Next month we will resume with an article on an LCCA Called Worker. This is a special edition article. This month’s focus: Lawrenz Family
In your mind, picture a bovine herd grazing on an African plain: cattle or Cape Buffalo or Wildebeest – doesn’t matter which animal you imagine. Now narrow your sights just to the calves. The ones born around the same time of year are similar in size, roughly the same in height and weight. But do you see that one that is a bit taller, bigger and bulkier than the rest? Notice that it is also more solid and muscular than the others. Tough as nails. According to Ngoni culture and language, that one is called the Jere. In every herd of animals, or even in a gathering of various species of animals, there is always one that stands out by its sheer size and bulk. That one is Jere. Now look at another crowd in Africa.
This time, not animals, but people. See the one that stands out above the rest? The one that is a bit taller than most? Solid and robust? That’s Jere. Some know him as Steve Lawrenz. Many, however, in Zambia and Malawi, know him as Jere. Pastor Jere. Jere is his African name, given to him by a man from the Ngoni tribe in Zambia. The name stuck. He carries the token Ngoni name well! A bit taller than most of the rest of us. Tough as the calluses on the feet of Ngoni warriors. Strong as an ox. Steve used to pick up missionary kids by the ankles and swing them around upside down. They loved it (until they turned 18 years of age). Some people have commented that Steve doesn’t know his own strength. Why would he? After all… he’s Jere. Interestingly, Jere is also the name of the Ngoni Chief of chiefs sitting on the throne in Malawi. Jere is the surname of the royal family. The Chief of chiefs will always be a Jere. Chief Jere stands tall, not only in his home village but in the whole country. The name and the position is so highly honored that a late Chief Jere has been pictured on the 20 Kwacha monetary note of Malawi: Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa II Lazalo Mkhosi Jere. (Whew! How would you like to write that name every time you had to sign a check!?) Ironically, some have stated that Steve Lawrenz even looks like Chief Jere. But these are not the reasons why so many people know Steve Lawrenz as they do. The Africans in Malawi and Zambia know Steve Lawrenz, not for his name nor his height but for his… heart. Like David of old, a man after God’s own heart. A heart for the people Pastor Jere and Malawian children in a fishing village But Steve will be the first to point out that it’s best to look at God’s heart and not his. After all God’s heart is filled with a love for the people that is as unfailing as it is eternal. God’s heart beats with a passion to touch the hearts of people, filling them with forgiveness and faith and love. He who is loved much has much reason to show it. Jere does. When God called, Steve came. He came to Africa with energy and enthusiasm and determination.
Only the Lord knows how many sermons Steve preached, babies he baptized, and people he confirmed and communed. Over Steve’s ministry of 28 plus years in Africa, how many Gospel seeds were planted, watered and nurtured? How many hearts were encouraged, lives changed or faith renewed? It wasn’t so much the fruit of his work that encouraged him as it was the promises of God. The Word fed his faith and the people fueled his passion. His heart beat for the people. It was easy to tell. One can just hear it in his voice and see it on his face. If Steve will allow me and if you’ll indulge me, may I say that I see a special verse in Scripture that has Jere written all over it: 1 Thessalonians 1:8. It reads…”We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because you had become so dear to us.”
If I didn’t already know Paul had written those words to the Thessalonians I would think that Steve had penned it to the Zambians and Malawians. Jere’s life and style of ministry revealed his heart for the people. He truly shared not only the gospel but his life as well.
The people indeed had become dear to him. Oh, so dear. Find Steve in Malawi and you’ll hear him with people: chatting in Chewa, rehearsing people’s names, delighting children with his much loved antics. Jere loves to put cross stickers on the foreheads of African children and tell them about Jesus. Locate Steve and you’ll notice that he’s chumming with the national pastors, working on building relationships and looking to do the good works that the Lord has already prepared for him to do. But no more. No more? Well, I should clarify those words a bit better: he will be doing these things in Africa no more. America, yes. Africa, no. Steve and his wife Lori are leaving Africa. They are bidding farewell to the land of Malawi in which they hung their hat for the last seven years. From their home in Blantyre, Malawi and from 10,000 feet in the air, on 2 March 2015 they will wave good bye to neighboring Zambia where they raised their three children, Scott, Diana and Adam. What’s it like to get rid of most of your things, pack the rest and move back to a place you left almost 3 decades ago? “Exciting!” Steve says with enthusiasm. “I love adventure! In fact, for me, going to America now is like going to a foreign country. Yes, I grew up in the USA and served as a parish pastor for 4 years in Minnesota and 6 years in Pennsylvania. Except for furloughs, however, I’ve been away from the USA for almost 30 years. So many things have changed. Lori and I will need time to transition back into American culture.” Steve agrees wholeheartedly that the time is right for their move: “About my position being eliminated and I going back to the USA, I agree with it totally! I support the idea of going back to the USA with no missionary to replace me because it is the right thing to do in the development of a mission.” Steve recalls the time when there used to be 13 missionaries in Malawi and 11 in Zambia. At this time there are now but four mission families in Zambia and with Steve’s and Lori’s departure from Malawi there remains but four also. Dear Steve and Lori. We will miss you. Many many Malawians and Zambians will miss you. Thank you, Steve and Lori, for sharing both the gospel and your lives with us in Africa. You have become dear to us. You have touched the lives of countless people in these two countries and left an indelible mark upon them…God’s indelible mark! God’s love in Jesus Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the cross has found its mark not on foreheads but in hearts. Dear Mission Partners, if you ever see Steve in America, call him by his African name. Call him…Jere. He’ll be glad you did. You’ll be glad you did. If he starts reaching down to pick you up by the ankles to swing you around upside down, either let him show you his strength, or you can ask him to instead share with you a story or two of his experience in Africa. In Chichewa or English or both. You’ll be in for a real treat. He not only has a flair for a good story, but a passion for the greatest one ever told. The story of how God has… a heart for the people.
Missionary to Malawi, John Holtz, gives a great send off to Missionary Steven Lawrenz as his time in Africa comes to an end and he returns to the United States.