Pastor Zang

Pastor Zang Lou is 54 years old, and serves as one of the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC). He and his wife Pai Chang have 5 children – their extended family has 22 members, including 12 grandchildren. In 2011, Pastor Zang found Rev. Bounkeo Lor’s online sermons and invited him to train 60 leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Hanoi, Vietnam. This is his story: 

I thank God for everything that he has given me and because he has called me to faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

In 1987, when I was 22 years old, I was invited by the government to serve my country as a policeman. I served as a policeman for six years. During that time the gospel came to my country, and many people were led to believe in Jesus. One week after many became Christian, the government sent me to investigate: to find out why so many people left their Hmong traditions to believe in Jesus. During my investigation, the believers told me that they left their tradition to believe in the Savior, Jesus Christ. Then I told them that if they believe in the Savior and the One that has power to rescue the Hmong from the hands of the devil, I will go back and explain this to the government.

That night when I slept, a man dressed in white and bright clothes came to me in vision and said, “Lou, I call you to believe in me. I am the Lord who chose you to lead my people and to train them in my Word.” When I woke up early in the morning, I told my father that this vision was very important. My father allowed me to believe in Jesus, and the whole family became Christian.

After this event, the government found out that I had become a Christian. They started to find ways to trick me and persecute me and the believers. But we stood firm in our faith, and we asked God to help us overcome the persecution. The power of God and the Holy Spirit gave me the courage and strength to endure persecution. I encouraged the Hmong brothers and sisters to believe in Jesus. In a short time, many more people in many other villages also were led to believe in Jesus. In 1994, we were eager to find someone to baptize us.

I went to Hanoi and to Laos to learn more about the Word of God from Pastor Jouangwa Lor, one of my distant relatives. He baptized me and prayed for me. He also showed me how to baptize others so that I could return to my home town and baptize the people in my area. When I returned, I shared the Word of God with the people in my area and baptized 350 -400 people per day. Many people in northern Vietnam sought me to learn more about the Word of God, and so that I could encourage them and protect them from the government authority. Many times, the government wanted to put me into prison, but I overcame their evil authority with prayer. I strongly believed that God was with me, to protect me and the believers. In 1995 as the believers grew stronger, we start to form congregations in the area, and we appointed leaders to oversee the congregations. In 1993 to 1995, I trained the leaders and baptized more than 6,000 people. Most of our training sessions were done on farms or in the jungle.

I served the government until 2002. The government pressured me to renounce my faith. They gave me the choice of two documents to sign—the first one was to renounce my faith, continue my tradition, and serve the government. The second was to believe in Jesus but lose my position in the government. At that time, the power of God and the Holy Spirit led me to sign the document to believe in Jesus and to lose my position in the government. I refused to renounce my faith. But I told them that there was nothing wrong with believing in Jesus. I praise God that He protected me. The government did not dare to do any harm to me even though I signed the document to continue to believe in Jesus. Since then, they asked me to leave my position in the government.

I work hard to serve the believers. In 2004, the believers in my area were so hungry to learn the Word of God and to receive some training to be recognized by the Vietnamese government as workers for the church. We turned to Vietnamese pastors, but they did not truly guide us in the Word of God. We received training from them many times, but we kept learning the same thing over and over. We were very confused about the Word of God.

I praise God that in 2011 I met Pastor Bounkeo Lor. In 2014, Pastor Smith and Lor came to Vietnam together to teach us the Word of God. We asked them to do more training for the brothers in Vietnam. They told us that God can do everything, let’s continue to pray. Even though we only met them a few times, we started to love the teaching from the Lutheran church. The teaching of the Lutherans is the wisdom of God. According to Romans 10:12, when people hear the Word of God, people are brought to believe in Jesus.

I and the Hmong leaders in Vietnam are willing to serve our God without pay. We know that God is the heart for our lives, and the root of life for every soul that believes in him. And he gives us peace for both body and soul. I praise God for my brothers and sisters in the blood of Jesus and in his name that you have helped and supported the work in Vietnam. I will continue to love and serve my God more for the people in Vietnam. Our Hmong brothers really need more training. We ask you to pray for us. I also thank God that he opens the door more for church activities in Vietnam.

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An interview with Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator, Bounkeo Lor

Rev. E. Allen Sorum, Director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, accompanied Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator, to Hanoi, Vietnam, to conduct a training for the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in June 2019. Sorum taught the Book of Isaiah and Pastoral Counseling and Family Ministry for Missionaries. Lor taught dogmatics. Half-way through this training session, Sorum and Lor had this conversation: 

Sorum: What are the special challenges that you face as you administer the WELS training program for the Hmong pastors in Vietnam?

Lor: Our biggest challenge here is probably that the translation of the Bible that most of our Hmong pastors have is not a faithful translation. This translation was done by the Hmong Christian and Missionary Alliance members and by the Hmong Baptists. They translated the Bible from their own doctrinal perspective. This means that their translation always talks about how a person must approach God with good works. A person must help God to save them. For example, the Bible most Hmong people have translates “justification” to mean something like, “You have to work hard.” The translation gives the idea that justification happens in a series of steps. Another problem with this translation is that it presents Hmong traditions as God’s Word. For example, the tradition of Hmong Christians is that it is wrong to drink alcohol. So the Hmong Bible translates the word “wine” with “juice.” The translation that most Hmong Christians have does not tell people the true teaching of the gospel.

Sorum: Has this translation made it difficult for our students in this training session to understand the Book of Isaiah?

Lor: The Hmong translation of Isaiah has made it hard to teach Isaiah. I must often correct our Bible’s translation of Isaiah before I can translate what you have said about the words of Isaiah. The Hmong translation makes it almost impossible for our people to see how Isaiah is talking about Jesus. For example, in Isaiah 4:2, the prophet describes Jesus as the Branch of the Lord that is beautiful. The Hmong translation doesn’t talk about a branch but about trees. How can a Hmong person see Jesus in a passage that says, “In that day trees of the Lord will be beautiful?”

Another example is in Isaiah 49:3. Isaiah says, “You (singular) Israel (Jesus) are my servant.” The Hmong translation says, “You (plural) Israelites are my servants.” This translation does not show Christ. This translation damages the beauty of these Servant songs throughout Isaiah.

Sorum: I understand why your students have had to work extra hard to get the right meaning and God’s encouragement from their Hmong translation of the Bible. You consistently take the time required to explain to the students what Isaiah is actually saying. God will bless this so these students can go back home to teach Isaiah and Christianity properly. What other benefits do you see these students in our training session receiving?

Lor: Our training session on Isaiah has helped the students in many ways. I think especially important is that our instruction has helped our students learn how to interpret the Bible. We are talking about the law and the gospel in Isaiah. This approach to studying Isaiah is totally new to them. The law and the gospel is so clear in Isaiah. They are enjoying it very much. Also, they did not understand how a prophecy by Isaiah can be partially fulfilled at one time in history and then completely fulfilled in a later time in history. For example, Isaiah is comforting the people of Israel by promising judgment upon their enemies. But the final fulfillment of the judging of the Christians’ enemies will happen on the Last Day.

Another way that our teaching is helping these men is that they are learning about how the Old Testament teaches God’s plan of salvation. These men read their Bibles. They know the Bible stories. But no one explained to them that all of the stories in the Old Testament show how God chose the Jewish people and rescued a remnant of the Jewish people so God could give Jesus to the world as a Savior.

I think also that the students have enjoyed learning about how Isaiah organized his message. There is an outline to Isaiah. It is like a plot. There are sections that talk about different things. We have learned about the Four Servant Songs. We have talked about the different servants of the Lord and especially the great Servant, Jesus. This is new for these men and they are enjoying it very much. They are very eager to take what they have received from the WELS training back to their people.

Sorum: Your fellow Hmong pastors have significant challenges to their ministry. They need a faithful Bible translation and faithful teaching materials. I know you are working hard to provide them materials. You have translated many good materials into the Hmong language including Luther’s Small Catechism. But in spite of the challenges these men face, they are doing wonderful mission work. In the few years that you have been bringing Lutheran training to the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC), it has grown tremendously. One of the leaders of the HFC told me that they now have 700 pastors and 120,000 members. That is incredible growth in a few years.

Lor: Since we have started this training for my Hmong brothers, their church has grown very fast. This church is growing through the pure teaching of the law and the gospel. Through our training sessions, these pastors now have the ability to apply law and gospel in their sermons and in their Bible teaching. This is the reason why their church has been growing really fast in the last couple years.

Gospel centered training has also opened their eyes to see that it is not the law that motivates people. It is not the law that is the goal of their ministry. Now the people in the congregations understand their role as Christians. They participate more in their congregations. They are eager to share their faith. This is why their churches have been growing so fast in the last several years.

I would ask my WELS fellow members to continue to pray for the HFC. This is a communist country. We do not know when the door will be closed. We now have an open door to preach the gospel. With our prayers and God’s help, these pastors will be able to train their own future leaders for the church even if WELS will not be allowed to assist us. Based on the current situation, I don’t see any problems in the near future. I am very grateful to my WELS brothers and sisters for supporting this ministry.

 

 

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Faces of Faith – Dana, Kimia, and Harir

At Hope, having first-time visitors is a regular blessing. We are blessed to be in a city made up of 50 percent first generation immigrants and are in an area of the city where many immigrants land. It wasn’t unusual to look out one Sunday and see new faces—Dana and Kimia with their daughter Harir (Dana is pictured holding Harir). What was unusual was the story of how they got there.

Shortly after their visit, I asked them, “How did you come to Hope?” They told me Jacqueline sent them . . . yet no one knows who this Jacqueline is. There is no Jacqueline in our congregation, and the address Jacqueline gave them didn’t exist. However, the fake address was relatively close to our church, so the couple saw a cross and walked in. And then they cried.

Harir (left)

This was the very first time they had ever been able to attend a worship service with fellow Christians. In their home country, they had each began asking questions about Christianity, which led them to secret Bible study gatherings. They were introduced to Jesus and to each other, learned of Jesus’ love, and grew in love with each other and were married. But becoming Christians meant fear of retaliation, even death, for leaving the Muslim faith. They sold all and sought out a new country.

They came to Toronto and, by God’s grace, they found Hope . . . They attended worship services and cried tears of joy as they brought Harir up for the children’s message without fear and sang Christian hymns for the very first time. Then came more tears, for them and the whole congregation, on the Sunday they were all baptized. Kimia (pictured being baptized) spoke to the whole congregation and said, “We came here knowing no one, but trusting God. Now we have a new family and we can worship Jesus together.”

From Mark Henrich, missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto, Canada

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Faces of Faith – Thomas

Chinese students are often assigned a traditional English name when they begin to study English in grade school—if their parents haven’t already given them one. Later on, many of them choose a new English name for themselves, something that feels more suitable—the name of a famous athlete, a name that sounds successful, or a name that has special significance for them. When Thomas became a Christian, he chose the name Thomas, after Jesus’ apostle, because he also had many doubts about his faith. From that time, Thomas has dedicated himself to learning the Scriptures, sharing the gospel, and helping other doubters stand more firmly on God’s promises so that they can also say confidently that Jesus is, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). He even walked away from a lucrative future in the sciences to begin his seminary education – while he finished acquiring his PhD in physics! Currently, Thomas works hard to balance his studies, his new marriage, and his duties as an evangelist at the local church. His church already has three different sites, even though it is only about 5 years old. Thomas reaches out, disciples the believers, counsels the hurting, mentors new leaders in his congregation, and helps the different sites grow in grace. The doubter who once needed to be mentored into gospel confidence is now confidently mentoring others into God’s promises. He is even visiting developing groups and leaders in other cities to encourage them! Please keep Thomas in your prayers.

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Faces of Faith – South Asia

A young Hindu from Nepal had his whole life before him, when inexplicably he lost his vision. The doctors told him he would never see again. In despair, he contemplated suicide and made plans to throw himself from the famous Karnali bridge in western Nepal. A Christian friend went to visit him in his home and reassured him, “If God made your eyes, he knows how to fix your eyes. If God made you, he knows how to heal you. He will heal you in this life; and if not in this life, then he will heal you in the life to come. Whatever happens to you, God loves you and gave his Son for you.” After their initial meeting, the two men began attending church together. Miraculously, a small portion of his vision started to return. He prayed to God and said, “Whether you improve my eyes or not, I trust in you.” Thanks to the Lord’s infinite mercy, his vision was completely restored. Today he is a national pastor in Nepal, serving as Outreach Coordinator to help others to see their beautiful Savior.

From the friendly counselor to South Asia

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Faces of Faith – Niko

Meet the newest European pastor! Nikolla (Niko), pictured center, is the oldest son of Pastor Mikel and Pavlena Bishka. He lives with his parents and younger brother, Viktor, in Durres, Albania, an ancient city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, right across from Italy’s heel.

Niko completed his seminary studies in January 2019 and serves the Durres congregation together with his father, where 90 people regularly attend weekly worship services. Pastor Agron Mece (pictured left) and Mikel (pictured right) are both nearing retirement. They thank God for providing a pastor for the next generation and are recruiting other young men in their congregations to study for ministry.

The three pastors are working together to host the European Regional CELC Convention in May 2019. The convention gives the pastors across Europe a chance to see the work going on in Albania and to encourage our Albanian brothers and sisters as they carry the gospel to the three million people of their country.

From Luke Wolfgramm, missionary in Russia

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Faces of Faith – Fred

A Pima and Papago Native, Fred Thomas Sr. married Linda, a woman from the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Making their home on the Ft. Apache Reservation, Fred and Linda were hungry for God’s Word and a church home and began attending our Lutheran church. As the Holy Spirit worked, Fred was confirmed, became a church elder, and even started taking classes in our Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) during the evenings after he got done working.

When he and his family moved to a new community on the reservation, he volunteered for service again, helping reopen a Lutheran church in the community and offering his carport for worship services. Now a member and elder of Shepherd in the Pines Lutheran Church in McNary, Fred is serving in another way. As part of his advanced involvement in the ACTS program, he and other ACTS students are preparing Lenten devotions and leading worship for a mid-week Lenten series in the Lutheran churches of the Ft. Apache Reservation. Fred shares, “The Lord has blessed me greatly with the wisdom and knowledge to take care of his church and share his Word with other people who don’t know him. I give him all the praise, honor, and glory, as it is by grace that I have been saved.”

From Dan Rautenberg, field coordinator on the Apache reservations

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Faces of Faith – Hakim

“Even the cows listen to his sermons!”

So it seems! A picture (above) shows Hakim preaching a sermon to people sitting on the ground outside a house church. In the background is a cow staring intently at Hakim. His friends tease this humble, faithful servant who is deeply loved and say, “You are the world’s best preacher. Even the cows listen to you.” He is like a father-figure to many in the church. Despite his age he has a lot of energy and connects well with the young people in the church. He is also a film-maker and has made many video vignettes of Bible stories such as the Lost Son in Luke 15. He is also a student in our first Pakistan Bible Institute. He visits three to five house churches every week to teach what he learns in the Bible Institute. What makes Hakim and the other students wonderful preachers is how they bring God’s truth to our 58 house churches in Pakistan.

From the friendly counselor to South Asia

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Faces of Faith – Kittikun

Kittikun Thouttha (pictured center) was born into a Christian family in northeastern Thailand. His contact with WELS Missionary Tom (pictured left) brought about a thirst to learn more about the beautiful truths of the gospel as they are proclaimed in the Lutheran faith. After studying with Pastor Tom for over five years, Kittikun graduated from his studies and was ordained in 2013. When asked why he became a Lutheran pastor, Kittikun responded: “Because I know that God called me.”

Pastor Kittikun works closely with Pastor Tom and other leaders of our five missions in northeastern Thailand. He is active in the instruction of others who are studying for service in the church. He and his wife live in the village of Pongsumran where he poured a concrete floor in his carport and set up a small chapel for his congregation to gather. Pastors Kittikun and Tom also assist in the care and leadership of families from three house churches in neighboring villages. Once a month they all travel to Houymakhat village where our largest congregation is located. Together, they join in Bible study, worship, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and a fellowship meal.

Though the Christian church is small in Thailand, it is not dead. Despite the overwhelming influence of Buddhism in the lives of the Thai, the Lord’s Word does not return empty. Through the dedicated work of men like Pastor Kittikun, the Lord’s kingdom continues to grow.

From Ken Pasch (pictured right), missionary in Thailand

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Faces of Faith – Brother Wang

After working with Lionel Logue as his speech therapist for several months, King George VI of England opened Parliament “resonantly and without stuttering.” Through Logue’s training, King George began to overcome a very heavy stammer that had plagued him for his entire life, a critical need for a leader who would be required to inspire his people during the dark days of World War II. I think of King George when I think of “Brother Wang,” one of our seminary students here. Brother Wang stutters a bit when he speaks, whether in his native tongue or in English. Some people worried that this would make it difficult for him to teach and preach. But his determination to share the beauty of the gospel overcame his apparent weakness. For some reason, when he reads Scripture and preaches sermons, there isn’t a single slip or stutter. It’s a joy to listen to him recite Scripture or read an ancient poem with emotion and excellent rhythm. But his reading isn’t the most powerful aspect of his life; it’s his own passion and conviction for the gospel he reads, whether teaching the people who gather on Sundays, or when ministering to a dying brother, or when taking care of his mother. For a man who struggles a bit with stuttering, Brother Wang is a steady character who stands firmly upon the gospel without wavering. Please pray for this brother who clearly proclaims the name of Christ Jesus.

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Faces of Faith – Alisad

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has been operating a clinic in Mwembezhi, Zambia, for almost 60 years. Part of the mission is to turn much of the operations over to Zambians. CAMM recently hired Alisad Banda as clinic administrator, an important step in nationalizing the clinic. He first came to the Mwembehzi Clinic in 2005 in conjunction with some work he did in Health & Development. He was impressed how the clinic worked so closely with the Lutheran Church and enjoys knowing that Christians are showing compassion, care, charity, and integrity in a hospital and clinic setting. Both his mom and dad were Lutherans and instructed Alisad and his siblings in the doctrine and teachings of the Lutheran Church. He has worked diligently to advance his experience and professional life, receiving a diploma for Social Work from the University of Zambia (2007) and a diploma in Public Health from the Chainama College of Health Sciences (2017). He will graduate in October 2019 from the University of Lusaka with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health. In addition to his studies, Alisad can speak five languages. He is excited for the new challenge and seeing the clinic progress. Alisad lives in Lusaka with his wife, Cecilla, and their two children. CAMM is blessed to have Alisad and his strong Christian values at our Mwembezhi Clinic.

From Angela Sievert, CAMM Public Relations Coordinator

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Faces of Faith – Pastor Isreal

Rev. Mesue Israel Muankume is the only second-generation pastor in the entire Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC). In spite of his love and abilities with football (soccer), his father convinced him to study for the ministry. He graduated from our Lutheran Theological Seminary in Kumba  in 1999 under the leadership of the late missionary Norbert Meier.

He married Marie the same year and the Lord has since bless them with Suzanne, Haag (named after former missionary Keith Haag), and Joseph. After blessed service to several congregations of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon, Pastor Israel was struck with TB of the bone in 2008. The necessary surgery resulted in infection and left him walking with a cane and considerable pain to this day. Pastor Israel continued serving in LCC congregations as he has a real ability to communicate God’s love with others. In 2016, the Holy Spirit felt the need for a shift in ministry for Pastor Israel. He now serves as professor and Dean of our Bible Institute and upcoming Seminary in Cameroon. Please keep Pastor Israel and all of our brothers and sisters of the LCC in your prayers!

From Dan Kroll, missionary in Africa

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Faces of Faith – Carlos

Carlos Fernandez could have been called a highly successful church planter within his denomination in Argentina—once planting six churches in a year. But when his church body sent out a notice, which included no Biblical support, that forbid its members from watching TV or playing sports, Carlos decided that he could no longer take the legalism of his church body. He went looking for something else.

Carlos found Bible-based, Christ-centered teaching through Academia Cristo, the WELS online effort for outreach and training. Through it he was able to take online classes taught by WELS missionaries.

After several classes, Carlos received visits from WELS missionaries. He took off work from his finance company, used his motorcycle to shuttle the visiting missionaries around his town of Machagai, Argentina, and spent as much as 14 hours a day studying God’s Word. God willing, Carlos will be visited again soon when he will be welcomed into fellowship and the church-planting will begin.

From Mike Hartman, missionary and field coordinator in Latin America

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Faces of Faith – Lizbeth

“We want to learn more,” said Lizbeth Guaman, as she and her mother began classes with the Academia Cristo teachers in Quito, Ecuador. Lizbeth and several family members were disappointed with the Bible instruction they had received in other places. One day they saw an advertisement on Facebook for a Bible workshop and their interest was piqued. Lizbeth attended to see what it was all about. She liked it!

By God’s grace, they began taking classes and even invited Academia Cristo teachers to their home to teach weekly. Using Multi-Language Publications (MLP) materials and videos, this family has been advancing in Bible truth one lesson at a time. God has even planted the desire to share this news and invite others to the classes. May the Lord continue to water the seeds spread by the swirling winds of the internet!

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Faces of Faith – Ron

Ron Kelly’s passion is to serve the families and young people at his congregation, St. Marcus in Milwaukee, Wis. “The youth and children of my community have so few role models showing them what a Christian man looks like,” Ron told me the first time we met. Ron wants to be such a role model.

And he is. Supervising Pastor Dan Leyrer reports that Ron is friendly, helpful, outgoing, faithful, and always looking to give. Ron is involved with youth discipleship, chapel devotions at St. Marcus school, ministry to school families, Bible information classes, and assistance at the Lord’s Supper. Ron also serves the church at large. He is a member of the Urban Advisory Board in Milwaukee and will represent St. Marcus as a delegate to the 2019 WELS Convention in New Ulm, Minn.

In addition to his work as a realtor and his many hours of service at St. Marcus, Ron is working his way through the PSI curriculum, one class at a time. He and Pastor Leyrer set aside time every week for these studies. Already these classes are equipping Ron for ministry. Ron is a rare gift from our Risen and Ascended Savior!

From Rev. Brad Wordell, member of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team

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Faces of Faith – Chenna

I was standing outside some apartments near our church, talking with some Hindu friends of mine who lived there. We noticed a young man and his father unloading some luggage from a U-Haul. My wife and I wanted to see if they needed help; we introduced ourselves and met Chenna and his father.

Often, we invite our friends to our home for dinner and to get to know them better. As we got to know Chenna, we learned that his father was a former Hindu and his mother used to be a Missouri Synod Lutheran. Chenna had been attending church services through a variety of Christian denominations and was looking for a church home in Pewaukee, Wis. My wife and I invited him to join us at Christ Lutheran.

Eventually, Chenna became more like a son to us than just a friend. We walked with him as he grew in his knowledge of the Bible through the course of a Bible information class hosted in our home with one of the pastors. Once he completed the course, Chenna was confirmed and can now join us as we receive assurance of sins forgiven during the Lord’s Supper.

Chenna’s story is a great example of how simply saying hello to someone can lead to a family-like friendship and impact a person’s faith. We pray that as Chenna continues to grow in his faith that he can let the light of Christ shine to his family so that they too can share in the joy of Jesus.

From Pastor Paul, South Asia Ministry Coordinator for WELS Joint Missions

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Faces of Faith – Paul and Abigail

Every year the men from our congregation rent a large tent and host an awesome prime rib breakfast after Easter worship. In 2017, more than 200 people showed up for Easter worship and fellowship! That year, a long time WELS member named Helen invited her friends Paul and Abigail. They enjoyed everything – but Paul had not worshiped in a church for quite some time due to some mistrust in the church establishment. After that Easter breakfast, we didn’t see Paul and Abigail for a long time. Fast forward to 2018, and there they were, sitting in the church for worship. After some conversation and pre-marriage counseling, Spirit of Life hosted a small, beautiful wedding for this couple. I had learned that Paul wasn’t baptized in some of our discussions, and so on December 23, 2018, I had the opportunity to baptize Paul. Both Paul and Abigail have finished membership classes and are excited to be a part of Spirit of Life.

It was a long journey, with multiple touchpoints over multiple years. But from a personal invite, to a meal, to a wedding, and then to a baptism we’re shown how God’s Word is living and active and—on his time—works and grows. Stories like this make our members and I excited to sow the gospel seed every day, never knowing when the next Paul and Abigail might show up.

From Allen Kirschbaum, missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Hal and Anna

We both attended church our entire lives. For many years we had a hunger for the truth. We knew there was more, but we could not grasp what we were unaware of. While attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church we found what we were missing. We became aware of how sinful we are and how much we need a Savior. Since joining Grace we have become spiritually alive, feasting on God’s Word and truth!” – Hal & Anna Thorson

Hal and Anna’s story is simple, yet remarkable. It started with their friend Holly, who found the same thing while attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church in Tucson, Ariz. When visiting her friends in the frozen north, spiritual discussions led Holly to invite Hal and Anna to Grace in Minot, N.D., because Holly didn’t want to miss a single week in church.

That’s all the Holy Spirit needed to work with. Hal and Anna quickly found Christ in a way they hadn’t before, even after a lifetime in church. Sometimes the gospel creates stories with massive, unbelievable details. More often, it’s simply one person sharing it with another, who then shares it with another. Today, Hal and Anna are “paying it forward” by bringing Christ to their friends and family, hosting Bible Studies in their home, and sharing answers with their loved ones for the first time in a lifetime.

From Nate Walther, missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

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Faces of Faith – CJ

“My pastor is always smiling.”

That was CJ’s take on me. He was talking with his friends at school about their pastors. He told his friends that his pastor was always smiling and in a good mood. God be praised for this perception!

CJ is a sophomore in high school. He joined Amazing Love with his mother over a year ago. As a high school student, it would be easy to pick different priorities—he’s a rising baseball star at his high school. But he’s in worship every Sunday. On our teen trip to downtown Chicago, he was so excited to share what God was doing in his life. He said he used to be more negative, but now he strives to see things in a positive light.

The work God is doing in CJ’s heart is nothing short of remarkable. In our conversations about life and church he told me he has signed up for four different volunteer positions, and he’s hoping to make it to five. You’ll find him greeting, ushering, helping with kids, at the tech table, and with his attitude, I’m sure we’ll find a fifth position. He uses our church app to listen to the sermon a second time during the week, and he’s used the app to catch up on the last five years of gospel proclamation.

God gives us so much to smile about, and CJ’s story is one reason it’s easy for me to smile.

From Dustin Blumer, missionary at Amazing Love Lutheran Church in Frankfort, Ill.

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Faces of Faith – Lindsey

In the spring of 2018, I pulled out of my garage to make a few informal visits in anticipation of Easter. My motivation really needed to be compelled by the Holy Spirit that night. As the daylight faded, I wondered if it would be wise to knock on the next door.

Lindsey answered. I knew she had young children, so I didn’t intend to stay long. I gave her the invitations and wished her a good night. The next day I opened an e-mail from Lindsey. In it she wrote, “You came to my house last night and unfortunately saw me at the end of an extremely long day in my bath robe and probably at my worst! For some strange reason, that did not bother me so much because it got me thinking. . . I haven’t been to church in almost 20 years and it is very difficult for me to know where or how to come back. . . I just need some reassurance to get over the awkwardness I feel about coming back.”

Thankfully, Lindsey didn’t stop with an e-mail. She joined us in worship that Sunday and has been joining us since. She had been encouraged by friends who attend a different WELS church to investigate our congregation more fully. I am so thankful for their collaboration on her heart. In November of 2018, Lindsey was welcomed as a member and her children Karlee and Korie received the washing of rebirth and renewal in Baptism. I am so glad I knocked on her door.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – The Almarales Family

They were in tears for nearly the entire service the first time they visited. After opening up to their neighbor about the sleepless nights, the overwhelming worry, and constant wondering where they had gone wrong, the neighbor invited them to join her at church on Sunday to hear some much-needed good news.

As always, God’s Word did not disappoint. Alexis and Maria came to church with heavy hearts as their son was waiting on his sentencing in the city jail. They walked out of church refreshed and restored by God’s love and forgiveness for them in Jesus. Later that week through a jail video visit, their son was taken to the same cross of Jesus for peace and comfort even while facing the consequences for his actions.

About three months later, Alexis and Maria publicly confessed their faith in Jesus. Their teenage daughter, Roxana, was baptized in the same service. Several family members were in attendance that day and have seen the difference Jesus has made for them. They are eager for their oldest son and his family from Cuba to join them at church.

It will be a few years yet before their son is able to join them in a worship service on a Sunday morning, but all have been able to find true rest and peace in God’s grace.

From Paul Biedenbender, missionary at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo.

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Faces of Faith – Angel

The Lord of the Church continues to be with and bless the work carried out through Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wisconsin. Angel Ayala, an eighth-grade student at Wisconsin Lutheran, expressed to his mother that he wished to be baptized and confirmed at Epiphany Lutheran Church. In January 2019, Epiphany observed The Baptism of our Lord Sunday with the baptisms of Angel and his whole family as his mother Alicia joined the church. In February 2019, a Hispanic family from the school joined First Evangelical Lutheran. Due to language challenges, the daughter served as translator during the instruction classes as well as during the rite of membership in church – the church’s first bilingual confirmation since the years when First Evangelical was a German speaking congregation.

From Mark Blauert, school chaplain at Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Trace and Alissa

We first met at a church event for the community that offered free Easter pictures with a 1916 Model T. Trace and Alissa came by to take a picture and stayed to visit with some of our members. We invited them to church and an off-campus Bible Study, and they came! We are so grateful to remind them of Jesus’ love and forgiveness every week. Our growing mission benefits from their kind hearts and enthusiasm for Bible Study. We often thank God for bringing us together and pray for more in our community to come to our campus for the free message, family atmosphere, and bright future through our Savior Jesus.

From Gunnar Ledermann, missionary at Divine Peace Lutheran Church in Rockwall, Tex.

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Faces of Faith – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Our congregation wanted to think of more ways to get involved in our community. Being right along a parade route, we entered a float in the Coeur d’Alene Christmas parade and set up a tent and bonfire right in front of our church, along with free hot chocolate, so that parade-goers could warm up by the fire and enjoy a friendly conversation with our church members. We also had a free raffle prize which allowed us to get important contact information for follow up. Several people along the parade route who saw our float ended up coming to our Christmas Eve service.

After the parade, we selected the winner of our raffle prize, and I went to their house to deliver it. When I got there and told the person who I was, he remembered seeing our float in the parade and the tent along the parade route. He immediately invited me in and asked if he could talk with me “for a few minutes.”

Over the next two hours, he told me about the challenges and stresses he was facing in his life. He said, “I think God must have known that I really needed to talk to a pastor tonight, and that’s why you’re here.” It’s experiences like this that make being a pastor so wonderful. And God used our church float and tent in a parade to make it happen.

From Kevin Schultz, missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

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Faces of Faith – The McFadden Family

At our very first Easter Egg Hunt in 2013, Tony walked in to the building. Tony is a big guy. He served in the Marines. He’s a mechanic who works on jets and helicopters. Some might say he’s an imposing figure—but he has a soft heart, especially for his daughter, Brooke. As the pastor of the congregation, I didn’t know that. . . yet. He asked if their family could participate in the Easter Egg Hunt.

Using the information from the registration card, I was able to follow-up with them and personally met Brooke her mom Mary. On the next visit he opened up more about his struggles with faith. He grew up in a Roman Catholic family but had left the church long ago. While he continued to sense how “God placed people in his life to call him back,” he still admits he “struggles to find his faith again.” The relationship I have been able to continue with Tony, Mary, and Brooke has continued for the last six years. Mary and Tony asked me to officiate their wedding in October 2018 and to meet with them for premarital counseling beforehand. Since then, I’ve seen increased attendance at worship. Brooke, now 11, was so excited when she was invited to participate in Beautiful Savior’s Christmas Program, led entirely by members. She practiced her parts and spoke them with conviction. When she witnessed a baptism in worship, she personally approached me and asked if she could be baptized too. I currently have the privilege to work with their family to schedule the baptism and instruct Mary and Tony for welcome into membership.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Cherie

Cherie shares the story of her connection to Beautiful Savior:

“Over eleven years ago I nervously entered the doors of Beautiful Savior. I had everything I could ever imagine wanting: a brand-new home, all new furniture, proximity to all the conveniences of shopping, work and friends. Something was missing. I continually felt a void. I had passed by Beautiful Savior many times on my way to various places and felt a strong urge to investigate. I was a non-practicing Catholic due to a divorce and had not been in a church for well over 20 years. Would a Lutheran church accept me? Yes, yes and yes! I walked into the church, was immediately greeted in such a genuine way that I have continued to enter those doors for over eleven years.”

Cherie demonstrates an incredible heart for our congregation and its ministry. She is extremely faithful and dedicated and has become a consistent aid in our Mornings with Mommy program – she even stepped in to lead sessions this year when our director was unavailable. Cherie relates well with the 5th-8th graders of her Sunday School class, which she began leading two years ago. Recently Cherie took the lead to organize the Sunday School children for a Christmas program (the first in 5 years.) She also wants to create a children’s choir – stepping even more outside of her comfort zone because of limited musical experience herself. She is such a blessing to our congregation.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Brian and Jen

Brian and Jen Larson began attending Beautiful Savior in the fall of 2016. Brian says,

“Finding a new church can be hard, but Beautiful Savior made it easy. When my wife, a Southern Baptist, and I, a Roman Catholic, were married, we shared a common Christian faith, but had trouble reconciling the differences in practice between the denominations. Moving to La Porte with our two small kids, we knew we had to seek a new church that focused on our common beliefs.

We are so glad to have found Beautiful Savior. The entire congregation was warm and welcoming on our first visit. Pastor Boushek met with us to explain the practices of the church and how they were well grounded in the Bible. This erased the difficulty and confusion of walking into a new church. Now we enjoy being part of a friendly faith community that supports our family’s beliefs and spiritual growth.”

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Paul

“I have been to every church in Detroit. I’ll tell you what, one thing’s for sure—this place has the truth.” Paul Moronczyk grew up in Del Ray, a desolate and dangerous part of Detroit. He got into trouble early on, and even left the faith for a while. Then God brought him back. By his 30s, he was walking around the violent Del Ray and Springwells neighborhoods, visiting churches and getting to know pastors and priests. He studied and trained with various ministries around the city and had been ordained or licensed by many of them.

Then, he came to Palabra de Vida. In fall of 2016, he pounded on our church’s front door because he saw the light on. Shortly after, we began studying together. He peeled through the Catechism and was blown away by the doctrinal precision and proof passages. He started to study Martin Luther himself and delighted in the Reformer’s perseverance for the truth in the face of danger. He could relate to that! He professed his faith publicly at our church in fall of 2017.

From that point on, Paul has done everything—from helping to set up the Christmas decorations to passing out flyers to leading Bible studies in prospects’ homes. He’s found the truth—and he’s dedicated himself to getting it out there!

From Ryan Kolander, missionary at Palabra de Vida Lutheran Church in Detroit, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Spenser

Spenser hadn’t been to church in years. He found himself wandering in faith and unsure of his beliefs. Moving to the city of Atlanta had provided him with a great job, but it did nothing to fill the spiritual void in his life.

Then, one weekend in August, Spenser attended a free community festival. As he walked through a long line of booths, he saw something that caught his eye: a booth sponsored by volunteers from Intown Lutheran Church. Spenser spun their prize wheel and won a free pair of sunglasses. He also received an invitation to their grand opening worship service in just 2 weeks. Spenser had been Lutheran at one point in his life, and the people at the booth seemed friendly enough. He decided to come.

On September 9, Spenser stopped by our rented facility, with nearly 60 other people, to kick off worship. He enjoyed the pre-service coffee and fellowship time. He enjoyed the worship service and the Bible-focused sermon. During the post-service announcements, Spenser heard about a new “Bible Basics Class,” which would be offered in a local coffee shop. He decided to give it a try.

3 months later, Spenser joined our church as an adult confirmand. Through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in Bible Basics Class, his faith was built and strengthened to the point that he is now excited to be a part of this family of believers and help us reach out to the city of Atlanta with the gospel. By God’s grace, Spenser has found a spiritual home in the city.

From Lucas Bitter, missionary at Intown Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga.

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In his hands – mission work in Mozambique

Originally appears in the December 2018 Malawi Mission Partner Communique

The office is small. I’ve seen closets much larger. Even water closets (WC). The office was a stuffy square cubicle crammed with two desks, two chairs and a filing cabinet. No window. The desks were almost touching each other. Both were an eyelash’s width from the cabinet. A room clearly built for one but forced to accommodate two.

The problem? There were four of us. Oops, sorry. Five.

Two more chairs were wedged in and two more people squeezed in. We couldn’t really walk in the room, we had to shuffle. There’s more space between a couple slow dancing then there was between us. The fifth person had to stand in the doorway and lean in because the door wouldn’t open all the way because one of us had to sit or stand behind it.

Sardines in a tin can.

We were in the Ministry of Religious Affairs Office in Lichinga, Mozambique. I’ll tell you why in a minute. But for now, imagine this. (Sorry, it sounds like a brain teaser). Of the five of us:

  • One person spoke ONLY Portuguese, NO Chichewa and NO English.
  • One person spoke NO English, very little Chichewa and Portuguese.
  • One person spoke Portuguese, Chichewa and NO English.
  • Two people spoke Chichewa, English and NO Portuguese.

What do you get when you bring five such people together?

A challenge! Here’s what it was:

We all had to understand the two sets of documents in front of us. One set was written ONLY in English, the other ONLY in Portuguese.

These weren’t simple stories with pictures for children. They were official documents outlining procedures for a Foreign Religious Confession Registration. Technical lingo. Government garble. Procedures and Requirements.

That’s why we were there. The Lutheran Church in Central Africa Malawi Synod (LCCA-MS) would like to register as a Foreign Religious Confession in Mozambique. The Reason? It would like to bring the gospel of Jesus to people across the border.

Mr. Januario Cuinja (right) with the Religious Affaires official in Lichinga, Mozambique

In the past, the LCCA-MS did.

The government allowed both the LCCA National Pastors and the WELS Lutheran missionaries to cross the border without many hassles or questions. In fact, they welcomed us when we told them we were planting churches. They stamped our passports and wished us the best. We didn’t have government permission on paper to work with the church in Mozambique but we had their word that “all good” and to us their word was good enough.

Consequently, over the years, various Lutheran pastors and missionaries repeatedly crossed the border. They preached the Word and formed congregations. Spiritual farming in action: plowing the soil, planting the seed, watering the sprouts and tending the trees. Enjoying the fruit. The church was growing. The Harvest plentiful.

But then things changed. That is, on the side of the Mozambiquan government. After years passed and there was a changing of the guard so to speak, the border officers started to ask questions that were laced with suspicion:

  • Why do you keep entering Mozambique?
  • What are you really doing?
  • With what organization are you working?
  • Lutheran Church, hey? Then where’s your official registration?

Uh…uhmmm…well… so….you see….ahhhh….we don’t have one!

Oops!

The Mozambiquan government doesn’t accept oops. As a Lutheran Synod in Malawi we realized it was time to get registered. That was years ago and we’ve been working on it since. The registration road is long and bumpy. So is the road to get to the Religious Affairs office in Lichinga. 160 kilometers of dirt detours, mud runs, water filled ruts and jarring potholes. But it was the only way to get to Lichinga.

After a grueling 6 hours to travel 100 miles we ended up Ministry of Religious Affairs huddled over the two documents. Combined, those two documents ultimately meant that we needed to submit ELEVEN documents to make an acceptable application. Some still needed to be written, others rewritten. Two needed official notarization. All of them had to be translated into Portuguese.

A despairing thought: could this even be done? We wondered, what was the biggest barrier that was going to be against us? Language? Time? The wheels of government machinery turning ever so slowly?

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to complete these eleven documents before you can submit your application…”

The Ministry of Religious Affairs officials didn’t actually speak those words but we knew that’s really what was being said. Whether in English, Portuguese or Chichewa, it meant the same thing.  Then, as it does every time at the beginning of Mission Impossible, the tape recorder self-destructed and went up in smoke.

Not really, but out hopes did.

In order for us to accomplish the mission it meant numerous trips to the translators, police, internet café, print shop, office supply, Ministry of Religious Affairs . . . then back again and again and again to each of them. We were the ball in the pin ball machine. Bounced from one place to another.

Submit an application? It didn’t seem possible. With man some things are just plain impossible. But with God? ALL things are possible! If He can raise the dead and Himself, can’t He raise our hopes?

He did.

And four days later, squeezed back in the two-man cubby hole, we put the documents into the hands of the Religious Affairs Officials. They analyzed and scrutinized. They looked for any mistake and searched for anything missing. When they turned the last page of the last document, something broke: a smile on their faces! Mine too.

They said our documents were all in order. They accepted them. It doesn’t mean they approved the application, but it means the documents are worthy to send on to the head office in Maputo, Mozambique for approval. Or not. What it does mean is that our work is done: the forms are filled, Letters of Honor are written, Criminal report acquired, ID notarized, Religious Biography composed, Constitution translated, First-born sacrificed.

Well, we didn’t sacrifice anyone when doing our work, but God did when he was doing His . . . and He accomplished the impossible: He opened the border to heaven!

One road only: Jesus!

It’s an honor to be traveling that road with you, Mission Partners! While we travel that road together, I have a humble request. May I ask you to pray about this issue?

  • Pray that the government approves our application and grants us the registration so we can continue the Kingdom work we left across the border in Mozambique some years ago.
  • Pray with confidence. Pray with persistence. Pray boldly & daily. Pray in Jesus name and to His glory.

Rejoice with us! The amazing has happened already: the documents are in the hands of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Mozambique. Rejoice with us! The comforting thing is already known: the final outcome is up to God. Everything is . . . and has been all along.

Written By: Rev. John Holz, Missionary in Malawi and member of the One Africa Team