By JUDY A. TOTTS
The mission bug first bit Beth Schnabel when she went to Salmopal, Poland, 15 years ago with a group from her home church, Prince of Peace Lutheran (Missouri Synod).
â€œI packed paint brushes, but when we got there, the walls werenâ€™t built yet,â€ she said. â€œWe found out what they needed and worked from there.â€
Since then, Schnabel, 61, has completed trips to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Nairobi, Kenya to distribute eyeglasses, as well as several more to Poland, where she helped set up childrenâ€™s programming similar to American vacation Bible school activities, and New Orleans for hurricane relief work.
She is quick to say the missions are team efforts that draw on the talents, resources and prayer of all members of participating congregations. But she is deeply devoted to helping those in need at home and abroad.
â€œAnd there is so much need,â€ she said, spreading her hands in a gesture of supplication above the binders containing photos and journals of the missions sheâ€™s been a part of.
To better prepare herself for future short-term mission work, Schnabel, who works as an educator for the Medina County Soil and Water Conservation District, began mission ministry studies as part of a Doctor of Divinity degree at Concordia St. Paul, then transferred to Ashland Theological Seminary.
Although she chooses not to be ordained, she completed foundational and core courses to prepare for the next phase this fall.
â€œI think God has been preparing me for a long time, to get ready for this,â€ she said. â€œThere is a need for service in the United States and other countries. There is a staggering inequity. Our (U.S.) poor are rich by comparison to those in other countries. We can show Christian love, never expecting anything in return. We see a need, give in total love. The reward is seeing their gratitude.â€
The classes, she said, will better equip her for working with groups and denominations outside her own. This year sheâ€™ll study many different mission agencies, a variety of programs and how programs are set up.
â€œThe bottom line is weâ€™re Christian, and the Bible is our doctrine,â€ she said.
Schnabel discovered the Wittenberg English Ministry group for short term missions in Lutherstadt (Wittenburg) Germany and now is part of the WEM team.
On her first solo mission there in September 2007, she worked with children at Grundschule Kaethe Kollwitz. She brushes up on her German at the Deutsch-American Culture Center in Cleveland, squeezing more time out of her schedule to take classes.
â€œI think this is just one of those things, part of building toward something,â€ Schnabel said softly. â€œSomething said I should be doing it. Itâ€™s exciting to see doors start to open. Iâ€™m not the driving force, just glad to be used. If thereâ€™s work to be done, God will find a way to get it done.
â€œMissions change you. They take you out of the center. We are the instruments, the glory is Godâ€™s, and itâ€™s part of being Christian. We all have the same heart.â€
She fingered the cross she wore on a chain around her neck.
â€œWhen I was in Kenya, I wore this necklace,â€ she said. â€œA man approached me, saw it and said, â€˜Youâ€™re a Christian! I am, too.â€™ I told him, â€˜Youâ€™re my brother.â€™ You could see the love in his face. Iâ€™d like to tear down the attitude, that perception, that Americans (think they) are better. No, weâ€™re all brothers and sisters in Christ.
â€œWeâ€™re blessed as Americans,â€ she concluded. â€œWe do have more materialistic gifts, and I think itâ€™s our responsibility to share them.â€
Totts may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.