December Missionary Profile: Rev. Matthew Heise – Farewell and Godspeed!

Some of the 25 students Rev. Matthew Heise had during the month of November 2013 in Mongolia

Some of the 25 students Rev. Matthew Heise had during the month of November 2013 in Mongolia

December’s Missionary Profile focuses on Rev. Matthew Heise, a veteran of overseas missions who has been serving as a Career Missionary in the field for 12 years. Rev. Heise has been a tireless worker for the Gospel, even through a difficult travel schedule, several moves, and working with the red tape of Visas for other countries. He has had many interesting experiences in the field over those 12 years, but those experiences have also led to opportunities to share the Gospel.

Rev. Heise graduated from the University of Michigan – Dearborn with a B.A. in History. He also earned a Master of Arts in European History, and then nearly completed a second Masters program in Teaching, which also earned him a teaching certificate. His Masters degree studies took place at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Afterward, Rev. Heise went on to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, where he earned his Master of Divinity.  All of these degrees and certifications have been incorporated in some way to Rev. Heise’s work as a theological educator for the Eurasia Region.

Rev. Matt Heise stands in Red Square in the early years of the 2000's.

Rev. Matt Heise stands in Red Square in the early years of the 2000’s.

Although overseas mission wasn’t his “first choice; I was thinking of continuing on to do a doctorate. But God in His wisdom seemed to indicate to me, ‘All in good time, Heise, all in good time!’ It actually worked to my benefit because I was able to serve and learn more of how the Spirit is working in the hearts of God’s many peoples around the world.” Rev. Heise also remembered overseas missions being emphasized in his Lutheran grade school and says, “that had a positive impact.” His missionary service began with a two-year voluntary missionary position in Moscow from 1994–1996 (which brings the total of years served in the foreign mission field to 14). During that time, Rev. Heise taught English as a Second Language (ESL) courses and was also the ESL coordinator. He then returned to the mission field in 2001, after earning his Master of Divinity.

Rev. Matthew Heise poses for a photo with the Kutaisi Lutheran congregation after a church service in 2011.

Rev. Matthew Heise poses for a photo with the Kutaisi Lutheran congregation after a church service in 2011.

As a theological educator, Rev. Heise teaches seminarians, lay people and pastors of our partner churches in the region. Rev. Heise explains the need for theological educators:

Partner churches almost always request teachers because they simply have not been in existence long enough to train a cadre of professors for that task. Furthermore, each society has some syncretistic elements in it as well as pressure to rely upon a religion of works. An outsider can discern that more readily, and naturally being a convinced Lutheran for a long time helps us explain justification by faith in Jesus Christ more clearly at times.

The work of a theological educator strengthens our partner churches for the task of proclaiming the Gospel to the people of their country. It allows them to grow in the faith, and gives them time to train teachers of their own to work with seminarians, current pastors and lay people. The goal is to help the partner churches of the LCMS become self-sustaining, and to share in scholarship. One of the places where Rev. Heise frequently teaches is the seminary of the Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), which is located in Koltushi, Russia. Additionally Rev. Heise has traveled to and taught in Belarus with LCMS partner Belarus Lutheran Missionary Fellowship; the Ukraine with partner Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of the Ukraine; Kyrgyzstan with partner church Kyrzyg Lutheran Church; Mongolia where he has worked with the Finnish Lutheran Overseas Mission group there; and Georgia where he works with Georgian students who attended the ELCIR seminary in Russia. Rev. Heise has also been the administrator of the Georgian Mission for the last five years.

Rev. Matthew Heise inside the Parliament Building in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia, November 2013.

Rev. Matthew Heise inside the Parliament Building in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia, November 2013.

After many years living an expatriate life overseas, Rev. Heise says of culture shock or differences between cultures, “To be honest, I don’t think anything is really a culture shock for me. In many ways, I’ve seen it all, and if I haven’t, I’m not surprised by much of anything.” However, that does not mean that his work is without challenges. In recent years, says Rev. Heise, “the challenges are primarily the extensive travel that I have been doing for the past five years. Certainly, one never becomes extremely fluent in a language and so worries about understanding someone is always a concern, although that declines with time.” Despite these challenges, Rev. Heise finds many joys in mission work. He says, “the joys are always associated with interacting with new believers and those who have a hunger to share that faith with others. Their enthusiasm is contagious!” Furthermore, Rev. Heise notes that

One thing I have seen is that the Lord continually surprises you. He is calling His own people in His own time. You may think that one particular student has potential for service, but then, out of the blue, one of the least promising students turns out to be more faithful than the other. So in many other ways I have learned to lean upon the Lord and not to your own understanding. He will build His Church and His Mission as he sees fit. That is actually a comfort when I see how woefully inadequate I am to such a task.

Bundled up after a winter Divine Service at church and ready to brave the Russian cold.

Bundled up after a winter Divine Service at church and ready to brave the Russian cold.

Rev. Heise relates that some of his favorite memories now come from his work in Mongolia. One example

would be the solemn occasion when we concluded a seminar with Mongols singing a hymn in a dimly lit room while taking communion. We were in the Gobi Desert city of Mandal-Gov, and for three days during the week (evenings) we had 60-70 people come to hear me teach on Galatians. Knowing their past history of placating the spirits of the land, it was an incredible joy to share with them what Christ had done for them—for free!!!

Rev. Heise has many other great stories. A recent newsletter recounted his encounter with two Russians on an overnight train trip. They offered him Vodka. Knowing this meant they wanted to really drink hard, Rev. Heise explained that he did not drink and that he was a Christian. This sparked a conversation with one of the men about faith, belief and the Christian life. The other man left the compartment for a time, and did drink too much while he was gone. He ended up falling repeatedly out of an overhead bed in the compartment, but Rev. Heise found a way to use the strange encounter to proclaim the Gospel to the other man. Rev. Heise also finds that there are always other opportunities to share about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He says, “Naturally as teachers, we are constantly speaking of our common faith and what that means. As I interact with believers who have unbelieving friends, this presents an opportunity for witness, as well as encounters with strangers when one travels.”

Rev. Heise with Elvira Jaskovskaya, a late parishioner of Holy Trinity in Moscow, in 2001.

Rev. Heise with Elvira Jaskovskaya, a late parishioner of Holy Trinity in Moscow, in 2001.

Rev. Heise will conclude his service in overseas missions in January of 2014. He has been pursuing a doctoral degree from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. His dissertation is nearly completed, but he needs to take time to put the finishing touches on it. After 14 total years of missionary service, Rev. Heise has found that it is time to focus on the dissertation and then take the next step in his work for the church and the world.

Please join the Eurasia Region in giving thanks to God for the work He has done in and through Rev. Heise during his service in overseas mission through the LCMS. Join us also in thanking Rev. Matthew Heise for his hard work, his dedication to the Gospel, his quick wit, his graciousness, and his service to his neighbors scattered throughout the Eurasia Region. God bless, Rev. Heise, and Godspeed!

Here are some special messages from colleagues and friends of Rev. Heise:

“Matt has been a faithful servant who was steadfast in his commitment both to professing and teaching the Word of God to strengthen the Kingdom of God, as well as encouraging its expansion through missionary activity. In his area of service, Matt endured some unusual hardships—such as governmental revolution and war—but in spite of these challenges, his commitment to serving the Lord and his Church remained vibrant.  The Eurasia team has been blessed by his service, and his departure will be felt greatly.  Nonetheless, the imprint of his ministry will be felt throughout Eurasia for years to come—and for that, we praise God!” +Rev. Jon Muhly, LCMS Area Facilitator for Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.

Rev. Matt Heise with other members of the Moscow, Russia team in the early 2000's including Rev. John Mehl (back left with the red tie), and Rev. Dr. Brent Smith.

Rev. Matt Heise with other members of the Moscow, Russia team in the early 2000’s including Rev. John Mehl (back left with the red tie), and Rev. Dr. Brent Smith.

“The Reverend Matt Heise year after year provided contextually-appropriate theological education in the front lines and frontiers of Eurasia. His legendary newsletters will be missed. In the mission of God, Matt will continue to be a letter from Christ “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” 2 Cor. 3:3. Thank you, Matt, for translating the Message into the hearers’ language!” +Rev. Dr. Brent Smith, former Regional Director for LCMS Eurasia.

“Matt has always been very inspirational and a source of encouragement with his commitment and personal involvement. I remember how I was surprised during my very first lecture on the history of Lutheran music (the fall of 2006) when I suddenly saw Matt in the audience among secular musicians and a multitude of people I didn’t know. I stopped being nervous at once. Matt has always done his best to support our office’s outreach projects with everything he could do, even if he wasn’t, for example, a big lover of classical music. A serious scholar and a patient and deep researcher, Matt has always been very respectful of the research projects of others and has always tried to help. Thanks to the fact that Matt found for me in the States the book titled The Music for the Liturgy of the Lutheran Hymnal, I was able to include the matins and vespers from TLH in the new hymnal of The Church of Ingria. As I listened to Matt’s sermons (in excellent Russian!) and heard the words of admiration that our seminary students said about him, I was amazed to think what a modest and humble person he is, without a shadow of pridefulness. I think we still can’t fully grasp what a big missionary work Matt has done in Russia!” +Darya Shkurlyatyeva, coordinator of musical projects, LCMS Office of International Mission in Moscow, Russia.

I’ve known Rev. Matthew Heise since the mid-90’s. I think he’s done a great work in Russia as a missionary. He has contributed a lot to the spiritual and intellectual growth of the ELCIR as a theological educator both at the ELCIR seminary and at leadership training seminars that the OIM has organized in support of the ELCIR since the 90’s. And I’ve always found his church sermons a source of personal inspiration and a great help in my understanding of God’s truths. Besides, Matthew has done many, if not most, of his presentations in Russian. As a church historian he’s done a very precious work researching the history of Lutherans in the USSR in the times of persecution of religion. Personally I don’t think there are many people in Russia who have tackled this aspect of our country’s history in such depth, working in the archives and interviewing eyewitnesses. Besides being an important chapter in the history of Christianity in general, I think his work, if ever translated into Russian, would be a great contribution to our country’s pool of historical knowledge. Finally, or perhaps I should’ve said it in the first place, on a personal level Matthew is an example of a very cordial Christian, caring and amazingly ready to help. He’s always shown a very pastoral and missionary attitude as he applied God’s Word to the various situations and circumstances of life in Russia. In short, he witnesses to his faith both in word and deed. It’s been a great pleasure to work with him! +Alexey Zubtsov, translator for LCMS Office of International Mission in Moscow, Russia.

O Lord God, merciful and gracious Father, we give thanks for all the blessings You have bestowed on the overseas mission efforts of the LCMS, its partner churches, its members, and the Church through the ministry of Your servant, Matthew Heise. By your Holy Spirit grant him grace in his new field of service, readiness, and steadfastness in his ministry, patience, understanding, a cheerful spirit, and great zeal. Support and strengthen him that by Your Word Your Church may be built and increased; through your Son, our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Adapted from “Farewell and Godspeed to a Pastor,” Lutheran Service Book: Agenda, 195).

  • Please pray for Rev. Heise as he makes this transition.
  • Pray for Rev. Heise as he completes his dissertation, and for direction as he seeks the next step in his service to the Church.
  • Pray for the LCMS work in the countries where Rev. Heise has served, for continued direction and the raising up of new workers for this field, and that our partners in the region would continue to be strengthened in their witness to those around them.
  • Give thanks with us for Rev. Heise’s service!
  • If you would like, you can leave a message for Rev. Heise in the comments below!

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3 Responses to “December Missionary Profile: Rev. Matthew Heise – Farewell and Godspeed!”

  1. After Pastor Cole introduced our Evangelism Board at Immanuel, Perryville to Missionary Heise as someone we could support, and that he writes a good newsletters, we have benefitted from his work on our behalf. From his archived newsletters I learned that one of my relatives Carol Schoenheit was an early school teacher of Matthew.

  2. Dear Reverend Heise,
    The children at St. John’s in Orange, CA would like to adopt you as their missionary to pray for you in 2014. After reading your blog and hearing that you will be in transition in your missionary career, the Lord brings you a “small and mighty” prayer team to support you in this next year. These PreK-3rd graders, and their families, will learn of your work and commitment to the furthering of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We just finished a month of lessons on what a missionary is and what they do. Thank you for following the Great Commission of going into all the world to preach the Gospel, and being an encouragement to us all. We would love to hear from you in the 2014, if that is possible.
    Love and Prayers,
    St.John’s Lutheran Church/Children’s Ministry
    in Orange, CA, USA

  3. Daniel Schelp says:

    I had the pleasure of living with Matt after I was evacuated out of Kyrgyzstan following 9/11, and traveling with him through Russia for 2 months. Matt was a great friend then, but he has been an even better missionary to the Russian-speaking people. I have continued to follow his various travels through his monthly newsletter, and have been amazed at his dedication to spreading God’s word, and the hardships that he has silently endured. Thank you for your service, Matt, and thank you for being a friend to everyone in need!

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