Faces of Faith – Carlos

Carlos Fernandez could have been called a highly successful church planter within his denomination in Argentina—once planting six churches in a year. But when his church body sent out a notice, which included no Biblical support, that forbid its members from watching TV or playing sports, Carlos decided that he could no longer take the legalism of his church body. He went looking for something else.

Carlos found Bible-based, Christ-centered teaching through Academia Cristo, the WELS online effort for outreach and training. Through it he was able to take online classes taught by WELS missionaries.

After several classes, Carlos received visits from WELS missionaries. He took off work from his finance company, used his motorcycle to shuttle the visiting missionaries around his town of Machagai, Argentina, and spent as much as 14 hours a day studying God’s Word. God willing, Carlos will be visited again soon when he will be welcomed into fellowship and the church-planting will begin.

From Mike Hartman, missionary and field coordinator in Latin America

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Faces of Faith – Lizbeth

“We want to learn more,” said Lizbeth Guaman, as she and her mother began classes with the Academia Cristo teachers in Quito, Ecuador. Lizbeth and several family members were disappointed with the Bible instruction they had received in other places. One day they saw an advertisement on Facebook for a Bible workshop and their interest was piqued. Lizbeth attended to see what it was all about. She liked it!

By God’s grace, they began taking classes and even invited Academia Cristo teachers to their home to teach weekly. Using Multi-Language Publications (MLP) materials and videos, this family has been advancing in Bible truth one lesson at a time. God has even planted the desire to share this news and invite others to the classes. May the Lord continue to water the seeds spread by the swirling winds of the internet!

 

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Faces of Faith – Ron

Ron Kelly’s passion is to serve the families and young people at his congregation, St. Marcus in Milwaukee, Wis. “The youth and children of my community have so few role models showing them what a Christian man looks like,” Ron told me the first time we met. Ron wants to be such a role model.

And he is. Supervising Pastor Dan Leyrer reports that Ron is friendly, helpful, outgoing, faithful, and always looking to give. Ron is involved with youth discipleship, chapel devotions at St. Marcus school, ministry to school families, Bible information classes, and assistance at the Lord’s Supper. Ron also serves the church at large. He is a member of the Urban Advisory Board in Milwaukee and will represent St. Marcus as a delegate to the 2019 WELS Convention in New Ulm, Minn.

In addition to his work as a realtor and his many hours of service at St. Marcus, Ron is working his way through the PSI curriculum, one class at a time. He and Pastor Leyrer set aside time every week for these studies. Already these classes are equipping Ron for ministry. Ron is a rare gift from our Risen and Ascended Savior!

From Rev. Brad Wordell, member of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team

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Faces of Faith – Chenna

I was standing outside some apartments near our church, talking with some Hindu friends of mine who lived there. We noticed a young man and his father unloading some luggage from a U-Haul. My wife and I wanted to see if they needed help; we introduced ourselves and met Chenna and his father.

Often, we invite our friends to our home for dinner and to get to know them better. As we got to know Chenna, we learned that his father was a former Hindu and his mother used to be a Missouri Synod Lutheran. Chenna had been attending church services through a variety of Christian denominations and was looking for a church home in Pewaukee, Wis. My wife and I invited him to join us at Christ Lutheran.

Eventually, Chenna became more like a son to us than just a friend. We walked with him as he grew in his knowledge of the Bible through the course of a Bible information class hosted in our home with one of the pastors. Once he completed the course, Chenna was confirmed and can now join us as we receive assurance of sins forgiven during the Lord’s Supper.

Chenna’s story is a great example of how simply saying hello to someone can lead to a family-like friendship and impact a person’s faith. We pray that as Chenna continues to grow in his faith that he can let the light of Christ shine to his family so that they too can share in the joy of Jesus.

From Pastor Paul, South Asia Ministry Coordinator for WELS Joint Missions

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Faces of Faith – Paul and Abigail

Every year the men from our congregation rent a large tent and host an awesome prime rib breakfast after Easter worship. In 2017, more than 200 people showed up for Easter worship and fellowship! That year, a long time WELS member named Helen invited her friends Paul and Abigail. They enjoyed everything – but Paul had not worshiped in a church for quite some time due to some mistrust in the church establishment. After that Easter breakfast, we didn’t see Paul and Abigail for a long time. Fast forward to 2018, and there they were, sitting in the church for worship. After some conversation and pre-marriage counseling, Spirit of Life hosted a small, beautiful wedding for this couple. I had learned that Paul wasn’t baptized in some of our discussions, and so on December 23, 2018, I had the opportunity to baptize Paul. Both Paul and Abigail have finished membership classes and are excited to be a part of Spirit of Life.

It was a long journey, with multiple touchpoints over multiple years. But from a personal invite, to a meal, to a wedding, and then to a baptism we’re shown how God’s Word is living and active and—on his time—works and grows. Stories like this make our members and I excited to sow the gospel seed every day, never knowing when the next Paul and Abigail might show up.

From Allen Kirschbaum, missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Hal and Anna

We both attended church our entire lives. For many years we had a hunger for the truth. We knew there was more, but we could not grasp what we were unaware of. While attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church we found what we were missing. We became aware of how sinful we are and how much we need a Savior. Since joining Grace we have become spiritually alive, feasting on God’s Word and truth!” – Hal & Anna Thorson

Hal and Anna’s story is simple, yet remarkable. It started with their friend Holly, who found the same thing while attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church in Tucson, Ariz. When visiting her friends in the frozen north, spiritual discussions led Holly to invite Hal and Anna to Grace in Minot, N.D., because Holly didn’t want to miss a single week in church.

That’s all the Holy Spirit needed to work with. Hal and Anna quickly found Christ in a way they hadn’t before, even after a lifetime in church. Sometimes the gospel creates stories with massive, unbelievable details. More often, it’s simply one person sharing it with another, who then shares it with another. Today, Hal and Anna are “paying it forward” by bringing Christ to their friends and family, hosting Bible Studies in their home, and sharing answers with their loved ones for the first time in a lifetime.

From Nate Walther, missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

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Faces of Faith – CJ

“My pastor is always smiling.”

That was CJ’s take on me. He was talking with his friends at school about their pastors. He told his friends that his pastor was always smiling and in a good mood. God be praised for this perception!

CJ is a sophomore in high school. He joined Amazing Love with his mother over a year ago. As a high school student, it would be easy to pick different priorities—he’s a rising baseball star at his high school. But he’s in worship every Sunday. On our teen trip to downtown Chicago, he was so excited to share what God was doing in his life. He said he used to be more negative, but now he strives to see things in a positive light.

The work God is doing in CJ’s heart is nothing short of remarkable. In our conversations about life and church he told me he has signed up for four different volunteer positions, and he’s hoping to make it to five. You’ll find him greeting, ushering, helping with kids, at the tech table, and with his attitude, I’m sure we’ll find a fifth position. He uses our church app to listen to the sermon a second time during the week, and he’s used the app to catch up on the last five years of gospel proclamation.

God gives us so much to smile about, and CJ’s story is one reason it’s easy for me to smile.

From Dustin Blumer, missionary at Amazing Love Lutheran Church in Frankfort, Ill.

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Faces of Faith – Lindsey

In the spring of 2018, I pulled out of my garage to make a few informal visits in anticipation of Easter. My motivation really needed to be compelled by the Holy Spirit that night. As the daylight faded, I wondered if it would be wise to knock on the next door.

Lindsey answered. I knew she had young children, so I didn’t intend to stay long. I gave her the invitations and wished her a good night. The next day I opened an e-mail from Lindsey. In it she wrote, “You came to my house last night and unfortunately saw me at the end of an extremely long day in my bath robe and probably at my worst! For some strange reason, that did not bother me so much because it got me thinking. . . I haven’t been to church in almost 20 years and it is very difficult for me to know where or how to come back. . . I just need some reassurance to get over the awkwardness I feel about coming back.”

Thankfully, Lindsey didn’t stop with an e-mail. She joined us in worship that Sunday and has been joining us since. She had been encouraged by friends who attend a different WELS church to investigate our congregation more fully. I am so thankful for their collaboration on her heart. In November of 2018, Lindsey was welcomed as a member and her children Karlee and Korie received the washing of rebirth and renewal in Baptism. I am so glad I knocked on her door.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – The Almarales Family

They were in tears for nearly the entire service the first time they visited. After opening up to their neighbor about the sleepless nights, the overwhelming worry, and constant wondering where they had gone wrong, the neighbor invited them to join her at church on Sunday to hear some much-needed good news.

As always, God’s Word did not disappoint. Alexis and Maria came to church with heavy hearts as their son was waiting on his sentencing in the city jail. They walked out of church refreshed and restored by God’s love and forgiveness for them in Jesus. Later that week through a jail video visit, their son was taken to the same cross of Jesus for peace and comfort even while facing the consequences for his actions.

About three months later, Alexis and Maria publicly confessed their faith in Jesus. Their teenage daughter, Roxana, was baptized in the same service. Several family members were in attendance that day and have seen the difference Jesus has made for them. They are eager for their oldest son and his family from Cuba to join them at church.

It will be a few years yet before their son is able to join them in a worship service on a Sunday morning, but all have been able to find true rest and peace in God’s grace.

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

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Faces of Faith – Angel

The Lord of the Church continues to be with and bless the work carried out through Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wisconsin. Angel Ayala, an eighth-grade student at Wisconsin Lutheran, expressed to his mother that he wished to be baptized and confirmed at Epiphany Lutheran Church. In January 2019, Epiphany observed The Baptism of our Lord Sunday with the baptisms of Angel and his whole family as his mother Alicia joined the church. In February 2019, a Hispanic family from the school joined First Evangelical Lutheran. Due to language challenges, the daughter served as translator during the instruction classes as well as during the rite of membership in church – the church’s first bilingual confirmation since the years when First Evangelical was a German speaking congregation.

From Mark Blauert, school chaplain at Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Trace and Alissa

We first met at a church event for the community that offered free Easter pictures with a 1916 Model T. Trace and Alissa came by to take a picture and stayed to visit with some of our members. We invited them to church and an off-campus Bible Study, and they came! We are so grateful to remind them of Jesus’ love and forgiveness every week. Our growing mission benefits from their kind hearts and enthusiasm for Bible Study. We often thank God for bringing us together and pray for more in our community to come to our campus for the free message, family atmosphere, and bright future through our Savior Jesus.

From Gunnar Ledermann, missionary at Divine Peace Lutheran Church in Rockwall, Tex.

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Faces of Faith – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Our congregation wanted to think of more ways to get involved in our community. Being right along a parade route, we entered a float in the Coeur d’Alene Christmas parade and set up a tent and bonfire right in front of our church, along with free hot chocolate, so that parade-goers could warm up by the fire and enjoy a friendly conversation with our church members. We also had a free raffle prize which allowed us to get important contact information for follow up. Several people along the parade route who saw our float ended up coming to our Christmas Eve service.

After the parade, we selected the winner of our raffle prize, and I went to their house to deliver it. When I got there and told the person who I was, he remembered seeing our float in the parade and the tent along the parade route. He immediately invited me in and asked if he could talk with me “for a few minutes.”

Over the next two hours, he told me about the challenges and stresses he was facing in his life. He said, “I think God must have known that I really needed to talk to a pastor tonight, and that’s why you’re here.” It’s experiences like this that make being a pastor so wonderful. And God used our church float and tent in a parade to make it happen.

From Kevin Schultz, missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

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Faces of Faith – The McFadden Family

At our very first Easter Egg Hunt in 2013, Tony walked in to the building. Tony is a big guy. He served in the Marines. He’s a mechanic who works on jets and helicopters. Some might say he’s an imposing figure—but he has a soft heart, especially for his daughter, Brooke. As the pastor of the congregation, I didn’t know that. . . yet. He asked if their family could participate in the Easter Egg Hunt.

Using the information from the registration card, I was able to follow-up with them and personally met Brooke her mom Mary. On the next visit he opened up more about his struggles with faith. He grew up in a Roman Catholic family but had left the church long ago. While he continued to sense how “God placed people in his life to call him back,” he still admits he “struggles to find his faith again.” The relationship I have been able to continue with Tony, Mary, and Brooke has continued for the last six years. Mary and Tony asked me to officiate their wedding in October 2018 and to meet with them for premarital counseling beforehand. Since then, I’ve seen increased attendance at worship. Brooke, now 11, was so excited when she was invited to participate in Beautiful Savior’s Christmas Program, led entirely by members. She practiced her parts and spoke them with conviction. When she witnessed a baptism in worship, she personally approached me and asked if she could be baptized too. I currently have the privilege to work with their family to schedule the baptism and instruct Mary and Tony for welcome into membership.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Cherie

Cherie shares the story of her connection to Beautiful Savior:

“Over eleven years ago I nervously entered the doors of Beautiful Savior. I had everything I could ever imagine wanting: a brand-new home, all new furniture, proximity to all the conveniences of shopping, work and friends. Something was missing. I continually felt a void. I had passed by Beautiful Savior many times on my way to various places and felt a strong urge to investigate. I was a non-practicing Catholic due to a divorce and had not been in a church for well over 20 years. Would a Lutheran church accept me? Yes, yes and yes! I walked into the church, was immediately greeted in such a genuine way that I have continued to enter those doors for over eleven years.”

Cherie demonstrates an incredible heart for our congregation and its ministry. She is extremely faithful and dedicated and has become a consistent aid in our Mornings with Mommy program – she even stepped in to lead sessions this year when our director was unavailable. Cherie relates well with the 5th-8th graders of her Sunday School class, which she began leading two years ago. Recently Cherie took the lead to organize the Sunday School children for a Christmas program (the first in 5 years.) She also wants to create a children’s choir – stepping even more outside of her comfort zone because of limited musical experience herself. She is such a blessing to our congregation.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Brian and Jen

Brian and Jen Larson began attending Beautiful Savior in the fall of 2016. Brian says,

“Finding a new church can be hard, but Beautiful Savior made it easy. When my wife, a Southern Baptist, and I, a Roman Catholic, were married, we shared a common Christian faith, but had trouble reconciling the differences in practice between the denominations. Moving to La Porte with our two small kids, we knew we had to seek a new church that focused on our common beliefs.

We are so glad to have found Beautiful Savior. The entire congregation was warm and welcoming on our first visit. Pastor Boushek met with us to explain the practices of the church and how they were well grounded in the Bible. This erased the difficulty and confusion of walking into a new church. Now we enjoy being part of a friendly faith community that supports our family’s beliefs and spiritual growth.”

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Paul

“I have been to every church in Detroit. I’ll tell you what, one thing’s for sure—this place has the truth.” Paul Moronczyk grew up in Del Ray, a desolate and dangerous part of Detroit. He got into trouble early on, and even left the faith for a while. Then God brought him back. By his 30s, he was walking around the violent Del Ray and Springwells neighborhoods, visiting churches and getting to know pastors and priests. He studied and trained with various ministries around the city and had been ordained or licensed by many of them.

Then, he came to Palabra de Vida. In fall of 2016, he pounded on our church’s front door because he saw the light on. Shortly after, we began studying together. He peeled through the Catechism and was blown away by the doctrinal precision and proof passages. He started to study Martin Luther himself and delighted in the Reformer’s perseverance for the truth in the face of danger. He could relate to that! He professed his faith publicly at our church in fall of 2017.

From that point on, Paul has done everything—from helping to set up the Christmas decorations to passing out flyers to leading Bible studies in prospects’ homes. He’s found the truth—and he’s dedicated himself to getting it out there!

From Ryan Kolander, missionary at Palabra de Vida Lutheran Church in Detroit, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Spenser

Spenser hadn’t been to church in years. He found himself wandering in faith and unsure of his beliefs. Moving to the city of Atlanta had provided him with a great job, but it did nothing to fill the spiritual void in his life.

Then, one weekend in August, Spenser attended a free community festival. As he walked through a long line of booths, he saw something that caught his eye: a booth sponsored by volunteers from Intown Lutheran Church. Spenser spun their prize wheel and won a free pair of sunglasses. He also received an invitation to their grand opening worship service in just 2 weeks. Spenser had been Lutheran at one point in his life, and the people at the booth seemed friendly enough. He decided to come.

On September 9, Spenser stopped by our rented facility, with nearly 60 other people, to kick off worship. He enjoyed the pre-service coffee and fellowship time. He enjoyed the worship service and the Bible-focused sermon. During the post-service announcements, Spenser heard about a new “Bible Basics Class,” which would be offered in a local coffee shop. He decided to give it a try.

3 months later, Spenser joined our church as an adult confirmand. Through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in Bible Basics Class, his faith was built and strengthened to the point that he is now excited to be a part of this family of believers and help us reach out to the city of Atlanta with the gospel. By God’s grace, Spenser has found a spiritual home in the city.

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

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