A bold missionary vision

Karen and Jerry Kolschowsky

Back in the 1980s, LSTC became one of two Lutheran institutions that incorporated Islamic studies into the very heart of their curriculum. Led by visionaries such as Harold S. Vogelaar and Roland Miller, these seminaries took the lead in facilitating productive and empathic dialogue with people of the Islamic faith. 

The state of affairs between Christians and Muslims during those days was anything but harmonious. The Iranian revolution had created fear in people’s minds, and various wars in the Middle East and Europe had created a general situation of disrespect and ignorance toward Muslims. 

Vogelaar and Miller were among those who saw that traditional missionary methods were not helping the situation. According to a scholar named Bruce Schein, “Because the missionary has the truth in capsule form, his main effort is not getting into the heart of society, but spreading his dogma… Missionaries are not interested in dialogue. They never have been.”

Energized by a similar concern, Vogelaar and Miller took the brave step of opening up their theological tradition to actual dialogue. They engaged in conversation both internally, with those of the Christian faith, and externally, with people of other faiths. They built empathy into the very infrastructure of their theology and used that empathy to generate knowledge and peace. Theirs was a vital and timely theological vision, and LSTC was the perfect place to let it incubate.

A fruitful partnership

Fast forward 20 years, and the state of affairs for kind-hearted Muslims across the world was no better. In the wake of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the fear that had been latent among Westerners became more pronounced. Acts of hate proliferated, compounded by ignorance.

One fateful Sunday morning, Vogelaar spoke at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Downers Grove, Ill. His ideas captured the imagination of a married couple who would eventually become two of his most valued partners—Jerry and Karen Kolschowsky. The Kolschowskys saw in Vogelaar and his Muslim colleague Ghulam-Haider Aasi the type of theological vision that they knew was needed to enable people of all faiths to thrive.

After numerous conversations between the Kolschowskys and folks like Jim Echols (then president of LSTC), Michael Shelley, and Kadi Billman, the Kolschowskys decided to partner with LSTC to make Vogelaar’s theological vision possible. They made two transformational gifts, which would endow both A Center for Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice (CCME) and the Harold S. Vogelaar Chair in Christian-Muslim Studies and Interfaith Relations. Both were formed in 2006.

A Christian-Muslim relations legacy

The primary work of the chair and the center was to prepare students for a lifetime of ministry, through which bridges could be built between Christians and Muslims. The center’s goal was to promote peace and mutual understanding, and to build cooperation and respect among people of all faiths.

Energized by their new partnership with the Kolschowskys, CCME saw significant growth. Conferences were held in which Christians and Muslims were brought together for theological reflection. Muslim scholars were welcomed onto the LSTC campus to teach. Off-campus activities were facilitated in cooperation with numerous nonprofits and mosques. Workbooks and theological studies were published and distributed to thousands of churches and hundreds of thousands of people across the country. 

Today, the work of CCME continues, as Muslim students and professors are welcomed into the LSTC community to study with our faculty, to teach our students, and to live authentically into their own faith while engaging, like us, in empathic dialogue. Academic coursework is open to anyone, regardless of their religious or academic identities, and outreach into churches and mosques across Chicagoland continues.

A continued partnership: Giving Day 2022

This year, the Kolschowskys have joined LSTC again. They have made a lead gift to our annual Giving Day celebration, challenging LSTC to raise no less than $200,000. Giving Day is an opportunity for alumni and friends across the globe to connect around the mission of forming tomorrow’s faith leaders. During a 24-hour period on April 5 and 6, the LSTC community will join one another online to support scholarships and invest in theological education.

When asked why they support LSTC and CCME, the Kolschowskys make their answer simple, saying that they can and they should offer such support. They are excited about the outreach that CCME generates. Anyone who wants to use CCME’s resources is welcome, and the Kolschowskys are glad to help bring people together, regardless of their confessional or professional backgrounds.

LSTC is incredibly grateful for the Kolschowskys’ generous partnership. Like Harold Vogelaar and Mark Swanson (who now holds the Vogelaar Chair in Christian-Muslim Studies), they are living into the hope-filled abundance of the Christian gospel. They build bridges instead of burning them and cultivate empathy instead of fear.


Story by Bill Myatt, director of philanthropic engagement.

Back to top