You are currently viewing A lifetime of service to LWMS

A lifetime of service to LWMS

Mary Lou Schmidt and Isola Millett have known each other for almost 60 years. They met in the cry room at St. Matthew’s, Oconomowoc, Wis., in the 1950s and have been friends ever since.

Schmidt and Millett not only shared laughs and tears through the years; they also shared a passion for mission work. That’s why they were excited to hear about a new organization in 1963 called the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS). They already were serving as area contact women for the medical mission in Africa, and they recognized this new organization as another great opportunity for involvement.

“The culture was different in those days,” says Millett. “The possibility for participating in something like this was limited for women. We were always interested in mission work through our congregation. When there became an opportunity to have something that we women could do, we jumped at it.”

Schmidt and Millett attended the first LWMS convention in Winona, Minn., in 1963, at which a three-tiered organization—local congregations, groups of congregations in circuits, and a national organization—was presented to the attendees. The purpose of the group? Being “united to serve Jesus.”

“It’s all about sharing the love of Jesus with all mankind,” says Schmidt. “Because of the organization we are provided with complete information on what the WELS mission/outreach program is all about, and being thus informed we can then better direct our time, talents, and treasures to serving Jesus in a united way.”

two women at a conference
Isola Millett (left) and Mary Lou Schmidt at the 50th LWMS convention, held this June in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Schmidt and Millett immediately put their time and talents to use. Following the first convention, they organized an LWMS group at their church and formed their area circuit in 1964, with Schmidt serving as its first president. They continued in their leadership roles, with Millett serving as the third president of the national organization from 1973 to 1977 and Schmidt succeeding her as president from 1977-1981. They also went on to attend 45 of the 50 national LWMS conventions—including the 50th anniversary convention held this June in La Crosse, Wis.

With more than 1,750 convention attendees—and an additional thousand more for the opening worship service—“it was just a tiny bit of a taste of heaven,” says Schmidt, “with the music, the Word bring preached in its truth and purity from beginning to end, and then all this witnessing!”

While the central mission of the organization has stayed the same, Schmidt and Millett say much has changed through the years. In the beginning, national conventions were one-day meetings held at churches, with perhaps one missionary in attendance. Now women meet for three days at convention centers and hear from dozens of missionaries from both home and abroad. “We appreciated from the very beginning getting to know the missionaries personally,” says Millett. “You could put a face to them. They could share with you their joys and their sadness—and they do!”

LWMS isn’t the only thing that has changed. “The change in the way mission work is being done is incredible,” says Schmidt. She notes that with advances in technology, WELS is able to reach people in areas it never has before. “It’s happening right before our very eyes.”

The longstanding tradition of the flag ceremony exemplifies those changes—from the first flag presentation in 1964 when the women sewed the flags that were used in the procession (“My kitchen table was used for an African flag,” shares Schmidt) to today when 37 flags signify the countries in which WELS has active and visiting missionaries or is in fellowship. “For me, it’s a very significant part of the convention,” says Millett. “It pulls it all together.”

Both Schmidt and Millett stress the opportunities that LWMS has provided through the years for women to support mission work—whether through prayer, monetary offerings, special projects, organizational leadership, or just encouragement. “We are not all equally gifted, but that again is a blessing in being united because there is a spot everyone can find to fit into,” says Schmidt.

Next year’s convention will be held June 26–29 in Dallas, Texas. Schmidt and Millett are hoping they can attend. “God willing, we will be there,” says Millett. But even if they can’t go, they know that other women will continue to fill the important role of support and encouragement for WELS Missions. Says Schmidt, “We thank our gracious God for all the many, many blessings bestowed upon the LWMS over the first 50 years and ask for his guidance and love in the years ahead.”

Learn more about LWMS at

Author: FIC
Volume 100, Number 09
Issue: September 2013

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Facebook comments