2020 is a great year

What? How can you say that? Virus fears. Civil unrest. Violence. Economic uncertainty. Lost celebrations. And the list goes on. But what if we view this year through the eyes of faith? Consider Old Testament Joseph. After being sold into slavery by his older brothers and later spending years in prison on a false charge, he could still forgive his brothers because he saw that “You [his brothers] intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20, NIV84. Note how Joseph praises God not for the good that came to him personally, though surely Joseph was thankful for that, but for the good that came to others through his suffering.

Can we adopt that same attitude? With the Spirit’s help, absolutely. In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul encourages us to have the same attitude as Jesus, whose suffering accomplished the greatest good of all, the rescue of the world from guilt for an eternity of untainted joy. And as Paul encouraged the Roman Christians, so he encourages us: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28, NIV84 Note that the good God is working for in “all things,” even bad things, may be someone else’s good, not ours. Our patient, even cheerful endurance of painful trials may give us an opportunity to give a reason for the hope that we have. God can use that testimony to lead others to place their trust in Jesus.

So, what does all this mean for prison ministry in 2020? Let’s see it as an opportunity rather than a disaster. God is already in every one of our tomorrows and knows exactly what good he is doing through all of this. Let’s redouble our efforts to reach God’s lost sheep with our prayers, our volunteer time, and our financial gifts. Here are three encouragements to do so.

First, thanks to the extra efforts of our New Ulm Mailing Center staff and volunteers, we’ve been able to maintain our ministry-by-mail efforts safely (Bible study booklets and pen pal letters) with little adverse impact from the measures implemented to combat the pandemic. God’s Word continues to go where he sends it and is not returning empty.

Second, the Prison Ministry Committee authorized an outreach effort to reconnect with thousands of facilities that have not recently submitted book orders or tests. In this time of limited personal visits to inmates, we wanted to offer our ministry-by-mail as an alternate way to encourage and support inmates. We pray God richly blesses this effort, which would generate a much greater need for test corrector and pen pal volunteers, as well as booklet inventory replacement.

Finally, amid the anxiety around us, let us celebrate the joy that both giver and receiver of our ministry efforts experience. That joy is clearly captured in an inmate’s poem based on the widow’s gift at the temple (Luke 21:1-4):

With Willing Heart
As poor widow of long ago
Gave all to do your work;
So too open my heart dear Lord,
Willing to give and to serve.
Make my heart always generous,
Noble as hers that day;
Trusting fully in your promise,
Every need taken care.
As I receive your blessings,
Let first be given to you;
Not with grudging heart,
But with joy unmeasured.
(Inmate Lawrence Palubecki)

 

 

 

 

Reaching out instead of pulling back

Paul reminds Timothy (and us): “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” We really need that encouragement these days, as do those we serve. It is in this spirit that the Prison Ministry Committee authorized a significant outreach effort to offer our Bible correspondence self-study booklets to over 2,000 correctional facilities because of the interruption in personal visits. Here are some quick facts about the effort and steps you can take to further the effort.

  • We mailed a sample booklet and a brochure to the chaplain, activity director, or program coordinator describing our booklets and inviting them to order free copies for the inmates at their institution. We chose the booklet “A Broken-hearted Father” based on Jesus’ story of the prodigal son as a great example of God’s overwhelming love for his lost children.
  • Our mailing list consisted of facilities with which we have had interaction in the past. Over 75 percent of the facilities we sent a mailing to have not received booklets in over two years. The breakdown is as follows:
    • County Jail/Detention Center – 955
    • State Correctional Facility – 1044
    • Federal Correctional Facility – 111
    • Immigration and Customs Enforcement
    • Facility – 22
    • Youth/Juvenile Offender Facility – 46
  • Please pray that the mailing will find receptive staff members at the facilities, that many books will be ordered, that many tests will be returned, but most importantly, that many souls will be touched by the gospel and faith created or strengthened.
  • Consider giving a gift that will help us print many more booklets so we can fill the orders with which God blesses us.

 

 

 

Finding alternatives for jail or prison visitors

During the current pandemic, personal visits to share the gospel with inmates are severely restricted or prohibited altogether. Individuals and groups that previously visited these lost sheep in person may seek alternatives, such as:

  • Supply Bible self-study books – Consider contacting the chaplain, activity director, or program coordinator for the facilities you normally visit and encouraging the use of WELS Prison Ministry booklets. Download an order form and send it to the corrections official.
  • Replace in-person visits with video visits – Trained jail visitors may explore whether the facility you serve has either onsite or remote video visits for individual inmates.
  • Replace in-person visits with other communication – Electronically delivered devotions from WELS Prison Ministry or our partner Institutional Ministries are available to some inmates.

If you wish to explore these alternatives further or share other ideas, contact Administrator Dave Hochmuth at dave.hochmuth@wels.net or 414-256-3243.

 

 

 

Quotes from inmates – Summer 2020

When I came to jail 18 months ago I was lost. While I still find myself struggling with my faith, believing in Jesus…has really done something. I’ve seen my prayers get answered. It’s been life changing. – LeeAnna

That [study] hit home for me! For 30 years I have been trying to know if I could be forgiven and WOW here it is! Thank you! I needed this study most. God Bless you all!! I will be keeping this study to take home. Love your studies. Keep them going. – Earl

I enjoyed the reading from start to finish. My first one. I am hungry for more of these lessons. Very easy to understand and even though the lessons were short and quick, it was big on knowledge about God. I want more! Thank you so much for this lesson! 🙂 – Cynthia

…the mentors/graders have been a huge blessing of positive encouragement and I truly am thankful for every one that continues to be that kind of positive example of how a Christian should be. – Martin

 

 

Pen Pal Pipeline – Summer 2020

We love to hear that upon release, there are inmates who would like to attend a WELS church, if possible. Occasionally they will be located too far away to attend a WELS or ELS church in person, but other times, there is one close by they can attend. It’s great that these inmates have connected with our church body and the message we bring—that they are forgiven through the blood of Jesus!

When pen pals have connected with inmates through letters, it’s not uncommon that an inmate will share in a letter that they would like to attend a WELS church upon their release. We ask that if your inmate pen pal shares this with you, please send that information to us so we can make a connection between the inmate and the pastor of the church. Our Reaching Behind the Bars Volunteer Guidelines state: “When you hear that your inmate will be released, contact the WELS Prison Ministry office. We will refer him or her to the closest WELS or ELS congregation. Please do not make referrals yourself.” We make this request so that we can better follow up with the inmate and congregation and ensure that the inmate gets both spiritual and practical support while reentering society.

 

 

 

Three ways to support our ministry

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: bless our outreach mailing and allow us to touch many more souls; move God’s people to support this ministry in this difficult time, especially when God’s blessing leads to a greater demand for booklets.

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, call 414-256-3243 or send an e-mail to dave.hochmuth@wels.net.

Give – We thank our Lord and you for your helpful special offerings to Prison Ministry which support our efforts to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration!

  • To provide additional gifts for Christ’s work through Prison Ministry:
    WELS, Attn. Gift Processing
    N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
    Waukesha, WI, 53188
    (Make checks payable to WELS and list
    Prison Ministry in the memo line.)
  • Donate online at wels.net/donate-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.
  • Direct your Thrivent Choice dollars (if you are a Thrivent member) to WELS Prison Ministry. Contact Thrivent Member Care Services at 800-847-4836 for assistance. Your 2020 designation is due by March 31, 2021.

 

 

 

What Does A Parish Nurse Do?

Parish nursing is the opportunity for nurses to use their skills to promote both physical and spiritual wellness in their congregation. Parish nurses can help their church share God’s love among those with special needs related to health.

What would parish nursing look like at your church? It depends! Each parish nurse program is unique.

Do you have a lot of young people with families? Maybe your program would include visiting new moms at home, asking questions about how they are handling the emotions and responsibility involved with a new child, and lending a listening ear and advice for the trials of fatigue, worries, and stress of parenthood.

Is there a preschool or grade school? You could give presentations on health for each of the classrooms and conduct height, weight, and vision screenings. You could volunteer your time to be at the school to assist with children feeling ill, nose bleeds, and other bumps and bruises from the playground.

Do you have someone who was just diagnosed with breast cancer? Maybe your program would involve lining up volunteers to drive the individual to her chemo or radiation appointments, bring her meals, and send her words of encouragement in cards and letters.

Maybe your church has multiple veterans who are struggling to fit back into normal society and are dealing with guilt over surviving a deployment that took the life of their friends. Perhaps your program could become familiar with a Lutheran resource that you can point these young men and women to that can help them with counseling, support, and purpose found only in the Bible.

Perhaps you have many elderly members who are no longer able to come to worship on Sunday morning, which leaves them feeling distant from the church, questioning their faith, and depressed with their condition. Your program could include visiting these members weekly, discussing their health, sharing God’s Word, and keeping them informed on what is happening at church.

For some churches, this list will make a parish nurse ask “How will I fit it all in?” I recommend that you start small. With the help of your pastor and elders, identify one individual or group to start with and slowly grow your program as you are able. On the other hand, I have had pastors and nurses tell me they used to have a parish nurse program, but there was not enough interest or need to keep it going. The amount of time a parish nurse program will require will vary from church to church. If you are feeling unsure on how to proceed with a program, I offer the same advice: take a step back and look at your congregation with your pastor and elders. Identify a single person or group of people and focus on them. Maybe your program will only require a few hours a month, but that is ok! For most nurses, parish nursing is a volunteer program rather than a full-time commitment.

If you are interested in learning more about parish nursing, please visit our website: www.welsnurses.net. There you will find step-by-step instructions on how to start a parish nurse program as well as many resources for you to use and ideas to keep you going. We also encourage you to complete an online parish nurse course offered by Wisconsin Lutheran College. If you would like any more information about parish nursing or the online course, please e-mail us at welsnurses@wels.net.  We are here to support and encourage you as you serve the body of Christ.

Allison Spaude currently serves as the Communications Coordinator for the WELS Nurses Association. She works in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois.

 

 

 

What Do I Say When… My Patient Tells Me They’re Afraid to Die?

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say. You feel that way as a nurse. I feel that way as a pastor. God puts us in situations in which we can see the opportunity to point someone to Jesus, but it’s hard to know what to say. I’d like to share some thoughts with you on “What do I say when…”

Let’s start with this: “What do I say when my patient tells me they’re afraid to die.” You as a nurse, unlike most of us, have the unique opportunity to serve people facing death. As Christians, this is what life is really all about. Life is about getting ready to die with faith in Jesus so that we can live with Jesus in heaven. I hope you see how special your profession is. We need Christians serving people facing death!

But that doesn’t make it easy to know what to say. Maybe think of this three-step pattern: Listen – Validate – Share. First, listen. If a patient opens up to you and shares that they’re afraid to die, take a moment to listen to them. Ask, “What about death makes you most afraid?” or “Tell me a little more about how you’re feeling.” You nurses are used to asking patients lots of questions. Let your patient describe their feelings more. Are they afraid of suffering before they die? Are they afraid of where they’ll go after they die? Listening to them will make you more prepared to answer their fears.

Once you’ve showed your compassion by listening, validate their fears. It’s very natural for people to be afraid of death. We weren’t supposed to die. Death—no matter how it happens—is the unnatural ripping apart of souls from bodies. It often includes a lot of pain and suffering. It’s okay to validate your patient’s concerns about death. “I know it’s really hard to think about death. It seems so scary and unnatural to everyone. You’re not the only one who’s shared these fears with me.”

Then, share the hope that Jesus gives you. Memorize a couple Bible passages to share at a moment’s notice. It might sound something like this, “I’ve always liked how the Bible says, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me’ (Psalm 23:4). I believe in God, and it gives me a lot of comfort to know that God is always with me. He’s with you too! Can I tell you what gives me hope as a Christian? Jesus once said, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). Doesn’t that sound great? God loves every person in the world—including you and me—and he sent Jesus to save us and give us eternal life. In fact, Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies’ (John 11:25). Even though death is hard and scary, whoever believes in Jesus gets to live in heaven with Jesus. How does that sound? Would you like me to have a chaplain come and talk with you more?” Listen, validate, and then share your hope in Jesus!

You might be surprised at how much comfort a couple short Bible passages can bring to a dying person. God’s Word works! May God bless you as you serve those who walk through the shadow of death.

Rev. Nathan Nass currently serves at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Green Bay, WI.

 

 

 

Slowing the Spread of the Virus, Not the Gospel

As a nurse, you’re used to washing your hands many times a day, perhaps several times an hour. The combination of soap, scrubbing, and water produces a preventative measure against the spread of diseases, like the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

Yet, for millions of people living in rural Malawi, Indonesia, South Sudanese refugee camps, and beyond, handwashing takes much longer than 20 seconds.

Water doesn’t just flow from the tap in the bathroom, it must be collected. Soap can’t be bought at a local Target. And even where clean water and soap are available, knowledge of hygiene and sanitation best practices is limited.

When COVID-19 began to stretch its fingers across the world, Kingdom Workers recognized that God had uniquely prepared us to provide communities around the world with WASH training (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene). We quickly pivoted several existing programs to focus on WASH with the goal of supplying communities with materials, education, and Christian counsel before borders closed, stay-at-home orders were enacted, and travel became restricted.

Kingdom Workers was prepared to pivot thanks to our previously established clean water initiatives, and our experience with WASH training in the South Sudanese refugee camps. Using this knowledge, we developed a customized plan according to the challenges of each region.

In the refugee camps, health and safety restrictions made a journey into town for supplies more difficult. Our local lead team determined how and where to distribute aid across multiple camps and settlements. Together with local area pastors they distributed 4,840 units of soap, 16 handwashing stations, and have served nearly 3,000 people.

Pastors in Malawi mobilized to set up handwashing stations at busy bus stops and outside of churches. We also worked with Tiyamike Sewing Malawi, a local non-profit organization which provides skills training to women, to develop educational diagrams about safely collecting water from boreholes. Boreholes are traditionally a place of social gathering where many people touch the same pump and individuals can stand in line for up to three hours waiting to gather water. To date, over 17,000 people have received COVID-19 prevention education.

In Indonesia, 580 face masks and 274 bars of soap were provided to community members in remote villages where health clinics are miles away and reputable health knowledge is scarce. Picture-based handwashing diagrams were also distributed to churches so that those not able to read can understand how to wash their hands effectively.

God has worked through the efforts of our local volunteers, donors, and staff to slow the spread of the virus, but not the gospel. Donors Steve and Paula share why this work is so important, “God has placed other souls, just as dear to him, all around the world and we are compelled to love and assist them however we can.” While we do whatever it takes to connect communities to Christ, we find strength in knowing that God is stronger than any pandemic, and that he is working through all of us for his glory.

You can learn more about our efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 here.

 

 

 

“Don’t Run Away From the Lord”

The first time I met “Darren” at the jail our conversation was brief. I introduced myself as Chaplain Brown. He gave me his name and that was about it. I had trouble understanding him because he had been shot in the neck and his voice was weak. I said, “God bless your day and see you next Wednesday.”

The next few weeks every time I went past his bed, Darren was sleeping. His blanket was pulled over his head, which was the norm for prisoners trying to sleep in the brightly lit room. A few times I caught Darren in the middle of a meal as he or a nurse were pouring liquid nutrition into his feeding tube. After his gunshot wound he could no longer swallow. Everything went through that tube.

I looked for Darren weekly and eventually our conversations got longer and centered on Jesus and all he said and did for us. Darren confessed his trust in Jesus and his interest in the Bible grew, especially Bible history. Moses, Joshua, and David intrigued him. One day I gave Darren a Bible study on the book of Jonah. He told me he would answer the questions and we would talk about it the next week.

The next week we went through the story and came to the question that read, “Have you ever run away from God the way Jonah did?” He answered “yes” and I asked him to tell about it, expecting to hear a little about what landed him jail. Instead, he told me how he used to see me coming and knew that I would talk to him about God’s Word, so he pulled his blanket over his head and pretended he was sleeping. That was his way of running away from the Lord. We both had a good laugh and then he assured me that he is not running any longer.

There are still times that I get to the jail and Darren is sleeping, but he is no longer running away. When he is awake, we talk about God’s Word. We laugh when I talk about what I am having for lunch while he gets liquids. We talk about heaven and being able to enjoy the best of meats and the finest of wines (Isaiah 25).

And now, he is quick to pull other inmates into our conversations or direct me to others who need to hear God’s Word. Like Jonah, this reluctant inmate has now become God’s missionary in the jail. He is not running away from the Lord, he is running in the paths of his commands because he knows God has set his heart free.

Pastor Matt Brown, Chaplain at the Harris County Jail, Houston, Tex.

 

 

Book Review: The Executioner’s Redemption

Author Timothy Carter, now a pastor for the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, documents his fascinating journey from a confused, self-righteous, often violent correctional officer to a redeemed child of God who struggled with how to serve his Savior in a challenging environment. Along the way, Tim served on the Texas “death squad,” personally filling various roles during more than 150 executions by lethal injection.

Seeking a way to pay for his college expenses, Tim Carter began working as a correctional officer in Huntsville, Tex. He often experienced various conflicting influences in this antagonistic environment. While believing he was a part of the war against evil criminals and an agent of God’s wrath, Carter used physical force and hate to help maintain order. Then the moment arrived when he considered what he had become, and he didn’t like it. Dr. Beto, a criminology professor at Sam Houston State University, advised him to consider the words of Jesus found in Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Over the next two decades, Carter sought ways to implement these words by dying to self and walking humbly before the Lord.

After being appointed to the death squad, he carefully considered how inmates, victims, and the families of both were affected by the suffering caused by sin and evil in the world. Moreover, Carter grappled with his own uncertainties regarding God’s will for government executions. A spiritual struggle of justice versus mercy followed. Carter realized that he couldn’t fix troubled people, but God could. He witnessed this firsthand with an inmate named Karla Faye Tucker, who spent time on death row after committing an extremely brutal double murder. When she first entered the prison, she was unrepentant, manipulative, and defiant. However, after the gospel permeated her heart, she became one of God’s sheep. The peace of God emanated from her countenance before, during, and after her execution. Her life and example left a lasting impression on Carter and many others.

During his years on the death squad, Carter witnessed many profound spiritual battles where the devil sought to destroy lives created by God. He observed death row prisoners cling to God’s promises after prison ministry volunteers visited and shared Scripture with them. The patience and love these volunteers showed for the condemned prompted Carter to reexamine his role in the lives of those with whom he came into contact. He realized not only was he an agent of protection, but he was a conduit for God’s love. By praying for the condemned, the victims, and their families during the execution proceedings, God used Carter to convey his peace. He came to understand that sin is the problem. Jesus is the answer. When particularly difficult circumstances arose, he drew the conclusion that things went awry if he focused on his own authority and on the earthly kingdom. However, when he focused on Jesus’ authority and his kingdom, circumstances fell into line as they should.

After ending his career as one who wielded the sword of the state, Timothy Carter wrestled with the idea of becoming one who wielded the sword of the spirit. After attending and completing seminary studies, he was called as the Care Ministry Pastor in his home congregation of Tomball, Tex., where he ministers to individuals in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice care. In addition, he frequently visits the incarcerated from his own congregation. It is no coincidence that he serves those who are suffering or near death in his current career just as he did while employed at the penitentiary. While conducting one-on-one counseling in prisons, speaking at high schools and church youth gatherings, he relays experiences he encountered as a correctional officer, applying Scriptural truths. Believing the only answer to man’s broken relationship with God is faith in his son’s redeeming work on the cross, Carter hopes that many will join “to honor God’s provisions for protecting his sheep while loving the wolves.”

For any reader, Pastor Carter relates a journey first to faith and then in faith that clearly shows the power of God’s Word, both law and gospel. His struggle to live his faith and his recognition of how God was using him, even in seemingly small ways, encourage us to seek and act on those opportunities in our own lives. He provides vivid insight into prison life that will help any volunteer better understand the souls we seek to reach and their environment. Ultimately, the book is a powerful testimony to Christ’s saving love regardless of which side of the bars the soul is on.

 

 

 

Corrector’s Corner – Spring 2020

Volunteer test correctors are vital to our correspondence course ministry. Inmates submit about 10,000 tests for correction each year. More than 120 currently active correctors scattered all over the United States help us respond to each submitted test. If you’re interested in exploring this role, please contact our New Ulm office (pmsec@wels.net or 507-354-3130).

Thank you faithful test correctors, whether you have been correcting for many years or are just receiving your first packet. Please remember to:

  • Correct and return tests within two weeks. Returning corrected tests quickly helps us build trust with our “students.” Inmates are eager to receive their tests and completion certificates. We assure them that we have a process:
    • The same day we receive a test, the inmate is sent a new booklet and the test is sent to a corrector.
    • The Tuesday after we receive the test from the corrector, our in-house-volunteers hand-write certificates and mail them back to the inmate with their final corrected test.
  • Many inmates are moved without notice. Quickly returning the tests reduces the expense of returned tests/certificates and the time it takes to try to find inmates once they’ve been moved.
  • Contact our New Ulm office if you are on vacation or other commitments come up so we can put your name on hold.

 

 

 

Thanks . . . And pray for more of God’s blessings

WELS Prison Ministry operates on a fiscal year that runs from July to the following June. We’ve known this fiscal year would be challenging because the foundations that have generously supported us recently ($125,000 in the previous fiscal year) may provide much less or no grant funds this year. Yet God in his wisdom has found another way to supply some of our ministry needs. The WELS Ministry for Christian Giving allowed us to be the focus of their general appeal for financial support in December. This was timely because WELS Prison Ministry was also featured in the December edition of the WELS Connection video newsletter. As of the end of February, giving in response to this appeal has provided over $45,000 in gifts from brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank the Lord for what he provides through generous people like you.

Join us in fervent prayer for God to guide us to additional sources of support for this vital, fruitful, and joyful work. We are seeking ways to reach out to both new and existing givers, including individuals and foundations, to help support our work. If you know of any foundations or organizations that may be interested in helping us share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration, please pass that information on to Prison Ministry Administrator Dave Hochmuth at 414-256-3243 or dave.hochmuth@wels.net. If the Lord has blessed you recently and you would like to share a portion of those blessings with us, we would be humbly grateful for your support and trust.

  1. 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; send the Holy Spirit to bless the Word and the inmates who are reading it; bless our current efforts to train more volunteers for inmate visitation and mentoring.
  2. 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, call 414-256-3243 or e-mail dave.hochmuth@wels.net.
  3. Give – While the recent appeal from the WELS Ministry of Christian giving was helpful, needed ongoing support comes from people like you. To support our efforts to share Jesus:
  • 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.
  • Direct your Thrivent Choice dollars (if you are a Thrivent member) to WELS Prison Ministry. Contact Thrivent Member Care Services at 800-847-4836 for assistance. Your 2019 designation is due by March 31, 2020.

 

 

 

Compassion ministry seeks to include everyone

God made each of us with different strengths and weaknesses. But people with disabilities often find that others decide for them how they can and cannot participate in church life, even though they have as much interest in the work of the church as those who are fully abled. If we fail to include and accommodate people, both the church and the excluded person suffer. Consider the following tips about working together in the kingdom.

Don’t assume what someone can or cannot do

On first meeting someone, you don’t know what they can understand or do. Some people may struggle to express themselves, yet can understand your communication without difficulty. People who use wheelchairs may have above-average intelligence. People who are blind are not necessarily hard of hearing. Get to know that individual rather than make assumptions.

Put the person first

Our primary identity is as redeemed children of God, not blind, deaf, crippled, etc. Person-first language makes the person, not the disability, the subject. If the disability isn’t relevant, don’t mention it. If it is relevant, put the person first (e.g. “a person who uses a wheelchair” rather than “a handicapped person”). Fear stems from ignorance, so take a few minutes to learn from the person with a disability, rather than avoid them. A simple conversation can eliminate fear and foster a relationship in love.

Build a social ramp, not just a wheelchair ramp

Making the first friend is the hardest. Train individuals in your congregation to reach out and be that first friend to someone with a disability. Have them introduce other members to the newcomer, and model how to communicate with the person who has a disability. Consider how you can be a “social ramp” for someone who longs for friendship yet has a difficult time with social interactions.

Address barriers to seeing and hearing

Large-print bulletins and hymnals work well in traditional worship settings. Some churches now use tablet computers to display worship slides in a user-friendly manner and allow those with disabilities to follow song lyrics, sermon notes, liturgy, and even announcements.

A hearing loop linked to the church audio system can dramatically improve a person’s ability to hear. Sign-language interpreters can be employed locally or through online services.

“Let the little children come to me”

Children with disabilities often leave the church, along with their families, when a frustrated Sunday school teacher says, “I’m sorry—I just can’t do this anymore!” Give your teachers and youth leaders the resources they need to keep their classrooms welcoming for all students. Adding a second teacher to a classroom can make a world of difference.

Consider the whole family

Family members of persons with a disability face many extra stressors. Offering respite care for date nights, weekend getaways, or running errands shows sensitivity and love for the whole family.

Ask and listen

The best teaching resource we have may be the person in front of us. Ask questions like “What would you like to try doing that you haven’t been able to explore yet?” Then be prepared to follow through!

Helping more people than you first thought

Consider how “universal design” concepts can help you reach people in your community. Not everyone learns best by listening to a spoken message, and the same tools that can help a person with an intellectual disability participate more fully in worship may benefit others, such as people learning English as a second language.

Everybody belongs

Some people make involuntary noises or movements that others find distracting in worship. Church leaders can model an attitude that makes everyone feel welcome and comfortable. Many people with disabilities have meaningful contact only with family and paid caregivers. Rarely do they have opportunity to form lasting friendships. Could your small group ministry include people with disabilities?

Everybody wants to serve

All people can contribute actively with their gifts. Be intentional about asking what people with disabilities would like to offer, and be careful not to decide for someone what they cannot do. The person with disabilities, like any person, will know best their own abilities.

Larry Povinelli is a disability rights attorney. He worships at Lamb of God, an inclusive congregation in Madison, Ala.

For more resources on including people with disabilities, e-mail specialministries@wels.net or call 414-256-3241.

 

 

 

Failure is not possible

Our kids filed into the church pew and sat quietly through the whole service, hands in their laps. The elderly lady behind me leaned over to whisper a compliment: “Your kids are so well behaved!” They were that time…and that time only. In fact, it was a candlelight service and five of the six kids were sleeping. My wife and I laughed all the way home.

You see, we are not a discreet, unnoticeable, quiet, calm, sit-down dinner kind of household. We can’t possibly pass ourselves off as a typical family. I don’t like being the center of attention, yet it doesn’t seem to bother my kids. When I reflect on our blessings, I can’t help but think: this is God’s plan. What an honor that he chose me to have a large family, that he chose my wife to be my life-long companion, that he chose these kids to be part of our family. I dare not say, “Let me think this over first.”

I was at work when my wife called to excitedly announce that we were expecting twins. I was excited too, until she said, “One of them will be here tonight. On your way home from work you should stop and meet the other one at Children’s Hospital.” A typical wife gives her husband six-to-eight months’ notice when expecting a child. My wife gave me less than six hours.

Our now-adopted twins were suffering from severe neglect and were being removed from a foster home. My wife, without hesitation or consultation, decided to bring them into our home. She didn’t know their health conditions, or their background, or their legal status, or where they would sleep. She knew only that two children needed a home now. I am indescribably thankful for a wife who knows what needs to happen, takes action, and asks questions later.

Our nuclear family has been sewn together through adoption, foster care, biological children, and kinship care. We all proudly share the same last name. Our home is a blend of four biological families, three ethnicities, four toddlers, two elementary age kids, and three adults. Currently five people in our home have special needs. We utilize wheelchairs, feeding tubes, speech devices, orthotics, braces, accessible vehicles, oxygen concentrators, suction devices, incontinence supplies, and much more. Our kids are supported by a team of 17 doctors in 13 specialties. We average eight therapies and three doctor appointments each week.

If all that had been presented to me ten years ago, I would have been terrified of failure. But now I can tell you: God has blessed our family with adequate financial means, more-than-adequate access to medical equipment, and a well-trained team of doctors, nurses, and therapists. He has surrounded our family with love and provided unthinkable possibilities.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Failure is not an option.” But “option” suggests a personal ability to fail or succeed. Failure is not possible when we trust in our Savior. As Christ lay in the grave, it appeared to the world—and to his disciples—that he had failed. But his death and resurrection were all part of the plan, and God’s plan cannot fail.

Not every family or person is equipped to take on foster care or adoption. But God laid before us uncertainties that looked like options to fail, then turned them into successes for me and my family.

What possibilities has God laid at your feet?

Jeb Lucht and his wife Cindy are raising their remarkable family in Kewaskum, Wis. They are members at Good Shepherd, West Bend. He serves as chairman of WELS Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Ministry.

Find resources for those with special needs at wels.net/iddm.

 

 

 

Combat trauma support group demonstrates love

Leonard Ravenhill tells a story in The Last Day Newsletter about a group of tourists visiting a humble village. Passing an old man sitting beside a fence, a youth asked mockingly, “Hey mister, were any great men born in this village?” “Nope,” said the old man, silencing their snickers, “only babies.”

That’s how we all start out, but along the way we gain wisdom in how to appreciate other people and their life experiences, so that we might love them as best we can in Christ. After all, people are God’s true treasure. “For God so loved the people of the world …”

Learning how to best love and treasure soldiers affected by combat trauma or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a challenge we are embracing at Abiding Savior, Killeen, Texas. In addition to our gospel outreach to soldiers at nearby Fort Hood, we host a one-hour combat trauma support group on the first Thursday of each month.

Seven soldiers form the core of our group. They are grateful that we offer a meal before we meet. Breaking bread together gives these heroes time to open up and get to know our pastor and staff, and makes it easier to invite others.

Each session begins with a devotion. The group prays through selected psalms for faith-based optimism. Participants go home with a laminated verse to memorize and put into practice.

Next, we watch “Care and Counsel for Combat Trauma,” a series of DVDs from the American Association of Christian Counselors (available at crumilitary.org/store). An accompanying workbook, provided by our congregation, enables group members to earn a certificate by viewing all 30 videos and taking exams. Soldiers are not only finding relief for themselves but learning how to share relief with other sufferers.

Class members are free to interrupt a video at any point for discussion and sharing of concerns, fears, insights, and relief from the Word of God. Chaplain Dave Archer, a certified combat trauma counselor, is a great blessing to all who attend our sessions.

One lesson we have learned is that God gives us himself in the midst of “triggers.” A trigger happens when the past interrupts the present without apology, and often without warning. Soldiers testify that reaffirming Christ’s promise, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” truly brings relief amid the most horrifying triggers.

“Listening is loving” is the other insight that has especially been impressed upon us. Combat trauma victims often are not heard and find it hard to open up. Few things say “I love you” more to a soldier with PTSD than honest listening. Jesus, help us listen, listen to understand, listen with empathy, and listen to learn how to pray for the one sharing.

Achieving relational greatness—the ability to love and cherish people as God’s true treasure—is a gift of his grace. Growing to love and cherish those who have incurred unseen wounds is challenging. Please pray for our efforts to do so at Abiding Savior and for all who suffer from combat trauma.

Tim Soukup serves soldiers of our country and soldiers of the cross as pastor at Abiding Savior, Killeen.

 

 

 

Proposed changes to improve retirement benefits

The WELS Retirement Strategy Committee, a special committee appointed by the Synodical Council several years ago, has announced proposed changes to the WELS retirement program. It is proposed that the WELS Pension Plan be frozen and replaced with a defined contribution plan, wherein all eligible workers would receive contributions to their accounts in the WELS Shepherd Plan.

After an extensive and prayerful study of many options, these changes are recommended because the defined contribution plan will better support our workers and our overall ministry efforts than the current Pension Plan, as well as stabilize costs over time for sponsoring organizations. Here’s more:

How will the retirement program work if the proposed changes take effect?

The sponsoring organization for each worker in eligible service will send a quarterly retirement payment to the WELS Benefit Plans Office, similar to how Pension Plan payments are currently remitted. A contribution will be deposited into the defined contribution plan account—the WELS Shepherd Plan—of each eligible worker on a quarterly basis. The contributions to a worker’s defined contribution plan account will vest immediately at the time the contributions are deposited to the account.

What will happen to earned pension benefits?

Workers will not lose any earned benefits. After a worker’s WELS service ends, the Pension Plan will pay the benefit earned for service performed through Dec. 31, 2020. If a worker dies before he or she begins receiving his or her Pension Plan benefit, the surviving spouse will be able to receive surviving spouse benefits from the Pension Plan.

How much will be contributed to each worker’s defined contribution plan account?

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, all workers will receive a “base” contribution of $500 per quarter of eligible full-time service.

Workers who are age 44 or older on Jan. 1, 2021, will receive an “additional” contribution per quarter of eligible full-time service besides the base contribution. This is because contributions made to the defined contribution plan account of a worker who is closer to retirement do not have as much time to earn investment returns before the worker retires. Learn more about this at welsbpo.net.

How will contributions to the defined contribution plan accounts be invested?

A worker can choose his or her own fund(s) and/or portfolio from the options available in the defined contribution plan based on the worker’s personal goals. The account of a worker who does not make an investment election will be invested in the default investment option, which will be the target retirement date fund that most closely aligns with the worker’s projected retirement date based on the worker’s age.

Can workers or their sponsoring organization make additional contributions to the defined contribution plan?

Yes, workers can save and invest their own money, and organizations can make additional contributions on behalf of their workers.
Other advantages to workers include immediate vesting, control over investments, and various ways to take distributions. Unlike the pension plan, any assets remaining in the account would pass to beneficiaries upon the death of the worker and spouse.

How much will a sponsoring organization be billed per worker and how will those funds be used?

The quarterly “total retirement payment” charged in 2021 will be the same as the quarterly Pension Plan contribution rates in 2020. The amount needed to fund the contributions to workers’ defined contribution plan accounts will be submitted to the defined contribution plan. The remainder will be used to pay the frozen Pension Plan benefit obligations and the administrative expenses of both plans.

What are the next steps with regards to these proposed changes?

The proposed changes will be a significant topic on the agenda at each district convention in June 2020. A standard resolution will be provided for each district to review, discuss, and vote on during the convention. The plan is for a representative familiar with the proposed changes to attend each district convention. If each district approves the resolution with broad consensus, the proposed changes will likely be implemented on Jan. 1, 2021.

Learn more at welsbpo.net. There you will find a detailed FAQ, a video explaining the changes and the benefits, and a calculator to estimate benefits.

 

 

 

How God blessed me even in the storms of child abuse

It was all I ever knew. The screaming, the threats to harm me, the pain. My food intake was restricted. I was kept from the outside world. I believed all this was normal. I believed I was hopelessly wicked. I didn’t tell anyone. There wasn’t anyone to tell and no reason to ask for help. This was life as I knew it and if I wanted it to be good, I had to be a better person. That’s just the way it was.

Then my eyes were opened. I slowly learned that my life was not normal; in fact, it had been riddled with abuse. There was a scary world out there I hadn’t known. People acted very differently from what had been my normal. I was dumped into a culture totally foreign to mine.

The more time I spent with Christians, the more I learned that my life hadn’t been how God intended for a child to live. God never approved of the grudges held against me that made my soul burn with overwhelming guilt and terror at my sinfulness. God didn’t approve of the horrible abuses I suffered at the hands of my parent. I wasn’t the property of my parents, to do with as they saw fit. I was the dearly loved child of God.

God never willed this upbringing on me: one filled with emotional, verbal, physical, and spiritual abuse. The scars were numerous and deep. No, he hadn’t willed this life for me, but he allowed it to happen. Why did he allow it? That is a deep question that may never be entirely answered, but I have seen the good he brought out of the awful mess of my childhood.

Would I have the faith I have now, if I hadn’t had to wrestle with pain and fear? Would I have the great hunger for God’s Word if I hadn’t been deprived of the truth for so long? What about my appreciation for forgiveness? Would I take it for granted if it hadn’t been withheld from me for so long and in such painful ways? I don’t know.

Certainly there are many who knew the truth their whole lives and cling to it with great strength. I have examples of that in some good friends of mine, but some people fall away after growing up in the Word. I know that I see God’s grace and forgiveness as precious blessings after feeling I was without them for so long.

Then there’s the understanding I gained from my past that I wouldn’t have if I had been raised in a God-pleasing way. I understand abuse survivors. I have received a gift of extreme empathy from my struggles that drives me to help hurting people. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Do I wish I hadn’t been abused? Do I wish I had a normal upbringing? There are times I think about what it would have been like to grow up without abuse. I still have difficult struggles because of what I endured. Life would be much easier if I didn’t have these struggles. While it never should have happened, I gained too many blessings through the abuse to wish I had never had this experience. My empathy for others, my faith that grew through my trials, and other great blessings came from what I went through.

If God gave me a choice to go back and either relive the awful abuse I went through and have a strong faith, or live a normal, carefree childhood and fall away from God, I would choose to go through the abuse all over again. God knew what he was doing in allowing me to endure abuse. I’m honored he chose me.

Due to the sensitive nature of this article, the author’s name has been withheld.

Freedom for the Captives is a ministry that equips the Body of Christ to protect children and empower abuse survivors. The website is freedomforcaptives.com.

 

 

 

What do I say to a sexual assault survivor?

Sexual assault terrifies those who have been victimized, leaving them frightened, depressed, ashamed, confused, and angry. Survivors are impacted sexually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I have ministered to women and men, young and old, who have experienced this type of life-changing trauma.

Here are some suggestions for pastors (and others) who want to say and do the right things for someone whose safety and dignity have been violated in this way.

  • Pray with—and for—the survivor. Ask what they would like you to pray for. After you have spoken to God on their behalf, tell them you have done so.
  • Use Scripture to proclaim God’s comfort and encouragement, such as Psalm 34:18-19: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”
  • If the event is very recent, addressing safety and other immediate needs are top priorities. If the victim is a minor, comply with laws pertaining to mandatory reporting of child abuse. If the victim is an adult, provide information about facilities that specialize in treating such trauma. (Contact a Christian counseling agency, domestic violence shelter, or law enforcement to learn what resources are available in your community.) Offer support as the adult survivor decides whether they want to contact law enforcement. Help them to develop safety plans. Respect their decisions. They are likely feeling quite powerless, so it is important to empower them to make their own choices whenever possible.
  • The ministry of simply being present is powerful. For many survivors, trust has been shattered. A pastor can be a source of comfort and offer hope that trust can be rebuilt with others. However, be sensitive. If a male committed the assault, the survivor may not feel at ease with another male, not even a pastor. Be very thoughtful about any physical contact: a hand on a shoulder, a hug, or even a handshake may not be well received at such a time.
  • Empathetic listening is key. You don’t need to have all the answers. Responses don’t need to be eloquent. Gentle, loving affirmation and validation is often what is desired most.
  • Not every sexual assault survivor will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but some will. Encourage the survivor to seek, or help them find, Christian counseling with a mental health professional who has specialized training and experience in providing trauma-informed care.

Many survivors report that they have never heard their pastor address sexual assault in a sermon or Bible study. Imagine that you had been violated in this way. What a balm for your aching heart and mind and spirit to hear your pastor talk about how God hates abuse, how he is a God of justice, and how he is close to the brokenhearted!

May God bless your efforts to bring hope and help to sexual assault survivors.

Sheryl Cowling is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Board-Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress, and Board-Certified Professional Christian Counselor. She provides counseling services at WLCFS – Christian Family Solutions in Germantown, Wis. Her church home is Crown of Life, Hubertus.

 

 

 

Lovin’ the loop!

When I arrived in Greenville, Wis., in 2015, I was taken aback by Immanuel’s new worship facility. How could such a beautiful building be lacking anything?

But if the beautiful message proclaimed there cannot be clearly heard by everyone, there is definitely something missing.

At the time of construction in 2010, Immanuel’s leaders considered installing a hearing loop. The estimated cost of $20,000 caused it to be trimmed from the budget, along with many other “frills.”

At first, I knew little about hearing loops. But a month after I joined the staff as technology director, Les, one of our members, asked if there was anything I could do about the sound during worship. He was not able to hear the sermon very well and he really needed something done. We conferred frequently about possible solutions.

I began to research hearing loops and the dramatic difference they make for the hard of hearing. A local AV vendor quoted us a cost of $35,000 because post-construction installation would be more difficult. Sadly, I informed Les that the cost was prohibitive, but I would investigate other fixes. Les was hopeful.

A company called AudioFetch said they could help for much less. AudioFetch uses wi-fi to send the audio from your system. The user downloads the app on their phone and connects with the signal to hear the system. I was excited to get Les hooked up. But we discovered that older phones connect at a much slower speed. That resulted in a delay between the sound leaving the minister’s mouth and reaching the user’s ears. (Think of when the words and lips of a character on screen are not synchronized.)

A second issue: the user has to connect their phone and their hearing aids either by using headphones (nobody likes that) or by using Bluetooth. So the wi-fi signal reaches your phone with a small delay, then uses Bluetooth to connect to your hearing aids. The cost of $1000 was much more palatable, but after many attempts, we could never get it to work easily for Les.

In 2018 a new building project got underway to connect our school with our new church via a large hall, classrooms, kitchen, etc. I made sure to include a hearing loop in the budget. It was approved, installed, and works great!

Since vendors were now knocking at my door, I had them estimate the cost to loop the church. A bid of $11,000 was okayed by our leadership, and it was installed in September 2019. A buzz in the line, caused by older lighting fixtures, was addressed and we now have a hearing loop that works as advertised.

Our members who use the new system are giving me many thumbs up because they can hear what they came to hear. Now the beautiful message of the gospel is being heard clearly in our beautiful building, bringing beautiful results in the lives of God’s people.

Mark Meyer tries to stay on the cutting edge of technology that fits into his ministry. He has a Masters in Technology in Education from Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn.

To learn more about hearing loops, contact Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at mdhh@wels.net or go to csm.welsrc.net/mdhh.

 

 

 

Share the gospel with captions

“Could you please add captions?”

If you have published any videos online, you may have seen this question in the comments. Many churches are posting sermons, church services, or devotional videos to their websites and apps.

This is a great way to spread the gospel. But without captions, it can also be a way to alienate deaf and hard of hearing people who need to hear the message of Christ’s forgiveness.

After WELS Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MDHH) received that comment on some videos we shared last year, we decided that any content we post will be captioned. The committee is also committed to assisting others in the synod with captioning their content.

“Why should I add captions?”

  • Deaf people will have access to the gospel.
  • Hard of hearing people can more easily hear the Word of God.
  • People learning English can more easily follow the message.
  • Captions increase watch time, especially on Facebook. Many people don’t turn on the sound for videos anymore, and will quickly scroll past a video they can’t understand without sound. If there are captions, users are more likely to watch longer and receive more of the message.

“Okay. I get it. I should add captions. But I don’t know how.”

Thankfully, it’s become much easier, and there are many tools to help.

  • Use auto-generated captions. Both YouTube and Facebook have tools to create automatic captions. These are not always accurate, but are better than nothing, especially if the speaker is clear.
  • Write your own. Both YouTube and Facebook have a built-in editor where you can type in your own captions fairly easily. You can then download the file to upload it in other places (if you post your video to both Facebook and Vimeo, for example).
  • Use a captioning service. Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has been using Rev.com for the last few months with great success. The captions cost $1.25 per minute of video, have a fast turn-around (24 hours or less), and are high-quality, accurate captions.

“I’m still not sure how to create captions or upload them.”

  • Google it. “How to create/upload captions to Facebook/Vimeo/YouTube/[insert option here]” will give you step-by-step instructions on how to create or upload captions to any service you might be using to host your videos.
  • If you need further assistance, message us at facebook.com/wels.mdhh or e-mail us at MDHH@wels.net. We want to help you make your videos more accessible!

If you already caption your video content, please let us know. We’d love to share it on our Facebook page and let people know when they inquire about captioned resources.

Monica Brandt has a degree in American Sign Language. She serves with the Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and interprets for her church, Prince of Peace, Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

 

 

Bringing Jesus to the brig

As I walked from jail cell to jail cell, speaking with young men who still consider themselves to be Marines, I pondered: How did I get here? Just months before, I had been leading a team against feared cartel leaders who had been indicted by our government. Now I found myself being escorted by a Marine MP in a special housing unit and chapel where I am expected to speak words of encouragement, bring the hope of the gospel, and provide spiritual guidance to incarcerated men who still quickly react to the words Semper Fidelis.

The process to become a lay worship and Bible study leader at a Marine brig started as I was nearing retirement from public service. I had spent 24 years as a criminal investigator with the U.S. Marshals Service, following eight years in the enlisted corps of the U.S. Air Force. A few years after entering the military at age 17, I came to faith in Jesus. During the ensuing years, my wife and I raised three of our own children, one of our nephews, homeschooled our children, attended college, and caravanned around the country to different posts of duty.

Now I sensed a tug on my heart to serve in full-time ministry. I shared that desire with my parish pastor and began to research how I could serve God as a lay person. A pastor friend encouraged me to look into WELS Chaplaincy. I applied and was accepted into the Chaplaincy Certification Program.

One of the courses required an internship in a chaplaincy setting. A Marine officer friend (and fellow communicant) introduced me to the Navy chaplain at the Camp Pendleton Brig. The chaplain needs to ensure that those approved as worship leaders are either ordained or can obtain proper licensure. WELS Military Services certified me as a Distinctive Religious Group Leader, approving me to conduct liturgical services at the base brig and lead Bible studies one night per week.

Although our warriors are well trained to defend our nation, many are broken, spiritually blind, and still need Jesus. Going to them where they are can be daunting, due to security training and awareness, background investigations, waiting to enter the brig, unfamiliar smells and sounds, high or low lighting, and tension that you can sense. One must also remember that proselytizing is neither approved by the military nor acceptable for civilian volunteers. But when all these obstacles are surmounted, I have the privilege of opening the Bible and speaking the wonderful words of God to agnostics, atheists, druids, Protestants, and even other Lutherans.

It is amazing to watch God work in our lives when we go and do his will. I have seen how God opens some doors and closes others to get us where he wants us. I have concluded that no matter where God puts us, he expects us to be faithful to him and his Word. The gospel is still the power of God for salvation—even in the brig.

Tom Nunley is a member at Christ the Vine, Temecula, Calif.

Learn more about the Chaplaincy Certification Program at wels.net/chaplains.


Chaplaincy Certification online classes in Fall 2020

The following online classes will be offered through Martin Luther College during the Fall semester, August 24 to December 18. Go to: mlc-wels.edu and click on “Academics,” then “Continuing Education.”

THE9521 – A Scriptural Approach to Addiction Counseling – 3 credits
A study of addictions, especially substance abuse and pornography, and the ways Christians try to help through law/gospel counseling and referral.

THE9525 – Geriatric and Care Facility Ministry – 3 credits
A team-oriented approach to serve the aging and residents in care facilities. Provides knowledge and skills for congregation members to offer spiritual care for the homebound and institutionalized.

THE9534 – Grounded in Scripture – 3 credits
An introduction to theology, focusing on scriptural teachings of special importance to chaplaincy ministry.

 

 

 

“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.