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Supporting future pastors through Adopt-a-Student Program

Paul and Linda Arbesman spent much of their marriage on the move. Throughout their years together they moved twice in Maryland, twice in New Jersey, to California for three years, back to New Jersey and finally settled in Connecticut. But they say, no matter where they’ve been, there’s one thing that has always remained constant in their lives: a Lutheran church to attend with a faithful, theologically sound pastor.

“We’ve always been impressed with their biblical knowledge,” Paul said. “That speaks to the type of education they’ve been receiving through the Seminary, and that’s an important quality to support.”

“They have such hearts for the Lord,” Linda added.

Paul and Linda say that’s what drove them to begin supporting Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1982. A few years later, they also started specifically giving to the Adopt-a-Student Program. The Seminary’s Adopt-a-Student Program pairs donors with specific students. The donors support the students financially throughout the academic year.

The Arbesmans say their interest in supporting Seminary students came partially from their former pastor, Rev. Michael Ahlemeyer, who led their home congregation of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Terryville, Conn., after the parish had gone without a pastor for several months.

“He was fresh out of Seminary,” Paul remembered. “And he was such a tremendous young man. Even at a young age, he knew so much and was so helpful.”

The Arbesmans say Ahlemeyer encouraged his parishoners to remember and support seminarians, and several of the church’s groups answered the call. Linda says her women’s group decided to support a seminarian, and Paul says his Bible study group, the Emmaus Walkers, have been longtime supporters of the Adopt-a-Student Program. Heartened and encouraged by Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod pastors they had known over the years, the Arbesmans also began participating in the Adopt-a-Student Program as a couple.

“We’re aware that there’s a need for more pastors to serve Lutheran congregations,” Paul said. “We thought this might be a way to encourage young men who are preparing for ministry.”

Linda says she particularly appreciates the opportunity to get to know a specific student one-on-one. In fact, as they got more involved the program, the Arbesmans asked to support the same student year after year until he graduated, which allowed them to foster and deepen the relationship.

“The students write us letters and keep us informed on what is going on in their lives, what they’re studying and how their studies are going,” Linda said. “We like getting to know them. It makes it more personal. Oftentimes we’ll write back and forth.”

The Arbesmans’ “adopted” student for the current year is second-year seminarian Jonathan Jahnke. This is the second year they have been matched. Jahnke and his wife, Danielle, were married in Nebraska over the summer. “In talking to him, we learned they got married in Norfolk,” Paul said, “We know Norfolk because that’s where Orphan Grain Train is located, and we volunteer in their East Coast warehouse. It was nice to make that connection.”

Jahnke calls Paul and Linda “a brother and sister in Christ,” even though they’ve never met in person. He says he’s incredibly thankful for everything they have provided for him. “Their support of my studies at the Seminary fills my heart and lips with rejoicing,” Jahnke said. “It speaks volumes about the work of God’s people.”

The Arbesmans encourage other lay people in Lutheran congregations to support the pastors who will one day serve congregations like theirs. They say a faithful, theologically sound pastor is imperative for a church, and it should be a mission for Christians to make sure there are well-trained leaders among the community who continue to preach the Word.

“You can’t just have a building,” Paul said. “You have to have a pastor who passes on the message of Christ from one generation to the next and also takes care of the people in the flock right now. There’s not a more important task. It’s a blessing to be able to participate.”

To learn more about the Adopt-a-Student Program, visit www.csl.edu/aas or contact Seminary Advancement at 800-822-5267 or advancement@csl.edu.