Faith and healing for 60 years

When you hear the word “Africa,” what comes to your mind? For WELS Lutherans, perhaps a lot of history comes to your mind. History that is often rooted in the work of the Central Africa Medical Mission.

1963: Barbara Welch and Kay Stuh work at the Zambia Clinic

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) started doing Christ-centered medical work in 1961 for just a handful of people in Mwembezhi, Zambia, which is near Lusaka, the capitol of Zambia. Today, thousands of Zambians come to that same clinic site seeking medical health (healing) for their body as well as spiritual health (faith) for their soul.

In 1970, medical services began in the country of Malawi as a mobile clinic. According to one of our first resident nurses, Edie Schneider Hintz, “For several weeks at three regular clinic stops we saw over 1,900 adults and 700 children in our under-five clinics. Amazing for their first try in the bush with medicine.”

The Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Malawi currently serves four rural villages. Annual attendance varies between 47,000 to 58,000 patients. The people in these villages trust our Lutheran Mobile Clinic to provide them with preventative healthcare and good quality medical care.

This year, CAMM will celebrate its 60th anniversary of showing Christ’s love through our care of very poor and needy people in central Africa who come to our clinics. Every day at our clinics, we get to nourish the faith of patients by sharing God’s Word with them through devotions and praying with them. At the same time, we get to bring healthcare to children in our under-five program, to adults who are suffering from malaria and HIV, and to young mothers in our maternity program.

Devotion at a clinic in Malawi

We also have some exciting news happening in Malawi this year. We have reached the point where we are now able to nationalize our clinic and give more responsibility to the Malawian staff, so that they can run the clinic and make it their own. That’s always been our goal, and God has blessed us at this time to be able to achieve that goal.

There are so many blessings that CAMM has experienced by God’s grace, and there are even more opportunities waiting for us.

Because of the Lord’s great love over the past 60 years, hundreds of thousands of patients have been helped and countless lives have been saved through the work of CAMM. In addition, many adults and children have heard the good news of Jesus and have been baptized as a result. It’s been one blessing after another as we have provided Christ-centered medical and spiritual care for the past 60 years in Africa. “To God be the glory, great things he has done!” (CW 399).

Written by Rev. Kevin Schultz, Central Africa Medical Mission Spiritual advisor

We are featuring the Central Africa Medical Mission during the month of April as they celebrate 60 years of God’s grace in 2021. Visit wels.net/camm to learn more.

 

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Hitting a homerun

Jesus was relational. And he probably would have liked baseball too. I mean, his ultimate goal is getting us home, right?

Harvey helping out around church

I follow Jesus’ example in being relational and loving baseball. My 14-year-old son, Jackson, is quieter; but he shares my love of baseball. He’s played select ball since he was 8 years old with a young man named Gavin. Gavin’s father, Harvey, has coached the boys for 6 years (12 seasons between spring and fall)! About five months ago, Harvey came to check out our new church building as he knew that if I wasn’t at the ballpark, I’d be there. He knew our family very well outside of church and decided he was ready to find out what it was that made us church folks different. Now he only misses an opportunity to be at church if we have an early game on a Sunday morning. He’s known to wear coaching gear to Bible study or service so he can head right to the fields from church so he misses as little as possible. He’s a fixture around Christ the Rock and will soon finish instruction classes and, God-willing, we will welcome him into membership.

Baseball is a team sport. So is mission work. My family and I witness by our behavior and attitude at church and at the ballpark. Now Harvey is really on our team too. Baseball can appear to some as a slow sport. But the good news is, there’s always a new day with plenty of second chances. Jesus is like that too. He sometimes takes six years to work in the heart of a friend we see all the time. But when someone you care about finds that second chance. . . WOW!

In baseball, often times you fail. But you never give up. Not every friend I develop a relationship with will come to church. But I know that if I keep following the example Jesus set, his will is done. Every biblical “hero” struck out at some point. Except Jesus. He’s our ultimate Hall of Famer! I don’t have to hit a home run every time because at the gates of heaven, God will see Jesus’ perfect record instead of my own sad and pathetic failures and stats. And Harvey will be right there too, holding up Jesus’ perfect game as his when we play together for the Bethlehem Braves. Or maybe the Jerusalem Giants? Who knows.

Written by Rev. James Skorzewski (Pastor Ski), home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Hutto, Tex. 

 

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This is Eleanor

If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. (1 Peter 4:11b)

As I would greet people before and after worship, I often heard a phrase that always brought a smile to my face: “This is Eleanor”. Very often that phrase would be used as a group of college students would gather to visit after worship or in the Fellowship Hall for a meal. She is not a college student. She has never attended one of the Bible Studies held on the local college campus. But she was a servant to her Lord and Savior who utilized the strength that God provided her. I would like you to meet Eleanor.

She was a model of the Christian faith in her personal life. She understood our sin and the need for our Savior. She was faithful in her worship and Bible study attendance. She knew her Bible and read it daily. When college students came into the church building, her congregation knew she was a good person to introduce them to. And so the phrase, “This is Eleanor. . .” is one that sticks in my mind as I visit congregations, high schools, and campus ministries. I think of how Eleanor humbly did some things to encourage college students to be faithful to their Savior. Eleanor also encouraged her family this way. She was very thankful for the campus ministry that served her grandson in Texas. She would regularly write to the college-age students from her home congregation of St. John’s in Minneapolis, Minn., who were away at school. When they came home, she was always happy to see them and greeted them with both a welcoming face and encouraging conversations. When St. John’s was deciding whether or not they should be the place that serves college students in the Twin Cities, Eleanor spoke up both publicly and privately, “We have an opportunity to serve young adults at a crucial time in their lives. I think of my grandchildren and our college students here.” As I remember her encouragement, there are more people just like her spread across our synod.

Eleanor with her grandson, Adam, who attended Texas A&M

This is Eleanor. . . She was a model of the Christian faith. She encouraged her family members to stay faithful to their Savior during their college years (and beyond). She did the same with students in her church family. At the age of 85 she encouraged her pastor and congregation to be the place that would serve as the location for campus ministry in the Twin Cities. In the eight years that followed, the Lord continued to provide her with the strength to serve young adults. The Lord Jesus shepherded Eleanor home to heaven in June of 2020 at the age of 93. She was a tremendous blessing to those that knew her. We rejoice that she’s with her Savior in heaven.

Just as COVID has forced individuals and congregations to pivot, the same can be said for college students and our campus ministries. In these last few months, I have been able to visit with various congregations, high schools, and called workers. I have met people who are just like Eleanor. They love their Lord and they love their church and/or school. They show that love with their service. They are individuals who understand that their learning and growing is ongoing as they hear God’s Word and gather around the sacraments. They have family members who have college-aged children and grandchildren. There are young adults in their own congregation who spend some very formative years at locations of higher education. For quite a few places, there is a college, university, or trade school nearby.

The Lord gives you opportunities to serve just as Eleanor did. If you are a current college student, utilize the time God gives you to not only grow in your knowledge and understanding of your course of study but also use this time to grow in God’s Word. For those not in college, continue to be encouragers to your own family members who are either approaching are already in their college years. Encourage the young adults in your own congregation. If your setting is one where there is a college campus nearby, consider ways that the Lord may allow and equip you for serving students with what God has entrusted to you.  God’s blessing to all of you!

Written by Rev. Dan Lindner, WELS Campus Ministry Mission Counselor 

Learn more about WELS Campus Ministry and how you can get involved at wels.net/cm100.

 

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Arriving somewhere new

When was the last time you were in a new situation? Was it attending a new school? Starting a new job? Moving into a new neighborhood?

After accepting the call to serve on the Latin America missions team, my family and I arrived somewhere new. In fact, we arrived sooner than expected! Our original flight from Los Angeles to Quito was cancelled. We had two options: we could wait a few days for a similar flight, or we could head to the airport to catch a redeye that had a few seats left. We were eager to start this new adventure. We scrambled to complete some last-minute errands, went to the airport, and made it to gate as our new flight was boarding.

Beth Behmer and kids Nora, Emma, and Baby Ray

This worked out better than we could have expected. The redeye landed during the day. As the plane made its final descent, our girls gazed out the window. “I see mountains!” “I see a park!” “I see a soccer field!” Those were just a few of the comments. The level of excitement was high.

After landing, we went from seeing to experiencing new things. Our girls visited their new school. They met their new teachers. They started learning a new language. We found our way around a new city. We enjoyed new foods. We started to make new friends.

I also started new work. Previously, I served as a parish pastor. Now I am part of a team that trains and equips people throughout Latin America to share their faith and start churches. This means learning a new style of ministry. I’m learning how to teach classes through Zoom. I’m learning how to conduct one-on-one bible studies with church leaders. I’m learning the best ways to encourage church planters as they work to spread the Good News.

In the first few days, I saw how this new style has had an impact. I met the Guaman family from northern Quito. They learned the truths of the Bible through Academia Cristo classes. Now, they are gathering a group in their home using Academia Cristo resources. I met Jose Cormachi from southern Quito. He, along with other men, gather a group together. They lean on Academia Cristo resources for training. Being in this new environment has given me the opportunity to see new ways that the Holy Spirit is working throughout Latin America.

Guaman family confirmation with Missionary Nathan Schulte

When we find ourselves in new situations, we rely on others. We are thankful for the help of Missionary Nathan Schulte, our teammate on the ground in Quito. We are thankful for insights from friendly Uber drivers and advice from new neighbors. We are thankful for the prayers and support of our brothers and sisters in WELS.

Above all, we are thankful for Jesus, our Savior. One thing that is not new is his presence, protection, love, and grace in our lives. Someday, he will bring us and all believers somewhere new.

What will it be like when we arrive? What will we see? Who will we meet? What conversations will we have? How will we feel? What will be the first songs we sing? Because Jesus lived, died, and rose again for us, we can look forward to learning the answers to these questions together!

Written by Matthew Behmer, missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador 

Want to hear how the Behmer family “landed” in their new mission field? Read more in the Behmer missionary family landing report.

 

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Behmer missionary family landing report

Have you ever wondered what happens during the first couple of weeks after a missionary family arrives in their new field of service? Read more about how the Behmer family (Missionary Matt, his wife Beth, and kids Nora, Emma, and Baby Ray) landed in their new mission field of Quito, Ecuador, this past January: 

Monday, January 4: On Monday morning in San Diego, we found out our original flights to Quito, Ecuador, were canceled. We drove up to Los Angeles and found a flight that left that evening. We had a smooth departure and had a good redeye flight to Panama City. Our daughter Emma thought the breakfast provided on the flight was perfect – a turkey sandwich, yogurt, and juice box.

Missionary Schulte meeting Behmers at the airport

Tuesday, January 5: The connection in Panama City went well. When we arrived in Quito around noon, we were picked up by Missionary Nathan Schulte, who had lined up a small school bus to take us and our many suitcases to the Airbnb. We were very thankful for the space. He also had some groceries waiting for us. In evening, we explored Cumbayá, bought some extra essentials, and got dinner.

Wednesday, January 6: We met Missionary Schulte for lunch. From there, we went to set up our phones to get cell service in Quito. In the afternoon and evening we started an online search for houses.

Thursday, January 7: We met up with Missionary Schulte in Quito and walked to Guaman family restaurant for lunch. They’re contacts made through Academia Cristo, the Latin America mission team’s online outreach program. We took a walking tour of the area and visited a park. In the early evening, we met with the first realtor.

Friday, January 8: We visited the school in Tumbaco where our girls would begin virtual school. We then met Missionary Schulte for our first house showing. We also looked at more houses online and started to line up other showings. We decided that a rental vehicle would make the house and furniture search more efficient. After some headaches at the airport, we were finally able to get a small SUV. In the evening, I returned to the airport to pick up Missionary Andrew Johnston, his wife Cindy, and a few of their kids who were going to help in the landing process.

Saturday, January 9: We toured a total of five homes. One home in Tumbaco checked most of our boxes: It had three bedrooms, a separated area that could serve as an office, a great backyard, and seemed to be move-in ready. There were a couple of concerns with security, but nothing that couldn’t be addressed. It was in a small neighborhood with only three other homes.

Sunday, January 10: Missionary Schulte led us in a wonderful church service. He led the liturgy, lessons, and hymns, and we listened to an edifying sermon by Pastor Jon Schroeder from Sharpsburg, Georgia. After church, we went to see five more homes. That night we grilled out at the Airbnb. We’re thankful to Missionary Schulte and Caleb, a Martin Luther College graduate and volunteer in Quito, for watching the kids all day.

Missionaries Behmer and Schulte meeting to discuss their ministry

Monday, January 11: Beth and I discussed it some more, and we decided that we wanted to pursue the Tumbaco home. It was close to the kid’s school, had the space we felt was needed, and we decided we could find solutions for additional security. We began looking for family vehicles that afternoon. While Missionary Johnston attended some meetings, I began looking at options for furniture and home items.

Tuesday, January 12: We revisited the Tumbaco home with Missionary Johnston and our girls, Emma and Nora. We found out our offer was accepted, and we finalized some of the details. Emma and Nora loved the backyard, and it seemed like a home. That afternoon we attended some meetings, and then began looking for a family vehicle. We found a Toyota Fortuner that fit the bill and began the process of buying it.

Wednesday, January 13: Missionary Johnston took sole responsibility for making sure three kids participated in their respective online classes. That takes some special talent – we are appreciative! My wife Beth and Cindy Johnston went furniture shopping and got all the major things we need for our home. I went with Missionary Schulte and some of our other contacts to officially transfer ownership of the vehicle.

Thursday, January 14: Despite now owning a vehicle, we couldn’t drive it today due to the picos y placas. That stands for peak [hour] and [license] plate, a driving restriction policy aimed to reduce traffic congestion. It can only be driven on certain days. However, this works out great as Missionary Schulte’s car can be driven on the opposite days! The rest of the day was filled with meetings.

Friday, January 15: With a home lined up, a vehicle purchased, and some meetings out of the way, we were able to catch our breath on Friday morning. While the Johnstons watched our kids, Beth and I got lunch and went shopping for some home supplies. In the evening, Missionary Schulte and Caleb came over for some fellowship time. Missionary Schulte treated everyone to pizza and ice cream. It was delicious!

Saturday, January 16: We went to find authentic home furnishings at a good price and didn’t return until 5 p.m. The Johnston’s picked up some delicious empanadas for all.

Sunday, January 17: Cindy Johnston and I did some brief filming of an introduction video for Academia Cristo. Then, we all headed to the Guaman family confirmation. It was a special service, using liturgy and music provided by Academia Cristo. Missionary Schulte led a Bible Study using the Academia Cristo model and performed the rite of confirmation. We celebrated Holy Communion together. Then, the Guaman family provided a delicious lunch. We also enjoyed a cake brought by the Johnston family. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to get to know the Guaman family a little better.

The Johnstons, Behmers, and Missionary Schulte with the newly confirmed Guaman family

Monday, January 18: The Johnstons headed to the airport to return home, and I returned the rental car. After some meetings, we spent the rest of the day packing up to leave the Airbnb the next day.

Tuesday, January 19 and onward: 

We moved out of AirBnb, managing to fit all our suitcases and recent purchases in and on top of our new SUV. After moving into the home in Tumbaco, a few maintenance issues with the house popped up that we’re currently addressing. On Friday, January 22, we met our neighbors. All of them have children, and one also sends their kids to the school in Tumbaco our kids will attend.

Next steps: Beth and I will be digging into language training. Our girls have started their virtual classes and very much enjoy them, and they’re enrolled in Spanish classes.

We are very thankful for the opportunity to live and work in Ecuador! We are also thankful for all the support of WELS. This includes the budget for our housing, the purchase of our vehicle, and funding for the Johnston family to help with the transition. We feel that WELS and the Latin America missions team has helped us have the best landing as possible. We are looking forward to using this strong landing to launch into work and our new life in Ecuador!

Report by Matthew Behmer, missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador 

 

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Linger with me before God’s throne

It is true that our job is to teach students about the Bible. By God’s grace, we have a school through which to accomplish this work. We’ve asked for your prayers: that God continue to provide us students interested in serving people. You’ve walked with us and prayed with us as we’ve watched God pour out his blessing on this work by bringing Asia Lutheran Seminary many people who wish to study God’s Word.

Additionally, God has provided us with plenty of opportunities to share his love with those who aren’t sitting in our classrooms. Where we live, the vast majority of people still do not know their Redeemer. God recently gave me an opportunity to share. Andrew’s mom urgently waved me down as I was walking down the street to go eat. I had never met her. She needed help picking up her 27-year-old son who is wheelchair-bound as a result of cerebral palsy. There was no one else around to help. So, I awkwardly lifted up a grown man while she situated his wheelchair. I told him he was heavier than he looked. He laughed at me for being weak. The irony was not lost on either of us. At that moment, we became friends.

As we rode the subway one day, Andrew asked me, “Are you ashamed of me?”

“No. Why?”

“Because I am disabled. People can’t accept that.”

I asked him, “Are you ashamed of me?” Long pause….

“Dude…? No!” he said with a smile and a laugh. His question shook me though. I almost cried. I thought about shame, the suffering he’s endured, and the importance of face in this culture. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Andrew’s father is completely out of the picture.

God granted me the grace to realize that if my sin were a physical deformity, it would be far worse than the distorted body that sat before me in that wheelchair on the subway. And yet, I have a Father who has not abandoned me, but who has saved me and restored my relationship with him despite my dreadful condition. He is not ashamed of me, his son. This Father has not abandoned Andrew either. How could I not tell him? That his shame has been done away with and that the God of the cosmos has sacrificed everything to restore his soul and body so that they could live together in life everlasting. I imagined what Andrew would look like walking around in heaven untwisted and new. My moment of reflection was interrupted by Andrew who reminded me I was at my stop.

It would be deceptive to give you the impression that this work is all just one success story after another. There are those, but many situations involve an amount of painful growth and waiting. We linger while God does his amazing work in us and the people around us. It involves suffering, prayer, awkward conversations, and more waiting. This story is just one example of that lingering. However, instead of just asking you to rejoice with me when visible harvest comes, I want to invite you to linger with me before God’s throne while I pray for Andrew. If you would, please take 30 seconds to pray for him with me, and for those millions here who do not yet know Christ. The apostle Paul’s prayer request so many years ago is mine as well, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:19)

Written by Tony Barthels, instructor at Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong

 

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Communicating the power of the gospel cross-culturally

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

Romans 10:14

When Jesus came to earth, he preached the good news. According to the four gospels, the amazing thing Jesus did during his three years of ministry were not the miracles, but the communicating and ministering done with the power of the gospel. Clear communication of the gospel is a necessity for a minister or an evangelist. When Jesus preaches the good news, he uses a simple and easy to understand way to communicate the gospel to the people to whom he is speaking.

One question we ask ourselves at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church is, “How do we communicate the gospel to the unbelieving Hmong people? Especially people who believe that inanimate objects have souls?” When Paul and Barnabas communicated the gospel in Lystra (Acts 14:8–23), they spoke to people with these beliefs in a clear and understandable way.

It is the power of the gospel that brings wonderful news to the whole world, including the Hmong community! God sent his Son into the world to die for sinners. Our sins are forgiven. That is awesome! That is the good news! That is the powerful message of the gospel God has given us, and we pray that the power of the Holy Spirt will guide us to communicate this message to others clearly and understandably. This is SO important, especially in cross-cultural ministry.

New members at Grace Hmong

This past January, 11 prospects of Grace Hmong completed the membership course and were confirmed into the Christian faith. The members of Grace Hmong or I had no power in converting these people into faith. It only happened by the working of the Spirt through the Word.

But how did we meet them so that we could share the gospel with them? It was a short conversation between one of our members and the head of their family. Then they came to our 2019 Thanksgiving Service. After the service they were invited to join the meal. At mealtime, Grace members and I had the opportunity to talk with these families about their faith and presented the pure gospel to them. They were interested! They told me that they never heard that sinners are saved through faith in Christ – they had been taught that sinners are saved only through good works. A couple weeks later, they came to our Sunday morning service and continued after that. Three months later, they decided to take the membership course.

During the membership course, they learned the theology of the cross. Every time we met, I tried to communicate the gospel in a clear and simple way for them to understand. The power of the gospel slowly penetrated and created faith in their hearts. We cleared up misunderstandings they had from the past. Now they are baptized and confirmed into the faith and are members of WELS!

What changed their hearts and turned them to the saving power of Christ? It was not the wonderful meal Grace prepared for them. It was not the money Grace spent on that day. It was not the power of the members or Pastor Lor that penetrated their hearts. It was the Holy Spirit working through the gospel.

That is why it is important for the church, the members, and the pastor to communicate clearly the simple message of the gospel. In the Great Commission, Jesus declares his authority over all things, and then he commands us to go and communicate the good news to others. Jesus wants us to share the power of the saving gospel with other people the way he taught. To God alone be the glory!

Written by Pastor Ger Lor, home missionary at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Kans.

Learn more about Hmong ministry at wels.net/hmong.

 

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Mission partners in Finland

Did you know that WELS shares fellowship with a Swedish-speaking church in Finland? Get acquainted with Pastor David Akerlund, his wife, Marika, and their congregation.

The following is taken from a recent interview with Pastor David Akerlund:

I serve as one of three part-time pastors in St. Johannes Evangelical Lutheran Church. Our church began in 2008 with six members. Since then, God has blessed us. We have grown to 28 members who meet at two different sites, in Jakobstad and Vaasa on the west coast of Finland. I serve together with two other pastors, Pastor Ola Osterbacka and Pastor Oyvind Edvardsen, and one Bible teacher/organist, Hans Ahlskog.

I usually preach two Sundays a month. I visit the sick and share the gospel with people in my neighborhood. God gives me many opportunities to talk about the Savior with my extended family and workers at the meat-packing plant where I work. Sharing the gospel takes time. I’m thinking about one of our recent confirmands. . . I first shared the gospel with him (Rasmus) in 2008. He’s a cousin on my wife’s side of the family. At family gatherings, I would talk with him and my other relatives about our eternal needs. Our conversations continued over the course of nearly a decade before Rasmus was finally ready to take adult instruction classes and join our church.

Pastor David and Marika in the home they are building

I love sharing the Good News of Jesus. There are so many people in our neighborhood who are searching for answers to the most serious questions in life. Who is God? Why am I here? Where am I going? I want to share God’s truth with people who are hurting and looking for comfort.

I’m married to a wonderful woman named Marika. Together we are a support family for a little girl named Lena who is nearly three years old. We are building a house. [David and Marika are actually building their house with their own hands, brick by brick and board by board.] My dream is that God would allow us to adopt children so that our house will be full!

A couple of prayer requests:

  • Please pray that God would give our congregation many open doors for sharing His comfort with the people in our community.
  • Please pray that God would help us through the long, difficult process of adopting children.
  • Please pray for me and my service. I think it would be great if I could become a full-time pastor for the workers at our meat-packing plant! Many of them are interested to hear about the Savior. I would love to spend all my time preaching, teaching, meeting prospects and encouraging people with God’s Word.

Interview conducted by Pastor Luke Wolfgramm, Russia

St. Johannes is an Associate Member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), a group of 32 confessional Lutheran churches and synods from around the world. The CELC gathers at triennial meetings for encouragement, fellowship, study, cooperation in projects, and an internationally united voice. Learn more at celc.info.

 

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The first spiritual decision I’ve made for myself in my adult life

“This is the first spiritual decision I’ve made for myself in my adult life.”

I wasn’t expecting her to say that. I met her in the parking lot before church. She had finished going through basic Christian instruction and said she wanted to become a member of our church. This was the day she would join us as the newest member of our church family. I love those days. SO much.

Worship at a local restaurant in North Nampa

So when I met her in the parking lot, I was all smiles and congratulations. But she was more serious. She’s been through a lot in life. Men have been awful to her. Churches have made her feel guilty and confused. She’s been living with a lot of emotional and spiritual pain. It was all on her face that morning in the parking lot. And that’s when she said it: “This is the first spiritual decision I’ve made for myself in my adult life. I’m really glad to be here. This church is where I belong.” And then she smiled.

Cross of Christ in Boise, Idaho, began services at our multi-site in North Nampa in November of 2019. It had been tough to find space to meet, but a local restaurant is closed on Sunday mornings, so we meet there for church. It’s worked so far, but it’s getting tight.

We had no idea who we’d encounter in the coming months and how God would guide our ministry. We certainly weren’t planning on canceling in-person services only months after starting because of COVID-19. But God has his plans. We anticipated needing a larger space to rent as we grew out of the restaurant, but we weren’t expecting to have every opportunity fall through or prove too expensive. Yet God still has his plans. We definitely weren’t expecting to suddenly have the opportunity to purchase our own 5,300 square foot building during the global pandemic, and be scheduled to hold services on our church’s second campus this summer. Go figure. . . God has his plans.

Cross of Christ’s new location in North Nampa

That woman in the parking lot is one of many souls we’ve been privileged to meet in the past year. Who knows who God will bring our way in the years ahead? How exciting to have a new and bigger building for even more gospel ministry in Nampa, Idaho! How exciting to discover what further plans God has for us!

I still smile when I see her every Sunday. She’s glad that she’s here. I’m glad she is, too. Every new face, every new opportunity, every new day of God’s mercy, and every great spiritual decision new friends make as they start following Christ—it all just makes me smile.

Written by Rev. Kurt Wetzel, home missionary at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Idaho

 

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My students are my teachers

I teach seminary classes and Bible institute courses in three countries – two Muslim nations and one Hindu. The students are my teachers.

Tonight I go to the home of a man who has been head of a Bible school since 1996. He is distinguished and well-educated. I was invited for supper at his home two months ago. He lives where three of his four brothers also have families. Their tiny homes abut one another, and until recently had thatched roofs.

I take off my shoes at the door and my host leads me to the living space – a bedroom! There is a narrow walkway between the dresser and bed. My host, and some members of his family, sit on the bed cross-legged while I sit on the only chair. We visit like this for an hour and a half.

Then it’s time for the evening devotion. We leave the bedroom and go to the one “living room” for the four families. Hunched together–husbands, wives, and children sit in the dim light. The oldest daughter of my host is sitting on a cot. She pulls out a tiny, hand-held air-organ from under the cot and plays hymns. Everyone sings. Then a brother reads the Word of God. I was asked to share a devotion.

Now it is time to eat. They lead me back to the bedroom. A small narrow table is pushed up against the footboard of the bed. My coworker and I sit at the table while others sit on the bed. Course after course of food is brought in. We talk, laugh, and enjoy the delicious food. Then at 10:30 at night, after 3-4 hours of visiting, it is time to go back to where we are staying.

I think of this family, and families in America, and I ask myself, “Who is the most happy?” I realize that it’s not what’s in the house that makes a happy home. It’s what’s in the heart that makes a happy home.

My students have a passion to learn the Word of God. They will travel great distances to attend a workshop. One young lady walked two days to reach a bus, and then rode the bus for three days.  Five days of travel one-way. Then she will sit on the floor with a hundred other people for 5-10 days from 8 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. to learn and discuss the Scriptures in large and small groups.

My students have a passion to reach the lost. They love the people who persecute them. One man had his home vandalized several times for sharing the gospel. He was also beaten, cut with a knife, and threatened with death. I see his face light up and hear the excitement in his voice as he talks about new ways to reach the lost. I wonder, “How can this be? They hurt you. They left a 2-foot scar on your body. . .  and you love them?!” I gain new insight into the love of God which caused him to send his Son into this world.

My students have great faith. While Christians make up only 1% of the population, they trust God to do great things. The don’t focus on what they cannot do. They focus on what they can do under God. They don’t play defense–that is, they don’t hide from the world. They are always on the offense. Attack, attack, attack. . . not with weapons of violence, even though their enemies use these weapons, but with love and truth. They are peacemakers storming the gates of hell. It is an inspiration for me to work with men and women like these. They have a joyful spirit, a contagious faith.  “Forward, forward, forward” in Jesus we go.

These students are my teachers.

Written by a WELS missionary

Details have been intentionally left out due to the sensitive nature of the mission work occurring in these countries. Please privately email missionspromotions@wels.net if you’d like to learn more.

 

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Hope remains

What thoughts come into your mind these days when you think of Portland, Oregon? In the midst of a pandemic, Portland has been in national headlines many times for its 100 days of protests. When I first arrived in the area, I visited near the downtown area to grab some of Portland’s famous donuts and coffee. I was greeted at the donut shop by a bouncer wearing a bulletproof vest, and I was served at the café from behind two layers of bulletproof glass by a barista wearing a full-face mask. It was eerie, it was scary, and it was intimidating.

The Hope core group at work

It is true that the challenges of starting a church in the midst of pandemic, unrest, wildfires, and mistrust are very real. And yet, there is incredible opportunity amid the challenges. In a dark time, the light of Christ shines brightly! In a time when hopelessness threatens all of us, the hope that lives because Jesus lives lifts us up. This message of hope is a powerful message for the people of Tigard. As a city, we have watched as so many of the things that give us comfort be removed. We’ve been forced to ask the question: “What can I possibly put my hope in that will not disappoint me?” The only thing that will not disappoint us is the hope that we will live eternally with Jesus!

We, as a core group of believers in Tigard, have had the incredible privilege of sharing that hope with the people of our city. We have experienced opportunity and success in the most unlikely places! I’ll share two of these unique opportunities.

Boarded up business during the protests

Over the last two months, we have been putting on our masks and knocking on people’s doors while holding a freshly baked loaf of banana bread with just one simple message: “Hi! I’m from Hope Lutheran Church – a brand new church here in Tigard. We know that times are hard right now, so we are here to share some hope and banana bread with you!” It wouldn’t seem like knocking on people’s doors to share food and conversation would be the most successful tactic during a pandemic, and yet the gospel opportunities we’ve had have been astounding.

In the first days of January, a riot took place in downtown Tigard. Small businesses already struggling to stay afloat were damaged and were forced to board up their windows. In the aftermath, we were able to talk with some of the business owners and help clean up. We were able to share the hope of Jesus in yet another situation where it might seem that hope could not thrive. We were even given the opportunity to witness this hope to the mayor of Tigard and the chief city councilor!

Pastor Bourman’s son, Theo, packing Hersey’s kisses for prospects

The challenges are real. Yet, instead of the dwelling on the challenges, I ask you to pray with us for opportunities for the Holy Spirit to create faith in people’s hearts. The unrest is real. Yet, instead of struggling with the unrest, I ask you celebrate with us the forgiveness that Christ won for us on the cross. Whether in peace, pandemic, or protest, only one thing can remain certain: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! In this we place all of our hope.

Written by Rev. Paul Bourman, home missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Tigard, OR


 

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Christian Noblewomen

Throughout my ministry, whether it was serving U.S. congregations or as a member of WELS World Missions, I saw many Christian noblewomen with a variety of spiritual gifts offering their time and talents to the Lord. These sisters in Christ possessed the characteristics of the many women who can be found in the Scriptures, such as Miriam, Ruth, Hannah, the Marys of the New Testament, Anna, Tabitha, and many more.

Their faith was evident through the fruit that it bore.

Two other biblical names come to mind when I think of my position as a WELS Friendly Counselor to Indonesia: Ester and Ribka (Hebrew for Rebekah). Both of these Christian noblewomen are members and current workers of our sister church, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). Both have a unique set of spiritual gifts and skills, distinct from one another, which they are using in the gospel ministry of GLI.

Ester

Ester (which probably means “star”) is an appropriate name for Gereja Lutheran Indonesia’s Publications Coordinator. Through her work, she is “letting her light shine before others so that they may glorify their Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). On a local level, she also is active in her congregation and as a member of the regional women’s group. She is also the wife of GLI’s seminary chairman, Pastor Mikael. She was able to accompany her husband when he came to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for extended studies and attend classes with her husband. Her studies helped her better understanding English theological words and phrases. Strengthened in faith and with a deeper understanding of doctrine and terminology, she is now better equipped to translate, print, and share materials. Her commitment to faithful translations will serve GLI for generations to come.

Ribka

Ribka is the administrative assistant at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran, the seminary of GLI. She also assists GLI’s leadership in various ways, including processing reports in English for WELS personnel, interpreting between Indonesian and English speakers during meetings, as well as helping with travel and housing arrangements for visiting guests. She is a faithful and accurate translator of God’s word. The assistance she offers synod and seminary leadership requires a high level of trustworthiness, and she faithfully carries out all of her tasks.

While God has gifted GLI with many such women who also use their time and talents to glorify their Savior and assist fellow believers, I was privileged to work personally with both Ester and Ribka in recent years. What a blessing that God gives his church faithful men AND Christian noblewomen who are equally equipped with the spiritual gifts needed to carry out his great commission of sharing the message of salvation. To God alone be the glory!

Written by Rev. Greg Bey, part-time friendly counselor to Indonesia

Learn more about Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI) at wels.net/indonesia.


 

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2020 hindsight

Well, that didn’t go according to plan.

We began 2020 with a well thought out strategy, a good mix of outreach and in-reach efforts. We’d pull together with four big seasonal events to attract the community and engage our members. In the off months we’d look for quick wins – joining in the next 5K, hosting a game night, perhaps even bowling (as embarrassing as that would be for me). We met as a church to identify coordinators and volunteers. Everything was falling into place. Ready, set, go!

We never got to “go.”

Survive & Thrive after Quarantine webinar

Like churches across the country, the unexpected sidelined our plans. No community Easter brunch. No door-to-door introductions and invitations. No 5K’s, no concerts, no strawberry socials. Our focus shifted from the myriad of possibilities before us to managing the practical concerns of simply worshiping together. One step forward, two steps back.

But would you believe the Lord still brought blessing?

By necessity, our live-streaming capabilities matured rather quickly as online worship services moved from the confines of our website to the open spaces of Facebook. With our in-person events canceled, we pivoted into the all-digital event arena and hosted our first ever webinar: Survive & Thrive after Quarantine, an online event intended to help our community see COVID through a Christian lens. We got used to fellowship on Zoom and, in time, to worshiping six feet apart. Simply put, we shelved our big plans and rolled with the opportunities God placed before us.

And the Lord brought blessings – unplanned, unexpected, unforeseen blessings. Our online worship allowed us to connect with prospect families we might never have met otherwise. Zoom Bible studies kept us growing together even from a distance. Phone calls, text messages, email, and even snail mail were tools for mutual encouragement.

Ascension’s Christmas Festival

And as in-person events came back, the Lord gave us more opportunities. We swapped our planned indoor family Christmas event for an outdoor, socially-distanced Christmas festival, complete with individually packaged cookies, free raffles, and live music. Long-time members of Ascension and new friends rolled up their sleeves and donned their masks to enjoy the Christmas season with a much-needed sense of semi-normalcy. The Lord gave us good weather, a good turnout, good fun, and good contacts.

2020 was a challenging year to try to hit the ground running as a home mission restart. It’s humbling to so quickly shelve your first-ever ministry plan. But it’s far more humbling—and inspiring—to see the blessing the Lord Jesus pours out apart from our planning. We’re excited to bring several families into membership early this year and begin classes with several more, all blessings realized in the chaos of COVID.

Last year didn’t go according to plan—well, not our plan. And as it turns out, that’s a good thing.

Written by Rev. Ben Berger, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania


 

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And he brought him to Jesus

What Andrew had found made everything else on the to-do list fade away. This discovery was of such importance that Andrew went right away to find his brother Peter. The discovery wasn’t a what, but a who. Andrew told Peter that they had found the Messiah (John 1:41-42). What greater thing can a person do for a sibling than to bring them to Jesus?

Bible information class in Mandarin at Reformation in San Diego

Many Chinese Christians freely use the term “brother” when they talk about a friend in the faith. When John, a Chinese member of Reformation Lutheran Church in San Diego, brought his Chinese friend Mark to a Thanksgiving church event, Mark was introduced as a brother in the faith. During the Thanksgiving event, Mark and his family enjoyed playing games with other brothers and sisters. The event was a reminder for everyone in attendance that we are always able to give thanks when Jesus is our focus. Mark’s family also heard a clear law and gospel message in Mandarin from Vicar David Choi (from our sister synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod).

Mark was eager to talk with the pastors and vicar afterward to learn more about the life of a pastor. The desire has been in Mark’s heart to find a path to study for full-time ministry. The pastors and vicar at Reformation have been able to share more information with Mark about our synod’s Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) – a possible path for Mark to study for the pastoral ministry.

The first step is for Mark to study Reformation’s Bible information class and become a member. Thanks to translation efforts in the past, Reformation’s membership courses are available in Mandarin. Mark’s studies are well under way, and he is cherishing the time to be brought closer to Jesus.

Andrew and Peter would go on to share the truths they had learned from Jesus. They brought others to Jesus by sharing what Jesus had taught them. These brothers knew the best they could offer anyone would be to welcome them into the family of believers with the Good News of Jesus.

All of us have friends we can invite to join the family in spending time with Jesus. How might that person we invite respond when Jesus speaks to them? How might God use that person in the future to reach out to others? God continues to amaze us in the ways his gospel changes hearts and lives. May we all continue to follow Andrew’s example of prioritizing an invitation to those around us to join us as we spend time with Jesus.

Please keep Mark, John, Vicar Choi, and the growing outreach ministry to our Chinese neighbors in San Diego in your prayers.

Written by Rev. Neil Birkholz, WELS Asian ministry consultant and Associate Pastor at Reformation Lutheran Church in San Diego, CA

Learn more about Asian outreach occurring throughout North America at wels.net/asianministry.


 

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So much more than a burial

The body of late Evangelist Chitanzane Kantokoma Mapulanga was laid to rest on December 6, 2020. The coffin was lowered. The dirt was heaped. Wreaths were placed.

Evangelist and Mrs. Mapulanga – December 2016

But the funeral was so much more than a burial. It was a “witness to a stricken world.”

In Christ, who tasted death for us
We rise above our natural grief
And witness to a stricken world
The strength and splendor of belief. – CW #607

Some say that the best evangelism opportunities in Malawi are funerals. Why? Because the masses gather. Not just the fellow members of the deceased’s home church, but the entire community. Crowds of people. And as you can well imagine, a variety of faiths in need of a message whether they realize it or not. What better time to share the gospel of Jesus?

That is exactly what Pastor Khwima Msiska did.

He preached 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, “. . . the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Pastors Msowoya and Msiska

Pastor Msiska could have hijacked the sermon time and simply highlighted how much Evangelist Mapulanga had accomplished during his personal and ministry years. God had given the Evangelist a total eight decades spanning from 1940 to 2020. There would have been plenty to say. After all, just in his gospel ministry of serving the Lutheran Church of Central Africa, how many sermons did Evangelist Mapulanga preach? How many babies and adults did he baptize? How many member visits had he made? How many people of the Lutheran church had he comforted, corrected, rebuked, and trained in righteousness? Over decades of service, how many kilometers had he pedaled and miles had he walked to serve the Lord’s people?

But Pastor Msiska didn’t dwell on those things. For that matter, neither did the Liturgist Pastor Msowoya nor any other speaker. The funeral focus was not about the man Mapulanga but about the God man Jesus Christ. Both Lutheran Church of Central Africa pastors answered very clearly the questions that are most important: What had Jesus done for Evangelist Mapulanga? What had the Promised One accomplished? Why did Christ die on the cross? What does Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death mean for him, and me, when I die? 

Ah, now that’s something to talk about. And sing about.

And that is what the Lutheran women and men did. The preacher and the liturgist were not the only ones witnessing to the stricken world. So were the many people who attended the funeral and are longing for Christ’s coming. We arrived at the funeral home at 9 a.m. We departed at 4 p.m. And for the better part of seven hours, people were singing. Why?

Because there was something to sing about! The funeral was so much more than a burial. It was a witness to a stricken world that there is hope beyond the grave. There is life after death. There is a crown of righteousness in store. No wonder the family of God longs for their Brother’s appearing on the last day! We are not just waiting for Jesus Christ to come again, but desiring it, yearning for it. Looking forward to it, patiently but with anticipation.

One day our fight will be over. Our race will be finished. And we will live no longer by faith, but by sight.

Missionary Holtz with Evangelist Mapulanga

And so with the strength and splendor of belief, the men and women lifted up their voices. They sang at the funeral home, at the mortuary, walking to the cemetery, and huddled around the grave. The day was one of song, and the songs were ones of witness. And the witness was to Jesus Christ.

Because Jesus rose from the dead, so will Evangelist Mapulanga. Because Jesus paid the penalty of sin, we don’t have to. Because Jesus gave up his crown, we will wear one!

A gift of grace.

Until the Lord calls us home as he did Evangelist Mapulanga on December 4, we will still have graves to dig, funerals to attend, and loved ones to bid goodbye. We will mourn. Hearts will ache. Tears will flow.

But not without hope.

So we will also have sermons to preach and songs to sing and a witness to give. Because there is a world out there stricken with sin and in need of a Savior. No matter in which country our loved ones die, let the masses and the crowds come to our Christian funerals! It’s so much more than a burial.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, world missionary on the WELS One Africa Team


 

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A head-start on the restart

Our mission in Wesley Chapel chose to get a head-start on the restart that every church is experiencing right now. Two years ago the members of Emmanuel in Zephyrhills, Fla., decided to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. They chose to sell their property and everything but the hymnals, font, and communion set. They chose to work with their District Mission Board, call a home missionary, and spend time as a wandering church. . . a restarting church that would find a way to evangelize nearby Wesley Chapel, Tampa’s booming northern suburb.

I accepted the call to the Wesley Chapel home mission a week before the March shutdown. We knew back then we were joining a church choosing to restart. The group had taken this leap of faith and was seeking a shepherd for their next steps. Members dreamed of the future, but first we needed to answer some fundamental questions: What is the Bible’s blueprint for a church? What’s absolutely critical, and what can we let go? What ministries and programs should we offer? How will we invite the community? As 2020 wraps up, our group is still studying God’s answers to those questions, and we’re still studying our Wesley Chapel mission field. We plan to spend 2021 setting up our primary ministries.

What’s changed since March is that every church is now forced to answer similar questions: Why do we gather? Are we essential? What will we offer online? Is it worth restarting that program or not? See! Our group was just ahead of the pack!

Home missionary Phil Hunter’s installation – poolside!

Our Wesley Chapel home mission has navigated the same practical puzzles as all other churches (meeting location, online worship, safety measures, etc.) Again we just happen to be very flexible–for such a time as this! We didn’t own a building anyways, so we were prepared for simple services in unusual locations. We met in a family’s yard. We held a poolside installation service. We now lease space from a beautiful new school and meet on their covered patio. We adjust the sound system for each new space, laugh at ourselves when the candles won’t light, and consider it all part of the adventure. We’ll likely own another facility soon, but for now we enjoy a camaraderie with Christians across the ages and the globe who worship outdoors or meet in houses.

The pandemic has not hindered our home mission start. However, it has slowed down our communication. In normal times, we could all gather for a meal and an open forum or brainstorming session. Now it’s an in-person forum for some, a Zoom meeting for others, an e-mail and online form for others who can’t Zoom, plus letters and phone calls for the few beautiful souls who have managed to avoid the internet. It is still possible to gather input and distribute info. . . but it takes more time and effort. In the big picture, that’s a pretty easy yoke for us to bear.

A final bit of news: A new name for this new church year. We spent a month gathering name suggestions. Our leaders discussed them, compared them to other area churches, and narrowed them down to a final four. We took those finalists and surveyed area WELS school kids, core group members, and dozens of people at parks and stores around Wesley Chapel. The result of that research is a name that’s both fresh and iconic, appealing to WELS kids and unchurched families, and connects well with Biblical imagery and local geography: Citrus Grove Lutheran Church, launching in late 2021 here in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Jesus bless your church’s restart. . . and ours!

Written by Rev. Phil Hunter, home missionary at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Fla. 


 

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2020 blessings in Vietnam

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:20b

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lord is always with his church. Our brothers and sisters in the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam are not stopping reaching out to lost souls. Pastor Zang said, “Most of the pastors in the Hmong Fellowship Church are farmers, and they know very little about germs. They have heard many scary things through television and radio about the impact of COVID-19, but they see it as less dangerous when compared to the lost souls that have no chance to hear the gospel before they die. The souls will be condemned eternally to hell without hearing the word of God.” In 2020, more than 12,000 have come to be believers in Jesus.

Pastor Fong burns a pagan altar

In 2020, Pastor Fong and his evangelism team reached out to many villages in his area. The Lord has blessed their outreach tremendously. They were able to establish nine new mission congregations in nearby villages. Fong said, “We proclaimed the Word and cast demons out of some people that were brought to us. The people had sought help from shamans in their community, but they couldn’t drive out the demons. In Christ’s name, we were able to drive out the demons and heal the sick.” Besides this, they also burned the pagan altars of the unbelievers to prove to the community that Christ has power to overcome Satan. In some cultures, you don’t dare to burn the altars in which sacrifices are offered to the devil because they think that they will bring curses to their family.

Despite the pandemic, the Lord has provided a way for the WELS to continue training the Hmong Fellowship Church church leaders. The last WELS trip to Vietnam was in January 2020. In November, the Vietnam mission team responded to the request of Hmong Fellowship Church and offered Zoom training to 57 students in Hanoi. Rev. Joel Nitz teaches the gospel of Mark and I teach Law and Gospel. The students are divided into two groups. Each group spends eight hours per week online. Due to poor Wi-Fi connections, some students have had to travel to the city to get a better connection. They have never utilized technology to assist in their ministry before. Instruction via Zoom is something new for them. It took me two days to guide the students in how to use the program. Praise be to God, they finally learned how to use it! Due to their excitement, some students have asked permission for their wives and parents to join our training as well. They are welcome in Christ’s name!

During the training. Rev. Nitz asked the students to recall the blessings in their lives given to them through Christ. Pastor Tsheej and Ntsuablooj said, “The biggest blessing in my life is the opportunity to be part of WELS training in Vietnam.” Pastor Nukhai said, “The more I learn from WELS, the more I feel like I know nothing about the Scriptures. There is so much to learn. If I look back to the last eight years, before I received WELS training, I saw a dark path in front of me. But now I see a clear path before and after me. I will dedicate my whole life to learning from WELS, God-willing.”

WELS’ teaching has helped the church leaders identify the false teaching in Vietnam. Thanks be to God for the well-trained pastors in WELS! The Hmong Fellowship Church has grown from 126,000 to 138,000 in 2020. To Christ alone be the glory!

Zoom training

The Hmong Fellowship Church has been tremendously blessed; however, there are also some big challenges ahead of them. More than 1,360 leaders are waiting for someone to train them in the Word of God. They are also waiting to build more churches for new believers to worship their Lord. Evangelism work is the priority for them. They are very skilled in doing evangelism in their community. With proper training and materials, these men will continue to share God’s word.

The building project in Vietnam is still active but has been delayed due to COVID-19. Once I visit Vietnam, I will arrange a Zoom or face-to-face meeting (God-willing) between WELS representatives and the representatives in Vietnam. The government also wants to make this project happen as quickly as possible.

Our brothers and sisters in Vietnam send their greetings and say, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” to all WELS members. They appreciate your help and support, especially to train their leaders in the word of God. They also ask for your continued support and prayers.

Finally, I would also like to thank our members in WELS for your continued support for the work in Vietnam. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. May the Lord of the Church send more workers to harvest his fields. May the Lord continue to bless our leaders, members, and the work in the U.S. and around the world so that the lost souls may be saved through faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator


 

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Perfect timing

The timing seemed awful. Missionary Joel Sutton and his family and I had only been in our new mission field in Paraguay for a few months. We had just found housing, but it certainly didn’t feel like “home” yet. We were really looking forward to changing that: getting to know our neighbors, traveling a bit in the country, making connections in the community.

Then the pandemic hit. Paraguay´s government issued a “total isolation” policy. We could leave our houses to get food or medicine, but that was about it. So much for our plans of getting established in a new mission field! From our perspective, the timing of the pandemic couldn’t have been much worse.

But God’s timing is always perfect. We were locked in our homes, but so were people all across the world. Many were scared and searching for answers. The Latin America missions team had just rolled out a new, Academia Cristo Bible study app for smartphones. . . and downloads surged. Sign-ups for our online Bible training courses surged too. Zoom classes with 10-20 students before the pandemic were now filled with 40-50. God was reaching more souls with the gospel all over Latin America!

One of those souls was Lester Soto from Managua, Nicaragua (pictured above). He had downloaded our app just after the pandemic hit and signed up for our live classes in April. When I met with him after class one day via Zoom, he admitted that he had been putting off his relationship with God for a long time. But God had used events in his life to lead him to search for the truth, and he found us online. More importantly, his Savior found him. “I was lost,” Lester said. “But now I know Jesus did everything for me. I have a spiritual peace I’ve never had before.” He told me he wanted to join one of our churches. When I said we didn’t have a church in Managua yet, he said he wanted to help start one.

Over the course of the pandemic, Lester was able to take 11 online Bible courses with us. He’s now gathering a group in his home to share with them what he is learning. And he’s not the only one: I could tell you about Eduardo from Bolivia (pictured), José from Ecuador, Benjamín from Colombia, and others—all of whom found us during the pandemic and are now working to plant churches where they live.

It might not always seem like it to us, but God’s timing is always perfect. The Christmas story reminds us of this. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, miles from home, with a barn for their hotel room. That doesn’t seem like the best moment for the Savior to be born! But there in Bethlehem was precisely where and when God had promised it would happen (Micah 5:2). In God’s eyes, the timing was perfect: “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” (Galatians 4:4)

In our case, having just arrived in a new mission field did not seem like the best moment for God to allow the pandemic to happen. But just ask Lester, Eduardo, José, Benjamín, or any of the countless others across the globe that God has used the pandemic to reach or grow with the gospel. I’m sure they’ll all tell you. . . God’s timing couldn’t have been better.

Written by Rev. Abe Degner, world missionary on the Latin America missions team who resides in Asunción, Paraguay. 

Want to learn more about world mission work in Latin America? Visit wels.net/latin-america to learn how Academia Cristo, an online training tool used by the Latin America missions team, is reaching millions of Spanish-speaking people with the gospel.


 

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Growing God’s garden

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

– Galatians 6:9,10

Not everything grows down here. This past quarantine, my wife and I, like millions or other amateur gardeners and do-it-yourselfers, decided to plant a garden. After a few weekends, several hours, and countless trips to Lowe’s, we had our own budding garden, with okra, raspberries, zucchini, tomatoes, and grapes.

But not everything grows down here. The peonies failed to thrive. A dogwood tree and an elephant ear rotted in the boggy clay. A few berry bushes withered; one snapped at the base with a gentle pinch.

It’s easy to grow weary of that kind of work, isn’t it? To toss the gloves in the garage and ignore the yard. All that caring, feeding, and nurturing, only to have the fate of a crop slip from your hands. What went wrong? The soil? The seeds? Did I do something wrong? Could anything grow here? Could anything grow now?

A little amateur gardening experience leads us to appreciate some of God’s great truths about his kingdom and how it grows: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” – Mark 4:26,27

Have you felt the same way? Pastors and members alike have spent time maintaining interpersonal bridges; exploring mysterious livestream glitches and problems; calling, texting, and brainstorming to find some way of hanging onto everyone. At times, church work can feel like starting a broken lawnmower. Bursts of energy trying to get something going, only to puzzle over what the problem could be.

Worship at May River

Not everything grows down here. What grows near you? Do you feel fatigued? Perhaps a creeping sense of futility? Frustration?

There’s a reason Paul says not to get weary. Because while not everything grows immediately, some things do. And they grow. . . and they grow. . . and they grow, bearing far more fruit than one might imagine. As I write this, we are currently on our second crop of Okra. The first grew to a height of four feet. After we chopped them down in September, another crop appeared.

How much more wonderful to see what God is doing with souls here! Even in the midst of a pandemic, God blessed us with the opportunity to finish teaching Bible information class to seven adults and two of their teens now enrolled in catechism classes.

Beyond that, God’s people continue to bear fruit. New members step up into service and longtime members keep serving. God’s people still make it a priority to clean, decorate, coordinate, serve, and pray for one another. After church, you overhear members building one another up. In the midst of uncertainty and tension in our nation, generosity holds strong. In uncertain times, God still works in beautiful ways.

No, not everything has grown. The new, thoughtful sermon series, your friendly invite, the hours spent tweaking the tech may not have yielded results (yet). But God still promises—yes, even in a pandemic—that his Word produces fruit.

Just as every hardship is an opportunity to gain a better grip, a deeper appreciation of God’s promises, so he nurtures and tends a young home mission congregation. He draws us closer and closer to his Word. He shapes our hearts, gently tugging us from our own strength and capabilities, laying us back on his shoulder for his grace every day. And in our Savior Jesus, we regain a fresh sense of optimism and hope. As we turn, again and again, to his promises, we catch our breath and make our way back out to the fields, ready for the harvest.

Written by Rev. Erik Janke, home missionary at May River Lutheran Church in Bluffton, South Carolina

Want to learn more about the ministry at May River? Watch Pastor Janke’s Moments with Missionaries video update from Taste and See.


 

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How long does it take to build a church?

How long does it take to build a church?

182 years. It took 182 years to construct the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.

182 years is a long time. It probably felt like a dreadfully long time to workers in Year eight or nine of the project. It must have seemed like it was going to take forever. By the time Year 50 rolled around, how many of the original workers had retired? How many lifetimes did it take to complete this church-building work? Finally, the people in 1345 AD got to see the completed structure.

How long does it take to build a church? Not the church-structure, but the church-church. The people. How long does it take to build a congregation?

One year to explore the field. Another year to plant the first seeds and assemble a core group. A third year to plan and execute a launch. By year five, that mission is off and running. By year 6 or 7 or 10, that mission is standing on its own two feet. Time to move on to the next one.

Mission core group in 1993

Praise God when that timetable works out! Praise God for the mission starts that “catch” quickly like a spark in tinder and flare up into a roaring fire!

Praise God also for the “slow-burning” missions. Praise God for the church-building work that follows a cathedral-like timetable. Praise God for the missions that take lifetimes to grow.

But how?

If you are building a cathedral, stopping to measure your progress every few minutes only makes the goal feel out of reach. The row of stones set in place seems pitifully small. The edifice pictured in the building plan seems impossibly large.

Instead, let the builders just keep building. Let gospel work proceed at a steady pace. Let each living stone built on the foundation of Christ and his Word be set in place carefully and lovingly, yet urgently. Let the pace of the workers be diligent and energetic. And then…let the progress of the work rest in the hands of God.

Finally, in God’s good time, after all the halting human labor by frail human hands is finished, we will get to see the completed masterpiece that God himself constructed.

To Him alone be glory!

Home Missionary David Boettcher serves the dual-parish mission of St. John’s, Wetaskiwin, and Mighty Fortress, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, which plans to become self-supporting in 2022. For the many years of mission subsidy, these Christians are grateful for the patient and generous support through WELS Home Missions and the many members who have donated to Christ’s church. Thank you! 


 

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Pandemic proclamation

In 1918, the United States experienced a pandemic. The Spanish Flu Pandemic was terrible. How bad was it? By many estimates, 1/3 of the world’s population was infected and 5% of the entire world’s population died. However, the Lord brought something good out of that terrible pandemic. As Missionary Guenther rode to various Apache camps, doing what he could do for the sick by applying the homemade remedies of skunk oil and tar paper, he came upon the ailing Chief Alchesay. The Holy Spirit worked in the conversations about Jesus that followed, and when he recovered, Alchesay founded and dedicated the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible on the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona.

Just over 100 years later, we are in the midst of another pandemic. If our missionaries today tried to ride around town on horseback applying skunk oil and wrapping the sick in tar paper, getting arrested may be the kindest reaction they would receive. But the Lord has opened other doors to share the same good news about Jesus.

Under the banner of Native Christians, our mission field has been working on new ways to share Jesus. And with all of our reservation churches still unable to worship as normal (and some not in person yet at all), sharing the gospel digitally has taken on fresh importance. The pandemic has given us a wonderful opportunity to work on ways to share without gathering in person.

Part of our plan to reach Native people inside and outside of our reservations in Arizona included completely overhauling our website and providing a platform for us to share our Bible study resources. Local member Kasheena Miles has been able to build the site from start to finish, and her filmmaker/entrepreneur husband Douglas Jr. (both pictured) supplied the excellent photos and videos. With their help, our pastors are now able to reach a much wider audience with the gospel.

The website is one piece of our effort to create a Native Christians Network. We are actively seeking Native people to reach them with the gospel and offering sound Bible training to anyone interested, no matter where they live. Through our website and social media, our gospel reach is expanding. Pray that our generous Lord continues to give us more Alchesays, and pray that our efforts continue to be successful.

If you’d like to see the website and get the latest updates on our field, please visit www.nativechristians.org

Written by Missionary Dan Rautenberg, field coordinator on the Apache reservations in Arizona


 

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Christ-centered wedding blessings

Greetings from East Asia! I want to share with you that God is still working powerfully here in East Asia even during these very trying and special times. COVID-19 has pretty much shut down international travel, yet I feel so blessed that I have been able to remain both safe and healthy here in East Asia during these unusual times.

While most may look back on 2020 as a challenging year, my new wife Christine and I will look back on all the blessings God has poured out on us during these past months. As my Asia Lutheran Seminary classes and opportunities to meet friends face-to-face became limited in February through April, opportunities to spend more time with Christine and lead online studies became greater. While most Bible study friends confined themselves to their homes and socialized mostly on social media in one of our four weekly online studies, Christine and I were excited to explore the empty parks and travel to see each other on the traffic-free roads. Even while large gatherings were banned, we fell deeper in love. We were soon engaged and were trying to figure out how to hold a wedding in such special times. One of our plans was to invite our friends to a secluded park and have an outdoor wedding, but the logistics of bringing chairs, tables, and a shelter seemed too much. Finally, in the middle of July, we were referred to a banquet hall that was just given permission to open their doors to group gatherings (as long as the virus situation in our city stayed under control). We booked our wedding for August 8 and invited our friends. We thought maybe 100 friends might be able to join. . .  within the couple weeks we used to finalize all the details, we had 260 friends asking to join our special day. Many friends were so excited to have this chance to see each other and celebrate something so joyful after months of isolation.

By God’s grace we were able to hold our wedding on August 8th, 2020. Throughout our planning, we made an effort to put God first and desired every detail to point to God and his glory. We knew that there would be many of our friends in attendance who were not believers and several who knew very little about Christ and his redemptive work for all mankind. Other friends in attendance had been studying God’s Word with us for some time, but had not yet come to place their faith in Jesus and call themselves a believer.

Our preparations were blessed. The Holy Spirit was working powerfully during our wedding service. One brother who held onto a quarrel with the pastor of our wedding was moved by his preaching and servant-like attitude and reconciled the difference in the days after the wedding. Another friend that had been attending Bible studies for over three years was moved to be baptized. When Christine and I were moving from table to table to greet and toast the guests, she told us about her desire to be baptized. Praise God for moving her, through our Christ-centered wedding service, to want to join the fellowship of believers! Christine and I made our way to the stage in front of the banquet hall, this time accompanied by our friend. Christine held the microphone as I had the privilege of pouring the water connected to our Triune God’s name over our friend’s head. We sang Amazing Grace for the second time that day, and this time my friend could personally relate to the words, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”

What a privilege to see the Holy Spirit working so powerfully here in East Asia and around the world. We give God all the glory and honor for changing our lives and those around us to follow him and praise his name.

May God continue to bless the work he is doing here in East Asia. Thank you for all of your support and prayers. It is our privilege to see the answers to your prayers.

Written by Mike, evangelist with Friends Network and partner of our work in East Asia 


 

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Eight years of blessings in Lafayette, Indiana

The weatherman said that Saturday, October 3rd, was going to be a beautiful, sunny 70 degree day in Lafayette, Ind. He also said that about Monday, October 5th. But Sunday, October 4th was predicted to be a rainy, cold, and windy 45 degree day. That was the day our leadership team had chosen for our outdoor service and picnic lunch at Prophetstown State Park to celebrate our eight year anniversary as a congregation. People texted, “Pastor, are we going to postpone this? Weather doesn’t look good.” We didn’t have a contingency plan because we figured, “It’s a large covered shelter with space for 150. We’ll be fine!” I texted back, “Bring your jackets and blankets.” When we arrived it was colder than 45 degrees. The wind was blowing across the prairie grass of the state park with nothing to stop it. . . and it was raining.

They say that Lutherans are hearty people, and I guess “they” are correct. Keep in mind that we average about 40 on a Sunday morning in our storefront worship space. That morning, 55 people showed up with jackets and blankets, including 11 students from our Purdue campus ministry group and 7 prospects. Three of our young people played brass, and three others played violin to lead those gathered in the hymns. I did feel bad for the instrumentalists, barely able to keep their lips and fingers warm enough to play, but they sounded great in spite of the circumstances.

That Sunday I preached the final part of my sermon series, “Why we do what we do in the Divine Service” and focused on Numbers 6:22-27, “The Blessing.” For the past eight years the LORD has put his name on his people at Lamb of God Lutheran Church. For the past eight years the Lord has blessed Lamb of God by shining his face on us and looking on us with favor. The past eight years the Lord has given us peace. Now, we need his name to be on us more than ever as we look to the future of our ministry. God-willing, by the end of this year, we will close on an existing facility in West Lafayette and move out of our storefront sometime in 2021.

In February 2020, the pastor of Immanuel Reformed Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette called my office and said, “Hey, I heard you’re looking for a new piece of property or existing facility. We’d like to sell our property to you!” Our leadership team, members of the church, and the district mission board toured the facility. The members agree to pursue the purchase of this property.  We are currently in the negotiating stages of our purchase. I ask for your prayers, that this new facility will be a great location for us to better reach out and serve our great Lafayette/West Lafayette community and Purdue University. Stay tuned!

Written by Rev. Paul Horn, home missionary at Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Lafayette, Ind.           


 

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I could not find Jesus, but he found me

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is the name of an autobiography written by a Muslim who used to be an ardent defender of Islam. While we do not agree with all of the writer’s theology, the book describes how Nabeel Quereshi became a believer in Jesus and an evangelist to Muslims. The title of Nabeel’s book could be used for another Muslim man who has become my friend.

*Names changed for security reasons*

Habib attended a madrassah (a Muslim school of learning) for three years. He shared with me:

“I never stopped reading the Koran (the holy book of Islam). One day I read surah 19 (the word for chapter in the Koran) ayah 21 (the word for verse) called Maryam (the Muslim name for Mary). I learned that Issa (the Muslim name for Jesus) was born of a virgin and that he came to this world for the people. When I read this, I was overwhelmed. I wanted to learn more about Jesus. My teacher told me, ‘You don’t need to know about Jesus. Learn about Mohammed. Jesus came for the Israelites, not you.’ In spite of his warning, I read more and more.

The Imam at my mosque called me and asked, ‘Why don’t you come to the prayer times? You used to sing the verses of the Koran for everyone to hear. I heard you became a Christian.’ Shortly after that I went to the barbershop in my village and the barber told me, ‘Everyone is complaining about you. They say you do not pray (Muslims have five daily calls to prayer). You do not read the Koran.’ My barber was sympathetic and told me to go to the Catholic church. When I entered the Catholic church, a man confronted me and said, ‘What are you doing here? Muslims are not allowed inside our church. Go to the mosque.’ I told him, ‘I am a Christian.’ He said, ‘We do not share Jesus with Muslim people.’ I did not know what to do.

Soon I met a humble Christian brother who gave me a Bible. I read the Bible day and night. I felt it was written for me. I also became part of a small group of Christians and was baptized. Then I learned that the imam at my mosque—and the village elders—made a sharia (“law”) judgment against me. They summoned me to a meeting. They said, ‘If you do not renounce Christianity and return to Islam, we will kick you out of the village.’ I remembered Jesus’ words, ‘Whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 10:33). I told the imam and the village elders, ‘Yes, I am a Christian. I will never leave Jesus. I will never leave this truth.’

They isolated my family from the rest of the community. My father went to the mosque for the daily calls to prayer, but they would not let him enter the mosque. They told him, ‘You cannot enter the mosque, because your son is a Christian.’ This upset my father very much. He began to beat me and told me I must become a Muslim again. I could not live with my parents so I had to find a way to make a living. I started a study circle and became an academic coach. This was going well until people told the parents of my students that I was a Christian. The parents stopped sending their children. I had no job. Finally I found work at a fish market where I brought water in buckets to splash on the fish.

Only my mother would talk to me. I shared the gospel with her—and in time she became a Christian. My father became angry with her and deserted her. She was alone and the people in our village began to persecute her. Now I care for my mother. She cooks meals for me. We pray that one day my father will become a Christian too.

God opened the door for me to study at a Bible school. We are working with this Bible school to teach students and to prepare them to be evangelists. I never had such in-depth learning. It was profound. Now I am sharing the gospel in a new area. I am thankful for the bike I was given. I ride this bicycle to six villages where we tell the people about Jesus. We are starting churches in these communities.

Against impossible odds I became a Christian. I was in a madrassah and never stopped reading the Koran. I could not find Jesus, but he found me. Now I want the whole world to know about Jesus.”

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia


 

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Good bones

I don’t know about you, but one of the most dangerous things I did during this pandemic was to turn on Home and Garden Television (HGTV). I know, I live on the edge, but hear me out. HGTV is dangerous because it gave me ideas, and ideas led to trips to Harbor Freight, and trips to Harbor Freight led to purchasing 28-foot scaffolding, and scaffolding may have led to teenagers performing front-flips onto giant bean bags. I told you that HGTV was dangerous!

In spite of the great dangers involved in watching home improvement shows. . . I still do it. I try to quit, but there is an allure to seeing a project take shape. In all the shows, I love the phrase, This place has good bones.” Good bones means you have something solid to work with. It means you know it is going to be incredible in the end.

About two years ago, the members of Carbon Valley Lutheran in Firestone, Colorado, started our own rehabilitation ride. After years of searching, we found some good bones”  at a former plant nursery—an all-steel structure, 3 ½ acres, commercial zoning, sewer, water, parking lot, street lights, landscaping, and water tap all were there. We could work with this.

But there’s another reason HGTV is dangerous. It inspires you to take that leap of renovation faith without really showing all the time and work that goes into the final project. And yet that work is really what gets you to the big reveal. Don’t worry, we didn’t stop being a church. We continued worshiping in a local elementary school, strengthening the faith of our members. We reached out to our community through service projects and local festivals. We raised money through the generosity of our people. We asked the right questions and walked through the loan and town processes. We rolled with the twists and turns and ultimately stepped out on faith.

Outdoor worship at their new location

And when the pandemic took our public school location, the bones of our building became our impromptu worship location. We worshiped outdoors in the middle of our steel structure. We watched as the roof and walls were stripped. We saw the foundation piers being dug. We heard the concrete slabs being cut. And the big reveal hasn’t happened yet. But it’s coming.

God does amazing things with bones, even more amazing than transforming an old plant nursery into a sanctuary. God brings bones to life through the perfect life of his son Jesus, and he builds up believers to make an impact on communities. He’s doing that very thing in us at Carbon Valley Lutheran and through our new building that will be used for generations to come. And he still builds up the body of believers to share Christ with their community. So much so, that we’ve even had five families visit us in the “bones” of our new building.

Written by Tim Spiegelberg, home missionary at Carbon Valley Lutheran Church in Firestone, Colo.

Want to watch Carbon Valley’s building progress? Check out Carbon Valley’s Facebook page to see pictures.


 

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A lifeless body, a life-giving opportunity

The gospel is like water. It will always find a way to break through boundaries that seem impossible. In an area where preaching the gospel is hard to do, the Holy Spirit will inspire and open the ways so that people can hear that good news.

Friends carrying the casket

In a country like Indonesia, it is not easy to find opportunities to preach the gospel. We can not leave tracts in some places, nor doing street evangelism. However, the opportunity is always there. Indonesian people like to socialize, are close to neighbors and friends, and have a high sense of commitment to communal work. When a friend or neighbor needs some help, they will come to help as much as they can. At least once a month, people in a neighborhood will gather to discuss things that happened or work together for the good of their community. People here like to connect and interact.

Some special moments of life—like birth, marriage, or death—are shared not only within the family, but also by neighbors and friends. In a moment of sorrow, like the death of a family member, people will especially show their sympathy. They will come to the deceased person’s house to offer their condolences to the bereaved family. Some of them will come to the funeral ceremony. However, there is something special in this moment, especially when a good Christian dies.

What do we see when a Christian dies? Basically, there is no difference in comparison to other people: sadness, tears, and a sense of loss. People will come and solemnly follow the funeral rites. Even the closest neighbors will join the family in accompanying the deceased to the grave. At the funeral service, songs of praise to God are uttered, words of comfort regarding faith will be preached, and the hope of eternal life in Christ is proclaimed. What makes a Christian funeral different is the hope we have that Jesus has redeemed the late believer by his death on the cross. The family left behind shows their belief that their loved one is already with Jesus in heaven, and that death is only a temporary separation. Sadness is certainly felt, but hope that springs from faith silently creeps into the heart and brings comfort. This is what distinguishes the funeral rites of believers from non-believers.

Friends and neighbors helping bury their friend

The funeral service is an opportunity for many people, whether Christians or not, to sit and listen to the hope of the Christian faith. But why would people want to come to a Christian funeral if they are not Christian? Why would they show us this kindness to their Christian neighbors? In a community that highly values solidarity and good relations, such friends simply want to show respect.

While we are still alive we can touch the lives of others by living a good Christian life, demonstrating our faith through good works, being an example of love, and bearing the fruits of the Spirit. But even our death can become a vehicle that impacts the lives of others in a spiritual way. After we breath our last, our lifeless bones most likely will never be used by God, like those of Elisha to give life to one who is dead (2 Kings 13:21). However, our funeral service provides an opportunity for our pastors to preach the gospel freely, without restriction, in a solemn moment, not only for the Christians but also for non-Christians. The result is that all the people who are present will hear Jesus’ name and the good news of forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is the gospel message used by the Spirit to call people to faith in Christ, to bring dead souls to life both here on earth and forever in eternity.

Written by Ester S.W., Multi-Language Productions (MLP) coordinator in Indonesia


 

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Update – Hmong outreach in Vietnam

But God’s word is not chained.

2 Timothy 2:9b

Since 2014, WELS Pastor Bounkeo Lor has made regular trips to Vietnam to train the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church. God blessed that work, and WELS adopted the ministry in 2015.  The true grace and peace of Jesus proclaimed to the Hmong leaders had a profound positive effect. They wanted more of our training. The government of Vietnam recognized the value of our training and gave us permission to build a training center in Hanoi. Learn more at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

The gospel training would have continued and the building construction would have progressed in 2020, but COVID-19 ground everything to a halt. Since early 2020, we have not made a single training visit to Vietnam and the building project could not move forward.

Because of these obstacles, the WELS Vietnam planning group explored the possibility of using online training for the Hmong Fellowship Church leaders. If we could not visit Vietnam in person, we could visit Vietnam on Zoom. The Vietnam planning group has decided to provide the technology and access to make this happen for the 60 leaders who are eager to continue their studies.

Soon all Hmong Fellowship Church leaders will be provided phones and internet connection to allow them to participate in online training classes. The men will remain at home or travel to nearby places with adequate internet. They will continue a planned course on law and gospel, and they will also participate in a study of the gospel of Mark to share with rural congregations. The free course of the gospel continues because God’s Word is not chained.

Written by Rev. Joel Nitz, Hmong Asia missionary


 

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Upside down

We’ve probably all heard it a number of times these last few months: the disruptions of COVID-19 have left us feeling like things have been turned upside down.

If you happened to say something along those lines while you were sitting next to Christopher, a young man who just recently joined our church, he’d understand exactly what you mean. In fact, he may even understand that truth better than you.

Because there was a time in Christopher’s life when God literally turned him upside down. It was only a few years ago, while he was living in Michigan. He was driving to visit his girlfriend when the combination of slick roads, high speeds, and a sharp turn left him upside down in a ditch. And if you asked Christopher about it, he’d tell you that being upside down in his car was a monumental—and wonderful—turning point in his life.

Looking back on it now, he sees God’s gracious hand in that pivotal moment. He sees a loving God bringing him even closer to the family of the girl who is now his wife. He sees a patient God using a life-threatening moment to teach him to re-prioritize the truly important parts of his life. He sees a gracious God directing all things—even a car on a slippery road—so that an undeserving sinner would be rescued from real spiritual danger. When he thinks about those moments upside down in his car, he can’t help but give thanks to the God who used them to bring him into contact with his Word.

That’s where Christopher found out just how gracious and loving his God is. He joined our church family at Living Shepherd in Laramie, Wyoming, a few weeks ago, after eagerly studying that Word. He’s still learning, of course. He’s daily rejoicing in the amazing miracle that took place on the cross, where Jesus paid for his sin; and at the empty tomb, where God declared him not guilty for all eternity. He’s soaking it up, relishing the beauty of a God who works all things for the eternal good of his people.

There’s a lot more to Christopher’s story—he could probably write a long and fascinating book about his life. Before God flipped his life upside down, he was fighting a daily battle against the demons of alcohol, the persistence of guilt, and the darkness of Satanism. That is what made his upside down experience so pivotal. He would describe it as the key chapter in the book of his life, so far. And he’d likely tell you that even these “upside down” times of COVID-19 are opportunities for God to work amazing miracles in the lives of his people.

Written by Adam Lambrecht, home missionary at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming 


 

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Meet the Mohlkes

Twenty-nine years ago, my wife Leslie and I were preparing to go to Africa to serve as a newly assigned missionary. We had three children ages four, two, and four months. The other two children would be born a few years later while living in Zambia. We were young and excited. I was eager to start working as an African missionary, and my wife was wondering how best to care for our young family, knowing that her skills as a registered nurse would come in very handy.

The Mohlke family in Zambia in the late 1990s

Now, all the kids are grown, four of the five children are married, and five grandchildren have been added to the family; and Leslie and I are getting ready to move again to Africa. This time I am going to serve as the leader of WELS World Mission’s One Africa Team. The One Africa Team consists of all the missionaries serving in Africa who work with various sister synods to share the good news of Jesus throughout the continent. Now days, this work usually takes the form of offering training and encouragement to those who serve as ministers of the gospel in our sister synods.

This is quite different from what I was called to do 29 years ago. Back then, my main job was to preach, teach, baptize, and offer the Lord’s supper to village congregations which did not have their own pastors. This meant driving out to the village areas at least four days per week and visiting at least two congregations each day for worship and/or Bible study. Between my visits, the congregations were faithfully served by laymen who preached from a sermon book and taught Sunday school and confirmation classes using books prepared for them. Through these men congregations were started, grew, and became strong.

As I return to Africa, many of those men are fully trained pastors and leaders in the Lutheran Seminary and their synod. Now WELS missionaries are not needed to serve as pastors in local congregations, but they are used to train and encourage ministers of the gospel in church bodies throughout the continent.

Missionary Mohlke and his wife Leslie

I am eager and feel blessed to take on the work of leading this group. I thank God for the years I served in Zambia, and I thank God for the past 20 years I have served while living in the United States. I am thankful for the things I learned as I served St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School in Norfolk, Neb. I am thankful for the experiences I had serving Messiah Lutheran Church in Nampa, Ida., especially what I learned about well-planned and organized outreach. I also served ten years on the Board for World Missions, four of those years as chairman. It was so enlightening to understand WELS World Missions not only as a missionary on the field, but also at the administrative level. I also feel that I will put to good use what I experienced serving as director of the Apache Christian Training School. That experience reminded me of how important it is that missionaries aren’t sent to be pastors for people; but rather they are sent to work with people to develop strong forms of ministry that best serve the needs of that community.

I am thankful to the Lord for giving me this opportunity to serve as the One Africa Team leader. I am thankful that the Lord has given me a wife that is so supportive and willing to return to Africa. Without her support, understanding, and willingness to serve, none of this would be possible.

Written by Howard Mohlke, new leader of the One Africa Team

Missionary Mohlke and Leslie are currently living in Nebraska while their paperwork is being processed for their move to Malawi. He and his wife Leslie will reside in Lilongwe, Malawi, on the campus of the Lutheran Bible Institute.


 

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Faces of Faith – Katherine

Sometimes mission connections happen in very interesting ways. Every year, Spirit of Life in Caledonia, Mich., hosts a booth at the local Davenport College Panther Palooza event. It’s an event where freshmen go to learn about opportunities to serve, learn, and work in the community. During that event we were publicizing a women’s self-defense class being held at Spirit of Life. Little did we know, God would bless us with a new member and a really great friend.

Katherine Campoverde was studying to be a recreational therapist at Davenport. She was Catholic growing up in Ecuador, and she had family in New York City as well. She spoke to us and visited the church that next Sunday. After some weeks, Katherine went through class to join our Lutheran church. For a few years we enjoyed having her as part of our church—but upon graduation, Katherine moved back to NYC for work. It was bittersweet for us because we wished her the best, but we were also concerned about Katherine’s connection with the church. We don’t have all that many congregations in NYC.

When Katherine arrived in NYC, we stayed in touch. I looked up her address in the WELS church locator and discovered a great blessing: Katherine was living less than 2 miles from Sure Foundation Lutheran Church, our WELS home mission congregation in Woodside. I immediately grabbed the phone and called the pastor there. And after a few short weeks, Katherine was connected. An even greater blessing was that Sure Foundation has Spanish services every week. Now Katherine could not only worship, but she also brought her father to worship for him to hear God’s Word in their first language.

But the interesting connections continued. Katherine’s mother still lives in Ecuador. So while she was on a trip to visit her mother, she introduced her to our world missionary living in Ecuador as well.

Recently Katherine had the opportunity to come back to visit us here at Spirit of Life, and she was welcomed with open arms. It’s really interesting to see how God works. He blessed our congregation to do some outreach at a local college. We shared the Word and Sacrament together with a new member. Little did we know the impact that would have in another congregation in NYC and possibly all the way down in Ecuador. God’s Word is so amazing, and his plans for our life are too.

What a blessing it is to have mission congregations around our synod who can connect and serve believers even when school and work causes them to move!

Written by Allen Kirschbaum, home missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich. 


 

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