALC Ministry Partner. To learn more about their work or to partner with them in ministry, please visit alwm.org.