2016 WELS International Youth Rally

More than 2,500 WELS teens and their adult leaders gathered for the 2016 WELS International Youth Rally held June 28–July 1 at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. Organized by WELS Commission on Youth and Family Ministry, the rally included Bible-focused worship, education, and fellowship opportunities. Attendees raved about their experiences:

Duke Backhaus, 18, from St. Paul’s, Tomah, Wis.: “The workshops were amazing; I really loved them. They all pointed me towards Christ and taught me a lot. I know now I’m going to be a pastor.”

Grant Kloosterman, 16, from Living Word, Gray, Tenn.: “WELS really is like a big family. It seems everyone knows someone, and nobody here at the rally feels like a stranger.”

Emily Gage, 18, from Good Shepherd, Woodlands, Tex.: “It was awesome to praise God with so many fellow Christians my age.”

Rev. John Boggs, chairman of the Commission on Youth and Family Ministry, says, “The young people of our synod are not just the future of our synod; they are the here and now of our synod. They need to be in worship and Bible study, and they need our prayers, support, and attention now. The focus of the WELS International Youth Rally is to share God’s precious Word that speaks as much to them now at the ages of 14-18 as it will as they grow older.”

Partnering with Christians worldwide

The Pastoral Studies Institute team of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary gained one more member in 2016. Rev. Jon Bare accepted the call to serve as the international recruitment director. Bare joins Rev. Brad Wordell, world seminary professor, and Rev. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute. The team’s assignment is to find ways to follow up on requests from groups around the world who want to align with confessional church bodies like the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference through the training of their current church leadership.

As a joint project with WELS Missions, the PSI team collaborates with our WELS mission teams already in place and also collaborate with WELS immigrants in North America. In 2016, members of the PSI team visited groups in six states and seven countries. For more information, visit wls.wels.net.

Did you know? During the 2016-17 school year, 116 students were enrolled at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

“Of all the fancy technology that I have at my fingertips, my favorite is the kitchen table. There, teaching takes place. Relationships are formed. Dreams are inspired. Dreams that God blesses so they become travel plans and mission trips.” Rev. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

Vicar Year

While serving as a vicar at Water of Life, Las Vegas, Nev., Jason Free gained important insights into the ministry: “So often we picture full-time ministry as something that happens inside a church. Then we step outside of that building and there is this massive world full of people, all kinds of people, who are just waiting to hear there is a Savior in this world who died for them, for their sins! That was the awesome message I had the privilege of sharing both to an African ministry that was just beginning to get its feet on the ground and a well-established Korean ministry.”

Academic success at MLC

“I love what I do,” says Jessica Zahrt, who teaches kindergarten and first grade at Our Savior’s, Wausau, Wis. “There’s nothing better than seeing progress in young students’ academic and social skills and watching their knowledge of God and faith in him grow.“

When Jessica’s three children were in school, she began looking into master’s programs. “Martin Luther College (MLC) was the best fit for me,” explains Zahrt. “I loved the undergrad education I received there, which was focused on God’s Word and ministering to children and their families. . . . MLC’s completely online format was also convenient for me as a busy mom and teacher, and from what I found, also the most economical choice for our budget.”

Zahrt enrolled in MLC’s program in 2012 and graduated in 2016.

Reflecting on her time in graduate school, she says, “I most enjoyed the camaraderie of learning with fellow Christian teachers who are in classrooms so similar to mine. . . . These classmates, along with caring professors, encouraged me in my ministry to grow, improve, and faithfully continue to ‘run the race’ (Hebrews 12:1).”

Nate Wordell

In August 2016, Nate Wordell was ordained and installed as a tutor at Martin Luther College (also pictured is MLC President Mark Zarling). Wordell is a 2016 Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduate and a 2012 Martin Luther College graduate. Shortly before Wordell received his assignment to MLC, he reflected on his time there: “MLC taught me about God’s Word. Whether I become a pastor or not, the most important thing I can do is read my Bible. That is hands-down my biggest takeaway from MLC. MLC also helped me better understand people. . . . MLC taught me how much people need Jesus—myself included.”

Move-in Day

On move-in day, Martin Luther College students were greeted with tables around campus advertising organizations to join and opportunities to build relationships and gain ministry experience. MLC freshman Jonah Backus says, “MLC is an amazing environment for learning and being encouraged in the faith.” MLC’s first semester on-campus enrollment in fall 2016 totaled 742. For more information, visit mlc-wels.edu.

Taste of Ministry

Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS), Saginaw, Mich., and Luther Preparatory School (LPS), Watertown, Wis., prepare high school students to attend Martin Luther College and serve as called workers. For the 2016–17 school year, Luther Preparatory School has 423 students and Michigan Lutheran Seminary has 218.

Both schools offer “Taste of Ministry” opportunities for students, which include shadowing called workers to learn more about their work. Students also are given firsthand gospel ministry experiences on campus and during mission trips.

For more information, visit mlsem.org or lps.wels.net.

Forty-eight Luther Preparatory School students participated in mission trips in 2016. Pictured is Hannah Oelhafen at Cross of Life, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.


Senior Caitlynn McGill is participating in a Taste of Ministry event at St. Paul, Saginaw, Mich., so that she can experience working with students firsthand.

Christ-centered resources

Christ-centered resources from Academia Cristo (Christ Academy) are reaching Spanish speakers around the world. Academiacristo.com offers free Spanish video and audio resources. Visitors can ask questions and chat online with national pastors and missionaries. In 2016. Academia Cristo Facebook videos were viewed 8.6 million times.

Lutheran Church of Cameroon

In 2016, the Lutheran Church of Cameroon took a big step toward becoming an independent church body by calling its first full-time Cameroonian teacher and dean of students for its worker-training program. Mesue Israel (pictured) has served as a pastor since 1999. He is responsible for teaching several worker-training courses as well as enforcing rules for campus life. The first group of students for the worker-training program began their studies in the fall of 2016. They will attend Bible institute courses for two years and then complete three years of seminary studies before being eligible for a pastoral call. Currently 10 national pastors serve 32 congregations in Cameroon.

Nigerian church bodies

WELS began its mission efforts in Nigeria in 1936. Currently 26 Nigerian pastors and more than 50 lay leaders serve about 5,300 baptized members in the two Nigerian sister synods. WELS supports one non-resident missionary to mentor Nigerian church leaders with the goal of helping the Nigerian church bodies become led solely by nationals.

Christ Evangelical Lutheran Ministries

Christ Evangelical Lutheran Ministries, WELS’ sister church in India, supports Gentle Shepherd Lutheran School, which serves more than 200 students. In an effort to continue improving the school, in 2016 the teachers requested an English class of their own. WELS’ friendly counselors and their wives meet regularly with the teachers to help them practice and improve upon their English. The teachers have begun to transition Gentle Shepherd into a school where all subjects are taught in English, offering its students a great educational advantage. Christ Evangelical Lutheran Ministries serves more than 5,000 souls in 120 congregations. 

Living Savior, Blair, Neb.

On Sept. 11, 2016, Living Savior, Blair, Neb., held its launch service. One adult confirmand was welcomed into membership at the service. The congregation has rented space in a pair of office suites located in downtown Blair. This is where the congregation holds its worship services and Bible studies.

Peace, Liberty Hill, Tex.

When Rev. Stephen Apt arrived to open a new home mission in Liberty Hill, Tex., in July 2015, he noticed that the community was growing so rapidly that it was beginning to lose its small-town feel. He saw this as an opportunity for his new congregation, Peace, to coordinate community events for families so that as Liberty Hill grows, Peace is considered a backbone of the community. 

Since then, Peace has launched many family-friendly events, including a Mornings with Mommy program, Trunk or Treat, Family Bible Night, and Christmas and Easter for Kids. 

In July 2016, Peace hosted its largest community event yet—an elaborate Independence Day celebration that included a live band, different booths, food trucks, and a professional fireworks show. A mission team from St. Andrew, Middleton, Wis. (pictured) helped the mission congregation run this event, which attracted more than 1,200 community members. 

Before the fireworks show, Apt led a prayer for the country that included thanking God for our freedom but most importantly thanking him for our Savior who freed us from our sins.

Saviour of the Nations, Vancouver

In March 2009, 13 people met with Rev. Geoff Cortright to worship and consider starting a WELS congregation in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They chose the name Saviour of the Nations, because they wanted people of every culture, tribe, race, and language to know they have something that unites them above all else—or rather, someone: Jesus. Saviour of the Nations has been building cultural bridges and helping others find peace and forgiveness in Jesus ever since. 

In fall 2014, the congregation was granted funding from Home Missions to start full-time ministry. One important component of the mission’s ministry is its free English-as-a-second-language classes and Bible studies. The congregation has a large Asian immigrant population, and Qiang Wang, a Mandarin-Chinese-speaking member, was installed as a part-time lay evangelist in 2016. He is studying with Cortright with the intent of preparing for the ministry through the Pastoral Studies Institute at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. 

To learn more, visit wels.net/missions and view the Moments with Missionaries: Vancouver, Canada

WELS Benefit Plans

The WELS Benefit Plans Office (BPO) serves WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) workers and organizations through administration of the WELS Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association (VEBA) Health Plan, the WELS Pension Plan, and the WELS Shepherd Plan.

The WELS VEBA Health Plan provides benefits for church and school workers in accordance with God’s Word while remaining compliant with the federal health care reform law. The plan provides comprehensive, nationwide coverage.

One of the important advantages of participating in WELS Benefit Plans is that the coverage and benefits provided are uniform throughout all 50 states. This supports the WELS ministry and call process because worker call decisions are not influenced by health insurance and retirement benefit decisions.

Did you know? The total average cost of U.S. health premiums has increased by 61 percent since 2005. Average WELS VEBA Health Plan contribution rates have increased by only 49 percent since 2005, preserving valuable assets throughout WELS to fund ministry efforts.

WELS Church Extension Fund

WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc., (WELS CEF) provides financing through loans and grants to mission congregations so they can acquire land and ministry facilities to be used for gospel outreach in coordination with WELS Home Missions. WELS CEF also provides loans to WELS self-supporting congregations and schools for land and facility projects. The money to carry out CEF’s mission comes from investments and gifts from WELS members, congregations, and affiliated organizations.

In fiscal year 2014–15, $21.2 million of new loans and $1.9 million of new grant requests were approved. WELS CEF’s loan portfolio ended the year at $133.7 million with 206 loans to WELS congregations and affiliates.

Photo caption: WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc., provided a low interest loan to help Our Savior’s, Port Orange, Fla., increase space for its early childhood ministry, Small Steps Academy. On March 22, 2015, the congregation broke ground on the addition.

Northwestern Publishing House

Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) exists to deliver Christ-centered, biblically sound resources within WELS and beyond. NPH publishes Forward in Christ and Meditations, books, music, and worship resources. In 2015, NPH released many new products, including:

  • two books and a music CD tied to the WELS movie My Son, My Savior;
  • two titles in the Bible Discovery series—Flowers in the Desert and Hard Sayings of Jesus;
  • three devotional/inspirational books—Cherished Gifts, 364 Days of Thanksgiving, and Put Baby Jesus in Your Wagon;
  • summer vacation Bible school, Christmas for Kids, and Easter for Kids programs;
  • four Bible studies with more flexible teaching materials and promotional toolkits; and
  • Christ-Light elementary and Sunday school curriculum.

NPH also reached WELS members through 175 NPH book fairs in churches and schools.

Visit nph.net or stop by the NPH Christian Books and Gifts store in Milwaukee, Wis., to learn more.

Did you know? The Meditations Daily Devotional app for iPhones and iPads has been downloaded by 34,000 people in more than 150 countries.

WELS Investment Funds

The mission of WELS Investment Funds, Inc., is to strengthen and enhance the ministry of WELS and WELS-affiliated organizations by providing professionally managed investment portfolios. WELS Funds provide eligible participating organizations with the opportunity to invest in diversified investment portfolios without becoming involved with the detailed accounting and safekeeping procedures required for direct involvement in the various securities in the portfolios.

WELS Investment Funds currently manages portfolios for 169 congregations and 35 affiliated organizations.

WELS Foundation

WELS Foundation exists to help God’s people support gospel ministry through WELS. Planned gifts provide funding for WELS congregations, schools, missions, and other affiliated ministries. Over the last three years, WELS Foundation has been privileged to administer and distribute $15,389,343 in donor directed gifts to various WELS ministries.

Christian Aid and Relief

In January 2015, Malawi experienced floods that destroyed the homes of many families of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa–Malawi (LCCA), WELS’ sister synod. Initial aid included supplies for temporary housing.

The floods also washed away the families’ crops, so (the staple food of Malawi) to an estimated 4,700 LCCA families in 21 different areas. National pastors oversaw the distribution and conducted devotions and prayers with the families receiving the donations.

Mr. Mark Vance, director of operations for Christian Aid and Relief, wrote: “As I watch the trucks get loaded with their 40 kilogram bags of maize, I say to myself, ‘That is a lot of maize.’ But when we get out to the villages and the families get their 20 kilograms (which is about a medium-sized bucketful), I say, ‘That seems like so little.’

“As I relayed this thought to one of the Malawian pastors, he said, ‘You must remember, ten minutes ago this family had no maize, and they don’t have much money at all to buy maize. Now they have more than they had, and it was given freely to them. This is a huge blessing to them, and to know that this gift of love and compassion came from their Lutheran brothers and sisters from around the world is for many of them more than their emotions can handle.’ ”


  • Preach the Word, a publication for pastors, began a new series on preaching to Millennials. In 2015 this publication, along with Worship the Lord, became available in blog format at blogs.wels.net/worship.
  • Sixty pastors, teachers, and laypeople are currently volunteering their time to work on the Hymnal Project. The work has transitioned from laying foundations to deciding actual content—lectionary, hymns, psalms, liturgies. For more information, see welshymnal.com.
  • Presentations from past worship conferences are available at worship.welsrc.net. Some may be valuable for discussions by worship committees or boards of elders.

Lutheran Schools

The Commission on Lutheran Schools continues to support the work of 524 WELS schools with an overall PreK-12 enrollment of 41,138. Leadership initiatives were the focus of the work of Lutheran Schools in 2015.

Photo Caption: Three guests from China attended the WELS National School Leadership Conference in Pewaukee, Wis., in June. The visitors are opening a Lutheran school in our fellowship in Shanghai. They attended the conference to network with more than 400 other Lutheran educators and to find best practices for their school.

Adult Discipleship

  • Adult Discipleship continues to coordinate the online Interactive Faith Bible studies series. In 2015, classes were held on the prophet Elisha and the book of Judges.
  • Marriage enrichment retreats continue to be offered across the country. To find locations and dates, visit wels.net/adult-discipleship.
  • As Adult Discipleship works with congregations, it links the work of its WELS Women’s Ministry Committee to the people it serves. To learn more about this committee and its resources, visit wels.net/women.


  • Evangelism’s Daily Devotions are sent to nearly 10,000 e-mail subscribers and are available through WhatAboutJesus.com, wels.net, and the WELS Mobile App.
  •  My Son, My Savior was released in October 2015. This outreach film focuses on the birth, life, and ministry of Jesus told from the viewpoint of his mother, Mary, as she grows in her understanding that her son is also her Savior. The main message for all viewers is that Jesus is their Savior, too. During Advent, congregations and individuals purchased more than 75,000 DVDs and made use of the many complementary materials based on the movie. This is the third in a series of four outreach movies that are planned as a collaboration between WELS Commissions on Evangelism and Adult Discipleship, Northwestern Publishing House, WELS Multi-Language Publications, and Boettcher+Trinklein Television, Inc.
  • Did you know?In 2015, an average of more than 23,000 visitors per month accessed WhatAboutJesus.com, an outreach website produced by the Commission on Evangelism.

Youth and Family Ministry

  • The Commission on Youth and Family Ministry spent 2015 planning for and testing a new Schools of Youth and Family, a project aimed at helping congregations plan and implement ministry opportunities for children, teens, parents, and families.
  • Youth and Family Ministry continues to produce the popular Kids Connection video series, which is viewed in WELS elementary and Sunday schools. The purpose of the series to help kids “stay connected to Jesus.”

Special Ministries

  • Veterans from WELS and our sister church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, have formed an organization called Lutheran Military Support Group to support the work of WELS Military Services and—on the local level—to help military families.
  • WELS Prison Ministry continues to add new Bible study courses for inmates to its resources. One prisoner recently wrote, “Thank you so very much for allowing me to participate in this Bible study course. I cannot express how much joy it brings me to study the Word of our Lord and to feel myself being drawn closer to his love. Your materials have been a great help and comfort to me at a time in my life that I have so desperately needed it.”
  • Freedom for the Captives, a Special Ministries team, launched a new website, freedomforcaptives.com, with resources for survivors of child sexual abuse and for churches and their leaders who desire to minister faithfully when cases of such abuse become known.

Ministry of Christian Giving

  • WELS Ministry of Christian Giving developed a new congregational planned giving manual to help churches jump-start a program of promoting planned giving opportunities to members. Christian giving counselors are available to every church to provide members free, confidential assistance with planned gifts and Christian estate planning.
  • The Ministry of Christian Giving is coordinating the “One in Christ” offering to eliminate the synod’s $4.7 million debt by June 2016—two years ahead of schedule. If successful by God’s grace, the campaign will put WELS in a better financial position to train workers and establish missions at home and abroad.


The WELSTech Conference held in June was attended by 250 people and featured 100 workshop sessions, three keynotes, and an IGNITE session where conference participants shared how technology is helping them in their ministries. One group of attendees from the Milwaukee, Wis., area is now meeting quarterly to continue some of the “technology in ministry” conversations.

Did you know? WELS Mobile, available for Apple, Android, and Amazon users, has been installed on 20,000 devices. The WELS App lets users listen to or read daily devotions and Bible readings as well as access WELS news, videos, and radio stations.

Preparatory Schools

(MLS), Saginaw, Mich., and (LPS), Watertown, Wis., prepare high school students to attend Martin Luther College and serve as called workers. For the 2015–16 school year, Luther Preparatory School has 442 students and Michigan Lutheran Seminary has 221.

Both schools offer “Taste of Ministry” opportunities for students, which include shadowing called workers to learn more about their work. Students also are given firsthand gospel ministry experiences on campus and during mission trips.


Students perform at Michigan Lutheran Seminary’s Christmas concert.



A Luther Preparatory School student shares God’s love with a little lamb in Antigua during a summer mission trip.

Martin Luther College

Did you know?

The opening enrollment for the 2015–16 school year was 727 students on campus.

The mission of Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., is to train a corps of Christian witnesses who are qualified to meet the ministry needs of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and who are competent to proclaim the Word of God faithfully and in accord with the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord.

To meet the current ministry needs of WELS, Martin Luther College

  • prepares men for pastoral training at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary;
  • prepares men and women for service as teachers and staff ministers in the synod’s churches, schools, and other institutions;
  • prepares men and women for other church ministries, both full and part time, responding to the needs of WELS;
  • prepares international students for ministry in partnership with WELS mission fields; and
  • provides programs of continuing education that meet the ministerial needs of WELS.

During its World Mission Festival Service on Nov. 8, Martin Luther College rejoiced in God’s abundant blessings on WELS missions. The service was a great reminder that students and professors are part of a church that extends beyond the college and across the world. Students with ties to world missions participated in the service.

New academic programs

  • Special Education is a new major preparing MLC graduates for Minnesota state teacher licensure. MLC has already enrolled 18 students in the major.
  • In February 2015, the MLC Governing Board gave the necessary final approval for the new minor course of study in Urban Educational Ministry. MLC is now able to enhance its preparation of more students for service in urban settings.

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary


So here I am. Outside the door with a box of books to bring into my office. I get to the door and realize that my key doesn’t work. So this is what being a pastor is like: my secretary needs to let me in on my first day. But then I heard it: “Good morning, Pastor.”

Whoa. Is she talking to me? She called me “Pastor.”

And it kept happening. It’s as if my first name has been replaced by a title. After all these years—I studied, and worked, and memorized, and sacrificed, and now, finally, I’m a pastor.

Then one day I overheard someone talking about me. They weren’t gossiping, and I don’t even remember what the conversation was about, but they said something I wasn’t ready for: “He’s my pastor.”

And it dawned on me. This is it. I didn’t want to be a pastor; I wanted to be their pastor.

Rev. John Raasch,

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary class of 2014




Since 2010, the Greater Africa Theological Studies Institute (GRATSI) has been jointly administered by the Lusaka Seminary and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. This program is designed for pastors in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa who qualify to serve in leadership positions. In May 2015, the first ten participants of GRATSI received their diplomas. Also pictured is Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Professor Kenneth Cherney (front, right).

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary may be a small seminary located in Mequon, Wis., but it is making a global impact.

Through its Pastoral Studies Institute, the seminary offers classes for non-traditional students—including men from different cultures and English-speaking second-career students. Since 2003, more than 30 men have received diplomas and are now serving across the United States and around the world.

The Pastoral Studies Institute also helps students from all over the world attend seminary classes in Mequon. Whether for a week, a month, or a school year, these students grow from spending time in the classroom with like-minded students. In addition, the traditional students are inspired by studying next to those who live in places where being a Christian can bring concerns for their safety.

Becoming a global seminary means not only serving those around the globe but also preparing traditional students to serve all people. Current seminary student Peter Janke embodies the school’s global awareness and spirit. In addition to Greek and Hebrew, Janke is learning Spanish and Mandarin. “I would like the ability to evangelize almost anyone in the world,” he says. “If I know English, Spanish, and Chinese well enough, I know that I can speak to more than half of the world. I could tell anyone about Jesus.”

Academia Cristo

A new Spanish-language website, Academia Cristo (Christ Academy), was launched in 2015. The goal of Academia Cristo is to use videos and audio Bible studies to reach out to non-Christians as well as to train Latin American church members how to share their faith.

In its first three months, videos on academiacristo.com were viewed more than 80,000 times and downloaded more than 30,000 times. Because of social media’s popularity in Latin America, the mission team created a Facebook page to promote Academia Cristo, and more than 10,000 people per day are interacting with the Facebook page. On average, 35 people are receiving live online training from missionaries and national pastors every week.