A couple discovers how God is using them—and their life experiences—for his bigger kingdom purpose.
Jerry and Lynn Zimpelmann, members at Christ, Eagle River, Wis., are the first to admit that, looking back at their younger years, they were not the likeliest of missionaries.
Growing up, Lynn was a non-practicing Catholic. And while Jerry was raised WELS, he had a rebellious streak. He ran away from God during college as he dabbled in different philosophies and religions. “I took a circuitous route,” Jerry remembers.
The Zimpelmanns met in Eagle River. After they married in 1972, the couple lived in Chicago. While Jerry enjoyed success there as the owner of a painting business, Eagle River beckoned them back home. When Jerry’s father retired, Jerry bought his family’s construction business.
Even before Jerry and Lynn began to have children, they started to think seriously about their faith and returning to Jerry’s WELS roots at Christ in Eagle River. Jerry’s mom lovingly yet persistently kept inviting them to church. Lynn went through Bible information class three times over a span of eight years before becoming a member. She says, “I kept telling our pastor I wasn’t going to go from wishy-washy Catholic to wishy-washy Lutheran. I wasn’t going to join until I believed everything that I was studying.”
When their five children reached school age, the Zimpelmanns enrolled them in the school at Christ. Jerry and Lynn benefited just as much from the religious instruction as their children did. “We were baby Christians when we started having kids,” Lynn recalls. “We grew in faith right along with them.”
Today, all three of the Zimpelmanns’ sons serve as WELS pastors, and their two daughters also serve in ministry settings. “It certainly was not our doing,” says Lynn. “I attribute it to God’s Word and the Christian education they received.” Jerry agrees: “We just stayed out of the way of the Holy Spirit and let him do his work.”
Little did Jerry and Lynn know that the Holy Spirit was quietly guiding their future. As they became more and more intrigued by mission work, God began to place opportunities in their lives—opportunities that combined Jerry’s vocational background with their growing passion for reaching the lost.
A growing passion
While in their mid-40s, the Zimpelmanns planned to take a vacation—but not to simply relax on a beach. They wanted to see a WELS mission in action, so they visited St. John’s, Antigua. When a hurricane hit the area about a year later, Jerry and Lynn were moved to help. They signed on for 17 days with Kingdom Workers to repair damage to the church and the neighborhood around it. It was just the first example of God using events for his purpose as he began to plant a love for mission work deep in Jerry and Lynn’s hearts.
As he approached age 50, Jerry began to consider selling his business. In doing so, he and Lynn could retire and fund the mission work they were passionate about. “That’s when I really started to see the opportunities—that the Lord could take a guy like me and some of the things that I had to offer and use them in a meaningful way,” Jerry says. “And these opportunities just started to come along.”
In August 2005 the world watched in disbelief as Hurricane Katrina decimated the city of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. One night, the Zimpelmanns’ phone rang. It was Faith in Action (a part of Kingdom Workers), looking for volunteers to assist with Katrina relief. Jerry and Lynn answered the call. They spent ten days comforting survivors and repairing the damage at Crown of Life in New Orleans. Surveying the neighborhoods surrounding the church, they saw house after house that had been destroyed. Jerry thought, Why don’t we just start rebuilding houses? So they did, and Faith in Action asked Jerry to head the rebuilding project.
Over the next three years, the Zimpelmanns served off and on in New Orleans. The relief efforts set the stage for 1,200 WELS members to rebuild over 100 homes. But not just bricks-and-mortar construction was taking place—the volunteers also held regular Bible study and shared Jesus’ love with those they were serving. “It was an unbelievable experience,” remembers Jerry. “I liken it to the early chapters of Acts where everybody was worshiping and serving together and helping each other.” God had more in mind. The experience paved the way for a service opportunity in Grenada, where Jerry used his vocational skills to oversee the construction of a new WELS church and school.
Continued kingdom service
In 2007, tragedy struck again—this time in the port city of Mahahual, Mexico, where the Zimpelmanns had a vacation home. Hurricane Dean partially destroyed their house and ravaged the area. Enter Deb and Hugh Blackburn, transplants from South Carolina who were living in Mahahual. After the hurricane hit, the Blackburns moved onto the Zimpelmanns’ property to help them rebuild.
That Christmas, as the entire Zimpelmann family gathered in Mahahual, Lynn invited Deb to join them for a devotion. An unbeliever at the time, Deb worshiped and sang with the Zimpelmann family each evening for a week. “She was on fire after that,” recalls Jerry. “After Christmas, she locked herself in our house and read the Bible and all of our Christian books.”
The Holy Spirit propelled Deb to take the next step and start a regular Bible study in Mahahual. “She told us, ‘We’ve got to do something down here. I don’t want to be a Christian by myself,’ ” remembers Lynn. It was the quiet birth of Costa Maya Ministries—another example of God bringing good from a tragic situation. The ministry began serving English-speaking expatriates in the area, along with locals who were hungering for the gospel.
Today, Costa Maya Ministries—and its new church in Mahahual, called Cruz de Cristo or Cross of Christ—is blessed with a full-time pastor and ministry staff. The church, designed by Jerry, was dedicated in January 2022. Cruz de Cristo incorporates a lighthouse into its design—a beautiful symbol of the church’s true purpose: guiding lost souls to the Light of the world, Jesus Christ.
Jerry and Lynn could tell story after story of God’s grace, provision, and protection in Mahahual. “And it all started from a Bible study in a living room with no intentions of starting a mission,” marvels Lynn. “We just thought we’d start a Bible class and feed our faith. Obviously, God had different plans.”
God has used the Zimpelmanns—and their life experiences—as part of his bigger kingdom purpose. They are living testimony that God makes good even out of the hard things, time after time, without fail. He keeps his promises, even through hurricanes and hardships.
Although there will always be unknowns in their mission work, Jerry trusts God’s leading. “We don’t really lose a minute’s sleep anymore. We just put our heads down and do what the Lord has in front of us and look behind us and are thankful.”
To read more about Cruz de Cristo and how this congregation reached out to serve its community during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, read “Food for body and soul.”
Author: Ann Jahns
Volume: 109, Number 10
Issue: October 2022
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