The December Missionary Profile focuses on Rev. David Mahsman, Managing Director of The Wittenberg Project. Rev. David Mahsman’s work in the Eurasia Region has morphed over time, but at the center there has always been the goal of proclaiming the Gospel in Eurasia.
Mahsman was born in Quincy, IL, a town on the Mississippi River in west-central Illinois. He was raised in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and attended St. James Lutheran School in Quincy. In 1972, he graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. In 1983, Rev. Mahsman graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN, and in 1995 he earned his Master of Sacred Theology (STM) degree from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
Mahsman notes that the skills of communication, both written and spoken, which he learned in his schooling, as well as his theological training and pastoral skills are obviously extremely helpful in his role as a missionary, as they would be for any missionary, pastor or other church worker. These skills help him to clearly communicate both with regard to every day organizational matters, as well as with regard to the Gospel as he interacts with fellow believers and non-believers alike.
Prior to entering the mission field, Mahsman worked “as a newspaper reporter and then as a congressional press aide from the time I graduated from journalism school in 1972 until I entered the seminary in 1979.” Following his graduation from the seminary, he served from 1983-1985 as the parish pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Glen Cove, NY. In 1985, he took a call, which combined his journalism background with his theological and pastoral skills, serving as the Synod’s Director of News and Information Services. This included serving as the executive editor of The Lutheran Witness and Reporter, the two official periodicals of the LCMS. Mahsman served in this capacity for 20 years. In 2005, he accepted a call to serve as assistant to the executive director of the Synod’s Board for Mission Services, then also known as LCMS World Mission. Four years later, he accepted his call to the mission field. At the time, his role was to be “Director, Special Assignments, Eurasia.” Mahsman explains how it immediately took a new direction:
My work in Eurasia took an unexpected turn right from the outset. The title of my position was intended to convey that I would carry out special assignments from the regional director, including communication work, filling vacancies in the region, and representing the regional director in various ways. However, only two weeks after taking up the new position in July 2009, I was asked by the chairman of the mission board, with the regional director’s consent, to move immediately to Wittenberg, research the possibilities for work there and provide a report and recommendations for joint work with our German sister church, [The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany] the SELK.
Initially, the intent was to spend about six months in Wittenberg, make recommendations concerning work that could be done there, and then move on to other assignments. However, the Supervisory Board of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW), a German-non profit corporation jointly owned by the LCMS and SELK, soon requested that Mahsman continue to work in Wittenberg as the ILSW’s Managing Director. The Office of International Mission (OIM) later assigned him full time to service in Wittenberg.
Mahsman explains that The Wittenberg Project
focuses on Christian education and Gospel outreach. After initial planning, the first task was to renovate the Old Latin School of 1564 in the heart of Wittenberg’s old town to be our ministry center. Construction work was finished earlier this year, and the building was dedicated May 3, 2015. Now the focus is on using this tool to serve our Christian-education and Gospel-outreach purposes.
Mahsman’s current roles as managing director of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg, which supervises the Project, are many and varied. He is responsible for details ranging from “keeping the books and reporting on our activities as a non-profit corporation to the German government, to operating a building that includes lodging facilities, to developing mission strategies and education programs.”
The Old Latin School has already hosted several groups since its opening in May 2015, such as a group of soldiers led by an LCMS military chaplain on a Vocation Tour, who were learning more about Luther and Bach, and the Elders of nearby St. Trinitatisgemeinde (SELK) in Leipzig, who were taking part in an annual retreat.
Within the work that Mahsman has done so far in preparing the Old Latin School, he has had many opportunities to share the Gospel within the Body of Christ as he has welcomed visitors to Wittenberg from abroad. He has worked with them to understand that “Martin Luther and the Reformation most importantly are about the rediscovery that our justification before God is on account of the merits of Jesus Christ. I also know Christians and Christian leaders in Wittenberg with whom I can talk about what Christ has done for us.”
So far in his work, the opportunities for sharing the Gospel with non-believers have come mostly through personal contact and building relationships, but Mahsman notes that now that the building is ready, the next step is to develop a very intentional strategy for sharing the faith with non-Christians in Wittenberg, both residents and the many international visitors who come to Wittenberg as tourists. This is especially important as the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 approaches and international attention is piqued.
In his work in Wittenberg, one of Mahsman’s greatest joys has been the opportunity “to get to know—and in many cases, to know very well—people who live in Wittenberg. To know this place and to know these people have been great blessings. I also want to be a blessing to them.”
He has noticed a few themes emerging over his time in the mission field, centered on “’focus’ and ‘preparation’—focusing our ministry here on Gospel outreach, whether to Wittenberg’s visitors or residents, and preparation for our ministry in this part of Germany…Over time, the shape of the project has changed, but the focus remains welcoming guests, providing a place for Christian education and especially sharing the Gospel.”
Mahsman and his wife, Lois, are based in Berlin, which is just a short regional train ride away from Wittenberg. They enjoy missionary life very much. In Berlin, they also proclaim the Gospel and build up the body of Christ. Rev. Mahsman leads an English language worship service, while Lois encourages the fellowship between attendees. Of his wife, Rev. Mahsman says: “Lois is especially good at fostering fellowship among those who attend the worship services, always baking brownies or making other goodies for the fellowship time after the service. In fact, she is almost entirely responsible for initiating the fellowship time and seeing that it has become a regular part of our church time.”
However, there are still challenges both to the work and personally. Mahsman explains that, “The former East Germany is a challenging place to do mission work. More than half the people profess to be atheists. They are not hostile to the Christian faith, but they are indifferent to it. Only about 15-18% of Germans in the former DDR profess to be Christian.”
Personally, language barriers do make some aspects of living in Germany more difficult, even though he has studied enough German to get along in most day-to-day situations. Still, there are some situations where a more fluent grasp of the language would be helpful, because “explaining a problem to a car mechanic or the heating repairman, for example, can become a real challenge in another language.”
Still, the many joys make up for the difficulties. Mahsman shared one such special memory from this past August:
A recent memory is a flight over Wittenberg in August this year with two friends who I met here. One is a private pilot, and several other Wittenberg friends pitched in to pay for the plane rental and fuel as a birthday gift to me and the other passenger, an Englishwoman who also lives in Wittenberg. So the memory is doubly nice: a memory of very good friends in Wittenberg, and the chance to fly over the old town and see it—including the Old Latin School—from the air. It was a wonderful day!
Mahsman uses his many and varied gifts and experiences to help proclaim the Gospel in the Eurasia Region, and his story shows us all an example of flexibility, and especially faithfulness to God’s calling through the Church, however it may change from the “original plan.”
Fun Facts about Rev. Mahsman:
- He has a stamp collection, which he stored in the States for safe-keeping. While the hobby has been on hold since moving to Germany, he’s been a stamp collector since the age of 8.
- Here in Germany, he has a new budding collection, or as he says, “an accumulation of” – beer steins. he says: “It started with one new and a couple of old steins from Wittenberg, then some from other places we’ve visited since being here, as well as some from various flea markets and even a church rummage sale.”
- Mahsman wrote the text and contributed most of the photographs for a Concordia Publishing House (CPH) book about the transformation of The Old Latin School. To learn more about the renovation process and the many secrets and stories the building has to tell, order a copy of the book (currently on sale), entitled The Wittenberg Project: The Old Latin School.
- Support Rev. Mahsman by praying for him or offering financial donations.
- Take your group to visit the Old Latin School.
- Pray that the people of Wittenberg and visitors from around the world would hear the Gospel and by the power of the Holy Spirit, be brought to faith.
- Visit The Wittenberg Project blog to learn more.
- See more photos of the Old Latin School and the dedication here.