Throwback: Mission Then and Now

Dr. Mike Rodewald

About The Episode

For this episode of Essentially Translatable, the celebration of 60 years of Lutheran Bible Translators ministry continues with this insightful throwback from 2020. Rewind to the first episode of the podcast and listen as current CEO Rich Rudowske interviews Dr. Mike Rodewald, the former Executive Director of Lutheran Bible Translators.  

Spanning over 33 years of service, Dr. Rodewald details his journey from a high school band teacher to becoming a dedicated missionary in the countries of Liberia, Botswana, and later a regional director in South Africa. The conversation dives into the evolution of mission work, the impact of Bible translation, and the essential role of missiology in effective ministry.  

Dr. Mike discusses the challenges and joys he has faced over the decades. Through these experiences he has learned to recognize the importance of relationships and having good cultural understanding in pursuit of spreading God’s Word. This podcast also touches on the strategic relocation of the organization headquarters to Concordia, MO and the direction Lutheran Bible Translators has taken in empowering local communities for self-sustaining missions. 

Dr. Mike Rodewald: [00:00:00] And I just get kind of awed to see how God has used all of this and all this experience and all the relationship to be inside God’s story of salvation like this for this time.

Rich: All right, welcome back to another episode of Essentially Translatable podcast brought to you by Lutheran Bible Translators. I am Rich Rudowske, your host, and today we are going to throw back to an episode with previous executive director, Dr. Mike Rotewald. As we

served with Lutheran Bible translators for 43 years as first a missionary to Liberia in 1979. He was married and joined by his wife Cindy in the early nineties in Liberia. They had to evacuate pretty quickly after they both arrived there as a married couple. And then we’re sent to Botswana where they spent [00:01:00] 15 years in ministry among the Kalanga people before moving to Pretoria, South Africa, where Dr.

Mike. served as an associate missionary with Lutheran Bible Translators and as a leader in the Lutheran Church of Missouri Synod’s Office of International Mission. In 2014, he accepted the call to become the eighth executive director of Lutheran Bible Translators, the post he held until his retirement in 2022.

The episode you’re going to hear was recorded Back in 2020 at the height of COVID lockdowns, it was the very first episode of the Essentially Translatable podcast, but still great content for today where we talk about how mission has changed from when Dr. Mike first got into mission till the time we were talking and you get a picture of Lutheran Bible translators also changing over that timeframe as well.

We hope you enjoy this throwback episode with Dr. Mike Rodewald.

Our guest today is Dr. Mike [00:02:00] Rodewald, executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of Lutheran Bible Translators. He has served in that post since 2014, serving previously as LBT Associate Missionary and Regional Director for Africa with the Lutheran Church Missouri Senate. world mission from 2007 to 2014.

And then as a Lutheran Bible translators, missionary to Liberia and Botswana with his family from 1979 to 2007, Mike has a master’s in applied linguistics from the university of Texas at Arlington and a PhD in missiology from Concordia theological seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Mike. Hey, nice to be here, Rich. Thanks for inviting me. Yeah, glad to. And it’s really exciting to start off this, this podcast, and we’re excited to learn more about you and the vision that you have for Bible translation ministry and LBT. Tell us about how you got started in mission, what you were doing before, and how God led you to serve with LBT.

Dr. Mike Rodewald: Well, uh, we actually, I was, uh, teaching high school band back in the day [00:03:00] and I loved teaching the students. It was a lot of fun, but I realized that, uh, public education was probably something that I did not want to continue in. And what’s been interesting is recently I’ve connected with some of my former students via Facebook, and that’s brought back a lot of the memories of those days teaching high school band and teaching music and public education.

During that time, I was visiting my parents, my father’s pastor, and they had a movie set up in the gym on one of these big reel to reels, and my father suggested, why don’t you watch that movie over there? You won’t be here when we’re going to show this. But then I did. It was called From Mojave Sands, and at the end of it, it was a Lutheran Bible translator movie back in the day, and there was a fellow on there that said, come and help us.

And you know, that, those words right there, it piqued my interest. And I thought, well, that sounds really interesting. I wonder if I could do something like that. And I took a course in linguistics and I found, Oh, this is intriguing. And that’s how it started. Then one day, several years [00:04:00] later, I found myself on a plane going to Africa, still wondering kind of, how did this all happen?

But no joy. Maybe that’s how everybody is when they start in mission is, wow, how did I get here, but it’s been a real joy.

Rich: Yeah, that’s great. So, a long time in missionary service, and what are some of the ways that you saw and have seen the Lord working while you’re in missionary service?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: For me, it’s been a real privilege to serve in missions.

My family and I served 33 years. It’s really a big world, and each culture has its own perspective on life and how it’s going. We call that worldview. And when one learns another culture through experience and one learns to question one’s own culture and worldview, it just opened my mind. It just was a series of aha moments.

I saw working in mission and learning other people and how God is for all people as being one of the most exciting things that happened to me in missionary service. That’s really the point. As CEO of Lutheran Bible Translators, God’s Word is for everybody, and [00:05:00] the end result is always faith through the Holy Spirit, and how people react to the Word or understand it can be different.

One of the highlights, uh, I thought about when you asked me about this podcast was it just happened just fairly recently, but when I was in Liberia in the 80s, I was working in a language group called Bondi, and we, uh, did a translation of Genesis, just the one book of, out of the Old Testament. And, uh, one literacy class back in the eighties, late eighties, we made those copies available.

And this was in a predominantly Muslim area. And I remember one man coming up to us after reading that and saying, wow, this, these stories are really great to hear. They’re different from the ones we’ve learned, but if you have more of this, we’d really like that. And last year we were making a survey again in that area to see about the need for, uh, Translating the whole New Testament in that area, and redoing the New Testament, which has been done for many years.

And someone came up to the people who were doing the survey, and they had a tattered, broken copy of this Genesis. And [00:06:00] this old man who had it, he said, we need more of this, we need more of this. And he had kept it all those almost 35 years. He’s been, it’s tattered, and some pages are missing, and everything else.

But for him, God’s Word, it’s just very precious to have that. And that was a highlight. I just felt really happy to see how God is using that text over 35 years to keep this man engaged.

Rich: That’s fantastic. So tell us some about your pathway from missionary service to becoming the CEO of Lutheran Bible Translators.

Dr. Mike Rodewald: My wife, as I was studying for linguistics, we went back to Liberia, but there was a civil war was going on and it was hard to get back to the language area. It just was not possible at that time, too dangerous. The war broke out fully, then we went to Botswana and we worked in Botswana for a number of years before becoming a regional director for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in Africa.

That was in 2008. That was really a joy to, to get out and discover as I served as regional director, I made relationships all [00:07:00] over the continent. When I think about meeting some of those leaders so many years ago, none of us realized at the time that it would lead to a partnership for Bible translation.

Now that I’ve been called as CEO of Lutheran Bible Translators for the last six years, The experiences and relationships built through those years, they continued building God’s mission that people might know Jesus. The Makani Yeshu’s church in Ethiopia is the largest Lutheran church in the world with over 10 million.

Their leader’s vision for Bible translation into the future makes for a great partnership and it’s awesome to see God’s hand at work. And I just get kind of awed to see how God has used all of this and all this experience and all the relationship to be inside God’s story of salvation like this of this time.

That’s awesome.

Rich: So, yeah, it’s really amazing how the, the importance of relationships as you go along. And so that really testifies to the importance of long term service or how God has used that and brought people back together in ways that you wouldn’t have guessed. It just kind of circles back around and God’s always [00:08:00] at work in his mission.

Which kind of leads to, uh, missiology, you have a PhD in missiology, and you’ve talked a lot to the organization about the importance of that, but maybe for our listeners, what is missiology, why is that important in our work, maybe for the church in general, and for, for Lutheran Bible Translators?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: overseas. I learned a lot of experiences, but missiology has allowed me to hone them and put them all in a framework that I can actually use and that they make sense.

So, missiology really is, it’s the study or science of mission. Missiology has theology at its center, and it researches culture and the ways of the world in order to reduce barriers to the gospel. Let me put it that that way is maybe the simplest. way of thinking about it. It reduces barriers to what God is doing in the world through His Word.

So I’ve always approached missiology more as telling me what not to do rather than telling me what to do. The gospel is everything it really needs to be, and [00:09:00] we set up barriers to the gospel by our human actions. We are imperfect people. So we mean well, but we don’t always do well because our actions are not perceived as we thought they should have been.

There’s a missiological question. If we proclaim the gospel and no one hears, have we really proclaimed the gospel? So, it’s similar to translation principles. If you follow good translation principles, you will get good output. If you follow good missiological principle, you won’t make as many mistakes and set up problems that later have to be over.

And through my experience in Africa and traveling around to different Lutheran churches and traveling around to different partners, It’s one of the biggest problems that I’ve seen is mission people, as we serve in mission, especially in Western mission, we mean well, but we don’t always act in ways that are perceived as we intended them to be perceived.

And then that sets up barriers to the very things

Rich: that we’re trying to do. So then that missiological perspective, you bring into a leadership role as CEO, [00:10:00] how does that impact your role or help you in your role as LBT’s executive

Dr. Mike Rodewald: director? Well, missiology points us straight to the story of salvation through Jesus as God’s mission to all people.

And really that’s our purpose in Bible translation ministries, whether it’s as a translation advisor, as a scripture engagement resource, or Teaching missionary kids, whatever we’re serving, whatever mission purpose we are in. There’s no other purpose except to point people to God’s story of salvation. We seek excellent output in translation and what we do, not because we are proudly professional in our mission efforts, but because we really want to be excellent as we serve in God’s mission.

Awesome. And you’ve

Rich: been, you’ve been doing this for a while now, both already five and a half years as CEO, but then your overall experience and. How many years in Africa?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: 33 years or so.

Rich: Yeah. So what, what changes have you experienced in Bible translation ministry or missionary service in [00:11:00] general over your career?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: Yeah, that’s that one I could talk for the next 30 minutes straight on it, but I won’t, but just briefly, translation used to occur on typewriters, used to occur by hand, typewriters, which you made a mistake and then you started the page over again. And then we had the kind of faulty. Computers, which always seemed to lose all the data that you had done for the last week, or maybe as user errors, we got used to it.

We had texts disappear everything. And so the process was slowly getting faster, but it was still fraught with errors, but, uh, getting to that end product, uh, distribution, printing, getting that Bible printed and getting it distributed was a long and arduous process, and, uh, it really depended on a missionary advisor missionaries were in charge of the project.

And they were the ones who had the technical ability to be able to do that. Technology is approved and that has really accelerated our processes. And one thing I’ve noticed in this education and the communities in which we work has improved radically from [00:12:00] those days so many years ago, 30 years ago, we’re now in marginalized communities and the church just that we work.

There are people with PhDs, masters. And so the ability to do things with our implementing partners. Is much more full than it was years ago. So increasingly our role has turned into an advising and support role rather than an implementing role as our partners are actually doing the implementing. And we’re advising and making sure that the quality is maintained.

We’re also moving towards self sustainability within the church and language community. That is a real goal of ours, is how much can the local language community contribute towards this effort. That creates ownership by the community. So when a community is really ready for translation, it’s possible we can move much faster and with better quality than we ever did in the past.

The bad side of that, there’s always a flip side, is it’s easier for those with little or no translation principle knowledge to do a bad translation really quickly. That does not produce quality [00:13:00] output. That’s a new and ongoing challenge that we’re seeing sometimes. And it’s not particularly our problem, but it attracts resources which could be targeted for actually bringing God’s Word into the community.

And it also points people in the wrong direction. When they read a bad translation and they’re pointed not to Christ, but they’re pointed away from Christ through that bad translation. So it’s a, it’s a concern. Technology has helped us a lot, really accelerating what we’re doing and making better quality possible.

It’s also done just the opposite too. Yeah.

Rich: It’s never as simple as you hope it will be. Is it, uh, that we had a quote on our social media recently from Andrew Walls, who, uh, says something to the effect of considering all the complexity in translation. It’s amazing. That’s the way God in his wisdom chose to reach people through the spread of the word and in the heart language.

I’m sorry to be

Dr. Mike Rodewald: laughing about that, but

Rich: it’s true. Yeah. So you became executive director of LBT in 2014. And then one of the first things that your new administration did at that point was to move the [00:14:00] headquarters the next year in 2015. So. Why did you start there? What was the need for that or the importance of that?

And how has that played into LBT strategic vision, uh, at that time and moving forward?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: Well, at that time, we had a big building in the Chicago area, and, uh, it needed about a half a million dollars of deferred maintenance. And I do have to say in the first days of LBT, when we were first in the Chicago area, Lutheran Bible Translators, history of Lutheran Bible Translators started in California, and in 1984 moved to Chicago.

And we had a large building, there was about 15, 000 square feet. And we needed a large staff, and we needed a large building to support our missionaries overseas. That everything was done manually and we had to ship barrels. We needed space for shipping out everything else. But as time and technology has come in, the need for the large building no longer was there.

Personally, I think the day of the big building for nonprofits is a [00:15:00] leftover. And for us as Lutheran Bible translators, it detracted from spending for our overseas programs. So we sold it and we moved the organization to a more cost effective location. So we’re right here in Concordia, Missouri right now.

The first year we moved, we could reallocate 400, 000 for ministry rather than maintenance costs and the other things that we would expect to have paid if we were to maintain that building. So, as CEO, that makes me very happy to take 400, 000 out of maintenance and put it to ministry. And we have a great partnership with St.

Paul Lutheran High School here in Concordia, and they lease us space right now. We do everything through technology. We don’t need the big offices. We don’t need a big space. Rather, we have a lot of shared space here on the campus. The campus used to be a two year Lutheran university, and so they had space and they said, we can use this.

We’ll just share the space and give us a really nice lease. We also have really committed staff from the community and they feel privileged to be serving in God’s [00:16:00] mission right here in Concordia, Missouri, who would have ever thought? So

Rich: awesome

Dr. Mike Rodewald: to

Rich: be here. Yeah, that’s great. So now when we’re, we’re here in 2020, what’s strategic for you, like right now, as we looked In 2020, we’ve kind of come to this point and there’s staff, there’s the missionary and the partners.

And what’s the key kind of moving forward from your perspective?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: Well, short terms, COVID 19 is, I think everybody is scrambling to say, what does this mean to us and what is our new strategy? How do we continue to implement as maybe methods are changing and our context is changing? But one of the main things which does not change is the helping our partners to be more self sustaining in the vision of Bible translation.

We can kind of look at the research previous to the COVID 19 and we can see that the capacity of Lutheran churches here in the United States is not growing, rather it’s really in decline. So the way of the past, depending upon Western support to accomplish Bible translation ministry, is not going to be the future someday along the line, whether it’s [00:17:00] tomorrow or whether that’s 10 years in the future.

But, there’s tremendous capacity in emerging Lutheran churches throughout the world. This does not mean that we will not continue to play a role, it’s just that the capacity is emerging and is growing in our Lutheran partners throughout the world, through Bible societies throughout the world. They’re willing and able to partner in mission to reach marginalized language communities with the gospel in their own languages.

So, training, skill building, self sustainability accelerates what we are already doing. The experience, uh, being gained by our current missionaries creates leaders to help emerging Lutheran Church bodies and local Bible societies to put God’s Word in the hands of those who need it. So, we’re moving to the new paradigm.

There’s a whole new paradigm which is emerging, and as these churches become stronger and stronger We praise God that we’re working with them, that the vision of Bible translation will continue, and God’s Word will continue to go forth, no matter what the future brings. That’s great.

Rich: So Lutheran Bible Translators is part [00:18:00] of a collective impact alliance called Illuminations, which has been in the media from time to time and has some interesting things going on.

But for our listeners, what is a collective impact alliance and who is involved in that? Why is that beneficial for Lutheran Bible Translators and for Bible translation work in general?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: Yeah. A collective impact occurs when a group of agencies or a group of people agree to cooperate for a mutual goal.

It doesn’t really mean that each is only concentrated on that one goal. Maybe each does a variety of things, but they agreed to concentrate on one specific goal. In addition to the other goals that you may have as your own agency or your own personnel. So we serve in this Illuminations Impact Alliance with nine other Bible translation agencies.

And each of the agencies does a variety of things, but we agreed to come to work together to cooperate on this common goal of getting God’s word in people’s hands, reaching those who do not have God’s word in [00:19:00] their own languages. So there are different motivations. There’s different area of operations, but we’re serving in a collective impact alliance.

It helps focus how and where the need for Bible translation exists. And it also helps us to build new tools and new strategies for reaching people groups. Not every place that we go can others go. And we can go to other places, especially through our Lutheran connections overseas, where other agencies cannot go.

So Illumination Resource Partners, then they support this whole movement towards Bible translation. And each individual agency also continues to support itself for Bible translation. Things that are not in that mutual impact goal. So in the end, we can do more for Bible translation and through Bible translation, through collective impact alliance than we can if each of us are working individually.


Rich: with all the opportunities that folks have to be in missions, a lot of our listeners, probably when they are at church or even just through their own mailbox or email box in these days, [00:20:00] will receive lots of offers to be involved in making a difference in the world or being involved in mission. Why should someone consider getting involved in Bible translation ministry as the mission where they would put their focus, their limited resources, and so on?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: I am going to sound probably a little bit biased. And somebody will say, well, sure, well, you’re CEO of Lutheran Bible Translator, so you’re going to say this. But in my 33 years in Africa, I’ve seen a lot of good things happen in mission. And I’ve really noted that people are well intentioned as they serve even if they don’t have a suitable missiological basis for their actions.

God’s Word in one’s own language is, it’s incomparable. Just as Jesus comes to us in a way that we can understand, the Word in one’s own language comes without a barrier. There’s really nothing we must do, there’s no other language we must learn in order to know of God’s salvation through Jesus. So, Bible translation is the story of salvation moving throughout the world to the very end of the earth.

[00:21:00] Generations are affected, and Bible translation, it changes the world. And that’s why I’m so, uh, passionate about Bible translation, the ministries of Lutheran Bible translators, and what we’re doing, because that’s the way that Jesus is known throughout the whole world.

Rich: So, what keeps you motivated to stay in ministry and mission, and what brings you joy in this work?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: I get a joy in that as we serve, through Bible translation, that people know Jesus Christ. There’s no other purpose for me that people know Jesus Christ, because that changes the world. And when people know Jesus Christ, then, uh, I’ll get to see those people in heaven. And, um, I’ll get to talk about my part in the story of God’s salvation, and they’ll talk about their part, and we’ll see everyone all together.

That gives me great joy. No other purpose. Amen.

Rich: And so, yeah, in today’s world, the 21st century changes in our society and the role and the influence of the church here. What advice do you have for anybody listening who may be considering ministry service of some kind or missionary service?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: As God [00:22:00] calls people to serve, I think there are two necessities.

There’s some sort of missiological training, missiological training and awareness. It doesn’t have to be called missiological training, but one has to be aware of when you’re working in a different culture, how things are different, how the people’s worldview is different. When one has to understand that we’re serving in God’s mission, and if we’re doing it because it makes us feel good, if we have a motivation that says, well, maybe I can bring salvation to people.

Yes, that’s true, but really we’re serving in God’s mission. This is God’s purpose. This is what God’s doing in the world, and He’s using us. And then you got to have some experience. I think those are, Mistheological training and experience are really two hard earned necessities. Experience doesn’t come without making mistakes.

So, this really doesn’t mean you should not share Christ with your neighbor, it just means if you’re involved in carrying the gospel to those in a different culture, you really need to learn to lower barriers to what you’re trying to do, that people perceive Christ in your actions. [00:23:00] Otherwise, you’re guilty of being perceived differently than you intended, and you set up those barriers.

I remember when I was in my first term as a missionary, I was learning language and culture in that village. And the local people, they kept asking me questions. Why are you really coming here? Are you here to find gold? Are you here to be rich? Are you here to find a wife? Or whatever it happened to be.

They could not perceive that I was there to bring the gospel. That was outside of their paradigm. And I had a car, I had a motorbike. I was the rich guy. And so they did not see My actions, everything that I was doing as congruent with the gospel, and it took years for them to actually understand, oh, yes, okay, now we understand exactly why you came.

You came to, to, to bring the gospel to us. So it takes patience, it takes experience, it takes making mistakes, and it takes missiological acumen. You don’t call it missiological acumen. Somehow those lessons have to be learned in that. If you’re interested in mission service with the Lutheran Bible translators, we make sure that you’re trained in all those skills [00:24:00] you need, and we shepherd you through as you make your mistakes and you gain your experience.

We need valuable mission leaders for the future and not just mission doers, but we need the leaders who are going to serve with our partners that God’s Word might go forth to the very ends of the earth.

Rich: All right. Thanks. Any other thoughts you’d like to share with the audience listening today?

Dr. Mike Rodewald: Yeah. No, I’m ecstatic to be on this podcast.

Thank you so much for making it possible. And for me, it’s a real privilege to serve as CEO of Lutheran Bible Translators. I love seeing how God is using us to reach others, that they might also be in this story of God’s salvation through Jesus. And we all serve together as those who support and give their gifts, those who serve overseas, those who are implementing partners.

God weaves this wonderful story and puts us in it and uses all that other people might know Jesus Christ as their Savior. There’s no other purpose and set that others know who Jesus is. And that changes the world. And for me, that’s really fun to be a part of.[00:25:00]

Rich: The story of how God is always at work in mission is still captivating. It was great to rewind the tape a little bit and listen to that very first interview with Dr. Mike. back in 2020. And he, of course, with Cindy and their family, an important part of Lutheran Bible translators history. But as he would always say, the mission is God’s mission and we all have our time and others come before us someday when we’re gone, others are going to come after us.

But if you’re in mission now, it’s your time. And it’s always good perspective to be looking for where the Lord is leading. and leaning into serving in His mission. As Lutheran Bible Translators continues to celebrate our 60th anniversary this year, if you would prayerfully consider a special gift for the 60th anniversary, you can go to lbt.

org, scroll down to Featured Campaign, which is the More Than Words campaign, It’s aimed at increasing capacity of partners for sustained local Bible ministry. And check that out [00:26:00] and prayerfully consider giving a gift there. Thanks for listening. God bless.

Thank you for listening to the Essentially Translatable podcast brought to you by Lutheran Bible Translators. You can find past episodes of the podcast at Or subscribe on Audible, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Follow Lutheran Bible Translators social media channels on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Or go to lbt. org to find out how you can get involved in the Bible Translation Movement and put God’s Word in their hands. The Essentially Translatable Podcast is edited and produced by Audrey Seider. Artwork designed by Sarah Rudowske. Music written and performed by Rob Veith. I’m Rich Rudowske. So long for now.


  • Listen to the first episode of Essentially Translatable from 2020. 
  • Dr. Mike Rodewald shares his background in mission work and highlights significant moments from his missionary service. 
  • Watch “From Mojave Sand to African Bush” published by Lutheran Bible Translators in 1973.

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