Together Video Update – November 29, 2022

Forward in Christ asked and its faithful readers answered! What’s your favorite Christmas hymn and why? Hear from Nicole Balza, Forward in Christ digital communications coordinator, as she invites you to experience a special online feature that highlights WELS’ members most beloved Christmas hymns and the heartfelt stories behind their favorites. Check it out at forwardinchrist.net/favorite-christmas-hymns.

 

 

 

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Visit to Kenya and Ethiopia

Along with Rev. Larry Schlomer, WELS World Missions administrator, and Missionary Howard Mohlke,  head of the WELS One Africa Team, I was privileged to visit two of our sister synods in Africa in October. The experience is one I will never forget.

The first visit took place in Nairobi, Kenya. There we were greeted at the airport by representatives of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ–Kenya (LCMC–Kenya). The LCMC–Kenya was received into fellowship with WELS at our synod convention in 2019.

We had the opportunity to worship in the new partially constructed church building (made possible by the generous support of WELS members). We spent the next two days attending the synod convention of the LCMC–Kenya. The faith, zeal, and commitment of the pastors and laypeople attending the convention were truly moving. In the days after the convention, we visited several congregations where members themselves are erecting new church buildings.

Later in the week we traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There we were greeted by Dr. Kebede Yigezu, the president of the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). The LCE is also a relatively new sister synod of WELS, with fellowship declared at our synod convention in 2017.

One of the priorities of the LCE is Christian education on all levels. In a building in Bishoftu (also made possible by the generous gifts of WELS members), Dr. Kebede operates a school where three levels of theological training take place. We were privileged to attend the graduation of four men who had completed their training in one of the levels and are now ready to begin seminary training.

With his emphasis on Christian education, Dr. Kebede also has permission from the local government in Dukem to operate a Lutheran elementary school there. It will have an enrollment of 900 by next year. We visited the school at the start of the school day and were impressed by the enthusiasm of the students and the commitment of the teachers.

God is blessing the gospel ministries of these two growing sister synods. Your prayers and offerings have been a special blessing to them.

 

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Synodical Council holds its fall 2022 meeting

The Synodical Council (SC) held its fall meeting on Nov. 4-5, 2022. Four new members were welcomed: Mr. Brent Nemmers (South Central District lay representative), Mr. Chris Kestner (Michigan District lay representative), Rev. Phil Hirsch (Conference of Presidents representative), and Rev. Jonathan Schroeder (chairman of the Board for World Missions).

The SC reviewed the 2021-2022 financial results of the synod and its subsidiaries. Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) totaled $23.1 million, the first time that CMO has exceeded the $23 million level. That compares to $22.6 million in the previous year and is an increase of 2.2%. These higher-than-planned CMO receipts, coupled with underspending by areas of ministry, enabled the synod to end the fiscal year in solid financial shape. Synodical subsidiaries (WELS Church Extension Fund, WELS Investment Funds, WELS Foundation, Northwestern Publishing House) all reported strong financial results for the year.

For the first quarter of the current fiscal year, CMO support remains strong (4.3% higher than the previous year). Expenses are in line with the adopted plan.

The SC approved the first draft of the ministry financial plan (budget) for the 2023–2025 biennium. The proposed plan outlines planned synod support of $32,841,000 in the first year of the biennium and $33,742,000 in the second year. These are increases of 4.3% and 2.67%, respectively. Compensation for called and hired workers will increase by 2.5% in each year of the biennium. CMO expectations for the next biennium are expected to exceed $23 million in each year, continuing to remain above historic levels. The SC will revisit the ministry financial plan (including proposed compensation levels) in February 2023 and will make adjustments if the financial situation changes. Once the plan is adopted in February, it will be forwarded to the synod convention in July 2023 for consideration.

The SC set the new relocation reimbursement rate. Since moving expenses are taxable for all workers, lay workers will be reimbursed at a rate of 19.65% of the moving cost and called workers will be reimbursed at a rate of 27.3% of the moving cost. These rates assure that workers are reimbursed for additional taxes they may incur. All calling bodies are encouraged to follow this policy.

The SC approved a change to the compensation guidelines, encouraging calling bodies to review annually cash housing allowances for called workers who rent. This change was made because of the rapidly rising cost of renting.

The SC received progress reports from the ministerial schools regarding potential construction needs on the campuses. Master campus planning and feasibility studies are taking place at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.; and Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.

The SC discussed a proposal that was submitted to the Conference of Presidents for consideration. The proposal is to change the synod convention from a biennial to a triennial convention. As was the case with the Conference of Presidents, the SC discussed both the pros and the cons of such a change. Such a change requires an amendment to the synod constitution (not just the bylaws). This means that if the COP decides to forward this proposal to the synod convention in 2023, it would need to be approved by the 2023 convention and discussed at 2024 district conventions, with final consideration happening at the 2025 convention. The COP will determine what to do with this proposal when it meets in January 2023.

The SC received an update on the work being done to develop the next long-range strategic plan for the synod. It’s expected that the final plan will be considered by the 2023 synod convention.

 

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Growth and partnership in Indonesia

In July 2022, WELS Friendly Counselor Rev. Gregory Bey made his first visit to Indonesia since the pandemic began. Bey attended the convention of WELS’ sister synod in Indonesia, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). GLI currently has about 1,650 members in 29 congregations served by 30 pastors and 5 vicars.

The GLI convention was held on the new seminary campus on the island of Java. Construction of this seminary, called Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL), was completed in 2021. Seminary classes are taught by Indonesian pastors with support from Bey. The seminary currently has 27 students, many of whom are graduates of a Lutheran high school that was established in July 2018.

“Walking through the new campus evoked emotions of exhilaration and excitement coupled with thankfulness to God for this beautiful blessing,” says Bey. “But it was interacting with the students, staff, and faculty that brought to mind these words of St. Paul: ‘Entrust the things you heard from me, in the presence of many witnesses, to faithful men who will also be able to teach others’ ” (2 Timothy 2:2 Evangelical Heritage Version).

Bey concludes: “God-willing, STTL will produce a steady stream of qualified national pastors for many years to come.”

GLI continues to grow in number and maturity. In 2015, a plan was set in motion to transition a significant amount of financial support from WELS to GLI. Pastor salaries for men in established congregations will, prayerfully, be fully supported by local members by 2025. In some cases, GLI pastors may need to serve as “tent ministers” who support themselves with secular jobs. WELS would continue to provide funding for seminary professors and possibly the synod chairman. Savings could then be used to support building projects for existing churches as well as exploratory work in new regions. This is a huge step toward self-sufficiency and independence as a stand-alone church body.

WELS’ Asia One Team is in the process of calling for a full-time friendly counselor to support and advise the work in Indonesia. Bey has been filling the role on a quarter-time basis since he retired from full-time work in 2019.

Learn more at wels.net/indonesia.

 

 

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Together Video Update – November 8, 2022

Hear from Rev. Dan Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief, about the damage that Hurricane Ian caused for WELS congregations and how the recovery process is going. See footage of volunteers in action as they work to help their brothers and sisters in Christ.

For more details, read “WELS Christian Aid and Relief responds to Hurricane Ian” at forwardinchrist.net/hurricane-ian.

 

 

 

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Ukrainian music ensemble performs in Germany

In October, Baroque Plus, a Ukrainian musical group that includes members of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC), traveled to Germany to present concerts at several Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) congregations. These concerts were a thank you for the German church’s support to Ukrainian refugees who fled the country to escape the war with Russia. These concerts not only showed the ULC’s gratitude for that aid but also offered an opportunity to assimilate the refugees more fully into the German Lutheran churches.

Three sister church bodies—the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Germany, and WELS—worked together to plan the trip. Three ELFK congregations hosted the special worship services that included music from Baroque Plus, other German and Ukrainian hymns, gospel readings, devotions, and prayer.

“The services were edifying and beautiful,” says Rev. Roger Neumann, WELS’ liaison to the Ukrainian Lutheran Church. “Translators made it possible that three languages were used during the service: Ukrainian, German, and English. Although, for the Lord’s Prayer, all three languages were spoken at the same time, which was quite impressive.”

Fellowship times before, during, and after the services provided opportunities for members from the Ukrainian Church and German church to interact. “There was truly a unique bond of fellowship at each church, which flowed from a sense of empathy, Christian love and concern, and the powerful bond of unity that believers have in Christ. Strangers quickly became friends,” says Neumann. “We pray that those who attended the service, Ukrainian and German visitors who have no church home, will come again to learn more about Jesus and what he has done for them and for all people.”

Hanna Bulu, the leader of Baroque Plus and a member at Resurrection, Kiev, Ukraine, appreciated the opportunity to come to Germany. “After traveling thousands of kilometers from our native home, we met good friends in Germany—and also a long-forgotten feeling of peace and quiet. Such concerts are like bridges between churches, between hearts, between children of God, who are one in Christ.”

WELS, the ULC, and the ELFK are all part of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), a group of 34 Lutheran church bodies from around the world committed to the teachings of the Lutheran Church found in the Book of Concord. This fellowship of believers offers support in faith and doctrine. “This was a blessing, given to us by our Lord, that flows from the unity of believers from around the world who form the CELC,” says Neumann. “The people from Ukraine who were there that week, as well as people from the various church bodies that form the CELC, can better understand that they are never alone.”

Read more thoughts about this trip from ELFK President Rev. Michael Herbst at wels.net/familyofbelievers.

 

 

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Together Video Update – October 25, 2022

Learn more about the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership straight from the workshop presenters themselves. Discover more about the topics that will be discussed and why it’s so important for both lay and called, male and female to attend. For a full list of all presentations and to register, visit lutheranleadership.com.

 

 

 

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Conference of Presidents holds its fall 2022 meeting

The Conference of Presidents (COP) met for its fall meeting October 4-7. The COP welcomed two new members, Rev. Daniel Leyrer, president of the Southeastern Wisconsin District, and Rev. Michael Seifert, president of the North Atlantic District.

As a part of its meeting, Rev. James Pope was installed as the new executive editor of Forward in Christ. Pope succeeds Rev. John Braun, who is retiring after 15 years in the position.

The COP approved a recommendation to shift the responsibilities of deferred giving counselor Scott Wagner from another district to the Southeastern Wisconsin District. Mr. Wagner has agreed to this change.

Currently there are 155 vacancies in pastoral positions, with 141 of those being in parishes. The remaining positions are in retirement calls (two), foreign mission positions (three), professor positions (five), and other pastorally trained positions (four).

The COP determined that a mechanism will be put in place to facilitate suggestions and questions regarding the restatement on the roles of men and women. A decision will be made at a later date as to whether the statement will be submitted to the 2023 synod convention or whether additional study is beneficial.

The COP heard an initial report from the task force studying teacher shortages. That task force will continue its work. Mr. Jim Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools, also provided an update on the development of a new K-12 religion curriculum. The COP will call someone to lead this project later this year.

Home Missions provided an update on the 100 missions in 10 years effort. Planning is continuing, and the initiative will begin in 2023. World Missions also provided updates on the work our synod is doing in India, Africa, Hong Kong, Thailand, and London. World Missions continues to be the conduit for ongoing relief efforts in Ukraine.

Rev. Jon Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, introduced a proposal to better utilize the staff members who oversee the work of the various commissions of Congregational Services. A detailed proposal will be presented to the COP at a future meeting.

The COP asked me to appoint a task force to study ways to identify alternatives to Title IV funding (federal student loans and grants) and to explore possible ways to increase financial assistance to students preparing for ministry. The recommendations are intended to be placed before the synod convention in 2023.

The COP approved the creation of a practical, viable, multi-tiered system of professional and ministry certification to support early childhood teachers currently serving in the field. Plans also call for a suite of resources that can be used by early childhood ministries and congregations to better prepare early childhood staffs for teaching in WELS schools.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Home Missions highlights

It’s been a busy fall for WELS Home Missions.

  • On Sept. 11, three home mission congregations in Texas—Christ Our Refuge, Waco/Hewitt; Our Savior, West San Antonio; and Amazing Grace, Amarillo—launched their first public worship services. Learn more about these services in Forward in Christ’s November article, “Home missions launch first worship services.”
  • On Sept. 15 and 16, the Board for Home Missions met at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. The Board for Home Missions is made up of the district mission board chairman and one lay volunteer from each of the 14 home mission districts. This fall, board members spent time going through the requirements for any new home mission or enhancement requests the districts are preparing for the full board’s spring meeting. The Board for Home Missions is anticipating requests for about 30 new mission starts and 17 enhancements in the spring.
  • On Oct. 2, Cross of Christ, North Nampa, Idaho, dedicated its new church building. The North Nampa location is a second-site ministry of Cross of Christ, Boise, Idaho.
  • On Oct. 10 and 11, the South Central District held its annual missionaries conference. In addition to 40 missionaries and district mission board members, this year’s conference was also attended by three Michigan Lutheran Seminary students who were participating in the high school’s Taste of Ministry experience.
  • On Oct. 16, Zion, Lodi, Wis., launched its first public worship service. Zion is a second-site ministry of Leeds, Wis. Also on Oct. 16, Bethlehem, Richland Center, Wis. (pictured above), dedicated its ministry facility, which houses an intergenerational ministry center and an early childhood center.

“As WELS Home Missions prepares for the official launch of its 100 missions in 10 years initiative in 2023, it’s exciting to see all the ministry that God is already blessing,” says Mr. Sean Young, senior director of WELS Missions Operations. “We’re committed to aggressively reaching lost souls throughout North America with the gospel—today and in the years to come.”

For more information about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

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OWLS joyfully gather for its annual conference

The Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors (OWLS) met at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center in Onalaska, Wis., on Oct. 10-13 for its annual conference. The conference revolved around the theme “There Is a River,” based on Psalm 46:4.

Convention goers were treated to a scenic bus tour of historic La Crosse, Wis., on Tuesday morning. Beginning on Tuesday afternoon, attendees enjoyed worship, fellowship, breakout sessions, and three keynote presentations. Rev. Timothy Redfield, whose daughter, Libby, was born blind, shared his family’s personal story and the resources available through the Mission for the Visually Impaired. Rev. Curtiss Seefeldt talked about how to provide emotional and spiritual support for those affected by dementia. Rev. Jon Leach from Truth in Love Ministry spoke about reaching out in love to Mormons.

The OWLS again designated its offerings to support the WELS European Civilian chaplaincy, which serves military personnel and WELS civilians in Europe. This year, the OWLS presented Military Services with a check for $55,000. Convention offerings and proceeds from the silent auction, which raised a record $2,564, were directed for next year’s gift to the work of the chaplaincy in Europe.

Mr. John Paulsen, OWLS executive director, talks about the appeal of the convention: “We have good food, excellent fellowship, and great speakers,” he says. “Every convention has been so well received. That’s why people keep coming back.” He adds, “It’s like a mini-vacation from the world—and a chance to be with other people who are all trying to share the gospel.” Paulsen encourages any congregation with a seniors’ ministry to look into the OWLS program because it offers meaningful ways for seniors to gather and serve.

Longtime OWLS members were excited to welcome 25 first-time attendees, like Carol Kolosovsky from St. Paul’s, Muskego, Wis. “It was a great joy,” Kolosovsky says. “The conference reminded me of the wonderful opportunities, privileges, and blessings that seniors have in God’s kingdom.” Kolosovsky was also moved by the worship services and fellowship: “Whether it was reconnecting with old friends or making new friends, all of them shared their enthusiasm to share Jesus. I really look forward to meeting them all again someday.”

The 2023 OWLS convention for seniors will be held Oct. 10-13 at the Holiday Inn in Stevens Point, Wis. The convention is open to all seniors in WELS and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, regardless of OWLS membership.

Learn more about the OWLS at wels.net/owls.

 

OWLS Convention 2022

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Together Video Update – October 11, 2022

Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., celebrated the dedication of the Betty Kohn Fieldhouse on Oct. 8, 2022. Listen as Rev. Richard Gurgel, Martin Luther College’s president, explains how the students are using this new facility. Then learn more about the college’s new strategic plan, titled “Pursuing Excellence Under the Cross,” which launched on July 1.

 

 

 

 

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New executive editor for Forward in Christ

Rev. John Braun

After 16 years of faithful service as executive editor of Forward in Christ, Rev. John Braun has announced his retirement, effective Dec. 31. During those 16 years, Braun has overseen a number of improvements in the synod’s official magazine. We are grateful for his service and pray for God’s blessings in his retirement.

Rev. James Pope has accepted the call from the Conference of Presidents to succeed Braun as executive editor. Pope will be installed tomorrow, Wed., Oct. 5, during the regular fall meeting of the Conference of Presidents at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, Waukesha, Wis. Braun will continue in his role until the end of December, but Pope will begin work immediately, working with Braun to enable a smooth transition.

Rev. Jim Pope

Pope was born and raised in Racine, Wis., the youngest of three boys. He received his education at Northwestern Prep (1973), Northwestern College (1977), and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (1981). He and his wife, Cathy, have two grown children, Ashley and Jeremy.

Pope brings a variety of experiences to his ministry. After graduating from the seminary, he was assigned to St. Matthew, Milwaukee, where he served 7 years. After that he served 12 years at Peace, Bradenton, Fla., before taking a call to Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., where he taught history, theology, and staff ministry courses. He retired from MLC in 2021.

Readers of Forward in Christ may recognize Pope’s name because he served as a contributing editor to the magazine, writing the popular “Light for our path” column from 2014–2019. At the same time, he served WELS by answering questions submitted online through the synod’s website.

The position of executive editor of Forward in Christ is a part-time position. Pope will also soon begin serving a six-month, part-time retirement call to St. Mark, Leesburg, Fla.

We pray that God will bless him as he carries out this important responsibility.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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WELS Christian Aid and Relief responds to Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on Sept. 28 as a powerful Category 4 storm. Rev. Dan Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief, provides an update on how WELS congregations were affected and on current relief efforts in those areas.

On Oct. 3, 2022, a four-person assessment team from WELS Christian Aid and Relief arrived in Sarasota, Fla. They met with Rev. Marty Mielke, the secretary of the South Atlantic District and “point man” for disaster relief operations following Hurricane Ian. Mielke has been in regular communication with the pastors and congregational leaders in the district. He gave the team an overview of the situation in south Florida. The team plans to spend two days visiting WELS congregations in the area; assessing their needs; and planning the best ways to utilize money, volunteers, and other resources to help those who are affected.

Congregations to the north and in the immediate Tampa area received the least damage. WELS churches in Odessa, Tampa, Clearwater, Valrico, Seminole, and Parrish were largely untouched with only a few downed trees and light flooding. Risen Savior in Lakewood Ranch sustained significant roof damage. Ascension in Sarasota has some roof and soffit damage as well as a 40-foot palm tree on the roof.

Congregations and communities farther south were hit the hardest. At Prince of Peace in Englewood, the church’s cupola was breached, causing water to soak the sanctuary and pews. Christ the King in Port Charlotte received roof and water damage, causing part of the ceiling to collapse. Bethany in North Fort Myers is going to need a new roof and has a large amount of downed timber and brush on the property. At Crown of Life in Fort Meyers the roof on the gymnasium was severely damaged and water entered the sanctuary. The church and school at Abiding Love in Cape Coral sustained roof damage; water also penetrated into the offices, hallways, classrooms, kitchen, and fellowship hall. Portions of the ceilings have collapsed.

We are happy to report that among our members, no injury or loss of life has been reported. Praise God for his mercy!

Many offers of help have come in from individuals and organizations across the synod. Thank you so much! Again, we ask for your patience as we prioritize and plan. The best way for you to help at this time is to give a financial gift. You can do that by going to wels.net/CARgift or mailing a check to WELS, N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive, Waukesha, WI 53188, and designating your gift to “Disaster Relief.”

Small, local efforts to provide needed supplies and clear debris have begun. Christian Aid and Relief has already provided $10,000 to the South Atlantic District to purchase supplies, generators, and tarps.

It would be easy to look at this disaster as only that—a terrible storm that caused tremendous damage and loss. If we take a closer look, we will see that the Lord is using Ian to remind us of what’s really important and to give us the opportunity to imitate the compassion of Christ as we love and serve one another and those around us. Please continue to pray.

 

WELS CAR - Hurricane Ian 2022

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Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary annual symposium held

Nearly 400 people attended Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s (WLS) annual fall symposium on Sept. 19-20, either virtually or on campus in Mequon, Wis. Attendees heard three papers presented on the topic of compassion ministry.

Dr. Keith Wessel, professor at Martin Luther College, presented an essay on the biblical basis for Christian compassion. Christ’s compassion for sinners, demonstrated in the sacrifice he offered for all, moved early Christians to love and serve their fellow believers. They may not have established a highly organized ministry of compassion, but their sincere love took concrete action to help those in need.

Dr. Glen Thompson, professor emeritus at Asia Lutheran Seminary, presented a historical overview of Christian compassion through the centuries—from Constantine to the present time. The Christian church historically showed compassion for the hurting because of Christ’s love for them, and not exclusively, or even primarily, as an opportunity to share the gospel with them. Too often, compassion ministry has been considered valuable only insofar as it serves as “a bridge to telling others about the Savior.” It may be that, but a Christian congregation wants to serve out of love for the neighbor, to the glory of God.

Rev. Ryan Kolander, pastor at Palabra de Vida Lutheran Church, Detroit, Mich., presented an essay on creating a balanced culture of compassion in today’s current contexts of ministry. He addressed the pitfalls and fears facing those who desire to help the hurting in their community. Compassion ministry begins with listening to people and serving them in a responsible and meaningful way. The Lord has given us the opportunity to love others as he has loved us.

The archive of the Symposium essays is available at wisluthsem.org.

 

 

 

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Together Video Update – September 27, 2022

Mr. James Rademan, director of WELS Lutheran Schools, explains the need for Christian counseling in WELS schools and his appreciation for WELS’ partnership with Christian Family Solutions in providing school-based counseling. Mr. Dan Nommensen then details what is involved with school-based counseling and why it can be a valuable part of a school’s ministry.

Special thanks to Mount Lebanon—Omega Campus, Milwaukee, Wis., and Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School, Jackson, Wis., for allowing us to highlight their school-based counseling programs.

 

 

 

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Reaching souls with 100 new home missions

“Go.” It begins with that one word from our Savior as he sends us to carry out the mission he has given us. He wants us to go to our families, to our friends and co-workers, to our communities, and, in fact, to all the world.

But going is not enough. It’s what he gives us to take along when we go that is at the heart of that mission. He sends us to go with a message—a lifechanging and soul-saving message—of a Savior who came to this world to rescue people from guilt, despair, and eternal death. “Go . . . and preach the gospel!” (Mark 16:15).

At our synod’s convention in 2021, delegates heard about an ambitious proposal to further the spread of the saving gospel. Rev. Mark Gabb, chairman of the WELS Board for Home Missions, outlined a plan to establish 100 new home missions and enhance 75 existing ministries in 10 years. It was a breathtakingly ambitious idea, but it was one that the delegates of the convention endorsed without hesitation. Since that convention, the Board for Home Missions has been working to develop plans and strategies for accomplishing that goal—a goal we know can only be reached with the blessing of our gracious God.

Through the collective efforts of WELS and all our congregations, members, and affiliated ministries, we want to aggressively reach lost souls. Here’s how you can help:

Pray: This is no small thing. Pray that the Lord of the church would provide workers. Pray for our WELS Home Missions leaders, our home missionaries, and our worker training schools as they recruit and train future missionaries. Pray that the Lord provides us with the financial support needed to do the work.

Get Involved: Talk with your district mission board to see what you or your congregation might do to get involved in this synodwide church planting effort. Encourage young men and women in your church to consider full-time ministry. Ask your pastor to keep our synod’s work in your congregational prayers and provide updates on a regular basis.

Give: You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was rich, yet he became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). God’s generosity has resulted in the riches of forgiveness, peace, joy, and hope. Let that move you to give generously to your local congregation, to your synod through your church, and to this initiative.

The 100 Missions in 10 Years effort is not about numbers and statistics. Rather, it is simply a concerted effort to boldly take the gospel to people in new locations throughout the country. And when the gospel is preached and proclaimed, the Holy Spirit works in his way and in his time to build his church. Learn more at wels100in10.net.

Serving him,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

See how home missions can impact souls

 

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A new approach to African mission work

In May and June of this year, three of WELS’ sister church bodies in Cameroon and Nigeria graduated a combined 25 men after five years of seminary studies. Seven of those men will serve as pastors in the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC); nine will serve Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria; and nine will serve All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria.

Graduation in Nigeria

Mission work in Africa looks significantly different now than it did 30 years ago. Gone are the days of American seminary-trained pastors driving out to remote African villages to preach in churches. “Years ago, we had the idea that we were going to bring what we knew from the United States and just transplant that into Africa. It was generally missionary-driven,” says Rev. Dan Kroll, a One Africa Team missionary based in Malawi.

Now the relationship between WELS missionaries and our African church bodies is shifting to one of partnership.

The ministerial training of the recent Cameroonian and Nigerian graduates demonstrates this shift. At the outset of the LCC’s five-year seminary program, Kroll was working in person to hand the worker training program over to the capable, spirit-driven men of Africa. Kroll’s time in Cameroon soon came to an unexpected end, however, when COVID-related challenges and dangerous political unrest made face-to-face contact with the men impossible for the final three years. The situation in Nigeria was similar.

Suddenly, the African teachers in both Cameroon and Nigeria bore the responsibility for completing the seminarians’ training. While Kroll and Rev. Dan Witte, a One Africa Team missionary based in Zambia, worked tirelessly to provide guidance and materials via e-mail, the stunted communication proved challenging.

But the Lord promises us in Isaiah 55:11 that when his Word is preached, his purposes are fulfilled. Kroll explains, “The men graduated, and they’re going to be in ministry. They studied, and the Holy Spirit will strengthen them and encourage them and put out whatever he wants to put out.”

The next seminary class began its studies this month, with the African national pastors now taking the lead in the training. “Now it’s their thing, and we’re going to assist,” says Witte. “It’s important for us to empower people with Holy Spirit-given gospel gifts to do their thing their way, as opposed to us saying, ‘How can they replicate our thing our way?’”

Witte and Kroll recently met in Cameroon with their African brothers to preview course materials and seek feedback as the national pastors work to shape their own ministerial programs. “Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job,” Witte explains. “Our goal is that on the day we need to leave, [this ministry] is in someone else’s hands.”

Learn more about work in Africa at wels.net/missions/africa. Read more about our African partners at forwardinchrist.net/doing-their-thing-their-way.

 

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Images of Grace: Communicating the gospel through art

Many cultures don’t have a strong tradition of reading and writing and communicate concepts and stories in other ways, often through oral traditions and through art. This often makes communicating God’s Word to people unfamiliar with it a difficult challenge. With those realities in mind, Missionary Terry Schultz began exploring ways to create art that can be used to more easily teach the Word of God in any culture.

Recognizing the great need and drawing upon longtime friendships with Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minn., art professors Andy Overn and Jason Jasperson, Schultz suggested a project involving the professors and interested students in partnership with WELS Multi-Language Productions. The project would involve creating new artwork of as much of the Bible as possible.

A group of students met with the professors and Missionary Schultz, and the project was immediately launched. An initial 54 Bible stories were chosen and divided between the students and professors. The artists spent many hours studying the Bible, utilizing commentaries, and talking with theology professors before beginning final artwork. At the same time, they needed to study various cultures to make the art as usable as possible in a variety of cultural contexts.

Each Bible story was created in a poster-sized format with multiple frames. These posters can easily and economically be printed in nearly every mission field.

Bethany Lutheran College students Holly Harris, Maida Jasperson, Lydia Kratz, and Abby Nelson joined Missionary Schultz and Professors Overn and Jasperson along with WELS World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer for a gallery exhibition and panel discussion on September 1, 2022. The exhibition, “Images of Grace,” showcased the artwork at Bethany Lutheran College.

Bethany students, faculty, and staff, as well as guests, turned out to see the artwork and listen to the story behind the project. Missionary Schultz stressed that this project is only beginning, and his hope is to have many more Bible stories available in this format in the future.

> View photos from the event.

Watch a video:

 

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Together Video Update – September 13, 2022

Foundation, Folsom, Calif., is a WELS home mission that was determined to gather for worship, leading members to embrace “worship without walls.” Hear from Home Missionary David Koelpin about how this ministry began and how it’s developing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Together Video Update – August 23, 2022

Registration is now open for the second National Conference on Lutheran Leadership, which is taking place January 16-18, 2023, in Chicago. Learn more about what topics will be featured and why this conference is so important. For more details, visit lutheranleadership.com.

 

 

 

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“God’s beautiful and balanced design for male and female” released

Biblical doctrines and principles do not change. But there are times when those doctrines and principles need to be understood clearly as new situations arise and are addressed by the church. That is certainly true when it comes to what the Bible tells us about the God-given roles of men and women and the nature of their relationship with one another.

Our synod’s current doctrinal statement on the roles of men and women is called “Scriptural principles of man and woman roles.” After more than a decade of work and discussion, it was adopted by the 1993 synod convention as a correct explanation of biblical truth and as our synod’s formal doctrinal statement on the issue.

Since the adoption of “Scriptural Principles of Man and Woman Roles,” our synod’s doctrinal position has not changed; the statement still expresses biblical truth. But new questions and issues have arisen regarding the biblical roles of men and women that did not really exist in 1993. Understandably, those questions were not really addressed at the time. In addition, there have been situations in which certain elements of the current statement have been misunderstood or misapplied.

For those reasons, the Conference of Presidents (COP) determined that it would be beneficial for our synod to consider an updated restatement of the scriptural principles outlined in the 1993 document. The new statement is entitled “God’s beautiful and balanced design for male and female.”

After three years of work and study, a proposed draft of that statement is now ready. The Conference of Presidents encourages you to read and discuss the statement with your church and district leaders.

WELS again celebrates blessings in endowments program

Thanks to the generosity of God’s people, WELS Foundation was blessed to distribute almost $1.2 million to gospel ministry in July through the WELS endowment funds. These funds were established by delegates at the 2005 synod convention to provide ongoing support for the Lord’s work in WELS Ministerial Education and WELS Home, Joint, and World Missions.

In addition to the WELS endowments, WELS Foundation also manages endowments that are set up by individuals, congregations, and other WELS-affiliated ministries. In total, WELS Foundation distributed $3.8 million from more than 375 endowments this year, providing ongoing financial support for Christ’s gospel work throughout WELS.

Several of the endowments managed by WELS Foundation benefit Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., providing tuition assistance to students training to become pastors.

Seminarian Jacob Borgwardt, a member at Redeemer, Fond du Lac, Wis., shares one of the blessings of the tuition assistance he has received through endowments: “[It] helps me focus on training to be a pastor. Instead of having to work full time to pay off student loans and be a part-time student, it’s the other way around. Seminarians can be full-time students, spending the majority of our time studying God’s Word.”

He continues: “On the spiritual side, I’ll never forget something one of my professors once said in regard to tuition assistance: The people giving generously to these endowments see the support of seminarians as a tangible way to give to the gospel. What a blessing and responsibility!”

Borgwardt extends his gratitude to those who have supported him and his wife through their financial gifts: “We thank God that he has given you such Christlike generosity. You are a help and a blessing to us and to so many of my classmates. Your gifts and prayers are extremely encouraging! Knowing that there are so many people who support us in our pastoral training makes us that much more excited to serve a church someday.”

“An endowment is a great way to create a lasting legacy of Christian faith while providing for the Lord’s work—like supporting our future pastors,” says Mr. Jim Holm, executive director of WELS Foundation.

There are a variety of ways to give to an endowment: cash or appreciated assets; or through a will, trust, beneficiary designation on a retirement account, or insurance proceeds. To learn more about adding to an existing endowment or establishing a new endowment for a ministry close to your heart, contact your local WELS Christian giving counselor at wels.net/giving-counselors or call 800-827-5482.

 

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2023 WELS VEBA open enrollment and rate updates

The WELS VEBA Commission approved a full open enrollment period this November for new coverage effective Jan. 1, 2023. All eligible workers will have the opportunity to enroll for new coverage or make changes to their existing WELS VEBA coverage. Sponsoring organizations that do not currently participate in WELS VEBA will have the opportunity to participate by offering WELS VEBA to their eligible workers for 2023. Open enrollment materials will be mailed to eligible workers and sponsoring organizations by the end of October.

The 2023 premium rates for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan will increase by 9.5% over the current 2022 rates. There are three main drivers of the increase:

  1. The utilization of health care services has increased as access to providers has improved during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Inflation has caused the cost of health care services and prescription drugs to increase at a faster pace than in recent previous years.
  3. Investment returns achieved by the WELS VEBA medical trust year-to-date through June 30, 2022, are lower than expected.

“Although the 2023 increase is significant, the increase is necessary for the plan to maintain adequate projected long-term reserves and is in line with average expected increases in health insurance premiums nationwide,” explains Mr. Joshua Peterman, director of WELS Benefit Plans. “It is also important to remember that over the previous four years the WELS VEBA rates increased by a total of only 4%, and $4.2 million in savings was passed on to participating sponsoring organizations during the August 2020 premium holiday.”

View the 2023 rates at welsbpo.net.

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Together Video Update – August 9, 2022

Rev. Ben Foxen and Rev. Keegan Dowling were commissioned to join the One Africa Team as missionaries in Zambia, Africa, on June 11. The Foxen family arrived in Lusaka, Zambia, on Aug. 2. The Dowlings are scheduled to arrive at the end of August. See what Missionary Foxen and his wife, Becky, had to say following the commissioning. Learn more about their family, their plans to serve overseas—and how you can help them in their new ministry.

 

 

 

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WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership

I’m happy to invite you all to the second WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership. It will be held January 16-18, 2023, at the Hilton Chicago. This conference is not only for those who serve in formal leadership positions in their congregation: called workers, church council members, school board members, and the like. This conference is for anyone who is passionate about the mission of the church. It is for everyone who, by encouragement and example, wants to lead others to engage in that mission. So, all are welcome—called workers and laity, men and women, retirees and high-school students, lifelong WELS members and those new to the church.

The conference includes five keynote presentations that will discuss the larger strategic issues and challenges facing every congregation. Attendees also will be able to choose from almost 50 breakout sessions. Some breakouts will focus on aspects of leadership: leadership development, planning, management, church polity. Others will share some “best practices” in various ministry areas: evangelism, worship, schools, youth ministry, adult discipleship. There will be a variety of panel discussions: teens, educators, worship leaders. Still other breakout sessions are purely devotional in nature. There is something for everyone and for every congregation. To take full advantage of all the breakouts, I’d encourage you to consider having a delegation from your congregation attend.

When WELS Congregational Services planned the first National Conference on Lutheran Leadership three years ago, it was hoping to have 400 people attend. In the end, 800 registered; the enrollment had to be capped due to capacity limits. This year’s venue has more capacity.

I believe the reason so many were interested in the conference is simple to understand. We all know the challenges confronting American Christianity. Our congregations were—and still are—experiencing those challenges. Coming together to hear God’s Word and to discuss our path forward was both edifying and encouraging. All the presenters at that first conference encouraged us to see those challenges as opportunities—opportunities to trust in the power of God’s holy Word; opportunities to explore new ministry tactics; opportunities to recommit ourselves to doing all we can with the gospel.

The second WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership will do the same. I look forward to seeing you there.

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

Learn more about the conference and register at lutheranleadership.com.

 

Conference highlights purpose and identity in Christ

More than 330 women attended the WELS Women’s Ministry Conference July 21–23 at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., to learn how to 

  • identify barriers that get in the way of knowing our purpose, 
  • stand firm on Scripture in the face of conflict, and
  • extend grace in everyday relationships.

The conference, under the theme “Won to be One,” dug deep into the book of Ephesians and God’s grace that gives us our identity in Christ. “As a woman, I constantly ask what my role is in the church and in the ministry. I cannot be a pastor and I am not a teacher, so how can I be an asset to my congregation and to the church of Christ as a whole? This conference put the Great Commission in the forefront of everything and refocused our place and identity as ambassadors of Christ. We minister in everything we say and in all we do,” says Janet Block, a member at New Hope, West Melbourne, Fla.

In his “Know the Love too Big to Know” presentation, Rev. Paul Wendland, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., examined Ephesians chapters 1 and 3, where Paul shares God’s perspective on our purpose grounded in his grace. In his presentation, Rev. Benjamin Kratz, pastor at Our Savior, Birmingham, Ala., reminded attendees that they are united in one Savior who gives us our identity. Rev. Snowden Sims, pastor at St. Paul, Columbus, Ohio, and Rev. Ryan Kolander, pastor at Palabra de Vida, Detroit, Mich., showed how unity with Christ and unity in mission are hard work, but God’s plan for ministry opens unexpected doors for opportunity through his grace. Prof. Tingting Schwartz from Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., shared how she learned that her Christian identity unifies her other identities of being an immigrant, a mother, and an educator.

Tara Dezso, a member at Shepherd of the Hills, Tucson, Ariz., was thankful for these scriptural reminders from Ephesians. She says, “There just have been so many lessons I’ve taken away from the general sessions and the breakout sessions that I can apply to my life. When I go back home, it’s just going to be incredible.”

For the past 20 years, WELS Women’s Ministry, part of the WELS Commission on Discipleship, has nurtured, encouraged, and equipped women to use their gifts for joyful service in God’s kingdom. Learn more about Women’s Ministry and access conference resources and livestreamed videos. You can also sign up for a twice monthly newsletter to keep up to date on upcoming events and new resources.

 

2022 WELS Women's Ministry Conference

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Missionaries receive support and direction during orientation

Six new world missionaries, one world mission vicar, and their spouses attended world missionary orientation at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis., from July 11-14. Attendees included

  • Rev. Keegan and Mrs. Kate Dowling, One Africa Team;
  • Rev. Ben and Mrs. Becky Foxen, One Africa Team;
  • Rev. Conifer Berg and Mrs. Ruth Nitz, Europe Team;
  • Rev. Luis and Mrs. Carolina Acosta, One Latin America Team;
  • Teacher Luke and Mrs. Rachel Beilke, One Latin America Team;
  • Vicar Caleb and Mrs. Emily Koelpin, One Latin America Team; and
  • Rev. Jonathan and Mrs. Kim Bare, Asia One Team.

Rev. Paul Nitz, WELS World Missions’ One Team counselor and former missionary in Africa, organized the training. He notes, “Our missionaries are very excited to get out into the world and help get that sweet message of Jesus and salvation into the hands and hearts of the lost. They would be a bit odd if they weren’t also going out with a bit of worry. They will confront challenges. We can all imagine the physical challenges. We think of things like driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, learning how to shop and cook, and putting kids into a school. There are also cultural challenges they will face. As we are sending out our new missionaries, we want to help them with some encouragement and some perspective.”

“The orientation was immeasurably valuable,” says Mrs. Kate Dowling. “Before that week, I was drifting in a rough sea. During the orientation I learned that there is an entire well-organized team behind all the missionaries. The Board for World Missions administration is made up of experienced missionaries and an operations director who know the concerns we have and who know what to say to calm our fears. The most valuable part of everything was making connections with other people and feeling supported as we go across the ocean to a new place with a new culture. And all of this to serve the Lord—what a privilege.”

“To be welcomed and accepted by experienced missionaries like this was a very uplifting experience for all of us new to this calling,” says Rev. Keegan Dowling. “Priorities for what we should do when we first land on the field were clearly laid out. So were the core values of the WELS World Missions global team as well as our team’s goals and dreams of what we’d like to accomplish over the next few years—laying it all at the feet of our Father in heaven. For all these reasons, I came away from orientation feeling that we new missionary families were given clear and concrete direction.”

“Our prayer,” explains Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions, “is that the Lord uses these few days as a way to help ensure our missionaries are not shipwrecked by difficulties that are common experiences for all missionaries. We want these families to be able to serve for many years in this most important task, to take the gospel to places and people that do not have it yet.”

For more information, including biographies about each family, visit wels.net/missions.

 

 

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Together Video Update – July 26, 2022

More than 330 women attended the WELS Women’s Ministry Conference held July 21-23 at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis. Hear attendees’ reactions.

 

 

 

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Humanitarian aid grants announced

Rev. Dan Sims, administrator for WELS Christian Aid and Relief, announced its annual grants for humanitarian aid. In contrast to disaster relief, which is given in response to various kinds of disasters when they occur, WELS Christian Aid and Relief also invites Home and World Missions to submit grant requests for various types of humanitarian aid projects as one way to show Christian love and compassion in a variety of ways. Here is his report:

At their May 17, 2022, meeting, members of WELS Christian Aid and Relief approved humanitarian aid grants totaling $628,480 for FY 22-23. This is the highest amount ever approved. These grants support projects developed by WELS home and world missionaries to reflect Christ’s love to the people of their communities. These acts of mercy and compassion regularly lead to opportunities to share the gospel.

Some examples of the compassion ministry being carried out in home and world mission settings include support for legal immigrants; Bibles for foster children and support for their families; books, backpacks, and other school supplies for underprivileged students; horseback riding for disadvantaged and differently abled children; food and personal items for struggling individuals and families; medical clinics; access to clean drinking water; mosquito netting; support for persecuted Christians; education for refugee children; vocational, technological, and agricultural training; scholarships for poor students; smokeless stoves for safer heating and cooking; and warm clothing for widows and orphans.

These Home Missions congregations received grants:

  • African Chapel of Improvement, Las Vegas, Nev.
  • Hope, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Christ the Rock, Farmington, N.M.
  • Christ, Denver, Colo.
  • Carbon Valley, Firestone, Colo.
  • Risen Savior, Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
  • Amazing Grace, Amarillo, Texas
  • Hope, Houston, Texas
  • Christ the Rock, Hutto, Texas
  • Abiding Savior, Killeen, Texas
  • Living Faith, Midlothian Texas
  • Our Savior, West San Antonio, Texas

These World Missions fields received grants this year:

  • Africa–Malawi, Zambia, Nigeria, and the Central African Medical Mission
  • Asia–India, Indonesia, and Thailand
  • Europe–Albania and Bulgaria

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Aid distribution in Ukraine

As Russia continues to wage war against Ukraine, the effort to support WELS’ brothers and sisters in Ukraine has been blessed by our Lord Jesus. WELS has received more than $1.4 million from individuals and groups to support the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC), WELS’ sister church body in the Ukraine, and its efforts to help members and others affected by the conflict.

WELS has sent more than $300,000 in aid to Ukraine. Approximately $200,000 has been sent to the ULC (as it has requested it) for clothing, food, medicine, and other supplies. About $100,000 has been sent to Direct Relief, an organization equipped to provide emergency medical supplies to those remaining in Ukraine or who are refugees in Poland. As the conflict continues, and as needs arise, additional funding will be sent. WELS also is anticipating significant rebuilding costs when, Lord willing, the war ends.

Rev. Roger Neumann serves the Board for World Missions as the WELS liaison to Ukraine. He maintains regular contact with ULC leaders and provides updates about how the aid is being used and how doors are opening to share the gospel, even in trying circumstances. These are just a few examples of the many ways people are hearing about the love of Jesus through your gifts.

  • ULC Pastor Taras Kokovsky and his wife were asked to visit Latvia by Latvian Lutheran pastors to reach out to Ukrainian refugees who settled there. The goal of the trip is to determine how to best serve them and their spiritual needs, invite them to worship, and tell them about the ULC, so when they return they might find a church to attend.
  • A member of Resurrection Lutheran in Kiev was able to get an additional package of food for a 72-year-old neighbor who is struggling to buy food.
  • Liudmyla, a retired member of the ULC church in Kyiv, was having a difficult time getting her medications, and the church was able to supply them for her.
  • Food and medical supplies are regularly being distributed to people in need in the communities around ULC congregations.
  • After an outpatient hospital in the small town of Bereznehuvate was destroyed, a ULC church member who is a dentist there was provided with funds to purchase tools and medicine so that she can help those who need it.
  • Bishop Horpynchuk, the head of the ULC, delivered soap, shampoo, toothpaste, detergents, etc., to members and visitors in Kyiv.
  • Iryna from Bachmut and Valentyna from Brianka heard about the ULC church and attended worship. They told their stories of how they left home with only a few things and found shelter in Kyiv. Horpynchuk and his congregation shared with them food and drink, detergents and soap, and Christian love.

We thank our heavenly Father for the generous gifts that we’ve received, for Rev. Neumann’s faithful contacts, and for WELS World Missions’ partnership with the ULC.

To learn more or to support the relief efforts in Ukraine, visit wels.net/ukraine.

 

 

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