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.

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 around 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.

 

 

 

Yes, you should go to jail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Those who are forgiven much love much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Is there a TBI survivor in your church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Parish nurses minister to body and soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

From a heart of stone to a heart of flesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

A scary problem

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Special Olympics: An outreach opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Blindness opens a man’s eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Can you say that again?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Promising to protect the children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Five myths about ministering to people with addictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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