Sacramental Theology Amidst Delicious Tortillas With a Little Lefse on the Side
For the last twenty years, Pastor Philip Gagnon from St. Albert’s Lutheran Church of Alberta, Canada has been leading mission trips from congregations in the greater Edmonton area to Ensenada, Mexico. Ensenada is a city on the Baja California peninsula located about two hours south of San Diego. These folks who travel to Ensenada call their work “Mission 2 Mexico.” Leading this year’s team was Pastor Karl Johnsen of Calvary Lutheran Church of Edmonton. Both pastors are leaders of the North American Lutheran Church in Canada (NALC-Canadian Mission District).
From their numerous times collaborating with local ministries, Mission 2 Mexico has made contact with Pastors Carlos and Mirella Flores who serve two local congregations named El Shaddai and Yahweh. As part of their service work, Mission 2 Mexico constructs houses for those most in need in the area. The Flores’ identify who could most benefit and the folks from Alberta build a house (or even two) each trip. Those who will soon have a new home contribute their sweat equity to the project.
Besides appreciating the distribution of resources from Mission 2 Mexico, Pastors Carlos and Mariella discovered a kinship when these Canadian pastors preached and their team members shared. This husband and wife team had been ministering in a Pentecostal denomination but had become dissatisfied with the increasing popularity of prosperity theology in their circles and were searching for something else. When the Flores’ encountered these Lutherans, they told these Canadians, “We didn’t realize that we are Lutherans. But what we can understand when you folks preach, this is also what we believe.”
Consequently, two years ago, Pastors Gagnon and Johnsen used their limited Spanish to teach the Flores’ by studying El catecismo menor de Martín Lutero. While progress was made, all involved desired to secure a Spanish-speaking instructor. Pastor Gagnon then, contacted the dean of students at ILT, Pastor Tim Swenson, to inquire about possibilities. The dean pointed them to Pastor Carl Fiskness. Carl was an undergraduate Spanish major and has taught high school Spanish in addition to serving as a pastor in English-speaking congregations for a dozen years in Minnesota.
After arriving, Carl taught Mirella and Carlos from La confesión de augsburgo. From this instruction, spirited conversation ensued as they dug deeper about what it means to be a Lutheran in a context that is overwhelmingly Catholic and Pentecostal. Mirella exclaimed in joy, “All I knew before about the doctrine of predestination is either you are a Calvinist or an Arminian. How great that the Lutheran teaching is what I had always believed but could not express! “
Besides working with these pastors seeking certification, along with their congregations, into the NALC, Carl also gave instruction to fifteen Pentecostal Bible School students. For the last decade, Mission 2 Mexico has also developed connections with Bethel Bible College in the neighboring city of Maneadero. The Mission 2 Mexico teams have rented out the campus during the school’s summer break while also partnering with them in teaching VBS and building homes in the neighborhood.
From this relationship, the director of the Bible School, Pastor Margarito Niño, came to the conclusion that these Lutherans had something to teach their institution about early church history and Lutheranism in particular. Consequently, he invited them to bring an instructor who could lecture in Spanish. Therefore, Carl also led sessions with these young people, most of them aged 19-21. These young folks displayed enthusiasm and asked good questions as they were learning. Some of their newer teachers and pastors sat in on the sessions, as well. It was a mutually enjoyable time. Carl particularly enjoyed exposing an unfamiliar song to them, <<Un castillo fuerte es nuestro Dios>> which English speakers know as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Also as part of the experience, Carl preached in Spanish on Sunday morning at the Ensenada Rhema Bible Church, one of the congregations begun from the graduates of Bethel.
This experience of Carl’s took place from July 3 to July 9, 2019. The Canadian volunteers were thoughtful enough to acknowledge their lone traveler from the United States in their group on his country’s Independence Day. Carl thanked them and remarked that it felt a little strange to be outside the USA on the 4th of July with Canadians in Mexico and even having the chance to speak a little Norwegian down there. (One of the Canadian volunteers, Terje, was born in Norway and emigrated to Canada in his early adult years.) God is truly doing exciting things though these North American connections. As we would say in ILT, “This is theophysical causality as observed in multiple languages.” Pastor Carl Fiskness is a LCMC and NALC pastor who is presently serving Green Lake Lutheran Church (AFLC) of Spicer, MN. He is also a student in the Master of Sacred Theology program through ILT, is a substitute teacher and has a four-year-old daughter named Greta.