Legumes such as lentils are an essential part of the East African diet. There is little surprise why this is the case: they’re nutritious, filling, long-lasting, and cheap. But would you ever see legumes as agents for mission? Never underestimate the mission potential of the humble lentil!
In October 2021, the Shepparton community was hit hard by the Delta Covid outbreak in Victoria. At one stage, a third of the city was in hard quarantine, and essential services like supermarkets were struggling to keep up. Many people were hungry, helpless, and alone. The lockdowns were felt keenly by African members of St Paul’s Lutheran Church, who were cut off from their usual lines of support: family, community, and church. As a congregation, we did our best to attend to the physical and spiritual needs of our members under these very difficult circumstances. One of the only ways we could do this within the pandemic restriction was by delivering care packages of culturally appropriate food items, including lentils. Unfortunately, a lot of the food delivered by Foodbank and other support agencies was unfamiliar to African people, and being able to deliver legumes and other more familiar foodstuffs not only fed the belly, but also the heart. It also gave us an opportunity to pray with people, satisfying the needs of the soul as well.
But where do you get large quantities of lentils in the middle of a pandemic? It was at this point that I rang Gavin Schuster, a farmer from Freeling, South Australia and a member of the Light Lutheran Church. He put out the request to other members of his church, and although nobody had any lentils available, they quickly resolved to send a generous amount of money to enable us to purchase legumes locally to us.
It was soon after this that we invited Light Lutheran Church to consider entering into a mission partnership with the Goulburn Murray Lutheran Parish. For the last six years, the Goulburn Murray Parish has been blessed by the ministry of Kathleen Mills, a trained deaconess from the USA who has been instrumental with mercy ministry work amongst the Shepparton African community. Her position has previously been funded by a generous grant from the LCA Board for Local Mission, but this funding came to an end in May 2022. With the assistance of Craig Heidenreich, the LCA’s Cross Cultural Ministry Facilitator, and Brett Kennett, LCAVD Pastor for Congregational Support, we have been looking to establish mission partnerships. While financial support is an important element of these partnerships, the desire is to see them as mutually beneficial by providing opportunities for prayer, sharing of skills and experience in cross-cultural ministry, and mutual encouragement.
On the 31st July 2022, a delegation from St Paul’s Shepparton visited Light Lutheran Church for a mission festival held in Freeling. Members of the St Paul’s African choir sang, Deaconess Kathleen Mills shared a presentation on her work in the Goulburn Murray Parish, and representatives of Light Lutheran Church and the Goulburn Murray Parish signed an MOU signifying the relationship between the two church bodies. We wrapped the festival up with a sumptuous meal provided by our hosts, and more singing from the choir. It was a very joyful and encouraging start to the partnership, and we look forward to seeing it grow and develop over the coming years.
You may be interested to know how Light Lutheran Church is raising the funds to support mission. Well, some innovative farmers in the church received permission to crop a plot of government land on the condition that they use the profits for charitable purposes. Last year, they got a bumper crop that earned four times what they expected. What did they grow? Lentils, of course!
Pr Matthias Prenzler, Goulburn Murray Lutheran Parish