How one woman turned her mission zeal into a lifetime of service “holding up the prophet’s hands”.
For almost 60 years Delores Griepentrog has been writing letters of encouragement and sending teaching materials to hundreds of pastors and teachers in at least a dozen countries. This dedication, she says, is a result of “a strong heritage of mission zeal” fostered by her grandparents, parents, and the Lutheran schools and churches she attended.
A heart for missions
Growing up in Wrightstown, Wisconsin, Delores attended St. John Lutheran Church, a congregation that her four great-grandfathers helped to start in 1869. She remembers mission Sundays with guest speakers from far away followed by bountiful potluck dinners. At St. John’s school, teacher Gerhardt Koepsell instilled in his students a heart for missions and encouraged their weekly offerings.
Delores married Gordon Griepentrog in 1954, and her days became filled with raising five children, caring for their home, and helping with farm work. In 1963 she read a letter in the Green Bay Press-Gazette from a pastor in Nigeria who wanted to correspond with a Lutheran Christian in the United States.
Delores wrote to Pastor E. U. Eshiett about her farm and her family and shared words of encouragement for his work of spreading the gospel. He told her about his family and how far he walked to hold services in various villages. He mentioned that a bicycle would be a big help. Delores appealed to family and church friends who responded with $100 to send to Africa, and Pastor Eshiett got his bicycle.
In 1973 Eshiett attended Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis., for a year. He happily accepted this opportunity even though it meant temporarily leaving his wife and children. One of his first needs was for warm winter clothing, which Delores collected with help from church friends. Eshiett visited the Griepentrog farm and was impressed with the large buildings and modern equipment. He thought American farmers were incredibly wealthy until Gordon explained loans and mortgages.
Delores and Pastor Eshiett corresponded for three decades, despite splits and realignments within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Nigeria. However, by 1993, Pastor Eshiett reported that growing strife between various tribes and factions was making his work and life very difficult. For the sake of his family’s safety he felt it necessary to return to his home village. That was the last letter Delores received.
Letters to India
By the mid-1970s Delores was corresponding with Christians in southern India as well. Mr. G. George Jeyaraj, a teacher in Tamil Nadu, wrote:
Thank you very much for your kindest slip of letter and very fine God’s book. I have received from your kindest packet:
Bible Story—4 books
From Grace to God—4 books
My children are reading these books very interesting and these are very useful to my school children and my church Sunday school children.
Mr. Jeyaraj died in 1997, but Delores continued to write to his daughter, Regina David, a Christian middle school teacher.
Another correspondent was Pastor L. Aaron of Andhra Pradesh, also in southern India. With gifts of money and shipments of donated books, Pastor Aaron established the Griepentrog Christian Library, whose motto was “Open for all.” At that time Delores could mail a 30-pound canvas sack of books to India for $11.
In 1978 Pastor Aaron wrote, “Our library has been functioning well by the grace of Almighty. A number of Hindus, students and gentlemen have been visiting often. It has become a source of inspiration to several young men. It is informative and instructive. All these people in India of Andhra Pradesh owe you a lot and they are grateful to you.”
Delores’ daughter, Nancy, remembers learning about this library when she was in elementary school. It inspired her to create a village scene in India as a school project. When Nancy married John Roebke in 1993, she became a missionary wife, serving alongside her husband in Bulgaria, Wisconsin, Alabama, and now Malawi.
Her children are grown and married, her husband is enjoying heaven with Jesus, and Delores, now 88, is still practicing the almost-forgotten art of letter writing. One of her favorite causes is the student tuition fund at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Matthew Zeng, class of 2023, received some of these funds and wrote to thank Delores. He explains: “For me, as a fresh seminary student, I think her letters were an encouragement that I was in the prayers and thoughts of God’s people. That’s an empowering thing to know that you are not alone as you study and train for the ministry.” (See sidebar for more.)
When asked why she continues her extensive correspondence, Delores replies, “It is something I can do from home.” The letters are her way of “holding up the prophet’s hands” until she meets her pen pals in heaven, seeing them face-to-face and rejoicing with them at Jesus’ feet.
Author: Janet Klann
Volume 108, Number 11
Issue: November 2021