Executive Director’s Message

April 2017

Celebrating 20 Years – A View on Our Beginnings

God is the Master of Relationships! 

My name is Jon Gerdts and I am thrilled to be the new Executive Director for STEMM, but I am not new to STEMM by any means!  Let me tell you a bit of my story.

Before I ever met my wife of 38 years, Jocelyn, she had been praying that she would meet a red-head who would go with her on the mission field!  To keep this short, we met, we got married, and 2½ years into our marriage, with a 1½ year old son, we went off to Tanzania to spend a year for an overseas internship for seminary!  We were hoping to find our way back there after completing seminary but that was not to be and we ended up taking a call to northwestern South Dakota, sharing with people around the synod about missions and Tanzania while not traveling outside of the U.S. for over 5 years.  We began to wonder what this call into missions was all about and what God may have intended, but then things began to change!

We took a call to a congregation in Albert Lea, MN, and the call to missions had come alive again.  We began taking groups out on the mission field through short-term mission outreach experiences.  It was so exciting introducing people to life beyond the USA and to the power and presence of God that is discovered when we move outside of our own little “comfort zones” where we have everything we need, to go and serve God and to represent God and His Kingdom in places where comfort and security and abundance are not the norm!  We saw and experienced God working and moving in such powerful ways!  It was literally life-changing for so many who went.  God loves revealing Himself in ever new ways if we will just position ourselves in such a way that we realize our need of Him, especially when that need arises in our desire to serve others.  Missions was re-emerging as a central focus for our lives.

So, 3½ years later, now with four kids of our own, we had another decision to make.  I ended up receiving two calls at once to serve as a pastor; one at Uhuru Highway Church in Nairobi, Kenya, through World Mission Prayer League, and the other to a large congregation in Sioux City, IA called Morningside Lutheran Church.  If this was indeed a call back into missions, then there was no doubt that Kenya was where we needed to go – at least that’s what I had reasoned.  How could accepting a call at Morningside Lutheran Church, MLC, have anything to do with missions?  Was the call to a “big church” just a distraction from serving God on the mission field?  Yes, we would have to either homeschool our kids in Kenya, or send them off to boarding school, but we were ready to accept the cost if this was where God was calling us.

For 30 long days we wrestled back and forth with what it seemed that God might be saying and how we should respond!  And then when the time for a decision finally came, Jocelyn said to me, “Hon, it’s your call.  You decide and whatever choice you make, I will be with you.”  That was encouraging!  Still I struggled before finally making a decision.   “We are going back to Africa!”  Jocelyn responded; “I can’t do it!”  “Okay, we are going to Sioux City, then!”  And off we went – just slightly convinced that we may have let God down a little and wondering how the whole mission thing could possibly fit in with a call to Sioux City, Iowa!

{Seriously, I believe that God would have honored either decision.  It was not that one decision was right and the other wrong, but rather, how God might work through us as we offered ourselves to Him in a new arena.}

It wasn’t long before short-term missions re-emerged as we began to serve at MLC – first to Mexico and then to Jamaica.  During that time, Tanzania came back into the picture as well.  It just so happened that MLC was supporting a Missionary in Tanzania, Jane Tellekson.  Jane was the granddaughter of one of the previous pastors of MLC.   She was called as a head mistress over a new school that was being built in Tanzania called The Lutheran Masaai Girls Secondary School (part of a life-long dream of missionaries, Dave and Eunice Simondson).

On top of that, our worship leader, Bob Floss, happened to meet a young man from Tanzania, named Lazaro, who was attending Waldorf College and was looking for a church to sponsor a music ministry team from Tanzania (The New Life Band) to come to the U.S.  The Worship Director passed his name on to me, I got in touch with Lazaro, and not too long after that The New Life Band was here in the states ministering the joy and love of Jesus everywhere they went.

Are you keeping up with this?  God certainly was – in fact, I believe that God was way out ahead of it!

During this time, I had come to know one of the members of the church who had been struggling in his marriage.  He was an orthopedic surgeon named Steve Meyer.  He has his own amazing story to tell, but suffice it to say that his marriage struggles ended in a divorce and a soul-searching time for him, where he ended up very reluctantly deciding to travel on a short-term mission trip to China and Hong Kong with an organization called YWAM (Youth With A Mission).  During that trip, Steve wholeheartedly surrendered his life, on his knees, to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and an incredible transformation began to take place.

Within weeks of his trip to Hong Kong and my trip to Jamaica, Steve and I were together in my living room, sharing our incredible “God Moments” overseas and we simultaneously came to the conclusion; “Next year, let’s do a mission trip together!”  I asked him where he’d like to go and what he’d like to do and he said that he would love to do orthopedic surgery in Africa.  I responded; “I know a Doctor and a hospital in Tanzania, our church is sponsoring a woman building a school in Tanzania, and the New Life Band has asked me to come and teach in their National Youth Conference – so what would you think of Tanzania?”  He said, “That would be awesome!” 

And that is how it all began!  Lazaro, who is now a member of parliament in Tanzania, decided to come along with us on the trip and help lay it all out and he had some places that he wanted us to visit as well.  Overall, a very ambitious trip.  People were saying that it was too big an undertaking and that we shouldn’t go.  Even the head mistress of the school thought that our itinerary was far too ambitious for anyone to pull off – but we ended up going anyway, and doing all that we had planned and more!  Even the head mistress couldn’t believe what we accomplished.

Why?  This had very little to do Steve, or me, or even Lazaro – this was God, bringing people and passions and relationships and experiences all together to do something quite amazing!  In fact, by the time we got back from the trip we were all so in awe of what God had brought about that we knew it couldn’t just end there – and in just a few short weeks STEMM was born!

Three guys with three passions and callings, and one Lord weaving them together.  It reminds me of a verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:24:  Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.  Or from Isaiah 46:11 (ESV) …I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

All Glory and Honor to God!!!

 

Jon Gerdts