LCMS short-term mission volunteer Matt Pleshek, left, works with an interpreter to teach the English vocabulary during an English Bible Camp in July 2023. (Photo courtesy of Mark Winterstein.)

Story 1 of 6 — Spring 2024

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Office of International Mission has compiled a series of six commentaries about the experiences of short-term mission volunteers who served during an English Bible Camp in the Czech Republic in July 2023. The first commentary is below, and all of the stories are available in the series archives.

Crystal Potts, LCMS Short-term Mission Volunteer

The LCMS Office of International Mission organizes its work on the following mission pillars:

  • Spread the Gospel
  • Plant Lutheran Churches
  • Show Mercy

Okay. That sounds pretty simple. The directives to spread the Gospel and plant churches are quantifiable goals. It’s when we get to the “show mercy” piece that we encounter something of an intangible. The LCMS international missionaries currently serving around the world have to interpret this call in the way that best serves their region.

Showing mercy

Mercy, in some fields, might look like traditional humanitarian aid — health or medical care, financial aid, or food/water provisions. In the Eurasia region, the call to “show mercy” looks more like outreach, language assistance, or help with day-to-day needs such as legal processes or the navigation of bureaucracies.   

Kim Bueltmann, a deaconess in Leipzig, Germany, manifests this directive through her ministry to not only the German members of the community but to the large population of Persian refugees in her area, thanks to her knowledge of the Farsi language. In addition to her duties in her church, she organizes an annual fall community outreach festival to make sure all of the people and cultures present in the community feel a sense of belonging and inclusion.

Another missionary, Mark Winterstein, currently serving in Leipzig, is a former Farsi linguist for the United States Navy. (The LCMS has some heavy hitters in the game, you guys.) 

Christ will enlighten you

I was part of an LCMS short-term mission volunteer team that led an English Bible Camp in the Czech Republic in July 2023.

This morning, as we worship with the local congregation in Bystrice, Czech Republic, I ponder the best way to communicate the reason for our service here to those asking, “Why Europe?” In thinking back to those three tenets of LCMS mission priorities mentioned earlier, we come to realize that mercy is a subjective concept.

The Lutheran church here in Bystrice is breathtaking. All soaring arches, 100-foot ceilings, imposing balconies, polished marble and gold-gilt and blue and ivory detailing. Adorning the altar are four life-size statues of the evangelists flanking an enormous painted mural of the last supper, while four angels surrounding the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God bearing the cross and banner of the Lord) keep watch from above. The altar is topped by a gilded flaming eye of providence, and on either side, 8-foot tall stained-glass windows — bearing the images of Jesus on the cross and emerging from the tomb — are illuminated from outside by the hot Bystrice sun.

Opulent would not be too strong a word to describe the church that this humble congregation of 100 enjoys on a regular basis. The center of the domed ceiling of the church bears the phrase, “Dcuc się i powstań a oświeci cię Chrystus.” “Wake up and arise and Christ will enlighten you.” Enlightenment — that’s an interesting idea. We’ll come back to that.

The actual worship service I’ll not be able to describe quite as well as the church as it was conducted entirely in Czech. There was one portion of the service during which they shared a video chronicling the acts of radical Muslims in northern Nigeria who have killed hundreds and continue to persecute and kill Christians. The call to action at the end of the video was “Pray for the persecuted.” This was the one part of the service I was able to easily understand. It was the one part of the service that the whole of the local congregation did not understand.

English instruction as an act of mercy

The call to show mercy in this part of the world is not usually a call for medical, financial or material aid. The definition of mercy in Eurasia is the equipping of the people with the English language. English will not only allow them opportunity in this world, but an opportunity for the development of their knowledge and understanding of the Lutheran church and of the Word of God as a whole. 

In an effort to better understand this need, I met with local missionary Ben Helge who is based in the Czech Republic, along with his wife, Becca, and their 15-month-old son, Viktor. During our conversation, as I struggled to understand why a country so rich in culture and history would need the help of the LCMS as a mission field, Ben used the phrase, “Here, the mercy is English.”  

My understanding was illuminated in that moment as brightly as the stained glass in the church this morning. I was enlightened, if you will. Teams conduct English Bible Camps in various towns on a mission of mercy to equip the participants with the understanding of the English language that it might illuminate the path of enlightenment for their hearts, minds and futures.

Explore opportunities to serve with LCMS International Mission at and consider how God might be nudging you to serve.