“I Wish I knew” As New Parish Nurse

Compassion, love, mercy, empathy, and sacrifice are the revealed blessings of a new parish nurse. But what about budget, agenda, servant leader, and building community? How about missed opportunity, grief, or regret? As a new parish nurse these are unspoken areas I struggled with.

I asked a parish nurse friend, Carrie, what she wished she knew as a new parish nurse. Carrie stated, “listening, praying with members, offering prayer support were positive surprises.” She also discovered “becoming part of their family and investing into members lives” impressed her in a special way. Carrie was surprised “by how much I loved the people.”

For example, Carrie shared this story of a mother who came to her after she saved her daughter’s life. The daughter came to Carrie to have her blood pressure checked at church. The daughter’s blood pressure was so elevated Carrie insisted she immediately go to the hospital. Reluctantly, she left and was admitted to the hospital for one week for blood pressure control. Carrie’s quick intervention and genuine concern for her probably saved her life.

Another new parish nurse responsibility I was clueless about was planning and leading a meeting. I certainly sat through plenty of meetings but now I had to navigate it myself. I panicked. I choked up. Then I contacted a teacher friend, Tracy, who educated me on running a meeting. She took time walking me through the meeting process while covering all the details. Clara, a parish nurse friend, had similar challenges. She additionally felt “learning to delegate and taking full responsibility” were new opportunities for growth. Yes, these new things we learn and improve with time but a parish nurse course on meetings and leadership would have produced less stress. As parish nurses, we are able to take it one step further by using prayer, reading God’s Word, and trusting in the Lord as our strongest tools to help us serve Him.

I had all these struggles listed above when I started but what took me by surprise was regret. I didn’t think regret would be on my list of “I wish I knew.” A few years ago, Tara, who was very dedicated parish nurse served at our church. She worked third shift in an inner-city ICU hospital. Tara would come in after work to perform blood pressure screenings or help us with a church health fair. One Sunday, she shared how she was having heart problems and was busy hand-picking the surgical staff for her upcoming surgery. I was impressed with her optimism going into heart surgery. Sadly, that was our last conversation. The Lord called her to our Heavenly home. I felt so disappointed to have missed the opportunity to genuinely thank her for serving. I had to let the rest go. Thankfulness is something I needed to learn as a new parish nurse and wasn’t something I could appreciate from a textbook.

How about you? Tell me about your list of “I wish I knew” as a new or seasoned parish nurse. How would “I wish I knew” motivate you today or next year? What learning experiences or boundaries are you willing to share to mentor a new parish nurse? However long or short your list of struggles might be, we can trust the Lord when he calls us to the ministry that he will equip us (…equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:21). We can be assured from his Word that he hears and answers our prayers, in his sovereign way, for our good and his great glory (Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jeremiah 29:12). Soak up his generous grace. Look to the Lord for your strength, discernment, and source of wisdom, as we minister at church and to the community. Ultimately, let us trust the Lord with the outcome. Lord’s blessing as you serve the members and our Beautiful Savior!

By Heidi Gilbert-Then PN

 

 

 

Lessons from Volunteering with Kingdom Workers

My name is Elizabeth Zank. I’m a 2016 graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran College with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. I have been a practicing Registered Nurse for the past three years in the hospital setting—in both medical surgical and intensive care.  I have had multiple opportunities to volunteer with Kingdom Workers since starting my nursing career. I traveled to Malawi for an immersion experience, Panama City Beach, Fla., to help rebuild a church with Builders for Christ, and I have recently gotten involved with the foster family support program. I also traveled to Thailand with Christians Forward Southeast Asia to run a medical clinic for a local village this past April. Volunteering with Kingdom Workers has helped me to broaden my perspective, gain valuable experiences, learn new skills, and meet many different people from different backgrounds.

Simply by becoming a nurse I have learned so much about the human experience and have had the opportunity to help patients and families at some of the most vulnerable moments in their life. Going into these various different volunteer opportunities, my nursing experience has been extremely helpful. As a nurse, you have to be ready for the unexpected and roll with it. It is important to pay attention to the small details, but also keep the bigger picture in mind with constant multi-tasking, prioritization, and time-management.

In March of 2018, I traveled to Malawi with Kingdom Workers. We were mainly led by local Kingdom Workers employees (Allena, Davie, and Tendai) and assisted by the Tyrrell family. As a group we visited local villages where trained volunteers assisted disabled children with physical therapy. This was my second time experiencing a third world country. In nursing school I had the opportunity to travel to Zambia with my nursing class. In that environment, you always have to be ready for the unexpected. You gain that awareness from the moment you arrive in the country. Driving down the road to the guest house, we saw many people walking along the road—children in uniforms walking back from school, mothers carrying a child on their back and carrying a basket on their head, small makeshift roadside markets, packed minibuses, and various types of buildings and housing that you don’t see every day in America. The roads were also very different. There were a few that were paved, but most of the other side roads were unpaved and very rough.  Houses like the one we stayed in are protected by a wall and have hired security. Unless they are very wealthy, many people in Malawi don’t have running water or electricity. Often power outages happened during the day or night.

Visiting local children benefiting from Kingdom Workers volunteers was very eye opening and heart wrenching. Disabled children often are outcast by society in Malawi. It was amazing to hear stories on the progress children made through the program and see the work the volunteers do. We had the opportunity to visit families at their houses and see how they live day to day. We learned our presence and encouragement is very uplifting for the people and volunteers in the program.

Going into the trip the group prepared by reading a book called “When Helping Hurts.” We focused on the purpose for a short-term mission trip and what our perspective of poverty is. Our main goal was to learn and bring fellowship, empowerment, and encouragement to the people. Big changes in developing countries don’t happen in a few days, but they are built over a long time. One of my big takeaways from the trip was the incredible faith, resilience, and positivity of the Malawian people despite the daily struggles and hardships they face. Also, despite the barriers and obstacles that exist, they continue forward doing the best they can with what they have.

The change in perspective I gained also was extremely helpful on returning to my role as a registered nurse here in the U.S. In medicine we are obsessed with getting the latest technology and the latest new treatments, and sometimes that technology is the very thing that is hindering us from caring for and knowing our patients. We can only anticipate further advancements in technology in the years to come, but it was really helpful for me to see and consider first-hand how sometimes more is not always better. This trip also really helped me to take a step back and acknowledge my bias when it came to understanding poverty. Material poverty is just one aspect of poverty. This trip helped me to gain the perspective that we are all living in some form of poverty or brokenness. In my role as a nurse, acknowledging this bias has helped me realize the importance of taking more time with my patients and families to ask questions, listen, and connect with them. Everyone is dealt their own challenges and struggles in life. I can do my best to understand their situation and show them that no matter what they are going through they are not alone.

My experience volunteering with Kingdom Workers has impacted my personal life and career in a very positive way. From Malawi to right here in Wisconsin, I have learned how to keep striving to be an ambassador for Christ whatever the environment or circumstance. This is something that I want to prioritize in my life and career wherever I may be for years to come.

By Elizabeth Zank, BSN, RN

 

 

 

The Comforter Ministry: Wrapped in the Love of the Comforter

Twenty-three years ago, a quilted comforter helped Su Hanson navigate her diagnosis of cancer. She remembers “Whenever I was wrapped in it I felt as though I was wrapped in the love and arms of my Comforter, the source of all comfort, my loving God,” she said. Six years later her friend was diagnosed with cancer. “Having received God’s compassion and comfort in such a tangible way through the comforter given to me when I had my cancer, this moved me to hold out God’s compassion and gift of comfort to another, by sending my comforter to my friend with cancer.” However, when a second friend was also diagnosed, Su was heartbroken that she did not have another comforter to share with her. After much thought and prayer, Su was led to start the Comforter Ministry.

How does the ministry work? If an individual would like a comforter to be sent to a loved one with cancer, they only need to contact Su and provide the loved one’s address. On her website, Su has a link with her e-mail, phone number, and street address by which she can be contacted. The loved one will receive the comforter in the mail along with a journal that shares the gospel message and a cover letter that explains who requested the comforter be sent and information about the Comforter Ministry. There is no cost to requesting a quilt. So far, an amazing 676 comforters and journals have been sent to loved ones.

Even more amazing is that Su has made exactly zero comforters. “As of August 25, 2019, 129 quilters or quilt groups from 22 states and one Canadian province have made 672 comforters that have comforted over 855 women with cancer from 38 states (USA), one Canadian province, Australia, the Caribbean, Japan, and Switzerland.” Like Su did with the quilt she received, recipients of Comforter Ministry quilts are given the option to send their quilt on to someone else with cancer if he or she is ready to part with it. In this way, many quilts comfort even more men and women.

What has Su learned from her Comforter Ministry? The generosity of others. “I am continually awed by the magnitude of willingness in others to share their talents, gifts, time, and energy.” Some individuals and groups have donated completed quilts. Others have offered to finish a quilt that someone else has started and in this way grown a friendship with another quilter. Su said she has also learned to be patient and to rely on God’s timing rather than her own. She finished by saying the messages she receives from recipients are heartwarming and inspirational. “I have received so much more from the Comforter Ministry than I have given to it. God is amazing!”

Are you interested in supporting this ministry but don’t have the skills or ability to sew a quilt? “Prayer is also a huge part of this ministry as well. I have an ongoing prayer list on the website as well as a prepared prayer to use. I regularly encourage my supporters to keep the Comforter Ministry, its recipients, their loved ones and caregivers, the medical community who serve them, and cancer research in their personal prayers on a regular basis.”

So picture this: right now a loved one with cancer is being wrapped in the love of the Comforter through the tangible wrapping of a quilt; her spiritual needs are being addressed through the comforting words within the journal; and she is being prayed for by people all over the U.S. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

The Comforter Ministry also accepts donations to help cover the cost of shipping the quilts and printing the journals. For more information about the ministry, to request a quilt, or to view the prayer list, please visit comforterministry.com.

By Allison Spaude, BAN, RN

 

 

 

The Most Thankless Task

“No, this is no good either.” My coworker and I had just repositioned my patient for the fourth time, and he was still dissatisfied. I brought him a two-page menu from which he could order his dinner and he said, “This is all you have? I don’t want any of this!” When I offered Tylenol for his back pain, I was told “Tylenol does nothing for my pain.” In his room, I did my best to keep a smile on my face, but as I left the room I groaned, felt my eyes roll, and clenched my fists in frustration.

While there are many benefits to being a nurse, the profession can also be physically and emotionally draining. We have all had patients who are difficult to work with, verbally abusive, and thankless. When we are thinking about all the things for which we should give thanks, sometimes our work feels like it should not make the list.

Listen as Luke tells us about nine of Jesus’ ungrateful patients. “Ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except his foreigner?’” (Luke 17:11-18)

Jesus understands how it feels to receive little thanks. But if we each take a step back, can’t we see how we treat God in a similar way to how my patient treated me? God gives us the means to have comfortable homes, but we say “No, this is no good!” He supplies us with kitchen cupboards bursting with food, but we ask, “This is all there is?” Joints and hearts ache. “God does nothing for my pain!” Being our maker and preserver is a more thankless task than any other!

One man did return to Jesus. Remember what Jesus said? “Your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). Jesus says that to you too! Remember who your faith is in? Jesus! Jesus suffered and died to remove the sin of ungratefulness from your life. Jesus makes it possible for us to know that despite earthly trials and frustrations, we have everything we need. Jesus waits for you in your heavenly home.

As I look back on the situation of my ungrateful patient, I again find myself groaning, rolling my eyes, and clenching my fists, but this time, my frustration is focused at me instead of my patient. Matthew 5:16 says “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” In that situation, my coworker, who does not go to church, witnessed my very un-Christian-like behavior. My light was covered up by my ungrateful and sinful heart. In what ways do you let your light shine in your work place? In what ways do you hide your light under sinful actions?

It is worth it for us to take a step back as we start a new year and truly think about all the blessings in our lives. Above all, we give thanks for our faith in our savior Jesus, which gives us the ability to give thanks in trying times.

By Allison Spaude, BAN, RN

 

 

 

Yes, you should go to jail

It’s true: a pastor’s primary responsibility is to his flock, the ones he has been called to shepherd and lead to the green pastures and quiet waters of the Word.

But Jesus said he would call other sheep, such as the droves who are locked up. They need to be led to those same green pastures and quiet waters. They cannot come to us; they need us to go to them.

Should a shepherd, busy tending those safely in the sheep pen, also be seeking strays in the penitentiary? Consider these ten reasons to “go directly to jail.”
1) Jesus died for them, too. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

2) It could be me. Maybe you recall a sin for which you could (should?) have been arrested. You may know fellow pew sitters who once sat in a cell. Maybe you recognize these “jailbirds:” Joseph, Jeremiah, John, Jesus. Or these murderers: Moses, David, Paul. And it may happen that a son or daughter of the congregation gets in trouble, hoping to keep it secret. A pastor with prior access to jail is in the right place with the right credentials to counsel disgraced disciples.

3) Why not WELS? Other groups conduct ministry behind bars, but many dilute the pure gospel with conditions. If it sounds strange to announce “You are forgiven” to a convicted, repentant lawbreaker, recall the loving father’s message to his convicted, repentant son (Luke 15:21-24).

4) They are part of the “all nations” that Jesus sent his disciples to evangelize (Matthew 28:19-20). We might refer to this ministry as our mission to “Incarceration Nation.”

5) Privilege. Not all kids grow up in happy situations. Lack of loving parents, church family, and godly friends does not excuse criminal behavior, but broken homes and hopes often contribute to self-destructive choices. If you enjoy a good life, thanks in part to circumstances of birth, realize that others were not so blessed. It is your privilege to introduce Satan’s captives to the Chainbreaker.

6) Recognition. The world may not care that you care about criminals, but your Savior does. On the Last Day, the Good Shepherd will extend the invitation: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father…for I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:34,36).

7) Reformation. The same Word that brought radical change to a corrupt church can bring radical change to corrupt convicts. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” (2 Corinthians 5:17). No, not everyone who gets “jailhouse religion” remains on the narrow path that leads to life. Nor does every youth confirmed in your church. We teach them anyway.

8) Appreciation. The sheep in the safety of the pen don’t always thank their faithful shepherd. After all, that’s why they pay him. But sheep that are sinking in quicksand or dangling from a precipice may be profusely grateful for their rescue.

9) Go outside the walls. “Let us go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Hebrews 13:13). Inside the church there is safety and peace. Outside there are broken lives, pain, disgrace. Jesus went outside, seeking society’s failures. The mission field is not inside the walls of a church, but there is a ripe field inside the walls of a penal institution.

10) Reputation. Perhaps you fear that outreach to those in prison will result in your church being a target of derision. Remember who targeted Jesus for derision for consorting with “sinners?” The Pharisees! This ministry will earn you a reputation: as a church that cares about “the least of these,” for you understand that grace for you means grace for them; as a ministry that sets an example of leaving your comfort zone; as a body of believers that is not afraid to get its hands dirty; as “real deal” Christians who take seriously the words: “Remember those in prison as if you were fellow prisoners…” (Hebrews 13:3).

Eager to take the next step? Contact WELS Prison Ministry at 507-354-3130 or prisonministry@wels.net. Ask about the Jail Ministry Training Team. Find more resources at wels.net/pm.

If you know an inmate who would appreciate mailings from WELS Prison Ministry, submit their name and address at wels.net/refer.

David Rosenbaum teaches at the Brevard County Jail, an outreach of Redeemer, Merritt Island, Fla.

 

 

 

Those who are forgiven much love much

“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that is why she loved so much. But the one who is forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47 EHV). Jesus spoke those words after a woman, who is simply described as “sinful,” showed the Teacher love by washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. By contrast, the Pharisee who hosted the dinner party showed no acts of love to the Savior.

Those who have been forgiven much will love much. Recently I saw this love in action at a prison.

Wanda Markland, warden of the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre, has done many good things for the inmates. Perhaps the greatest impact has come from introducing WELS Prison Ministry materials. Some are available to read in the library, and many can be taken for free…if the women get there fast enough. Amanda, an inmate working in the library, says that sometimes they have to fill the free rack twice or more a day with our books. Who knows how many lives have been changed by God’s Word in this institution?

When asked what the books mean to her, inmate Katherine responded: “Everything.” The books have enabled her to understand the Bible. Others replied that the books help them to know that they are loved, they are not alone, and they are growing in their spiritual life. One inmate was even led to request baptism.

Where there is faith in Jesus, good works are bound to follow. These women, who rejoice in the good news that they are forgiven, don’t want to keep the good news to themselves. So they took up a collection from their meager funds and sent a donation to WELS Prison Ministry.

These women may not be able to wash Jesus’ feet, but they are showing him much love by studying his Word and showing others much love by helping to spread the Word.

John Schwartz serves those who have been set free by the gospel at Redeemer, Pierre, S.D.

 

 

 

Is there a TBI survivor in your church?

It shakes your faith for a more than just a moment. It makes you question why. The hurt runs so deep it takes your breath away and makes you wonder, “Could this really be part of God’s plan?”

As you sit in the ICU not knowing if your daughter will live or die, comfort comes in the form of a silent hug, and you know that God is there to give you hope and strength. As her mother, you walk beside your child who has suffered a brain injury. You lean on God in a way you never imagined, praying that his power and love will strengthen you to face the impossible.

Prayer is a powerful privilege. When my daughter sustained her severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), I prayed continually to God for her recovery and boldly asked him to make her life beautiful. God answers prayers, but I needed to be patient. Faith is more than just a word or a theory. Faith is God’s guide to living with, loving, and embracing someone with a brain injury.

If God had healed her suddenly, I would not have had the opportunity to walk this path with her. I would not have witnessed the miracles that God would perform in her life. I would have missed helping her face the challenges. I would not have fully understood the importance of her survival and the impact it would have on others and on me.

If there is a TBI survivor in your church, your life is one of those that will be impacted. Please take a little time to learn how to interact with them and how you can involve them in congregational life.

When such a person enters your life you may say, “She looks fine to me.” Our minds can accept a disability we can see, but we struggle to comprehend and accept the unseen.

Individuals with brain injuries live with cognitive challenges. They “look fine” until they speak, act, or interact with anyone who does not know them. Too often, fear and ignorance of their condition result in judgment and assumptions.

As survivors walk through life after brain injury, each moment brings change and challenge. Each interaction presents an instance of learning and retraining. The obstacles are too numerous to mention and too complicated to explain, and they last a lifetime.

It’s been 15 years since my daughter’s traumatic brain injury. She has been married for four years to another TBI survivor, and they are expecting their second child. They belong to a congregation that embraces them and the gifts they bring; they serve as greeters and as an usher.

If your flock includes a TBI survivor, know that each individual brings a unique relationship into your life. Talking with them, getting to know them, and accepting the nuances are each a small part of helping them find a new path in life. Praying with them and for them brings blessing both to you and them. Find ways to use their abilities in congregational life. You will play a key role in their ongoing healing!

Lois York-Lewis and her daughter Bari Rieth co-founded the Brain Injury Resource Center of Wisconsin, located in Waukesha. Read Bari’s story at bircofwi.org. Lois is a member at St. Paul, Muskego, Wis.

 

 

 

 

Parish nurses minister to body and soul

Sandy stepped into a room outside St. John’s sanctuary, where parish nurses offer blood pressure screenings after Sunday worship. “Sandy,” I said, removing the cuff, “your blood pressure is 144/90. Looking at your records, it’s elevated. Are you taking your blood pressure pills?”

Sheepishly she replied, “I stopped taking my pills because I was feeling better. But I’ll start taking the little pill in the morning and evening.” Sandy is a widow and an active parishioner. She also suffers from memory problems and has a history of stroke. I emphasized the importance of taking her pills as prescribed by her doctor. This is a common conversation as a parish nurse offers education, support, and encouragement to a member of the flock.

A parish nurse (PN) is a registered nurse with specialized education to support the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of church members. The PN may provide health resources and education but does not provide medications, administer shots, start IVs, or perform any invasive procedures. Clergy corroborate the PN. As early as 1881, Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago had deaconess nurses on its staff, but it would be another century before parish nurses were given a name. Presently, hundreds of PN’s serve throughout the United States in a variety of denominations. (Mary Elizabeth O’Brien, Parish Nursing: Healthcare Ministry within the Church, Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2003).

Consider the benefits that a parish nurse ministry could bring to your congregation:

  • Blood pressure screening, health fairs, blood drives
  • Visiting shut-ins
  • Health/wellness education, community resources, health advocate
  • Health classes, e.g. CPR, yoga, etc.
  • Bereavement support groups (St. John uses GriefShare)
  • First aid kits, AED (automated external defibrillator) checks
  • Encouragement and prayer support

Parish nursing can also be an outreach ministry. Non-members can be invited to classes and programs facilitated by the PN. Attending to a person’s physical health can bring benefits for their spiritual health.

If you are a Christian nurse, prayerfully consider using your medical wisdom to minister at church. If you are already a PN, continue to depend on the Holy Spirit to guide and bless your service. If you have benefited from such a ministry, please express your gratitude and pray for your parish nurse.

A. Heidi Gilbert-Then is one of five parish nurses at St. John, Lannon, Wis. Since 2015, they have been providing education, implementing programs, and showing compassion to members of the congregation and the community, all with the full support of their pastors.

To learn more about starting a parish nurse program, visit csm.welsrc.net/parish-nurses.

 

 

 

From a heart of stone to a heart of flesh

During my evening shift at our local hospital, I attempted to visit 66-year-old Richard. I introduced myself as the hospital’s volunteer chaplain and offered to visit. To my surprise he vigorously gestured for me to leave, saying: “I don’t want to see any chaplain.” Then he took a second look and asked, “Jude, is that you, the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) member that I knew from years ago?” He invited me back into his world but refused any prayer or Scripture. I visited him weekly until he was well enough to return home.

A month later the hospital’s director of chaplains called. The family wanted me to know that Richard was not likely to live beyond the week. I saw him that day and followed up each day that week. I had the privilege of journeying with him through the valley of the shadow of death.
Richard spent his life helping others; he was spending his final days being helped by others.

He endeavored to beat cancer, but it beat him. It humbled a fiercely independent man who always had to have things his way, a stubborn man with a heart of stone.

Tearfully, he told me that the previous week he had entered the hospital chapel to pray, to surrender his life to Christ. He realized that he could no longer control his life and collapsed in the arms of his Savior, who had been pursuing him his whole life.

God used Richard’s physical sickness of leukemia to heal his spiritual sickness of sin.

Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (42:3).

God says in Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (36:26). “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (18:32).

Richard did repent and was born again in that hospital chapel. Meanwhile, in heaven’s chapel, “…there is more rejoicing…over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).

This once lost, now found sinner wrote a testimony that revealed his changed heart toward his wife and his life. He was moved to tears of joy, mingled with tears of repentance, every time he heard his Christian wife’s voice. Julia had made a commitment to her husband, for better or worse, and had kept that commitment for 43 years, despite many difficulties. He was overwhelmed with her legacy of undeserved love, like that of his Savior.

At Julia’s request, I conducted Richard’s funeral service, where those who had come to mourn heard of the joy that awaits those who repent and turn to Christ.

Jude Peck is a member at Hope, Irmo, S. C. He serves as a volunteer hospital chaplain and a paid hospice chaplain in the Columbia area. To learn more about WELS chaplain certification, visit wels.net/chaplain.

 

 

 

A scary problem

Kristen is a member of the church I serve. Every Sunday she tells me that my sermons are interesting and that she really likes me “as a friend.” She often gets excited that our birthdays are in the same month. Partially due to her autism, she never tires of saying nice things to me.

Of course, Kristen’s autism also causes her difficulties. One such difficulty is that loud noises scare her. For this reason, Good Friday was her least favorite church service of the year. That service concludes with the strepitus, a loud sound that signifies the closing of Jesus’ tomb. That sound caused Kristen to become very upset, not only on Good Friday, but any time she remembered it.

After her parents told me about this problem, I decided that it wasn’t worth causing her distress. I told the man who usually performs the strepitus that we would eliminate it. Then his wife suggested that Kristen might not be afraid of the noise if she made it herself. When first asked, Kristen wasn’t sure that she wanted to. But she gave it a try, striking the tympani with a mallet. From that moment forward, she couldn’t wait for Good Friday service! And she started telling me something new on Sunday mornings: that she was going to make the noise that scares me on Good Friday!

How might you involve members with special needs at your congregation, so that they can become as excited as Kristen about serving their Lord?

John Derme speaks loud words from the pulpit that scare the devil every Sunday at Shepherd of the Mountains, Reno, Nev.

 

 

 

Special Olympics: An outreach opportunity

When I arrived in Wasilla, Alaska, in 2012, I was in for quite a culture shock. Both inside and outside the church, things were different than in Wisconsin. I was used to a larger congregation where most of your time as a pastor was spoken for.

Here, with a smaller flock to shepherd, I looked for ways to get involved in the community. I discovered that Special Olympics can offer opportunities for outreach, both to the intellectually disabled competitors and their families.

I found my niche as the head coach of bocce ball. Leveraging that influence, I made sure that the outside courts were built in the community park near me. An inside turf court was, likewise, close by. The first year I had to travel farther and become known, but my views gradually began to carry more weight.

Many community organizations need volunteers to serve on boards and committees. Getting involved has connected me to people that I could invite to my church. That led to including them in a bell choir that performs in the church and community. Each bell choir practice begins with snacks and a Bible story from the “Dear Christian Friend” curriculum from Jesus Cares Ministries. We now count six members at King of Kings who stem from that Special Olympics connection.

If you are interested, do some groundwork. Visit specialolympics.org to read about this movement for inclusion that began in 1968. Consider how the principle of including people with disabilities matches the mission of the church. Under the “Stories” tab, find some inspiring accounts to share. Under the “Get Involved” tab, see what is happening in your area.

Discuss the possibilities for outreach with your church council and/or evangelism committee. Ask your members to consider the positive effects on the congregation and in the community if you were to invite people with special needs and make them feel welcome.

Get advice from Jesus Cares Ministries on starting a “Jesus Cares” class for the intellectually disabled. Contact Joel Gaertner or click on the “Jesus Cares Ministries” tab at tlha.org.

Caution #1: This ministry could easily consume more time and effort than you are prepared for. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Take it slow at first. Recruit other people to assist you.

Caution #2: Many events take place on Sundays, at least in my community. Can you afford to miss one or more Sundays a year, even for such a worthy cause? Our team has an assistant coach who fills in until I can get there after church. Telling your team and their families that worship comes first can make an important statement about faith and priorities.

In Luke 14:15-24, the Master tells us to go to the streets and alleys and roads and country lanes to find more guests for the wedding banquet. Might Special Olympics be one of those places for you to look?

When he’s not playing bocce ball, Robb Robbert serves all the special saints at King of Kings, Wasilla, Alaska.

 

 

 

 

Blindness opens a man’s eyes

Jeremiah was working on the drive shaft of his truck when the vehicle rolled backward, crushing his upper body and head and pinning him underneath. Miraculously, first responders were able to free him and transport him to the hospital.

After two weeks in a coma, Jeremiah opened his eyes to see…nothing. After almost 40 years of sight, Jeremiah couldn’t see even a flicker of light. Two more weeks in the hospital and several surgeries later, he returned home. He had survived, but his eyesight had not.

Believing friends and family members had shared the good news of Jesus with Jeremiah prior to his accident. At the time, that message seemed like foolishness to him. But gospel seeds had been planted, and the Holy Spirit was working on his stony heart.

When Jeremiah awoke from his coma, he talked about getting baptized. God created a hunger for the Word and opened his eyes to the truth as Jeremiah listened to the Bible on his smart phone. Questions about the Lord were suddenly numerous. A friend brought him to Bible information class, where he’s been learning the essential truths of the Scriptures.

After a couple months of study, Jeremiah asked if he and his two girls could be baptized. On September 14, 2019, dad and daughters, ages 9 and 14, were reborn into God’s family, washed with water through the Word. The sisters have joined their father in learning the stories of God’s grace in the Bible.

Before Jeremiah lost his sight, he ran a successful contracting business, was an avid hunter and outdoorsman, and was a critic of Christ. His construction work is limited now, although he still manages some of his own home repairs. Friends even help him to enjoy some hunting.

But the biggest change in Jeremiah’s life is his attitude toward Jesus. By his grace, the Lord turned his child away from the darkness of unbelief and brought him into the light of faith. The accident had left him blind, yet Jeremiah could finally see that he and his family needed a Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He has gained 20/20 vision that Jesus Christ is that Savior. And he knows that his blindness is temporary, for when he reaches heaven he will gaze on all the glory of his Redeemer.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Jesse Johnston is pastor at Mt. Calvary, Menasha, Wis., where he sees God working in the lives of people like Jeremiah.

WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired (wels.net/mvi) makes Christian resources available free of charge to anyone who is visually impaired or has a disability that prevents them from reading a book.

 

 

 

Can you say that again?

How many in your congregation wear hearing aids? How many keep asking “What?” over and over? How many deaf people in your community stay home on Sundays because they do not know of a church that can meet their needs?

If you are not deaf or hard of hearing, you may not think much about those who are. Even if you are aware of their needs, you may not know how to address them. This disability is invisible, but for those who are afflicted, it poses a huge barrier to the Word.

“Ministering to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing” is a new resource that offers insights and practical advice to those who want to better serve this population. Find it at welscongregationalservices.net/c011. It includes a video interview for leaders to watch, as well as a downloadable document that answers many of the questions congregations have.

This module can help churches make worship, Bible study, and other activities more accessible to people with hearing loss. It may also foster outreach to your deaf or hard of hearing neighbors who might be led to rejoice, “Finally…a church that cares about me!”

 

Online classes in Spring 2020
The following online classes will be offered through Martin Luther College during the Spring semester, January 8 to May 8, 2020. Go to: mlc-wels.edu and click on “Academics,” then “Continuing Education.”

ASL8001 – American Sign Language and Introduction to Deaf Culture 3 credits
The basic foundation of American Sign Language through an overview of deaf culture and an introduction to the signing of finger spelling, numbers, colors, vocabulary words, and beginning-level conversations.

THE9522 – Chaplaincy Issues and Fieldwork 3 credits
An overview of chaplaincy, related issues, and fieldwork experience in a specific area of chaplain ministry.

THE9523 – Ministering to the Incarcerated and Their Families 3 credits
Strategies to initiate and implement a gospel ministry to the incarcerated.

THE9524 – Frontline Chaplaincy 3 credits
A study of the challenges faced by the protectors of society (military, law enforcement, fire service) and the information chaplains need to minister to them.

THE9534 – Grounded in Scripture 3 credits
An introduction to theology that focuses upon the scriptural teachings of special importance to chaplaincy ministry.

 

 

 

Promising to protect the children

Approximately ten percent of Protestants below age 35 and about one-third of Catholics have either left the church or contemplated leaving because they do not see the church as a safe place for children. That shocking statistic was shared by Victor Vieth at “Promise to Protect,” a seminar on making churches and schools safe places for children. Some 75 lay leaders, teachers, and pastors from fifteen WELS churches and schools attended the event at Eternal Rock, Castle Rock, Colo., in August 2019.

Victor Vieth, a WELS member and former prosecutor, gained national recognition for addressing child abuse in rural Minnesota. He has trained thousands of child-protection professionals on child abuse investigation, prosecution, and prevention. In 2017 he earned an MA in theology from Wartburg Seminary.

While many do not see churches as safe spaces, predators view them as easy targets. Vieth explained: “Sex offenders report that Christians are extremely trusting and easy to manipulate. Sex offenders who grew up in a church body are given the most slack and are rarely suspected of nefarious conduct. Since they often select children who may have already endured trauma or have behavioral issues, it is easy for sex offenders to convince the church that the child is not telling the truth. Without better education, faith leaders and parishioners will continue to be easily fooled by child molesters.”

As believers, our motivation to protect children comes from our Savior. “In contrast to the ethos of his time, Jesus said that children were messengers from God and how we treat children reflects our attitude toward God (Mark 9:36-37). In the Gospels, Jesus harshly rebuked anyone who would hurt a child (Matthew 18:6-9). Some scholars believe this was a specific condemnation of child sexual abuse. Jesus scolded his followers for keeping children away from him (Mark 10:13-16) and promised to cast aside religious leaders who turned a blind eye to those who are suffering (Matthew 25:45).”

Lay leaders, teachers, and pastors agreed that 1) it was eye-opening that so many have suffered sexual abuse within churches, and 2) the seminar was very helpful for making crucial changes in their schools and churches. Mr. Vieth distributed sample policies and encouraged every congregation and school to implement a robust Youth and Child Protection Policy. He cautioned that policies produced by insurance companies or law firms may have different goals.

Although the church has fallen short on this issue, Vieth sees reason for optimism. “Across the country, I increasingly encounter church leaders eager to learn more about child abuse and to minister compassionately to those who are hurting. We need to nurture and grow this faithful remnant until the church is once again a powerful force in the fight against child abuse and neglect.”
Tim Spiegelberg is pastor at Carbon Valley Lutheran Church, Firestone, Colo.

Visit welscongregationalservices.net/c003 to learn about “Standing Up for Children: A Christian Response to Child Abuse and Neglect.”

Freedom for the Captives is a WELS ministry to protect children and empower abuse survivors. Their website is freedomforcaptives.com.

 

 

 

 

Five myths about ministering to people with addictions

With an estimated 19.7 million Americans having a substance use disorder (SUD), it is very likely that your church needs to minister to someone affected by an SUD this Sunday. Are you ready?

Being ready means having the facts. Here are five myths every church needs to be aware of when preparing to minister to those with SUDs.

MYTH: Addiction is a problem outside the church.
Wild and profligate living is not the only path to an SUD. The statistics suggest that SUDs can affect anyone from any background or walk of life. Ministering to those with SUDs may mean ministering to our closest friends, relatives, and even our pastors.

MYTH: If I am not a recovering alcoholic or addict, I cannot help.
Those of us in the recovery community are partially to blame for the popularity of this myth. We like to repeat the maxim that only an alcoholic can help an alcoholic. But empathy and a willingness to help are more important than shared experience. That is why doctors, teachers, employers, parents, friends, and the church can help.

MYTH: Addicts are in denial.
Another myth is that people with SUDs need to be confronted to break through their denial. In truth, many individuals want help. Even those who are not immediately ready to accept treatment often have both reasons to quit and reasons to continue to use. Be ready to listen without judgment to both sets of reasons. Judgment-free listening actually helps people accept the need for help more quickly than confrontation.

MYTH: Abstinence is the only goal.
Even if a person is not ready to give up substances entirely, they may be ready to cut back. Studies suggest that many of those who are willing to reduce their use now will eventually choose total abstinence. We shouldn’t dismiss small steps in the right direction. So do not assume that the next step for someone with an SUD must be complete abstinence. Instead, encourage any behavior that reduces the harm created by SUDs.

MYTH: Assume you don’t have a problem.
Drinking runs along a continuum from “low risk” to “high risk.” Many individuals drink far beyond what is considered healthy by the medical community and may be at risk for various health and wellness issues. To learn more about what the medical profession considers safe drinking and for tips on how to cut back or quit, see this publication: niaaa.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Rethinking_Drinking.pdf

Your church can help those with SUDs. All they need to do is have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-8). This means having the humility to admit that anyone in your congregation could have an SUD. It means being empathetic and willing to help. It means listening and avoiding confrontation. It means encouraging even small steps toward sobriety. Finally, it means being willing to consider if one’s own use has become a problem.

Jason Jonker is the founder of Lutheran Recovery Ministries’ Recovery Retreat. Contact him at resilient@crosswalkphoenix.com.

 

 

 

Her Many Sins Have Been Forgiven; That is Why She Loved so Much

“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that is why she loved so much. But the one who is forgiven little loves little.” (EHV Lk 7:47). Jesus said these words after a woman, who is simply described as sinful, showed Jesus love by cleaning his feet with her tears and her hair. Whereas the master of the house, a Pharisee, did not show any such love to Jesus. Truly, those who have been forgiven much do love much. That love shows itself in many different ways, but I got to see this love in action recently – in prison of all places.

It started when Wanda Markland began her new job as warden of the Women’s Prison in Pierre, S.D., about a year ago. Warden Markland has done many good things for the prison, perhaps the most impactful was bringing WELS Prison Ministry materials to the women’s prison. Besides some books being available to read at the prison’s library, many of them are available to be taken for free by the inmates. That is, if they get there fast enough. Amanda Kaur, an inmate who works at the library, said that sometimes they have to fill the free rack more than twice a day with WELS Prison books! With WELS Prison Ministry devotional books being distributed among the inmates, lives within the prison have been changed in ways only God through his Word could accomplish.

Many prisoners thirst for God’s Word. Being asked what these devotional books meant to her, Katherine Dillard simply said, “Everything.” Those devotional books were one way she was able to study the Bible. Others replied to the same question saying that because of the books they know they are loved; they know they are not alone; and they are able to grow in their spiritual life. One inmate even sought to be baptized after she read the devotional books. These books mean more than the world to those women. May the Lord have all Christians view God’s Word with the same importance!

Where there is faith there are good works. These women, having heard God’s Word, did not want to keep this good news to themselves. They too wanted to do what they could to share God’s Word with others who need to hear it. Therefore, being moved by Christian love, inmates raised funds from what little they had to give a donation to WELS Prison Ministry. These women may not be able to wash Jesus feet with their tears and their hair, but they are showing him much love by studying his Word and showing love to others by spreading his Word.

Pastor John Schwartz serves at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Pierre, S.D.

 

 

 

There, but for the grace of God, go I

At one time we all lived among [other sinners]. We tried to satisfy what our sinful nature wanted to do. We followed its longings and thoughts. God was angry with us and everyone else because of the kind of people we were. But God loves us deeply. He is full of mercy. So he gave us new life because of what Christ has done. He gave us life even when we were dead in sin. God’s grace has saved you. Ephesians 2:3-5 (NiRV 1998)

I’m surprised by how frequently I encounter the idea that there are “good” people and “bad” people in the world. To be sure, one can look around and immediately find examples of people whose outward lives conform to God-pleasing (or at least law-abiding) behavior. Other people make no effort to behave in a way that pleases God, even taking pride in their law breaking. Entertainment is full of law enforcement personnel (the good guys) trying to track down and lock up the monsters (the bad guys). We even hear some Christians voicing the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

This kind of thinking can come too easily to anyone, even those who share Jesus with people behind bars. If we are not careful, Satan can get us to believe the lie that we are somehow inherently better or more valuable to God than the people we serve. Paul doesn’t let us go there. He reminds us clearly that every single one of us was, by nature, dead in sin and deserved God’s anger. But God’s grace and love made faith come to life within us. We trust that Christ obliterated all our sins, whether great or small in the eyes of the world. God now sees anyone who trusts in Jesus’ life and death in his or her place as perfectly fit for life with him forever. The grandma who never missed a Sunday in church for decades AND the man on death row, because of their trust in Jesus, wear the robes of Jesus’ righteousness. Both of them are not just good, but perfect people.

Tradition, though it cannot be proven, attributes our devotion’s title to an English clergyman as he watched a line of condemned men being led to the gallows. When we realize how “unfair” God is, namely punishing his Son for our sins instead of us, we are better able to be compassionate and seek the welfare of others. We had an amazing reminder of that recently. Make sure you catch the story in this issue of how God’s love to some inmates in South Dakota moved them to extend that love to others. Those who are forgiven much, love much.

Dave Hochmuth, WELS Prison Ministry Administrator

 

 

 

Welcome Home can be challenging

Welcoming a member who has been absent or scarce for a while back to church can be challenging in many circumstances, but especially if the person has spent time behind bars. The person trying to return to society in general and to one’s church family often has a barrier of shame. If addictive behaviors were a factor in the conviction, avoiding people or environments that trigger these behaviors is particularly difficult, which leads to a staggeringly high re-arrest rate.

Our efforts to welcome home members of Jesus’ flock that have wandered can demonstrate great love at a time of great need. Focusing these efforts on a specific Sunday can create needed urgency and encouragement to prompt us to act. But some wandering and lost sheep will take extra love and multiple invitations. Let us not grow weary of doing good.

WELS Prison Ministry has resources that are helpful for paving the road for released inmates to join or rejoin the family of Christ. Go to csm.welsrc.net/prison-ministry-resources to find:

  • Samples of the “Water of Life” Bible studies specifically designed for returning citizens. The entire set of Bible Studies is available free for ministry use using the linked order form.
  • Congregational Guidelines for Dealing with Sexual Offenders. These guidelines are downloadable.
  • A link to a Forward in Christ article describing the mentoring program for struggling individuals initiated by congregations in the New Ulm, Minn., area.

If you have any questions regarding ways your congregation can show love to released inmates in helpful yet careful ways, contact Prison Ministry Administrator Dave Hochmuth (dave.hochmuth@wels.net).

 

 

 

More Visibility for WELS Prison Ministry

In recent months we have had opportunities to share the joy of prison ministry with fellow WELS members and will have several more in the months ahead. The recently filmed 25th anniversary video was played at the 2019 WELS Convention last August. The video is available for viewing anytime on our website’s home page, wels.net/pm. We also had display booths at the WELS EdTechLead conference and LWMS convention in June, as well as the OWLS convention in October. We continue to reach out to future called workers with our monthly WELS Prison Ministry MLC student nights.

Some upcoming activities in December will give more awareness of our efforts. Forward in Christ magazine will contain an article describing the faith journey of former inmate, Daryl Fleck. He became connected with our correspondence course program while serving time in Minnesota. Upon release he sought out a WELS congregation, completed the Bible Information Course, and became a member. Daryl appeared in our 25th anniversary video.

In addition to Daryl’s story, the WELS Connection video used by many congregations will feature how WELS Special Ministries shows love and shares Christ with people in special circumstances. Prison Ministry will appear as a specific example. Finally, our ministry will also be featured in the quarterly mailing sent to people who give special or ongoing gifts directly to synod.

Watch for these stories in video and print. Use them as opportunities to share with friends the joy Jesus gives you in your Prison Ministry role. Invite those friends to join you in supporting (with prayer, volunteer time, or financial support) this amazing outreach ministry that shares Jesus with people impacted by incarceration.

 

 

 

From a recent inmate letter

“I am currently incarcerated in the Texas Department of Corrections…and came across a brother in Christ who is currently enrolled in your mail-in Bible study course. What a great gift you offer to sinners such as ourselves! I thank you whole-heartedly for your continued devotion to reach out to people such as ourselves that society would much rather lock away and “throw away the key.”

Many brothers in here have lost everything and EVERYONE and it is nice to see their faces light up when they receive mail from ministries such as yours. For a lot of these people, it is a sense of encouragement and joy to know that they are NOT forgotten and that there is SOMEONE out there who cares for them and prays for them.

Again, “thank you” for that, on behalf of those who may not express their gratitude. I see it! And God sees your works! May God continue to bless each and every one of you so that you may continue to share those blessings.”

Your brother in Christ,
Mario

 

 

Pen Pal Pipeline

Pen pal writing is an important way for us to share the gospel with inmates. So far in 2019, we have had 494 letters from inmates to 67 different pen pals come through our New Ulm office. It is incredible that we can reach so many with the gospel one on one!

The safety of the pen pal writer is always of vital concern for the Prison Ministry staff. Our Volunteer Guidelines state: “The only address you should use in your correspondence with your pen pal is: WELS Prison Ministry, PO Box 452, New Ulm, MN 56073. Send your pen pal letter to the above address. Use only Prison Ministry stationery and envelopes. This will ensure that the inmate does not know where you live….”

We urge you to abide by these instructions. Even if you feel your inmate is trustworthy, this prevents any chance that your name and address could fall into the hands of someone else in the facility that could do you harm.

Thanks for your faithful service to our ministry. You are reaching souls with God’s Word every time you write a letter, and God blesses those words even if you don’t see it. If you are not a pen pal and are interested in learning more, please contact the New Ulm office at pmsec@wels.net or at 507-354-3130.

(Spanish – translated to English) I write to you to thank you for the tests because they have helped me a lot and I have learned about the life of Jesus, of how much he loves us as it says in John 3:16. Thank you for praying for me…you have helped me so much to learn beautiful things from the word of God. May his peace be with you. – Leo

 

 

 

New office location

The WELS prison ministry mailing center in New Ulm, Minn., recently moved across town to a small commercial building. Our two faithful administrative assistants along with many dedicated volunteers, continue to distribute Bible study booklets, pen pal letters, Bibles, and devotions to incarcerated individuals and prison chaplains throughout the United States. They are thankful for the safer, roomier quarters. To God be the glory as he continues to provide for this ministry as he has over these past 25 years.

Please note that our mailing address remains P.O. Box 452, New Ulm, MN 56073. Donations of Meditations devotion booklets that have not been written in, have no address labels, and are no more than a year old should now be dropped off in the storage shed near the rear entrance to the building (call 507-354-3130 for directions).

 

 

 

Ask and you will receive…

Give thanks and glory to God for his ability to bless us far beyond our ability to ask or imagine. Earlier this year we asked God and his people to provide the means necessary to continue this ministry at current levels because support had fallen to concerning levels. We are overjoyed to share that response to our request has been amazingly encouraging. For the month of April our gifts from individuals increased significantly in both the number of gifts and the total amount given compared to recent months. WELS Prison Ministry was also given a special invitation to request additional grant funding from the Marvin M. Schwan Charitable Foundation. Because of these additional funds, we anticipate ending our fiscal year on June 30 with a similar amount in our operating fund as when we began the fiscal year. In other words, our total funding for the fiscal year will be approximately equal to our expenses, despite having some significantly higher printing costs than normal this year. We now are focusing on how to sustain our funding at these higher levels so that our work can continue unhindered by financial constraints in the years to come.

Three ways to support our ministries

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests include: help us find ways to distribute God’s word electronically, especially where our booklets are not permitted; help us develop effective jail ministry and mentoring training; help us find a sustainable long-term funding plan.

Serve – All our ministry efforts are driven by volunteers motivated by Christ’s love. To volunteer as a pen pal or a test corrector, please contact us at prisonministry@wels.net or 507-354-3130. To explore jail visitation or post-release mentoring opportunities, e-mail
dave.hochmuth@wels.net or call 414-256-3243.

Give – Much of WELS Prison Ministry financial support comes from people like you. We need it to continue to share Jesus. To support this work:

Send your gift to:
WELS Prison Ministry
N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
Waukesha, WI 53188-1108
(Make checks payable to WELS Prison Ministry)

Donate online at wels.net/sm-donation, click on “Designation” and choose: “Prison Ministry.”

Give through your IRA charitable distribution, appreciated assets or your will or estate plan. Contact WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at
800-827-5482 for assistance.

In Christ,
WELS Prison Ministry Staff

 

 

Unexpected blessings

Matt Brown, a WELS pastor in Houston, Texas, shares how God used a recent visit with an inmate to bring about unexpected blessings.

Yesterday I almost did not go to the jail at my regularly scheduled time to visit inmates. I was with a family that was taking a loved one off of life support and felt it necessary to be with them during these hours. I spent time with the family in God’s Word until the doctors informed us their loved one would more than likely hang on a few more days.

After some hesitation, I headed to the jail in what became a driving rain storm, yet another seemingly credible reason to skip my visit. However, the Lord got me safely to my destination. Upon my arrival, the secretary handed me an inmate request. I immediately recognized the name. When I entered his cell in the infirmary, sure enough, it was he–the individual with whom I had started this jail ministry some 18 months prior. He had been arrested in the summer of 2017 and asked that I bail him out. I did not bail him out, but I did meet with him twice. Now here I was, visiting with him again. I shared a devotion with him about the day of Pentecost. I expressed to him that he was responsible, in a way, for the gospel coming to hundreds of souls in that jail. More specifically, my first visit with him opened the door that has since led to 300-400 personal law and gospel presentations as well as distribution of 300 devotion books from WELS Prison Ministry, 300 New Testaments, and thousands of WELS Spanish Bible studies. These resources are being used by all the chaplains in the jail.

I often forget how the Lord uses the little things we do in some big ways. Yesterday made me realize again that the Pentecost power of the gospel is working even when we don’t see it.

Thanks Matt! What a great reminder of the joyful blessings that come unexpectedly to us, to inmates, and to the whole body of Christ as we carry out his mission.

 

 

 

New Prison Ministry video and new Bible study booklet

New WELS Prison Ministry video to premier

There won’t exactly be a red carpet, but we are celebrating 25 years of God’s blessings to WELS Prison Ministry with a short video. Produced by Boettcher+Trinklein Television Inc., the video introduces a new generation to WELS Prison Ministry and the amazing opportunities we have to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration. Filmed in April, the video shows the blessings Jesus gives to both those who serve in the ministry and those who are being served.

At press time we anticipate that the new video will be available for some of the summer conferences and conventions in our synod. The video will also introduce people who visit our website at wels.net/pm to Prison Ministry. Check our website periodically over the next few weeks. After the video appears, invite friends to learn more about this amazing ministry and explore ways in which they might become involved.

New Bible study booklet introduced

This spring WELS Prison Ministry announced an addition to our list of self-study courses: “Dealing with Depression and Anxiety.” The stress, loneliness, and discouragement of incarceration make depression a serious problem in jails and prisons. The six chapters in this book relate the real-life stories of men and women who have dealt with depression or anxiety, including an inmate and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. These stories testify to the power of Jesus Christ as a key to gaining the victory.

This is the 23rd “Level 1” booklet we have produced and make available free of charge to any inmate who requests it from an institution that will allow us to mail it to him or her. Thank you for your support, which enables our efforts to share Jesus in very practical ways with people impacted by incarceration.

 

 

A thanks to MLC students

Since its inception, Prison Ministries has relied on the gracious efforts of volunteers to help carry out the great commission. Part of this volunteer base is located at Martin Luther College where students gather to participate in the worthwhile spiritual care of those who find themselves in jail or prison. A major part of this ministry involves test correcting and encouraging. Inmates who request the Bible study booklets can complete the test included at the end of each booklet before advancing to the next one. While correcting these tests, the inclusion of positive remarks can uplift and strengthen the faith of the inmate. These MLC students graduate and can pass their enthusiasm and love for hurting souls on to members of their congregations, whether as called workers or laypersons. Thank you to those students who have given freely of their time to support this important outreach for the growth of God’s kingdom. May he bless these endeavors for the generations to come.

 

 

 

Love as I Have Loved You

Adapted from a devotion by WELS Congregational Services Director Jon Hein

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35 (NIV)

I sort of wish Jesus hadn’t said that. I would have preferred him to say, “If you are wearing a cross or if you go to church, everyone will know you are my disciple.” Though I know people who wear a cross or go to church and don’t follow Christ. Others think wearing a cross or attending church somehow makes them better than others. Instead, as a mark of discipleship, Jesus picked a task that is, in a sense, so easy even a three-year-old can do it. So easy. And yet…showing Christian love…also so, so, so hard.

What makes it so hard when Jesus asks us to love? A couple things. First, we know that in God’s eyes, love is more than an emotion—it is an action. Say I see a homeless man and, because I’m kindhearted, I feel bad for him. That kindly feeling does nothing to fill his belly.

That leads to a second reason why showing Christian love is so hard. We know the length to which God would have those actions go. The standard for love is Christ himself. And he is awfully loving. John chapter 13 begins with Jesus taking off all his outer clothing, wrapping a towel around his waist, pouring water into a large bowl, and—one-by-one—washing the disciples’ dirty feet. Man! You need help moving furniture in your office. I’m there. Your car needs a jump. I got the cables and am happy to help. Your feet stink. . . brothers and sisters, if I’m being honest, I might draw the line there. Not Jesus. Jesus’ love never draws lines. On the evening of that same Maundy Thursday, Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. He excused Judas to go and betray him. Jesus didn’t have any expectations that people would ever be as loving to him as he was to them. He just showed love, without expecting any payback.

In 1 Corinthians 13 Jesus says things like, “Love is patient; love is kind; love never fails; love keeps no record of wrongs.” To show the type of selfless, sacrificial love that Jesus showed . . . to demonstrate love that draws no lines, that knows no limits. . . that’s too much. When we think like that, we need to remember that Jesus does not say, “a new suggestion I give you.” He also does not say, “a new helpful tip I leave for you.” He says this is the will of the Lord and King that you love one another as I have loved you.

But here’s the thing with Jesus. . . every single time he asks us to do something, he also gives us the ability. Flawed and foolish humans sometimes ask the impossible. Your boss might demand that a task be completed by a certain day and time. And you may want to say, “Dude, unless you have the ability to magically make days have 30 hours instead of 24, there is no way that gets done on time.” Jesus is not flawed. He’s not foolish. When he asks us to do something, he gives us the power to do it.

Christian love gains an audience for the gospel. When unbelievers look at believers, they see a radical love within them. They experience it. They want to know more. It is going to take more than wearing a cross or going to church for others to see you are a disciple of Jesus. Think of the inmate who is convinced everyone has given up on them, or one who has recently been released and is struggling mightily to adapt. Has Christ empowered you to give a love that draws no lines and knows no limits to this person? God grant it among us all. Amen.

 

 

 

Home mission congregations embark on building projects

Four home mission congregations have embarked on and/or completed building projects in the past year. Here are a few updates:

Eternal Rock Lutheran Church – Castle Rock, Colo.

Eternal Rock Lutheran Church in Castle Rock, Colo., dedicated their new worship facility on February 10, 2019. This home mission congregation purchased a former auto repair garage and converted it into a worship space with a loan and grants from WELS Church Extension Fund (CEF), a valuable partner of WELS Home Missions.

 

 


Ascension Lutheran Church – Jacksonville, N.C.

Ascension Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, NC, is planning a dedication service for their new worship and ministry center in July 2019. Ascension serves a large military community, with Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River nearby. In March 2019, Ascension held a “Sharpie Party” (pictured) where members were invited to write prayers and passages on the 2×4’s before sheet rock went in. They are receiving assistance from WELS Church Extension Fund (CEF), who provided their land and building loans as well as matching land and facility grants totaling $308,730. Damage from Hurricane Florence forced Ascension to originally adjust their construction plans, but the home mission congregation is excited to begin worship in their new facility.


Divine Savior Lutheran Church – Liberty Hill, Tex.

On May 18, 2019, Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Liberty Hill, Tex., broke ground on their new worship facility and school. Divine Savior Ministries currently operates a multi-site ministry with five church locations, three in Florida and two in Texas. Divine Savior in Liberty Hill has partnered with the master developer of Santa Rita Ranch, a new housing development in the community, to secure land. This developer has been a valuable partner in bringing a Christian school to Santa Rita, surprising everyone by donating the land for the school and partnering with Divine Savior through their marketing support. They pray to open their doors for worship and their future school in August 2020.


Grace Lutheran Church – Sahuarita, Ariz.

Home mission congregation Grace Lutheran Church of the greater Tucson, Ariz., area is a multi-site ministry, meaning they have one church in four separate locations. In 2014, Grace merged with Peace Lutheran Church in the city of Sahuarita. They are now planning to build a new sanctuary and child learning center with assistance from WELS Church Extension Fund, who is providing a loan and matching land and facility grants totaling approximately $550,000. On June 9, 2019, Grace broke ground on their fourth and newest facility.


WELS Church Extension Fund (CEF) helps provide financing so home mission congregations and established congregations with mission-focused initiatives can purchase land and either build or renovate a worship facility. CEF funds its loan program through individual WELS members’ and congregations’ investments in CEF financial products. CEF’s grant program is funded primarily through operating earnings of the CEF portfolio of loans and investments. To learn more about how you can support Home Missions by investing through CEF, visit wels.net/cef.

Please keep these and all of our home mission congregations in your prayers as they continue to share the pure message of the gospel with more people in their communities. To stay connected with these and the other 126 home mission congregations scattered throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, follow WELS Missions on Facebook at fb.com/WELSMissions.

 

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God’s eternal dwelling place

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive future updates directly in your inbox, visit oneafricateam.com. “Like” the One Africa Team on Facebook at fb.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS


Come along with me. . .

I’m weaving through villages and fields, traipsing down narrow foot paths and trudging through muck. I’m jumping over mud puddles and broken bricks. I’m skirting around fallen walls, bent roofing sheets and twisted trusses. I’m stepping over soggy blankets and dirty clothes.

Malawi 2015 revisited. What happened? A deluge of rain: rivers overflowed, Maize fields flattened, Bridges demolished, Roads cratered.

Different year, different people, different location, same result: devastation.

Rains are a double-edged sword. Just enough and wells fill, fields drink, crops grow and the land produces.Too much and houses collapse leaving them useless; pit latrines overflow rendering them a danger. It all happened in Malawi.

Again.

People are reminiscing that this same thing happened just four years ago. The Malawi 2018/2019 wet season had a great start. A great balance of rain and sunshine. Crops were looking good.  Tobacco. Maize. Groundnuts. Farmers were ecstatic!

It’s going to be a bountiful harvest! We can sell our cash crops, our granaries will be full, we will harvest plenty to eat good, our bellies satisfied. . . no hunger this year!

Then came the March 6, 2019. Ash Wednesday arrived, and so did another rain. Well, not just another rain, but a downpour. The heavens opened. Water fell by the bucket. Cats and Dogs. Didn’t let up for 3 solid days. This time the land and the areas most affected are quite flat so the water didn’t have a natural run off. When rains fall that rapidly and that powerfully, mud houses just don’t stand a chance against such force and pressure of water. The torrent was enough to bring down the roof.

It did.

LCCA-Malawi member’s home destroyed by flooding

Many houses were destroyed. Families are displaced. Women and children are sleeping in church buildings. Husbands and fathers are staying in any manageable place that they can find in what is left of their houses. A makeshift shelter. A tiny covered corner of a room. Some are sleeping under the stars. All who are affected are trying to pick up the proverbial pieces. And lurking right around the corner? Disease. It’s what happens when outhouses collapse and the holes brim over. It’s a stream you don’t want to be near. But there is a stream you do. A river actually. A river of living water.

“Though the earth give way. . . though its waters roar and foam. . . there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” (Psalm 46:2-3)

The one who wrote those words also wrote these: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) 

To the people who are sitting in the rubble, asking themselves questions and trying to make sense of it all, the pastors in the Lutheran Church have been able to bring this kind of message: God indeed is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Though many people have many questions, there’s another question that rises above all the others. It stands tall and strong like a beacon in the storm:

“Who or what can separate us from the love of Christ?” We know what is written in Romans 8:35. A bunch more questions that answer that first one. (If you’re not sure, check it out). But what about the questions on the minds of the homeless people in Malawi who are wondering how they are going to start over and rebuild?

What can separate them from God’s love? Rains? Floods? Unusable toilets? Obliterated fields? Collapsed houses? Lost property? Can these things remove God from their world of broken walls and caved-in roofs?

NO.

Paul, what do you mean, “NO”?  Tell us more!

“NO, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. None of these things shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

Ah, yes. Good words, Paul. The people need to hear those words. So do I. . . when things in my own life collapse! You, too? For three days we surveyed the destruction and assessed the damage. So much rain, so much ruin. With such incalculable devastation I could only imagine incredible loss. What I didn’t imagine–or even think about–was the incredible gain.

Incredible gain? 

Members from the LCCA-Malawi rejoice in their Lord

As the people shared their stories, I noticed that they had gained something: a new appreciation for the goodness of the Lord. A renewed indebtedness to the grace of God. Gratitude for something bigger than earthly comfort. Heavenly blessings! When we arrived, they not only spoke of the rains that came down from heaven but of the promises of God that do, too! They shared with us how God spared them, protected them and saved them. We paused here for a prayer. Sat there for a devotion. Spent time with the families in meditation and thankfulness. We were invited to so many places we didn’t have time for everyone. We brought our phone cameras, but took more than pictures and videos.

We took heart! (The people encouraged us!)
We took assurance! (The presence of problems doesn’t mean the absence of God!)
We took with us a renewed sense of joy! (Our Lutheran members know the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus despite the trials that come)

After seeing one collapsed house after another, what falls like rain upon my heart are the words of Moses: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. . . from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:1,2)  Like Paul said, “. . . we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1) His is a house that will never fall. The roof won’t leak and the walls won’t collapse. The foundation is strong and the rooms are safe.

Meanwhile, here on earth, whether in Malawi or the USA or somewhere in-between, we groan and are burdened. All creation, too. Apparently, that includes the rains. And the mud from which many houses are built. But we look forward to a time when all those in Christ Jesus we will be safe and secure in . . .

God’s Eternal Dwelling Place.

Your Malawi Mission Partner,

Missionary John Holtz


Dear Mission Partners,

Maybe you know and maybe you don’t, but our beloved WELS is showing faith in action by getting involved with both prayer support and financial aid.

The Lutheran Church of Central Africa–Malawi Synod (LCCA), the WELS Board for World Missions, and WELS Christian Aid and Relief (CAR) have been working hard at evaluating the immediate needs of those in our Lutheran congregations who are greatly affected by the floods, especially in the southern region of Malawi. (It was the southern region that was affected in 2015, too). Through funds made available through CAR, the LCCA members affected by the floods will receive some much-needed practical items. Things like buckets for clean water, blankets for warmth, and plastic sheeting for temporary roofing can meet immediate needs. A church building that has collapsed can be rebuilt.

Your Africa Missions team would like to encourage anyone whose heart is moved to give a gift to help people in need (due to flooding or other disaster) to please donate to WELS Christian Aid & Relief. 

 

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A Devotional Thought: Freedom

By Pastor Darren Green, Prison Committee Chairman

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free.”
Luke 4:18 (NIV)

Freedom! It is a word that describes all kinds of situations, cherished liberties, and emotions. However, the freedom we find in Jesus is one of the greatest gifts our God brings to us. Jesus came “to proclaim good news.” Guilt is one of the heaviest burdens that humans carry. I think of Doug, a man oppressed by his past. He had done his time and put his life together. Yet, as we talked about standing before God, Doug was troubled. I got the impression of him dragging a ball and chain of guilt along through his life. As we looked at Jesus’ words and promises, the good news, namely that Jesus came to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and “set the oppressed free,” became clear to Doug. His burden was lifted. With a smile on his face and a tingle up his spine, Doug heard Jesus free him and give him the peace that he needed. It almost seemed like Doug was floating on air. It gave me a renewed appreciation of the peace that only our Lord can give.

Take note of how often God speaks of taking away our guilt. The Lord said to Isaiah, “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for”(Isaiah 6:7). As you read Psalm 32, you can hear David’s struggle following his sin of adultery and murder. He bottled it up inside and it about destroyed him. After the Lord sought David out through Nathan, David breaths this freedom he finds from God: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

What a compassionate and loving God we have that reaches down to us to make sure we hear that not only are our sins forgiven, but the guilt taken away. What a privilege we have to lead those imprisoned by their guilt to hear the voice of Jesus our Lord. Tell them they are freed in him! It is God’s Word and so God is speaking! Our God, the one we must stand before in judgment, says, “FREE!” The same Jesus that lived among us saw the oppression that sin and guilt brings. He desires that we live free as “new creations” and “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:17).