Bishop Michael Rinehart


April 2011

Rush hour in Africa


Interesting Day. After breakfast of scrambled eggs and papaya, we went to chapel. A passionate deaconess was preaching Christ’s call to be peacemakers.

After chapel we met with LCL Admin Staff and then got a Tour of Lutheran Church of Liberia ministries at the Lutheran Compound.

President Sumoward Harris. Done 2012.
Treasurer George
Special Assistant Peter Kpakala
Auntie Mae, Accountant
Marlane, the bishop’s secretary
James, General Secretary
Peter, Special Assistant to the Bishop

We learned that there are 300 congregations in the Lutheran Church of Liberia. They are divided into 48 parishes, comprised of around six congregations each. There are 50 pastors, so only enough pastors for each parish of six congregations. So they ordain deacons who celebrate the sacrament. All Liberian congregations have communion on the first Sunday of the month, always the most-attended Sunday. They also have evangelists who meet with small groups and do revivals to revitalize the church. Pastors here make $150/month if they are in sizable congregations. Some pastors don’t get paid much of anything.

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, where I’m preaching Sunday is the site of the worst massacre in Liberia’s history.

During the early days of the Liberian-Civil war, thousands of Gio and Mano Liberians had traveled to Monrovia, many on foot. On their arrival to Monrovia, they took refuge in the Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in Sinkor, Monrovia.

On the night of July 29, 1990, Doe’s soldiers walked along the beach to Sinkor. They entered the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on the corner of 12th Street and Tubman Blvd, about 7:00 PM. I’m staying a few blocks away.

There were over 200 soldiers from the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), headed by an infamous Liberian named Charles Julu. That night the soldiers executed them in the church. When the soldiers were done and the screams were silenced, 600 Liberians had been slaughtered and 150 others wounded during this one night in Liberia’s History. It is reported that President Samuel Doe stood by and watched as the massacre of 600 people took place, mostly with machetes.

One cannot preach a trite sermon in such a church. A plastic gospel will just distance us. Only a theology of the cross will do. The sermon has yet to take form. We’ll see…

The staff told me there are now 15 counties. The country is growing and so is the church. The recovery is still in progress. Many churches, church schools and church hospitals were burned to the ground. Charred remains of buildings pop up as we drive around town.

As they talk I sense the trauma. There was much brutality in the war. many women were raped and killed. Family members were forced to watch. Pastor Emmanuel Jackson sitting next to me on the couch said there was tremendous temptation for many children to join the army. “At least then you would have a gun in your hand and could protect your family.”

After the war 75% voted for forgiveness over retribution. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established, but the results were inconclusive. Unlike the TRC in South Africa led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Liberian TRC, led by a lawyer, never required perpetrators to face their accusers. They were interviewed privately, but they lied and downplayed their crimes. Today soldiers who committed atrocities are motorcycle taxis along the main road, Tubman. as I walk down the street, people are cautious. Women do not make eye contact.

When I asked, “What now defines you, your work?” the Bishop answered, “Peace-building. We have nothing if we do not have peace.” This work is not theoretical. It is not an over-spiritualized peaceful, easy feelin’. This is a life and death effort to rebuild the very fabric of a society. The church has an important role. Liberia is a country of former child soldiers who have seen horrific things. “If we don’t show them another way to make a living, they will return to their former life.” Economic development and education are absolutely critical.

This facility was home to the Lutheran World Federation Trauma Center after the war. Now it houses a host of other ministries which we set out to see.

We first visited the Director of Women’s Ministries. They grow women spiritually through retreats. They appear to be self funded through a farming coop.

Pastor Weegie is the Program Director for their Trauma, Healing and Reconciliation Program. They continue the work of healing after the atrocities of the war. Lots of work helping people cope and put their lives back together.

We learned about their Urban Ministry Department, led by Pastor and Evangelist Emmanuel Stevens. He works with young men in the city, at risk, tempted by gangs. He also works with prostitutes, helping them find a better life. There are a lot of raped women putting their lives back together. This ministry grew out of a ministry at St. Peter’s, helping kids orphaned by the war. They work closely with a vocational school.

Joseph Binda leads LDS: The Lutheran Development Service of Liberia. Helping people and families become economically sustainable is life and death. You can’t address spiritual needs without addressing physical ones. Maslow.

Moses runs the LCL HIV/AIDS and STD Control Program. Moses had to run out so Philip walked us through it. He was passionate and articulated a clear mission, core values and goals. The infection rate is down considerably, to 1.5%. Their work is around encouraging the use of condoms (quite controversial), encouraging HIV testing (you can’t prevent or heal if you don’t know), and helping people already infected to get care.

I haven’t finished writing up my reflections about The Central African Republic, but to foreshadow, I’m enjoying being in a place where the church is growing, and amazed that these growing churches, don’t spend a lot of energy training for worship. Worship happens with incredible vibrancy. They spending their time caring for people at every level of need. They make no apologies for social ministry or social justice.

For lunch we walked over to the Bangladeshi restaurant next to the Lutheran Center. Curried rice with fish. Excellent. Mango juice. Ate with Pastor Emmanuel and two of his brothers Francis and Clah, and Pr Emmanuel Stevens.

After lunch we visited St. Andrews Lutheran Church and School. Great kids. They met Emmanuel and I at the door of the church and a girl welcomes us with bouquets of flowers. Then Emmanuel and I walked down the aisle together with flowers. Weird. 🙂

Then St. Matthews Lutheran, the fastest growing church . Their choir was praying and fasting. Thy sang for us. Outstanding. Then Trinity Lutheran, a tribal church. Older folks, but they too sang and danced. Internet too slow to load video, but incredible choir.

For dinner we headed to a place we read about on the airplane: Jamal’s. Jamal is a Lebanese dude who has a restaurant here, but he lives in the Heights of Houston. We visited with him at length. His wife is an emergency doc at Ben Taub. Go and figure. Great food. Get the Masshawi.


Sorry to be so quiet. Been in Africa, visiting Cameroon, the Central African Republic and tomorrow Liberia.

I can’t say thank you enough for your support of the Gallo Clinic (my birthday wish). I will blog more when I return. Having business the clinic for the first time, I understand the work even more clearly. I am moved beyond words at this point.

FYI, the second picture shows the cart the pastors use to transport the sick from the many remote villages to the Gallo clinic.

17% of all children die before age 5. Dr. Christa (German) told us she tests every person who come through the clinic for malaria. She records an 80% infection rate.


Michael Rinehart, bishop
Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
12941 1-45 North Freeway, Suite #210
Houston, TX 77060-1243

5/1/11 is Easter 2A

Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,Mike Rinehart

May 1, 2011 – 2nd Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Visible Sign of an Invisible Hand

Here’s last year’s post on Quasi Modo Sunday/Doubting Thomas:

Thomas’ story is our story. One day in our lives an event takes place. I promise. This happens to all who are open to the Spirit. Something amazing happens, and we suddenly, unexpectedly feel the presence of Christ. Like Thomas, we encounter Jesus in the midst of unimaginable grief. A word of Scripture. The touch of a friend. A word from a stranger. A miraculous series of events.

It is an event of unexpected grace. And the child within us emerges from those deep dark recesses, and we stare him – we stare her – straight in the face, surprised. It is a resurrection of sorts. The ancient Christian mystics used to call it a "breakthrough." You cannot return to the naivete of your youth, but the bitterness of the present has also subsided. You are now at a new place, one where you believed you could never go.

In this new place, doubt and faith coexist. They are two sides of one coin. Doubt is evidence that faith is living.

Not optimism. Not pessimism. But realism, with an inexplicable hope. This is what Jesus brings to us. The cross, but also the resurrection.

Visible evidence of an invisible hand.

Gentle reminders that dreams are not just for children, and hope is not just for fools.

Doubt is real. It’s a sign that our faith has moved beyond proposition and we are really trying to get to the bottom of things. It’s not a deal-breaker. In fact, in Matthew 28 it says the disciples doubted. Jesus went ahead and sent them anyway.

And so, when you doubt, like Thomas, watch out. It is a sure-fire sign that Jesus is about to appear. And hope is going to break through the clouds of your storm-tossed life, unexpectedly, with new life.

Be at peace with God and with one another,

Michael Rinehart, Bishop



doubting thomas

Health Assessment due April 30

Prayer List

Lectionary Readings


April 14-30 – Synod delegation to the Evangelial Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic

Thursday, April 28 – Pete Steinke to speak at Metro Houston Ministerium (MHM). 11:45-1:15 at Christ the King, Houston. (MHM includes the four Houston ministriums: Central, North, West and Southeast).

May 7 –Lutherans Restoring Creation at Covenant Houston, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

May 20-22 – Synod Assembly

June 24-July 3 — Peru Trip to congregation in Huacho, and Rainforest

June 26-30 – Disciple Project at Texas Lutheran University

July 21-30 – Intergenerational Peru Trip. Register NOW

August 14-20 – Churchwide Assembly

Leadership Gatherings

(Saturday only this year):
August 6 – Houston
August 13 – Brenham
August 27 – New Orleans

October 10-19 – Israel Trip

(Led by Pastor Steve Quill)

Brochure Registration

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Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod | 12941 1-45 North Freeway, Suite #210 | Houston | TX | 77060


4/24/11 is Easter Day

Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,April 24, 2011 – Easter Day

Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10

Hope and The Lord of the Last Laugh

At this point today we are in the Central African Republic finally. After 20+ hours of flying and 8+ hours of driving on dirt roads, hopefully we have arrived. Keep us in prayer as we worship and pray with Lutheran Christians so very far away, that something of their evangelistic spirit might seep into the bones of our staunch Lutheran delegation, and that we might be a blessing to them as well.

When Walter Brueggemann led Bible study for the ELCA bishops last month he spoke of God as “the Lord of Last Laugh.”

Drawing upon Psalm 30, he spoke of the God who turns mourning into dancing. Weeping may tarry for a moment, but joy comes in the morning.

This word of hope is hard to hear in our culture of death. We are caught in the “data of despair, a narrative of death, a military consumerism that promotes greed and anxiety. We live in a culture of Orange Alert,” Brueggemann said, his 80-year-old voice belting it out with his arms waving.

Into this world the church is called to proclaim a narrative of hope: a remembered story of bodily reality and holy mystery. We proclaim this hope not as a pollyanna message that denies suffering and death, but rather as a counter message in the face of honest dismay, as the psalmist.

The pastor sings a song that encourages the community of faith to lose themselves in praise and hope. We do not deny our suffering. We embrace a reality much larger and more powerful than anything the world can dole out. Hope then becomes something palpable, and present. Jurgen Moltmann says hope is not another world in the sky, but one right in front of us.

The psalmist, even in the throes of grief, refuses to accept his current circumstances as permanent. Hope is engaging in a life and death struggle with the Holy. This is not an alien thing. It is in fact the most human of actions. Hope is prayer. Prayer is hope.

“Our prayers are simply too domesticated,” said Brueggemann. We pray polite prayers and express polite hope, except when we’re really in deep, deep trouble. Then our prayers get the most real.

Who hopes? Everyone. Hope is an intractable human action. People who are in trouble pray even if they have not been to church. Even if they do not believe in God. These may be the most honest and heartfelt prayers that are ever prayed.

The psalmist (David) is a Jew performing the narrative of hope. Interacting with the divine. The Jews gave us this narrative. Rome was a hopeless narrative about power and power alone. The psalmist cries out to God, because of hope.

Pharoah does not want hope. He does not want the people to cry out. Power brokers silence hope through violence, force, seduction, oppression, law, manipulation, but every silencer learns that silence cannot prevail. Every Herod, every Pharoah, every Hitler learns that in time hope wins out. When silence is broken, newness can emerge. Prayer and hope are the fuel of the kingdom of God.

As a people of the resurrection, we are a people of hope. We point beyond the grave. We point to a vision within this life, and beyond this life. Death does not have the final word. There is more to life than meets the eye.

The church proclaims a narrative of hope, not despair — a narrative of joy in the midst of sorrow. The resurrection does not negate the horror of the cross, but it gives us what we need to get through: Hope.

Many people belive this to be the “Place of the Skull” in Jerusalem because of the skull-like rock formation
This is the garden tomb, not far away, to which people have made pilgrimage for centuries, believing it to be the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection


Be at peace with God and with one another,Michael Rinehart, Bishop



Someone asked about objectives in our relationship with the Central African Republic.

We believe that we are stronger together. We believe that we are poorer without these bilateral relationships. We need them. And they need us.

This country has an average life expectancy of 45. Most are hungry. We live in one of the richest countries in the world.

“But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his brother or sister in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?” -1 John 3:17

We know helping others won’t get us to heaven. It’s not like that. It’s more like, we really love and care about these people. Why? I don’t know. The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Why do people have consciences? Why do some not have them? Why do some have more than others? I can’t answer that question, but I do sense that constant immersion into the gospel of Jesus has reinforced and built up that love over the years. We almost cannot not care. We have to. Come what may.

From a very personal standpoint, seeing Christianity in a different world, stripped of its American cultural trappings, reveals the heart of Christianity. I don’t think I can see Christianity clearly without cross pollination. Our gospel is too enmeshed with our cultural biases. Immersions recalibrate my faith, my vision, my worldview and my materialism.

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