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Missionary Profile October 2015: Denise Schlesselman

–By Elizabeth Ahlman

This month, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is focusing on church workers. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring back the Missionary Profile. A missionary is certainly a church worker, and a unique one at that, with unique challenges. This month, we are profiling Globally Engaged in Outreach (GEO) Missionary, Denise Schlesselman. A Globally Engaged in Outreach Missionary serves a 1-2 year term, with the option of extending their service. Denise is in her second year of service.

Denise has one brother and one sister, and they grew up originally in Saginaw, MI. Now, however, most of Denise’s family lives in Missouri. Denise has seven nieces and nephewsDenise says that her family has been “supportive of me as a missionary.” Prior to coming to the mission field in Eurasia as a GEO, Denise participated in some short-term team trips. The first was an English Bible Camp in Bielsko Biaka, Poland in 2010. “I really enjoyed it,” says Denise, “and was not ready to come home when it was over.” In addition to that experience, Denise notes that she has also had many opportunities in her life to share the Gospel with non-Christians in other venues. For instance, her roommate in college was a non-believer from Japan. She also worked with a girl from Bosnia during college. This exposure to other cultures and the practice she had in sharing the Gospel have also helped her in her experience in the Czech Republic.

Denise and Denis, one of her students from Prameny. (Photo courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

Denise and Denis, one of her students from Prameny. (Photo courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

Her interest in other cultures, coupled with the experience in Poland, led her to want to serve a longer term. She says that she has always enjoyed learning about other cultures. She says that activities and studies in college also influenced her desire to serve:

I was part of the international club at Seward, also. My minor was in history and I enjoyed learning about different places and cultures. My professor talked about places he had been, and I felt a desire to see other countries also. I started to consider missionary service when I was working several part-time jobs. I had thought of it before, but since I didn’t have a full-time teaching job, I thought it would be a good time to consider missionary service.

Denise is deployed to Karvina, Czech Republic. Denise has served the majority of her time on the field in the Czech Republic, but also spent a short time in Central Asia in order to home school the children of an American family there. In Karvina, Denise teaches English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) in four different elementary schools and gymnasiums (a gymnasium is a higher level school, beginning with about the 5th class and going through the high school years). She is welcomed into the schools to help children learn English, but this also gives her an opportunity to build relationships and share the Gospel outside of the classroom. Denise teaches in these schools by invitation of the teachers. They suggest a topic, and Denise builds the lesson around it. Denise, who graduated in 2001 from Concordia University, Seward, Nebraska with a B.S. in Education, says that her college education prepared her well for her work because “many of the activities I am involved in now are [for] young[er] children. My education degree also helps in understanding and planning for groups with older students.”

Students in one of Denise's after school clubs work on activities. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

Students in one of Denise’s after school clubs work on activities. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

In addition to teaching in the classrooms, Denise works with a lot of extra-curricular activities. In one of the schools, Denise also has an after-school club for the kids. She has a younger group of students ages 7-8 and an older group of ages 11-12. She also leads an English Talk Group (ETG) for teenagers on Thursday evenings.

More of Denise's kids club students working hard during their after school activities. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

More of Denise’s kids club students working hard during their after school activities. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

During the summer especially, Denise is also involved in many different camp and special activities designed to reach the community with the Gospel. The first summer Denise was here, she participated in four different camps or mission weeks. She has served camps in Katowice, Poland; Pisek, Czech Republic; X Camp; The Norwegian Ride in Oldrichovice, Czech Republic; and a church camp for the youth in Těrlicko, Czech Republic. Denise explains, “in these positions I helped with the English activities or with carrying out activities. I have also been part of 2 Impuls weeks where foreigners and Czechs get together to do activities and share the Gospel in one town for a week.”

Denise with students at an English Talk Group, as well as fellow missionary Ben Helge (foreground with the gray t-shirt). (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

Denise with students at an English Talk Group, as well as fellow missionary Ben Helge (foreground with the gray t-shirt). (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

During the Impuls weeks, activities like barbeques, concerts, fun games and more take place in open areas of the town, and town residents are invited to join in the fun. The Gospel is then shared with those who participate.

The church where Denise attends in Karvina.

The church where Denise attends in Karvina. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

Through all of these different activities, Denise is able to share the Gospel both with those within the faith and with those from outside of the faith. She participates in choir at the local Lutheran church and enjoys the fellowship of believers there as she is an encouragement to fellow believers and they to her. She has opportunities to share the Gospel with those outside the faith especially in her ETG group. Students come to learn English. Some have heard the Gospel and are Christians while others are not, and through ETG they have the chance to be introduced to the Gospel for the first time. Denise says, “I am also able to share Bible stories with kids in the after school club. Additionally, I am building relationships with people, which will give me more opportunities to talk about God.”

The town square in Karvina, where Denise lives and serves. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

The town square in Karvina, where Denise lives and serves. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

In fact, says Denise, relationship-building for the sake of the Gospel is the main theme of her varied service. She says, “in the many different places I work, I hope to be able to get to know people so that I can talk with them about many things, including Jesus and God.”

Denise and her Czech language teacher, Jarka, at the Ostrava Zoo. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

Denise and her Czech language teacher, Jarka, at the Ostrava Zoo. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

One of the greatest challenges Denise encounters is with the Czech language. While she has been learning it, she is still not always able to speak with everyone with whom she would like to speak. There are also some small cultural differences which have contributed to just a touch of culture shock, for instance: “there are no Laundromats, milk [is not] a usual beverage choice, [there are] differences in what kinds of pictures are allowed in magazines, and I found out that when praying in a group, people end with the word ‘Amen’, but this doesn’t mean the prayer ends, just that it is the end of that person’s prayer and another may start soon.”

Denise with friends from her church choir on a trip to Prague, where they sang in the town square during the celebration of Jan Hus in August, 2015. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

Denise with friends from her church choir on a trip to Prague, where they sang in the town square during the celebration of Jan Hus in August, 2015. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Schlesselman).

On the whole, though, Denise has found great joys in her service as she teaches, builds relationships and proclaims the Gospel. One of her favorite memories is of one of the Impuls weeks. One of them was held in Denise’s town of Karvina. During the week they did many activities including cookouts, making bracelets and concerts. She enjoyed being out in the town and says, “it gave us many opportunities to talk to people about God.” In a city and country with a high percentage of atheism, every small encounter plants a very important seed. Give thanks to God for Denise, a worker in His harvest!

Interesting Facts about Denise:

  • Favorite TV shows include: Castle, Once Upon a Time, Criminal Minds and The Big Bang Theory.
  • Favorite Hobbies: Reading — Denise mainly reads on her tablet, but prefers real books; Bike Riding; Skiing, something new she learned last winter in the Czech Republic.
  • Denise’s extended family of more than 40 lives in Missouri, and they are very close.
  • She sang with her church choir in Prague for the commemoration of Jan Hus’ martyrdom this past summer.

Get Involved:

  • Learn more about Denise and consider supporting her.
  • Considering serving like Denise in a 1-2 year position as a GEO missionary? Contact Mission Recruitment in St. Louis at mission.recruitment@lcms.org.
  • Want to learn more about opportunities to serve? Click here.

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