Serving and supporting our pastors

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The “firsts” are always exciting, aren’t they? The first day of school. The first year of marriage. The first day on the job. The birth of a first child. Everything is new and full of promise. Except . . . everything is also full of unknowns. What if you make the wrong step, say the wrong thing, let people down?

When new graduates step off of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary campus and into your churches, they are excited for this first—the opportunity to take the Word that has been implanted in their hearts and minds—and practically apply it to their hands and feet and mouths. Still, these men care so deeply about serving their Lord and you well, that they have concerns about the unknowns.

Grow in Grace, the institute for pastoral growth at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, has taken a number of steps to serve and support these men at such a critical time. We’ve established a mentoring initiative where recent graduates are paired with experienced pastors for encouragement in all their callings—child of God, pastor, husband, father. In addition, retreats for pastors and wives are also available at key ministry milestones. Plus, we’ve increased opportunities for pastors to take courses to grow in faith and ministry.

These are key steps for our church because pastoral resignations had been a matter of deep concern for years. In the 1980s we lost 111 pastors to resignation. That number grew to 194 in the 1990s and remained too high in the 2000s with 162 pastoral resignations. Over 40 years, 27 percent of seminary graduates had resigned, often long before retirement age.

In the ten years since the synod committed to more concerted efforts to support called workers, God has greatly blessed the work of Grow in Grace. Of the almost 200 new pastors mentored in the past seven years, only one has resigned while being mentored. We are holding on to a higher percentage of new pastors than we’ve seen since the 1980s. The impact isn’t just with young pastors! Pastoral resignations across the board have decreased 28 percent from the previous decade. That translates into 45 more pastors in our pulpits right now than if resignations had continued at the level of the previous decade.

While the majority of these initiatives are funded by calling bodies and pastors who participate, none are completely self-funded. It takes about $70,000 – $80,000 annually to fill the gap between what fees and tuition cover and the full cost of the work of Grow in Grace to support pastors.

Please know how important your own encouraging words and prayers are for your pastor. Along with that, generous gifts from God’s people—like you—help make our retreats and mentoring affordable. Scholarships enable more pastors to take courses.

Please consider, as you are able, a gift to help keep our pulpits full. Your support of Grow in Grace provides you with a tangible way to say “thank you” to God for his gift of pastors.

In him,
Professor Richard Gurgel
Director of Grow in Grace, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary

God is working through us

Dear Friend,

Melissa, an atheist, stopped by the booth of our mission congregation in Atlanta and, out of curiosity, signed up for Bible information class. Through the course, the Holy Spirit worked in her heart so that she knows Jesus and is now one of the congregation’s most active members.

A student attended a campus ministry’s chapel service seeking answers about God’s Word. Gospel seeds were planted that led to her being baptized.

Wisick Jeffrey, a boy in a Muslim community in Malawi, Africa, was invited by friends to attend Sunday school. The Spirit worked through the Lord’s gospel, and he was eventually confirmed. When Wisick received resistance from his parents, he was mentored by another Christian from his community who helped him study for ministry. Wisick is now one of the national pastors working with WELS in Malawi.

These are a few of the stories from WELS’ annual report titled “Your Gifts, God’s Blessings” (read it at wels.net/annualreport)—and just a sampling of the impact God is making in people’s lives through the message of Christ.

How incredible that, as we celebrated in 2018 the 125th anniversary of our first world mission field on the Apache reservation, WELS is working in 40 foreign countries and exploring outreach opportunities in 14 prospective new fields!

WELS also started ten new home missions this past year and was able to provide support for mission-minded ministry in another seven established congregations.

God has expanded the reach of our ministerial education schools. Technology and ease of travel allow our schools to take training to other nations while people of other nations are increasingly attending our schools in the U.S. Our students and graduates are also enjoying more opportunities to participate in ministry in other countries.

WELS is also focused on local ministry. WELS Congregational Services is tuned into helping with the challenges faced by our churches, schools, and early childhood programs as we share our Savior with the generations to come.

It’s truly an exciting time to be a member of WELS, to see God opening so many doors around the world, and to have the privilege of using our abundant blessings to bless others in ways that would be impossible to do individually!

About 75 percent of WELS’ operating budget comes from Congregation Mission Offerings. In recent years, despite declining membership, these offerings have remained level. We praise God and thank you for this! The remaining 25 percent of synod support comes from gifts above and beyond regular offerings. Please consider making a special one-time or recurring gift to our Savior for “WELS Mission and Ministry” in 2019 to continue current ministry and to address the new opportunities God grants us. Please, also, join us in thanking God for his hand at work among us and asking that he would continue to bless our gospel proclamation to his glory. Thank you.

Yours in Christ,
Kurt Lueneburg
WELS Director of Christian Giving

Grace – Hmong outreach in Vietnam

Dear Friend,

God’s grace is demonstrated through the miraculous gift of salvation to all people through the perfect life and death of our Savior, Jesus Christ. That same baby, God in human flesh born in Bethlehem so many years ago, is an undeserved gift to me, to you, and to all people. It is this grace that has opened doors to an unprecedented mission opportunity for us, my fellow WELS members, to share the gift of Jesus with the people of communist Vietnam.

In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace (Colossians 1:6).

I need to tell you about Pastor Ham. He served as an elder in the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam from 1996 until 2003, when he began studying to become a pastor. Ham became a pastor in 2006 and was appointed chairman of the HFC in 2007. Today he is working to share the good news with as many people as possible. It was God’s strength that helped him learn more about the gospel in order to bring more people to Jesus.

FROM SHAMAN TO CHAIRMAN
Earlier in his life, Tsavxwm (pronounced similarly to “Chauncey”) Ham was a shaman and fortune-teller, educated in Hmong traditions. People came to him for help, but he had only his shaman lies to give them. He was frustrated, because he sincerely wanted to help.

Then he heard a Christian radio broadcast and asked for some Christian materials from a nearby village that had already become Christian. The Lord in his grace brought Tsavxwm to Jesus, and he left his shaman life behind. Now he had the truth, something worthwhile to give to those who came to him for help.

The Lord often uses hardship to strengthen his people, and he certainly strengthened Tsavxwm. Thanks to God, the door for mission work in his area is open much wider than it was many years ago. As Tsavxwm took on more responsibility in the Christian community, he realized that the Hmong pastors needed more training. They had received training from a variety of sources—Vietnamese churches, Korean missionaries, even Hmong pastors from the U.S.—but few, if any, brought the clear teaching that sinners are saved by grace. All they learned were rules to follow and good works to be done to earn salvation. Not much was different from the rules and traditions he followed as a shaman. The training left him confused, with little grounds for hope.

This changed when he started to attend the WELS gospel-based training I held in Hanoi. Tsavxwm noted the difference: “I used to use the law to motivate my members. That was how I showed my authority. But since receiving this training, I now understand that the law won’t help the members. I started to share the gospel . . . What I have noticed is that now my members respect me even more than they ever did when I only used the law, rules, and traditions to lead them.” The Lord’s grace at work in Tsavxwm was now at work in his members as well.

Tsavxwm came to the recent training held this October, but he had to leave early. He was having problems with high blood pressure, no doubt due in part to his heavy responsibilities (pastor, chairman, medical practitioner, and farmer). He also left to defend some Christians in his area who had some problems with local authorities because of their faith. So, I didn’t have an opportunity to interview him further. Nevertheless, he spoke eloquently in a previous interview:

I don’t have anything to send to my WELS brothers and sisters to even begin to show our gratitude or appreciation [for the training conducted] . . . We trust that in the future the training will continue to equip leaders so that the gospel will spread to many more throughout Vietnam.

God has opened doors to extraordinary possibilities:

  • Since WELS has started providing training, the Holy Spirit has increased the Hmong Fellowship Church from 55,000 to more than 100,000 members.
  • The communist government in Vietnam gave us permission to purchase land and invited us to build a theological training center that will strengthen pastors for sharing the saving message of God’s grace to their people.
  • We will supply all the startup necessities for teaching and training.
  • We will send these well-equipped brothers out into the fields and hills to their many rural churches to spread the message of God’s grace. We pray that God will use these efforts to eventually reach up to two million Hmong in Vietnam and neighboring countries.

Please join with me during this season of Christmas joy as we thank our heavenly Father for sending his Son, Jesus Christ, with the gift of grace for all people. Thank you for your faithful prayers and past generous support, through your congregations or directly to the synod, of the many people we serve through WELS World Missions.

There are so many people who are hungry to hear the truth of God’s grace. Will you help share the good news of God’s grace with the people of Vietnam? Will you offer a gift today? Together, let us pray that God continues to bless the church and his people as we boldly share God’s grace here at home and throughout the world.

Serving together to share God’s grace,
Rev. Bounkeo Lor
WELS Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

P.S. To learn more about this unprecedented mission opportunity, go to wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach. Watch for updates as the building progresses and classes begin.

The Lutheran church of Ethiopia

Dear Friend,

An Ethiopian government official, riding in a chariot, reading from Isaiah the prophet. A gospel worker, Philip, directed by the Holy Spirit to go and share all the amazing things he knew about Jesus.

Perhaps it was in Sunday school that many of us first heard this story from Acts 8. At the end, the official is rejoicing in the blessings of baptism, and we find ourselves rejoicing, too, because God is sending the gospel to the people of Ethiopia.

Twenty centuries later, God still wants the people of Ethiopia to hear and rejoice in the gospel of our Savior. And, today, through our partnership with the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE), we have an exciting opportunity to make it happen!

Our sister church in Ethiopia is a young church body. It was established in 2012 by a gathering of ten believers committed to the teachings of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. At our synod’s 2017 convention, WELS and the LCE declared fellowship with each other.

Our sister church in Ethiopia is an active church body. Currently, the LCE has 410 members among one congregation and four preaching stations. The LCE is served by 1 pastor (the Rev. Dr. Kebede), 3 assistant deaconesses, and 12 lay leaders. The LCE operates a theological training school called Maor Theological Lutheran Seminary, which currently serves more than 40 resident and distance-learning students in Ethiopia and several other countries.

Our sister church in Ethiopia is a forward-looking church body. Consider these plans:

  • With local funds and financial support from WELS, the LCE has built a ministry center in Bishoftu, about one hour away from the capital city of Addis Ababa.
  • About 850,000 people in Ethiopia are visually impaired. One of the assistant deaconesses in the LCE, who herself is visually impaired, has been instrumental in establishing a ministry to reach them. She is fluent in the local languages, English, and Braille. The LCE is seeking a Braille embossing machine (about $17,000) so she can print Christian materials in Braille to share with many thousands.
  • Maor Theological Lutheran Seminary has hopes of training Lutheran leaders for other African countries as well—South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea—and at refugee camps in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.
  • The LCE wants to begin a prison ministry in Ethiopia.
  • Building slowly, the LCE would like to provide Christian education for students in kindergarten through high school.

WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR) establishes, preserves, and strengthens the bond of confessional fellowship with church bodies that are united with WELS in scriptural doctrine and practice. The LCE is one such church body. CICR has established an Ethiopia fund to support the ministries of the LCE. We kindly ask for your generous offerings. Please ask our Lord to bless the LCE, Dr. Kebede, the deaconesses and lay leaders of the LCE, and all their efforts to proclaim the name of Jesus, our Savior, in Ethiopia and beyond.

Thank you for your support. May the gospel have free course and be honored by many others just as it is by us!

Because our Savior lives,
Bradley D. Wordell
Liaison to the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia
WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations

Look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

Jesus said, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35).

Dear Friend,

I e-mailed you last week to tell you about my congregation, a home mission, and how God, through WELS Home Missions, is blessing us and other unique mission fields across the country.

At Beautiful Savior in Fayetteville, N.C., we serve many military members who travel the world on our behalf to protect the freedoms, security, and peace that we enjoy.

How can we thank them? Your support of WELS Home Missions through your gifts and prayers ensures that the precious truth of God’s love continues to be shared with them, their families, and their fellow military members in our community.

At Beautiful Savior, like at other home mission congregations, we share the good news of the gospel through several outreach programs. One of our most effective ministries is called Time with Tots. Many of the mothers involved in this ministry are married to men in the Army. From among these prospects we have baptized several people, and about half attend Bible information class and/or worship at some point. Time with Tots is successful because it connects people in our constantly changing community with a church home.

There is such opportunity to share God’s truth here and at many other home missions around the U.S. Thank you for supporting WELS Home Missions through congregational offerings and any special gifts. Please consider a gift to Home Missions today.

Rev. Thomas Glende
Pastor, Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, N.C.

P.S. Want to learn more about WELS Missions? Subscribe to weekly Missions blogs and the bi-annual Missions Update Newsletter at wels.net/subscribe.

By his wounds we are healed

He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Dear Friend,

Beautiful Savior in Fayetteville, N.C., is like all our WELS home missions in some ways. We are (as our congregational motto states): “Christ preaching! Bible believing! People caring!”

Unique to us, though, is over half of our members are active duty military families. Many WELS members are serving to protect our freedoms. They are providing something for you, and you are providing something for them.

What do I mean? Our church body provides funding so that Beautiful Savior can proclaim God’s truth here in Fayetteville. That means you through your offerings are helping us in our mission.

We provide stability for our members. We’re here when households suddenly go from two parents to one. We serve soldiers’ families while they are deployed. And when they return home, we sustain them through God’s Word and sacrament.

We also strive to reach more people in our community through kids’ soccer club, Time with Tots, game night, and worship. Some of those we’ve served have received the gifts of new life, forgiveness, and salvation through Baptism. Others attend Bible information class where each lesson they hear even more about their Savior Jesus Christ.

There is opportunity to share God’s truth here in Fayetteville and in other unique fields God has provided across WELS—and you can help! Thank you for your past support of WELS Home Missions through congregational offerings and any special gifts. Please consider another gift to Home Missions today.

Rev. Thomas Glende
Pastor, Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, N.C.

P.S. Like/follow “WELS Missions” on Facebook for stories of God’s amazing blessings on WELS mission efforts.