Concordia University Wisconsin 2016 alumna Sarah Harms’ story reinforces the power of alumni connections.
It wasn’t until she heard a speaker from CUW that she learned of the Concordia University System. The talk was about the deaconess program, and she quickly realized this was something that she would be interested in doing.
Sarah gradually started to learn more about CUW. The pastor of her home congregation, Rev. Mark Hoehner, is a 1996 CUW alumnus and recommended Concordia to her. He told her it was the best theology program, and so she decided to check it out, scheduling a visit where she met Drs. Feiertag and Maschke. “CUW really has a robust program,” she said. “Everything just clicked into place. And Dr. Maschke told me I had no choice but to come here,” she added with a smile.
In 2013, she transferred to CUW as a sophomore, studying lay ministry and theology, with emphases in mission and evangelism. “There was an immediate sense of belonging,” she remembers. She threw herself into both school and extracurricular activities, becoming involved with student organizations that focused on missions. She eventually met with a recruiter from the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod Office of International Missions, who was, she recalls, “trying to convince me to become a missionary, but I’d already decided to do it.”
When she graduated in 2016 she became a rostered church worker, and received a call to become a Globally Engaged Outreach (GEO) Missionary. The process, though, is not an easy one. It involved reference letters from CUW, several interviews, a psychological evaluation, a theological test, leadership tests, and a background check. She also attended multiple days of missions orientation in St. Louis.
Her first deployment began in February 2017, when she was sent to the Czech Republic for a year and a half. While in the Czech Republic she worked with a local congregation to connect the community to the church, often using her ability to teach English as way to build relationships and create trust. She also recognized that “I’m not a permanent fixture. We want to connect people to the local church.”
Since returning from overseas in September, she has received a call to be a career missionary. She also visited several places for possible future work. She visited a major city in Eastern Europe this spring and noticed a “big need for someone to go” and serve there. After prayer, consideration, and contemplating advice, she eventually accepted the position there.
Since being back in the United States, she has been raising support and applying for a visa. Missionaries must raise the money for their work on their own, and she is in the process of meeting with organizations that have supported her in the past and connecting with new churches and individuals.
Throughout this process she has witnessed Concordians helping Concordians. Many of the churches she visits have direct connections with CUW, and her connections to people within the CUW community have helped her to meet other people and work with more churches.
One of her connections that began while at Concordia is with Rev. Dr. John Oberdeck. Now retired, he was the director of the Lay Ministry program and Sarah’s advisor while in school. Dr. Oberdeck (’70, ’72) and his wife Virginia (’72) are both Concordia alumni (who met each other while at Concordia), and Sarah stayed with them while she is in the area. Both are proud of her, they said, and “we want to support people who are doing things like this.” Dr. Oberdeck has been connecting her with different churches and pastors in the area, many of whom are CUW alumni.
Sarah has not forgotten where she comes from, either. She recently returned to campus to meet with Beautiful Feet, a student missions organization. Part of what she tells students is that Concordian connections are valuable and beneficial. As she puts it: “It’s important to build relationships with other students and instructors, so you’ll have those resources even when you are not in college. Capitalize on those things while you are in school.”
For more information on Sarah or to learn how to support her work, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is also available on the LCMS International Missions website. Click here to learn more about CUW’s Director of Church Ministries program, formerly the Lay Ministry program or contact Rev. Dr. Kurt Taylor at email@example.com.
–Alumnus Josiah Buss (’15) wrote this story.
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