National Lutheran News

When donors seek a more intimate connection

Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry finds international mission opportunites

Fourteen years after Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry (LPGM) was formed, leaders of the Minneapolis-based organization believe their unique approach to foreign-mission work has been validated. They say their group is here to stay, and now they’re engaged in a $600,000 capital-fund campaign to expand LPGM’s staff and programs and put it on solid footing to meet future challenges.

“What makes LPGM unique is the personal connection to mission that surrounds each of our projects,” said Gordon Olson, a former high school music teacher who, with his wife Betty, founded the group in 1995.

Nowhere is that approach more evident than in the organization’s first project, undertaken within a year of its start and still its largest single program today. Lutheran Partners connected with an indigenous church body, the Arcot Lutheran Church in southern India, to sponsor children, many of them very poor, in church-run boarding schools. “I believe Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry has the formula for bringing hope and new life to God’s children, one person at a time. Currently some 1,700 children are being sponsored in boarding schools run by Lutherans in India.

LPGM has taken its education work in southern India a step further by securing donors to equip libraries for 100 of the church-managed schools. Local committees were involved in selecting the books, and the purchases were made in India.

Lutheran Partners staffs a field office in India because of its substantial involvement there, but Gordon Olson emphasizes that that nation is far from the only focus of the group’s efforts. It has other major programs in Argentina and the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). And, since its inception, LPGM says it has worked in 10 countries, gotten 60 U.S. congregations involved, completed 30 projects, and reached about 5,000 individuals through several partnerships with churches and organizations, both nationally and internationally. Contributions to the organization have reached the $900,000-$1,000,000 range in each of the last three years.

Lutheran Partners selects its projects mainly through requests from indigenous church bodies in developing countries. It restricts itself to working with Lutherans, currently the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Most of the LPGM leaders are ELCA members, Olson said, but Lutheran Partners is recognized as an independent organization that the synod can work with but does not exercise control over.

The project LPGM is currently “most excited about,” Olson said, is construction of a health center in the community of Gallo in the Central African Republic, a country that has had little in the way of medical services in the past. Minnesota-based Global Health Ministries has taken the lead on the project, and LPGM is one of a group of “significant partners” involved, Olson explained.

“It’s a remarkable partnership, a collaborative effort,” Olson said. “We’re networking and gathering resources from all over the world.” He added, “That’s another strong point of Lutheran Partners. Whenever possible we like to work collaboratively. There’s a lot of strength in that and less limitation on resources.”

Somewhat ironically, it was a tragedy in the Central African Republic that led to the formation of Lutheran Partners. Tim Olson, son of Gordon and Betty Olson and an aspiring architect, had gone to Bangui, the capital city of the C.A.R., in 1991 to supervise construction of a Lutheran church. Tim was murdered by bandits as he and his girlfriend were returning from a short visit to a game preserve in the northern part of the country.

Construction of the church was completed under the supervision of a Minneapolis architect, Tim Dray. When the building was dedicated in January 1993 and named St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Gordon and Betty Olson flew to Bangui for the ceremony. It was a very emotional experience for them. “The Africans we met and the needs we encountered tugged at our hearts until we decided we could continue Tim’s passion for service by getting involved ourselves,” Betty Olson recalled. Creation of Lutheran Partners as a global-mission advocacy organization followed in 1995.

Now, 14 years later, Gordon Olson observes “I believe Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry has the formula for bringing hope and new life to God’s children, one person at a time. … We have no doubt that God has led Lutheran Partners in this very personal way of doing mission.”

Olson does not downplay the importance of the foreign mission work done by large synods. But, he said, “Often people are looking for a more intimate, more direct way to connect to missions so that they have an individual, meaningful experience. Through Lutheran Partners people can have a very special experience in missions.”

One element of the current LPGM capital campaign calls for hiring a new full- time executive director. Gordon Olson, now 67, would shift into a position as founding director, where he would assist with fund-raising, among other duties.

Recently, at the halfway point of the six-month fund drive, pledges for more than half of the $600,000 goal, payable over three years, had been received, Olson reported. He said he is “very hopeful” the goal will be reached by the end of the year, adding that current economic conditions have not seriously hampered the drive.