Lutherans in Minnesota

Two pastors find great rewards through sharing of the gospel in Eastern Europe

God’s call often leads to ministry in unexpected places and at unexpected
times. For two seasoned Lutheran ministers, this meant late-career calls to
Eastern Europe, an area where people are still recovering from religious
persecution under totalitarian communist regimes.

The call to ministry in Eastern Europe brought with it unique challenges for
both Armand Boehme, a pastor in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and
Don Richman, a pastor in the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations.
However, along with the challenges, each experienced their own spiritual
fulfillment through ministries with people who have only recently been able
to express openly their faith.

“Encountering God more deeply through encountering ‘the other,’ this is one
of the most challenging, yet rewarding, aspects of missionary work,” says Dr.
Craig Van Gelder, professor of congregation mission at Luther Seminary in St.
Paul, Minnesota. “As persons enter the culture of other persons, even as
short-term mission trip participants, they often experience a deepening of
their faith and an enhancement of their spiritual growth.”

After 34 years of parish ministry in rural Wisconsin and Minnesota, Armand
Boehme’s final call before retirement was to Almaty, Kazakhstan. Over the
course of three-and-a-half years, Boehme helped teach seminary courses at
People of God Evangelical Lutheran Seminary.

After a ministry career in a land filled with Lutherans, the call to Kazakhstan
led Boehme to teach theology in a place where many of his students once hid
their Bibles for fear of persecution.

“There is acculturation; you learn about their lives,” Boehme says. “All except
the very youngest had served in the Soviet military. I would have never
thought I’d have friends who were in the Soviet military, but I do.”

“I saw the church through the eyes of people who had not grown up in the
church as I had. I talked to people who had been persecuted for their faith.
[They] read their Bible secretly. One woman had been secretly baptized in the
Russian Orthodox Church and had not even told her parents.”

The call to teach in a country where English is not spoken was not without its
challenges. Boehme said one of the first things he had to learn was to teach
through a translator. His classroom lectures, as well as his few opportunities
to preach, were accompanied by sentence by sentence translations. “You just
learn how to do it and adjust,” he says.

Teaching in Kazakhstan was as much of a ministry for Boehme as it was for
his students. He says, “It was a lot of fun. I learned a great deal from my
students.”

Don Richman says he has a “heart for mission.” In fact, he says his call was a
process that started “when I was a child and my mother would pray for the
persecuted Christians.”

This call stayed with him throughout seminary, as well as through eleven
years serving in Brazil and 14 years of parish ministry in the U.S. It came full-
circle with his appointment to serve in Eastern Europe, where he helps
Christians who were once persecuted under communist governments.

Richman says that in the early 1990s the “Lord gave [him] a vision to develop
ministry in Eastern Europe.” Since his first trip, Richman has returned on an
annual basis to continue his ministry. He says he continues to go back
because “the Lord has called me to do this and that I have a great love for the
people.” His upcoming trip will be mark the thirteenth consecutive year that
he has traveled to Eastern Europe. Richman says his annual trips are a
tradition that he will continue “probably as long as the Lord gives me
strength to do it.”

The goal of Richman’s original travel to Eastern Europe was to help rebuild
churches of former communist countries on a strong biblical foundation with
a focus on evangelism, which he defines as “bringing people to a living
relationship with God through Jesus or salvation by grace through faith.” That
goal shaped what evolved into the Eastern European Missions Network, a
nonprofit organization that regularly sends both short- and long-term
missionaries to Eastern Europe.

“God gives you a love for the people whom he calls,” Richman says. “[To me
they are not] just Russians, Latvians, Slovaks — they are individual people
whom I love and build relationships with.”