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The Rev. A. Karl Boehmke, retired pastor of the ELCA and LCMS, has supported LWR since its post-World War II beginnings. Photo: Jim Balogh, Imakepix.
Missionary At Large
By Nikki Massie
That’s how the Rev. A. Karl Boehmke likes to describe his 65-year career within The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
The 91-year-old retired pastor has spent most of his career developing congregations across the U.S. and even abroad. In his travels, he’s had many occasions to witness the work of Lutheran World Relief first hand and has been a staunch supporter of the organization since its beginning in 1945.
Boehmke recalls first hearing of LWR during his initial pastorate at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Washington, D.C., in the closing days of World War II. “Chaplains were returning from Europe with reports about the suffering of Lutherans in war-ravaged countries. We had to help.”
To do their part, Boehmke’s congregation partnered with LWR and a small congregation in Paris that was rescuing orphaned children of war victims. “Week by week we collected dry milk, flour and other items to send to them,” Boehmke recalls.
Later, as an Air Force chaplain during the Korean War, he had the chance to visit that tiny French congregation. “When I told them who I was and what congregation I was from, those people got tears in their eyes and kept repeating, ‘merci, merci,’ on behalf of the children they had been able to save.”
In subsequent years, Boehmke stayed involved with relief work, serving on the board of directors of LCMS World Relief and Human Care and on occasion attending LWR meetings under the leadership of Franklin Clark Fry, LWR president at that time.
“It was an exciting time,” he says. “Lutheran World Relief was telling people, ‘We can’t just pull people out of the rubble, we have to help get them back on their feet.’ Development was a new and exciting concept.”
Boehmke and his wife, Laverne, continued to support LWR as it began to dig wells and aid farmers in India, no longer simply responding to emergencies but working to address endemic poverty.
“That made a lot of sense to me,” says Boehmke, who now gets excited at talk of micro-enterprise and the potential of helping people in developing countries to help themselves.
Boehmke has also shared his passion for Lutheran World Relief’s work with his two daughters and son. He recalls, in particular, how his son, as a teenager, used to collect unused soap bars from Michigan motels to donate to LWR.
These days, Boehmke and his wife still contribute $100 each month to Lutheran World Relief. To them, that amount represents three good meals a day for a person in need. And when they sit down to eat, he says, “It’s like those people are sitting here at the table along with us and our Lord, too.”
Boehmke hopes that more congregations will get involved in development work, which he sees as a lasting solution to poverty. He and his wife now belong to Bethel Lutheran Church in University City, Mo., where he enjoys speaking with members and school children about development work.
He also still works to reach out to people in need and recently published a book to help guide people along the spiritual path to forgiveness. To him, this is all a part of the same work he supports through Lutheran World Relief — glorifying God’s grace and uplifting the dignity of all people.
“The ultimate way to fight poverty,” Boehmke often tells his listeners, “is not with a hand-out but by empowering people to improve their own lives. When people can contribute to society, feed their kids, send them to school, provide for their family’s health…that’s when real progress is made.”
Would you or your congregation like to work with LWR to fight poverty, injustice and human suffering around the world? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Nikki Massie is LWR’s Staff Writer.