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Story Magazine

Third Quarter 2007

2008 Faithfulness in Ministry Cross Honorees

by Allison K. Schmitt, '07 M.A.

10 years or fewer:
Rev. Mary Fast, 2004
St John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Yutan, Neb.

How quickly did one Luther grad's ministry impact her community? Just look to the Rev. Mary Fast's surname for the answer. A 2004 Master of Theology graduate, Fast helped get Hudson Lutheran Church on a path to healing and "changed the face of Christian service in the Hudson community" within months of her arrival, according to Pastor Nathan Hanson, '84, who nominated Fast.

Located in Hudson, S.D., about 50 miles from Sioux Falls, the church faced challenges typical for small, rural congregations. High staff turnover, declining Sunday school enrollment and a divided membership faced Fast when she began her first call at Hudson in September 2004.

Under Fast's guidance, the church enlisted a team of counselors trained to work with ailing congregations. They emerged from the six-month program with a renewed sense of purpose and made a number of positive changes.

"These adjustments challenged both the members of the congregation and their pastor to move forward together in faith and trust," Hanson said.

Most visible of these changes was eliminating Sunday school in favor of a weeknight church school program. In the traditional format, teachers sometimes outnumbered students. But after adopting "rotation curriculum"
and moving to Wednesday nights, attendance tripled.

Fast has proven her leadership gifts outside church walls as well. Many low-income Sioux Falls residents work multiple jobs, yet cannot afford food for midday meals. So Fast brought together clergy and community leaders to create Lunch is Served Inc., a project of the Sioux Falls Ministerial Association that provides free sack lunches for day laborers who might otherwise go without. Fast is now pastor of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Yutan, Neb., where she was called in Oct. 2006.

25 years or fewer:
Rev. Mark Brown, 1982
Lutheran World Federation, Jerusalem

If the Rev. Mark Brown had intended to get in the middle of an intractable problem, he could have done no better. As regional representative for Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Jerusalem, Brown negotiates the complex politics of the region while providing medical and other services to Palestinians.

Brown is responsible for Augusta Victoria Hospital, a humanitarian project of the LWF since 1950. It is the primary medical facility for Palestinians living in Israel's West Bank. The hospital, hostage to the political winds of Israel and the institution's donor countries, faces continuous financial challenges. Further, the Israeli government's concrete security wall makes reaching the hospital difficult for employees and patients.

"Despite the complex legal issues, Brown has worked cooperatively and creatively to give the hospital a viable future," wrote Professor Craig Koester, '80, in nominating Brown for the award.

Brown also runs a job-training program for Palestinians, manages a LWF olive grove and is exploring ways to provide affordable housing in Jerusalem.

"In a region divided by political and religious disputes, the need for such humanitarian work is crucial," Koester said.

Wrote Pastor Said Ailabouni, '79, of Nazareth, "Mark has been a prophetic voice in the ELCA and globally regarding the need for a just resolution of the Middle East conflict. He refused to be quiet even when it was not popular to speak on behalf of the Palestinians."

"I give thanks to God for the gift of Mark Brown, who has been a faithful advocate on behalf of the oppressed and a champion for the poor and powerless," wrote Ailabouni.

More than 25 years:
Rev. Simon Lee, (Simon
Wing-Shing), 1978
Chinese Lutheran Church of Honolulu, Honolulu, Hawaii

When the Rev. Simon Lee joined the Chinese Lutheran Church of Honolulu in the early 1980s, it was a small Mandarin-speaking congregation. Today, nearly 400 attend its weekly Mandarin, Cantonese and English services. It is the largest Christian church in Hawaii. It is also the largest Chinese Lutheran church in North America despite economic conditions in Honolulu that contribute to constant membership turnover.

Though he is responsible for a large congregation, Lee cares for the individual. In his letter of support, the Rev. Tony Wong, '99, described Lee's help when Wong's college roommate from Hong Kong fell into legal trouble.

"It was a scary moment for my roommate as he was alone in this ountry,"Wong said. Pastor Lee accompanied my roommate to the court proceedings, thus "providing pastoral care during this critical time in his life."

Indeed, Lee's shared experience as a minority has allowed him to "provide vision and purpose to many immigrants who have faced similar circumstances," wrote nominator Rev. Duain Vierow.

Under Lee's leadership, the congregation moved from borrowed quarters to a new three-story building on a half-acre. Not long after he visited China, Lee spearheaded efforts to raise more than $120,000 to build a new sanctuary for a Lutheran church there. His work also includes writing books and translating English books into Chinese.

Lee has had a role in shaping future church leaders as well. Nearly 20 members of his church have attended seminary at his encouragement. Among
them are five Luther graduates.

Is there someone whose ministry has inspired you? Download a nomination form at Nominations are due Aug. 3, 2008.

Questions? Contact Mary Steeber at or 651-641-3596.

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