Sandra Rhein’s heritage is rooted in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). In the 1860s, her Lutheran great grandparents immigrated to the U.S. for religious freedom. A talented musician on piano, organ and flute, Rhein shares her gifts with the Lutheran church around the world as a sacred music missionary. She assists church bodies as they develop liturgical resources in their local languages.
Official requests are frequently made to the LCMS by partner church bodies for help with new hymnals. After the Office of International Mission (OIM) receives the request and responds, Rhein serves as a consultant with the local church hymnal committee. It’s a long process, but when complete, these resources provide pastors another way to bring God’s gifts to His people. Having the Word put into their ears, they can then share this message with their neighbors.
As soon as her feet could reach the pedals
Rhein comes from a musical family. She can’t remember a time before she played the piano, and her mother was her first teacher. A great uncle discovered her perfect pitch with a game he enjoyed playing around the house.
By age eight her legs were long enough to reach the pedals, leading her grandfather to begin teaching her the organ. Flute became her major instrument as a music education student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. But serving as a church organist has remained the most steady part of her service to the church.
Then to Africa
After raising four children, Rhein went on to earn a Master of Arts in Theology and deaconess certification at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. While a seminary student, she was asked to assist the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya with their first official hymnal. Five years and eight trips later, that hymnal was completed. “Because it was my first compilation in a foreign context, this undertaking was very exciting,” notes Rhein.
Two years later she began working with the Ethiopia Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus on a hymnal update. Their Amharic language has its own script, so this was especially challenging. That hymnal was completed in 2019.
On to Asia
Currently Rhein is working with the Indonesian Christian Lutheran Church. This hymnal will be in Indonesian and, Lord willing, will be completed in 2021.
Additionally, Rhein collaborated on a test booklet for the China Evangelical Lutheran Church. Published in 2019, it serves as an excellent tool for churches in Taiwan. Plans are now underway to complete a full hymnal in Mandarin Chinese. This resource will then be used in other Chinese-speaking places, including the U.S.
“Training is also needed. Perhaps we’ll develop a series of short courses for musicians on topics like ‘How to accompany a hymn’ or ‘The role of the church musician.’ The possibilities are endless — and exciting! Many Asian Lutheran churches have a strong music tradition, and it would be a privilege to support and strengthen that,” comments Rhein.
Much of Rhein’s work is easier to manage from the U.S. than a distant mission field. It’s necessary to secure copyright permission and consult with experts on various details during different stages of publication. Therefore, she doesn’t plan to relocate to Asia anytime soon. Rather, she will likely make three trips a year to the region, staying to work 6–8 weeks each time. Her husband, Rob, is a music professor at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind. The couple is blessed with four children and seven grandchildren — several who carry on the family musical tradition, serving the church with their gifts.
“Good hymns teach the faith, with Christ at the center,” says Rhein. Her favorite hymn writer is Paul Gerhardt: “His hymns acknowledge all the troubles we have and keep pointing to the cross. One of his best phrases is Verse 4 of ‘O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is’: For God’s own Child, in mercy mild, joins thee to Him, how greatly God must love thee!”
We praise God for the gift of music and for missionaries dedicated to placing Lutheran hymnals in the hands of international Lutheran parishioners. View Sandra Rhein’s prayer card to connect with her and support this important ministry.