The Announcement

On Sunday, January 12, 2014, Mim and I announced to the congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Sandy, UT, that we had accepted a call to serve the people of rural Lijiazhai, Henan Province, China, for at least 5 years, under the auspices of China Service Ventures (CSV).  My tenure as Senior Pastor of Good Shepherd will end on May 31st.  We hope to be in China on July 1st to help conduct CSV’s summer camp programs.  (We were at the same place last summer.  The blogs of our experience can be found here.)

Why China?  I suppose the answer to that question is simply: This is where we feel that the Lord is calling us to serve at this time.  We have gifts and talents as part of our personalities, education, and professional training that make us uniquely qualified to serve the current needs of CSV in rural Lijiazhai with the gospel of Jesus Christ, both in word and deed.  And, windows of opportunity remain open only so long.  We also feel that Good Shepherd is in good hands under the leadership of its current pastors, staff, trustees, elders, and volunteers.  May 1, 2014 will mark 21 years of service at Good Shepherd — a coming of age, of sorts.  Endings and Beginnings create new opportunities for growth and vision, new ways of serving and new blessings.

CSV’s primary service is the provision of educational scholarships and individualized mentoring and support of underprivileged children in rural areas, who, otherwise, would not be able to attend middle or high schools without the gracious provision of funds from American donors and partnership with Chinese local school and government officials so that students can afford tuition, room and board.  This program has been in effect, now, for 10 years and has yielded amazing results.   Several of these same children attend a summer English camp sponsored by CSV with Christian counselors from Hong Kong, mainland China, and the United States.   Working within the legal requirements of the Chinese government, a partnership has formed between all involved for the benefit of these children.

From the beginning, CSV officials have been upfront about their Christian identity and service motivated by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The founders of CSV are the grandchildren of former Lutheran Missionaries, who served the same surrounding area in the early 20th century, up to World War II and the Cultural Revolution.  The work they began so long ago still bears fruit today in several government registered, open Chinese churches.

Our roles are to assist the Chinese staff in the area and to be a source of encouragement, strengthening, and support, with the hopes of one day establishing a Christian Community Center that will serve diverse needs of a growing community, e.g., child daycare and early childhood pre-schools, theological training, nurturing and support of lay leaders in rural churches, and amongst university students.

Mim’s master’s degree in education, Montesori training, K – 12 certification, adjunct college teaching experience; and, 27 years of teaching, outdoor education, and coaching, make her a unique gift and resource to the local area.

My (Jeff’s) doctorate (Ph.D.) in marketing communication, master’s degree in theology, and 26 years of pastoring, and musical talents make me a unique resource to the local church and universities.

Since the beginning of our marriage, we have always looked for ways to serve together in the same field.  Though we have been able to do this somewhat in our previous calls, China offers us the opportunity of working more closely together in 29 years of marriage.

Enough for now.  We have a house to sell and possessions to sell or give away, reducing our life down into four suitcases and two carry-ons.  We also have two children, two sets of parents, extended family, and our family of faith to bless and settle before we leave for China.

– Jeff

Real hopes, real fears

What are your hopes and fears in going to China?

The question seemed innocent enough. It came from my sister-in-law, via my wife.  Did she want an in-depth answer or a glib answer?  It  is kind of like our daily greeting, “How are you?”  We say and hear the words without giving it too much thought or response.  I, however, this time, took time to ponder it.  My responses are like four, double-side coins, same issue, different concerns and outcomes.

My hopes

  1. Impact — Our time of service in China, among the rural poor in Henan Province, will be significant and beneficial, as we form new relationships and community.
  2. Marriage — Our marriage will grow in depth of love, maturity, and appreciation for each other as we enter a new culture and language, becoming even more dependent upon each other for emotional support.
  3. Health — Our health will improve as we become more active walking everywhere, practice better nutrition and diet, and enjoy the benefits of Eastern medicine.
  4. Parents — Our parents will share and delight in our adventure through consistent communication by modern, technological means like video conferencing, email, and phone calls; and, we will be able to return and be available to them in times of need.

My fears

  1. Impact — As “foreigners” with language issues, we will offer little of value to the community we seek to serve.  We will remain strangers in a strange land, separated and isolated from meaningful relationships with the Chinese people.
  2. Marriage — The stress of this major transition from all we know and love in America to a different language and culture will put us both into minor depression, unable to support each other emotionally, which will lead to a growing sense of frustration and isolation.
  3. Health — We will experience health issues and, not knowing the medical system, we will suffer.  We are unsure about pollution levels, health standards for restaurants, and purity of the water systems.
  4. Parents — Our parents will experience health crises while we are gone and we will be unable to get back in time to support and help them.


Hopes and fears can be real or imagined.  It depends.  Some of the outcomes, whether they are positive or negative, depend upon my attitude, disposition, and behavior.  I can be positive, honoring, polite, hospitable, and engaging regardless of circumstance.  This should increase the likelihood of effecting positive results in all areas.  Some outcomes are dependent upon circumstances and whether or not they are within my control.  Fears associated with learning a new language can be very real.  Those associated with learning cultural values require time and an indigenous guide.  All endeavors involve a measure of risk and unforeseen happenings, that is why they are adventures.  The better equipped we are to meet these challenges with measures of hope, courage, training and determination, the more likely the positive results.

The time is quickly approaching.  Our goal is to be in China on July 1st.

– Jeff


Daniel Nelson

This picture of Daniel Nelson, the first Lutheran missionary in Xingyang, Henan Province, China (circa 1898-1927) hangs in Eagle Grove Evangelical Lutheran Church, Eagle Grove, Iowa. Nelson’s farm was about 5 miles away to the Northwest (near present-day Goldfield). I made a quick pilgrimage to the church and farm, an out-of-the-way detour, as I returned to Des Moines, IA airport from McCallsburg, IA, to catch a flight back to Salt Lake City. Daniel Nelson’s story is an inspiration to me. He was a Norwegian sailor, turned immigrant, turned farmer, who felt God’s call to serve the Chinese people with the gospel while roofing his house. Within a few months, he sold the farm and took his entire family to China with $500 in his pocket to Shanghai, China. They eventually went to Wuhan and then north to Xingyang, where he served 27 years.

The reflections of myself behind my iPhone and the pastor near the door somehow capture the courage and example of a man of courage which still draws future generations to China.

Transition to China

Daniel Nelson

First Lutheran Missionary in Xingyang, Henan Province, China circa, 1900 – 1927.

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Things as Extension of Ourselves

The things we possess in our live are often extensions of ourselves.

For example, books are an extension of our intellectual pursuits, queries, and curiosity.  Clothing is often protection from the elements, but involves style, distinction, and sense of identity.  My books are definitely an extension of myself, whereas animals and sporting equipment are extensions of my wife.

Our son asked us recently, how the sorting and giving away process was proceeding.  My reply to him was that it felt like a death.   Our intent to give away, donate, or sell all of our possessions that cannot be reduced to fit four suitcases is so radical that it feels like a process a surviving child would conduct for a deceased parent.  The exception, in our case, is that we function both as the parent and child.

I found a helpful guide in dealing with all my emotions stirred by the divestment of our possessions  in the writings of Martin Luther (1483-1546), in a treatise written for a Mark Schart in 1519, entitled, “A sermon on preparing to die.”  Below are some quotations from the sermon in Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 42 (Concordia Publishing, 1969).

  1. “Since death marks a farewell from this world and all its activities, it is necessary that a man regulate his temporal goods properly or as he wishes to have them ordered, lest after his death there be occasion for squabbles, quarrels, or other misunderstanding among his surviving friends.  This pertains to the physical or external departure from this world and to the surrender of our possessions.”
  2. “We must cheerfully and sincerely forgive, for God’s sake, all men who have offended us.  At the same time we must also, for God’s sake, earnestly seek the forgiveness of all the people whom we undoubtedly have greatly offended by setting them a bad example or by bestowing too few of the kindnesses demanded by the law of Christian brotherly love.  This is necessary lest the soul remain burdened by its actions here on earth.”
  3. “We must turn our eyes to God, to whom the path of death leads and directs us.  Here we find the beginning of the narrow gate and of the straight path to life (Matthew 7:14).  All must joyfully venture forth on this path, for though the gate is quite narrow, the path is not long.”

Luther actually makes 20 points in his sermon, but the first three are certainly transferrable in our preparation to transition to China.

  1. It has been a joy to match possessions with specific people who would need them, enjoy them, or benefit greatly from them.  Our children had first pick through and have claimed or taken what they would treasure the most.
  2. Our task of divestment includes leaving with a clear conscience and good relationships. The proceeds from our sales have and will go toward retirement of debt and financial obligations.  We resolve to owe no one anything except the debt of love (Romans 13:8).  Stage #1 is the house.  Stage #2 will be our relationships.
  3. Throughout this process we need to keep the joy of China before our eyes.  Current processes are stressful and require time and diligent effort, but it is all for the purpose of becoming unencumbered and free to fully invest in the people we are called to serve in China.

Our house is sold!  And we will be out of the house on Feb. 28th.  Keep us in prayer.  Things are moving forward.

More Later,

– Jeff

On Books and Four Suitcases

We are selling or giving away everything that cannot fit into four suitcases and two carry-ons to take to China.  A friend asked us, “How large are the suitcases?”  My response was, “Well, they will be smaller than we like.”  

Admittedly, this task of reduction is extremely difficult, especially when it comes to books.  My parents instilled in me a deep love for learning and reading.  My most prized possession, when I was 10 years old, was my library card.  That card was the doorway into numerous adventures in the world and universe.  Even today, a book is more prized than a DVD or TV program.  I, personally, have about 1000 volumes — and that is the problem.  What do I keep, what do I take along to China, and what do I give away?

First, an admission, I have not read every book on my shelves. I am surprised, however, by how many I have read.  When I read, I outline and make notes in the margins.  The majority of my books are outlined, so that I can quickly skim them again.  They are reference works.

Second, the books on my shelves represent projects.  They are grouped into categories.   When I desired to learn about a subject, I would buy five books on the subject matter to compare and contrast, to gain a perspective.   For example, I have books on financial management, psychology, sociology, philosophy, leadership, business, marketing, communication, anthropology, health and nutrition, cultural studies, poetry, cooking, dictionaries, statistics, research, weight-lifting, physiology, medicinal herbs, and literature.  I also have many books on theology and its sub-categories (greek & hebrew, worship, prayer, discipleship, biblical studies, systematics, missions, apologetics, church history, lutheran confessional writings, and world religions).  And, I have a variety of Bibles in several translations and languages (Hebrew, Greek, Russian, Vietnamese, German, and Chinese).  

Third, I have discovered authors that I enjoy reading from a variety of fields and times in history (Plato, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, J.R.R. Tolkein, Martin Luther, Icek Ajzen, LeAnne Payne, and Jim Wilder).   Also, I read lots of science fiction/fantasy (Stephen R. Donaldson, Stephen Lawhead, Terry Goodkind, Clive Cussler, Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, Orson Scott Card, etc. — I love a good epic story).

Fourth, I have already given away about 12 boxes of books (approximately 250 books) to local community and theological libraries and friends.  Already, I am feeling the loss.  Although I am thrilled with matching friends with particular projects (categories of books), I am experiencing a little “givers” remorse.  What if I might desire or need to reread an author or particular book in the future?  Thus, the issue: what friends (authors) and books (subject matter) do I bring with me to China? 

The writer of Ecclesiastes (12:12) writes: “Of the making of many books, there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh.”  Therefore, I endeavor to take along a few old friends, with whom to dialogue with regularly, who challenge my thinking and presuppositions continually, and keep me open to the world before me.   I will digitize what I can, but there is no substitute for the feel of a physical book in your hand, while you turn the pages. 

More later on digital versus physical books.

– Jeff


Do We Call a New Pastor?

Naturally, almost immediately following our announcement to take a call to serve in China, the questions were raised among the Good Shepherd congregational members about the process of calling a new Senior Pastor.  This assumes, of course, that a new pastor is necessary.  Some members feel that the church would be sufficiently staffed at two, full-time pastors, instead of the current three.  (Click here for current “Ministry Staff” page.)  In any case, time should be taken to assess the needs of the congregation through open communication with the congregation.  There is no need to rush the process.

Good Shepherd, as a member of Lutheran Congregation in Mission for Christ (LCMC), has the freedom and authority to govern itself, follow whatever process it deems prudent, and call any person it deems qualified — with the following caveats:

  1. The congregation is responsible for due diligence when vetting a pastoral candidate.  This includes conducting sufficient background checks for criminal history, researching work history, and contacting references. (See “Serving in the LCMC“)
  2. The congregation may call whomever they want, yet, depending on the candidate’s credentials the issued call will either be a certified or contract call.  (See “List of Certified LCMC Pastors” here.)
  3. The congregation can follow its own process, but the LCMC has prepared a valuable resource for congregations, “Call Packet,” which includes definitions of certified and contract calls, common steps and procedures, typical interview questions, and pertinent documents related to the call process.
  4. Additional questions can be directed to the LCMC Coordinator for Pastoral Ministry by contacting the central LCMC office by email at: or by phone at:  734.207.5400.

Good Shepherd also has its own Constitution and Bylaws which are available for download on its website.  The appropriate sections are as follows:

  1. C8.01 and C8.02 — The authority to call a pastor is located with the congregation by majority, two-thirds votes, at a regularly called meeting of the congregation.  Pastors may also be commissioned by the congregation into specialized ministries, e.g., into the mission field (the technical LCMC language for this is “called and deployed”).
  2. B4.01, B4.02, and B4.03 — The pastoral office belongs to the congregation and is conferred upon an individual in mutual ministry with the congregation through a letter of call to “word and sacrament” ministry (see Augsburg Confession, Article V and VII for exact text).
  3. B4.02 — Any pastoral candidate may be recommended to the Call Committee by any congregational member.  The Call Committee will select a candidate to recommend to the Congregation for majority approval of two-thirds, after which, a letter of call will be issued by the President of the Congregation in behalf of the Congregation.

My opinion, for what it is worth, now that I am in the category of “departing pastor,” is that the people of Good Shepherd take their time!  There is a necessary process of grieving and visioning that needs to take place first before the process of searching for a new pastor.  That said, it doesn’t offend or hurt anyone to become informed about the process.

More later,

– Jeff