God’s blessings in East Asia in 2020

Dear Family of Believers,

In Chinese culture, there’s a common response to compliments and thank yous. You say, “Where? Where?” to deflect the praise. It is as if you don’t understand where this praise is coming from or to whom is it being directed. “It can’t be me; I didn’t do anything.”

When I think of the amazing ways our Lord Jesus has blessed our field this year, I have to say thank you to you. And as I do I can’t help but think of the phrase, “Where? Where?” This instant deflection of praise is also part of Christian culture. I truly am grateful for your support and your prayers and yet Christians say, “Where? Where? Who really did that?”

How have we been able to relocate the team and refocus our work as the East Asia One Team?

How have we been able to increase the number of teachers and therefore double the number of students we can reach?

How have we been able to, through a new media specialist, reach and enroll 200 new students for online courses?

How was Asia Lutheran Seminary able to confer 21 Biblical Language Certificates, 6 Biblical Theology Degrees, and 9 Masters of Divinity degrees on November 8 to Christians serving the church?

How has our social media reached nearly half a million people through devotions, prayers, and Bible study materials?

How have we been able to rewrite our courses to reach more students online with an emphasis on immediately using what they learn in the groups they serve?

How? Where is the help coming from? From you. Through your prayers and support. And you say, “Where? Where? Not me—from our loving God.” In all these big things God is blessing the work in East Asia so that East Asian Christians can share Jesus’ love and salvation, one to another.

Brothers and sisters, as you sit down and give thanks for all of God’s blessings this Thanksgiving, we ask you to continue to pray to God on our behalf and thank him for all the prayers he has already answered for East Asia. If you haven’t had the opportunity yet, please consider making a gift today as we watch God’s plan unfold. Where does my help come from? “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

Serving Jesus,
East Asia Missionary

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What in the world is God up to now?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“On [the day that Stephen was stoned to death] a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1b).

What in the world is God up to now? Perhaps you have asked yourself that very question several times this year. Like me, maybe you have occasionally posed it with curiosity, but more often with a sense of puzzlement or even doubt. “What are you up to now? I haven’t been able to gather with my brothers and sister in worship for months!” “What are you up to now? My son lost his job because of COVID-19 and there aren’t any other opportunities out there. He’s got four mouths to feed.”

It reminds me of Tevye from “The Fiddler on the Roof.” Poor Tevye . . . hassled by huge cultural upheaval and the eviction of the Jews from their village. Nothing seems to go right for him. In his frustration, he argues with God as each misfortune occurs. “Dear God, was that necessary? Did you have to make [my horse] lame just before the Sabbath? That wasn’t nice. It’s enough you pick on me. Bless me with five daughters, a life of poverty—that’s all right. But what have you got against my horse? Really, sometimes I think, when things are too quiet up there, you say to yourself, ‘Let’s see. What kind of mischief can I play on my friend, Tevye?'” Later on, after another frustrating experience, he blurts out, “I know, I know, we are the chosen people; but once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?”

I wonder if the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem had similar thoughts and questions when persecution broke out in their beloved city. Like Tevye and his family, all those brothers and sisters had to pack up their meager belongings and run for their lives to escape earthly ruin. I have to think they were asking questions in the vein of, what in the world is God up to now?

Here’s what he was up to. Acts 8:4 gives us a hint: “Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went.” People who study Christian mission work surmise that at this time, the early church was dragging their heels a bit on Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. Following the Jerusalem persecution, however, Christ’s gospel began to spread out like a refreshing fragrance in a musty room. The Jewish refugees not only carried their possessions on their shoulders, they carried the name of Jesus on their lips. Multiple churches were founded—mostly by lay people. The good news of God’s salvation spread to other Jews, then to Samaritans, then to the Gentiles. The church in Antioch was established and became one of the greatest mission-sending agencies of all time. From that base, the gospel launched into Turkey, then into Europe, and from Europe to the world.

All because God allowed persecution to turn his people into refugees.

When it comes to our WELS mission work in East Asia, many people have also asked, what in the world is God up to now? For over a decade, Jesus has been working powerfully in our target country through WELS. Up until last year, we had several missionary families living there, reaching out, discipling believers, and training leaders. Now, everyone has been relocated to nearby countries. In fact, it’s been about a year since any of our missionaries have even visited our students, partners, and friends in the target country. What in the world is God up to now?

Depending on the location in our target country, some Christians can still gather, some are closely monitored, and still other groups are repeatedly broken up. Throughout the country, it’s becoming more prevalent for Christians to be detained, arrested, or jailed.

So, what in the world is God up to now? By God’s grace, the trouble in our target country has not hampered our work but has opened new doors. WELS continues to train and encourage our Christian brothers and sisters there and in other surrounding countries. The ministry continues in ways we have never seen before. Like the persecution in Jerusalem, God has used it to spread the work farther and quicker than we had dreamed.

I hope you are as amazed as I am at the power of God’s Word that continues to bear abundant fruit in this upheaval. Even a worldwide pandemic cannot stop the sharing of the gospel! God continues to bless our work in the target country, just as he blessed his gospel work when his people were driven out of Jerusalem. On behalf of the mission field, I want to say, THANK YOU! We thank the countless WELS members for the many years of prayers and offerings that have supported our ministry, and we thank our Lord for blessing our labors through you. Please prayerfully consider offering a gift today for our WELS work in East Asia through the ministry of the East Asia missions team.

Serving Jesus together,
Matt, East Asia Missionary

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What in the world is God up to now?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The East Asia missions team continues to teach, train, and share God’s Word, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. I teach East Asian Christians how to lead a Bible study. When I’ve asked them to share their reason for attending the class, here is what they’ve said:

“My wife brought to me to faith by bringing me to the church. I knew God, but I had a lot of confusion. So, when our group found Asia Lutheran Seminary, we found clarity in the teaching. I could see it was from God’s Word. I didn’t only want to know it for myself. I wanted to help start a new group. Asia Lutheran Seminary teaches me what I need to know so that I can start a new group of Christians and lead them.”

“I have this fear that I’ll teach the wrong thing about God’s Word and that I won’t know the answer to a question a student will ask. This class can show me what to do so that I can lead Bible studies with confidence.”

“I want to give our leader a break. He does all the preaching and teaching. If I can learn from Asia Lutheran Seminary, I can let him rest and can help lead.”

It’s amazing how I always learn from my students. Their hearts are on fire for the gospel, but they face fears that many of us have: “I want to help, but I don’t know how.” After they’ve been taught God’s truths locally, they learn how to serve.

It is through efforts like these that the East Asia team continues to build up and encourage more individuals with solid, scriptural training. Some of those equipped to serve their church will go on for further training to become pastors, but—like in the United States—we also need strong and eager lay leaders. It’s a part of the bigger plan. It wouldn’t work if everyone became a pastor. We are confident these members will continue to share the good news of Jesus with hearts on fire.

As we carry out this ministry, we are so grateful for the prayers and offerings of WELS members like YOU. Please help us continue this important work with a special gift supporting Christ’s work in East Asia and beyond. Please also watch for a mailing in coming weeks that shares the details of our WELS mission work in East Asia!

Serving Jesus together,
East Asia Missionary

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Financial aid for MLC students

Dear Friend,

A couple weeks ago you should have received a letter where I talked about the amazing opportunities God is giving our church body, and the major role Martin Luther College (MLC) plays in that mission. Jesus is opening doors to many more mission fields across the world. Now is the time to equip even more Christian witnesses to share Christ’s love with the world!

To help our students afford their ministerial education and avoid student debt as they begin serving in our congregations, MLC offers churches and individuals participation in the Congregational Partner Grant Program (CPGP). Through the CPGC, MLC matches dollar for dollar, up to $1,000 per year, the gifts congregations apply to the tuition of their students at MLC. Gifts from individuals like you help provide the MLC matching funds to those congregational gifts.

I have good news to share! Since that letter went out people have already given $55,000 to MLC for matching funds. This will help match the $1,000 grants that churches provide for 55 students!

We’d like to help even more students, particularly as families may be struggling through the pandemic. We cannot let the cost of college deter anyone from pursuing ministry training.

Will you consider a donation today? We—and particularly our students—are very grateful for your help!

In Christ,
Rich Gurgel
President, Martin Luther College

The opportunity has never been greater

Dear Friend,

We know these are difficult times. We know this pandemic may be threatening your family’s health and jeopardizing your finances. Martin Luther College’s (MLC) Equipping Christian Witnesses campaign also has felt those struggles as we had to pause most of our in-person visits with God’s people. While all of this is in our Savior’s nail-marked hands, he has not revealed what the pandemic will mean for his church and our nation and world.

But MLC’s mission has not paused! We’re still training young men and women for ministry. And pandemic realities make affording college extra-challenging for many students. Some weren’t able to find steady work last summer. Some of their parents are laid off.

That’s why we’re asking you to consider a gift to the MLC Congregational Partner Grant Program (CPGP) Matching Fund.

Through the CPGP, MLC matches dollar for dollar, up to $1,000 per year, the gift a congregation applies to the tuition of their student at MLC. Your gift today will help provide the MLC matching funds for those congregational gifts.

God has richly blessed the CPGP! Last school year, students received almost one million dollars through this program alone. Participating students can receive $8,000 or even $10,000 over a four- or five-year period. That alleviates a large portion of the debt they may otherwise carry when they graduate.

College debt is a serious challenge. Right now, 75 percent of MLC students graduate with debt. Over the past five years their average debt is $25,500. What a burden to be saddled with as they begin their lives of ministry!

The sad reality is occasionally our students will give up their desire to be a pastor, teacher, staff minister, or missionary because they can’t afford to pay for college. And some prospective students will decide not even to enroll at MLC because it’s too expensive.

We’re sure you agree that the cost of college should never deter someone from pursuing ministry training. More than that, we all agree that the opportunity has never been greater to proclaim salvation in Christ Jesus to a dying world.

Will you help? Any donation, big or small, would be deeply appreciated—especially by our students!

As the pandemic continues, we pray that God keeps you and your family strong and healthy. And please continue to pray for MLC, your WELS College of Ministry, as well!

In Christ,
Rich Gurgel
President, Martin Luther College

P.S. Thank you for urging young people to think about the public ministry! Our students often tell us that the encouragement they received at home, church, and school is what led them to consider MLC!

A “2 Corinthians 8 and 9” opportunity

Dear Friend,

We have a “2 Corinthians 8 and 9 opportunity.” Paul, in that part of his letter to the Corinthian believers, encouraged them to give generously to help their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem who were suffering from a famine. With this letter, WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations invites you to give generously to encourage our newest sister church in Africa, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ—Kenya (LCMC Kenya). This special offering would support their ministry amidst some very difficult circumstances including poverty, famine, and the current pandemic.

At our 2019 WELS convention, Rev. Mark Onunda and his wife Grace greeted the assembly and shared the story of their church. They said, “It has been our dream that one day this [partnership with a like-minded confessional Lutheran church body] could be done.” I encourage you to watch Rev. Onunda’s presentation (begins at 40:50 and ends around 1:13:25). You will see an amazing church leader who is gospel-focused, filled with mission zeal, and strategic in his efforts to serve the faithful, reclaim the erring, and preach the gospel to all beginning with the poor. The leaders of LCMC Kenya anticipate that the strengthening of their churches and the addition of six churches in the next few years will add 400-600 believers to their number.

Pastor Onunda, together with 17 other pastors and as many evangelists in 46 congregations, is intent on “reflecting and radiating Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd in answer to the Great Commission in Matthew 28.” Pastor Onunda and his church, in consultation with Rev. Howard Mohlke and Rev. John Roebke of our WELS One Africa Team, have identified the following ministry initiatives that will be supported by this special offering:

  • Constructing churches: LCMC Kenya is building modest places of worship. Each local congregation is responsible for securing their own plot of land. WELS would supply building materials including bricks, wood, cement, and tin roofs for these places of worship. Rev. Onunda says that $46,600 would allow the construction of six churches over the next three years.
  • Purchasing a vehicle: LCMC Kenya would like to purchase one vehicle so that leaders can annually (rather than once every three years) travel to, encourage, and supervise each congregation. The cost of a new vehicle is $31,500.
  • Adding mission pastors: LCMC Kenya would like to be able to pay two new mission pastors at a cost of $1,600 per pastor per year.
  • Conducting ministry: Gifts will also support general ministry in Kenya including renting worship space (when a church is yet to be constructed) and covering travel costs for pastors and evangelists to serve their congregations across the country.

Please join me in praying for the pastors, evangelists, and members of LCMC Kenya, that their Christian joy continues despite their circumstances and that God blesses their gospel outreach. Please also join me in an offering to support and encourage these faithful brothers and sisters in the Lord. “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Corinthians 9:12).

Because the Lord Jesus Christ lives,
Rev. Brad Wordell
WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations