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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Teens learn, grow, worship, and serve at latest youth rally

More than 2,200 teens and youth leaders traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., for the 2022 WELS International Youth Rally June 28–July 1 at the University of Tennessee.

The theme for the rally was “Here and Now,” inspired by Esther 4:14. Rev. Aaron Robinson, English professor and cultural diversity coordinator at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., and Rev. Jon Bare, who recently accepted a call to be president of Asia Lutheran Seminary, presented the two keynote addresses, which highlighted “Why not us?” and “Why not now?” Additional workshops addressed the challenges young Christians face in today’s world.

Worship was a highlight of the rally, with full opening and closing services and daily devotions. “There are no words to describe the feeling you get listening to over two thousand teens sing their praises to Jesus,” says Anna Gilgenbach, who served as a rally youth leader for the teens at St. Peter, Fond du Lac, Wis., a group that included her daughter, Natalie. “I attended the WELS International Youth Rally when I was younger, and I wanted Natalie to experience this as well,” she says.

The sheer number of people at the rally taught the teens an important lesson—that they are not alone. “It’s very encouraging to see so many other people who believe in Jesus and are part of your synod all together and just celebrating the love of Christ,” says Lydia Smith, teen rally attendee.

“It was a perfect experience to learn about God and create really great memories with your friends,” says Jordan Shepler, who came with the teen group from Holy Word, Austin, Texas.

Teens also appreciated the opportunity to serve. WELS Christian Aid and Relief offered a way for teens to get involved right at the rally by putting together care packages for kids in need, first responders, and the homebound. “I’m amazed at the response from our youth. Don’t sell the next generation short of what it can do now,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship. “We need to tap into the teens’ energy and faith and give them greater permission to act upon the faith that God has given them.”

He continues, “There is real concern about the increasing disinterest in church among youth, but then all of a sudden you get this light-bulb moment where God gives you hope. How can you look at an arena filled with 14- to 17-year-olds and not be hopeful? When God says my Word will endure and the gates of hell will not prevail against it, he’s talking about teens and the faith that he already has instilled in the hearts and minds of the next generation.”

WELS Discipleship plans to take more than half a dozen of the rally’s workshops and turn them into resources youth leaders can use at the local congregational level. Sign up to receive updates.

The next WELS International Youth Rally—the 50th—will be held in 2024 at Colorado State University.

 

 

 

 

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LWMS again gathers in person for 59th annual convention

After making the difficult decision in 2021 to hold the 58th annual Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) convention as a virtual event, LWMS was thrilled to again meet in person in Rochester, N.Y., on June 23-26. More than 500 attendees from WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregations joyfully gathered under the theme “Set Free in Christ,” based on John 8:32.

“What a joy it was to talk, laugh, sing, and worship together again. We even did some dancing! Our Freedom Circuit hosted an amazing convention, offering our members a time to rejoice in the blessings we have through Christ!” says Ms. Patsy Kramer, LWMS president.

The Rochester gathering contained all of the elements that make the convention such a moving experience, like the annual flag presentation. This year’s presentation included a flag from WELS’ newest world mission field—the United Kingdom. In addition, attendees were able to speak with missionaries face to face to provide encouragement, fellowship, and prayer.

During presentations, attendees learned about the expanding outreach by WELS’ One Latin America mission team using the Academia Cristo app and about the continuing growth of WELS’ mission field in East Asia. In addition, home missionaries shared their experiences with outreach in New York and Pennsylvania. There were also two virtual presentations with missionaries from Texas and Germany.

Convention goers were treated to the unique, worshipful sounds of Hope Sacred Steel Orchestra from Hope, Toronto, Canada, which provided entertainment for Saturday evening’s banquet in addition to the music for Sunday morning’s closing worship service.

Each year, the individual LWMS circuits gather offerings for Home and World Mission projects. This year, more than $110,000 was collected for WELS Campus Ministry Support and Native American Special Projects. In addition, just over $50,000 was collected through this year’s LWMS kids c.a.r.e. project, supporting gospel outreach to Roma children in Europe.

“The gifts, prayers, and support of LWMS for our mission efforts is tremendous,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions. “Beyond the joy and fellowship shared at the convention, our mission families have this very real example of how much members of WELS care for them and the work the Lord is doing through them. That is always a welcome shot in the arm for the important work we have asked them to do.”

Mrs. Marnie Ketterman, from Messiah, South Windsor, Conn., was among the 103 first-time convention attendees and was awed by her experience: “I loved seeing the faces of the missionaries as they talked about their mission work. Their faces radiated such a deep joy and peace. It makes you want that too.” She continues, “Meeting all of the women is fantastic, and seeing the mission work that is being done is what gets you to come back year after year.”

Next year’s convention, the milestone 60th, will be in La Crosse, Wis., June 22-25, 2023. The theme will be “Peace Like a River.”

Learn more about LWMS at lwms.org.

 

 

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New program for teen ministry

WELS Discipleship has released a new teen ministry program—WELS Youth Night, a series of youth-focused events for high school students and youth leaders from local WELS congregations.

“God created us to be in community with each other. We belong to him. We belong together. That is the idea of WELS Youth Night—to bring teens and youth leaders from area churches . . . together,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship.

The program was introduced for the first time at the WELS International Youth Rally earlier this summer. While the WELS International Youth Rally provides an opportunity for youth from all over the country to grow in their faith together, it happens only every other year and is difficult to replicate. WELS Youth Night is meant to create that community at a local level, offering area teens and youth leaders a way to encourage and support one another in their faith on a more consistent basis.

“[These events] are meant to supplement the youth ministry that is happening at the local level,” says Dobberstein. “It’s about building relationships, creating a community, experiencing faith together.”

WELS Discipleship provides all the resources for congregations to hold a series of three WELS Youth Nights, with suggested dates of mid-October, end of January, and post-Easter. At each event, teens from the area’s churches can experience an evening of games, music, prayer, a keynote address, small group discussion, and fun with other high school youth. Resources include a keynote address video presentation, small group discussion guides, training for youth leaders, a planning timeline and guide, a promotional media kit, as well as ideas for music and games.

Learn more about WELS Youth Night and download resources for the first event.

Sign up for youth leader resources updates.

Read about a Martin Luther College student who is part of the WELS Youth Night Committee and his commitment to reaching out to the next generation.

 

 

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Together Video Update – July 12, 2022

The 2022 WELS International Youth Rally brought together more than 2,200 WELS teens and youth leaders from across North America. The rally, held June 28-July 1, at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., included time for worship, educational workshops, fellowship, recreation, and service projects.  The Youth Rally committee produced this recap video of the rally experience. The song featured in the video was written for the rally by  Koiné, a Christian band made up of WELS members.

We hope to see you at the next Youth Rally in 2024 at Colorado State University where we’ll be celebrating 50 years of equipping and encouraging our youth through this event. In the meantime, resources for connecting with this age group at your own church can be found at welscongregationalservices.net.

 

 

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Together Video Update – June 28, 2022

Each of WELS’ 12 districts met in convention this June, discussing local ministry topics and hearing from synod leaders on broader topics that affect the synod as a whole. Delegates of the North Atlantic and Southeastern Wisconsin Districts elected new presidents to replace Donald Tollefson, who is retiring, and David Kolander, who stepped down as district president. Michael Seifert is now leading the North Atlantic District, and Daniel Leyrer is president of the Southeastern Wisconsin District. Learn more about Pastors Seifert and Leyrer in this Together video update.

Read Forward in Christ‘s complete district convention coverage online.

 

 

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Two new district presidents elected

All 12 districts held their conventions during the last two weeks. The conventions reviewed the reports submitted by all areas of ministry and provided reaction and input to those reports and to future plans that have been made.

Districts also held elections for district officers and for other board and committee positions. Two of those elections resulted in new district presidents.

Rev. Don Tollefson, president of the North Atlantic District, retired as of the end of June. Rev. Michael Seifert, serving at Living Hope, Midlothian, Va., was elected as the new district president. Rev. David Kolander, president of the Southeastern Wisconsin District, chose not to run again. Rev. Daniel Leyrer, serving at St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wis., was elected as the new district president. Because of the size of the district in terms of congregations and called workers, Kolander has accepted a call to serve as the assistant to the new district president in addition to his current call as pastor at Christ the Lord, Brookfield, Wis.

Both new district presidents will serve on the Conference of Presidents.

We thank God for the faithful service of Revs. Tollefson and Kolander and pray for God’s continued blessings as they serve him in the future.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

Coverage of the district conventions will be included in the August issue of Forward in Christ magazine.

 

 

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WELS’ 2021 statistics are now available

The complete 2021 Statistical Report as well as the 2021 Statistical Summary are now available at welscongregationalservices.net/stats.

“Statistics are one of the tools believers use as they seek to steward God’s blessings wisely,” says Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services. Hein explains that each year, WELS congregations track certain statistics—membership totals, attendance figures, ministrations, offerings, types of gains and losses, etc. That information can help churches with their ministry planning. WELS compiles all that congregational information in its annual statistical report, which aids WELS’ leaders as they plan the synod’s collective ministry. The complete statistical report is hundreds of pages of information. WELS Congregational Services annually produces a briefer statistical summary report. This year’s summary is 19 pages long and contains information such as:

  • The reported total WELS membership at the end of 2021 was 340,511.
  • From 2020 to 2021, total WELS membership decreased by 1.1 percent (down 3,733 souls). That is the smallest loss WELS has experienced in the past six years.
  • Currently 20 percent of WELS members fall into the category of “youths”—those newborn through 8th grade.
  • Congregation Mission Offerings for 2021 increased by 4 percent from the previous year.

“The statistical summary gives us reasons to praise the Lord of the church,” says Hein. “It also identifies challenges that deserve prayer and planning.”

Hein concludes, “The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, ‘You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed’ (1:7). God has richly blessed our congregations and our synod with every type of resource we need to proclaim his gospel. May the Spirit give us the faith and the wisdom to steward those resources well.”

For more details, visit welscongregationalservices.net/stats.

 

 

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Together Video Update – June 14, 2022

WELS Missions held its annual Taste of Missions event June 11, 2022, at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. Hear from attendees about why they appreciated this opportunity to get a “taste of missions.” Missed it? You can still watch recordings of all the day’s events online at tasteofmissions.com.

 

 

 

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CELC holds regional convention in Albania

The Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) is a worldwide fellowship of Lutheran church bodies committed to the teachings of the Lutheran church found in the Book of Concord of 1580. WELS and 12 other church bodies established the CELC in 1993. Since then the CELC has grown by God’s grace to include 34 church bodies today.

Every three years, representatives from all CELC churches gather for fellowship and theological study at an international convention. In addition to the full meeting, various regional meetings are held in alternate years. One such regional meeting of our sister church bodies in Europe took place recently in Durres, Albania. Thirty-two representatives and guests met May 20-22 under the theme “Triumph together in Christ.”

Professor Mark Paustian of Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., led participants in a study of Romans chapters 7-8 and Exodus chapters 3-4. Churches presented reports highlighting blessings and challenges from their fields and invited the conference to give thanks and pray for specific blessings. The conference concluded with a festival worship service and sermon based on Acts 1:1-8, “You will receive power!”

Participants found time for informal fellowship at the nearby beach, during a walking tour of downtown Durres, and on an excursion to Kruja, with its market, cafes, restored fortress, and historic museum.

Immediately after the conference, a dozen guests remained in Durres for a two-day workshop on 1 Thessalonians. Participants discussed the letter’s original impact for believers enduring persecution and considered contemporary blessings as we serve souls and await Christ’s return.

We give thanks to God for blessing the participants in this conference, and we pray that he will use it as a means to strengthen our fellowship and our commitment to the mission he has given us.

The next full CELC convention will be held during the summer of 2023 in Seoul, South Korea.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

Learn more about the CELC.

 

 

 

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Together Video Update – May 24, 2022

On May 11, Rev. Nixon Vivar and Rev. Carl Leyrer were commissioned as new missionaries on the Latin America mission team. Hear from Vivar on what his role on the team will be and how WELS is reaching out in Latin America.

 

 

 

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Assignment Day at Martin Luther College

Assignment Day at Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., is one of the highlights of the year. Last Saturday, May 14, 2022, in a special service, candidates for the teaching ministry learned where they will be serving. All 74 teacher candidates who could go anywhere—57 from the graduating class and 17 previous graduates—were assigned. In addition, 51 teacher candidates who were limited geographically received assignments. Total assignments this year were fewer than in the two previous years; 116 requests to the Assignment Committee for teachers could not be filled.

There are still 140 teaching vacancies in the synod. District presidents will be working with calling bodies and with MLC to address this significant need.

It should be noted that 48 men graduated from the pre-seminary program at MLC, a significant increase over previous years. This will be a real blessing at a time when pastoral vacancies have also increased.

Jesus encouraged us to pray for workers in his harvest field. God’s people have prayed, and God has answered those prayers with young people saying, “Here am I; send me!”

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Reaching communities with compassion

Through its new Community Care & Compassion Matching Grants Program, WELS Christian Aid and Relief is offering matching grants to congregations that want to reach out in their community through a compassion ministry. Grants are available up to $2,500.

Grants can support any compassion ministry in a community, such as a Christmas toy drive or a Thanksgiving meal at your church. It can also support those who need encouragement, like seniors, veterans, or victims of domestic violence. WELS Christian Aid and Relief Director Rev. Daniel Sims recommends that a good place to start is to determine the particular needs in your community. If there is a local charity working to serve those needs, find ways to assist them.

“When we act with compassion and love, it gains us opportunities to talk about our Savior,” says Sims. “I encourage congregations to find the people who are hurting in your community, formulate a plan to help them, and get in touch with us. Let us help you reach out to them in love.” To learn more and apply for a grant, visit wels.net/relief.

One example of a congregation taking advantage of this new grant program is Bethlehem, Richland Center, Wis. In 2020, this exploratory mission was looking for a ministry space to call home. God provided a perfect fit: a former elementary school that had just come on the market.

The building was more than just a former school. It was also home to a county-run program that provides hot meals each week to senior adults. “We didn’t just purchase a facility,” says Rev. Daniel Lewig, pastor at Bethlehem. “We got a ministry right along with it—and an open door to see where God leads.”

Supported by offerings and a pandemic relief grant from WELS Christian Aid and Relief, Bethlehem members upgraded the former classroom in which the meals are served to make it more welcoming and encourage conversation and connections.

The revitalized dining area also serves as Bethlehem’s fellowship hall, and seniors from the community are invited to all church activities. In addition, Lewig visits with guests each week and leads them in prayer. Bethlehem members help serve the meals or simply spend time getting to know their neighbors.

Once the seniors are in the building, it’s a natural progression to introduce them to the worship space in the gym. Through God’s blessing, several of the seniors have attended worship, and some have taken Bible information classes and become members.

Bethlehem plans to apply for a new Community Care & Compassion Matching Grant through WELS Christian Aid and Relief to offer even more fellowship opportunities for local seniors, like dinners and movie nights.

“It’s not the food that brings them together,” Lewig says. “It’s the connection. Our members help with that connection and connect it to a higher purpose. We created an environment where you’re not just eating a meal for a day but a meal for eternity.”

Sims discussed the Community Care & Compassion Matching Grants Program in last week’s Together video update.

 

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Military contact pastors meet for conference

WELS Military Services assists WELS congregations serving military members when they are stationed nearby. Civilian ministry to the military is a cornerstone of WELS Military Services’ work by equipping churches for local gospel and fellowship ministry to military personnel and their families.

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

April 26-28, 2022, 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 and a group of WELS military contact pastors met to discuss ministry to the military with Fort Stewart chaplains and military personnel. WELS members Lt. Col. Michael Hefti and his wife, Katie, shared the stresses of military life and the importance of their WELS pastors and church family in supporting them spiritually.

Fort Stewart held 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 a museum on the post.

The annual workshop is sponsored through a grant from the Lutheran Military Support Group, a national organization of WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (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 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 made at 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,” says Horn. “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.

 

 

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Together Video Update – May 10, 2022

WELS Christian Aid and Relief is launching a matching grants program to partner with WELS congregations as they carry out compassion ministry in their communities. Learn more about the Community Care & Compassion Grants Program from Rev. Dan Sims, director of Christian Aid and Relief. Find more information and learn how to get started at wels.net/relief.

 

 

 

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Aid continues to Ukraine

We are in constant contact with the bishop (president) of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC). He reports that thus far no members of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church have lost their lives or been injured. Some of their homes have been damaged or destroyed. None of the ULC churches have been destroyed in the conflict, although three parsonages have been damaged.

The bishop (whose congregation is in the capital city of Kyiv) has been staying outside of Kyiv for safety reasons. Last Sunday he was able to return to Kyiv temporarily to lead worship and to deliver much needed supplies of food and medicine. Yesterday he provided this report: “People were very happy to see each other again especially after recent missile attacks, although we did not have as many people at the worship service as on Easter. Shut-ins also rejoiced to be visited and communed and are grateful for the food aid received. Thank you very much! Many thanks to all brothers and sisters in WELS, to the U.S., and praise to the Lord!”

Generous WELS donors have provided significant funds to enable the ULC to purchase supplies of clothing, food, and medicine. Those supplies are provided to refugees from different places around the country and for the people of the communities in which ULC congregations are located. Our synod has forwarded funds to the ULC upon its request. It’s important to note that these requests are coming to us in amounts that enable the ULC to purchase what is needed and what it can distribute. To date, $66,000 has been requested and sent directly to the ULC. We are ready to send more as soon as the ULC requests it. Another $100,000 has been sent to a reputable agency (Direct Relief) that is assisting Ukrainian refugees in Poland and other countries. We are also making plans to provide funds to our sister church in Bulgaria, which is caring for Ukrainian refugees arriving there.

The synod is also ready to provide help to Ukrainian refugees who are able to come to the United States. Ukrainians who come to the U.S. as refugees need to work with the U.S. State Department, and we are looking for ways to assist in that process.

We are also looking forward to the day when the war is over and resettlement and rebuilding can begin. Because of the generosity of WELS members, we believe that some of the funds already given will be able to be used for those efforts.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Pastors attend Celebration of Ministry retreats

Another successful year of Celebration of Ministry retreats is complete. From April 25–29, Grow in Grace, the institute for continuing education at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., hosted more than 400 people for the ninth annual retreat. Four retreats were held at the Drury Plaza Hotel on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas, for pastors who are celebrating 3, 10, 25, and 35 years since graduating from the seminary. After a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic, it was a blessing to be able to again offer encouragement and support for pastors and their wives in this way.

These retreats build relationships with ministry peers and offer encouragement through worship, Bible studies, workshops, and presentations. Bible study topics covered Ezekiel, the pastoral epistles, Psalms, and Colossians. Separate and joint workshops were offered for pastors and their wives and covered topics such as time management, caring for others and yourself, focusing on your own gifts, and financial challenges and opportunities.

Though these workshops and Bible studies are a key part of the retreats, fellowship with classmates, worship services, and a beautiful location also play a part in the experience.

When Grow in Grace initially began the Celebration of Ministry retreats, only pastors celebrating 10 years since graduation and their wives attended. In more recent years, the event has included pastors celebrating three years; 25 years; and, in 2018, 35 years since graduation.

The 2023 retreat plans are already underway, with the retreats set to take place in San Antonio from April 12–14. To the graduating classes of 1988, 1998, 2013, and 2020, make sure to check your mailboxes this month for your save the date to your Celebration of Ministry retreat.

 

 

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10 reasons to attend Taste of Missions

Join your brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world for Taste of Missions on Saturday, June 11, 2022, at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., starting at 11 a.m. CT.

Here are 10 great reasons you should register today at tasteofmissions.com/register:

  1. Attend in-person OR virtually! Don’t live close enough to enjoy the festivities in person? Virtual attendees will be able to watch all events via livestream and view other bonus content online.
  2. Help send off new missionaries into their fields of service. Two missionaries will be commissioned during the opening worship service at 11 a.m. CT: Rev. Keegan Dowling and Rev. Benjamin Foxen, both heading to Lusaka, Zambia. Additional missionaries will most likely be added to that list as calls are accepted and graduates are assigned to home and world mission fields in the next month.
  3. Learn what it’s like to prepare for a mission call by asking questions during the Q&A with newly commissioned missionaries.
  4. Sample tasty ethnic food using the three tasting tickets that come with registration. Three different food trucks will be onsite: Meat on the Street (Filipino), Marco Pollo (Tex-Mex, Chinese, and Malaysian/Indian chicken dishes), and Falafel Guys (Middle Eastern). Additional food can also be purchased. Online attendees can try their hand at making one of the new ethnic recipes shared by missionaries and their families at tasteofmissions.com/recipes.
  5. Ask what it’s like for a family to serve in a mission field during the Missionary Family Q&A. Michael and Rachel Hartman (London, England), Craig and Christina Wilke (Brandon, S.D.), and Paul and Aneela Jordan (South Asian outreach) will serve as panelists.
  6. Get to know home and world missionaries through mission field updates shared on stage or fellowship throughout the day. Even more “Moments with Missionaries” video updates will be shared at tasteofmissions.com.
  7. Hear the latest updates from World and Home Missions from Chairman Paul Janke (World Missions) and Chairman Mark Gabb (Home Missions), including a sneak peak of the 100 missions in 10 years initiative that will launch in 2023!
  8. Check out mission field display booths, view Missions artifacts, and collect recipe cards from around the world as you learn about the 141 home mission congregations and 62 countries where WELS Missions is conducting/exploring outreach.
  9. Bring the kids to learn about mission work and enjoy activities like a passport challenge, missions-themed coloring pages and activities, a bounce house, face painting, and more.
  10. Enter for your chance to win a missions-themed raffle basket or purchase pre-assembled recipe booklets and Taste of Missions t-shirts to show your support of WELS mission work.

Registration is $15 per person, with children 13 and under attending for free. Or attend virtually for free! Learn more at tasteofmissions.com.

 

 

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New leadership at Northwestern Publishing House

On May 2, Mr. Jeremy Angle began serving as the president of Northwestern Publishing House (NPH). As president, Angle will focus on supporting the mission of NPH—delivering biblically sound, Christ-centered resources within WELS and beyond. Angle will oversee all the functional areas of this ministry such as product development, production, distribution, customer service, human resources, accounting, technology, and sales.

“NPH is without a doubt a mission,” says Angle, “but also a business. I see my job as combining the two and being a steward to NPH—the mission, the business, and all its team members.”

His predecessor, Mr. Bill Ziche, retired at the end of 2021 after eight years in that role. Ziche helped NPH pivot from operating out of a physical storefront to a digital one. At its February meeting, WELS’ Synodical Council noted that Ziche displayed “outstanding leadership in strategically repositioning NPH to support the gospel ministry for years to come.”

Angle is focused on continuing that support for gospel ministry. “I look forward to building on the traditions and legacy of NPH while adapting to best deliver the resources and teachings,” he explains. “Having worked in the secular business world my entire career, I find myself asking the questions, ‘What can NPH do and build on to support the leaders of today and tomorrow in both the church and secular world? How do we more closely link the two?’ ”

Helping Angle navigate which resources NPH should produce going forward is Rev. Chris Cordes, who began his work as NPH’s editorial vice president in February after Rev. Curtis Jahn retired after serving NPH for 29 years. Cordes and Angle will work closely on developing future projects.

“I am really looking forward to working with the team at NPH and its board of directors, learning and getting to know them and their growth desires,” says Angle, “as well as working with the synod, our congregations, and our schools on how we can best serve all and help grow. I am also excited about looking beyond and how we can best serve the world keeping to God’s true Word and teachings.”

Visit Northwestern Publishing House online at nph.net.

 

 

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Report to the Twelve Districts available online

The 2022 Report to the Twelve Districts is now available online. Report to the Twelve Districts contains current information from WELS areas of ministry and committees that help guide district convention delegates. Each WELS congregation will receive one printed copy at the end of May. Copies will also be available at district conventions.

All of WELS’ 12 districts hold a convention in even-numbered years. (The synod convention takes place in odd-numbered years.) Each male called worker, in addition to a lay delegate representing each congregation, attends his district’s convention as a voting delegate. District conventions are held to carry out the business of a district, such as electing district officials, as well as to hear updates on synodical ministries and to react to synodical initiatives. Delegates also enjoy worship and fellowship during their conventions.

“District conventions offer delegates the opportunity to learn, to ask questions, to debate issues, to offer advice and guidance to those called to serve them,” says WELS President Mark Schroeder. “In the end, delegates have the opportunity to see God at work, uniting WELS members in a stronger faith and in a greater commitment to carrying out his work together.”

View Report to the Twelve Districts online.

 

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Together Video Update – April 26, 2022

Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs to equip teachers to instruct those with special needs. Kelli Green, professor of special education at Martin Luther College, explains the demand for special education teachers in WELS schools and why Martin Luther College is committed to supplying WELS schools with teachers who are qualified to meet the needs of students with diverse abilities.

 

 

 

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Conference of Presidents holds spring 2022 meeting

The Conference of Presidents held its spring meeting on April 4-6. Here are some of the issues that were discussed and decisions that were made at the meeting.

  • There are 162 vacancies in pastoral positions, with 141 of those being vacancies in congregations. The graduating class at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary will number only in the mid-20s, which means that the shortage of pastors will continue. Next year’s class numbers in the 40s, which should provide some relief a year from now. Teacher vacancies number in the 300s. After the assignment of teachers at Martin Luther College (MLC) in May, nearly 200 teacher vacancies will remain. The district presidents will be working with congregations to find ways to fill those vacancies before school starts in the fall.
  • After Mr. Bill Ziche retired from his position as president of Northwestern Publishing House, Mr. Jeremy Angle was hired by the board to serve as his replacement. Mr. Angle will begin his duties as president in early May.
  • The COP expressed its thanks to God and to WELS members for the generous support that has been given for humanitarian work in Ukraine.
  • Mark Gabb, chairman of the Board for Home Missions (BHM), and Rev. Keith Free, BHM administrator, provided the COP with an overview of the 100 missions in 10 years initiative.
  • The COP called Rev. Philip Spaude to serve in a part-time retirement call as a Christian giving counselor. The COP also issued full-time calls to Rev. Lon Kuether, Rev. Craig Wasser, and Rev. Steven Schmeling as Christian giving counselors.
  • The COP was given a presentation by Dr. Victor Vieth, a nationally recognized expert on child abuse (and WELS member). Vieth gave a strong encouragement to the COP to assist WELS congregations to adopt policies that will serve to help congregations to identify potential victims of child abuse. District presidents will be making resources available to congregations to help them be more informed about the issues and to take steps toward prevention and providing needed spiritual care.
  • Rev. Phil Hirsch, president of the Nebraska District, was elected to as one of the three COP representatives on the Synodical Council, replacing North Atlantic District President Rev. Don Tollefson, who is retiring in June.
  • As requested by the Synodical Council, the COP directed the Commission on Lutheran Schools to begin developing a new K-12 religion curriculum.
  • The COP endorsed a proposal by MLC to offer a Competency-Based Education program to encourage people not trained at MLC to consider training for the teaching ministry in WELS.
  • An Early Childhood Ministry Task Force has been formed to evaluate the needs of teachers and calling bodies and to recommend strategic curricular approaches to meet those needs.
  • The COP asked Rev. Paul Prange, administrator of the Board for Ministerial Education, to take responsibility for planning and carrying out the Grow in Grace retreats for pastors who have served for 10, 25, and 35 years. This had previously been the responsibility of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
  • The COP plans to distribute a final draft of its document “God’s Beautiful and Balanced Design for Male and Female” for discussion in late summer or early fall.

The Conference of Presidents will next meet as the Assignment Committee at Martin Luther College and at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in May.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Support for Ukraine continues

Members of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC), WELS’ sister church body in Ukraine, along with all the people of Ukraine, have been under attack for nearly two months. Many people have fled their homes seeking safety. ULC members have remained unharmed, though they too are facing the hardships of this war. Despite the danger and hardships, the ULC is finding ways to help its fellow countrymen.

WELS members have demonstrated generous hearts to help fellow Christians in Ukraine. WELS World Missions has been able to send funds so that the ULC can buy food and other supplies not only for its members but also to help the many people fleeing their homes. In addition, WELS Christian Aid and Relief has made three donations to Direct Relief, with another gift planned this week. Direct Relief is an organization equipped to provide immediate medical supplies to places experiencing crises; CAR has worked with this organization in the past.

“ULC members are using the funds in their communities mainly to buy supplies (medical, food, clothing, blankets, etc.). They can get supplies from certain areas and bring them into other areas,” says Rev. Dan Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “They’re providing these supplies not just to our Lutheran brothers and sisters, but to anybody who has need. While they’re doing it, they’re having all kinds of opportunities to talk to people about their Savior. They said it’s really been quite a thing to see how people have been open to that right now.”

There have been questions and interest in helping Ukrainian refugees who come to the United States. CAR has created a WELS Ukraine Refugee Volunteer Assistance form for WELS members who may be interested in hosting a Ukrainian refugee.

Sims says the form is being made available to be ready if there is opportunity to host refugees. Sims iterates, however, that CAR is not a refugee placement organization but can help volunteers connect to the proper authorities to work through the complicated process.

While the hearts of WELS members are ready and eager to help, Sims gives three reasons why these opportunities are likely to be very limited. “One is that the U.S. is only accepting 100,000 refugees, which is a tiny amount. Two, most Ukrainians who have become refugees and fled to other countries don’t want to get too far away, because they’re hoping they will be able to return soon to their homes. The third thing is that Ukrainians who want to come to the U.S. as  refugees likely already have contacts or family members in the U.S.,” he says. But, he says, CAR wants WELS to be ready if the opportunity arises.

“We’ve been blown away by the gifts God’s people have sent; they’ve been so generous” says Sims, “We anticipate the need for assistance is going to be high for years to come.”

Read more about the ULC and learn how to support this work.

 

Pictures of Ukraine, past and present

 

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New chapter for Russian church

On Tues., March 1, Missionary Luke Wolfgramm and his wife, Jennifer, left their home in Russia, a country in which they have lived and served for the past 25 years. They discovered they needed to leave four days earlier, the day after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Before they left, Wolfgramm was able to meet with church leaders from the Evangelical Lutheran Church Concord, WELS’ sister church body in Russia, as well as preach at several of the congregations. It was a time to offer encouragement and hope, assurances that Jesus’ church would prevail. It was also a time to provide last-minute instructions to church leaders about the practicalities of managing the church’s business affairs.

“God has been planning this out and preparing us,” says Wolfgramm. “The timing came as a surprise to us but not to him. We were planning to get there, just not so quickly.”

The Wolfgramms were planning to leave Russia in 2024. “We were in Russia for 25 winters. God blessed the church over those times,” says Wolfgramm. “But my work is changing. Even before this [evacuation] happened, I wasn’t exclusively a missionary to Russia. I was also working with other churches in Europe.” This means that he partners in ministry with a dozen sister churches in Europe, helping with training seminary students, leading workshops, mentoring, and preaching. “My work is to fellowship with churches—talk together, work together, pray for each other,” he says. The church in Russia will continue to be one of the churches he partners with, just not as a resident missionary.

For the short term, the Wolfgramms are living in Durres, Albania, helping train a seminary student there. They still keep in touch with the three pastors and one seminary student who are leading the 270-member Russian church body. “The first time I was able to talk to all the pastors, I shared my concern for them,” says Wolfgramm. “Pastor Alexei said, ‘We’re in good hands. We’re in God’s hands, and that’s the best place to be.’ They definitely see that this is God at work to speed up the timetable to give them opportunities to share Jesus’ peace in a world that desperately needs it.”

WELS will continue to support the Russian church as it is able to under current sanctions. “Back in the 1990s when the Iron Curtain fell, we were able to rush in with missionaries and plant a church,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, World Missions administrator. “The current reality is that another curtain has been set up that divides us from the Russian people. Our prayers go out for the church members there that their connection to their Savior through the means of grace stays strong as God leads us to a new stage of fellowship.”

 

 

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A donor advised fund: one-stop giving

WELS member and attorney Mr. David Nommensen and his wife, Bonnie, knew that setting up a donor advised fund was an ideal and tax-wise way to support ministry at their home congregation, First Lutheran in Elkhorn, Wis.

David likes the fact that their donor advised fund provides predictable, ongoing support to ministry at First, helping fund programs that spread the gospel both inside and outside the church and school. He also likes the tax benefits of the donor advised fund. “It was just part of good stewardship,” says David. “Bonnie and I could look at the taxes that we had saved and do a little soul-searching and perhaps give a little more.”

Donor advised funds are very popular since a donor can give a gift now and recommend the ministries that benefit later. The gift can be divided among the ministries the donor cares about, and a single receipt will be provided for income tax purposes.

In addition to ongoing support for their church and school, the Nommensens know that their family donor advised fund is a wonderful way to involve their kids and grandkids in the joy of giving since they can be included in the decision-making process for the grant recommendations. It’s another way to pass along Christian values to the next generation of believers.

“Our prayer is that the donor advised fund is around a lot longer than Bonnie and I are,” says David. “And it’s a nice opportunity for us to have these conversations with our children about the needs of our favorite church organization. I’m really hoping that someday my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be donating to this fund and having those same conversations.”

Learn more about donor advised funds by contacting your local WELS Christian giving counselor at 800-827-5482 or [email protected].

This article is reprinted from the April 2022 Grace of Giving newsletter. Read additional articles from Grace of Giving on the ministry newsletters page.

 

 

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Together Video Update – April 12, 2022

Meditate on Jesus’ final words from the cross this Lent in this video that includes all seven verses of the hymn “The Seven Words,” performed by WELS musicians and illustrated by WELS artist Corissa Nelson. Learn more about this new hymn at forwardinchrist.net/words-from-the-cross-hymn.

 

 

 

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Good outcome for a court case in Finland

Religious freedom and the ability to proclaim the teachings of Scripture without fear of government persecution is something we in the United States have taken for granted. But there are increasing examples from around the world where even seemingly free and democratic countries are attempting to restrict the abilities of Christians to express their faith and their teachings openly.

In Finland, a member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, Paivi Rasanen, was charged with “hate speech” for sharing her faith-based views dealing with marriage and sexual ethics in her writings and in media interviews. A Lutheran bishop, Juhana Pohjola, was also charged because he published some of Rasanen’s writings.

When charges were brought, confessional Lutheran churches from around the world signed a letter to the prosecutors in Finland that strongly urged the court to uphold the principle of freedom of religion and free speech and to dismiss the charges against Rasanen and Pohjola. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and our sister churches in Europe signed the letter, along with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and its partner churches.

Last week, the Finnish court upheld the right to free speech by dismissing all charges against Paivi Rasanen and Bishop Pohjola.

We are happy that the courts of Finland made this decision. But this entire episode is a reminder that the freedom we enjoy to proclaim the truths of Scripture can never be taken for granted. We pray that God would preserve this freedom for us here in America and give us the courage to “speak about the things that we have seen and heard.”

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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