Home mission milestones – fall 2023

WELS Home Missions has provided an update on a number of home mission congregations that experienced major milestones in fall 2023.

Christ the Rock Lutheran Church, Canton, Ga.

Christ the Rock in Canton, Ga., held its grand opening worship service on Nov. 12, 2023. God blessed the church’s outreach efforts with 60 in attendance, including 16 brand-new guests to Christ the Rock. Home Missionary Cale Mead and the core group set up and take down for worship at a local elementary school every Sunday using a “portable church” that can be stored in a trailer from week to week. A different home mission congregation, Living Hope in Chattanooga, Tenn., donated its old trailer to Christ the Rock after purchasing its own permanent facility.

View photos of Christ the Rock’s first public worship service and other home mission activities in the South Atlantic District in the Flickr album.

Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, Dickinson, N.D.

Amazing Grace, a home mission congregation in Dickinson, N.D., launched public worship on Oct. 15, 2023. It was blessed with 29 in attendance, 10 of whom were visitors invited by a family member or friend from Amazing Grace. Home Missionary Joel Prange serves this new mission church that was approved in 2021.

The following weekend, Oct. 22, Amazing Grace dedicated its new building space with members and pastors from area WELS congregations. Church members are currently worshiping in a rented ministry center in a new local market that they were able to customize to meet their ministry needs.

View photos of Amazing Grace’s new church and other home mission activities in the Dakota-Montana District in the Flickr album.


New Start, Marquette, Mich.

Rev. Joseph Lindloff was installed as the pastor for the new mission start in Marquette, Mich., on Oct. 8, 2023. This mission is one of the first new missions approved as part of the effort to start 100 missions in 10 years from 2023-2033. It had its first core group meeting on Nov. 5 with 24 individuals in attendance, including 5 prospects. The church prays to start a Bible information class in the new year.

View photos of the installation service and other home mission activities in the Northern Wisconsin District in the Flickr album.


TheMission – a Lutheran Church, Conroe, Tex.

TheMission, Conroe, Tex., launched its worship services on Aug. 6, 2023. Rev. Jeremy Mattek serves those at TheMission. They are currently worshiping in a rented funeral home on Sundays while working with a local architect to develop plans for a new sanctuary and site plan on land that they purchased.

View photos of TheMission’s launch service and other home mission activities in the South Central District in the Flickr album.



Please keep these home missions in your prayers as they continue to share the pure message of the gospel with more people in their communities. To stay connected with these and the other 145 home mission congregations scattered throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, follow WELS Missions on Facebook at fb.com/WELSMissions.



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A gift for family and ministry

Joyce and Don Frisque

For Don and Joyce Frisque, supporting Christ’s gospel ministry is close to their hearts. Joyce served as a WELS teacher for over 35 years, and Don served as a WELS teacher for 6 years and as a school social worker for 31 years. Their two children, Deb and Paul, have also devoted their lives to ministry.

When the Frisques retired, they planned to thank the Lord for his goodness to them. “God has blessed us, and we want to pass those bless­ings on,” Joyce says. “We don’t need anything more for ourselves, so we are going to give it back where we can to the church.” They also wanted to share their blessings with their children and grandchildren.

The Frisques knew that funding a legacy gift from their individual retirement accounts (IRAs) could help them fulfill their giving goals, but they were searching for the right type of planned gift. When they met with WELS Christian Giving Counselor Rev. Tom Mielke, he explained the benefits of a legacy charitable remainder trust.

Don and Joyce were intrigued. A legacy charitable remainder trust (often called a “give it twice” trust) would allow them to support both the people and the ministries they love, in addi­tion to providing tax benefits.

After consideration, Don and Joyce set up a legacy charitable remainder trust, with WELS Foundation serving as trustee. When they are in heaven, their children will receive quarterly income payments from the trust for 15 years. After that, the remain­der will support the multiple WELS ministries that the Frisques have chosen.

Don and Joyce appreciated Rev. Mielke’s assis­tance and the ease of filling out a single form, the Letter of Instruction, to select the ministries that will benefit from their trust. Joyce also loves the fact that after Jesus calls them home the trust will support their family members and the Lord’s work.

“Everything we have been given has been entrusted to us, and we are responsible for managing it in a God-pleas­ing way,” says Don. “In this way we believe we are doing that.”

Learn more about legacy charitable remainder trusts by contacting your local WELS Christian giving counselor at 800-827-5482 or [email protected].

“Give it twice” through a legacy charitable remainder trust

A legacy charitable remainder or “give it twice” trust is funded after both parents (or a single parent) go to be with the Lord. In addition to any immediate gifts to children or other heirs, a portion of the estate is placed into a trust that pays five percent each year to children for a term of up to 20 years. When the trust ends, the remaining assets are distributed to designated charitable beneficiaries, such as your church and/or synod.


  • Provides for your heirs: Instead of leaving a one-time lump sum inheritance, you can provide an ongoing source of income for your heirs for up to 20 years.
  • Tax savings: Funding the legacy trust from a tax-deferred retirement account may provide additional tax benefits. Rather than having to distribute an inherited IRA within 10 years, the IRA can be used via beneficiary designation to fund a legacy charitable remainder trust with a 20-year payout period.
  • A gift to ministry: At the end of the payout period, the trust remainder is distributed to the ministry (or ministries) of your choosing. This charitable distribution can be made as a lump sum or used to fund an endowment—providing an ongoing source of support for your favorite WELS ministry.

The minimum gift amount for a legacy charitable remainder trust is $200,000 funded through your estate planning documents such as your will and beneficiary designations (for example, your IRA).

Legacy charitable remainder trust illustration

Learn more about legacy charitable remainder trusts by contacting your local WELS Christian giving counselor at 800-827-5482 or [email protected].

In this video, WELS Christian Giving Counselor Rev. Tom Mielke and WELS Foundation Executive Director Jim Holm talk about the basics and blessings of legacy charitable remainder trusts.

Did you know you can donate . . .

. . . appreciated assets (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate)?

Receive a double tax benefit when you give appreciated assets held longer than one year. First, you can deduct the full fair market value of the investment. Second, save by avoiding all tax on the capital gain.

. . . from your IRA?

Direct transfers from an IRA to charity (up to $100,000 per year) are free from federal and potentially state income tax for anyone 70.5 or older.

Want to learn more? A WELS Christian giving counselor can help you get started. If you are interested, call 800-827-5482 or e-mail [email protected].

Looking for God’s direction

[Paul and his companions] came to the border of Mysia. From there they tried to enter Bithynia. But the Spirit of Jesus would not let them. So they passed by Mysia. Then they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision. He saw a man from Macedonia standing and begging him. “Come over to Macedonia!” the man said. “Help us!” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia. We decided that God had called us to preach the good news there. (Acts 16:7-10 NIrV)

Don’t you wish sometimes that God would make his will known to you as clearly as he does to Paul. Somehow God clearly communicated to Paul; that he was NOT to go into Bithynia (modern day northern Turkey), but to go into Macedonia (present day Greece) instead. Apparently, that moment was the time to start mission work in Europe, so that’s what Paul and his friends did.

Those of us working with you or on your behalf in prison ministry are facing a similar crossroads. For 30 years we have dependably relied on the United States Postal Service to help us deliver the gospel and encouragement to eager eyes and hearts in correctional facilities. But mounting restrictions are making sending and receiving studies, tests, and letters more difficult and expensive (for us and for inmates). Thanks to our bulk mailing to chaplains, we still distribute a good number of studies per year. But sending tests to specific inmates as well as receiving completed tests back from inmates using regular U.S. Mail has seen a significant decline. God seems to be saying that this pathway may not be the way to go now.

In response, we are exploring some new (to us) pathways. First, we are trying the use of Business Reply Mail for inmates or their onsite chaplains to submit their tests. While this will significantly increase our costs, especially if God blesses the idea, we believe this added cost is a small price to pay to be able to serve as many students as possible.

Our second new pathway is electronic delivery of our studies to the tablets many inmates now have access to in facilities. WELS Prison Ministry recently signed a three-year contract with Edovo, which provides a learning management system that ministries and educational entities can use to distribute educational material to inmates. Edovo currently has agreements in place at over 300 facilities to provide content to the inmates. We are also seeking agreements with other similar providers.

Please pray for these efforts. We are asking the Lord to bless them according to his will. We desperately want to continue to serve thousands of inmates nationwide and believe these may be the pathways God wants us to use. Also pray that if there are other ways that he desires us to share the gospel, he would give us the ability and wisdom to see these other pathways and use them.

Dave Hochmuth, WELS Prison Ministry administrator



An inmate’s personal evangelism

Because of societal trends and other factors, traditional mass outreach programs struggle. But personal evangelism, that is building a relationship with another person and, at an appropriate time, sharing Jesus with that person, appears to have a better chance at gaining an audience for the gospel. Our synod is spending a great amount of effort equipping us to do just that. Perhaps we should take a cue from Kyle (not his real name), an inmate in the Midwest. Though his own struggles have been and continue to be mighty, he made the effort to share his comfort with another inmate.

Kyle’s walk with Jesus has had significant ups and downs. He had more than a decade of problems with drugs and alcohol. He had fallen away from worship with fellow Christians. He spent more than a year in county jail awaiting sentencing for methamphetamine charges. Through some extended family members, God in his grace made a WELS pastor in the area aware of Kyle. The pastor began to serve him with both printed sermons and personal visits. A year after starting this effort, the pastor received a lengthy, unprompted letter from another inmate in Kyle’s unit. The inmate, John (again, not his real name), poured out his gratefulness for Kyle’s willingness to share the Word of God with him.

The friendship started with Kyle allowing John to call his dad using Kyle’s funds when John had none. John had been very anxious because his dad was having health problems. Kyle’s generosity made a big impression on John.

Then John noticed Kyle reading some of the sermons his pastor brought for Kyle. John asked if Kyle could share them, which he was eager to do. Here’s John’s comment: “My absolute favorite was . . .’Lord, It Is Good for Us to Be Here, the Transfiguration.’ I loved it and it spoke to me. God spoke to me through your sermon. Not audibly like he spoke when he said, ‘This is my son whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.’ But he spoke to me none the less. Letting me know this is right where he wants me. Yes in jail . . .

“When I came to jail I didn’t even think for one second God was orchestrating another chance for me. I thought it was the end and they were going to throw me away and throw away the key as well. My way got me here. Now I know God’s way is going to get me out of here. My prayer has been, Father & Jesus, teach me how to surrender, truly surrender.”

So, we don’t have to wait until we’re fully trained and blameless. Wherever we are at and whomever we meet, we can be a friend, and then pray for an opportunity to give the reason for the hope we have, as Kyle did.




Volunteering through the storms of change

The phone rings in Sylvia Barnes’s apartment one morning, and she recognizes the number. It’s the WELS Prison Ministry Mailing Center in New Ulm, Minn., where she has volunteered for nearly 20 years. “Hello, dear,” she answers. “Are you calling with bad news?”

This has happened on snowy days multiple times the last 20 years. Sylvia’s volunteer time on Tuesday morning was in jeopardy because of blizzards and large amounts of snow. She has always dreaded that phone call when the forecast was bad because she loves volunteering at the Prison Ministry office and loves the people with whom she works. Now at 96 ½ years old, she says, “If everyone wasn’t so nice here, I probably wouldn’t still be coming.” A family of Christian volunteers has been created on those Tuesday mornings, even though so much has changed over the years. Sylvia remembers that Tuesday morning volunteer family being so much larger 20, even 10 years ago. Most of the volunteers she worked with all those years ago have now gone to heaven, and she even surprises herself – and many of her friends – that she continues to go. “It’s interesting…when I tell them I’m still volunteering, they don’t believe me,” she says with a smile.

Sylvia has volunteered at Prison Ministry through much change. She was part of the volunteer family when the first WELS Prison Ministry administer, Mr. Dave Nack, suddenly passed away. She stuck around through the years of change that followed. She made it through the shutdown during COVID, and as more change has happened with the ministry, she has adjusted her schedule to fit the ministry’s needs. Even though Sylvia is no longer driving, she arrives to the Prison Ministry office with other volunteer friends willing to pick her up.

Sylvia and our other volunteers continue to serve our brothers and sisters in prison through all the changes because of one thing that does not change. The never-changing Word of God and the promises of God to forgive all sin – even the sins of those in prison – is what drives us to continue the work he commanded: Go and make disciples of all nations. Sylvia shares that one of her favorite things, and what drives her to continue to work through the changes, are the comments from the inmates on their tests.

Professions of faith from those in prison help her see the difference she is making as part of the Prison Ministry family. God is reaching souls through the work we are doing, and that’s what makes the snow-stormy days when we can’t do our work frustrating. We continue to pray for good weather days, days when Sylvia and others can share the good news of Jesus with the incarcerated.





Three ways to support WELS Prison Ministry – Fall 2023

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: for the success of our electronic document team efforts; for blessings on (and funds to support) supplying postage paid envelopes to inmates; for continued designated gifts to fund all our ministry activities.

Serve – ll our ministry efforts are driven by volunteers motivated by Christ’s love. To volunteer as a pen pal, please contact us at [email protected] or 507-354-3130. To explore jail visitation or post-release mentoring opportunities, call 414-256-3243 or send an e-mail to [email protected].

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 2023 designation is due by March 31, 2024.





Your gifts are making a difference in Africa

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:3-6

The WELS One Africa Team currently works with established church bodies in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia. Your gifts are making a difference for these sister churches as we partner with them in outreach and assist in their theological education programs. Below are just a few specific ways that God is using your support to bring his gospel message to more people throughout Africa:

Constuction on the new school in Ethiopia

  • WELS is supporting the building of an additional elementary school campus that the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia will operate in Gambella, Ethiopia. The current campuses in Dukem serve over 750 students.
  • Missionary John Roebke and his wife, Nancy, assisted with a marriage workshop for pastors and their wives from the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ – Kenya (LCMC–Kenya) alongside LCMC-Kenya President Mark Anariko Onunda. One attendee shared, “It has refreshed our family and taught us new things that will strengthen our staying together and our work in the Lord’s vineyard too. It was a good encouragement.”
  • Missionary Daniel Witte continues to visit various sister churches throughout Africa to provide theological education for pastors, and partner with the LCMC-Kenya to lead workshops for Kenyan lay and called church leaders.
  • Pastors from Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia come together in various locations throughout Africa to study different courses as they work towards a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. A course on marriage was taught in Zambia in June, and another course on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was held recently in Malawi.

Thank you for your support! We pray that God continues to work through WELS’ sister churches and the One Africa Team to change lives in Africa—like those of Eric Kebeno from Soweto, Kenya, and Eunita Odongo, a deaconess in the LCMC-Kenya.

Pray for our African brothers and sisters in the faith as they continue to spread the message of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and love for sinners like you and me. Follow the One Africa Team on Facebook and subscribe to their blogs at oneafricateam.com for updates and stories of the Holy Spirit at work. Ask God to bless the work of the One Africa Team as they help spread the gospel throughout Africa.

Learn more about mission work in Africa at wels.net/africa.

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Your gifts are making a difference in London & the U.K.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18

The church has been part of the fabric of British culture since before anyone can remember, yet only 46 percent of the British population today call Christ their own. There is a great deal more gospel work to be done in the United Kingdom! Countless people do not know the story of a loving God who sent his Son to seek and save lost sinners. By God’s grace we do, and our group of more than fifty Christians and two missionaries are following Jesus’ call to tell that story.

Your prayers and gifts are already supporting the ministry in London and the U.K.—thank you! Here are some specific ways we have been carrying out our mission:

  • Organizing regular worship and Bible study among the scattered people we serve
  • Developing a website and program for Bible education
  • Visiting church members to support them as they seek to reach out to their friends and families
  • Researching other churches and charities to find avenues to get involved in our communities

We know that you share in this mission with us. Your offerings provide regular opportunities for our WELS mission in the U.K. to share the gospel. We continually thank God for you!

Please share these updates with family and friends. Pray for us as we evaluate all the possible ways we can go about telling the wonderful story of Jesus and his love. Ask the Lord of the church to open hearts and doors as we reach out to the lost in London and the U.K.

Thank you!

Rev. Conifer Berg
Missionary to London & the U.K.

Learn more about mission work in London & the U.K. at wels.net/london.

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Something new and exciting is coming!

You have likely noticed that things which once were in books or in print are now moving to a digital or web-based platform.

Two weeks ago members from the Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MDHH) group were able to bring to reality a project that has been several years in the making – an online Christian Sign Language Dictionary.  The project is entitled “Gospel Hands” and can be found at gospelhands.net. The MDHH team members spent significant time over two days signing and recording to video more than 900 religious sign language signs. It was intriguing to hear the discussion about what was the best sign and possible alternatives for a certain words or concepts. While the videos are still being edited and uploaded, it is exciting to see this effort finally coming to fruition.

This initial group of videos is only the beginning. There are plans to record more signs in the future and to keep growing this online resource.

Watch for more news in the coming weeks as the videos of these hundreds of signs are uploaded and we make this resource available publicly.

Joel Gaertner, director, WELS Special Ministries




A new perspective

From time to time, it is good to have a new or different perspective on something you are familiar with or have been a part of for a long time. I’ve had the privilege of being involved in Special Ministries for over a decade from several different perspectives.

I began my affiliation with Special Ministries as the chairman of the Intellectual and Developmental Disability Ministries (IDDM) committee. I then, almost simultaneously, accepted the call to serve as the director of Jesus Cares Ministries and was elected chairman of Special Ministries.  For the last decade I’ve said that I’ve been blessed to have a foot in both camps. Being a part of Special Ministries and also having the privilege of leading a partner of Special Ministries has given me many opportunities to bridge the two and help serve many, many people in both areas.

With this issue of His Hands we express a debt of gratitude to Jim Behringer for his loving leadership of Special Ministries over the last 11 years.  Special Ministries has been simultaneously associated with Jim and vice versa. Thank you, Jim, for being the “heart” of Special Ministries and for all you’ve done to help the many people served by the different arms of Special Ministries!

I consider it an incredible privilege to be asked to serve as only the fourth director (Alfons Woldt, Carl Ziemer and Jim Behringer) in the 50-year history of WELS Special Ministries. While I’ve been involved with this area of ministry, I now have a different perspective that has me seeing what it takes to help Special Ministries on a day-to-day basis serve and assist the many people and areas of what has been described as the “heart” of WELS. I humbly ask for your prayers that I would carry on the good work of those who have led Special Ministries for the last 50 years.  I look forward to working with everyone associated with Special Ministries in any way. I welcome any thoughts, input, questions, concerns, etc. you might have as together we continue to serve as His Hands.

Joel Gaertner, director, WELS Special Ministries




Comforting others with the comfort we have received

Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who gives tender love. All comfort comes from him. He comforts us in all our troubles. Now we can comfort others when they are in trouble. We ourselves receive comfort from God. We share very much in the sufferings of Christ. So we also share very much in his comfort. If we are having trouble, it is so that you will be comforted and renewed. If we are comforted, it is so that you will be comforted. Then you will be able to put up with the same suffering we have gone through. Our hope for you remains firm. We know that you suffer just as we do. In the same way, God comforts you just as he comforts us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NIrV)

Often the earthly shame of a situation can be a barrier to comfort, and this is especially true when dealing with incarceration. Lisa (not her real name) was a very concerned mother. Her son had been using drugs since high school and was just convicted for the second time. While she appreciated her pastors and the biblical guidance they offered, she desired more encouragement in her situation, but didn’t know where to find it. She also was fearful of raising the topic with any of her church friends for fear of how it might be perceived. Would people see her as a failure as a mother? She already had plenty of pain from the events themselves. She didn’t need a dose of shame on top of that.

Then in Lisa’s women’s Bible study group, one of the women spoke of her nephew’s struggle with substance abuse and repeated incarcerations, asking for prayers for the young man. Her Bible study friend also spoke of visiting another family member in prison and how that changed her heart. So much so that this friend was now actively involved in visiting female inmates in the county jail. Now Lisa knew of someone who could truly relate to her situation and her fear of reaching out for support evaporated. She now benefitted from the comfort her friend had received previously.

Those of us who have experienced the pain of incarceration of a loved one can be an invaluable resource to others—if they know where to turn. Because of the sensitivity of the topic, this needs to be done judiciously. Here are some ideas.

  • As in the case above, a healthy small group Bible study can make a good environment for sharing difficult situations, especially if the group has established a level of trust and members do not gossip. Praying with and for each other provides some natural openings for seeking God’s help and the assistance of his people for difficult situations.
  • If you’ve been through the incarceration of a friend or loved one, share that experience with your pastor, elders, or other spiritually mature fellow members. They will then be able to refer someone to you when the need arises.
  • Volunteering for jail or prison visitation ministry or mentoring a former inmate can provide you with insight into the challenges current and former inmates face. It will also establish your reputation as someone who has a heart for lost souls. With the right training, this can be done by anyone regardless of any previous experience with incarcerated people.

The temptation is there to bury painful parts of our lives and avoid talking about them. Don’t let Satan deceive you. Carefully sharing the painful parts of our past can reap a rich harvest of present and future blessings. Pray for guidance and courage to share the comfort God gave us with others.

By Dave Hochmuth, Prison Ministry administrator



The patient mentor

As we have reported previously, COVID and contraband have made ministry to current inmates more challenging, whether in person or by mail. But mentoring a released inmate does not require permission by a correctional facility. You can explore this opportunity and receive initial training for this type of ministry in the next online offering of Mentoring a Returning Citizen. One of our existing mentors shares some of the blessings both he and his mentee have received while participating in this ministry:

I have known my mentee for a few years now – as I think back over that time, I marvel at what the Lord has done and is doing in this relationship. Initially he had no Christian background and little previous Christian example to benchmark. While I desired faster progress in a variety of important issues, my confidence remained in the Lord’s timing and process.

The first blessing that’s been reinforced in my heart is: Trust in the Lord – in ALL things. We need to leave control and understanding to God. Scripture tells us this, but when events dictate “letting go,” we grasp with our hearts a great truth that we then demonstrate and pass on to our mentee.

A second blessing is comprehending/experiencing unconditional love. Jesus tells his disciples, “If you love those who love you, so what! – even the worst of sinners do that.” When I first met my mentee, “please and thank you” were not part of his vocabulary. Now he uses them, but even more – he considers my needs and is genuinely concerned about creating inconveniences in my life. This is an amazing change for one so self-focused and utterly worldly when we met. Yet, the Lord has shared with me his love for my mentee, and I’m experiencing it along with my mentee. It’s amazing – beyond words!

The Lord sometimes must “prepare the soil for planting” and this may require great patience, but we keep our eyes fixed on him and seek not to miss the opportunities to show the mentee an example of the Spirit of Christ by how we live and interact with them and others. Recently, my mentee asked, “I want to know how to include God in my life daily.” Such interest and determination were an answer to my frequent prayers! So we identified resources that could foster daily growth.

Over time the Spirit has made the mentee ready and eager to learn, change, and grow. Being part of this process is breathtaking. Being a mentor is an awesome privilege!


Mentoring a returning citizen

Explore a unique way to serve with no obligation.

  • Assess your gifts and receive initial training
  • Five Saturdays, Sept. 9-Oct. 7, 2023
  • 90-minute Zoom sessions starting at 11 a.m. (Central Time)

For more information contact [email protected] or 414-256-3243.




Prison Ministry notes and news – Summer 2023

Thank you Jim, Welcome Joel

The end of June will see a changing of the guard with a new Special Ministries director. (WELS Prison Ministry is one of the special ministries overseen by the director.) After over a decade of service in this role, Pastor Jim Behringer is retiring, and Pastor Joel Gaertner is taking over. Jim provided an invaluable steady hand to WELS Prison Ministry during a turbulent period following former Administrator Dave Nack’s sudden call home to glory in 2014. Jim has helped us better integrate with other WELS ministries and make progress on obtaining more stable funding. His solid, soft-spoken leadership has been a great blessing to us. We thank him for being God’s good and faithful servant.

Pastor Joel Gaertner has served in the public ministry for more than 30 years, including congregations in Kentucky and Wisconsin, as well as a stint for the last decade with The Lutheran Home Association heading up the Jesus Cares ministry for the developmentally challenged. Joel is known as a tireless worker with a positive attitude. His background, including serving as chairman of the WELS Commission on Special Ministries, makes him extremely qualified to guide all the WELS Special Ministries efforts to better serve God’s sheep, both lost and found.


Pen Pal Pipeline

After months of having been blessed with more pen pal volunteers than inmates to whom they could write, we now have inmates on a waiting list for volunteer pen pals. We are looking for either former or new pen pals to meet the demand. If you are no longer writing to anyone but are willing to do so now, or if you are considering this ministry for the first time and would like more information on the WELS Prison Ministry pen pal program, please send Amy Rich an e-mail at [email protected].


Mentoring a returning citizen

Explore a unique way to serve with no obligation.

  • Assess your gifts and receive initial training
  • Five Saturdays, Sept. 9-Oct. 7, 2023
  • 90-minute Zoom sessions starting at 11 a.m. (Central Time)

For more information contact [email protected] or 414-256-3243.




Three ways to support WELS Prison Ministry – Summer 2023

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: for blessings on our outreach efforts to new facilities; for the success of our electronic document team efforts; for blessings on the next and subsequent mentor training classes and new mentor ministries; for continued designated gifts to fund all our ministry activities.

Serve – All our ministry efforts are driven by volunteers motivated by Christ’s love.
To volunteer as a pen pal, please contact us at [email protected] or 507-354-3130.
To explore jail visitation or post-release mentoring opportunities, call 414-256-3243 or send an e-mail to [email protected].

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 2023 designation is due by March 31, 2024.






Years ago a member of the Commission on Special Ministries asserted that instead of speaking of retirement, we should use the word “redirection.” From all I’ve heard about that stage of life, it’s not pulling back from life. Most retired people I know say they are busier than ever, but they are doing something different. Redirection seems more accurate.

I mention retirement and redirection because this is my last month serving the call to be WELS director of Special Ministries. This call redirected me for over a decade. I had been a parish pastor until I was called to this office. The Lord gave me new challenges and a different way to serve him as I served my fellow WELS members through this office.

I expect new challenges and different ways of serving Jesus. God’s people never come to a point in life where we stop serving him. I have some ideas of what my next stage of serving might look like while I still have health and energy. Having watched my grandparents and parents before me, I even have some idea of what serving the Lord may look like if I live to be frail or sick. Wherever Jesus directs me, I pray that I will be a blessing to others.

I recently attended the retirement of a dear sister in Christ and she was asked what advice she would give new teachers. She didn’t hesitate: “Love your students.” It took me back to the beginning of my ministry, and the advice of seasoned pastors I admired who stressed, “Love your people.” If you’ve read what I’ve written or said in Special Ministries, you already know what my parting advice will be: Love them. Love the people who struggle. Love the prodigals. Love people so much that you can’t stand the thought that they are unable to hear a sermon or read a Christian devotion. Love them so much that you ask the Lord how he wants us to overcome the obstacles that loom large. Love them so much that you see the gifts God gave them. And love those who serve with you.

Sensitive Lutheran readers are thinking to themselves, “That paragraph is loaded with Law!” My response is that Christian lives are loaded with love. In grace, God has made us his beloved children, redeemed us, and made us alive with Christ. In grace, God also loves the people we serve. They may not make sense to us. They wander and are unfaithful. They get angry and impatient. But our God’s love fills us with the urgent longing that none of them be lost. No matter what the barrier, no matter what the unfortunate circumstance, may they learn the life-giving gospel and know the love of Jesus.

Rev. Jim Behringer, director, WELS Commission on Special Ministries



European retreats restored . . . and restoring

Retreats for WELS service men and women (and civilians) are a big deal for our brothers and sisters scattered across Europe. In the early 1970s the European chaplains wanted to find a way to get their people all together in the same place—people living in many different locations across Germany and Europe. They started with an annual retreat at Easter. This was so popular that Fall retreats were added and even Spring retreats in the U.K. The retreats had a 50-year history when they were interrupted by the COVID pandemic. Because of government restrictions on travel and large group meetings, no retreats were held in the years 2020 and 2021. Then in 2022 when we scheduled our first retreat for Easter, the chaplain and his wife both came down with COVID, and the retreat had to be cancelled. But, we thank God, the retreats have been restored!

WELS has a civilian chaplain living in Germany to provide spiritual support to members of the military and their families while they’re away from home as well as civilian WELS members who moved to Europe.

This past Easter service men and women who are WELS and living in Europe met in Würzburg where, once again, all areas of our current ministry were well represented—servicemen and women from Ramstein Air Base—part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community (the largest American community outside of the United States), from the U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria in Grafenwöhr, from the U.S. Army Garrison Italy in Vicenza, a Navy family from the joint service military community in Stuttgart, as well as civilians from various places in Switzerland and Germany, including German friends from the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (our sister synod in Germany), and even a couple visiting from the States.

Everyone enjoyed themselves, from the oldest to the youngest. Our oldest participant, Marilyn Galow, has been attending retreats since they began. She is the widow of a serviceman who stayed on in Germany after retiring from the military. She still works at the U.S. Army Garrison in Wiesbaden. And our youngest, one-year-old Otto Waldschmidt, especially liked the Easter egg hunt. His family is finishing up their tour at Ramstein and will be heading to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii in June. The three Waldschmidt children were baptized during their stay at Ramstein and mom Tana was also baptized and confirmed.

Do you, or does someone you know, serve in the Military? Whether stateside or oversees, you can sign up to receive spiritual support and be put in contact with a WELS pastors near where you’re stationed.

The retreats are restored, but more importantly they are restoring. In Würzburg we enjoyed special worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, made even more special by being together with fellow believers from all over Europe. We grew together studying the Word, and the kids had the chance to grow in their faith and friendship as they learned and played together.  It is a treat and a privilege to share our faith and our lives in this way. We want to thank our WELS brothers and sisters for supporting this ministry, which is so important for all of us.

Learn more about WELS Military Services.

Chaplain John Hartwig, pastor, civilian chaplaincy in Germany



Equip them!

“Now what am I supposed to do?” There’s more work than any called worker can ever do. There has to be! God’s Word says that our Lord prepared good works for each of his people to do (Ephesians 2:10). Called workers were never intended to be Jesus’ only servants. Those who try to take too much responsibility eventually hit a wall. They can’t do more, yet more needs to be done. A child with Down’s needs Sunday school. Grandpa loves to come to church but his hearing is so bad he gets nothing out of the sermon. Two members have been deployed and their families are struggling. “What am I supposed to do?”

The apostles set the example in Acts 6 (recruiting deacons) and gave us this advice: “Equip them!” The New Testament tells us that God calls workers to equip Christians for works of service (Ephesians 4:12). The pastor doesn’t have to install a better sound system for those with hearing loss, but he may have to coach some members on the issues and needs and motivate them to do something about the sound system. The WELS teacher may observe the special needs of a small child; she may not become the child’s teacher but may offer to coordinate the Sunday school teachers and parents until a plan is formed.

The Bible teaches that God has given different gifts to the various members of your church. How will those members use those gifts, if they are not equipped and given the opportunity to serve?

If equipping sounds like an added task on top of the already too-long list, consider this: Special Ministries can help ministry leaders equip Christians. Do you have a blind member? Several people with hearing loss? We can provide training for visitors to jails or help to mentor a member after release. We have resources for all kinds of challenging situations. Special Ministries can help equip God’s people to serve in extraordinary ways.

“What am I supposed to do?” Contact Special Ministries to get help equipping others to serve those with unique needs!




Support WELS Intellectual and Development Disabilities ministries.


Summer camps for kids with intellectual or developmental disabilities

One of the joys of warmer weather is camping, and for many years congregations and organizations throughout our synod have rented or maintained campgrounds for WELS members to use and to provide camping retreats. Some of these camps offer multi-day or even week-long programs geared toward different groups of people. Many WELS members have fond memories of attending camp when they were young, making new friends, and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.

Camping can be a challenge for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, so Jesus Cares Ministries has partnered with several WELS camping organizations to provide fellowship, outdoor activities, crafts, and most importantly, God’s Word to campers with special needs. These camps have been very popular throughout the years, so it’s important to make plans soon!

These camps are staffed by dedicated volunteers who return year after year because of their love for Christ and the differently-abled. There are some caveats: participants must be ambulatory and must be able to take care of their bathroom needs on their own. You can see what exactly is offered and what the attendee requirements are for each camp at their respective websites:

Camp Phillip in Wautoma, Wis.

Camp Omega, Sept. 15-16, 2023, in Waterville, Minn., and Camp Green Lake, Oct. 9-10, 2023, in Spicer, Minn.

In addition to these camps, the South Central District Special Ministries team just held their first Special Needs Family Camp at Camp Shiloh in Pittsburg, Texas. This inclusive camp opportunity welcomed families with a child(ren) with special needs such as Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and other conditions. The work that the South Central team did can serve as a pattern for others to offer inclusive camps geared toward families and not just individuals.

The community of Christ is made up of people of different ages, races, abilities, and conditions. We rejoice in opportunities to bring God’s people together to serve, be served, and give glory to our Creator and Savior!

WELS Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Ministry



Support WELS Intellectual and Development Disabilities ministries.


Rural training program in Vietnam

Jesus taught, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40). WELS’ ministry to the Hmong in Vietnam trains leaders to train other leaders. Efforts have focused on small groups of leaders, one group of 55 students and a second group of 60 students. The Hmong Fellowship Church has almost 1,400 leaders serving their 145,000 members. How does WELS training reach other leaders and the church members?

When COVID-19 restrictions stopped training in 2020, the Vietnam ministry group—led by full-time professors Bounkeo Lor and Joel Nitz—decided to add new training. They shifted to online Zoom training and started a new program to reach more of the leaders and more of the members in the rural congregations of the Hmong Fellowship Church. Most congregations are in rural areas of northern Vietnam, where leaders and members operate small subsistence farms. Many of these leaders and the members have not enjoyed much formal Bible study or training.

The new rural training program consists of 30 courses for training over a three-year period. They began the program in the fall of 2020. Salvation History 1 and 2 covers the Old Testament. Salvation History 3 is based on the Gospel of Mark, and Salvation History 4 was added to cover the Book of Acts.

Professors Lor and Nitz taught the courses to 57 church leaders, who then taught the course to 700 other leaders, who then shared the course with all congregations of the Hmong Fellowship Church. The teachers and students have enjoyed the teaching so much that they continued the program by using other courses taught to them in previous training.

Leaders and students shared the blessings they have received through this training:

  1. The training for the 700 leaders helps them understand the law and gospel, and have comfort and confidence in their salvation.
  2. Members understand more about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are more confident in the Sacraments for the forgiveness of sins.
  3. The leaders can distinguish between the true and false teachings of other people.
  4. The program helps church leaders love the Word of God more, hold on to the true teaching of God, know Christ as the center for their teachings, and have less legalism in most churches.

Hmong Fellowship Church members thank WELS for training their church leaders in the rural areas. Now they understand more about the word of God. Praise God for the tremendous blessings of teaching God’s Word to the Hmong in Vietnam!


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Child safety: Why talk to kids about abuse?

An average five-year-old knows that putting a hand in the fire is painful. The child understands it is dangerous even if they have never experienced a burn. Why? Multiple adults and older children have warned them about the dangers of fire, which keeps them safer. The same holds for child abuse. Children are less likely to be victimized when caring adults teach them about abuse (Findelhor, D. & Dziuba-Leatherman, J., 1995).

If education is a critical component of abuse prevention, why is it missing in many churches and schools? The topic is difficult to broach with children, and it can lead to hearing discomforting stories from students.

Some people believe that Christians are immune to this sin. The Bible shows us this is a false view of the impact of sinful human nature in our struggle against sin. For example, although the Bible calls Lot a man of faith, it also records that he offered his daughters to the mob men in Sodom. Can you imagine his daughters’ fear when they heard their father invited those men to do with them as they pleased? Emotional abuse is as damaging as physical abuse.

Even the possibility that child abuse and neglect could happen in our schools and churches or among our families should compel us to teach our children about abuse. The loving way to help children is to provide education about it. This gives them the tools to understand what is and is not okay, no matter what an adult tells them.

Abuse education signals to children that they have an adult who will listen and believe their story and don’t need to “keep a secret.” Those stories are the only way for children to get help and stop the abuse. They need powerful allies who will speak and advocate for them.

Many good educational programs are available to give children age-appropriate skills and keep them safer. They incorporate training for parents so that parents practice with their children. These programs teach children in a non-threatening way, opening the door for continued discussions.

Abuse prevention starts with teaching children to protect boundaries for body safety, recognize trouble and move away from it, and get help from adults in power. It allows you to change a child’s life.

Finkelhor, D., & Dziuba-Leatherman, J. (1995). Victimization prevention programs: A national survey of children’s exposure and reactions. Child Abuse & Neglect, 19(2), 129–139.

We recommend these programs for teachers and parents:

Freedom for the Captives, part of WELS Special Minisitries, seeks to empower the Christian community to respond with excellence to the sin of child abuse. To this end, we provide resources to pastors, teachers, and lay Christians that will deepen their understanding of child abuse and improve the Christian response to the physical, emotional and spiritual impact of maltreatment. We also have resources for survivors including recommended readings and guidance in selecting counseling or other services. In addition to the resources on our website, we also offer direct assistance to individual survivors who may have a spiritual question not addressed on our website or who need assistance in finding a counselor.

Learn more at freedomforcaptives.com.



A Legacy Gift 20 Years in the Making

Eddie and Robert Verhelst, brothers from South Dakota, are third-generation farmers, working the land passed down through their parents and grandparents. Out of gratitude for the Lord’s blessings, they wished to set up planned gifts to support Christ’s gospel work. “We wanted to do something to share back our wealth,” says Eddie. “God has been so good to us.”

In the early 2000s, Eddie and Robert met with WELS Christian giving counselor Ken Dierks, who introduced them to charitable remainder trusts. After Ken retired, Christian giving coun­selor (CGC) Scott Wagner nurtured the relation­ship with the brothers, providing them with gift illustrations from WELS Foundation showing how they could fund charitable remainder trusts using stock that they held.

In late 2022, the brothers worked with their legal and tax advisors and WELS Foundation to establish charitable remainder trusts. Once established, they transferred their stock to the trusts, with WELS Foundation serving as trustee.

The brothers are grateful for the guidance from CGC Scott Wagner and the services provided by WELS Foundation. They also appreciate the income tax deduction they received and the fact that they didn’t have to pay capital gains tax on their gift. In addition, Eddie and Robert will receive income payments from the trusts for their lives, which they plan to use as additional gifts to support the charities they love. When the Lord calls them home, the remainder in the trusts will support WELS ministries.

“If you have stock to donate, this is a wonderful way to do it,” Eddie says. “It’s a win for every­body and a win for God’s kingdom.”

This is one way to use a charitable remainder trust. Learn more about charitable remainder trusts by contacting your local WELS Christian giving counselor at 800-827-5482 or [email protected].

Why Establish a Charitable Remainder Trust?

If you desire to use appreciated property that may produce little to no income to support you or your family—and the Lord’s ministry—while avoiding taxes, the charitable remainder trust (CRT) might be right for you. Some who fit this category include farmers, investors, business owners, and landlords.

Here’s how it works:
A WELS Christian giving counselor (CGC) can provide you with gen­eral information and work with your advisors and WELS Foundation to establish the charitable remainder trust. Once established, you transfer cash, securities (stocks, bonds, mutual funds), or real estate to the trust with WELS Foundation serving as trustee. Charitable remainder trusts can provide income to you for life and/or to your children for up to 20 years. When it ends, the remaining property in the trust passes to your designated charitable beneficiaries such as your church and/or synod.

Here are the steps:

  1. Meet with a Christian giving counselor and advisors; complete paperwork.
  2. Transfer assets to the trust.
  3. The trust makes payments.
  4. The trust ends; the property passes to the charitable beneficiaries.

The benefits include:

  • You will receive an income tax charitable deduction and you don’t have to pay capital gains tax on the gift.
  • You and/or your children receive an income stream (quarterly payments).
  • You can continue supporting the Lord’s work after you go to heaven.

The minimum gift size is $200,000. WELS Foundation’s recommended payout rate is five percent. Payments can be a fixed or variable amount. You can choose several income beneficiaries and the length of the trust term. WELS Foundation as trustee manages the assets for the benefit of the income beneficiaries and charitable beneficiaries.


Learn more about charitable remainder trusts by contacting your local WELS Christian giving counselor at 800-827-5482 or [email protected].

Watch a video about how WELS members Jerry and Lynn Zimpelmann support WELS mission work through their charitable remainder trust.

SECURE Act 2.0 Opens New Use for Qualified Charitable Distributions

Donors 70.5 and older have enjoyed making tax-free qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) from their IRA that also count toward their yearly required minimum distribution (RMD). Legislation passed at the end of last year, known as SECURE Act 2.0, allows donors to fund a charitable gift annuity (CGA) through a QCD.

An individual can now make a QCD of up to $50,000 (out of the $100,000 overall annual limit on IRA qualified charitable distributions) into a CGA in one calendar year. A husband and wife can each distribute up to $50,000 from their IRAs in one year for a CGA (maximum $100,000). A CGA provides the donor and/or his/her spouse with fixed quarterly payments for life. Then, after the donor goes to heaven, the remainder of the gift goes to ministries chosen by the donor.

The QCD into a CGA counts toward the RMD for those required to take it (as of 2023 the age at which RMDs must begin has been raised to 73). Since it can only be done in one tax year, it may make sense to consider distributing the maximum $50,000 amount when you decide to do it. The distribution can be split between multiple CGAs in one year as long as the total doesn’t exceed the $50,000 limit. Because the QCD is a tax-free distribution from your IRA, there is no tax deduction for the gift and the CGA payments are fully taxable.

You might want to consider this new giving opportunity if:

  • you do not itemize on your taxes.
  • you want to provide an income stream to you and/or your spouse.

A WELS Christian giving counselor can help you get started. If you are interested, call 800-827-5482 or e-mail [email protected].

Christian Worship available in braille

Lutherans have a great history of incorporating biblical hymns into our worship. Martin Luther was an enthusiast for music, and this is why music and singing forms a large part of Lutheran services.  He translated sacred Latin songs into German so the whole congregation could sing.  The first of many Lutheran hymnals was published in 1524. For the first 20 years of our existence, churches of our synod  did not have a standard hymnal. Congregations used their own hymnals brought from Germany. In the 1870’s our synod began producing hymnals. They were in German and contained lyrics of hymns, a short liturgy, and a few prayers.

Christians who lose their eyesight still want to sing God’s praises with their fellow believers. We at WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired (MVI) continue Luther’s tradition of translating hymns so the blind can actively participate in the worship service.  This is why we are brailling the 2021 edition of Christian Worship.

The braille hymnal will contain lyrics of more than 650 hymns along with the standard liturgy. We have contracted with the American Printing House for the Blind to translate and emboss 10 hymnals. We are anticipating their arrival in April 2023.

Books in braille are still a necessity and MVI will provide the new braille hymnal free to WELS/ELS churches and visually impaired members who need them. MVI is also working to supply the hymnal electronically in braille for those who use handheld devices to read braille on the internet. MVI is currently uploading the lyrics of all Christian Worship hymns to our Listen Library for braille access by the blind. Our patrons can already search for hymn lyrics at Listen.WELS.net under the “Worship” tab. Any person who is visually impaired can become a patron with free access to all our Christian resources by completing the MVI Service Application on the Listen Library website.


WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired is able to make resources available through the generous gifts of supporters. Your support helps WELS MVI serve more people with audio, braille and large print Christian literature.



Support the ministry work of WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired.


Hearing loop troubleshooting

Does your church currently have a hearing loop? Have you considered installing one because of the grants that the WELS Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing(MDHH) is offering?

If your congregation is able to provide this to hard-of-hearing people who attend your services, this is a tremendous blessing. God be praised!

Even with a loop, you may still receive feedback that people are having trouble using it. This guide serves to help you troubleshoot common issues, before needing to call for maintenance. Take time with the person running into challenges and test your system with these ideas.

  1. Ensure the loop system is switched on. (Any technology how-to will start with the step of “try turning it off and on again!”)
  2. Ensure there are no errors or warnings on the loop machine.
  3. Check the AV system to make sure everything is wired up properly.
  4. Have the hearing aid wearer move around throughout the looped area and test different locations. Amplification may vary at different points in the sanctuary.
  5. Have them check with the audiologist to find out if the hearing aid is hearing loop compatible and if that feature is turned on.
  6. Check the manual for the hearing aid. Some sense the loop automatically, while others require the wearer to change the T-switch on the hearing aid. Newer ones may connect via a smartphone.
  7. If the loop is turned on, and their hearing aid is set up correctly, and the sound is still not working, then it is probably time to call in a technician for maintenance.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach as each system, space, and hearing aid is different.

As with any sound system-related issue, it is a great opportunity to wonder at our creator. God said “Let there be” and humans and animals could hear with amazing precision all the depth of sound and music he has given us.

Meanwhile, in a fallen world, while the Lord has blessed us with amazing technology, it can never compare.

So, many hours are spent fine-tuning the microphone levels to create a similar experience on a livestream as those worshiping in person are experiencing. Pastors have many stories of microphone mishaps. Similarly, hearing aids and hearing loops are prone to being finicky.

Despite that, all these tools can be used to help spread the gospel more clearly to hurting souls.

Hopefully the ideas above can help if you are experiencing issues. As with any questions you may have around the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people, please reach out to MDHH if we can assist you.

You can message us on Facebook at facebook.com/WELS.MDHH/ or email us at [email protected].




Those in prison are important to Jesus

Recently someone asked, “Why was prison such a big deal to Jesus and early Christians?” I was startled by the question, because I didn’t think that incarceration was a particularly significant issue of that time. Prisons in those days were generally a place to hold people until a case was decided and then, if punishment was imposed the person was killed, beaten, or fined. The Roman government and others at that time did not impose a prison sentence as a penalty for a crime. Life sentences were unknown.

I also didn’t think that Jesus made a “big deal” out of incarceration. When I think of the messages of the New Testament—justification by faith, salvation by grace, mercy for sinners, and condemnation of work righteousness— those could be called “big deal” messages.

But a discussion of Christ’s words in Matthew 25 about Judgment Day prompted the question about prison. If we didn’t have these words of Jesus about the Last Day, we might picture the Judge railing angrily against the murderers, robbers, rapists, and other evil people when he judges the world. Instead, Jesus tells us that the Judge will condemn those who don’t feed the hungry or the stranger, give drinks to the thirsty, clothe the naked, or visit the sick and imprisoned.

Books could be written about Matthew 25, but what struck this person was that Jesus included visiting prisoners in the list of things people will be accountable for at the Judgment. The New Testament also commanded God’s people, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison.” (Hebrews 13:3) Clearly the Lord has not forgotten the prisoner, even if the world has.

We should not be surprised, then, that Christian churches have had prison ministries down through the centuries. Like food pantries, visits to the homebound, and hospitals (a Christian invention), Christians have found ways to organize resources and people to care for others in their need. You may not be visiting an inmate – you may be supporting jail ministry with your resources. In your prayers, remember prisoners and those who bring them the good news.

Sometimes we have an opportunity to show the love of Jesus personally. If someone from your family, your church, or your community is incarcerated, send them a card or note, and say a prayer for them. These are men and women for whom Christ died. Whether they are incarcerated unfairly (as Jesus and Paul were), or whether they are getting the punishment they deserve (like the thief on the cross), the Lord has not forgotten about them.

In a world that regards money as the solution for most problems, Christians are tempted to think that sending money to the incarcerated is showing love. The love of Jesus is so much more than money, and grace is so different from the material goods that money provides. Remember Peter’s priorities with the lame man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:6) where he didn’t give him any money but spoke to him in the name of Jesus. Isn’t the greatest gift eternal life? Isn’t the rarest blessing for an inmate to experience the love of Christ?

Prison is a big deal to Jesus. So is sickness. So is sin. As his followers, we reflect his compassionate priorities in whatever opportunities he puts before us. Thank you for your partnership in serving those who are incarcerated and remember them in your prayers.

Rev. James Behringer, Special Ministries director




Further evidence of changing times

A recent Star Tribune (Minneapolis) article underscores changes in the field of corrections regarding how mail is delivered to inmates. The article, titled “Paper and Ink Spelling Trouble,” chronicles some changes that are being pilot tested and debated in Minnesota and elsewhere. The objective of the procedural changes is to reduce the influx of liquid drug formulations dripped onto the paper of a letter, magazine, or other item mailed to an inmate. The correctional facility in Stillwater, Minn., is experimenting with photocopying all inmate mail and delivering the copies to the inmate. But there are drawbacks. The reporter states: “In Stillwater, this test is adding hours of work for [a correctional officer] while creating an extra, even if temporary, barrier for inmates relying on photos, greeting cards, and letters to stay tethered to loved ones in the outside world.”

The article continues: “’It depersonalizes,’ said Michele Livingston, whose son, Jeffrey Young, is serving a life sentence for murder in Stillwater. ‘Already there is no contact, and mail is actually one of the best ways to communicate with someone incarcerated. It tells them it took effort and time to say something to them. Now when you get photocopies, it takes it away.’”

So, in good Lutheran fashion, “What does this mean?” There are several take-aways for us. One is a reminder to “work while it is day,” that is, make the most of opportunities to spread the gospel because those opportunities can evaporate. Doing our ministry by U.S. mail has worked well for more than 30 years, but that era may be changing.

A second take-away is the continual need to innovate and develop new ways to deliver the gospel. WELS Prison Ministry has a team working on developing viable methods for delivering pen pal letters and our Bible studies as well as receiving tests and returning them to inmates using electronic delivery. Please pray for blessings on this team’s efforts.

Finally, the article renews our conviction that the spiritual and emotional encouragement we provide through pen pal letters and test comments are personally vital to the inmates despite any photocopying. The Word of God works, even if it is photocopied first.




Corrector’s corner – handling inmate comments

Generally, our correctors are very faithful at adding some encouraging comments to tests submitted by inmates. However, in some cases we’d like to see more direct acknowledgment, when appropriate, by the corrector of requests or other notes from the inmate. This is especially true if the inmate asks for prayer or notes some aspect of struggling to live for Jesus, but other comments can be worth responding to as well. For example, an inmate recently submitted: “Thank you for this course. It’s been helpful to me to control my depression and anxiety. I’m in a place where these feelings can control. I will look back on this book in my time of need.” While not an explicit request for prayer, this is a situation that lends itself to an encouragement along the lines of “[First name]: I’m thankful this study helped direct you to places in God’s Word that reassure you when you’re tempted to be anxious or depressed. I pray that you will continue to find comfort in those verses as you seek to trust Jesus’ promises.”

Also, we wanted to note that a significant number of our students are in county jails where their stays may be limited. Those tests are especially time-sensitive, and we’d like to get them back to the students as soon as possible before they are released or move on. Please return corrected tests as soon as you can, but no more than two weeks at the most.