God’s answer to our troubles

Dear Friend,

Greetings and happy New Year in our Lord Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

In the early days of 2022, have you heard people discussing the meaning of their lives and what life will be like this year? A casual observer might conclude that there is a lot of good in life. Nature is beautiful. Relationships can be wonderful. Each day brings joy through work, play, personal interactions, and our possessions.

But the observer might also wonder why life is tarnished. The beauty of nature is easily stained by pollution, plague, and storm. Relationships may be strained and can break. Work, hobbies, and possessions often cause stress instead of satisfaction.

And it gets worse. Life isn’t just tarnished; it’s full of trouble and evil. People are selfish and hateful. And when we take a good look at ourselves an ugly truth dawns on us: this darkness isn’t just in others; it’s in me by nature!

As people ponder this strange environment of beauty and breakdown, they may feel determined to make things better. “We can get things right,” they think, “we just need better solutions, good leaders, and to all work harder to do more good than evil!” Our best efforts, though, often fail to solve our problems—and they do nothing to bring us closer to the Lord of heaven and earth.

But, by God’s grace, we have the answer! God’s Word exposes how our natural assumptions were off-track from the very start. The Lord describes people as sinners who are without hope and who will be separated from him, yet he promises to rescue us from death. God says this present world is passing away, but he invites us to look ahead to a new world in heaven. Scripture declares that we aren’t here to serve ourselves; we were created to glorify God and serve others.

Best of all, the Bible tells the full extent of our Savior’s love, that while we were cursed with sin that separated us from the holy God, he went to inconceivable lengths to save us. He sent his one and only Son Jesus to live a perfectly God-pleasing life for us. Then Jesus willingly took on the full punishment for our sin. His perfect life and full payment for all sins earned God’s favor for us and restored our relationship with the Father. The curse of sin was broken; Jesus rose from the dead. All people who trust in the saving work of Jesus are freed from sin, death, Satan, and the anxieties of this life. What a precious truth the Spirit has given us!

We have a multi-pronged approach to bringing the Lord’s answer to the world. Our churches are the frontlines for local gospel ministry. They also unite under the banner of “WELS” to carry out large-scale work such as training our future leaders in ministry, carrying out home and world mission work, and supporting other congregations. We praise God that he has richly blessed these efforts! (Learn more about the work of our synod at wels.net/annualreport or in this month’s WELS Connection.)

Amidst all the pain and hopelessness in the world, knowing we have the answer, let’s resolve by the Spirit’s power to keep working together to share this good news of Jesus with more people this year. Your prayers, testimony, and a gift to WELS Mission and Ministry help to do that. Thank you!

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Kurt Lueneburg
Director, WELS Ministry of Christian Giving

Prayer: Lord God, we thank you for your many blessings on our church body in 2021. You nurtured our saving faith in Christ through your gospel in Word and sacraments. You allowed us to return to in-person gatherings and to restart projects that had been paused. You opened doors to new mission opportunities and strengthened our recruitment of future pastors and teachers. You also granted many other blessings that allow us to carry out gospel ministry in various ways. We pray that you continue to lead us in 2022 as we seek to bring glory to your name by proclaiming Jesus as the world’s Savior. Amen.

The right gift at the right time

Dear Friend,

Have you ever received the right gift at the right time? Imagine a little girl at Christmas unwrapping a new toaster, or a bride opening a wedding gift only to find a dollhouse. Wrong gift. Wrong time.

God is the perfect Giver: “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5). What a loving God we have, and he continues to give his church the right gifts at the right time. At Pentecost the disciples were enabled to speak in tongues and emboldened to preach. Today God gives gifts to his church to spread the gospel in ways never imagined by the disciples!

Consider TELL Network, an online ministry by WELS Multi-Language Productions. I began serving as the first TELL online missionary at the end of 2019—the beginning of a global pandemic that drove many people searching online for hope.

With one of the largest Lutheran social media presences in the world (1.5 million Facebook followers and likes), TELL engages viewers across the globe with devotional videos and content. Each piece encourages them to download the TELL app where they take self-learning Bible studies. Currently there are over 10,000 active users on the TELL app. Next they join a live group class where they learn the Bible and Lutheran catechism with an instructor like me. We build agreement around the truths of God’s Word. Students are equipped to share their faith with others and start a small group Bible study using the TELL method.

If possible, an in-person visit is made. Prayers are lifted up for the Spirit to create and grow a gospel community. The leader is trained to identify and train the next TELL student within their group. The process repeats.

Samuel Kalivogui, a TELL student from Guinea in West Africa, says:

I met TELL through Facebook. The very first time I watched a video on Facebook I got interested. Pastor Dan Laitinen contacted me via WhatsApp. We later started live classes. I got interested because they are offering true Bible gospel training free of charge. That’s something I have been looking for. My understanding of the Bible has greatly increased. The method is so interesting! Currently I’m using the lessons of TELL to do all my preaching and I’ve been invited twice to preach on my local radio station.

Samuel estimates his radio broadcasts alone reached 400,000 people in a heavily non-Christian country. And he is just one of over 200 students from nearly 30 countries who are signed up for TELL live group classes. Praise God for these exciting results!

God-willing, you can help us expand TELL’s reach. Each live group student costs about $600. Other expenses include building apps and online student learning systems, overseeing a social media team, and sending missionaries. Most of all, we must wisely and consistently spend advertising dollars in an aggressive online space.

Your special prayers and gifts towards Multi-Language Productions matter. It will enable TELL to increase our reach online, keep content in front of millions of eyes, and welcome more live group students like Samuel who are eager to spread the gospel.

Thank God for his right Gift at the right time. And thank you for yours.

To us a child is born!
Dan Laitinen
Missionary, TELL

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Boldly proclaiming the gospel at home mission churches

The Vine, a home mission church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, hosted Praise & Proclaim evangelism training at their church back in July with support from WELS Home Missions. A WELS Mission Journeys team made up of high schoolers from Minnesota was also there to assist in their outreach efforts. After receiving two and a half hours of training on a Sunday afternoon, the teens were brimming with confidence and ready to go boldly proclaim the gospel.

One team came across a lady who expressed great concern about her brother who has pancreatic cancer. She asked the teen group if they could pray for him. Two teens immediately accepted and led a prayer at the door on behalf of her brother. Another woman was so grateful for a large bag of groceries they handed out that tears started to fall down her face. With three children surrounding her, she told the team that she recently had a miscarriage and was struggling emotionally. They came at a perfect time. You can read even more stories like these in their Praise & Proclaim Initiative Report.

Eight nervous teenagers stepped WAY outside their comfort zones to talk to people about their Savior. Throughout the day, you could see them growing in their confidence and excitement to proclaim the gospel.

Can you help provide additional evangelism training at home mission churches, so that more individuals can confidently and fearlessly share the gospel? We’re looking to fund the next three Praise & Proclaim outreach initiatives for home mission churches through gifts that come into the Tools for Outreach fund this Thanksgiving season. Thank you for your support as we equip more and more people to comfortably and confidently proclaim the gospel message!

Christ Our Savior in Collinsville, Ill., was approved as a new home mission congregation in September 2021 and recently brought in Praise & Proclaim to provide evangelism training for members. Read more about their experience in this Praise & Proclaim Initiative Report.

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100 Missions in 10 Years

Dear Friend,

Two years ago, our Lord Jesus gave us an amazing opportunity. WELS was permitted by the government of Vietnam to build a school in Hanoi to provide Lutheran theological training to hundreds of pastors of the Hmong Fellowship Church. The COVID pandemic delayed construction, but we are now back on track to get started.

When that opportunity arose, WELS members responded. Individuals and congregations made special gifts totaling more than $2 million. Motivated by the gospel, God’s people gave generously to share the saving message of Jesus with lost souls.

At our synod’s recent convention, delegates heard—and overwhelmingly endorsed—another amazing opportunity to expand our efforts to share the gospel. In the September Forward in Christ, Pastor Mark Gabb, chairman of WELS Board for Home Missions, described the opportunity by going back into WELS history to the 1965 synod convention:

It was an aggressive plan. To some it seemed unachievable. WELS was small—only 800 congregations, mostly in the Midwest. We were still fresh on our own, having split with the Missouri Synod just four years earlier. Now “Every State by ’78!” Could our small synod do this? Did we have manpower, money, and ministry resources?

Lots of questions, lots of challenges. Yet the delegates rallied behind the plan, and though it didn’t happen by ’78, it did happen by 1983. God blessed the efforts of those who went before us!

WELS Board for Home Missions’ plan is similarly ambitious. Large areas of the United States are still not served by a WELS congregation. Why not plan big and determine, under God, to open 100 new home missions in the next ten years starting in 2023?

There will, of course, be challenges—the same challenges faced by the synod in 1965. But the board is confident that the members of our synod will respond once again. More importantly, the board knows that the same God who blessed our earlier efforts is the one who promises to bless the planting and watering of his saving gospel.

WELS Home Missions typically plants five to six new congregations each year. We need your help to continue this work even as we plan to increase the number of home missions we open each year. The cost of a new home mission, from the time it is established until the time it becomes self-supporting, ranges from $800,000 to $1,000,000. It’s anticipated that Home Missions will receive additional support from the synod’s budget and other sources, but this will also require generous support from individuals.

Please prayerfully consider a gift to WELS Home Missions to sustain current efforts while they also plan for the “100 Missions in 10 Years” goal. Together we will plant and water while trusting God to make the seed of the gospel grow.

Yours in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

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Supporting home mission churches through evangelism training

Before ascending to heaven, our Lord Jesus directed us to be his witnesses. But taking action—from finding the time, to knowing how to start the conversation, and then knowing what to say—can be hard and intimidating obstacles to overcome. That’s where Praise & Proclaim can help.

One of the ways WELS Home Missions supports mission congregations around North America is by partnering with Praise & Proclaim Ministries to provide comprehensive evangelism training for church members. This WELS affiliated ministry trains members during a Friday night session on how to use a simplified approach to witnessing that is comfortable and non-threatening. The very next day they offer a well-organized opportunity to apply that training in the community.

Praise & Proclaim has already trained thousands of WELS members how to do personal evangelism, and WELS Home Missions will continue to partner with them as we prepare to plant 100 missions in 10 years beginning in 2023. Praise & Proclaim produces all the promotional materials, provides onsite training, and organizes the entire weekend for $4,000 per mission congregation. Would you consider supporting WELS home mission congregations through Praise & Proclaim initiatives? With your help, we are hoping to fund the next three Praise & Proclaim initiatives from gifts received throughout November. Together we can help home mission churches plant and water gospel seeds in their community while trusting God to make the seed of the gospel grow.

Read more about how WELS Home Missions supports 132 congregations around North America in a variety of ways at wels.net/homemissions.

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Where will your next called worker come from?

Dear Friend,

Where will your next pastor, teacher, staff minister, or missionary come from? Where are they today? Maybe they’re serving at another WELS church or school. Or maybe they’re diligently preparing for a lifetime of public ministry at Martin Luther College (MLC).

The vast majority of WELS called workers receive their training at MLC. These are the gospel servants who faithfully share Word and sacrament, who baptize your babies, help teach your children about Jesus and mentor your teenagers, who strengthen your faith through Bible class, comfort your family through crises, and pray at your sickbed.

Would you support your future called workers in their ministry training at MLC?

Through “Equipping Christian Witnesses,” we’re asking you to lend support in two ways: easing student debt and enhancing student facilities.

(We know that many of you have already given to this campaign. We’re so grateful! Please know that your gifts are making a difference in our students’ lives today. Read on!)

EASING student debt: College is expensive. Though MLC has been recognized nationally for quality and affordability, many of our students still graduate with debt. In 2021, about 78 percent of our seniors graduated with a debt averaging $24,700.

“Equipping Christian Witnesses” is helping them lift the load by providing additional funding to the Congregational Partner Grant Program (CPGP). Through this program, about 600 MLC students per year receive a grant from their congregation. Then MLC matches those grants—dollar for dollar, up to $1,000 per year per student. The result? Over one million dollars in grant money applied to students’ tuition accounts every year.

God has blessed this program with measurable success: Our average student debt has dropped for three consecutive years. And we are not sitting back complacently. As costs rise, we plan to raise the cap on both grants and matches. This year, MLC gave each CPGP recipient an additional benefit. MLC matched whatever their congregation gave them up to $1,000, and we added a $200 bonus.

You can help keep this successful program going! Your gift will help MLC match the congregations’ grants for years to come.

ENHANCING student facilities: Good news! We’re already building one of the facilities we envisioned under “Equipping Christian Witnesses.” The Betty Kohn Fieldhouse is under construction as we speak, and students will be using it come January!

We’re also praying for a new residence hall. Overlooking Summit Avenue, this beautiful air-conditioned facility will feature study lounges, kitchen, fitness center, and two-bedroom suites, where four students share a bathroom and shower.

Since our newest dormitory was built in 1971—50 years ago!—we’re more than ready for this campus addition. While we work and pray for growth in enrollment, the new residence hall will enable us systematically to update our other residence halls.

RECRUIT more students: You might not realize it, but both these efforts—easing student debt and enhancing facilities—have a direct connection to recruitment. We function in a competitive marketplace.

Making our college attractive and affordable demonstrates that we care about these young people making their college decision. We want them to give MLC a try, and we’ll do all we can to provide a campus where they can grow in faith, learn more about the public ministry, and develop all their God-given skills in a safe and supportive learning environment—without becoming overly burdened by debt.

Recruitment efforts are especially crucial right now. Far too many calls cannot be filled. After Call Day in May 2021, 95 pastor calls and 90 teacher calls remained vacant. If one of those vacancies is at your church or school, you understand very well the critical need for more called workers!

Please consider a gift to “Equipping Christian Witnesses.” You will be supporting the young men and women who may very soon serve your congregation and your school.

Partnering with you in Christ,
Rich Gurgel
MLC President

P.S. Jesus is opening mission doors in the 21st century that are beyond our imagination! Thanks for your prayers and for your support of “Equipping Christian Witnesses” to help us provide the necessary workers.