Mercy and the Gospel

Daniel Fickenscher

Consider these two scenarios. First, a pastor walking down the street comes across a five-year-old homeless boy who looks hungry and threadbare. The pastor tells him, “You’re a sinner, but your sins are forgiven! You have been given the gift of eternal life through Christ’s death on the cross.” The pastor then goes on his way.

Second, a 4’11”, redheaded girl from a small town Michigan is trekking through a wave of dark Peruvians in a dusty slum of Lima. It’s the sort of neighborhood where locals warn passersby like her, in a language that she is just barely grasping, to be careful.

Does one of these seem more familiar or recognizable to Lutherans?

While the first scenario sounds pretty “Lutheran” is there anything missing? When there’s a clear proclamation of Law and Gospel, what more could you ask for?

Well, Caitlin Worden, the 4’11” Michigander, could tell you what would make it better. Worden is serving The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod in an internship in Lima as part of her deaconess studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. Her role is to provide exactly what is missing from the first scenario: mercy. She servers as the director of Castillo Fuerte, the mission’s mercy house.

Castillo Fuerte serves at risk youth in the La Victoria district of Lima. Several of the community’s children return home from school to an empty house as their parents work long hours in a nearby market. With no supervision, they’re left to wander the crime-ridden streets.

Before Worden’s arrival, the mission team recognized La Victoria’s apparent need, so they went to the government to inquire about using a park to host activities. It turned out that the government had paid so little attention to the neighborhood that it didn’t even know the park existed. Since then, a building just a block from the park has been acquired where Worden and the Peruvian staff look after and tutor the kids on weekdays. On Saturdays they host escuelita, a Sunday-School-like program.

While this sounds like a great idea for serving these youth in need, why aren’t the resources that are being used for Castillo Fuerte being put towards a new congregation, a new Word-and-Sacrament ministry, in Peru? Why mess around with an after-school program?

As it turns out, Worden and the staff often have the opportunity to teach Christ to the children through the inclusion of prayers and Bible stories in the program even as they care for the earthly needs of the children and their families. Their mercy work is a reflection of Christans who have been “loved much” loving much.” (Luke 7:40ff).

Rev. Matthew Harrison writes in Theology for Mercy, “Lives that have received mercy (grace!) cannot but be merciful toward the neighbor (love!). Thus the merciful washing of baptism (Rom. 6:1ff) produces merciful living (Rom. 7:4-6). In absolution, the merciful word of the gospel begets merciful speaking and living (Matt. 18:21ff).”

As wonderful as it is that Worden and the staff are serving their neighbors’ earthly needs, she is careful to point out, “If you only are doing mercy work, and you’re not sharing with them the hope that salvation brings, and the hope, the light of the Gospel, then all you’re giving them is a social ministry. It’s only for the here and now, for this life.”

Thanks be to God, the mission team is doing much more than just a social ministry. Rev. Mark Eisold is currently preaching and administering the Sacraments in two congregations, and the upcoming arrival of two new pastors will allow for the start of a Word-and-Sacrament ministry one floor below Castillo Fuerte! Join the team in giving thanks for the soon pairing of works of mercy with Christ’s Word and Sacraments in La Victoria.

While we are grateful for their willingness to serve the Lord far from home, it certainly doesn't take a passport to act with mercy. Ask your pastor how you can help meet the heavenly and earthly needs of those around you. The same death and resurrection that gives us eternal life also gives us new hearts that desire to serve those in need and to show mercy, whether to those in need on the other side of the world or to the kid across the street.

Daniel Fickenscher is enjoying serving as a Globally Engaged in Outreach missionary with The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. He resides in the Dominican Republic and serves as the communication specialist for the Latin America and Caribbean regions. He keeps Lutherans in the US up to date with what LCMS mission and sister churches are doing throughout Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Spain.

You can learn more about the work being done in the Dominican Republic by watching this video on Castillo Fuerte or checking our their Facebook page.

Created: July 2nd, 2014