Supporting WELS ministry through your IRA – “We were very pleased”

WELS members Dan and Frieda Carow were moved by the love of Jesus to support gospel ministry. They decided to use their IRA because “there are tax advantages.”

When giving through an IRA, anyone 70.5 or older can make tax-free charitable distributions of up to $100,000 per year. The Carows have enjoyed making multiple gifts to churches, the synod, and other WELS organizations in this way.

If you want to take advantage of this unique way to support the Lord’s work, contact your local WELS Christian giving counselor. Dan and Frieda say, “We were very pleased with the assistance.”

Charity with stability

A charitable gift annuity (CGA) is set up in such a way that you can find joy in supporting WELS ministry while also resting easy thanks to the stability provided by this type of giving instrument:

  • Partially tax-free payments to you or someone you designate during your lifetime
  • Payments for the rest of your life (or, in the case of a two-life CGA, payments continue for the lifetimes of both annuitants), no matter how long
  • Backed by all the assets of WELS Foundation
  • Stable payments, even if investment markets slump
  • A significant income tax charitable deduction on this year’s return

And the process for setting up a CGA is simple. Call your local WELS Christian giving counselor for personalized assistance. A minimum gift amount of $10,000 will start your guaranteed quarterly payments, which you can even have automatically deposited into your bank. At the end of your life, when the Lord takes you to heaven, the remainder of the gift will go to the WELS ministry or ministries that you designate.

What will you leave behind?

Everyone’s life leaves footprints. The Christian follows in the footprints of Christ to impress upon others a strength of character, good works, kindness, compassion, and values. Our positive impressions enhance the lives of our friends and loved ones and direct them to follow in Jesus’ footsteps as well.

Thoughtful estate planning is one means we have to do this. For example, consider the effect of a plan that not only includes provisions for family members, but resources for WELS ministry.

1. An estate gift makes a positive statement.

When you include WELS in the final disposition of your estate, you declare to your family and friends that you believe in and care about the Savior’s mission. Your parting gift becomes a clear declaration of your love for Jesus and his values.

2. An estate gift provides needed funding.

Estate gifts are especially valuable, not only because they tend to be larger than annual gifts, but because they often come at critical times. They provide that extra boost to the ministry plan that can make the difference between program advancement and retrenchment.

Estate gifts can be designated for a specific purpose or they can be unrestricted for use where needed most. They can fund endowments that perpetually provide an ongoing witness to your friends and loved ones that you believe in the work of Christ through WELS.

3. An estate gift encourages imitation.

There’s something about a well-planned estate gift that influences others to “go and do likewise.” As friends and family members plan their own estates, they may be inspired by your Christian generosity and thoughtfulness. Your gift may open up resources from God for WELS through other estates.

If you are interested in supporting your church, synod, or another WELS ministry through your estate plan, see our Christian estate planning guide, then contact a WELS Christian giving counselor for assistance.

Planned giving made easy

Our goal is to share with you and other WELS members the different opportunities available to plan a gift that provides for loved ones and Christ’s work while possibly reducing taxes. That is why we work with WELS Ministry of Christian Giving to distribute informative print materials and provide face to face counsel.

One of the biggest challenges with encouraging planned giving is overcoming the thought that it is complex and difficult. Yes, some giving techniques can be technical. However, your giving counselor will work with WELS Foundation and your own legal/financial advisors to manage the details so that you can simply enjoy seeing your plans arranged and your charitable intentions met. In the end, you’ll discover how easy it is to follow through on your Spirit-led willingness to support the Lord’s work.

Do you wish to make financial arrangements that include a gift for WELS? Contact your local WELS Christian giving counselor to discuss your personal situation in a convenient, comfortable setting. There is no cost or obligation involved.

A new, tax-wise way to support the Lord’s work

As of 2016 anybody 70.5 years or older has a new option for making gifts to the Lord’s work at church, a local WELS-affiliated ministry, and/or a WELS area of ministry: your IRA!

Typically IRA distributions are taxable and, by increasing your taxable income, they may reduce certain tax deductions and personal exemptions you might claim and may increase the tax on your Social Security income or even increase your Medicare premium. But, at the turn of the year, Congress made permanent the opportunity known as the IRA charitable rollover where direct transfers from an IRA to charity are free from federal and potentially state income tax. If you generally do not itemize your deductions, a direct transfer to a WELS ministry may be especially appealing because you will still receive tax benefits for your generosity. If you do not need the required minimum distributions that you receive from your IRA, consider directing those to WELS to save on taxes, then use the cash you would have given to charity for other needs.

Under the new law you and your spouse, assuming he or she is 70.5 years or older and also has an IRA, may each make direct transfers of up to $100,000 per year to charity. Direct transfers to charity are wholly excluded from your taxable income, so they do not have any adverse effect on other tax benefits you might enjoy. These transfers do not generate a charitable deduction, but the relief from tax impact is often more advantageous. Consult your tax or financial advisor to determine the most appropriate gift assets for your situation.

How do I make a direct transfer of IRA assets?

You will need to contact the investment firm that handles your IRA to request a direct transfer to a particular WELS ministry. To ensure that your IRA transfer is not taxable, the check must be made payable to the charity, not to you personally.

You can give to multiple WELS designations by directing your transfer to WELS Foundation. They will distribute funds to the ministries per your instructions. WELS Foundation then provides you with the appropriate acknowledgement for this type of gift.

If interested, talk to your financial planners and your WELS Christian giving counselor to learn more.

Give while you live . . . and later

Some loyal donors have discovered a way to continue supporting the work of Jesus on earth after they have gone to be with him in heaven. They make arrangements now to provide a gift through their will for the benefit of a WELS endowment fund or they can establish a testamentary fund for the benefit of WELS through WELS Foundation that will provide annual gifts in perpetuity.

For example, “Mr. and Mrs. Foresight” have been making annual gifts of $2,000 to WELS for a number of years. In their will they arrange for $50,000 toward an endowment fund. Thereafter, an amount approximately equal to their previous annual gifts will go to WELS each year.

There are other ways to create an endowment fund. For example, the Foresights can make a gift now with appreciated real estate or securities, avoid capital gains, receive a current tax deduction, and receive an income for their lives. Later, after they have been taken to heaven, whatever remains of the gift could be used to establish an endowment fund (provided the remainder is at least $25,000).

If you are interested in learning more about giving to or establishing an endowment fund, contact your local WELS Christian giving counselor. He can help you explore the possibilities and benefits.

A gift annuity that’s right for you

Have you heard about the charitable gift annuity? When you donate at least $10,000 in cash or securities to WELS Foundation, you or a loved one will receive annuity payments for the rest of your life. Your payment rate is based on your age and a portion of your payment may even be tax-free. The most basic form is called an immediate payment gift annuity because it begins paying you income right away.

Donors like this gift vehicle because it allows them to give a thank offering to the Lord while guaranteeing them payments they can use for various needs. The payments come at the same time, and the amount never changes. There is also an immediate income tax charitable deduction for donors who itemize their tax returns.

Besides the immediate payment gift annuity, there are a couple of other setups. Gift annuities can have delayed start dates. You can establish one now and defer the payments for 10 years or however long you wish. The longer you delay payments, the higher the payments will be. This is because the money you contributed is invested prudently and compounds tax-free until the payments begin.

Another type of deferred gift annuity is called “flexible” because you can establish the annuity now and determine later when you want the payments to begin (for example, when you decide to retire or if a medical need arises).

If interested, learn more, then contact your local WELS Christian giving counselor for assistance in setting one up. He can also provide your with personalized examples of how the various gift annuities work in your situation.

Congress extends provision for tax-free gifts to charity from IRA

For those aged 70½ or older, it is once again possible to make a tax free gift directly from your IRA to any WELS ministry.

On December 18, 2015 Congress passed legislation to extend the IRA charitable rollover for 2015 and beyond. Up to $100,000 per year can be transferred directly from an IRA to one or more qualified charities free from federal and potentially state income tax.

A WELS member can take advantage of this tax benefit by directing their annual required IRA minimum distribution directly to WELS Foundation. WELS Foundation will then distribute their gift per the donor’s instruction to any WELS ministry including their local congregation, WELS missions, or schools. (For a complete listing refer to the WELS Yearbook.) We encourage donors to speak with their tax and financial professionals before requesting a qualified charitable distribution from their IRA.

WELS Foundation is the foundation of choice for WELS members and ministries. For more information on how you can make this tax wise gift to any WELS ministry contact your WELS Christian giving counselor, mission advancement representative, or WELS Foundation (800-752-8940).

Reviewing Your Estate Plan

Once a person signs a will and tucks it away for safekeeping, the old saying come to life: “Out of sight; out of mind.” On one hand, it is good to be relieved of the worry of intestacy (dying without a will). On the other hand, things change and a will that becomes outdated can cause problems.

That is why it is a good idea to review your will every few years, particularly when there have been changes that may affect your plans. It just takes a few moments, but the practice can spare your loved ones some heartaches down the road and ensure that your Christian stewardship goals are properly carried out. (One tip: If it’s inconvenient to access the original will, make a copy to keep handy for easy reference.)

One reason for reviewing your will is change in the status of your dependents. Has God blessed your family with a new child? Or, if you no longer have dependent children, you may want to revise any custodial trusts created by the will.

Has there been a death in the family? A redistribution of assets may be in order. Does an adult child need more assistance than your other children? Again, a revised will might be in order.

Another reason to review is if there have been changes to the tax laws.

Changes in your finances, health, or family are important considerations. Charitable giving priorities may also change. If your children are doing well on their own, you may want to increase your bequest to your favorite charities. You can double-check that your arrangement utilizes your assets in a way that is most advantageous for your family and for charity.

Wills and other estate planning documents are only as good as the degree they reflect your current needs and priorities. It’s also important to make sure they coordinate with beneficiary designations and payable/transfer on death statements, and that they testify to your faith in Jesus our Lord. So take the time to read them over occasionally. Talk about these things with your family. Give yourself the satisfaction of knowing that your house is in order.

If you want assistance reviewing your documents or if you have never prepared a will, now is the time to care for this important matter. We have a free workbook that takes you through the steps of preparing a Christian estate plan. We can also provide assistance through a WELS Christian giving counselor and suggest a competent estate planning attorney to finalize the process.

Keep Giving After You’re in Heaven

If you have made regular direct gifts to WELS over the years,  you are helping to provide a continuing source of stability. WELS depends on annual gifts to carry out out its various ministries year after year, and we appreciate the Christian generosity of faithful donors.

Did you know it is possible to continue providing annual gifts to WELS long after you have gone to heaven? You can do this by giving to one of the WELS endowment funds—or you can establish your own endowment fund for the benefit of a WELS ministry through WELS Foundation.

Here’s how it works. Whatever amount you donate provides distributions of four percent of the three year rolling average of the fund to the designated ministry every year until the Lord returns. For example, a one-time gift of $25,000 (the minimum needed to start an endowment) would provide an estimated $1,000 every year. Larger amounts, of course, will provide higher annual gifts. You can give now and/or later through your estate plan.

If interested in making a planned gift to a WELS endowment fund or starting your own, contact your local WELS Christian giving counselor.

Q&A: year-end giving

Q: We have included WELS in our will. However, we are interested in making donations now. Is there any advantage to giving an offering to WELS this year?
A: Absolutely. If you itemize your deductions, you are not liable for taxes on donations to charitable organizations. A gift will produce tax savings proportionate to your situation. When you remember a charity in your will, you do not receive income tax benefits. Also, money donated now goes immediately to ministry and, if inflation is considered, will have more buying power.

Q: I do not itemize my deductions on my income tax forms. Is there any way to make a sizeable contribution to WELS and reap some tax savings?
A: Yes. By donating appreciated assets (stocks, bonds, mutual funds) you can make a larger gift for the same cost as giving cash. This is because you avoid the capital gains tax. Meanwhile, WELS receives the full value of the assets. If you’ve taken on loss on your securities, you can give the cash generated by the sale and often benefit from deducting all or a portion of the loss.

Q: At this time of year, I am flooded with appeals for outright gifts. Why is this?
A: One reason may be that the Lord has prompted you to support a wide variety of ministries over the years. Those ministries realize that, like many people, you may assess your yearly charitable giving in November to be sure you have made that year’s gifts. They simply want to gratefully illustrate the impact of your previous support and ask you to consider a special gift at this time.

Q: What should I keep in mind regarding my year-end gifts?
A: To take advantage of 2015 tax savings, gifts must be postmarked by December 31. You may want to consider a year-end gift if you received a year-end bonus or other unexpected income. Remember to reflect on the fulfillment of God’s promise to send his Son Jesus to be our Savior, as well as the blessings of the past year and how gracious God has been.

For assistance with a year-end gift, contact your local WELS Christian giving counselor.

One way to do the Lord’s work into the future

CGA illustration 350x263

Charitable gift annuity illustration

Reuben Hoppe, 92, and his wife Arline, 87, just established their second charitable gift annuity (CGA)—and they gave their adult children a portion of their inheritance early so that they, too, could establish CGAs. When asked why they chose to support gospel ministry through CGAs, they said, “We feel so blessed and know where the blessings come from. This is one way we can do the Lord’s work into the future.”

A charitable gift annuity allows you to support ministry and provide for yourself or your loved ones with fixed annuity payments for life. Consider this sample single life annuity illustration for someone who is 75 years old (rates vary based on age). You can receive your own personalized CGA illustration using WELS Foundation’s Gift Guide.

If interested in more information and gift help by a WELS Christian giving counselor, call WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482.

More blessed to give than to receive

Have you ever purchased and wrapped the “perfect” gift for your spouse or close friend and watched with excitement as the person tore away the paper? You knew the gift would be a hit, and you could hardly stand it as the anticipation grew.

Then the magic moment came as the box was opened. You delighted in the expression of surprise and joy. You beamed as words of gratitude filled the air. Even though you were not the receiver, you had great fun giving the gift because you knew it was just what the person needed and wanted.

A well-planned charitable gift can bring happiness as well. It starts from a heart thankful for God’s generous spiritual and earthly blessings in Jesus Christ. When you take the time to discover what the needs are and how you can structure your gift to do the most good, you find yourself anticipating the actual gift. You trust it will be a blessing.

The size of the gift is not the most enjoyable part. Our Lord reminds us, “If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). A gift that matches a specific need and accomplishes something worthwhile can be enormously rewarding. For example, an endowment contribution that provides ongoing support for generations to come can elicit a mile-wide smile from everyone concerned.

We enjoy helping donors plan cheerful gifts. We even have a free booklet that shows various ways you can make these gifts. Contact your local WELS Christian giving counselor to request this booklet or assistance. Let us help you make the perfect gift for WELS and for you.

Tract for outreach

Check out this unique downloadable tract for use in outreach, developed to help people in different cultures understand God’s love and protection.

Download now


Faithful for generations

“My heart is full,” said Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS) president Paul Wendland after the first service in synodical history with choirs from all four ministerial education schools. “It is clear that it takes a synod to make a seminary.”

That sentiment was clearly on the hearts of many in attendance at the two services at WLS, Mequon, Wis., on Sun., Nov. 17, where WELS President Schroeder preached. The boys in the choirs from Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich., and Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., were picturing themselves as students at WLS. The faculty members from those prep schools who were in attendance or watching the services on live online were renewed in their zeal to prepare those boys every day for the ministry of the gospel.

Every young man in the WLS choir came from Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., and the connections between the choir members from those two schools were clear. After the services, people were taking many pictures of the family members from all four choirs. “I never thought I would get to see my son and my son-in-law in the same concert,” said one mother.

There was a concert aspect to the event, but its structure was a service. Wendland was the presiding minister, and the other three ministerial education presidents were the lectors for the three lessons. Schroeder’s sermon acknowledged the grace of God in blessing our church body with a seminary faithful to the verbally inspired Word of God for 150 years.

It is a rare blessing in the history of the Lutheran Church that the professors at a seminary and the seminary’s graduates remain faithful for that many generations, united in the mission of taking the unconditional gospel of Jesus to the world. May God continue to bless that great heritage.

By Rev. Paul Prange, administrator for Ministerial Education

ALHS Online

ALHS Online is a collaborative effort of the WELS Association of Lutheran High Schools (ALHS) to offer quality, Christian online high school level courses.

Through ALHS Online, schools can share quality online courses and qualified instructors, thus strengthening each school’s individual program of instruction and curriculum. Public and home school students can also enroll in courses to supplement their education.

Philosophy of ALHS Online
ALHS Online is another means the high schools use to carry out the Lord’s directive to do nurture and outreach. The online series of courses will be designed and taught from a Scriptural perspective. Every opportunity will be used to strengthen those who are Christians and reach out to those who do not as yet know and believe that Jesus is their Savior. Thus this program will, the Lord willing, strengthen the WELS’ ministry and also strengthen the high schools and the ALHS.

This online education program provides the high schools that comprise the ALHS with the opportunity to work together by sharing courses and instructors and thus make the unity even stronger.

This online program will also give teachers who are not serving as a called teacher in a Lutheran school the opportunity to serve their Lord, high school students, and the church by teaching online courses.

Goals of ALHS Online
The ALHS Online strives to:

  1. Achieve recognition as an entity which offers high quality online courses for high school students.
  2. Develop a curriculum which meets the needs of the target audience.
  3. Deliver courses which are taught from the Scriptural perspective.
  4. Assemble a cadre of teachers qualified to teach online courses.
  5. See to it that the necessary infrastructure, including hardware, software, and support personnel, are in place to facilitate quality online instruction
  6. Develop a cost-effective self-sustaining program.

Learn more on the ALHS Online Web site.

A Christian education is bigger than distance

I feel compelled to write a few words about what it has been like, as a parent sending, my son and daughter to a WELS high school 3,000 miles from home. Our home is in Anchorage, Alaska, and my family belongs to Faith in Anchorage. The high school, Great Plains Lutheran High School, is in Watertown, S.D.

I have done some pretty difficult things in my life, but this ranks at the top. I myself attended a WELS Christian High School over 30 years ago. So when my own children reached high school age, I knew it was the right thing to do, but we lived 3,000 miles from the school! I was very active in my children’s school life up to that point—coaching basketball, track, serving as chairman of the education committee, never missing an activity. How in the world am I ever going to do this?

I spent a lot of time talking with my Lord. I knew deep in my heart that it was the best thing I could do for my children’s spiritual welfare. But the doubts and fears crept in. What if they get sick or get hurt playing sports, and need to go to the doctor? Who will take care of them? How are they going to find their way through major airports? What if their flight gets delayed and they get stuck at an airport? How are we going to afford not only the tuition and housing, but also the very expensive airline tickets?

Eventually I was able to lay these worries at my Saviors’ feet, but it wasn’t easy. I thought to myself that if I can just get them there that first day the Lord will take over from there. My daughter was the oldest, so the first to go off to school. That first night after dropping her off at the dorm was very difficult to say the least. I lay in the hotel bed that night again wondering if I had made the right decision. The next day was even tougher as we drove four hours to the airport, and then flew six more hours away from my child.

Things at home were different now. Of course I missed my child, but I noticed my co-workers treating me a little differently now. Anyone who would send their children that far away to a “church” school must be some sort of a religious nutcase. That didn’t really bother me, but when my fellow believers would say things like “I could never send my kids away to school, I don’t know how you do it,” it cut to the heart. I knew they probably meant it as a compliment, but I felt as if they were questioning my love for my children. I have heard that comment several times, and it cuts deeper each time.

My daughter is a senior this year, and it seems like yesterday that we were dropping her off for her first day. I wish I could say that none of my fears about sending my children away came true. We have had doctor’s appointments, dorm closing due to flu outbreaks, two knee injuries resulting in acl surgeries, airline delays resulting in an overnight stay in a hotel, and probably a few others that I have forgotten. It has not been easy, but the Lord has always provided a solution. Part of the solution is the terrific staff at the school. They will do whatever it takes for our children, and we are forever grateful. Every time we faced something that just seemed like more than we could handle, the Lord showed us the way. It reminded us that we are just temporary parents, and who our children really belong to.

So if I knew then what I know now, would I do it again? Without a doubt! I have read some of my children’s homework assignments and marvel at the depth of their faith and understanding. They are both maturing into adults with a firm foundation in God’s Word. Does it really matter how successful they are in sports, or how well prepared they are to conquer the world? What does matter is that I know where they will be 100 years from now.

By Jeff Wockenfuss

Blessed Abroad

As a U.S. active duty family serving in Germany for the past five years, we have the privilege of the ministry provided by the European WELS Civilian Chaplaincy with Pastor Joshua Martin. We are abundantly blessed to have this ministry that serves to nurture our faith and provides us a loving, spiritual home with a unique European congregation.

Our Faith Nourished

Many of our friends consider our time in Europe to be mostly about vacations spent enjoying croissants, cobblestones, and gothic cathedrals. Living in Europe is also about navigating through the major milestones of life in a foreign place. During our stay in Germany, we have experienced the birth and baptism of our daughter Sophia, illness, and the passing of my father; not to mention all that is entailed with assimilating to a new country. Through WELS Civilian Chaplaincy, we obtain spiritual support through the receiving and sharing of God’s Word, witnessing baptism, and taking communion. All of these serve to comfort, deliver hope, and assure us that despite our difficulties, we will persevere as he has addressed our most serious need—the removal of our sin debt through the perfect life, innocent death, and glorious resurrection of our Savior Jesus. Indeed, gothic cathedrals in Europe are awe-inspiring with their thin walls, beautiful stained glass, and shooting perspectives that touch incredible, vertical heights, but they pale in comparison to the deep and enduring love our God demonstrates to us on a daily basis through his Word and the Christian love and support delivered through our ministry.

A Unique Congregation

Our congregation is a diverse group of fellow U.S. active duty personnel, U.S. federal government civilians, U.S. expatriates, and Lutherans from other nations. Pastor Martin offers worship services in several German cities, in Switzerland, and in England. In addition, the ministry offers retreats during Easter, summer, and Reformation. Our favorites include the vast open markets in Nuremburg, Schweinshaxe—roasted pig knuckle accompanied with monk-brewed beer in Bad Kissingen, and the enchanting cliffs of Mohr in County Clare, Ireland. Retreats encourage participation as I have played chef, photographer, choir singer, baby sitter, and usher. A typical retreat includes Bible study, choir practice, outings around town, dinner at a local restaurant, and a main worship service held on Sunday morning. Children are also educated and entertained as Katie Martin conducts Bible school with projects while also choreographing a performance for the main service. A highlight of a retreat is the social time where folks stay up late and enjoy snacks and beverages while spending time socializing, playing card and board games, and enjoying each other’s company.

To commune with other Christians within the beautiful backdrop of Europe while embracing other cultures has given us unique worship and social opportunities. Thus, we share God’s Word, unforgettable memories, and spectacular photographs in amazing places while having forged close friendships that will last for many years.

Thankful for Blessings

As we await reassignment back to the United States, I now begin to ponder what we will do without our WELS ministry—Pastor and our European congregation. For now, we are not certain where our next assignment will take us. However, I do know that wherever we will be, God will continue to guide and bless us. In the meantime, I can offer thanks and gratitude to him for being blessed abroad.

By Tony Caparoso

The congregation and an Army reserve family

The four members of the Cecil family were living in four different places in 2011 and 2012 while Captain Rebecca Cecil was deployed with the Army Reserves to Afghanistan. While Becky focused on logistics for the Army, her own family’s logistics were complicated. Her husband, Lucian, remained in the family home in Harrodsburg, Ky., and had a computer that could no longer use Internet. Their daughter Britney was attending Luther Prep, in Watertown, Wis., and their son Luke was attending school and living with Becky’s parents in Radcliff, Ky.

Family members kept in touch with each other and with Becky by Skype. Looking back, Luke said that it went better than he expected. He expected to feel alone while his family was scattered, but he never did.

Luke’s grandparents attended Faith Lutheran Church in Radcliff. Their church was one of the reasons Luke never felt alone. Faith is one of 125 WELS congregations where the pastor serves as a WELS Military Contact Pastor (MCP) for a nearby military installation. The congregation has fellowship activities such as “game night” where Luke could hang out with his fellow believers. Members of Faith go out of their way to make sure military families were okay. The congregation notes military deployments and returns and feels like family. They assemble care packages for people in military service and is obvious they care about people in Luke’s situation. “I wasn’t the only one with a family member overseas,” Luke said.

It is important for congregations to be conscious of the ministry needs of family left behind during deployment, especially with National Guard or Reserve members, because those families do not receive the resources from the military available to families of army or navy personnel.

While Becky was far from home, her congregation sent her devotions. She also could have received WELS devotions via e-mail, written especially for men and women in military service. Her church also provided her with the WELS Military Services Spiritual Deployment Kit that contained printed spiritual materials and a MP3 player with audio files of devotions.

Congregations should provide WELS Military Services with contact information for members who are active duty. Our National Civilian Chaplain can provide spiritual resources especially helpful for our men or women serving away from home.

Becky returned from Afghanistan in May, 2012. Luke’s first time seeing his mom was at his confirmation examination on Mother’s Day. Now the family had another adjustment. National Guard had been Becky’s career for 20 years, but now her service was over. While she looked for a place in the civilian work force, the loss of her income nearly cost the family their home. The pastor at their home church, Victory Lutheran, Lexington, Ky., has made the congregation aware of the need to minister to military families, and has encouraged veterans to open up about the challenges of military life. Veterans form a natural support network for the active military families.

Becky said it takes a while for returning military personnel to feel the need for help from their church family. Church members may have to repeat their willingness to help after the return home honeymoon period has ended. Often returning military members and their families don’t start to face the challenges until six months after returning from deployment. Accepting help may take even longer. It’s important for pastors and church friends to be patient and alert for the need for help or encourage.

Church families can play an important role in supporting those who are willing to go into harm’s way for the sake of our country. Some of what we can do for our military personnel is taking care of their families. Watch for ministry opportunities that the Lord may provide as we serve one another in love.

By Pastor Jim Behringer, director, WELS Special Ministries

The comfort of home

In January, 2013, my husband’s job moved us to Frankfurt, Germany. We had lived for ten years in the Chicago area, where we had been very involved with our local WELS congregation and its Pre-K through 12th-grade school system. Very, very involved. In fact, because we had been living at least a thousand miles from all of our relatives, our congregation was, in a real sense, our family.

We knew (or thought we knew) what we were giving up: the only home and friends our three children could well remember; activities and relationships that gave us joy and a sense of purpose; regular weekly church services (sometimes two or three services in one day, depending on choir, handbells, or praise band commitments).

We didn’t know what we were heading toward—except that there was a WELS European Civilian Chaplaincy and twice-a-month church services close to Frankfurt. We expected unfamiliar surroundings and new experiences. We assumed we would encounter difficulties with adapting to the culture and learning the language in our new surroundings. These were part of the package of the adventure that we wanted. And yet, even when one craves adventure, there is comfort in the idea of being able to return home. We had committed to living in Germany for at least three years, and we might not physically see our home in the United States in all of that time. How wonderful, then, that in the midst of upheaval and uncertainties—including living in a hotel for three months and being without a personal car for four months—we could rely on regular Christian worship and Bible study, familiar hymns and liturgy, and solid biblical preaching of law and gospel. For us, these are some of the greatest comforts of “home.”

When we first arrived in Germany, we did have an automatic community in my husband’s coworkers and their families, and to a lesser extent, in our children’s English-language school. But what we had been spoiled to, and still craved, was the kind of community formed by people with shared beliefs. Certainly, Pastor Martin and the Frankfurt-area congregation made us welcome. Still, it can be hard to get to know people when you only meet twice a month for a couple of hours.

Enter the weekend retreat. I admit that I have a passion for travel. What could be better, then, than an event that combines a beautiful foreign location and time spent with fellow believers? The retreat we attended in September, 2013, near Bath, England, offered time to eat together, play together, and study God’s word together. We had time to meet people from different European congregations and time to get to know them. We enjoyed good food, evening games, and local sightseeing. I even had the chance to sing with a choir again, something I missed like crazy.

Technology can be wonderful, and I am grateful that I am easily able to keep in contact with friends and church-family members in the United States. I can stay informed about, pray for, and even continue to work with ministries of my home congregation. Still, there is no substitute for a sense of physical community, the encouragement of a smile or hug, the pleasure of everyday conversation. We are so blessed to have found these things through the WELS European ministry.

By Jennifer G. Knoblock

Share the gospel as a pen pal

Do you find it intimidating to share your faith with a stranger? How about with a convicted felon? Jesus tells us to share our faith and minister to those in prison. I have the privilege of doing this by being a pen pal with men who are incarcerated. As a pen pal, I have discovered many things about my faith and about myself. The experience has changed my ideas about the nature of grace, forgiveness, and the gospel.

I was nervous. These are the bad guys, right? I knew that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but certainly these guys had fallen a little further than I. Shame on me. The experience of being a pen pal has made it clear that people are not that different from one another. We are all sinners in need of a forgiving and merciful God.

I may not see the fruits of my labors on this side of heaven. I have not handled every situation well. And, on occasion, I have disclosed too much. Christ does not command that we witness perfectly, just that we do it. And, thankfully, we have the promise of the Holy Spirit’s help. I assure you that this is the case. Jesus looked beyond a person’s sin to see someone in need of the Gospel’s saving message. As a pen pal, I have learned that the limits of God’s grace and forgiveness are much broader than I could imagine. Looking beyond someone’s particular crimes and seeing the person loved by God has made grace and forgiveness more tangible and meaningful for me.

Consider becoming a pen pal. It is safe and anonymous. You will be giving much needed encouragement as you share the Gospel of Christ. The experience will change you. You will gain much more than you give. Contact WELS Prison Ministry ( for more information on how to become a pen pal.

A gift that also pays you

What if you could make a charitable gift toward the Lord’s work that would also provide you and/or a loved one with fixed annuity payments for life?

You can! The charitable gift annuity allows those 60 and older to make a gift of cash or securities (stocks, bonds, mutual funds) in exchange for fixed quarterly payments. After you go to heaven, the residual of the gift will be used by your congregation, synod, or another WELS affiliated ministry. The following example illustrates the benefits of a single-life annuity (two-life annuities are also available). It is based on:

  • a gift of $10,000 (minimum) in cash
  • a payment rate of 5.8 percent for someone who is 75 years old (rates vary based on age)

You may claim a charitable income tax deduction of $4,577 and receive quarterly payments totaling $580 each year for the rest of your life. And $437 of the payments you receive each year will be tax-free during the first 12.4 years. Best of all, after you are taken to heaven, the remainder value of your gift annuity would go to the ministry of your choice!

Many people appreciate the charitable gift annuity for this reason. They benefit from receiving payments while serving their Savior by helping to train pastors and teachers, open missions across the world, and support congregations and schools.

If you are interested, call 800-827-5482 for more information and assistance from a WELS Christian giving counselor.

What are you waiting for?

Two things are certain and one nearly so. The two, as you already know, are death and taxes. The third is procrastination. It is almost as predictable as the grave.

For some reason, many people wait years to complete their estate plans. Most of these people wait too long. They die and leave behind a mess that others have to sort through and solve.

Because so many people procrastinate in this area, the states have adopted rules to determine what happens to a deceased person’s estate. The court appoints a lawyer to carry out these rules and to resolve liabilities and distribute assets accordingly.

Unfortunately, the rules are generic and don’t take into account the wishes of the deceased. A parent who dies without a will and leaves a minor child behind has missed his or her opportunity to name a trusted, Christian guardian. Not only will the child’s support system be in doubt until a decision is made, you can’t be sure that your child will receive the kind of spiritual nurturing that you would have wanted them to have.

A Christian estate plan can include a preamble—an introductory message sharing your faith in Christ for salvation. This is an opportunity to reassure and influence family members that unfortunately is missed without a Christian estate plan.

Another example is the person who dies without leaving philanthropic instructions in a will or other estate planning document. Money that might otherwise go to the Lord’s work and other charities supported by the person during life are disbursed according to “the rules.”

The court overseeing the probate process may be unaware of the concerns and priorities of the deceased. Consequently, relationships with family members and final decisions may not be consistent with the ideals and wishes of the deceased. The whole process of finalizing probate and dealing with all the loose ends can be frustrating and even difficult for loved ones, especially during the period of grieving.

These reasons and more prompt us to encourage all our supporters and friends to take care of their estate planning responsibilities. We have seen the heartache and complications when a person dies without an estate plan. We have also seen how smoothly things go when proper planning has been done in advance.

To assist you in this process, we offer a free booklet titled, “Estate Planning for the Christian Steward.” The booklet will help you prepare for meetings with a WELS Christian giving counselor and an estate planning attorney, and the process could save you legal fees.

If you prefer a free hardcopy of the booklet or want free assistance with your estate plan by a WELS Christian giving counselor, call WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482.

Visualize endowment

Before the summer months arrive, outdoor enthusiasts will sometimes end their correspondence with “Think Sun” or, perhaps, “Visualize the Sun.” Sometimes they even sport bumper stickers with the same message. The idea is to put people into a mood of expectation, and they will begin to plan for the future accordingly.

We also like to think expectantly, but instead of sun, we “Think Endow.” We relish the thought of building up our WELS endowment funds or helping donors, churches, and other WELS organizations start new ones to build a solid financial base for future ministry.

Here are five words to help you also “Think Endow.” Each one begins with a letter from “Endow.”

The “E” stands for Enduring. This is one of the key features of these funds—they last for generations. The monies are kept separate from other funds and invested in a manner to create both growth as well as funds for annual distributions. Endowments form an enduring, dependable source of revenue that provides reliability and confidence.

“N” refers to Need. While WELS benefits from regular annual giving to meet operational expenses, we also want to increase our endowment pool to effectively face future uncertainties and opportunities. The more income provided through endowments, the more support we have for fulfilling our Christian mission far into the future.

“D” means Doable. Some shy away from endowments because they consider themselves financially incapable of creating one. And some steer clear because it all seems so complicated. Both concerns are unwarranted. Actually, most anyone can give to an existing endowment or create a new one through careful planning. A gift to an endowment can be made today or through a distribution from your estate when the Lord calls you home. Doing so is easier than people expect.

“O” stands for Ovation. Because endowments play an important role in supporting ministry, we can’t express enough how appreciative we are to the Lord and to those who establish or add to one of these funds. Surely future generations would also applaud as they benefit from endowments established today.

The “W” refers to Witness. Every existing or new endowment supports our witness of Christ to the world. An endowment also bears witness to the persons behind the endowment as those who believe in the Christian mission of our church body. Such testimony has an impact on others, and encourages support for WELS.

Are you beginning to “Think Endow?” If so, we can provide you with free information about supporting WELS ministry through an existing endowment or by creating a new donor designated or congregational/organizational endowment through WELS Foundation.

Call us at 800-827-5482 for a free brochure or to be put in touch with your local WELS Christian Giving Counselor who can help you with the details.

Livin’ in the house we’ve given

“Bill” and “Shirley,” compelled by the love of Christ, are generous givers to the church, yet for years they thought about doing something extraordinary. Acting on the advice of their attorney, 10 years ago they took that step by setting up a provision in their revocable living trust to give their house to their church and synod when the survivor passes away.

Meeting with their attorney to update their trust, he suggested that they think about taking advantage of the current tax code by giving the house to now and continuing to live in it. He explained how it works:

They could deed their personal residence to WELS Foundation using a retained life estate agreement. That agreement reserves the right for Bill and Shirley to use the property for the rest of their lives, called a life tenancy. Bill and Shirley will still be responsible for maintenance and repairs, to maintain insurance coverage, and pay property taxes. When the life tenant passes away, WELS Foundation takes possession to finalize the gift and then can sell the house and distribute the funding to the ministries designated by the donors.

The attorney explained that the process was straight-forward. They would get an appraisal on the property to determine its current market value. Their joint life expectancy and other factors are considered to determine the present value of the remainder interest given to WELS Foundation. This amount is the value of the gift that Bill and Shirley can claim as an income tax charitable deduction.

Bill and Shirley were thrilled that, through this arrangement, they would be able to make a significant offering to Jesus and his church at life’s end.

If a retained life estate arrangement sounds like something you’d want to investigate, or if you are considering any gift of real estate, call your local WELS Christian giving counselor at 800-827-5482.

Prison ministry at Christmas

Most of us look forward to Christmas. As believers in Christ our joy and hope rest on that first Christmas when Jesus left the glories of heaven, came to earth to live a perfect life for us, suffer and die for all our sins, and rise victorious from the grave! Jesus conquered sin, death, and the devil.

This Christmas more than 6,000 cards have been sent to prison chaplains and those incarcerated. Nearly 50 percent of all the incarcerated will receive no Christmas letter, card, or visit from anyone. Often a note of encouragement or a short message from God’s Word replaces despair and hopelessness with peace and joy.

Our ministry wishes to thank all those who have taken time to make cards for our ministry. Hundreds of thank yous are received from inmates thanking us for bringing them hope. Just recently an inmate sent us the following thank you:

Dear WELS,
I just received my certificate from you. In the envelope was a surprise. Inside was a card made by a little girl. She drew a cross and on the inside it said, ‘see you in heaven.’ I had tears well up in my eyes! I was totally speechless. Every time you people go the extra mile to reach out to me. I’ve been so touched by the love that all of you have shown me. Never stop what you are doing for the Lord. I’ve never been so touched as I was with this card. I now know Jesus loves me and has forgiven me of all my sins. May God bless you all.

An effective way for all ages of people to share their faith with inmates is through the WELS Prison Ministry card and bookmark program. If you are those interested, contact us. We would be happy to send you the guidelines.

May the Lord grant you all a blessed Christmas and New Year!