Interim Executive Director of Missionary Services of the LCMS
Christian Boehlke: from the classroom to the Synod and beyond.
Christian Boehlke ‘00 of St. Louis, Missouri always knew he wanted to be a teacher. Christian grew up in Wisconsin and attended Milwaukee Lutheran High School and volunteered in various positions, including Vacation Bible School at his church. During his high school years, he visited various Concordia University campuses across the country and at one point strongly considered attending a Concordia in another city. One summer, he met up with some friends who decided to attend Concordia University, Nebraska. Their rave reviews of the university and glowing descriptions of campus life and course offerings made Christian pause and take a second look at the Seward university. He discovered that a high school classmate was attending Concordia Nebraska, and the courses offered seemed like a great fit for his interests, so he made the decision to attend college in Seward.
After exploring several different paths of study at Concordia Nebraska, Christian earned a bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis on elementary education. Because of his strong interest in math, he added a concentration in mathematics, as well as a minor in primary education.
“My dream job graduating from college was to teach kindergarten in the morning and middle school math in the afternoon,” he explained.
Christian said he enjoyed his time at Concordia Nebraska in part because of the university’s strong sense of community and the small town feel. He said that his professors who guided him and the friends that he made during his time on campus shaped his desire to serve and strengthened his faith. He added that both influences also impacted his desire to pursue missionary service.
“The professors that I encountered did a good job of focusing in on course content, encouraging students along the way and helping students see how that content was going to be useful,” he said. “As we encountered various vocations moving forward, particularly in the department of education, those professors mentored and encouraged pursuits outside of the classroom, helped develop skill sets, and helped me identify things that I enjoyed doing and things that I didn't enjoy doing.”
“And that really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, too,” he added. “And so I think a lot of them were instrumental in that. I would also say to my overall experience was such that there was always the opportunity to engage professors in dialog and discussion, to ask hard questions or to challenge ideas that were new. And that also, again, was very formative for me.”
Christian said many courses at Concordia prepared him for being a Lutheran school teacher. He specifically mentioned his Old Testament, New Testament and doctrine classes, as well as his preparation for receiving his Lutheran Teaching Diploma.
“Those were incredibly important for providing a foundation and a basis for understanding, not only for work as a Lutheran school teacher, but also teaching of the faith to students that the parents are bringing to you and saying ‘we want you to continue to be a part of the training and development of these children’,” he said. “And that foundation was absolutely necessary for my preparation as a Lutheran school teacher.”
Christian said Concordia Nebraska offered him numerous opportunities to grow and strengthen his faith.
“St. John's [is] right across the street, so there [is] regular divine service available, he said. “There were also a number of small country churches that my friends and I enjoyed regularly attending. And maybe even more significantly, there were a group of students during my years there who would regularly gather.”
He said the group would regularly gather for Compline several times per week, and that the group was an ongoing source of support and edification for him during his college years.
“That community would come together for prayer and hymns,” he explained. “The time together in God's word around the church's historic liturgy…there was great joy in that.”
Christian’s vocational path has taken him from international service to the classroom to work with The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in missions and beyond. He said that God has paved his way and supported him through his mentors and friends at Concordia and support of co-workers and friends along the way. His international experience began with a study abroad opportunity.
“My sophomore year I encountered a program at Concordia Seward through professors where students were selected to do a semester of study abroad in India. And the process was rather rigorous. Only eight students were selected to participate in this program, and I had some friends who encouraged me to consider that,” he explained. “I filled out the application thinking it was kind of crazy. What would a kid from the Wisconsin know about going to India? But I was intrigued by the possibility and wanted to pursue that. So [I] went through the application process, was guided by some of the professors along the way and ultimately was chosen for that opportunity to be one of the eight and that that experience of living outside of the United States even for a short period of time was incredibly formative.”
He said that particular program was started because one of the professors who was at Concordia, Seward was born and had grown up in India in the mission field. His parents were missionaries, and he had a desire that students would have at least a taste of that experience.
“And that's exactly what it did for me. I'm certain from the others that studied in India with me that we had a flavor of life abroad: the difficulties, the challenges, the number of things that can go wrong…the challenges with being terribly sick and still having to meet certain expectations,” he said. “That really paved the way for me to look into serving as a volunteer missionary.”
Late in his college career, Christian inquired about opportunities that the LCMS had for missionary service. His inquiry was met with excitement, and he met with the counselor who was in charge of placement. Shortly thereafter, he headed to Taiwan to teach English. Following that unforgettable experience, his first call was to a camp in Wisconsin. That call was followed by two calls both to serve as a principal and teacher at Lutheran schools in Wyoming and Texas.
“There was always a desire to be involved in international mission in some way, shape or form. So when the opportunity came along to join the LCMS Office of International Mission, while it was not easy to leave the school setting and certainly not easy to leave the community that we had in Texas, there was an excitement and an eagerness to be involved in international mission because of that,” he said.
Christian said the taste of international experience he had in India as a student and in Taiwan as a teacher were part of what led to where he is today in his work in the LCMS Office of International Mission.
“So whether it's formally in class or outside, [it’s important for] students to receive faithful preaching of the word, to receive the sacrament and to be strengthened in faith as [they] go along,” he said. “And sometimes the encouragement comes in the form of theological debate that takes place on campus when you have differing ideas than your peers or friends on specific theological topics or ideas. Even many debates on education and what that should look like, that would lead to a deeper dive into Scripture, into the confessions of the church and a constant reminder of the fact that we are poor, miserable sinners and are in need of forgiveness of sins with the assurance that brings life and salvation.”
Christian began working for the LCMS Office of International Mission in September 2013. At the time, the position was the manager of short term mission, and his job was to manage the groups and individuals who were serving for a period of six months or less. He served in that position for about six months. Following some staffing changes, he was promoted to Director of Missionary Services where he served for about four years. In that role, the responsibility was logistics and care of missionaries that were out in the field while also working to continue to understand the synod’s missional history, institutional knowledge, and getting a feel for the four regional offices and what they were accomplishing. He was then promoted to the position of associate executive director about four years ago, and his responsibility was to oversee our St. Louis operations, LCMS missionary recruitment, missionary care, logistics, business operations, and to ensure that the support that was required for our missionaries was available. In March of this year, the LCMS missions executive director had to take medical leave of absence and he was given the title of interim executive director, a position in which he still serves today. With that comes the responsibility of overall oversight of the budget, mission work around the globe.
The LCMS currently has 103 missionaries in 32 countries, which equals about 300 people in the mission field including families and children for which the LCMS is responsible. The LCMS is currently working with partners in more than 70 countries.
“I go back to my time in Taiwan as a way to look forward,” he said. “One of the things that I had the joy in experiencing was watching one of my Taiwanese English students come to the waters of holy baptism while I was still there. And it would actually be unfair of me to say just my student, because she was a student of a number of missionaries over the years…but this is the way in which God's word works, but [the Word] goes out and does not return empty. It was a special joy to be able to see to see that and even greater joy when she and her husband at one point served as missionaries for the LCMS…I see our missionaries on the ground across the world witnessing those baptisms, witnessing people coming to faith, having heard the word….There's great joy in in seeing God's word go out to the ends of the earth in that way.”
Christian and his family live in the Saint Louis area. His wife, Kristine, attended Concordia University, Wisconsin and also served as a volunteer English teacher in Thailand as well as a church worker, teaching Kindergarten prior to their marraige. Christian and Kristine have six children: Lillian, Lydia, Sophia, Evelyn, Levi and Esther. Their oldest daughter is a senior in high school and the youngest just turned four.
“We homeschool and enjoy having that flexibility. The curriculum that we continue to pursue, which is classical, is a curriculum that is based on what I was overseeing at Faith Lutheran in Plano, Texas, but continuing here in our home education,” he said.
He said the family is always busy with a variety of activities including sports and church choir and music events. The family also enjoys camping and hiking. The family also owns their own coffee roasting business – called Arrow Ridge Roasting – which was born in 2018 from a brainstorming session of Christian’s.
“My wife will tell you that my ideas never stop,” he laughed. “I always have ideas coming out of my head of what business we could do and what we could do with it and where, and [we] finally landed on coffee roasting as the business of choice. I'm a coffee snob. I love coffee. I love good coffee.”
The Boehlke family purchased equipment, started the business, opened up an online store registered with the state of Missouri, and they have been selling coffee to family, friends and others since that time.
“It's been fun both for the connections as well as for the craft,” he said. “It's rewarding, and it's an enjoyable experience. Between my day-to-day work, the home schooling and the coffee business that keeps us busy…Sometimes the nights can be long and the day is longer, but it’s fun. It's enjoyable.”
Christian said that in many ways his vocations have led him to work and opportunities he never could have imagined during his time at Concordia Nebraska, but he is thankful for many opportunities to serve God and others through his work.
“[In the] Lutheran school [where] I grew up, Trinity Lutheran in Freistadt, Wisconsin, [they] encouraged students on a daily basis to consider the vocations to which God had called them, be that pastor, teacher or other areas…My encouragement would be to pastors, to teachers, to parents to encourage their children to consider those careers and those vocations. The reward is not always there. And it's not always easy to point to…But at the same time, you do have opportunities to see the fruits of your labor in the way in which God has worked through us, in the lives of others and I think there's, again, great joy in that.
Christian said church work is definitely not about financial gain or authority or power or even the opportunity to make wide, sweeping change. It’s about walking alongside your friends, neighbors, parents, teachers and pastors to show what is really important, namely sharing God's Word to the ends of the earth and to affirm for them that the most important education is the one that lasts to eternity.
“My math education, it's great. I love it, but it doesn't do me much good in eternity,” he said. “The joy is knowing that God is using us to shape the hearts and minds of these children and others as they as they learn the scriptures, as they learn what the Lutheran Church teaches.”