Paul and Vercile Strege
Paul H. Strege was born on August 5, 1924, in Ludell, Kansas. In 1944, following his graduation at St. John’s College in Winfield, Kansas, Paul enrolled in the Concordia Seminary at St. Louis, Missouri. In early 1945, while attending meetings of the Local Walther League in St. Louis, Paul met Vercile Schmidt. Vercile Schmidt was born on July 5, 1927, in the small town of Farrar, Missouri. They continued dating after Vercile entered the Lutheran Hospital School of Nursing in St. Louis.
In the fall of 1946 Paul commenced his vicarage by filling a teaching vacancy in the high school department back at St. John’s College in Kansas. Paul’s dating of Vercile Schmidt had been interrupted by his removal to Winfield and Kansas City, but upon his return to Concordia Seminary in the fall of 1947 their steady relationship resumed. They were engaged in December 1947 and married in St. Louis on November 6, 1948.
By the time of his engagement Paul had developed an interest in mission work and applied to the Board for Missions of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) for an assignment. In the spring of 1948, just before his graduation from Concordia and ordination, he learned that his mission assignment was to Japan. Thereupon Paul undertook a year’s training in preparation for mission work, while Vercile pursued further training in nursing at the Lutheran Hospital School of Nursing.
The Streges arrived in Japan on July 31, 1949, and proceeded to their assigned station in the medium-size city of Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido. Chief focus of the initial work in Sapporo was the construction of a youth center, with funds provided by the Walther League youth organization back in the U.S. The LCMS mission board was also eager for Paul to initiate mission work in Asahigawa, a city 100 miles north of Sapporo. So, while he and his family were still settling into Sapporo in late 1949, Paul began making train trips to Asahigawa to conduct Bible classes there every other weekend. In the fall of 1951 it was decided to move the Streges’ residence to Asahigawa, where they were to remain until their furlough in January 1956. Another focus of Paul’s work involved offering correspondence Bible courses to those Japanese who responded to the messages of the Lutheran Hour, which in the early 1950s was being broadcast over 30 radio stations in Japan.
Upon his return to Japan from furlough in January 1957, Paul was assigned to the Tokyo Lutheran Center Church. Once in residence he began counseling individuals who came to the center, and soon also was also made the dean of a local Bible Institute. A highlight of Paul’s pastorate in Tokyo was that his church’s midnight Christmas Eve service in 1957 became the first Christian service ever broadcast on Japanese TV. Paul was a strong advocate of passing control of Christian institutions in Japan to natives as quickly as possible. He urged his Tokyo congregation to call and install a Japanese pastor as his successor. It completed this process in July 1958, at which point it was only the second Japanese congregation to have installed a native pastor.
In November 1958 the Streges moved back to Sapporo. There Paul pastored a small church and taught Bible classes while frequently traveling about the adjacent countryside to preach at remote locations. In April 1960 Paul was elected Conference chairman, which put him at the head of the approximately 40 LCMS missionaries serving in Japan. In this capacity Paul continued to push for an independent Japanese church, setting up training programs for lay leaders as there were still relatively few Japanese pastors. In July 1962 Paul was elected by the LC-MS Board for Missions as Area Counselor for East Asia, which involved oversight responsibilities in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
By the late 1960s the LCMS was increasingly divided between those who promoted greater inter-Lutheran and inter-Christian cooperation and those who wished to check these developments and return the LCMS to its traditional separatist posture. Many within the missions staff, including Paul Strege, believed that the time had come to consider mission areas as now “sister churches” deserving of operational and formal independence. By the early 1970s, however, the LCMS Board for Missions had come under ultra-conservative control, and several years of uneasy peace between “conservative” board and “moderate” staff exploded into open confrontation in January 1974, when the contract of James Meyer, Area Secretary for South Asia, was not renewed by the board—for allegedly promoting “false teaching” in overseas missions. Paul soon learned that similar charges against him were being uncritically accepted by board members, indicating that his contract—due to expire at mid-year—would probably also not be renewed. Faced with a roll-back of many of their mission initiatives, Paul and many fellow mission staff executives resigned their positions in the period April-September 1974.
Paul Strege and other former LCMS mission executives soon formed a new mission operation, “Partners in Mission” (PIM), which was associated with the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, a body formed in 1976 when “moderate” congregations finally left the LCMS. In early 1984, Paul became PIM’s Director.
In 1988, after the foundation of the ELCA, the continued need for a smaller, more personal mission operation was recognized, and Paul became the executive director of the new Christians Linked in Mission (CLM). He served in that capacity until his retirement in late 1996. Following his retirement, Paul continued to advise CLM-relayed programs, traveled extensively, and authored a number of books. Description:
This series comprises the personal papers of the Rev. Paul H. Strege and his wife Vercile Schmidt Strege, dating between 1933 and 2004. Record types include correspondence, sermon notes, reports, agendas, minutes, and newsletters. The correspondence dates primarily from 1949-1996 when Paul and Vercile Strege were serving in Japan and were receiving weekly letters from both their mothers, as well as frequent letters from their siblings. Paul and Vercile also wrote “home” on a weekly basis, providing not only domestic news but also a review of Paul’s activities. The sermons, speeches, and public writings subseries contains the notes for, and transcripts of, public pronouncements made by Paul and Vercile Strege while either preaching the Gospel, conducting Bible classes, or describing their mission work before church groups. Also present are the Streges’ missionary newsletters and Paul’s theses for the bachelors and masters degrees.