You’ll never be the same

When Rachel (Kionka) Schroeder arrived in Malawi after her graduation from Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., in 2007, she knew she’d crossed a threshold, not only into a new country, but into a new way of seeing the world.

A year later, she wrote: “The joy hits before you even get out of the truck. The choir sways out of the small brick church, clapping and dancing. Then they begin to sing. It is a sound you’ve never heard before; the harmonies are more brilliant, more penetrating. Stepping down onto the dirt, you realize you will never be the same again.”

Schroeder’s written reflection and accompanying photo earned her MLC’s Thalassa Prize in 2008.

Thalassa is a Greek word meaning “the sea.” The Thalassa contest gives MLC students and graduates who’ve served overseas an opportunity to share their experiences through a photo and 300-word reflection.

Thalassa Prize winners are awarded $1,000, half of which they designate to a mission of their choice. The prize was funded by a founding donor the first seven years, then by another donor for one year, and now by the MLC International Services Office.

The year 2016 marks ten years of Thalassa. Johannah Crass won the 2016 prize with her entry from Antigua, “White Robes.” Her submission joined more than one hundred over the years—from Peruvian villages and teeming cities in Asia, from a snowy Siberian college town and the sun-soaked Caribbean, from a Brazilian fazenda and the Zambian bush. Each photo and reflection is rich in particulars but tells the same story—of human needs and the Savior who meets them.

In honor of this anniversary year, the ten Thalassa winners reflected again on their ministries overseas, noting what they did afterward, what they learned, how they were changed.

Rachel Schroeder taught at two Lutheran high schools; chaperoned a mission trip to Ukraine; and spent another year overseas, this time in Mexico with her husband, Howard. She recalls that the Malawians taught her more than she ever taught them: to be happy even in the toughest of circumstances, to focus on Christ, and to consider service to the Lord a great privilege.

The 2007 winner, Kristina (Wessel) Troge, notes that she still uses the Spanish skills she honed in the Dominican Republic at Divine Savior Lutheran Academy in Miami, Fla. Similarly, the 2011 winner, Amber (Schlomer) Poth, lives in St. Louis, where she uses her Mandarin skills with the large Chinese population.

The 2012 winner, Paul Kelm, served in Japan from 1987 to 1989 and the Czech Republic from 1994 to 2006. Now teaching at Risen Savior, Milwaukee, Wis., he says: “Sharing

God’s Word in Milwaukee, though a world apart from the work we did in the Czech Republic, is still exciting and humbling. I am thrilled that the Lord continues to use me and my family to do his work of sharing his love and forgiveness with the world around us.”

See all the winning entries plus additional photos in the ten-year anniversary booklet, Martin Luther College Thalassa Prize 2007-2016, at



Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.


Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.


Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Print Friendly, PDF & Email