Faces of Faith – Contreras Family

Salvador Contreras has always been a student of God’s Word with lots of questions. In his research online, he came across the app Academia Cristo, which is an online Bible training tool used by the WELS Latin America mission team. Through personal study and the Bible classes offered via Academia Cristo, Salvador and Natividad knew they wanted to find a Lutheran church to continue growing in their faith and bring their children up in the Word. And so they walked into our building (a home mission congregation) one Sunday last summer. Their children were baptized in July 2021, and Salvador and Natividad were confirmed in March 2022. Now our discussions revolve around promoting Academia Cristo to Spanish speakers in the Denver area so Salvador can share the same peace he has found. As the seeds are planted and watered, we have a church community ready to serve them!

From Paul Biedenbender, missionary at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo.

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Faces of Faith – Crispin

Crispin Chikonka has been working as the Psychosocial Counselor at the Lutheran Mission Rural Health Centre in Mwembezhi, Zambia. As a Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) member, he leads clinic devotions and can see Jesus working through the clinic visitors every day. Through those devotions or when counseling patients, Crispin can feel God’s presence in the clinic. He states, “His Word pull us together when working as a team and respecting one another, and there is good communication among us at work.”

While the clinic is at times full of many sick people, he finds joy in his work. Not only do these devotions boost the morale of the visiting patients, but Crispin is also fed with God’s Word. He feels blessed when he observes his working environment and clinic building along with knowing that patient’s concerns and ailments have been addressed. The parable of the ten lepers resonates with Crispin, “Then He said to them, rise and go; your faith has made you well.” – Luke 17:19

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Faces of Faith – Anya and Sonya

“I always knew there was a God, but I didn’t know Him.” Anya is typical of many who grew up in the Soviet Union. Her parents were “believers” who didn’t know Christ. But Jesus knew her.

Many years ago, a friend invited Anya to our church in Russia. Sermon by sermon, class by class, the Holy Spirit changed Anya’s heart. Anya’s daughter, Sonya, was baptized as an infant. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know Jesus. God is always with us and will be with us even if something bad happens.”

After the Russian people’s worlds changed in February 2022, Seminarian Andre Gydkov continues to spiritually care for Anya and Sonya and all our brothers and sisters in Christ in Iskitim. He says, “I’m preaching the same things I always did, but now it means more. People are coming to listen. We’re citizens of heaven who own eternal treasures no one can take!”

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Faces of Faith – Dylan

My name is Dylan Munro. I am from East London, South Africa. I had followed many religions, but at one point I had taken an interest in a Buddhist sect. After being initiated and following a guru (master), I became a Buddhist monk for 18 years. However, I could not reach a deep peace or calm my heart. I had a fear of dying, so I practiced 18 hours of meditation a day at times. But when God has a calling in your life, he always wins. The Holy Spirit worked in my heart, and there was a soft voice saying “Try me. Follow me.” It took a while to break away from Buddhism, but God set me free. I have been a Christian for seven years now.

I have been learning the Word of God using the TELL method. It has encouraged me to continue to discover something new in the Bible every day. The TELL Method helps me build up confidence to teach others about the Word of God, and teaching using the TELL method has brought me closer to God’s throne.

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Faces of Faith – Lolly

Ermon “Lolly” Stover was in a dark place. Battling addictions and alcoholism, he felt spiritually dead. The day came when he couldn’t handle it anymore. Remembering the encouragement to “take it to the cross” from his catechism days at the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible on the Ft. Apache Indian Reservation, he cried out to Jesus. He wanted Jesus to take charge of his life and knew that Jesus alone could help him. He started attending Bible studies at the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) and at Open Bible. His life is a living testimony to God’s power to change lives in every way. “I just want to be different,” he tells people, “I can do that through my Savior Jesus Christ.”

He is now a suicide prevention program director on the reservation, and he recognizes that it’s the front line of a spiritual battle between God and Satan. He continues to try to help people, always being ready to give an answer for the hope that he has. When he’s not at work you’ll find him posting Bible meditations on Facebook, teaching Bible studies at church, and continuing to attend ACTS classes to sharpen his Bible skills.

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Faces of Faith – Merle

I was walking our dog through the neighborhood, and out walked this nice man with a cross in his hand and a smile on his face. It was the first time I met Merle. I knew I didn’t want it to be my last as I returned home with my new gift: a handmade wooden cross. After 92 years, Merle still didn’t have anyone to share in learning about what our Savior does for us. Because of our new home mission, we can keep sharing our God-given faith of our eternal life to come. It’s the same reason Merle continues building wooden crosses in his garage. Together, we let our lights shine. You never know how God is going to use us to connect others to his life-saving word, just as he did for Merle.

From Hans Thomford, home missionary at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Amarillo, Tex.

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Faces of Faith – Semson Lor

I remember being in high school 10 years ago and people would ask me if I wanted to become a pastor, just like my father (Daniel Lor – Trinity Hmong, Manitowoc, Wis.). I would automatically answer “No” without giving it a second thought. This all changed when I left home and lived by myself. Suddenly everything I had learned growing up in the Lutheran church became something of the past. But as I fell into sin and personal struggles, the Holy Spirit kept tugging at my heart. I knew this wasn’t how God wanted me to live my life. As a child and a teen, I did not think much about my faith. But when struggles came, the foundations of my faith were what I could fall back on for hope and comfort. Even though I tried so hard to run away from the Lord, he was always pursuing me and being true to his promises that he had given to me in my baptism. I moved back home and became obsessed with reading scripture and studying theology and our Lutheran doctrine. I also started helping my father out at church, and I fell in love with ministry. It’s been a great blessing be able study in the PSI program. I’ve been able to learn from great teachers who are equipping me to proclaim this message of forgiveness to a world that is hurting, depressed, scared, and have no hope. They need to know that they have a Savior that lived perfectly for us so God could wash away all their guilt and sin. Though we may hurt, though we may suffer depression, though we may still be scared, we now have hope.

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Faces of Faith – Abdullah

Abdullah and his mother were kicked out of their home and village when they converted from Islam to Christianity. And yet every day they set aside a handful of rice so that they have something to share with the poor. Abdullah rides a bicycle to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in one of the most dangerous areas of this Muslim nation. He befriends the people, prays for them, and tells them of the love of Jesus. An imam (a Muslim cleric) who is a fish farmer became friends with Abdullah. As they sat in front of his home, he told Abdullah how his fishponds were not producing fish. Abdullah said a simple prayer asking that, if it is God’s will, the imam’s ponds would produce fish. And they did! In great numbers.

Later this imam became a believer in Christ. At his baptism, a mob of over 500 people came to kill him and those involved. The imam spoke with the people, and by the grace of God his life and the lives of those with him were spared. Abdullah continues to share the gospel of Jesus – even though his life is in danger. And God is giving him an abundant harvest of fish and souls.

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Faces of Faith – Peter

Peter Hollins was raised in a religious household and regularly attended an Episcopal Church with his mother. However, he fell away during high school and later found himself to be unhappy. He started attending church again and sought to find one with true doctrine and where he fit best. Peter chose to attend Grace Lutheran Church in Tucson, Arizona, and became a regular attender at Tucson Campus Ministry Bible studies. He is grateful that the Holy Spirit was able to bring him back into the faith and once again finds joy in attending church. Many gifts and blessings can be found in Christianity; Peter found this to be true as he is comforted in knowing that God is with him no matter what comes his way.

From Hailey Brandt, student assistant at WELS Tucson Campus Ministry

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Faces of Faith – Kimberly

Redeemer Lutheran Church’s Campus Ministry has played such a crucial role in the growth of my faith during my time at the University of Michigan. When entering college, I did not have a mature understanding of how to live out my faith. It can be so easy to get led astray during college, regardless of if a person grows up as a Christian or not. I am a living testimony of this; I tried to fill a God-sized hole with all sorts of worldly things. But the truth is that nothing can fill a God-sized hole except God himself. Redeemer’s Campus Ministry helped me come to this realization, and my entire perspective on life has changed. WELS Campus Ministry has helped me mature in my faith and has fostered an understanding of what it means to truly have a personal relationship with the Lord. Campus Ministry has also equipped me with the necessary tools to share my faith, how to approach difficult questions, and has taught me how to reflect Christ’s love in everything I do. I cannot stress enough how important Campus Ministry can be, and I am so excited to see the Lord continuing to work through these programs.

From Kimberly Beckerman, University of Michigan, Class of 2022

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Faces of Faith – Alfredo

From a young age, Alfredo knew God. Raised in a religious family, he was regularly exposed to the idea of Christianity, but it was ultimately his grandmother that really showed him what it meant to be someone of faith. Alfredo’s grandmother took him to church, taught him how to pray, and she truly showed him what it meant to have a relationship with God. This strong relationship with God has been there through the years, despite his ups and downs. Alfredo has always been grateful for his strong faith. His favorite Bible passage comes from Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though an attacker can overpower one person, two people together can stand up against him.” Alfredo really believes in the importance of relying on others. Throughout his life, he has been blessed with a strong Christian community, a gift that he attributes to faith in his Lord. Alfredo has been involved in our WELS Tucson Campus Ministry, growing his faith while he attends the University of Arizona. He studied Agriculture Technology Management and graduated in May 2022!

From Maren Steffen, student assistant at WELS Tucson Campus Ministry.

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Faces of Faith – Timothy

Calling fishers of men . . . to work in the harvest field.

We usually do not speak of fish and fields in the same sentence, but here is a story where both come together.

Timothy Mulando was content with his life in Choonga Village in Africa. Farming during the rainy season, fishing during the dry season. Born and raised a Methodist, he knew Christ. Body fed, soul fed. But life would change.

The Methodists moved out, and in 1953 the Lutherans moved in. Timothy joined the new Lutheran church in Shabasonje Village. Over the years, he served as a lay preacher under Missionaries Habben, Kretzmann, and Sauer.

Then in 1968, Missionary Kirby Spevachek recommended him to train as an evangelist. Timothy began his studies in Lusaka, Zambia, leaving his family behind until accommodations for married men were completed. In 1972, he graduated as an evangelist, serving congregations in Joni Mumba and Mukobela, west of Lusaka. After two years, he was recommended to join the Seminary.

In 1977, he was assigned to Lwimbo, north of Lusaka, to serve as a vicar. At the time he was sent, he was given a small hut that was so small his feet protruded from the doorway. Thankfully there were no dangerous animals among the other wild animals prevalent in the area. And there was no congregation. No converts. But he went to work, and a church grew. As for the house, he and his wife spent time making mud bricks and built a two-room house for the growing family.

In 1979, Vicar Mulando was ordained by Missionaries Cox and Hartzell. Now as Pastor Mulando, he continued to serve Lwimbo until 1985, at which time he returned to serve Joni Mumba and Mokobela.

In 1993, he accepted the call away from village life to serve St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in West Chelston, Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia.

Eight years later, at the age of 71, he retired and returned to the family farm in Shabasonje Village, returning to the maize fields he had left behind so many years before.

But other fields were still calling for workers! From 2002-2005, Pastor Mulando served a vacancy in a nearby village to help prepare them to call a full-time pastor. And in 2006, he began serving the vacancy at his own parish after the pastor accepted a call away. His faithful bicycle carried him between the three churches of the parish, until he retired again in 2014 at age 84.

Today, at age 92, we can understand why Pastor Mulando doesn’t fish anymore in the streams and rivers. Family members do most of the work in the maize fields these days. He has put in his time, fishing for souls in the ripening harvest fields.

From John Hartmann, missionary in Zambia.

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Faces of Faith – Huajvam

He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Acts 9:4)

My name is Huajvam. I’m a Hmong Christian living in Vietnam. I personally witnessed the persecution of believers in my country. I really hated to see the way that they were treated. Then I came to realize that I, myself, also persecuted the members of my congregation through man-made rules and traditions. I punished those who didn’t follow them.

When the Lord struck the Apostle Paul from his horse, I am sure he felt ashamed to find out that the one whom he was persecuting was the Lord Jesus himself. I too, felt ashamed before my Lord Jesus. I claimed to be a believer of Christ, but I really trusted in my rules and traditions for my salvation, not Christ. I am the worst sinner! Only in Christ are my sins forgiven.

Description automatically generated with medium confidenceThen an unexpected change came into my life: the teaching from WELS. The biblical teaching that sinners are saved by God’s grace alone. WELS shared the teaching of Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides. This pure teaching has changed me from head to toe. It gave me a new perspective about myself and my faith in Jesus. Now I am pressing on in the name of the Lord to challenge man-made rules and traditions in my community. Nowadays I only know one thing in my life, as the Apostle Paul said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Since this unexpected change has come, the Lord has tremendously blessed my ministry. People are coming to Christ daily through that message, a Christ-centered message. My district has gained more than 20,000 members in the last few years.

Praise the Lord for his love toward a sinner like me. Please continue to pray for the brothers and sisters in Vietnam.

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Faces of Faith – Alejandro

Rolling through the highway in Villa Maria, Argentina, one sees Nebraska-like cornfields. My fellow missionary said the view was bucolic. (Yeah, I had to look the word up too.) Grandpas and grandmas proudly tell what part of Italy they or their parents came from. Most are barely practicing Catholics.

Just like Alejandro the Butcher. I know, it sounds scary. But you’d like him. Alejandro’s only church experience was a Catholic confirmation class as a teen. The death of their firstborn son as a toddler left Alejandro and his wife, Viviana, devastated. Alejandro’s drug use left his family with financial problems.

He started searching for help just as the pandemic sent families into lockdown with lots of time on their hands. First, he saw an Academia Cristo announcement on his Facebook feed (thanks Multi-Language Productions!) After 38 self-study lessons on Academia Cristo’s mobile app, he joined the Lutheran faith while taking 15 short training courses via Zoom.

I asked, “Would you like to start a Bible-study group to disciple others? We’ll show you how.” He responded, “Well, yeah but I’m a new Christian and don’t really know how to teach.” He invited them to study the Bible for a few weeks and then stopped. He got discouraged. I encouraged him to with one disciple: his 11-year-old son, Eliel. They have started reading through the Bible together in one year.

Men on motorcycles shout Alejandro’s name and wave as they zoom by. Will they be his next disciples? Someone at the butcher shop where he’s the manager?

He laughs when he’s told he’d make a good Old Testament priest, reading about all the bloody animal sacrifices. How he knows it’s all about the blood of Christ which cleans our conscience from sin. Now Alejandro the Butcher serves the living God!

From Rev. Joel Sutton, missionary in Paraguay

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Faces of Faith – Belniz

How do you reach out cross-culturally when there is a language barrier? By seeing the barrier itself as an opportunity.

Jonatan Hernandez’ niece, Belniz, came to stay with family in an apartment complex in Appleton, Wis. The whole family is made up of immigrants from Guatemala. Belniz was set to start school in the middle of the year with hardly any knowledge of the English language. A neighbor, who happens to be a member of Eternal Love Lutheran Church in Appleton, wanted to help. She saw the language barrier as her opportunity. She drove Belniz to Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha to talk to the Spanish-speaking pastors she was aware of but had never met. Two months later, when Jonatan and his family had just arrived from Guatemala themselves, she drove the whole group to Bethel’s Spanish service at noon on Sunday.

Jonatan and his family have no experience with Lutherans. Few of them speak any English at all. All of them are facing the daunting task of beginning a new life in a land that is utterly foreign to them. But because one lady was determined to be helpful and to leverage the language barrier as a meaningful ministry connection, Jonatan and his family have been welcomed to their new home by being brought before the Means of Grace in their heart language. Whatever comes of it, this is how outreach is supposed to work. Barriers are opportunities to show Christian love, which is universal.

From Ethan Cherney, home missionary at Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Saul

I was a Buddhist follower before. I know there are many divisions in Buddhism, so I did research and studied each denomination. When I became a Christian, I also studied to figure out which church I wanted to join. Then I realized that there are even more denominations in the Christian church than in Buddhism. It took me a year and a half before I got to know the Lutheran Church.

When I started to dig, one of the first things I found was a YouTube series on the small catechism by an American pastor located in East Asia. He mentioned Law and Gospel, and I wanted to know more. As I was searching, I found another YouTube video from an East Asian pastor. The gospel touched my heart, and I contacted the East Asia Lutheran Church and joined their Life of Christ class. After all these years, I found the truth. I am sure now. I got baptized and joined the Christian Studies Certificate Program offered at Asia Lutheran Seminary to learn even more.

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Faces of Faith – Colleen

One Sunday in August, Colleen and Megan walked into our church for the first time. We learned that they were freshmen, roommates, and members of the softball team at Agnes Scott College here in Atlanta. We also learned that while Megan is a WELS member from Houston, Tex., Colleen had never attended a worship service in her life. They continued to attend worship regularly and quickly became staple attendees of our Tuesday night Campus Ministry Bible Study, bringing lots of laughter and joy, and often several other softball team members with them.

In January they asked, “Would it be possible for Colleen to have communion?” When I welcomed Colleen to join the Bible basics class we had just started, they high-fived in excitement. Colleen diligently attended our weeknight class, working around her busy school and sports schedule and squeezing in makeup lessons over Zoom during her free hours.

In April, Colleen was baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. Later in the service she came up to receive Communion. Standing beside her, with a huge smile on her face, was her roommate Megan. Colleen and Megan illustrate the “double blessing” of our Campus Ministry Program. It gives WELS members a chance to grow in their faith and share that faith with others!

From Lucas Bitter, home missionary at Intown Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga.

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Faces of Faith – Mackenzie

At such a large university like the University of Michigan, it can be hard to meet other students who want to grow their faith and participate in Bible studies and weekly church services. Consistent weekly gatherings offered through Campus Ministry have really strengthened my faith and my relationship with God as I experience this new stage of life. It has provided me with a support system when faced with lifestyles and ideas that are different from my own and what I grew up with. The Bible study topics are engaging and especially relevant to me and help prepare me to answer difficult questions and ideas that I have been faced with. Campus Ministry has helped me stay connected to church and other Christians while at college.

From Mackenzie Zabel, University of Michigan, Class of 2022

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Faces of Faith – Fan

I was born and raised in western China until I was 18. I grew up happily without being bothered to think about where we all come from and if there is ultimate truth. Shortly after I came to college, I met my now husband, Dan, and was introduced to Christianity. It all sounded very interesting, so I thought I would explore it more at the local Presbyterian church. Even though I was impressed by the worship itself, I was confused at the terms and not able to understand the messages in the sermon. I quickly lost interest and moved on to other parts of school life. Over the years, I had more and more questions: why do Americans cherish tradition in a certain way? What is my way of living and how do I find guidance? Fast forward 10 years, and Dan and I learned about Intown Lutheran Church from our good friend Stephen. We stumbled across a Bible basics class led by Pastor Lucas Bitter, and I unleashed the questions I had boxed up in my head. I sought answers, and I found grace. The true gospel I found at Intown prepared me for baptism. I was never this connected with spirituality before. After this many years, it is never too late to begin!

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Faces of Faith – Grandma Marian

Grandma Marian brings a generation of Navajo knowledge and history to the members of Christ the Rock. The Lord blessed her with the gift of faith from a very early age. She remembers walking a few miles to church every Sunday with her mother and treasures those memories. She attended a Christian boarding school as a child and can still picture the day the U.S. Marine Corps walked into her brother Edmund’s classroom and chose him to train as a Navajo Code Talker. Grandma Marian’s faith carried her throughout her life as an interpreter for the hospital in Rehoboth, New Mexico, as the wife of a Navajo Police officer in Ft. Defiance, and as the mother of her four children. Her greatest joy is knowing Jesus as her Savior and being able to share that joy with her family and others. She wants the entire Navajo Nation to know that Jesus died and rose again for them! Even with the challenges of using a walker and losing her eyesight, she doesn’t miss a worship service. If she can’t make it to Bible study, she joins online with her daughter Myra and the rest of her family. Whether she’s here in person or online, her laughter fills the room with sunshine.

From Jon Brohn, home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Farmington, N.M.

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Faces of Faith – Alicia

Alicia first came to church with her family for a special worship service in the fall of 2019. Although her family came to church as a courtesy to someone who invited them, they agreed to a follow-up visit with me. The next week, I arrived at their apartment around 10 p.m. for a visit.

At first, they were skeptical of this pastor they didn’t know. However, they kindly shared they were new to the country—having emigrated from Honduras—and didn’t have a church home. Alicia convinced her family to give our church a shot. Over time, they attended worship, baptized their son, and took Bible information classes. By summer 2020, Alicia and her parents were confirmed in the faith they now professed.

When her parents can’t come to church due to work, Alicia drives on her own. She often brings her younger brother and has brought various friends. She participates in our online adult Bible studies. She even helped start our small choir. Then, she asked if she could start a youth group. We gathered a few other teens from church and launched “Palabra Youth.” Now she’s a part of a thriving small group of teens centered on Christ.

Alicia is an amazing example to follow. She’s an immigrant teenager who is making friends at school, learning English, and keeping up with her studies. In all things she looks to glorify God and to contribute to her church’s mission!

From Ryan Kolander, home missionary at Palabra De Vida in Detroit, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Travis

My life changed in a tiny room in the back of a music store. I was at one of the lowest moments of my life, playing my hurt into one of the store’s guitars. Ten minutes earlier I had called out angrily to God, saying that I was tired of living with my trauma and that if he was going to do something, he should do it now. God responded by sending Pastor Paul Bourman. He walked up and asked if he could help me in any way. I responded under breath, “You sent me a pastor? You’ve gotta be kidding me.” The tears flowed down my cheeks. Embarrassed, I tried to hide my tears, but God had plans to wipe them away.

I didn’t think that it was possible to truly heal from my trauma. I had anger in my heart that was eating away at me. I was convinced that I had no chance at having any real relationship with anyone ever again. When I learned about Jesus, I learned what forgiveness truly is. And now, that forgiveness overflows in my life. I can even forgive those who hurt me. By grace alone, in all my hurt, Christ has become my salvation. I became a member at Hope Lutheran Church in Tigard, Ore., this past fall. I proposed to my now fiancé, Frankie, after a worship service this winter, and my son is coming to believe that Jesus died for his sins. It is by grace I have been saved!

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Faces of Faith – Ivan and Gina

It had been a year since Ivan and Gina first received an invitation to Cross of Christ. When they first came to a service, a year later, they came by themselves. Gina said, “To be honest, we were terrified to go to a church. Really just scared of being judged or not fitting in. But we finally decided we needed to have God in our lives and didn’t know where to turn. We remembered you guys and saw that you meet at a restaurant. We came and everyone was so welcoming. The whole service—it was just what we needed. It felt like home.”

When Ivan and Gina started going through our basic Christian instruction class and we started talking about grace, they said, “We’ve never heard it quite like that before. God will just forgive us because of Jesus? We don’t have to try to be good enough first?” Grace is always a beautiful surprise.

Since then, Ivan and Gina have been bringing their four children with them to church. They finished instruction and joined as members at Cross of Christ. They have found a place they can call home and a community that’s like family. Gina said, “This church is everything I asked for and more.”

From Kurt Wetzel, home missionary at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Ida.

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Faces of Faith – Jesse

The pandemic had disrupted any sense of normalcy. As a newer church plant, we instantly lost our public school worship location. We had property with an old plant nursery on it, but construction hadn’t started yet. When you don’t have a building, aren’t formally worshipping in person, and you get a phone call asking more about your church, you tend to scramble a bit.

Jesse Jensen had recently moved to Firestone with his folks. He had just graduated from nursing school and was working full-time, but he knew something was missing. He grew up “Christian” in the sense that he knew of Christ and knew of church, but he had never actively practiced or been a member anywhere. What he did have was a grandfather who was a believer and had an interest in knowing more, so he made a call.

I told Jesse, “We aren’t actually worshipping in person . . . and we don’t actually have a building . . . but I’ll buy you a coffee.” He said yes, and his journey to Christ and Carbon Valley began. Over the next year and a half, we systematically walked through the Bible. Jesse couldn’t get enough, which meant our classes went long and we added about four or five “bonus” lessons. It was incredible to talk through the Ten Commandments with someone who had never read them before.

Jesse stuck with us. He learned what worship can look like online, in a rented Methodist church on Saturdays, as we set up and took down on artificial turf, and finally in our very first worship facility. He built relationships and watched how our members treated one another and modeled Christian living. But most of all, he heard about his Savior over and over again, and that Savior worked in his heart. So much so that when Jesse’s grandfather died, his family asked Jesse to say something and lead the memorial. I gave him some prayers and thoughts, and he took them and led his family to give thanks for his grandfather’s life, but also to see Jesus. And after all that, Jesse was the first adult baptism and new member in our new building.

Jesse is an example of a post-Christian America, the willingness of mature Christians to be patient, to model, and to teach . . . but most of all the power of God’s Word.

I bought the first cup of coffee, and now Jesse says he’ll buy the next as he continues his Christian journey.

From Tim Spiegelberg, home missionary at Carbon Valley Lutheran Church in Firestone, Colo.

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The seven provinces of Costa Rica

This past March I visited a number of our Academia Cristo students in Costa Rica. The last time WELS missionaries had been in the country was in March 2018, and even then, only briefly. We traveled there mainly to get to Nicaragua. A short stop. We didn’t have very much online student activity yet in Costa Rica.

But, four years later, the focus was Costa Rica. A lot more students and a lot more activity!

Pedro and María

For example, I’d like to introduce you to Pedro and María, who live in the capital of San José.

María and Pedro downloaded our Academia Cristo app in late 2020. They watched all 38 self-study videos in the App. When they finished those foundation lessons, they were invited to sign up for live, online classes. They successfully finished all 13 live classes in 2021 and loved what they had learned. After a thorough review of the doctrinal points with me, we welcomed María and Pedro as our new brother and sister in the faith.

Pedro and María were ready for the next level of Academia Cristo classes. They were now Lutherans and they wanted to share that message with others. For these students, we start training them to start what we are calling “planting groups,” which, if the Lord blesses their efforts, will eventually become more established congregations.

One of the tools we use to help these new leaders make plans and takes steps toward their goals are monthly goal setting meetings, usually online. We study a portion of the Bible together and then we talk about their dreams for their ministry efforts and we discuss what small steps they can take before our next meeting.

It’s nice to talk about their dreams during an in-person visit because you get to spend much more time together. Pedro, María, and I did just that. They invited me into their house. We studied the Bible. We walked around their neighborhood. We met up with other Academia Cristo students. We visited their family and another family who would like to start a congregation one day. Lots of time together.

As I listened, I heard a theme that I could tell was Pedro and María’s dream for the ministry in Costa Rica. They kept saying, “We want Academia Cristo to be in all seven provinces of Costa Rica.” There it was! The big dream. The hope and prayer of a couple excited about the gospel.

So we wrote it down on the document that has their goals and next steps on it.

“THE SEVEN PROVINCES OF COSTA RICA”

We review this goal every month and pray about it together. Then we discuss the next steps they can take to help achieve it. Step by step. Aiming for that goal.

May the Lord bless Pedro and María and other Costa Ricans as they start their groups and work to reach all those seven provinces of Costa Rica.

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, world missionary on the Latin America mission team.

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Faces of Faith – The Mwale Family

Anderson Mwale began working with the Lutheran Mobile Clinic as a maintenance worker for the Msambo village clinic in January of 2020. He was married to Annah, and had a one-year old girl named Harriet who was active and playful. They were members at one of our Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) church in Msambo, outside of Lilongwe, Malawi. Anderson had once considered becoming a pastor and was an elder at Mtima Woyera Lutheran Church where they were members. As part of his duties with the clinic, Mr. Mwale would give a devotion for the people who had come to clinic in the morning each week. He would weigh children, direct patients where to go, and be responsible for cleaning the clinic building and getting it ready for clinic. He helped oversee the completion of a new clinic building and kept the site secure during construction. When COVID-19 came to Malawi and the clinic had to temporarily shut down, he would supervise the use of the building, keep the grounds clean and safe, and gave sermons on Sundays. When clinic resumed in October, he helped supervise new volunteers who maintained COVID precautions at clinic with our patients.

He remembers the date – February 28, 2021, when Harriet became very sick with malaria. It was not a clinic day so he and his wife brought her to Kamuzu Central Hospital where she was treated for nearly a week. Afterwards, she had weakness in her right side, and could no longer run and play. They prayed for her to recover, but cerebral malaria had caused permanent neurological damage. The Mwale’s brought her to our clinic for follow-up where one of the clinicians realized that she would need ongoing therapy and seizure medication. Harriet was the first child who was referred to Children of Blessings, a private clinic giving free therapy to children with physical needs. The cost of transportation to the clinic three times a week, however, was not affordable for the Mwale’s, so the Central Africa Medical Mission, with the help of special donors, began providing the funds for this in March of 2021. Within a few months, Harriet could hold her head straight, stand with support, and was no longer crying in pain. Her seizures were under control. Her mother learned the exercises to do at home. The Mwale’s were thankful that there was hope for their daughter.

Within a few months there were four more mothers who came weekly to the Lutheran Mobile Clinic for help with their children’s disabilities, as well as their illnesses and malnutrition. Mrs. Mwale befriended these moms and often traveled with them and their children to therapy. Meanwhile, a new vicar at Msambo had weekly Bible studies with the women. One mom became a member of the church and her daughter was baptized. Since the start of 2022, two more children were baptized by Pastor Msiska, who became the vacancy pastor at Mtima Woyera, and continues to share God’s Word with these mothers.

Mr. Mwale said that many prayers have been answered concerning Harriet, and he is thankful she is getting the help she needs. He expressed his gratitude to the donors who support the Lutheran Mobile Clinic and provide the transportation needed for Harriet’s therapy. He trusts the Lord for her future, and knows she is loved and saved by Jesus.

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One day makes an eternal difference

Although our first encounter took place over six months ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. Last year was The Vine’s first time hosting a booth at Joplin, Mo.’s, downtown block party called Third Thursday. This once-a-month event gets crowds in the thousands, but God’s watchful eye coordinated the events of that day so that two of his children in particular would come in contact with us. Throughout the event we greeted attendees and offered Vine-branded gear along with plants, snacks, and water bottles to anyone that would take them. The entire day was constant communication from one person to the next.

I had just got done speaking with a younger couple when I turned around and saw them. Coming towards me was an elderly couple riding their scooters, slowly making their way down the road observing vendors as they went. They were accompanied by their rescued yellow lab showing them around with a slobbery smile at their side. As they approached our booth I asked them, “May I interest either of you in a free plant, coffee mug, or cupcake?” Their shock made me realize they probably thought I was trying to convince them to buy something. I believe after some convincing they took a free plant and a mug. Before they left, they asked who we were and where we were located. I let them know that we were a new Lutheran mission church in town that had been worshiping for about six months right on Main Street.

Two of my favorite things in life are evangelism and dogs, so it was easy for me to talk about our beliefs with them all while petting their pup. As I was listening to their story, they let me know that they were Christians that had been trying to find a church home for quite some time. After some wonderful discussion, they let me know that they would check us out on Sunday. If I’m being honest, I didn’t think much of it. Over the course of a Third Thursday, you might converse with a couple hundred people and dozens of them say, “See you Sunday” with a smile. But then I would show up for worship and see that was not the case. That Sunday came, and as I was talking to a visitor before worship started one of our members tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Pastor, someone is here to see you.” I looked to the door and saw them. Harry was in his wheel chair and Mary was standing right next to him with a big smile on her face. I quickly greeted them and let them know how happy I was to have them join us for worship. After the service they said that they very much enjoyed it and would see us again.

Fast forward about a month later and they had not missed a service. At the end of every service, I offer an open invite to anyone interested in going through a Bible Basics course with me. These classes teach the fundamental teachings of the Scriptures and upon completion allow one to become a member of our church if they desire. As I was greeting people after the service that day, Harry let me know that the two of them were interested in membership. The very next day we started class at their house. Although their homemade fajitas, apple cobbler, and chocolate chip cookies were incredibly delicious, the greatest joy for all of us was diving into the Word and hearing about our wonderful Savior. The two enjoyed asking questions they had held in before and finding many answers in the Word. After completing the course, the two gladly joined our membership right before Christmas. Their company is truly a blessing to everyone around them.

We might ask ourselves, “What can be accomplished in one day?” Well, we as blood-bought souls and former wretches that are now redeemed know firsthand that the Lord can do a great deal in 24 hours. On a cross at Calvary, the Lamb of God died to pay for the sins of the world. God reconciled the entire world to himself, not counting our sins against us but against his Son. On that one day we were saved. On that day, heaven was won for all of the Lord’s people. The Lord blesses our days in light of that one great day. In one day, life for Harry and Mary completely changed. In one day at a booth in Joplin they met brothers and sisters in Christ that wanted to welcome them in as family; that wanted to rejoice with them, mourn with them, and worship the one true God with them.

As Harry put it when he commented on our Facebook page: “It is so good to find a church home after so many years. I no longer feel as if I’m skating on thin ice . . . thank you so much!” The Lord has and will continue to do so much each day. Every one of us is proof of that.

Written by Pastor Jordan Bence, home missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Joplin, Missouri.

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Reflection in the water

It was a long year of online learning for Brenda. The plans to attend a university in San Diego in person were altered by the pandemic. Brenda chose to return home to East Asia and attend classes online. This meant that she was often awake in the middle of the night for live classes that were taking place in California. Even with the scheduling challenges, Brenda found blessings in her situation. She was granted extra time at home with family that she would have otherwise missed. She also found time to reflect on the “family” she had grown to appreciate during her high school years at St. Croix Lutheran High School. Many of the teachers, staff, and fellow students at St. Croix had shown Christian love that left a meaningful impact on her. She recognized what a blessing it was to regularly study God’s Word at St. Croix. Brenda’s plan had been to ask to be baptized around graduation time of her senior year. But during that year the pandemic shifted her interactions with her St. Croix family to be online and she never inquired about baptism. The long, first year of university study online made Brenda eager to connect with Christians when she was finally able to travel to California.

Brenda reached out to Pastor Dave Huebner from St. Croix and asked if he knew of any WELS churches in the San Diego area. Pastor Huebner was able to connect Brenda with Reformation Lutheran Church in San Diego, where it just so happens that a number of the members are originally from East Asia. One of those members is Mark, who is currently enrolled in the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute in hopes of one day serving as a pastor. Mark and Brenda discussed the teachings of our church and eventually Brenda asked if she could be baptized. As I listened to their conversation and later walked Brenda through the process of baptism in our church’s sanctuary, it was clear that the Holy Spirit was at work. From the early years of her high school career to that moment, God had been working through his messengers and message to plant faith in Brenda’s heart. As we looked at the water in the baptismal font, Brenda and I reflected on her story and the way God had worked in her life to make His love known to her.

As the Apostle Paul gave thanks for his gospel partnership with the Philippians (Phil. 1:5) so we also give thanks for the partnership we have in our synod, specifically the partnership between our schools, WELS Campus Ministry, and our congregations.

Rejoice with us that Brenda has found a church family in San Diego where she can continue to grow in the Word. Pray for the partnership between Brenda, Reformation, and WELS Campus Ministry to bring the gospel to more students at Brenda’s university. Finally, take time to reflect in the waters of your own baptism and be reminded once again of the forgiveness and love your God has for you.

Written by Rev. Neil Birkholz, North American Asian ministry consultant.

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Working together for future results

Events like our Trunk and Treat in October can be wonderful team-building/fellowship events. Ours was clearly that. Our volunteer participation grew from a mere handful when we first launched the idea to thirty-six by the time our event was held. A positive attitude and a spirit of fun are infectious. It is always a good thing when God’s people work together – and have fun doing it! Here’s something that was truly awesome about our event: at least six of the volunteers were not members of the congregation. Two of them were folks who were invited by other members of Ascension to participate. Four were regular attenders but not yet members (we like to call them RABNYM’s). Two of our volunteers were a young couple we just received by adult confirmation/profession of faith in October. It was really good for all of them to be rubbing shoulders with our members (and visa versa) and to invest themselves in our ministry in this way. In this picture, the two women serving up free cider and donuts are Paoletta and Laura. Paoletta is currently in our Bible information class; Laura is a long-time member. We intentionally invite our RABNYM’s (Regular Attenders But Not Yet Members) to participate in our ministry where appropriate because we have found that this helps people make the personal connections and engages them in purposeful activity that matter to seekers these days.

Here’s another benefit worth sharing. Back at the beginning of 2016, Diana and Adrian were an unmarried couple who had just had a baby. After approaching a couple of non-WELS churches about baptizing their little baby and being turned down, they contacted me. We met, planned a baptism, and talked a bit about the plans they had to marry. Kaylee was baptized on April 26, 2016. In January of 2017 I joined Diana and Adrian in marriage. Within a few months, we lost touch as they went through some relocations and various other family challenges. We kept Kaylee and her family on our email list and continued to reach out to them and invite them to events. This family showed up at our Trunk and Treat.

Diana, Adrian, Kaylee, and Madelyn

Kaylee was looking for the man who had “bap-a-tiz-ed” her. It was great catching up with Diana and Adrian and my little friend Kaylee. It was even better to initiate a conversation about baptizing their new little one, Madelyn. God used this fun little seasonal event to reconnect us with a family he clearly wants us to serve.

Did I mention that we were pet-friendly? We did not advertise that, but it ended up being the case. I and a few of our volunteers brought their pooches. It’s amazing how a cute, friendly dog can generate smiles and conversations! In addition, a dinosaur made an appearance and delighted our young visitors. A few games, a bounce house, and free refreshments helped make it a fun even for families.

Events such as this are a great way to connect with the community, meet new people, get them on our campus, and plant some gospel seeds. Immediate results are not always obvious, but results always come.

Written by Rev. Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich.

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Open windows, open doors

One night, a few of us were playing board games with some new Bible study friends. It was a beautiful spring night in East Asia, and we had all the windows of the eighth floor, one bedroom apartment open. At the time some of us were probably getting a little too into our game of “Dutch Blitz,” shouting and laughing. We were loud (much to our chagrin, we later realized our voices were echoing off the building across from us . . . ).

Around 10 P.M. or so, we heard an indignant knock on the door. I peered through the peephole and glimpsed a large man with a large frown. In half decent English, he politely asked us to keep it down as his two year-old was asleep in an apartment across from us. I apologized profusely from behind the door. Appeased, the large man thanked us and left. Thus our party ended.

Then on Sunday about a dozen of us were praising and praying to God. Again, with the windows open. After worship, we got ready to head downstairs for lunch. I was first out of the apartment. As I turned my head down the long hallway, again I saw a large man. This time he was stomping towards me. He didn’t look happy. “Oh, no.” I thought, “That’s the guy from the other night. We’re probably singing too loudly!” He stopped in front of me panting and asked if we were the ones singing the “Christian songs.” I said yes. Then his face lit up.

He told me he’d been searching for us for the past two months. Every Sunday morning, he heard our hymns and wanted to join us, but because of the echo off the buildings, he could never tell which apartment we were in. Every Sunday he’d walk up and down the stairwell searching for which floor we were on. But it turns out, if we hadn’t been so loud a few nights before, he never would have found us!

Leo joined us for lunch and later joined our local Lutheran church. Now he helps lead his own confessional Lutheran church in his city.

We sometimes cannot even imagine how God is going to use us and the preaching of his Word to bless the kingdom, but he reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-11, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Please take 30 seconds to pray that windows and doors will stay open for us as we continue sharing the gospel here in East Asia.

Written by a missionary in East Asia.

 

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