On May 9, 2018 Martin Luther College presented the following awards to these members of the 2018 graduating class:

(Back row L-R) Ethan Schultz – UMAC Knight Scholar-Athlete Leadership Award Nomination, Jerome Kruse Knight Award for Athletic Achievement and MLC Leading Scholar for Studies in Pastoral Ministry; Evan Arrowsmith – Student Body President Recognition; Joel Prange – MLC Via Veritas Vita Award; Carl Boeder – MLC Fine Arts Award; Stanley Draper – Brooks Scholarship; Kira Grev – UMAC Knight Scholar-Athlete Leadership Award Nomination, UMAC Scholar-Athlete Leadership Award, and Jerome Kruse Knight Award for Athletic Achievement; Elizabeth Duff – MLC Leading Scholar for Studies in Educational Ministry; Danielle Hall – MLC Service Award

Congratulations to all these senior award recipients!

Anna Hemmelman Named UMAC Player of the Year

Anna Hemmelman (Luther) was named UMAC Women’s Tennis Player of the Year on Tuesday following a stellar sophomore season.
Hemmelman finished the season 7-0 in UMAC play to become the first player in program history to complete a season with an unbeaten singles record from the number one spot in the line-up. She finished the season with an 11-match winning streak and a 13-3 overall record.
Senior Rachel Riediger (Luther) joined her on the All-UMAC team for the second straight season.

2018 Thalassa Winner

Congratulations to Micah Ricke ’10 for his winning essay and image entitled “Auntie Nancy.” Micah and his wife, Kayla, live, learn, and work in a metropolitan area in southeast Asia, where they make friends and share the gospel.

This is the twelfth annual Thalassa Prize. Micah has won $1,000, of which $500 will be sent to the mission he designates.

Click here to read essay

12th Annual Thalassa Prize

Martin Luther College is accepting submissions for the 12th annual Thalassa Prize. This $1000 award is given to the best photo-and-essay submission from an MLC student or graduate who has served in an international ministry.

More than 100 entries have been submitted during the last decade, with the Thalassa Prize awarded to these 11 people: Kristina Wessel, Dominican Republic (2007); Rachel Kionka, Malawi (2008); Rachel Meyer, Southeast Asia (2009); Gretchen Schmiege, Southeast Asia (2010); Amber Schlomer, Southeast Asia (2011); Paul Kelm, Czech Republic (2012); Maria Reese, Malawi (2013); Chris Pluger, Zambia (2014); Sara Schmeling, Russia (2015); Johannah Crass, Antigua (2016); Rebecca Wendland, Malawi (2017).

Might you be the winner for 2018? For submission guidelines, go to Deadline: May 3, 2018.


Kira Grev Wins UMAC Scholar-Athlete Leadership Award

Senior Kira Grev (SCLA) was named the female recipient of the UMAC Scholar-Athlete Leadership Award on Wednesday.
The award recognizes student-athletes who excel in academics, leadership, and service, and is given to one senior male and female each year.
Grev is not only a four-time First-Team All-UMAC performer on the court in volleyball, but also a four-time team captain and a four-time Academic All-UMAC honoree with a career 3.98 grade point average. Grev is the third MLC student-athlete to win this award, joining Nathan Nass (’08) and April Cook (’11).

A Passion for Leadership in ECE

The children at the WELS preschool in Raleigh, North Carolina, would never guess that Mrs. Kiecker, the teacher they love so much, never planned on teaching preschool. But early childhood education (ECE)—and becoming a leader in ECE—is now her passion.

As a student, Julianna (Meyer ’11) Kiecker (pictured) couldn’t wait to teach Spanish. She’d double-majored in elementary ed and Spanish, even teaching a while in the Dominican Republic. When she graduated, so did her new seminary-trained husband, Phil Kiecker, and he was assigned as pastor to Gethsemane-Raleigh NC. Julianna received a call too—to the congregation’s preschool.

“I was terrified. What was God thinking!?” she said. “I was supposed to be doing ministry using Spanish.” Gethsemane’s preschool, Precious Lambs Early Learning Center, had been a thriving ministry, but calls and pregnancies had depleted its staff, enrollment had fallen from 29 to 9, and the center was on the brink of closure. Unless they got a new director. So Julianna said yes. “Even though I didn’t understand God’s plans, he was calling me to this ministry. I felt I should at least try.”

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” That passage from 2 Corinthians 4 summarizes the beginning of her ministry, Julianna says. It was difficult, and she felt unqualified. But she put herself and the Precious Lambs ministry into God’s hands, and he did his work. Enrollment rose. Financially they got back in the black. WELS teachers were found—not an easy task in that area. And state officials gave the center a five-star rating. Most important, children and families heard the gospel. When a new student asked, “Who’s Jesus?” during Julianna’s first year, she knew how much this ministry mattered. “It blew me away that a child in ‘Christian’ America could have lived four years without ever hearing who Jesus is! There’s nothing as exciting and humbling as being the first person to tell someone about their Savior Jesus, who loves them so much!”

With classrooms filling up and parents requesting infant and toddler care, congregation members started to say the exciting words, “new building.” Though it’s only half-finished today, 70 of 74 available student spots are already spoken for.

“God also worked his power in me,” Julianna said, “turning preschool education into something I felt passionately about.” She decided it was time to look into master’s programs so she could be the best director possible.

The University of North Carolina would have given her a free ride for the entire program, and she considered it. “But every time I looked at their courses,” she said, “I felt underwhelmed.” They focused on political issues, preparing their graduates to be ECE activists. “That didn’t match up with my goals. I wanted courses in how to be a leader, a mentor to teachers, and an expert in ECE.”

MLC’s new MA in Educational Administration was a perfect fit. “I was excited to see that every single course would be relevant to our ministry, and the professors and students would be approaching the issues from a ministry point of view. I struggled for a bit with the fact that I’d be paying for the program when I could complete a similar degree for free. In the end, though, I felt the degree itself was less important than the knowledge and skills I would get out of it. In this respect, the two programs were not equal.”

With financial assistance from her congregation, she’s now in her fourth semester of MLC’s program. “Every single course has been extremely helpful! The insight from professors and peers who understand the unique challenges of ministry is invaluable.”

Julianna says she’s still a jar of clay, totally dependent on the power of God, but as Precious Lambs opens their expanded center, MLC’s courses are giving her the extra confidence she needs. “I’m so glad I made the decision to enroll. I know that what I have learned so far has already influenced me as a leader, director, and teacher.”

This feature was originally published in the MLC InFocus, Spring 2018 issue.

Producing Home-Grown Preschool Teachers

Erin Smolinski (Jerusalem-Morton Grove IL) is one of a growing number of preschool teachers who gained valuable training for her ministry without ever leaving her hometown.

Erin completed the 11 short courses in MLC’s Early Childhood Educator Series and then applied for and received her Child Development Associate (CDA) credential.

While it’s always best that teachers have their college degree in early childhood education, the Early Childhood Educator courses are an excellent first step for those who do not have a degree. And while some may opt for a community college’s courses, we boldly assert that MLC’s courses are better. “Our courses are more comprehensive than those offered at community college,” says Dr. John Meyer DMLC ’87, director of graduate studies and continuing education, “and they do much more than prepare you to teach. They also
prepare you to share the gospel in your classroom.”

MLC has also earned the prestigious CDA Gold Standard from the Council for Professional Recognition. The Gold Standard was given to a small handful of institutions across the country, signifying that their programs provide the highest quality instruction to prepare students for their CDA exam and their teaching careers.

In addition to its high quality, this series of courses checks off three important boxes for participants: It’s convenient, practical, and affordable.

CONVENIENT: Of the 11 courses in the series, almost all of which are 1-credit, seven are offered online, and the other four are offered on location. All you need to do is invite us to come, and we will send an MLC professor to your school or congregation to conduct the courses for you—just as we did for Jerusalem-Morton Grove.

PRACTICAL: Erin instantly appreciated the practicality of the courses. “I’ve been able to add new ideas and lessons to my classroom repertoire immediately—including hearing from other teachers about how to incorporate Bible lessons into everything in the classroom.”

Telling Bible stories happens to be her favorite part of teaching, especially since many students are from non-member families.

AFFORDABLE: MLC’s undergrad per-credit rate is only $310, and when you apply to take the 11 courses of the Early Educator Series, we send you the two textbooks for the series free of charge. As always, our goal is not to make money. It’s to make teachers. And that means keeping our rates as low as possible.

Erin understands that her continuing education doesn’t benefit her alone—or even her students. It sends an important message to the parents as well. “The ability to let parents know I’ve taken all these classes and have this credential will show them how much we care about their preschoolers,” she says. “Many parents in this area are looking for professional training and the utmost in care for their children, and I believe the MLC Educator Series has helped me achieve that.”

This feature was originally published in the MLC InFocus, Spring 2018 issue.

God’s Word at Work

St. John Lutheran Preschool-Mukwonago,Wisconsin

When Catherine St. John ’13 was in second grade, her parents enrolled her in a WELS school. They weren’t church-goers. They simply wanted a better school.

Catherine distinctly remembers many firsts: sitting in a WELS church for the first time, attending Sunday School for the first time, and learning the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning Prayer.

By third grade, the Holy Spirit had worked through the gospel shared by her pastor and teachers to create faith in little Catherine’s heart—and in the hearts of the rest of her family too.

Now Catherine is the teacher sharing the gospel with little hearts. “As an early childhood called worker,” she says, “I get to work with many families like my own family, ones not connected to the WELS—at least not yet.”

Miss St. John and her students release a monarch butterfly as they talk about God’s creation.

Director and Lead Teacher

Catherine graduated from MLC in 2013 with a double major in elementary ed and early childhood ed. She was called to St. John Lutheran Preschool in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, where she is director and lead teacher. With the assistance of two part-time aides and several volunteers, she teaches 38 children age 3, 4, and 5.

“There is always so much happening and yet so much more to be done,” she says. “I’m both the teacher and the director. I’m responsible for all the teaching in the preschool room and the various duties that accompany this. As the director, I’m responsible for the administration of all early childhood programs, along with outreach and future planning.

“Sometimes the days can be long or tiring,” she admits, “but a hug from a child, a connection made with a family, or seeing a preschooler in church makes the long hours worth it.”


A Vibrant Family Ministry
Seeing a new preschooler in church is not a rare event. St. John’s, a growing church about a half-hour southwest of Milwaukee, has added about 100 members every year for the last three years. They’ve also added another pastor and a vicar.

Beginning in fall 2018, they’ll have an expanded preschool as well. They applied for and received a $30,000 grant from the Antioch Foundation to convert an existing classroom and restroom into a second preschool room, complete with new furniture, materials, and curriculum resources.

The preschool is an important link in a whole chain of vibrant family ministries at St John’s. The Mornings with Mommy program includes nonmembers and unchurched families. This year, six children moved up from Mornings with Mommy to the church preschool, and two families have started membership classes. And graduating preschoolers often become kindergartners in the elementary school.
Catherine is humbled to be a part of this gospel ministry. “It’s always been amazing to me that God uses us, sinful and weak human beings, to spread his holy, precious, saving Word,” she says. “Think about that for a moment. God could have spread the message of salvation any way he wanted, but he chose to work through us. Crazy. Mind-blowing. Amazing.”


The Gospel at Home and School
Catherine and her staff share the gospel with the students in many ways: “The gospel message is a daily part of our school day,” she says, “emphasizing Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin. We study Bible stories, sing Bible songs, pray to God, and learn about God’s
marvelous creation.”

The first book the little ones receive at preschool is a Bible. “When I hand these Bibles out, I talk with parents about the importance of reading to a child daily. In my weekly newsletters, I include the Bible lesson we learned in preschool and the page numbers of the children’s Bible that correspond with our lesson. I love hearing from parents that their little one asks to read this Bible before bedtime.”


The Word Works
Catherine remembers her own childhood conversion as she says, “The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of these little ones as they hear God’s Word. He also is working through these little ones as they witness to their families through their Bible songs and words. “God’s Word works when and how he chooses,” she continues. “It will not return to him empty, but will accomplish what he desires and achieve the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11).

“At St. John’s, we get to lay God’s Word on the ears and hearts of 38 little preschoolers this year. God be praised for this.”

Catherine’s Message to Those Considering Early Childhood Ministry

What’s great about ECE: As early childhood teachers, we lay the framework—colors, shapes, letters—but, more important, we are able to instill in children a love for learning and a hunger for knowledge, and build all of this on the foundation of Christ. What will make your day as an ECE teacher: I enjoy taking time to understand children and engage them in deeper conversations, I absolutely love when they express a thought or wonder about something that I hadn’t even thought of before!

What you can do even now: If you aren’t sure about teaching, give yourself time and immerse yourself in teaching experiences. During my summers at MLC, I had the opportunity to work with children and congregations across the United States. These experiences really helped me in my teaching ministry.

This feature was originally published in the MLC InFocus, Spring 2018 issue.

From Preschool to academy, it’s all about family.

Crown of Life – Fort Myers, Florida

In the seven years Rebecca Rixe ’08 has served Crown of Life in Fort Myers, Florida, the school has seen incredible growth. An initial enrollment of two preschoolers in 2006 has now grown to 85 students: 60 in the preschool and 25 more in the academy, which includes kindergarten through grade 5—and next year, grade 6.

Miss Rixe is one of the 4K teachers and the director of the entire campus, the preschool and academy. She says she is incredibly blessed to serve with her team of four teachers and four teacher assistants, and they work together to make Crown of Life not just a high-quality school, but a loving family. “As director,” she says, “I want our school to be a family for everyone who walks in the door. I want them to know we aren’t just here to help their children grow, but we’re partners with them.”

How does she do this? “I try to be available every day when the parents pick up the children so I can communicate about how their child’s day went. I keep my director’s door open so they know I’m there for them at any time. We send home a weekly newsletter—with pictures—and hold
parent-teacher conferences. “I have such a passion for being there for the families as well as the kids, and I love being a listening ear for them, praying with them and for them, and doing what I can to help their family with anything they may be going through.”

Working with families is just one facet of Becca’s ministry.

Let’s take a look at her many roles:

The preschool is open 7:30-5:30 every day. Miss Rixe teaches 4K Monday through Thursday, 8:30-12:45. Like all teachers, she does curriculum planning, daily prep, and plenty of observation and assessment. Academy Director: She attends Board of Education meetings and represents the school to the congregation. She meets every week with her staff, supervises instruction, and tries to “just be there for them. I feel it’s important for us to remain a team and do all we can for Jesus’ little lambs.”

She looks over their lesson plans to be sure they’re developmentally appropriate and offers help if needed. “All teachers have a different teaching style,” she says, “so I want them to plan their lessons accordingly.”

Administration: With the assistance of the administrative assistant, she completes paperwork, meets licensure requirements, and follows the guidelines for Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Education program, which is government-funded PreK for all 4- and 5-year-olds in Florida.

Marketing: Becca feels blessed to have a marketer who helps her communicate her school’s mission to the Fort Myers community, including a Facebook page, top-notch website, brochures and flyers, and big banners outside the facility. “The banners are huge for us. Many families see them and either call or just drop in,” she says. “I want people to know who we are so we can reach out to as many little lambs as possible.”

Family Fun: She has facilitated game nights, movie nights, Parents’ Night Out, and a huge fall festival—a kind of school Homecoming where current families and alumni families get together.

The result of all this work is a thriving campus where more and more children and families are becoming acquainted with their Savior. Like the Hindu boy who came to school knowing nothing about Jesus and didn’t seem to be picking up much either, but then surprised her one day by saying, “Guess what, Miss Rixe? Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins so we can one day be with him in heaven!” Or the new family she accompanied to Bible Information Class so she could grow right along with them until they became members. Or the two 3-year-old girls who went home and taught their families the Bible stories they were learning, led mealtime prayers, and asked their parents if they could go to church. The little girls were eventually baptized and now continue at Crown of Life as third graders.

“It gives me goose bumps each time,” Becca says, “knowing that these little children came to understand our Savior’s grace!”

The Gospel Every Day: As in all WELS early childhood ministries, the children have daily Bible story time and prayers. They also present a Christmas program to share the gospel with over 350 friends and family, and Pastor Martin Luchterhand gives a weekly chapel service. Becca also appreciates the opportunity to share law and gospel with the schoolchildren in her discipline. “I love talking to them about their sin and then telling them God forgave them of their sin, praying with them every time, and helping them know that God loves them.”

In her 4K classroom, she teaches intercessory prayer—even for strangers. When they hear an ambulance, they stop whatever they’re doing and pray, asking God to be with the person hurt, the doctors, and the family. And when her 4-year-olds graduate, they each get a Bible from congregation members, so that if they don’t continue at Crown of Life, they will still have the Word. “This is just one sign of the congregation’s full support of Christian education,” she says, “support I’m so grateful for!”

Mostly, Becca is grateful to her Savior for this ministry he’s given her. “It’s amazing how every day may be a bit different. It keeps me incredibly busy to be both teacher and director, but I’m blessed to teach his little lambs and to be there for the families.”

Becca’s Message to Those Considering Early Childhood Ministry

“Reaching out to Jesus’ little lambs is challenging but so incredibly rewarding! To be in these children’s lives and—for some—to provide stability, to care for them, guide them, and see them grow . . . To teach them God’s Word and see their eyes just light up when they learn a Bible story for the first time . . . To hear them belt out “Jesus loves me” . . . To be a listening ear for their families and continue to connect with them for years on end . . . To watch little ones soak up everything we teach like little sponges . . . It’s all so rewarding!

“Yes, it can be tiring, and patience is most definitely necessary. And sometimes God puts challenges in front of us, not because he wants us to fail, but because he wants to mold us into who he wants us to be as we serve him here on earth.

“But it’s still a blessing and a joy that God uses me, a weak and lowly servant, to tell others about his Word. I am humbled each and every day that God has called me to do this work, and I pray that others can see this as their passion too.”

This feature was originally published in the MLC InFocus, Spring 2018 issue.