Ideas and resources for compassion ministry

Compassion ministry has gotten a lot of attention in the past decade. It was even the topic of the 2022 Symposium at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. What is compassion ministry?

Maybe we should start by defining what it is not. Compassion ministry is not an activity that competes with proclaiming the gospel. It is not Social Gospel, which sets an agenda of achieving transformation of society— focusing church work on achieving a better world in the here and now.

In contrast, compassion ministry flows from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again. He loves us, body and soul. The gospels frequently comment on the compassion of Jesus for sinners—for the broken, and those with disabilities and struggles. The apostles followed their Lord as they organized Christ’s followers. The gospel was the priority, and yet they had compassion for the poor and people who had disabilities. After the apostles passed on, the compassion of Jesus was such a part of his followers’ lives that even people who rejected Christianity admitted that Christian compassion was genuine.

Here’s my definition of compassion ministry: serving one another in love as we share and live the gospel. “We love, because he first loved us.” Christian love shows itself in acts of caring for others as well as devotion to God. Compassion doesn’t pass by the hurting person on the road to Jericho. We see the need and recognize what Christ would do because he cares for the hurting and the lost.

In an age when “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12), church leaders need to intentionally cultivate Christian compassion. How can churches and their leaders nurture compassion ministry? Try Special Ministries resources as a ready-made tool for compassion ministry.

Special Ministries has resources to help congregation members care for people who are:

  • Blind or visually impaired
  • Deaf or hard of hearing
  • Intellectually or developmentally disabled
  • Inmates in jails or prisons
  • Military personnel
  • Struggling with mental health needs
  • Struggling with porn
  • Struggling with addiction
  • Survivors of abuse
  • Homebound or in care facilities
  • Caregivers

Special Ministries has resources to train your members to serve as:

  • Parish Nurses
  • Chaplains
  • Mentors
  • Advocates to protect children from abuse
  • Care Committee for Called Workers

On the WELS Special Ministries web page, you will see links to information and resources for helping others. Many of these are tied directly to being able to share the gospel despite barriers. You’ll also find encouragement to respond in love and include others in fellowship and service.

Congregations can also “prime the compassion pump” by organizing help for someone experiencing a medical or financial crisis. WELS Christian Aid and Relief can guide your members as they express their love and concern and join together to help someone who is hurting. Grant funds can also help serve someone with a disability or challenge with matching funds to get the congregation serve them.

Compassion ministry is Christian love and Christ-like service, flowing from Jesus who died that we might serve him now and eternally. Special Ministries is here to help you serve. Check out our resources, our training, and our programs!

 

 

 

 

 

Mentoring a Returning Citizen training

God has richly blessed ministry to the incarcerated as an outreach to the lost. Whether it is WELS Prison Ministry’s correspondence Bible studies, Institutional Ministries’ chaplain visitation and email devotions, or local efforts at jail ministry, the gospel has been changing hearts. In correctional facilities across this nation, the Spirit has opened the eyes of people who had no hope and showed them life in Christ, here and eternally.

What happens to these souls when they are no longer behind bars? Will they find the spiritual support they need to follow Christ in true freedom?

WELS Prison Ministry created an online mentoring course for returning citizens based on a successful mentoring model which Minnesota River Valley Mentoring Program (https://mrvmp.com/) that helps people who struggle with many different challenges. Our course videos and workbook are online and can be used at any time. But of course, the training experience is more enjoyable and effective when a facilitator leads a group through the training.

You can learn to provide guidance and encouragement to a man or woman returning to your community or church from incarceration. We call the people in this uniquely challenging category “returning citizens.” A Christian friend and a congregation can be extremely helpful to such people. They’re the key to spiritual support as well as assimilation back into the community and the church.

You’re invited to participate in a special group offering of online training, Mentoring a Returning Citizen, in the next few months. The training will help you evaluate whether you have the gifts and abilities to serve as a mentor and, if so, equip you to begin your service. There is no commitment to serve if you take the course. The skills that are taught and practiced have application in many areas including parenting and interacting with people at work. So the time you invest will be well spent regardless of whether or not you decide to pursue this ministry.

The facilitator for this course will be Prison Ministry Committee member Tom Koepsell. “Mentoring is a subject near to my heart,” says Tom. “Having worked with the incarcerated for well over a decade, I have come to appreciate the challenges they will face upon release. But more than that, I have experienced the role their Savior is playing in their lives and what Jesus means when he talks about seeking and saving the lost. When you bring Jesus to such people, you learn to love them as Jesus does. It’s a rewarding experience.”

The course will be a combination of online sessions with other participants, videos that can be viewed individually by the participants, and activities in a workbook with both individual and group exercises. You can view elements of the course at welscongregationalservices.net/mentoring-a-returning-citizen/  Details about the course can also be found there.

To register for the class or obtain more information, contact Prison Ministry Administrator Dave Hochmuth at dave.hochmuth@wels.net or Tom Koepsell at tgkoepsell45@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Conversations about solutions and coping

Joan, an elderly member of your church, is slowly losing her eyesight because of Macular Degeneration and now finds it difficult to read print. You may be aware that Mission for the Visually Impaired (MVI) has audio, braille and large print Christian literature for Joan. Did you know that MVI volunteers understand Joan’s challenges and welcome the opportunity to talk to her?

MVI offers people with vision loss guidance and assistance in coping with the challenges they face. A new MVI ministry resource is a quarterly Zoom call to discuss how someone can overcome the challenges of blindness. The MVI Zoom session is open to anyone interested in learning about the resources available to live with physical blindness. We welcome people with vision loss and the blind to participate in these calls, but pastors, teachers, lay leaders, and family members are also invited and encouraged to join the conversation.

Few pastors or lay leaders are equipped to help a newly blind member or a potential member experiencing vision loss manage what may seem to be insurmountable challenges. MVI has several board members and leaders who are blind. As blind persons, they live with their physical blindness on a daily basis and have become experts on the challenges and resources for blind people.

Future MVI Zoom calls will discuss how a blind person can overcome the isolation and depression and managing daily tasks that comes with becoming blind. Another MVI call will showcase resources available to accomplish basic tasks, such as reading the Bible in an alternative format. Because the calls are not recorded lectures but real discussions, participants can ask specific questions. You can inquire about solutions tailored to your situation.

Our first quarterly MVI Zoom call will be Tues., Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. Central Time. For further information, please reach out to MVI Chairman, Larry Povinelli at welsvisimp@wels.net or (651) 291-1536.

MVI members are here to serve you. Their involvement in MVI demonstrates that losing physical sight does not mean the end of a productive life. By encouraging each other and helping one another through the challenges of vision loss, we can keep our focus on the cross as we follow Christ. Our ultimate goal is that the blind may see heaven. To God be the glory!

 

 

 

 

MDHH ministry in action

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice” (Psalm 105:1-3)

We hear these words of the psalmist and easily imagine their application: loud shouts of praise to God . . . singing beautiful hymns and anthems to God’s glory . . . sharing and telling the whole world the life-changing news of the gospel . . . talking with other Christians as we remember God’s goodness. . . .

But our praises to God are not acceptable because of our voices, or because of a beautiful hymn, or because of a rich blend of musical instruments. Our prayers and praises are the spiritual sacrifices we offer to God that are only “acceptable to God, through Christ Jesus.” (1 Peter 2:5).

Here at Bloomington Living Hope, we are reminded of that truth as our deaf and hard of hearing members and friends grow in God’s Word through worship and Bible study. With hearts and hands they “give praise to the Lord, and proclaim his name.” They “tell of his wonderful acts” as they encourage one another. Their shouts of praise echo loudly through the new hearts and lives that the Holy Spirit has created by faith.

Each week at our Living Hope location, our 10 a.m. weekly worship service always has an interpreter. Our deaf members and the community can always count on having a live church service in which to worship each Sunday. The same service is streamed and archived on our website with a “picture in picture” view. The interpreter is recorded with a separate camera, so there is always a clear view. It takes work, preparation, and many volunteer hours, but God has richly blessed our efforts!

Another blessing of God is our weekly deaf Bible study. On Tuesday nights our deaf members bring their friends together to study God’s Word. It’s a loose format. Pastor leads the study, with the interpreter close by. We sit close to one another. We pray together. Anyone can ask any question at any time. It’s a bit different from the typical Bible study, but some things are the same. We open the Word and God richly feeds us.

Over the past two years, we’ve held our weekly deaf Bible study over ZOOM. Sometimes the screen is so full of people it’s hard to pick out the interpreter – what a blessing! The technology allows the deaf community to join us from anywhere. Deaf members in Illinois, Washington, South Dakota, and Arizona are brought together by the Spirit’s power to grow in faith week after week.

Starting in fall of 2022, our deaf Bible study is expanding to twice a week. Tuesday at 6 p.m. in person and Thursday 1 p.m. via Zoom. If you would like further information about these Bible studies or to view Sunday services signed by our interpreter, please go to our website bllh.org.

Over the past years, it is incredible to recall how God Has grown our DHH ministry. God can do the same for your church too!

 

 

 

 

When dreams need to change

Do you remember a time that you and your spouse eagerly awaited the arrival of a new child entering your family? If not, have your shared the excitement of a close friend or family member waiting for the birth of a child?

It can be such a wonderful time, full of hopes and dreams! The expectant parents imagine what their child will look like. They picture themselves enjoying everyday events with their child, such as family meals, trips to the zoo, and school field trips. They imagine the fun of birthdays and Christmases together. And they dream about who and what their child might someday become.

But sometimes those dreams need to change. A child may be born with a severe disability or a serious and chronic medical condition, or the child may experience an accident that changes physical or mental abilities forever. And the parents’ dreams are no longer realistic. When that happens, parents generally go through a period of grieving. Eventually, a greater acceptance occurs, and the parents change their dreams and recognize the blessing that their child still is.

This acceptance doesn’t eliminate parental doubts, however. Raising a child with extraordinary needs tends to be very overwhelming and exhausting. Even when the parents fully accept and appreciate their child, on days when those parents are especially overwhelmed and exhausted, they may tend to have doubts such as these return:

  • Why did this happen to my child? We didn’t plan for this!
  • There’s nothing special about me as a parent. I’m not a good enough parent for this situation. I don’t think I can handle this!
  • If God cares for me and my child so much, why doesn’t he fix this?
  • Other parents just don’t get it. I feel so alone!
  • I have a “forever child” whom I will need to care for as long as I live—and what will happen to my child when I die? I can’t die!

These thoughts are all natural and nothing for which parents should feel ashamed. Our Light for Parents ministry is led by parents of children with extraordinary needs who want to make sure other parents of such children receive the Christian love and support that they need.

This fall, Light for Parents will begin leading online book discussion groups, and the first book will address the types of questions listed above from a Christian perspective. Please watch the Light for Parents website and Facebook page for an announcement and sign-up information. And pray specifically for the parents you know who may be experiencing such thoughts, even if they don’t tell you about them. Pray that they will feel God’s love and care for them—including through the work of Light for Parents.

 

 

 

Finding good peer pressure

“If you have to be a follower, why don’t you follow someone good?” The mother who asked this question was frustrated because her son was always getting into trouble. He never seemed to be the instigator. His true problem was not, she realized, that her son was a follower. There are always leaders and followers. Not all followers are influenced by the troublemakers.

She had discovered an important perspective. Peer pressure can be good or bad.

What if we analyzed who should influence us? Gang recruits and people who are incarcerated may think that they only have one option: to give in to the pressure of their peers to do bad things. What if they saw another way? What if they came to see the hope that Jesus gives and followed him?

Peer Pressure is the topic of the newest Bible study in the WELS Prison Ministry self-study Bible correspondence course series. Thoroughly Biblical (over a dozen Scriptures are studied) and Christ-centered, the new course, Peer Pressure, navigates the question of who to follow. Students follow the experiences of “Pete” who is new to prison and pressured by a gang leader, along with the spiritual guidance of his Christian cellmate “John.” Pete learns the joy and peace of following Jesus, although not without suffering at the hands of those who expected him to join their sinful activities. Having suffered, Pete discovers that when he follows Christ, the Lord gives him freedom he didn’t have when he felt trapped by going along with the crowd.

Because God wants to keep us from being led astray by Satan and this world, he gives us the church, his believers who provide the best kind of peer pressure. As this new Bible study lays the foundation for resisting the pressure to sin, it quotes Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIRV), “Let us consider how we can stir up one another to love. Let us help one another to do good works. Let us not give up meeting together. Some are in the habit of doing this. Instead, let us cheer each other up with words of hope. Let us do it all the more as you see the day coming when Christ will return.”

We don’t gather with other believers only to help ourselves, but to encourage others with words of hope. It’s more important than we might think. Others are looking for acceptance, hope, love, and a sense of direction. Often citizens returning to society from incarceration feel judged all over again by God’s people. Our Lord planned for the family of believers to encourage each other, not resurrect the guilt Jesus already paid for. The world is eager to pressure them to go in the wrong direction, back to old friends and habits. Our Savior put us here to provide encouragement and hope through the eternal gospel. Watch for opportunities to provide the best kind of peer pressure! Pray that this newest Prison Ministry Bible study will be a great blessing to many who are incarcerated.

Rev. Jim Behringer
Director, Commission on Special Ministries

 

 

 

The wind beneath a caregiver’s wings

I’ve known people who have 24/7 responsibilities for the care of a loved one. The obligations of being a caregiver (including those whose loved ones are in a facility) can make a person feel isolated, worn out, and stressed in ways that friends and family might not even suspect.

Our loving Father does not intend for caregivers to carry out their task by themselves. After all, God’s Word teaches, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NIV) You and I can be the wind beneath a caregiver’s wings.

I confess that I have often reflected silently and guiltily when I’ve seen an elderly wife or husband care for their disabled or ill spouse all by themselves. I felt bad and helpless when I see parents caring for a child with extraordinary needs and I didn’t know what to do.

You and I can be a big help and encouragement in small ways. I’ve learned to start with a thoughtful conversation with the caregiver. Before I start the conversation, I make a list of tasks the caregiver might need help with. I keep spiritual needs in mind.

Making a list helps me see little tasks that can take burdens off the caregiver, but conversation gives the caregiver a chance to be heard and understood. The list changes. Offering to mow their lawn is not a help when the caregiver looks forward to that activity. Sometimes the caregiver has needs they don’t want made public. The conversation also sets realistic expectations. I am not volunteering for everything on the list! I’m trying to understand ways that this family can be helped.

I look at the caregiver’s list and I pray about it. If I’m not good at recruiting, I talk to my spouse or my pastor to find help enlisting volunteers. Are there tasks which require special training or confidentiality? Special Ministries’ Light for Parents has resources to organize and train volunteers who are willing to help caregivers. Contact them at staff@lightforparents.com. I think of people who might want to get involved. I share tasks on the list with them. I consider whether the caregiver has financial burdens which might be met through a congregational grant from WELS Christian Aid and Relief.

Some items on the list may never get done, but the caregiver has felt the wind beneath his or her wings – the love of a church family that is willing to talk and help. It is really the Lord who lifts up that burden, but God does it with the encouragement and help of his people.

For the Christian family member or friend, caregiving may be a vocation to which the Lord calls us at some time in our life. I might have to care for my wife or she for me. That’s the thing about caregiving: many people become caregivers for a time. Since it happens to so many, let’s talk to each other and consider how we can help carry each other’s burdens.

Jim Behringer
Director, Commission on Special Ministries

 

 

 

 

Updates from Conquerors through Christ

Conquerors through Christ is not JUST a ministry for those addicted to pornography. For the last ten years we’ve been creating resources and recognize that the problem of porn is so much bigger than just the people who are using porn.

There are spouses, significant others, parents, siblings, teachers, and pastors who are affected. Whether it’s through broken trust and resulting pain or a desire to support and help, the problems of porn ripple into the lives of others.

That’s why CTC is continuing to add to its suite of resources to address the many other issues that attend pornography addiction.

Our “First 40 Days” devotional is an empathetic daily devotional for a person to start any time they fall into sexual temptation. It walks the reader through practical ways to build habits for 40 days that will set them up for success. This can be a great first resource to give someone you know who is struggling, but can also be a resource for you to understand their struggle.

Parents want to prepare their children to fight the sexualization of our culture. To support them, we created the “Parent Support System.” This tool guides parents, teachers, and pastors to train children from preschoolers into high school to prepare themselves to resist sexual sin.

How do you preach on pornography?!? We developed our “Training Camp” which helps pastors become better equipped to preach about pornography. Additionally, we have Bible studies to thoughtfully talk about pornography and other sexual sin.

Finally, we are excited to announce that we are in the process of developing a suite of resources to help couples (and other family members) rebuild trust after a loved one falls into pornography. This will include a triage resource for the emotions that come when a loved one feels hurt, an interactive assessment tool for identifying issues, a plan for rebuilding trust, and tools for maintaining that trust in the years to come.

Whether you’re married, single, a parent, a child, or a called worker, we want to help you pursue godly sexuality. Visit www.conquerorsthroughtchrist.net.

 

 

 

 

“Heart to Heart” from Parish Nurse Ministry

Would you like your blood pressure checked? Do you need wellness assistance in the community? Have you ever needed an encouraging word or someone to pray with you? This is the ministry offered by parish nurses. Parish Nurses has a unique volunteer role serving the members from the heart. Parish nurses want to be present for you and for your family. They cannot provide medications or shots, start IVs, or perform anything invasive. However, parish nurses can provide education, resources, and tools to the congregation in order to support your spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. A parish nurse’s goal might include providing:

  • Monthly blood pressure checks
  • “Welcome home” calls when a member is discharged from hospital
  • Wellness articles with a Biblical perspective in the church newsletter
  • Resource assistance in the community
  • Offer a CPR certification program
  • Encouragement, support, and prayer

Parish Nursing dates back to the New Testament as Phoebe opened her home to help the sick and needy. Then many years later, in 1881, Lutheran General Hospital, in Chicago, staffed deaconess nurses. It would be a century before Parish Nurses were given a name. Presently, hundreds of parish nurses serve in churches throughout the States (and internationally) where the programs are energetic and effective.

As a parish nurse, we have a variety of opportunities to make a positive impact on our congregation. We could all benefit from Christian women and men showing love through a warm smile, blood pressure checks, and reassurance the Lord understands their struggles and pain. Check out Anna in Luke 2:37. Anna was “a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”  We also can share in the joy of serving with our nursing skills and knowledge. We pray the Lord will reveal wonderful ways to use our nursing gifts as we joyfully surrender to the Lord’s plan and will. If you are a nurse, take time to invest in a parish nurse program for further education, networking, and support. Look up to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. Trust him to direct our path! Connect with your pastor if interested.

Heidi Gilbert-Then is a Wisconsin native, wife and mother of four, animal lover, and Bible study leader with a nursing degree from CUW. And water-skiing enthusiast.

Learn more about Parish Nursing.

 

 

 

 

The ministry of presence

The concrete chasm still outlined Champlain Towers’ footprint, but the 12 stories that had once climbed out of its basement had, a fortnight prior, crumpled into it. The acre-size void offered a metaphor for the emptiness that now filled multitudes of mourners.

In the early hours of June 24, 2021, the Surfside, Fla., condominium catastrophically collapsed, killing 98 inhabitants. The dead were far outnumbered by the living whose hearts were ground into grief. They included residents who had escaped, survivors whose loved ones had not, and neighbors who feared that their high-rise might be the next in the news. Add hundreds of adrenaline-amped first responders, who were less sapped by the summer sun than sobered by the sadness that recovery, not rescue, would constitute the majority of their mission.

So many distraught, despairing hearts. So many troubled, traumatized souls. Physical resources poured in, but pouring out their pallet of indescribable woes to a pallet of inert goods offered hollow hope. Hurting humans hunger for the emollient of empathy.

Chaplaincy is aptly described as a “ministry of presence.” We chaplains could not solve the survivors’ suffering nor repeal the responders’ revulsion. We could listen to their anguished accounts. We could validate their emotions. We could offer our prayers and our presence. We could focus intently and thereby convey that no one meant more to us than they.

Parish ministry is more about talking and leading; chaplaincy is more about listening and learning. Pastors have a duty to unhesitatingly proclaim divine truth to an audience that demands it. Chaplains have a duty to attend patiently until—if—the sufferer grants leave for the solace-giver to deliver the message of incomparable comfort.

Serving as a chaplain for our county’s jail, and later its fire department, has afforded me the privilege to practice “presence.” This ministry reaches people who have known dark days yet may never darken the doors of a church.

Does working “outside the walls “of your church intrigue you? Perhaps God is calling you to chaplaincy. Learn more at mlc-wels.edu/continuing-education/wels-chaplain-certificate.

 

By Rev. David Rosenbaum, pastor at Redeemer, Merritt Island, Fla.

 

 

 

All because of one referral

To steal a quote from Colonel Smith of The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

WELS Military Services Committee has a plan to help military members receive religious services on base. Marine Corps Recruit, David, followed the plan.

It started with a simple text. “Hey Pastor Schulz, this is David. I’ll be in San Diego for Bootcamp starting August 26. I’m under the impression that you are my contact pastor that can visit me during basic?” He was correct. I was the Military Contact Pastor. But to visit him on base was going to be up to him.

Fortunately, there is a specific document at welscongregationalservices.net/military-contact-pastor. It is titled: How to have religious services on base. Recruit David followed all the steps.

A few weeks later a Religious Program Specialist (RP) from Marine Corps Recruit Depot – San Diego called me and told me there was a recruit who requested Holy Communion. I was able to get on base and have a devotion and Holy Communion with Recruit David! I love it when a plan comes together!

But there was much more to the plan than I could have ever dreamed. As I was leaving that day, one of the RP’s pulled me to the side. “You are a Lutheran pastor. We don’t currently offer a Lutheran service on base. Would you want to start one?”

Since then, I have been leading a worship service on base every Sunday morning. An average of 30 Recruits and Marines attend every week. Because it is a training depot, there is constant turnover. The thirty in attendance are different Recruits and Marines every six weeks! Only a handful have been WELS. Many of the others haven’t been to church in a long time, and some never have. But all in attendance hear the gospel of Jesus Christ!

And this amazing blessing all started because of one referral. I love it when a plan comes together! And I love it even more when God grants his blessings upon that plan! To God be the glory!

By Rev. Paul Schulz, pastor at Risen Savior, Chula Vista, Calif.

 

 

 

Why a CCCW?

To encourage, support, and enhance the physical and spiritual lives of members sounds like part of the job description of WELS called workers. Most members of a calling body take for granted that called workers will encourage and support them. However, many overlook the fact that these workers are also members and need the same support as everyone else. Who will be there to make sure that the physical and spiritual needs of these dedicated workers are met?

A Care Committee for Called Workers (CCCW) can address these needs. The main areas that a local CCCW would support include spiritual needs, continuing education, compensation and benefits, providing encouragement and showing appreciation, addressing practical matters (especially for new workers and those nearing retirement), and fellowship activities. The committee serves as an advocate for the called workers and can bring the workers’ needs to the appropriate group, such as a committee, board, council, or voters. The CCCW is not designed to be a problem-solving group. It exists to facilitate communication and called worker encouragement.

While many calling bodies informally provide support to their workers, having an intentional, structured plan and organization makes sure workers are heard and encouraged. The national CCCW focus is to help calling bodies establish or maintain a local committee. This is done by providing support and materials for congregational called worker care committees. Resources for this ministry are easily accessible on the CCCW webpage.

Once a calling body has a care committee in place, several activities can help them offer appropriate support to the called workers. The primary work is done through three types of visits – entrance, annual, and transition visits. The entrance visit is a time to get acquainted and aid in the transition to a new call. The annual visits provide a regular opportunity for the committee to offer encouragement and identify any areas where support is needed. The transition visit is used to express appreciation and assist with adjusting to a new situation.

Called workers are not likely to request the support that a CCCW can provide. Therefore, it is important that interested members take the lead in providing care for those servants that God has provided. Why not a CCCW?

 

 

 

 

Prepared to serve the military neighbor

Most Americans assume that spiritual ministry to military members and their families is carried out by a U.S. military chaplain. In contrast, WELS Military Services strives to equip WELS congregations to serve military members when they are stationed nearby. It is rare to find a church body focused on equipping churches for local gospel and fellowship ministry to military personnel and their families, but civilian ministry to the military is a cornerstone of WELS Military Services’ work.

Across the nation, 125 WELS churches near military installations and their pastors (called Military Contact Pastors) are appointed to reach out to serve the men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces.

April 26-28, the WELS Military Services Committee held its annual Military Contact Pastors Workshop at Risen Savior, Pooler, Ga., near Army Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. Members of the Military Services Committee met with a group of WELS Military Contact Pastors to discuss ministry to the military with Fort Stewart chaplains and military personnel, including WELS members Lt. Col. Michael Hefti and his wife Katie, who described the stresses of military life and the importance of their WELS pastors and church family in supporting them spiritually.

Every year, attendees look forward to the opportunity to visit a military installation. Fort Stewart extended extraordinary hospitality to the group by holding a meeting attended by more than a dozen of the post’s military chaplains. The chaplains explained their work and the retreat attendees spoke to them about the unique needs of WELS military personnel for religious accommodation. Fort Stewart representatives explained family resources available to military members. The official program ended with a demonstration of how a worship service in the field would be set up, and a visit to 3rd Infantry Division Museum on the post.

The annual workshop is sponsored through a generous grant from the Lutheran Military Support Group, a national organization of WELS and ELS veterans. The Lutheran Military Support Group also sponsors free professional Christian counseling for military members served by WELS Military Services and WELS and ELS veterans.

Rev. Jim Behringer, director of WELS Special Ministries, said, “Of all the Military Contact Pastors workshops, this year’s meeting was superior. Fort Stewart’s chaplains went the extra mile to create mutual understanding. They were impressed by the WELS desire to serve military personnel and they made every effort to help us in that regard. Our attendees are always highly motivated by the speakers, but we had some outstanding presentations that I hope will improve our ability to serve military members with the gospel while helping them carry their burdens.”

Rev. Paul Horn, chairman of the WELS Military Services Committee, notes that the key to serving more WELS members in the military is through referrals from their loved ones, which they can do by going to wels.net/refer. “When we know who our WELS military members are and where they are stationed, we can better serve them with Word and Sacraments.” Horn adds, “When our congregations are aware that military families are in their church, the best thing they can do is to assimilate them into the mission and ministry of the congregation as quickly as possible. Military families move often. Making your church their church home will provide much needed encouragement and support.”

To learn more about WELS Military Services, visit wels.net/military.

For more information about the Lutheran Military Support Group, visit lutheranmilitary.org.

 

God’s People Can!

It’s in our nature when we come across a person with physical or intellectual challenges to focus on what that person can’t do. Perhaps we even define them according to what they cannot do. This person cannot live independently. That person cannot walk. This person cannot speak. That person cannot hear.

In a sense, that’s how God decided to define all of us when he planned to send his Son to earth to save us: he defined us by what we could not do. We could not come to God of our own will and serve him. We could not obey God’s commandments. We could not make up for our sinfulness with good works of our own. Our Lord Jesus did what we could not do – living a perfect life and paying for our guilt.

Now God says that we can: we can serve him. We can obey him. And that spirit of “can” applies to all of God’s people – including those with disabilities and challenges.

Take Amber Todor from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Oak Creek. As a young woman with autism, Amber and her family find ways for her to participate in congregational life and offer service to fellow members and, more importantly, to God. Amber assists her mother Shirley in assembling the monthly church newsletter. Amber attends worship and the monthly Jesus Cares program her congregation offers. Amber also comes to the monthly SMILES (Songs, Movement, Instruments, Learning, Encouragement and Signing) service that runs concurrently with the Sunday morning church service, and even pitches in with clean-up after congregational meals.

When asked why she likes doing things in and around her church, Amber simply says, “Everyone is busy.” And she’s right on several levels. First, Amber recognizes that she has free time that others might not have. That time can be spent, as her mother’s schedule allows, in God’s house, a place where Amber feels comfortable and close to her Savior. Secondly, and more importantly, Amber sees all the work her fellow Christians do for their congregation and wants to do her part as well. Amber is proof that God’s people – ALL God’s people – have a place in their local congregation and service to render to God and their fellow members.

One of the primary goals of WELS Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Ministry is to help congregations utilize their members who, like Amber, have unique challenges. Looking for ideas specific to your church setting? Contact WELS Special Ministries.

 

 

 

Do not Despise a Little One

See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. Matthew 18:10.

When Jesus urges us not to despise the little ones, he is advocating that we listen to children, keep them safe, and support them spiritually when they have been harmed.

When it comes to child abuse, though, the signs are all too easy to ignore. A child’s voice is often disregarded or not believed. Why?

No children in my church have abusive families

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last year about one in seven children experienced abuse and neglect. One in seven. Like all sin, this one does not stop at the church doors.

I have not seen any kids with bruises

The number one type of abuse is neglect, the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs. This include providing adequate housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care.

Neglect looks like “Tommy,” a child in my first-grade classroom. Tommy always had body odor, his teeth were all silver because of extensive tooth decay, and he reported going to the bar his parents owned after school. Tommy was neglected, and he needed someone to intervene. You have children like Tommy in your church. Find them.

I don’t want to cause trouble in the family

I felt this way once, too. It comes from good, but misplaced, intentions. Our responsibility lies with the child’s well-being, which means abuse must be reported to authorities. They have the knowledge needed to investigate and address any family interventions needed. Reporting is a loving action. It ensures that children are safe, and it may provide parents with additional resources they need.

God has blessed you with resources to help. Here are some steps a church can take, along with resources to help you get started.

  • Talk about abuse – frequently. Define what abuse is and its effects. Condemn it as a sin. Children and adult survivors need to hear that abuse is not okay and that the church has safe adults for them. The Freedom for the Captives website has information about abuse.
  • Mandatory Reports. Make reporting abuse a non-negotiable expectation for all called workers and volunteers at the church. Be clear with all parents and guardians that this is a policy at your church or school.
  • Start creating a child safety policy. A child safety policy is your plan for keeping children safe while they are in the care of the church.
  • Refer survivors to resources. Victims of abuse, including adult survivors of child abuse, may need additional help with community resources. The local domestic abuse shelter has free information. The Freedom for the Captives website has spiritual and factual information as well as information about Christian therapists.

Become familiar with abuse, its effects, and how to prevent it. Encourage children to have a chance to speak to safe adults who are ready to listen and believe. Do not despise the little ones; make them feel welcomed and help them be safe in their church.

By Michelle Markgraf

 

Freedom for the Captives offers resources for congregations and schools to assist them in identifying and addressing suspected child abuse. In addition, resources are available to help those who have experienced abuse.

 

 

A man bows his head over a smart phone in his hands apparently listening to the Listen Library. An image of the library webpage is inserted in the picture.

Listen Library shares God’s Word

As a young, sighted child, I remembered the excitement of getting a new book. As I grew older and lost my eyesight, I mourned the loss of access to printed materials. I read using cassette tapes, live readers, or by learning braille. In the 80’s I began receiving Meditations on cassette tapes from the Mission for the Visually Impaired (MVI), part of the WELS Commission on Special Ministries.

Over the last 40 years technology improved and rapidly grew in ways never imagined. Blind people have benefited exponentially. The first braille display was invented in 1982. The accessibility features in the iPhone in 2009, cheaper braille displays, and the ability to easily convert digital information into an accessible format, made access to the printed word easier. The stage was set for online access to many of our WELS theological books, the People’s Bible Commentaries, Meditations, and Forward in Christ.

I had a vision to create an online library containing many of our WELS resources. This library would benefit both the visually and print impaired by providing a vehicle to learn about God’s amazing love and be able to worship the Lord alongside our sighted congregants.

My venture began with a meeting with the director of Special Ministries, WELS technology folks, and the MVI board. This meeting led to the best methods to convert the cassette books already at MVI into an online resource. With software such as Amazon Polly, we were able to convert text files into a text-to-speech file with minimal reformatting. MVI has recruited volunteers working from their homes to bring this dream into reality. In 2019, the Listen Library (listen.wels.net) commenced with a few People’s Bible Commentaries and a novel from our tape collection. We now have 18 volumes of the People’s Bible Commentaries, about a dozen Christian audiobooks for all ages, and the current issues of Meditations and Forward in Christ available in the Listen Library. Our online catalog offers hundreds of titles available on thumb drive or cassette.

With the release of Christian Worship 2021, we’re working on providing access to all the hymns and liturgies on the Listen library. No longer will a visually impaired member be denied full access and participation in a service. This will allow the blind or print impaired member immediate access so they can participate fully in worship. This would have been impossible in the past. Technology has changed the playing field. For this, we give GOD the glory!

The Listen Library is small, but it will continue to grow. We especially need volunteers to edit the sound for our recorded audio books (nearly 200 books await sound editing!) and to work with Amazon Polly. If you know friends or family who can help in the production or program management of our service, please contact MVI at welsvisimp@wels.net or by phone at (651) 291-1536.

By Susan K. Povinelli

 

 

 

MDHH to offer grants for hearing loops

As congregations implemented livestreaming for the first time, many people experience instances of being unable to hear everything in the service. Perhaps your church had issues with the audio for the livestream, and the sound cut out for a portion of the sermon. Maybe the microphones weren’t set up to hear people singing.

These isolated problems serve as a good reminder not to take the ability to hear for granted. And while volunteers have likely worked tirelessly to enhance the audio for online services, the struggle to hear continues to be a common occurrence for hard of hearing people.

This, unfortunately, can put up barriers between sinners and the gospel. People with hearing loss may miss a phrase that would have been the exact thing their heart needed that day. Or worse, they may choose to stop coming to church because they are frustrated or discouraged by the amount of effort required to catch the full message.

Thankfully, modern technology has solutions to alleviate this problem. One of these is to install a hearing loop in your church. A hearing loop works with people’s hearing aids to provide a clearer sound directly into their ears. Watch this brief captioned video where church members describe the difference a hearing loop made for them.

WELS Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MDHH) is encouraging looping projects by offering a grant for such projects. If your congregation is planning or has already begun any kind of building or renovation project, this is an especially great time to consider installing a loop. Or if you are looking for an excuse to suggest replacing the dated flooring in your sanctuary, the opportunity for a grant might be the reason you need.

As part of their mission to provide all people easier access to the gospel, MDHH is offering $500 grants towards the installation of a hearing loop to WELS/ELS congregations that apply for it. MDHH is also able to point congregations towards additional research, contacts, and other resources about hearing loops.

If your congregation might be interested in installing a loop in your sanctuary, please reach out at mdhh@wels.net for more information.

Learn more about the Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

 

 

 

The Beatles Were Wrong!

Jack and Cathy* brought two children into their family through international adoption. The couple was assured by their adoption worker that the children, who had challenges from years of orphanage life, just needed to be loved.

Pete and Stephanie* did foster care for two children. The foster care went fairly smooth, and they were experienced parents of three older children. So when the foster children became eligible for adoption, the couple gladly made them permanent members of their family. They were confident that with their parenting experience, plus love and stability, the children would thrive.

Neither of these couples’ dreams turned out as they expected. They showered their children with love and used traditional parenting methods, having clear, consistent expectations, disciplining children for breaking rules, and rewarding them for obeying rules. Yet their days became filled with challenges: almost nonstop lying; stealing; outbursts that included kicking, hitting, and breaking objects; angry screams of “I hate you,” hiding food in bedrooms; disrespect; bullying of siblings; and more. When Jack and Cathy’s children reached their teen years, the family was dealing with substance use, addictions, running away, visits from police officers, and self-harm.

How could things go so wrong for such loving parents? The truth is that the Beatles were wrong when they sang, “All you need is love”—at least when it comes to adopting children. Children who have been adopted have experienced trauma by losing their original family, and many have experienced other traumatic events as well. They do need love…plus co-regulation, self-calming skills, understanding of sensory needs, to experience safety, connection before correction, healthy attachment, trauma-sensitive homes, and much more.

Should this scare Christian parents away from adoption? Absolutely not! God commands us to care for orphans (James 1:27), and he promises to give us strength to carry out his will (Philippians 4:13). Adoptive Christian parents may, however, need extra training and support. Providing this is one of the goals of Light for Parents, a ministry of support for parents of children with extraordinary needs.

Recent research has shown the effect of trauma on children’s brains and the best parenting methods to promote healing. Light for Parents will soon be making available a training course in those methods as well as a Bible study to accompany that course. It is our prayer that this will enable families that include children from hard places to find the peace, connection, and joy that God wants for all of his children. See the website lightforparents.com for more information or e-mail staff@lightforparents.com.

With understanding and support, adoption can be a beautiful blessing for children from hard places and their new families. The Beatles may have been wrong, but caring for all of God’s people is right.

*not their real names

 

 

 

 

A Radical Change for the Better

Can 40 days change your life or the life of someone you care about? Absolutely! If God is there.

The First 40 Days is a new devotion book from Conquerors through Christ, the WELS Special Ministry dedicated to helping Christians fight against porn and for godly sex. This book invites you on a 40-day journey that can bring you to a whole new place where the good news of God’s saving grace generates potent motivation for change, a place where Satan’s lies lose their power and God’s law becomes a trustworthy guide.

Will this trip be easy and enjoyable? Not likely. Make no mistake, it ends in joy, but fighting sin and Satan is never easy or fun. Porn use is addictive and undoing the damage often takes time, effort, and counseling. And remember, this is an invitation to the first 40 days. Defending God’s design for sex is a lifelong battle, but many who have traveled this road have found that in God’s time, they arrive at a place where they genuinely enjoy God’s breathtaking gift of sex.

The First 40 Days devotional is also helpful for people who don’t use porn. The devotions encourage those who have been hurt by the actions of someone using porn. Those who seek to help someone they know will gain insight and understanding into the struggle. We are all seeking a life that trusts God’s promises and rejoices in his ways regardless of all the false messages sent by the world. The path to rejoicing includes rejecting Satan’s lies about the short-term pleasure, learning to resist temptation, and finding ways to recover from the wounds inflicted by oneself or another. Your path just might start with The First 40 Days.

More than anything, The First 40 Days brings God’s precious Word into everyday life, where the day-to-day struggle can be overwhelming. On every page, you’ll meet Jesus, our 24/7/365 Savior. His promises apply to every detail in our lives, and they never fail. So whether your struggle is with porn itself or forgiving the person whose porn use has hurt you, on every step of your journey, Jesus is there to forgive us, pick us up, dust us off, and give us his own heart to love those around us. Every. Single. Day.

Download a copy of The First 40 Days.

 

 

 

 

Parents Behind Bars

Parenting is a tough job! It looks easy from afar, but not so much when you have to make the decisions and solve the problems in real life.

Imagine being a parent long distance. You have very limited and irregular contact with your children, who are being raised by someone else. Because of your separation, your kids view you with suspicion or anger, or doubt your love for them. You live with regrets and guilt and bouts of depression, all complicated by legal difficulties.

Very excellent book . . . You covered all the bases and in the gray areas you gave it to God. This study brought tears to my eyes.

Thomas, inmate

This could, in part, describe a military family with a parent on deployment, or a family broken by divorce. But only a parent who is incarcerated faces all the above challenges.

WELS Prison Ministry has added a new booklet, Parenting from Prison, to the 23 other titles in its Level 1 Self-Study series. Inmates can request a Bible study, complete a final test, return it for correction, and then request another topic.

Parenting from Prison revisits the root of the problem: the first sin by our first parents. That transgression separated them from their Heavenly Father, leaving them in a prison of pain and regret for having ruined the relationship. But God was determined to restore the father-child trust, which he achieved by sending his only Son.

Incarcerated parents are directed throughout the volume to focus on Jesus and his grace. They are also advised to be honest about their feelings; to be realistic about the challenges; to address their stress by talking with others; and to be patient, trusting God to accomplish what they cannot.

Practical, common-sense, straight forward approach. Teaches how to overcome obstacles of separation, and build a solid plan for the future. Doesn’t belittle or talk down to prisoners, but helps recognize past mistakes, discourage self-doubt, and foster relationships of growth in faith, love, understanding and forgiveness. Thank you for loving me with the truth!

Kelly, inmate

Simple suggestions are offered for communicating with children, such as weaving God’s Word into letters and phone calls; being truthful about mistakes that were made; consistently expressing their love for their sons and daughters; inquiring about events in their lives; and using positive words in all their interactions.

A chapter is devoted to what happens upon release and reunion. The parent in custody will have to readjust to freedom and responsibility, but the entire family will need to readjust their thinking, their behavior, and their priorities when mom or dad returns home. That calls for patience, love, wisdom, and forgiveness by everyone involved.

The study closes with a look at what the Bible says about parenting, including a study of Moses’s mother, Jochebed, and what we can learn from her.

Do you know any parents who are incarcerated? You can submit their contact information to WELS Prison Ministry at wels.net/refer. Please ask the Lord to bless this new resource, helping mothers and fathers to do what is possible in a task that seems impossible: parenting from prison.

By Pastor David Rosenbaum, Prison Ministry publications editor

 

 

 

Just Ask!

Cynthia had no car. The elders did not want that to be a barrier to attending church, so they recruited members to bring her on Sundays. Imagine their surprise when the recruits discovered that Cynthia was not available on Sundays. She was willing and interested in attending the Monday evening service! No one had asked her about the plan to provide her with a ride to Sunday morning worship.

WELS Special Ministries offers many solutions to help congregations serve people who have obstacles to gospel ministry. For the right solution, you start with this: just ask what a person needs. Finding solutions doesn’t start with Special Ministries. It starts by asking the person.

When a WELS church wanted to reach out to the Hmong community, their pastor contacted a few reputed cross-cultural ministry experts about the best way to connect. The experts responded, “Just ask them!” It sounds obvious, “Just ask!” We complicate the process when we don’t start by asking.

When you encounter someone with a disability, struggle, or other barrier to worship, just ask them, “What can your church do to help you spiritually?” At first you might not get an answer, because so few people ask. When you earnestly pursue an answer, however, you’ll learn the difference between helping someone who was born deaf and someone who lost their hearing in old age. You’ll discover that one young person with autism loves to participate by lighting the candles in worship and another needs a seat at church shielded from loud music.

When it comes to volunteers, just ask. Provide clear expectations and look for someone qualified to help, but no one volunteers without being asked. Often helping a member at church is a task that suits people who don’t get asked to be a church leader, choir member, or Sunday School teacher. You don’t know until you ask!

Sometimes the congregation needs to provide a solution and the cost is not in the budget. Just ask the members about the solution. You may find that an anonymous donor or a memorial will provide funds for an electronic solution, a ramp, or other accommodation.

Some solutions are complicated. You don’t know where to start. Just ask Special Ministries. We have teams of experienced and knowledgeable volunteers and resources that you may not realize exists. We are committed to helping churches serve everyone. Just ask!

Some challenges seem to have no solution. Sometimes we know what the solution should be, but it seems impossible. Jesus invites us to just ask him! Pray for volunteers. Ask the Lord for help. Pray with the person you want to serve. Be persistent in asking. You know that the Lord of the church will not allow a barrier to gospel ministry to stand.

While you are trying to find help for someone, you may not realize you have an opportunity for asking that person to help, too. Special Ministries has found that some of the most active volunteers are people with special needs and challenges. The passion of a senior who is a recovered alcoholic, the talent of a woman who is blind, the mission zeal of a young adult with autism – you never know where the Lord might provide the gifts your church needs – so just ask them, “How would you like to serve?”

I once asked a man, “How can I help you?” He responded, “Don’t ask if you don’t mean it.” If you want to help someone hear the gospel and be part of your church family despite the obstacles, just ask!

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

 

 

 

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.