By Cindy Novak
Thanks to the Finnish Lutheran Church of North Texas, Finnish Lutherans living in the greater Dallas area have the opportunity to worship and receive pastoral care in their native language.
Today it’s one of a number of congregations in the ELCA where Finnish speaking members, some of whom only live here for short-term work assignments before returning to their homeland, can participate in their native language.
Jarmo Tarkki, an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, serves several of these congregations across the country.
He says he sometimes feels like a circuit rider from the 1800s, traveling great distances to minister to settlers and establish congregations.
But instead of riding a horse, Jarmo, also a private pilot, flies an airplane. His territory also includes California, Colorado — even Mexico. Jarmo holds worship services in Finnish, serving congregations six times per year, except for the Denver and Mexico City communities that meet once a year.
Jarmo understands the profound role language plays in his ministry. “When someone needs to talk very seriously about their inner-most feelings, emotions and life issues, many people want to express those ideas in their native tongue,” he says. “A lot of people do have difficulties. They might lose a loved one. Those are very significant times when the church can be of great support and help.”
Annina Lukiini-Johnson, a member of the San Diego Finnish congregation, has seen that support in action, she says. Annina recalls talking to another parishioner who shared how delighted she was that Jarmo was able to minister to her dying aunt. “She was comforted by Pastor Tarkki, who talked and prayed with her in Finnish in her final days,” Annina recalls her saying.
“What has been particularly touching to me is the great significance this work has had for young, growing families,” Jarmo says. “They want their children to be baptized by a Finnish-speaking pastor. It has a very special meaning for them to have church away from home.”
Cindy Novak is a member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill. She lives in Lisle, Ill., with her husband, David, and her children, Sam and Emily.