May 02, 2022 Print This Article

Contagious Joy in the Gospel

Director of Christian Education Mark “Marcos” Kempff grew up the son of pioneer Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) missionaries to Latin America. He was called to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 2008 and is currently serving as assistant to the director and an instructor in the Center for Hispanic Studies (CHS), and for several years, also served as assistant to the director for the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology (EIIT). Earlier this spring, Kempff announced plans to retire effective Nov. 1, 2022.

He previously served as a missionary educator in Venezuela and Panama from 1974 to 2008, and during his last years of service, was a theological education network facilitator for Latin American Lutheran churches.

“Marcos has blessed our Seminary community and church at-large with a contagious joy in the Gospel and a missionary spirit that moves him to work sacrificially for our students,” said Dr. Leopoldo A. Sánchez M., director of CHS, professor of Systematic Theology and the Werner R.H. Krause Professor of Hispanic Ministries at Concordia Seminary. “The fruits of his service among immigrant students and churches will continue to bless the church for generations to come.”

Kempff holds a Bachelor of Science from Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia University Nebraska [CUNE]), Seward (1974); a Bachelor of Arts with certification as a Director of Christian Education (DCE) from Concordia College (now CUNE), Seward, Neb. (1986); and a Master of Social Sciences in family life ministry from CUNE (1996).

Concordia Seminary magazine sat down with Marcos and heard his story.

Q: What led you to ministry?

A: My parents were my strongest influence, especially my father. He took me along on his ministry visits in the mission field, always involving me somehow. At home, all of us — I’m the oldest of 10 — would eat together. I dearly remember my father taking the time to sit next to me and talk about the day’s Bible text. I never felt called to be a pastor and my dad said, “That’s all right. The church needs all of us. There’s room for all of us.” I attended Concordia Teachers College in Seward, Neb., and suffered culture shock, living in a culture that spoke no Spanish. Growing up with the culture of my parents and the culture of the land in which we lived was very much tied to my decision to enter church work.

Q: How was your move to the Seminary?

A: Accepting the call to Concordia Seminary was a joyful moment and an exciting change for me and my wife, Ruth. We didn’t have a clue. It was all the Lord. When it is all the Lord’s doing there is reason for joy!

Q: What are the best parts of your job?

A: I always consider students as gifts from God. Bishop Tutu used an African expression often: “I am because we are.” That’s my delight in life: I am because of who we all are. In Seminary life, the enjoyment — and there are always challenges — is to work with others, to find where we connect. It’s not about knowing what they need and then helping them. It’s about how we can do this together.

Q: What motivates you?

A: I am committed to our students’ success. I want to provide an atmosphere that honors the person, underlining his or her value as a baptized child of God. What a joy and responsibility to work with, lead and teach somebody who has that kind of value. That’s beautiful. That’s the motivation. Everything I do focuses on helping students succeed in becoming extraordinary pastors, deaconesses and leaders — people who are excited to serve their communities as instruments of peace so that others too can confess and rejoice as they have received life from the Lord.

Q: Any favorite memories from your years at the Seminary?

A: I become very emotional each Call Day and Commencement. When I sit there surrounded by families and see the students walk across and receive their call documents or their diplomas — that’s just absolute, total joy. I see them standing there, knowing the struggles they’ve had, the ups and downs, that they almost gave up but were encouraged and hung in there, finally getting it done. It’s just delightful. Absolutely delightful.

Q: Advice for future students?

A: Listen carefully to God’s Word. He calls us all to be part of His church. There is room for all! Ask questions of someone you trust: “Should I be a pastor? What does it mean to be a deaconess?” This is the Lord’s church. He will do incredible things, often through something tiny. For instance, during my first year at Seward, I was ready to quit and go home to Latin America. A professor invited me to lunch and said, “Don’t you dare leave! We can figure this out.” That lunch was a turning point, a significant 45 minutes. Somebody valued and honored me as a person. Not everybody is absolutely sure about what they want to do or be in life. People might come to the Seminary and think they’re alone. They’re not. They are surrounded by all of us. We care very much about them. The beauty is we figure it out together.

Q: What are your plans after retirement?

A: My prayer is to continue to serve and to do so to the best of my abilities, led by the Spirit Sculptor. And this will include time spent with family in Texas, Nebraska, Washington, Montana, Colorado, New Hampshire and, of course, Latin America. When needed, I would like to serve as a mentor and continue to teach. I will certainly pick up my interest in woodworking. Maybe even do some writing. Above everything, I stand ready to joyfully serve in Christ’s name.

Deaconess Rebekah Lukas is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.