The World Has Come to Our Backyard
Immanuel Lutheran Church has opened its Connections Café to Lindenwood students. It’s part of the outreach and international relations ministry the vicar and volunteers are building.
Vicar Micah Miller, 36, arrived at Immanuel Lutheran Church in August.
Miller is a third-year student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and is fulfilling his "vicarage," or field placement requirement at Immanuel.
When Miller met with the Rev. Scott Schmieding, senior pastor of Immanuel, he learned that a lot of his time would be developing outreach to Lindenwood University students specifically focusing on international students.
“As the Vicar, I said ‘Yes, sir!’” Miller said, with a smile and openness of a person ready to serve.
Opening the church Connections Café to the students one night a week is one part of this developing outreach.
The café is in the atrium of the church, and it is great space. It is attached to the church, not in the church. The skylight-filled roof curves out from a brick wall. It is an open room with conversational seating and tables.
The café offers free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate along with free homemade baked goods and free English-grammar tutoring. It's cool place with free stuff and no cover charge.
To quote Miller, “Did I mention that it was free?”
There is a large world map next to the coffee and cream. It is well marked with various colored push pins showing the home countries and cities of the Lindenwood students who have visited the Connections Café. Many countries in five continents have pins in them.
Miller said that there are more than 900 international students attending Lindenwood, which was confirmed with a visit to the webpage of the university’s Office of International Students and Scholars.
The country of Mongolia has the most pushpins.
“Mongolia?” I was surprised. In checking Google maps, I approximated 8,500 miles between St Charles and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia which is one of the locations marked with a push pin. That’s a long way from home.
Immanuel Church, however, is not far from the students’ Lindenwood campus home. It’s close enough, three or four blocks, for students to walk or bike.
It is an off-campus place students can get to without needing a car or public transportation. Students want to get out and about and did not travel from Japan, Mongolia, or South Africa to always stay on campus. Connections Café is an opportunity to go someplace and study or have a snack or meet some welcoming Americans who would really like to get to know them and be a friend to them.
Miller praised the outstanding volunteers from Immanuel who are committed to making the one-on-one connections with the students. Overall, Miller told me there are about 40 volunteers helping in some way with this outreach to the Lindenwood student community. The goal is “laser-focused relationship” with international students, Miller said.
As Miller and I were standing in front of the large map pondering the push pins, he made this profound statement, “The cool thing is that the ends of the earth are in our backyard.”
It is Acts 1:8 in reverse. As recorded in the Book of Acts, Jesus’ final words to his disciples were “And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (New Living Translation)
“We have the opportunity to share the love of Jesus with someone from another part of the world where the gospel can be hard to reach,” Miller said, genuine in his passion for this possibility.
Here in St. Charles we do not have to go out into all the world to be witnesses for Jesus. We have international students at Lindenwood.
I asked Miller what will happen to this outreach ministry when he finishes his vicarage next year.
“My goal this year is to build it up,” Miller told me.
Miller continued saying that this is a “long-term vision” of the church and he believes that it will carry on when he returns to seminary.
I believe that it will continue.
It is likely that the Thursday evening time may soon change to Sunday afternoon into early evening. This is a program in progress. What will remain is the basic foundation of intentional relational ministry.
This requires listening, flexibility, patience, time and humility. This is not for everyone.
But it is for some people, and I admire the passion the vicar and the volunteers have for this new challenge.