A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Spring 2013

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Alum Profile

Becoming globally informed

by Brian E. Konkol, '05

The Rev. Brian Konkol, '05

The Rev. Brian Konkol is a 2005 graduate of Luther Seminary. He is currently serving as co-pastor at Lake Edge Lutheran Church in Madison, WI. Previously, Konkol served as a Horizon Intern and pastor in Guyana (2003-04, 2005-07) and as the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission country coordinator in South Africa (2008-2012). Below, he names and reflects on three globally informed lessons that shape his new role as congregational pastor in North America.

In January of 2003, I was selected to serve as a Horizon Intern alongside the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guyana At that point I had never left the United States (and I was unsure of where Guyana was located). In spite of my initial ignorance and innocence, after a wonderful internship experience, a final year of coursework at Luther Seminary and ordination with the ELCA in June 2005, I was called back into service in Guyana with ELCA Global Mission and the result was several years of grace-filled global transformation.

Over the past nine years in Guyana and South Africa, I traveled thousands of miles, visited an assortment of countries, experienced various cultures, met a multitude of amazing people and experienced the love of God through sights and sounds that I never imagined possible when I first enrolled at Luther Seminary in the summer of 2001. I participated alongside global companions in hundreds of worship services and ceremonies, walked countless rural paths and urban streets, visited numerous homes and listened to people of diverse faith and cultural perspectives. At each step I tried to learn with humility, speak and act with boldness, follow the way of Jesus and hear God's voice in the midst of uncertainty and struggle. While it is impossible to summarize all I learned during my years of international service, the following is an attempt to apply three globally informed lessons to my new role as a congregational pastor in North America.

Wade Davis once remarked: "The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit."  I experienced many "models of reality" and "unique manifestations of the human spirit" through international service. As a result, when in contact with other cultures or traditions in North America, although an initial impulse may continue to be discomfort, I realize it is most often because of difference rather than wrongness. And so, in my new role I have tried to seek out diversity in our congregation and community, and in doing so move far past tolerance and more fully embrace the practice of inclusion.

The African philosophy of ubuntu states, "I am because we are," and thus affirms that a person is only a person through relationships with other people and the earth. While ubuntu affirms personal initiative and the ability to shape our contextual surroundings, it also acknowledges that relationships form existence, and connectedness is essential for the fullness of life.  In light of such thoughts, my experiences of ubuntu through global mission have shown that full independence is a myth, for while personal responsibility is important, we are intimately connected with all people throughout our local and global communities. As a result, in my new role I try to reveal, cultivate and transform the mass assortment of connections that inform, form and transform.

Throughout my time with ELCA Global Mission I was taught to be more aware of the diversity and connectedness of our global and local communities, and the result was an increased capacity to embody the gospel of Jesus Christ through an accompaniment of solidarity. In other words, I learned that I am not merely a U.S. citizen and an ELCA pastor, but I am a person of faith who is incorporated into the value, sacredness and dignity of life because we are members of a common humanity that is loved by a gracious God. As a result, in my new role I try to look past the borders and boundaries that often separate and embrace life in its fullness for all God has brought into being.

All together, instead of perceiving a return to North America as the conclusion of missionary service, through the lessons of diversity, connectedness and solidarity I recognize that I am actually taking on a different (and perhaps more challenging) missionary role. Through the countless faithful members of our global communion I was blessed to accompany, I was shown that everywhere is the "mission field," each day constitutes "mission trips" and every local missionary action has a deep and wide global mission reaction. And so, as my family and I continue our transition back to life and ministry in North America, I believe that our global missionary service has not concluded, but it has turned a new and exciting page. By God's grace we look forward to this new chapter as participants in God's mission.