Deaconesses Bring Message of Hope in Thailand, Kenya, and the Dominican Republic March 22, 2024

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

In Lutheran congregations around the world, pastors have their people’s eyes and ears as they preach on Sunday morning, teach Bible lessons, visit the sick and guide the activities of the church. But behind the scenes, quietly and often in the shadows, operates another vital member of the Body of Christ: the deaconess.

Deaconesses (theologically trained women who do mercy work, spiritual care and teaching of women and children) are becoming increasingly common not only here in the United States, but also in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America — and for good reason.

“A deaconess is a mother figure, a care figure in the congregation,” said Danelle Schumann, an LCMS deaconess who trains new deaconesses throughout Central and South America. “She is the eyes and ears of the pastor, sometimes getting a different perspective than the pastor might be able to get in a certain situation. She can be a mediator, a bridge between the community and the church. She helps the pastor know what’s going on in the congregation for the sake of being able to take care of the people.”

And just like pastors, Lutheran deaconesses in places like Thailand, Kenya and the Dominican Republic rely on LHF books to share the Word of God in the languages their people can read and understand.

Thailand: Deaconess Esther Temsakun

“I have been a deaconess for 20 years,” reflected Esther (pictured at left). “Deaconesses are important in the Thailand Concordia Lutheran Church because God calls us to support His pastors and deacons as helpers, especially with Sunday school and ministries to women.”

In her role, Esther takes care of church accounting work and helps to organize teaching seminars throughout Thailand. But sharing LHF’s Bible storybooks (such as the Thai A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories and Bible Stories in Pictures, below) with children has a special place in her heart.

“I made connections with a friend who works in Christian ministry in an area of the [remote northern] villages where there has been a lot of drug problems,” Esther shared. “This rehab center, which is certified by the government, has a good reputation for helping people who want to stop being addicts. Most of the people at the rehab center are young, both male and female, and they have become Christian. A church was founded nearby to provide support for the villagers who were affected by drugs, or who were widows, single moms, or orphans whose parents had died because of their drug use.”

The pastor of that church invited Esther’s husband, Rev. Niran Temsakun, to come preach. Rev. Temsakun and Esther gladly answered his call, bringing along many Bible storybooks and Small Catechisms.

“I love LHF books so much because every book is an efficient, powerful tool for Christianity in Thailand, a Buddhist country where we have just 0.7% Christians,” Esther said. “I always use LHF books to teach Sunday school and to train other Sunday school teachers. God has given LHF the opportunity to distribute LHF books in orphan care dormitories, drug rehab centers, government Buddhist schools, immigration centers and more. They are very useful for growing in the faith.”

Kenya: Deaconess Christine Ouko

“Diaconal work (the work of deaconesses) was founded on the basis of the neglect of Greek widows in Acts 6,” explains Christine Ouko (pictured at right), deaconess and deaconess instructor at Neema Theological Lutheran Seminary in Kenya. Similar to Biblical times, “certain voices [in the African context] are ignored in Churches and in society. Such voices include those of the widows, orphans, the vulnerable, and those who are infected and affected with HIV/AIDS,” she went on. “Poverty has pervaded many families, and the root causes include ethnic conflicts, civil war, natural disasters and pandemics.”

In these kinds of situations, Christine and other African Lutheran deaconesses “provide unconditional love and care for those who are suffering, pointing them to Christ Jesus,” she said. “Through this, the needy people get to experience God’s love, His promises of hope and a future according to Jeremiah 29:11 (quoted above).”

Christine’s days are filled with teaching women’s Bible studies, mentoring boys and girls in Kenya’s Lutheran high schools, and visiting the sick, hospitalized and imprisoned. She also does group and individual Christian counseling and assists the pastor with teaching confirmation.

In each situation, LHF books are a useful resource.

“For example, the ‘What About’ series is very useful for teaching high school students about topics like abortion and homosexuality,” she said. “The Small Catechism is necessary for confirmation class and to teach women on how to give Biblical instructions to their little children in their families. LHF books are a sure way of keeping Lutheran doctrine unadulterated!”

Dominican Republic: Deaconess Danelle Schumann

Danelle Schumann (pictured at left) began her work as a career missionary for the LCMS in 1999, sent to the Dominican Republic (DR) to help with church planting and to work with people with developmental disabilities. Fast forward nearly 25 years, and she’s done all that and more.

In 2015, Danelle completed her deaconess studies at Concordia Theological Seminary and returned to the DR, this time with a plan to begin a deaconess training program at Concordia the Reformer Seminary. Not knowing what to expect, the seminary team was surprised and pleased to have 99 women from 5 countries complete the 3-year program. Women from more than 9 countries are now enrolled in the second cohort.

“A lot of pastors in South and Central America are worker-priests, so they have full-time jobs plus their congregation work,” Danelle explained. “This program has organized the deaconesses so we can support our pastors. We have women who are 18 years old and others as old as 75! For each deaconess, her goal is to help connect people to the church and to their pastor for pastoral care, with the goal of them coming into the family of God through Christian instruction, receiving the Means of Grace for forgiveness of their sins.”

Like many other conservative cultures around the world, Danelle finds that deaconesses in Central and South America can sometimes go into places the pastors can’t immediately go.

“Culturally, it’s not very well looked upon to have men in the company of women until trust is built,” she said, “so deaconesses will accompany their pastors on visits.”

Along the way, LHF’s Spanish-language books are vital to the deaconesses’ work. “LHF’s Spanish Bibles are used everywhere, in all the churches, and it’s what we use for our classes,” she said. “In our most recent course, we studied the Divine Service and had the new Himnario Luterano open, learning how to use the hymnal so they could, in turn, teach others. And of course, the children’s Bible storybooks (A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories) get around everywhere, in Sunday schools, after-school tutoring programs, and literacy classes.”

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