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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Campus Ministry: My second family

Do you remember how you felt your very first week of college? Maybe you were excited about starting, making lots of friends, and feeling confident about all your classes. For me, I was the exact opposite. I was nervous, lonely, and honestly a little scared about the prospect of being on my own. It didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone at all on campus, and I was going to a non-Christian school for the first time in my life. I didn’t feel any better as I left my dorm room for the campus ministry Bible study for the first time. Several times I considered running back to my room and taking a nap, but I pushed myself to go because I knew I needed to be surrounded by believers during this challenging time.

Two years later, I’m no longer nervous to go to Bible study. Instead, I look forward to it. Bible study is the perfect break from school, work, and all the other distractions in life. The people in my Bible study are more than acquaintances I see once a week; they are my friends, confidants, and second family. They have helped me through roommate concerns and relationship problems, sickness, and the loss of loved ones. The relationship status of “second family” didn’t come quickly, but it did come naturally. We made an effort to spend time together outside of Bible study by playing games, conversing in our campus center, and preparing Lenten/Advent meals together. We also made a habit of preparing a meal or having a potluck together off campus in order to help relieve the stress that school can bring. Another way we have built our friendships is by going to church together. Several members of the group will plan to go to church together on Sunday mornings and during Lenten/Advent season. We have unofficially claimed a pew near the front of Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, which we call the “MSOE pew”.

Rebekah and her friend Katie in the “MSOE pew” at Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wis

Not even a pandemic was able to stop our campus ministry group from getting together and continuing to grow our community. We used Zoom to meet once a week for Bible study, refreshing our hearts and souls. Just like before, this time was used not only for spiritual purposes, but also to play games and talk after Bible study was over. The games especially were a source of endless laughter as we learned, for people who already can’t really draw, playing Pictionary is much harder when you play it with a computer mouse.

This campus ministry program means the world to me. I am so thankful that I am a part of such a wonderful group and that God has placed these people in my life. It is so refreshing to be in the habit of meeting together and encouraging one another to show God and his love in our lives, as Paul urges us in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching.” I praise God every day for The Point of Grace campus ministry group at MSOE, and for the entire family of believers all around the world.

Written by Rebekah Bartels, a junior at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in Milwaukee, Wis., and member of The Point of Grace campus ministry


 

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TELL: Truth brings peace

In 2018, WELS World Mission’s Multi-Language Productions had a vision to reach the world with the gospel in a new way. Their vision was to equip people with the truth of God’s word using digital resources in English. Like the Latin America mission field’s Academia Cristo in Spanish, TELL would use English to reach people through social media, self-led Bible lessons, and live video classrooms.

Live classes with TELL Missionary, Dan Laitinen

Three years later, God has blessed that vision. The TELL Network has 1.2 million followers and likes on its main Facebook page. Across the globe there are 7,000 active users working on self-led Bible lessons on the TELL app and website. Currently I am the only full-time TELL missionary. I meet several times a week with students from Africa, India, and Philippines.

One student, Samuel, is from Guinea, Africa. He is a school teacher with a wife and children. “My greatest desire is to be well-equipped for mission work,” says Samuel, “I won’t miss this opportunity by God’s grace.”

Samuel and his family

Like thousands of others, Samuel found TELL on Facebook. TELL’s Facebook team posts daily Bible passages and short devotional videos by national pastors from WELS world mission fields called #TELLtalks. The team answers questions online and invites people to start free Bible training on the TELL app or website.

Samuel downloaded the TELL app, and within seconds began the first self-learning course. He completed three self-learning courses: Spiritual Healing, Truth Brings Peace, and Introduction to the Bible. Each course has nine lessons that include a Bible reading, teaching video and quiz.

When Samuel completed the self-learning courses (TELL Tier 1), he received his first certificate. Then a TELL missionary contacted Samuel. He congratulated him and invited Samuel to join him in the live online classes (TELL Tier 2).

Today Samuel is meeting twice a week in a video classroom with a TELL instructor and other students. Students go in-depth learning about the work of Jesus, Old and New Testament history, and Law and Gospel. Each course takes about a month. There are eleven courses in TELL tier 2.

Samuel’s radio broadcast

TELL tier 3 are live courses too. They focus on how to share the gospel in your community: gathering, teaching and discipling. God-willing, some day the TELL instructor, along with a missionary in Africa, will visit Samuel to grow the relationship and support Samuel as he starts a small group.

When Samuel began TELL, he had been praying for just that: an opportunity to share the gospel. Since then, God opened a door! A friend gave Samuel air-time on the local radio station. Every Sunday evening Samuel takes the Bible lesson he has learned with TELL and reuses them on-air to an audience of up to half-a-million people. Many of whom haven’t heard the gospel before.

By God’s grace, Samuel has found a place where he receives real gospel training right from God’s word. “I used to believe in a gospel that was preaching prosperity and miracles mostly,” Samuel says, “But I discovered this misleads believers. It focuses on earthly things and makes us forget heavenly things. Now I’m mission-minded.”

Written by Dan Laitinen, Multi-Language Productions missionary for TELL (Think, Evaluate, Learn, Lead) 


 

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His message always finds a way

In the same way my word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty. Rather, it will accomplish whatever I please, and it will succeed in the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:11

A year ago in July of 2019, I was installed as the first pastor of a new home mission in Mansfield, Ohio: Risen Savior Lutheran Church.

Interior remodeling at Risen Savior

Getting situated with my family, planning for the remodeling of our church building (purchased from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod for $1), getting to know my new members, and taking a tour of the Ohio State Reformatory (a right of passage for Mansfieldians who appreciate the city’s claim to fame as the filming location for The Shawshank Redemption) filled up the first few months.

Planning began that would help the congregation spread the gospel message out to the community.  There were so many great plans and new ideas for reaching new potential members. Community events in March, a big Easter celebration, and the grand opening of the newly remodeled church. Postcards were mailed out and a big weekend planned for knocking on doors to introduce ourselves and meet the locals. The core members (10 families) were filled with excitement.

Unfortunately, our efforts came to an unexpected standstill when Covid-19 led to community-wide shutdowns and isolation for many individuals and families. It was time to switch gears. We had to find new avenues to share the gospel message.

Risen Savior’s church set-up

Now, I’m not a computer guy. In fact, I am—for all intents and purposes—technologically illiterate. Videos and social media became the avenue for the foreseeable future, which was certainly not in my wheelhouse. Recording and downloading services for the current members, creating digital devotions for both members and prospects, reaching out to members and prospects via phone, email, and social media, while trying to forge ahead with our building remodel. All of these skills had to be learned, and learned quickly. It was overwhelming and quite the challenge to say the least.

Knocking on doors, inviting friends to church, helping with community events, and simply chatting with people met in everyday life vanished. This is where the Risen Savior members took over.

Our mission outreach tools became Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Zoom, instead of our typical in-person approach. While sharing simple devotions and Sunday services with the members, I quickly realized that these weekly messages were not simply for them. The digital resources were being shared on members’ social media platforms to their family and friends. Even our members who were stuck at home could still be involved with hearing and sharing the message!

On any given pre-pandemic Sunday, an average of 15 people heard the word of God in our building.  Once technology took over and the members began sharing, the weekly number  rose to over 500 different people hearing the gospel message. In the days and months ahead, we will continue to see how God blesses these efforts.

Over the past few months, the world has changed and along with it our outreach ministry, but the word of our God is still strong and powerful. His message always finds a way, and it does so through every member of his church in small, seemingly insignificant acts every single day. We are reminded of this fact in Isaiah 55:11, “In the same way my word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty. Rather, it will accomplish whatever I please, and it will succeed in the purpose for which I sent it.”

I look forward to a future of serving this community. I am excited to witness our Savior’s message spread through the continued efforts of Risen Savior members. And I can forge ahead trusting that our Lord’s Word will not return to him empty, no matter the challenges placed before us. To God be the Glory!

Written by Brad Wright, home missionary at Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Mansfield, Ohio


 

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Outreach to the not so lost

Kaitlin was an energetic young freshman. I was a brand-new campus pastor. Both of us were trying to find our place. She had come to Wisconsin Lutheran College from the east coast, not really knowing anyone, but she made some good friends pretty quickly. I was still trying to figure out what campus ministry at a Lutheran college meant. I knew that it meant chapel and Bible studies, but I’m not sure that I anticipated how much it meant outreach.

Kaitlin (left)

It was only a couple weeks into school when Kaitlin came to my office and said, “I don’t really know what confirmation is but I think I want that.” Doesn’t outreach usually mean that I have to go reaching out? Knocking on doors? Sending mass mailings? My first prospect in my new ministry just showed up. I was floored!

We proceeded to spend the next several weeks going through Bible Information Class at the same time that she was in theology class, attending chapel everyday, and attending every single Bible class that she was offered. She was on fire! Our one-on-one time together was awesome. She had a religious background, but it perhaps wasn’t as formal as she would have liked it to be. She knew she had faith in Jesus, but it seemed to me that she wasn’t quite sure what that even meant. But she sure wanted to know!

When it came time to wrap up our class, the question of confirmation came up. She and I drove to a few WELS churches in the area, and she got connected with a local church and was formally confirmed.

Fast forward a few years, and she was eager to connect with WELS Women’s Ministry to organize an event where the women could discuss different ministry options. She continued to attend every Bible study she could and regularly attended chapel. She went through some tough times and was there for her friends when they went through tough times. She worked through the challenging decisions around choosing a major and then deciding what to do after graduation. But through it all, she kept Christ at the center. She never lost sight of the big picture that God is love and that God loved her first, so she was good no matter what.

Sometimes students come to college with a faith background that is rock solid. Sometimes it just looks rock solid on the outside. College is a time when students start asking some big time life questions, and those questions aren’t limited to career choices. Sometimes those questions center around faith. “What do I believe? Why do I say that I believe that if I don’t really get that?” There are plenty of voices out there that would be more than willing to answer those questions in a way that would drive a wedge between that students and their Savior.

But isn’t this the value of Campus Ministry in the WELS? God-willing, campus ministry is a place where students can wrestle with things that they wrestle with every day regardless of where they are. God-willing, campus ministry is a place where that wrestling happens in the context of Jesus Christ and him crucified and that students are led to struggle under the cross of Christ and guided by his word! Outreach in campus ministry isn’t just about reaching the lost (although it is), it’s about being there with God’s comforting grace for the found in the good days and the bad. God grant us 100 more years of reaching with the cross of Christ.

Written by Greg Lyon, campus ministry pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wis. 


 

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Here I am Lord, send me

Everyone has a dream job. From traveling the world to being a billionaire, we all desire a unique outcome for our lives. My dream job is to do mission work. . . travel to developing countries to help people physically and spiritually. Coming into public college at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, I expected to push that dream back until after graduation.

UW-River Falls Mission Journeys team at Divine Peace in Rockwall, Tex.

By the end of my freshman year, my expectation was proven wrong by a simple video. After a Sunday service in May of 2019, a video explaining the WELS Mission Journeys program was shown. These few minutes of information inspired some of our campus ministry students to go on a mission trip. Almost immediately, I took the opportunity to fulfill my dream and worked tirelessly to give myself and some of my fellow campus ministry students the opportunity to do mission work. Come January 2020, four campus ministry members and our pastor were trained and ready to serve as missionaries. Once packed, we set our van on the 17-hour drive to Divine Peace Lutheran Church, a home mission congregation in Rockwall, Texas.

Getting to know the members of Divine Peace

This week long mission trip proved to be beneficial for all involved. We canvassed for hours, painted the offices, redid the parking spaces in the parking lot, and experienced God’s love in many ways. Our host families gave us a chance to get to know the hands and feet of God’s kingdom in Rockwall, Texas.

Through these connections we were able to gain insight into what living as a WELS Lutheran is like when outside the Midwest. We got to listen to live music, drove a 1916 Model T, learned to two-step at a honkytonk, and went to a Bible study called “The Bible on Tap”. This trip taught each of us that getting the physical work done is important, but taking the opportunity for fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ is far more important.

Fun at the Fort Worth Stockyards

My lifelong dream is to be a missionary. Maybe I will never make it to another country, but I know now that even a small mission trip like this can change someone’s life. Here I am, a junior in college, and now president of the WELS Campus Ministry Club at UW-River Falls. Here I am, a 20-year-old, on the committee working to merge two congregations in my hometown. These roles only happened because I followed my passion for the gospel when I saw a video about WELS Mission Journeys and went on a short-term mission trip. As I walk towards this dream job, I say with a full heart, “Here am I Lord, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).

Written by Miriam Zarling, campus ministry student leader at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls and alumna of Shoreland Lutheran High School in Somers, Wis. UW-River Falls is served through the campus ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in River Falls, Wis. 


 

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Pandemic blessings and challenges in Russia

So, how are you handling the pandemic? Let me share just a little bit about how God led us through the past six months in Russia.

Challenges

Stress and loneliness

My wife Jennifer had barely completed her 14-day quarantine after the World Missionary Wives Conference in Spain when the Novosibirsk governor declared strict self-isolation requirements for our region. People were allowed to leave their apartments only to go to the nearest grocery store or pharmacy, walk their dogs, and carry out trash. For six weeks people adopted stray dogs and fought for the privilege of taking out garbage!

On a more serious note, many worried about their health and the well-being of their extended families. People lost their jobs as normal routines ground to a halt. Worst of all, after March 29, we could not gather with our brothers and sisters at church. I’m guessing that many of our struggles in Russia were similar to challenges you faced in the United States.

8th grade distance learning

At first the quarantine seemed like good news for our youngest son, Peter. The governor’s declaration called for an extra week of spring vacation. So of course, Peter put off doing his homework. But then we got word that the order had changed and that distance learning would begin the next day! Peter had to scramble to get his homework done. Meanwhile, teachers and schools scrambled to teach online classes – a completely new experience for everyone. The next three weeks were chaotic because each teacher chose a different platform for teaching and collecting homework. Jennifer and Peter spent many hours figuring out computer logistics so they could get lectures, readings, and homework assignments. Our whole family celebrated May 27th when the school year finally came to an end.

Travel restrictions

Our Russian pastors wanted to comfort their people, especially older members. But the fear of spreading a dangerous disease prevented us from travelling. Instead they led devotions and prayers by telephone. Special legal documents allowed us to travel for work, but even these papers only permitted us to travel within city limits. Police cars sat at the edge of the city to enforce travel restrictions. I could not visit Iskitim or Tomsk. National borders were closed, so trips to Albania and Bulgaria to visit our sister churches were cancelled.

Tamara appreciates online worship services and devotions

Personal issues

Because of closed borders, we decided at first to postpone our furlough until next year. There was just one problem: Peter was planning to start high school in Wisconsin. We started searching for ways to send Peter to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor. We are grateful that WELS World Missions convinced us to find a way to travel back to the U.S. as a family. Jennifer and I spent many hours in June and July searching for a way to travel to the U.S. Most years planning the trip is half the fun, but this year all routes were closed.

I confess that our family struggled with stress and worry, fears and feelings of helplessness. But God was near! “Do you really trust me? Do you really believe I’m almighty and loving – that I haven’t forgotten you? You know who I am. Take another look at my Son’s cross. I am with you, even when you can’t feel my warm smile!” It’s true! Even now. Especially now. God is pouring out blessings.

Blessings

Sharing Jesus online

The Russian church had a website before COVID-19, but the quarantine pushed us to enhance the way we share the gospel online. We began streaming Sunday morning worship services with better audio/video. We posted mid-week devotions on Christ’s resurrection, David the Man of God, and Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Our members started sharing digital comfort with their isolated friends and relatives. WELS Christian Aid and Relief provided funding so we could purchase modest cell phones for shut-in members. Our Iskitim grandmas were delighted with the opportunity to see worship services and devotions from their own homes. Our most technologically savvy granny made sure that our members in Iskitim were able to connect online to each other and to the gospel.

Luke and Andre

Local seminary

Travel restrictions allowed me more time to work with our seminary student, Andre Gydkov. The two of us spent many hours studying Biblical doctrine. . . everything from the Trinity to the person of Christ, from God’s creation and the fall into sin to the High Priest who reconciled us with God. We also discussed a wide range of topics that fall outside of formal seminary curriculum, but which are vital for soul-ministry.

Peter’s Confirmation

My son Peter and I had ample opportunity to work our way through catechism classes. We discussed the chief parts of our faith and explored practical ways for Peter to dive into his adult life of faith. At the very end of July, we organized an at-home confirmation. We invited Andre and his daughter and set up a video call so that our stateside family could witness Peter’s vows and encourage him on his special day.

God provides an open door

Peter’s Confirmation

After weeks of struggle and prayer, we saw God’s answer. At just the right time, Russia opened her borders to Great Britain so that we could travel to the U.S. through London. We spent two weeks self-isolating near Jennifer’s side of the family in Nebraska. And now just this week we traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin, and met with Peter’s faculty advisor at Fox Valley Lutheran High School. We’re grateful that God allowed us to travel together so that we can help Peter get ready for a completely new and exciting chapter in his life. We’re also looking forward to spending time with our older daughters and offering them our love and encouragement.

God is in control

Without a doubt, the past six months have been a time of testing. God is asking, “What is most important to you? Do you really believe in my power, in my love? Will you trust me?” This season is providing us with special opportunity to remember God’s great promises and share his rock-solid comfort with others. We know Jesus is with us. We know he will give us joy and strength so that we can be his lights in a dark world longing for hope.

Please keep us in your prayers. Please pray that God would bless our time here in the States. We have much that needs to be done! Please pray that God finds a way for us to return to our mission field in his good time.

Written by Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary in Russia


 

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Campus ministry is in my blood

I wouldn’t trade the past 17-years of ministry for anything. Working with college students has gotten under my skin in a good way. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s in my blood. More about that later.

That’s not to say that campus ministry was what I always wanted to do. I was more like Moses than Isaiah on the day I was assigned to Beautiful Savior in College Station, Texas. When I heard I would be working with college students, my heart said, “Send someone else to the campus. Here am I. . . just a little more comfortable in the parish.”

Robinson family – Former campus ministry students Austin and Diane with their children, Flint and Olive

It wasn’t a good thing that I was intimidated by the public university, but it maybe wasn’t unexpected. I am a WELS boy through and through. I attended WELS school for 22 years—from my second year of preschool to my final year of grad school. My own college experience was at Martin Luther College (MLC) in the farm fields of New Ulm. Minn. I loved my time there. But, even though I was a kid who grew up in the big city of Seattle, I still had culture shock when I heard Texas A&M University had more students than half of the entire city of Green Bay. As if that were not enough, the entire MLC campus could fit inside the A&M football stadium and parking lot.

I was excited to return to the Lone Star State, but I was not excited about campus ministry. This is kind of embarrassing, but even though I lived in Austin for a year, I didn’t know where College Station was, and I hadn’t really heard of Texas A&M. I was intimidated and a little ignorant. So, what changed?

It turns out that sharing the good news of Jesus with college students just gets in your blood. Of course, when it comes to sharing the gospel, that is not really a surprise. The Apostle Paul said, “We were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Our hearts beat for one another not because we bleed the same school colors, but because we are forgiven and Christ’s own blood courses through our veins.

The first baptism at the Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota in 1950.

While I believe that campus ministry gets in your blood, for me it runs a little deeper. In the dark of winter in 1950, the collegiate romance of my grandparents gave birth to a baby girl. God not only blessed their marriage with a child, but one weekend in between classes at the University of Minnesota, they took hold of the blessings of baptism and my mother was baptized at the campus ministry.

I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of that until I began to see the years pass in College Station. My own children were baptized here in College Station (and our college students were often the first non-family members to hold them). But, even greater than that, the gospel has brought many college students to be baptized, and in the course of time their children too. This year is the 100th anniversary of WELS campus ministry. And, based on God’s promises connected to baptism, it is going to be in our WELS blood for generations to come.

Written by Caleb Schoeneck, home missionary and campus ministry pastor at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in College Station, Texas. Beautiful Savior ministers to college students at Texas A&M University—the second largest university in the United States with a total of 69,465 students (54,476 undergraduate).


 

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Christ’s love compels us

What do you see when you look at this picture? A brick building with no glass in the windows? Perhaps. A structure that needs some landscaping around it? Maybe. Or perhaps you see the few people in the picture and wonder about them.

To me, this picture is the representation of how God’s people work together. In 1970, members of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa who had moved from Zambia to Malawi wanted to bring in WELS missionaries from America. While the Malawian government welcomed our gospel outreach, they also wondered if we could help their people physically. These government members were familiar with the Mwembezhi, Zambia, medical mission operated by the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) since 1961. They approached CAMM and asked if we would be willing to come to Malawi and start a medical mission there. This way, our WELS missionaries could come into the country as well. CAMM subsequently brought nurses to Malawi to operate a mobile clinic that would go out to a village during the day to offer basic Christ-centered healthcare to the villagers. We still operate the mobile clinic today.

This is the basic history of how CAMM started in Malawi. If you have been a member of WELS for a long time, you probably have heard this story before. But even after 50 years, it’s not the end of the story. As the Bible passage above says, “Christ’s love compels us.” Christ’s love compelled us to work with the Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Malawi to build the churches that could also serve as our clinic building, such as the one in the picture. Christ’s love compels us to offer scholarships to members of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Malawi so they can work for the mobile clinic and have opportunities to pray with patients and offer the reason for the hope that they have. Christ’s love compels us to know we aren’t done in Africa. Christ’s love compels our hearts to pray for more grace, mercy and his generosity so we can continue our work there and potentially start this work in other places.

Through God’s people coming together over the last 50 years, we have enjoyed the opportunity to work with tens of thousands of people each year. They are exposed to the Word and God’s love when they come to clinic when we start each day with a devotion. They see where the Lutheran church is and are encouraged to come back for worship. Christ’s love compels us to offer physical help with the hope that it could open the door to someone’s heart and soul to hear the gospel. Can you imagine what heaven will sound like when we hear the voices of the African choirs raised up in harmony? I can’t wait to hear it!

May Christ’s love continue to compel us to do his work for another 50 years or more!

Written by Angela Sievert, Public Relations Coordinator for the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) 

 

 

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All creatures great and small

We are just like you. We know the mental load these past few months have had on everyone—especially you. We know you are hurting. We know you are sick of everything feeling so muted and bland with this pandemic nowhere close to being over. We are right there with you. We get it.

But you know who doesn’t? Korra. Who’s Korra? She’s my dog. Well, one of my dogs. I have 3 dogs, and 2 cats. (All thanks to my wife, Laura. . . more about her later.) Korra is the nicest, sweetest, wiggliest dog you could ever meet. It’s amazing how happy she gets when I walk in the door. It’s literally the best part of my day. Sometimes I just come home for a few minutes when I’m having a bad day to have Korra cheer me up.

Wouldn’t it be great if during this pandemic you could have your own little ray of sunshine to cheer you up when you’re feeling blue?

That’s why we at Good Shepherd decided to start a branch of the Living Creatures Ministry (LCM) Therapy Animal program at our church. LCM is a therapy animal training and placement program that supports compassionate outreach and encouragement at churches throughout the WELS/ELS. Laura (that wonderful wife of mine that I mentioned earlier) is a LCM’s lead trainer, so she spends her free time providing free training to therapy animals across the WELS (when there isn’t a pandemic going on).

Assisting in Midland, Mich.

We’re taking this time during the pandemic to train up a new therapy dog, Stella the Australian Shepherd. When it’s safe to start visiting people again, Stella and Korra can help us show Christian love and compassion to people in our community.

Korra had a unique opportunity to do that this May when she and Laura volunteered with Christian Aid and Relief in Midland, Mich., to help with flood relief efforts. Korra was able to comfort those that had lost their homes and belongings as well as bolster the spirits of the hard-working volunteers.

When it is safe to do so, Korra and Stella will be visiting the high school next door to our Cedar Rapids campus, volunteering with us at events at the North Liberty Community Center, visiting nursing homes and shut-ins, serving as Sunday morning greeters at church, helping at our annual Trunk-or-Treat, and whatever else we can find for them to do! Until then, they are still spreading love, happiness, and God’s Word through their Facebook pages: facebook.com/korratherapydog and facebook.com/StellaLCMTherapyDog.

The therapy dogs serve as an easy way to strike up a conversation with people in our community and give us a chance to explain why we want to show love to others around us—because Christ first loved us! While we might not see someone that interacts with one of the therapy dogs in church next Sunday, we know we are still fulfilling our calling to show love and compassion to our neighbors. We’re still laying the foundation in our community to foster love and trust between the members of Good Shepherd and the members of our community—and we’re doing that with two wiggly, happy dogs that are certain to put a smile on the face of anyone they greet. These days, that’s something we all need!

Written by Billy King, home missionary at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids and North Liberty, Iowa

 

 

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Love is the answer

Haris (named changed due to the sensitive nature of his work) spearheaded an effort in a large Midwest city to distribute food and face masks in the midst of COVID-19. Haris is originally from a Muslim nation in South Asia and now lives in America. He is enrolled in our WELS Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Haris shares:

When the coronavirus started, I was thinking. . . how can we reach out to the large Muslim population in our community to show the love of Christ? I was talking to my friend, and he said, “I know of WELS churches that are making face masks! They will make masks for you to share with the Muslims.” So we started distributing food to our Muslim neighborhood along with the face masks. People in the community donated groceries and money to buy food. We delivered food and masks on more than 20 different occasions. People drove up in their cars, and we put the groceries in their vehicles. We also dropped off food on people’s porches. Counting only the early drive-thrus, we helped 504 families and assisted 64 families who had a family member with coronavirus.

We made so many friends, and received a lot of feedback from the community. They said, “You risked your life and distributed food and masks even in the rain and snow.” Everyone knows I am a Christian, and they know this help comes because of the love of Jesus for all people. I told the mayor of this community, “These Christians made these masks. They did this because they care for these people. The people who live hundreds of miles away don’t know who will be getting it. It is impossible. Only the love of Christ causes them to do this.”

One WELS District President wrote to the churches in his district about this opportunity. Several churches and many individuals responded. One family made 2,000+ masks for relatives, neighbors, and for Muslims in this large city. Some of the face masks had Bible verses inside the plastic bags. A pastor at one of our rural WELS churches said, “Our people understood that this was an opportunity to reach out to others in a time of crisis. They wanted to serve their fellow man and to serve Christ as he served them.”

During the pandemic, four close friends of mine (not involved in the distribution effort) died from the coronavirus. All four had converted from Islam to Christianity in the last few years and were assisting me in ministry to the Muslim community. One was a former economics professor from Asia, another was a young father with a wife and two children, another was a young man at a nearby university who assisted with apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith), and the last was a very close friend who had lost everything when she converted to Christianity. Her new family was my family. My wife and this woman were as close as sisters. While sorrow grips our hearts, we have the assurance that our friends are now with Jesus.

Love was the answer for reaching out to our community–and love was the answer for conquering death and hatred. “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35).

 

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Known as Christ’s disciples

How do other people know that you are a Christian? What makes you different from those who worship a different god, or many gods, or no god at all? On the night before he went to the cross, Jesus told his disciples: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

The self-sacrificing love of Jesus reflected in the lives of his believers is a sign to everyone of who they are. In a world full of selfishness, greed, and apathy, the love that Christians show to others serves as a beacon for the gospel. Where that love is on display, you are likely to find its source, the one who gave his life so that we might not die. The good news of free forgiveness through faith in Jesus moves us to love one another as he loved us.

Even in places like India, where Christians are a small minority, that light continues to shine in the darkness. And this year’s pandemic has given Christ’s followers many opportunities to share his love with those who need it. Although the COVID-19 virus was slow to begin its spread on the subcontinent, the Indian government saw that drastic measures were needed to keep it in check. On March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Modi ordered a nationwide lock down for the entire population of 1.3 billion people. Millions of villagers who had gone to work in the large metropolitan areas were suddenly stranded hundreds of kilometers from their families. Many more millions of migrant workers and day laborers lost all income and had no way to support their families. People throughout the country were in danger of starving.

The pastors and gospel workers of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Ministries (CELM) did what they could to support their members and others in their villages. They themselves had little, but they shared what they could. Some made masks to distribute to their neighbors. Practicing social distancing, the pastors stood outside on the street and shared God’s word and prayer with the people standing in their doorways.

Then WELS Christian Aid and Relief sent welcome assistance. A grant of around $22,000 was given to the CELM for food distribution. The church leaders sprang into action, organizing the aid to help as many people as possible. Movement between villages in some districts was restricted because of the lock down, but the gospel workers paired up with each other and with local village elders to purchase food for distribution. They bought items like rice, lentils, cooking oil, and a few other essentials. In total, around 3,500 families in over 100 different villages received enough supplies to last nearly a month.

Many of those helped by this aid were fellow believers. The Christian church would have received a bad name in the Hindu and Muslim communities if they had neglected to take care of their own. As Jesus said, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The apostle Paul also wrote: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). But the CELM pastors rejoiced at the many opportunities they also had to let the light of Jesus shine to others outside the faith. They are looking to follow up with these families and hopefully see them in worship when lock down restrictions ease up.

The leaders of our sister church in India send their heart-felt thanks to their WELS brothers and sisters. They are grateful for your generosity, but they also see in the news that the U.S. has many challenges of its own. Every one of the 80 pastors, gospel workers, and seminary students of the CELM assures me that the people of WELS are in their daily prayers. They know that you are fellow disciples of Jesus because of the love you have shown them.

Written by Guy Marquardt, friendly counselor to India

 

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God opens another door

The proclamation of the gospel is a commission that applies to all of God’s churches. As a new mission start up, opportunities for evangelism are always on our mind. We trust that the Lord will produce occasions for the good news to be shared. We do everything that we can to build bridges for outreach opportunities. We pray for them and we excitedly wait for them day after day. When those opportunities arise, it’s hard to contain the excitement.

God has offered many moments for the gospel to be shared in Joplin. Some of those doors were opened as people literally opened their doors during group canvassing. This happened on one occasion during our November group canvass when one of our members came into contact with a woman who had been out of church for some time but looking to get back into the Word. When the member brought up the opportunity to join a Bible Basics class, the new contact was super excited. We planned to meet late Monday nights for class to accommodate her busy work schedule. Everything was going great! The excitement was overwhelming! But just as quickly as it began, it started to dwindle.

It wasn’t long before it became evident that this contact wasn’t planning to attend class. Calls went straight to voicemail. Texts were never answered. Her communication with myself and our member stopped. Things went completely silent the weekend before we were supposed to get class started on Monday. Instead of canceling class, we decided to invite as many people as we could and see if anyone would show up. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t expecting much.

On Monday night I got in the car and drove over to a member’s house who was hosting the Bible Basics class. When I arrived, I walked downstairs expecting an empty room. To my surprise, the room was completely full. There was excitement and conversation. The room was full of members and non-members that were eager and ready to grow together in God’s Word.

Kannika

One of the first non-members that I met that night was a woman named Kannika Killion. As we introduced ourselves, Kannika asked me two questions: “What’s your name, and what do you do for work?” I said, “My name is Jordan, and I’m actually a pastor. I’m going to attempt to teach this class.” We had a good laugh about it and we knew we were off to a good start.

Kannika approached Bible Basics with a unique perspective. Kannika was not born in Joplin. She is from Thailand. She met her husband, Dana, as he was traveling through. The two moved to the U.S. and now live right outside Joplin. But her uniqueness does not end there. When Kannika entered the class, the Bible and its message were totally foreign to her. She heard about Jesus but had no idea who he was or what he has done. But from the very start, Kannika had such a passion to learn more about the Bible. She never missed a class and was always the first one to show up. She now knows where all the books of the Bible are and can call out page numbers for the rest of class very quickly. She is one class away from completing Bible Basics. Once COVID cases begin to go down in our area, she wants to be baptized! I also sat down with Kannika to talk about Bible Basics in order to see what she liked, didn’t like, or what she would change. She immediately said, “The only thing that I would change is longer lessons and more lessons. I want to know more.” This is after Kannika has been meeting for six months of class. She can’t get enough of the beautiful gospel.

COVID has changed ministry for all churches in a number of ways. It has closed many doors and presented a number of challenges in regard to sharing the gospel. We know that long after COVID is gone, other challenges and obstacles will arise. So, what can we do? Trust. Trust that the Lord will overcome. Trust that God will continue to open doors that we didn’t know existed. Trust that the gospel will continue to spread to the ends of the earth.

Written by Jordan Bence, home missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Joplin, Missouri

 

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Faces of faith on the Apache reservations in Arizona

I love the inspiring Faces of Faith articles that are done by WELS Mission Promotions. The trouble these days is that faces are all I get to see. I don’t know how it is for all of you in the rest of the world, but the COVID-19 virus has locked our Apache reservations up tightly.

Some of our reservation communities have high rates of infection, and in other communities, there is fear that the virus will spread quickly because the average home is crowded and multi-generational. There have been no church services or Bible Classes since March. Gatherings of more than 10 and now 5 are prohibited. Stay at home orders have taken away the ability to go fishing or walk along the road for exercise. Checkpoints are set up at community entrance points to keep visitors out and restrict residents from leaving except on certain days of the week. So, we’re left with faces. Faces on Zoom meetings or video calls from home, and halves of faces behind a mask from six feet away at the grocery store.

Devastation from the wildfires

But those faces still show us faith. Or at least the evidence of it. Several weeks ago, there was a wildfire in one of our reservation communities. Several families lost everything. Houses, vehicles, personal possessions, and irreplaceable family mementos went up in smoke on one terrible afternoon. And guess what happened? Before the smoke even cleared, our church members were offering to help. Over the next days, truckloads of clothes, personal hygiene supplies, blankets, and food came from Native Christians expressing their faith through their actions. Others brought money to help the families. Their generosity was astounding! They gave freely and willingly from what they had without holding back. They couldn’t hug, couldn’t gather at the same time, and couldn’t even get closer than six feet. Their faces were masked, but their faith was visible.

It could be a while on our Apache reservations before we can see more than faces on a video screen. But the faith of our Native Christian people remains very visible in new ways.

As Native Christians we have donated more than 1,900 masks to local hospitals, and our members are working hard sewing hundreds more. While our pastors and teachers work hard to share Jesus without church services or classrooms full of students, our members are also being bold in sharing God’s Word and showing Christian concern with words and actions. May God bless you too as you find new and creative ways to share the ancient and unchanging story of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!

Written by Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator on the Apache reservations in Arizona

 

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Adapt

Adapt. That’s a word that you will not find in Scripture. When you look for sections about spiritual gifts, you will not find the word “adaptability.” Yet, even though you will not find this word in Scripture, this is a word that has a direct application in people’s lives.

Sure Foundation, the new mission in Brandon, South Dakota, decided to take a year to plan, to organize, and to reach out to the community before launching worship every week. We met regularly to talk about how to accomplish these things and to put a plan in motion. A verse that we held close was Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

We had a plan, a good plan. Enter Covid-19. So many of our plans changed. Our ideas to reach the community were not doable anymore. The rental space that we secured was now unavailable. The people that we had were unable to meet together in person. Everything changed.

We planned our course, but the Lord was determining our steps. We knew that God was in control, we knew that God is the one who builds the church, and we knew that God’s plans are higher than our plans, but change is still difficult.

Pastor Wilke with Jayme from Anytime Fitness

What we as a church have learned is to hold our plans loosely and adapt, because we don’t determine our steps—God does.

Allow me an example. Sure Foundation was planning to partner with a local gym, Anytime Fitness, in a program called “The 21-Day Transformation.” In this program, the gym puts people through workouts with a personal trainer and gives them diet plans to follow for 21 days. It is a well-thought-out program with accomplished leaders. Sure Foundation was added to the program as the spiritual component for the event. It was an exciting opportunity to partner with a community member and to reach people with the Word. Covid-19 changed our plans, but it didn’t stop our ability to reach people. We recorded videos and put together devotional materials to help people grow in their spiritual lives. Participants learned how to read the Bible correctly and devotionally, and participants read through an entire book of the Bible while answering questions along the way. By God’s grace, Sure Foundation was able to get 32 new people involved in this program and many of our own members too. The 21-Day Transformation didn’t result in just physical transformation, but spiritual ones.

We planned. Things changed. We adapted. God blessed. There are going to be more changes and challenges ahead that have nothing to do with Covid-19, but we can always trust that the Lord will determine our steps—he is in control, he does build his church, and his ways are higher than ours. So, we will continue to trust our God and to hold our plans loosely, always prepared to adapt.

Written by Craig Wilke, home missionary at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in Brandon, South Dakota

 

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Hope is alive!

Just like every other church, plans for our Holy Week and Easter services were well underway when our economy, schools, and society shut down in mid-March. We had picked out all the songs and lined up the musicians. We had ordered the invitation postcards and started to plan the social media posts.

But then the pandemic made all of those plans more or less pointless. So what’s a church to do as the most important week and most important day on the Christian calendar quickly approaches? It might as well be the word of the year for 2020: Pivot!

I was amazed as I watched churches of all types, including those in our church body, look for ways to spread the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection during circumstances that none of us would have ever expected. As Holy Week and Easter approached, we decided to focus our gospel proclamation on one word. It was a word that seemed especially powerful as the number of new cases and deaths from COVID-19 continued to rise each day. It was the word hope.

Working with a local print shop, we designed and ordered yard signs that conveyed a clear simple message: “Hope Is Alive!” Through social media, we invited anyone in the community to order a sign and put it in their yard as a way of encouraging their neighbors at a very difficult time. We asked for a small donation with each sign order to cover some of the expenses (a grant from the Board of Home Missions helped too!). We promised to give half of what people donated to a local non-profit program that was providing free meals for families in need.

We could tell that the message resonated with people right away. All told, nearly 200 signs were ordered. In a smaller town like ours, that means you couldn’t drive far without seeing one in someone’s yard. We were also able to pass along over $900 to the non-profit free meal program. Finally, the effort was a great opportunity for our members to be involved in Easter outreach, even during the shutdown. They helped deliver the signs and place them in people’s yards.

The message on the signs was then the focus for our online services, not only on Easter but on the Sundays that followed: Hope Is Alive! The signs definitely drew more attention to our website and social media pages and brought lots of new eyeballs to our online virtual services. The effort created new avenues for us to share the gospel with people we may not have seen had our doors been open on Easter.

Just like every other church, we would have loved for all of our initial Easter planning to have paid off. This year was a good reminder that, even when all of our plans turn out to be pointless, the message of Easter can be contained no more than Jesus could be kept in his grave. Because Jesus is alive, our hope is too.

Written by Jonathan Bauer, home missionary at Good News Lutheran Church in Mt. Horeb, Wis.

 

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I have been a sojourner in a foreign land

Ndine Mlendo M’dziko Lachildendo – “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22)

In 1968, a young graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary joined his father and a small team of missionaries in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, to lend a hand teaching students in the Lutheran Bible Institute. That young man’s name was Ernst Richard Wendland, and 52 years later he is still serving WELS as a missionary in Africa.

In 1955 WELS missionaries first arrived in what was then called Northern Rhodesia. The next decade saw slow, painstaking gains for the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA), as the missionaries preached sermons, performed baptisms, and instructed new members, often with the help of African evangelists. By the mid-1960s, the LCCA had established its worker training program in a Lusaka suburb under the direction of Missionary Ernst H. Wendland. This development coincided with the expansion of WELS mission work to the neighboring country of Malawi. The 1960s also saw the construction of a Lutheran health clinic in the rural district of Mwembezhi, staffed by nurses from the United States. One of them (in 1969) was a young nurse named Margaret Westendorf, who became Ernst’s wife in 1971.

The LCCA is now an independent church body of over 10,000 souls. Zambian national pastors and lay leaders serve all 113 of the congregations situated in many different areas of the country. As for the Wendlands, God blessed them with four children–Rob, Joel, Stephen, and Naomi.

Missionary Wendland has had a front row seat to all of these changes and many more. “The aims of the early WELS missionaries have been achieved and valued by most nationals—namely, to establish a confessional, evangelical, Lutheran church body in an area of Africa where none existed before, and to partner with national leaders and trained pastors so that they would progressively take over the work that missionaries had done before.” The backbone of that mission strategy was, and still is, the training of men who will serve as pastors. Candidates for the program first receive training through a program called Theological Education by Extension, then enter a two-tiered school of the Lutheran Bible Institute in Malawi and Lutheran Seminary in Zambia. Missionary Wendland has taught various classes at both the Bible Institute and Seminary level.

Upon graduation and ordination, pastors continue to benefit from ongoing educational programs. Missionary Wendland helped originate and facilitate the original Greater Africa Theological Studies Institute (GRATSI), a program of post-graduate studies offering both Bachelors of Divinity and Masters of Theology degrees. These post-seminary programs have now been incorporated into the Confessional Lutheran Institute (CLI), which will help coordinate all of the pastoral enrichment programs that WELS has to offer its partners in Africa. What is truly exciting is that some of the Zambian nationals are now co-teachers with their former instructors at the Lutheran Seminary. God deserves the glory for development of the LCCA into a mature church body, and we thank God for using Missionary Wendland and many other faithful missionaries to realize this goal.

Wendland says, “This has always been a mutually educative and supportive relationship with the LCCA. There are certain things that I could teach my fellow pastors and teachers, while there are many things that they have taught me over the years—right up to the present day, especially in the area of language, culture, and a different world-view perspective on the Scriptures. I could not have carried out, let alone prospered, in my various mission-related endeavors without the essential guidance, correction, and encouragement provided by my national brothers in Christ.”

Missionary Wendland’s linguistic talents have served him well in his duties as the Language Coordinator for LCCA Publications, a post he has held since 1972. In addition, he has served the United Bible Societies as a language consultant for 40 years working in Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Wendland’s goal has always been “to identify and train national pastors who have the double gift of understanding English well coupled with the ability of translating our publications competently in the natural style of a local Bantu language.” In addition to teaching students at the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Missionary Wendland has shared his extensive experience in translation work with students in South Africa, Israel, and Hong Kong.

The Wendlands have followed a very different path through life than their fellow WELS members, as God has blessed them with the opportunity to spend two-thirds of their lifetime in Africa. Missionary Wendland expresses his gratitude to WELS for their generous support for so many years. He also underscores his admiration for “the friendly, helpful nature of the various African peoples in this part of the world—their desire to learn more about God’s Word and how to apply it in their lives, including certain social settings that present many challenges and tests of faith like warfare, disease, droughts, and economic downturns.” As we continue to be tested by the COVID-19 outbreak, may God also help us to cling to his promises and apply his Word to our lives.

Written by John Roebke, Communications Coordinator for the WELS One Africa Team

 

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We kept meeting, more people kept coming

Mark and Sonya are wonderful neighbors. The crackle of evening fires in their yard invites friends to stroll over for conversation. Sonya takes morning walks with several people from their street. Mark helps in the community with yard work and snow removal. They are terrific neighbors and great friends. Their friendliness combined with their openness about their faith in Jesus and belief in his Word creates amazing evangelism opportunities.

Church basement Bible study – a tiny home can only fit so many people!

Sonya asked about a Bible study with one of her friends: “One of my neighbors has some questions about creation. Pastor, will you lead a Bible study at our house about how God created the world?” About a week later, three of us sat in the yard on lawn chairs studying Genesis 1. The Holy Spirit explained through the Word how God made all things out of nothing in six days. The Holy Spirit revealed in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the Word and that all things were made through him. That first study answered some questions, but also brought up more questions. We decided to meet again next week for more Bible study.

As we kept meeting, more people kept coming. Other neighbors, family members, co-workers, friends – they had questions too, and the answers were in the Bible. Mark and Sonya were inviting everyone they met to Bible study at their house. Their daughter Michelle joked, “Whenever Mom meets someone new, she says, ‘Hi, I’m Sonya. I have a Bible study at my house, would you like to come?’”  As fall got cold, we moved inside Mark and Sonya’s tiny house (about 400 square feet). Almost 30 people were meeting for weekly Bible study. Children sat in the loft and on the stairs up to it. Adults cozied up on couches and folding chairs. We had a box of Bibles and a group of people growing in their understanding of the Word and their love for Jesus.

Worship in Stockbridge, Wis.

We continued meeting for Bible study in Mark and Sonya’s house for about 2 years. They live about 20 minutes from church, and we discussed the possibility of starting worship services in their town of Stockbridge. On paper, Stockbridge doesn’t seem like a great place to start a church. Stockbridge has a population of about 630 people, many who’ve lived in that area their whole life. But the folks of Stockbridge needed Jesus. Mark and Sonya and their children had filled their home for weekly Bible study. We wanted to share God’s Word with as many people as we could. When another small church in town allowed us to use their building on Sunday evenings, we excitedly planned to begin worship services there. On September 22, 2019, we held our first worship service in Stockbridge. We thank Jesus for every one of the people with whom we’ve been able to share God’s Word, and we look forward to continuing to share the gospel with as many people as Jesus brings us!

Written by Jesse Johnston, home missionary at Mt. Calvary in Menasha and Stockbridge, Wis. 

 

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I’ll miss the mission, but will she miss me?

I’ll miss the mission. . . but I am so thankful to God that I didn’t miss the mission. Almost 37 years ago, I was given a chance to do something that most Christians can only dream of doing. God called me to leave my fork and spoon behind so I could learn to use chopsticks. God asked me to lay aside English to learn one of the most complicated languages Babel ever produced.

I’ll miss the mission. When my wife and I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan, we were met by a family with whom I have now served 36 years. No one could have prepared me for the exhilaration of being able to sing “Jesus loves me” in another tongue. No one could have gotten me ready for the deep thankfulness to God I would feel over the first convert in my work that he allowed me to see. God used me to help nurture a national church that is now a sister church with WELS.

Seventeen years ago God called us to Hong Kong. I have had the chance to live in a Chinese culture which was stir fried with British colonialism. I followed up on work done by great men who had gone before. The part of the city where we live and work is called Kowloon—literally “nine dragons”. These dragons may be a symbol of power, but one Lord is greater in power than them all—and filled with a grace found only in him. South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), your sister church in Hong Kong, stands with us in proclaiming this truth.

I’ll miss the mission. I’ve had the chance to help nurture church leaders in East Asia. They’ve endured much pressure from the outside, and challenges from within. Like most of the world these past few months, they have had to temporarily suspend their face-to-face gatherings. Yet online worship and classes continue. While Christianity is gradually on the wane in much of the world, seeds planted by many faithful workers continue to expand.

When COVID-19 was starting to ravage the U.S., these churches got together and sent thousands of face masks to their brothers and sisters in the states. I won’t miss SARS or COVID-19, but I will miss seeing up close the worldwide body of Christ at work.

But will the mission miss me? We’re getting ready to retire soon. Retiring makes me wonder, will they miss me? Will the work go on without a hitch? Deep down my  human nature wants to believe things will slow down without me. I want to believe in my importance. But God doesn’t see things that way. And thankfully he doesn’t see me that way.

It has been so humbling to realize how little you can actually accomplish in several decades. It’s also awe-inspiring how much God can do through the people he has chosen to use. To whichever continent God leads them, your missionaries share in this kind of experience. This is the shared experience of all who follow God wherever he leads them.

God makes sure that the mission won’t be lacking when one man retires. When God raises up a leader, he already has in mind the servant who will follow. We sow the seed. We water the new life that sprouts. We harvest as God pleases. And then another follows. Moses and Joshua. Paul and Timothy. Your retired missionaries are followed by new men with new gifts for a new age. And we all serve one Lord.

I’ll miss the mission, but she will go with me wherever I go. And God’s Kingdom will come.

Written by Rob Siirila, missionary in Hong Kong

 

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The sleeping shrimp

“Camarón que se duerme…” I said. Immediately a chorus of 20 voices responded, unprompted and unscripted, “Se lo lleva la corriente.”

Many had broad smiles—either joy at a shared knowledge of the common saying or, maybe, they were laughing at a familiar Spanish phrase spoken with a gringo accent. (I, personally, prefer to think of them as “knowing smiles.”)

“The shrimp that falls asleep gets carried away by the current” is the meaning of the common Spanish phrase. It turns out that the phrase is so well known that students in my online class from Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Puerto Rico all instinctively finished my sentence.

People are swept up in the coronavirus current right now. If you think it’s bad where you live, you should see Latin America. In Paraguay, our missionaries are allowed to go out of their homes only to buy groceries. In Ecuador, you need to elect one member from your household who is the only one allowed to go out for food. In Colombia, many members of a sister congregation have red flags outside their home as a signal that their household has no food and no way to get it.

The coronavirus current has swept the globe. Many are carried away, consumed with fear for their physical and financial well-being.

It was into this current that our WELS Latin America Missions team, together with Multi-Language Productions (the artists formally known as Multi-Language Publications), launched a new app. The purpose of the app was to deliver basic law-gospel, biblical instruction in Spanish to the masses. The plan was that those who finish the classes offered in the app proceed to live, online classes from members of our team. At that second level, then, we would further instruct in sound doctrine and train people to share what they learn while also identifying those who want to plant churches and welcoming those who stand with us to confess a oneness of faith.

The app originally was to be released in September of 2019. It was the first of its kind, so production didn’t go as quickly as we had hoped. September turned to December and then to February of this year. After a soft start, finally, in March, a half year after we originally had hoped, we were ready to go full tilt.

About the same time the app was set to release, the coronavirus and associated shut-downs made their way around the globe.

It turns out, at least for our work, the timing hasn’t been bad at all. We were prepared to do online instruction, so we were ready to handle the “shelter in place” aspect of the pandemic. Also, it seems that people whose way of life was tumbling in the fast-flowing waters of quarantines and shut-downs were looking for something to hold onto.

Since the launch of the app, through the end of April 124,000 people from every Spanish-speaking country have downloaded the app. They have begun to flow through the courses presented on that platform—38 videos, each about 7 minutes long, followed by a short quiz. To date, 248 people have watched every single video and taken a corresponding quiz and, after finishing, have signed up for live classes with our missionaries. We hope to see that trickle of app course finishers change to a flood in the weeks and months to come.

It is hard to say how much, if any, of these numbers are due to a release that coincided with a global pandemic. This much we can say for sure: the one who blesses beyond all that we can ask or imagine worked things out precisely the way HE had planned.

It was with a group of those students who had “graduated” from the app that I met live and online, and with whom I talked about the shrimp. From across the Americas we shared a laugh about a common phrase. More importantly, we marveled together at a seemingly common Galilean who lived and died and then rose again and whose resurrection guarantees peace, forgiveness, and life eternal to all who believe in every place, time and circumstance. That’s something for “any shrimp” to hold onto no matter how fast the current flows.

Written by Andrew Johnston, world missionary on the Latin America missions team

 

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Starting a church during a pandemic

Folsom is in northern California, between Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s a beautiful place to live and an exciting place to start a church. I arrived in Folsom in in the fall of 2019, with an energetic family ready to meet a fantastic core group. We had a year before we were scheduled to launch public worship. The next twelve months would be spent doing the important foundational work of starting a church.

The first phase would focus primarily on building strength and trust within the core group. The second phase was to unleash the group on the community. Invitations, canvassing, community service projects, etc. would all lead up to a grand worship launch with many new faces from the community.

Things were moving right along. We met regularly to plan. A logo was chosen, and we ordered all kinds of swag. The website was coming along and God provided a great place of worship to rent for our launch. We even had several prospects in Bible information class. Momentum was building. We were all set for phase 2, and then it happened. . . COVID-19.

How do you canvass when you can’t leave the house? Can you publish a launch date when your rented worship facility is indefinitely closed? How do you volunteer at community events when they’ve all been cancelled? Are we losing momentum? Questions were mounting. Frustration was building. Discouragement was a daily companion. How do you start a church during a pandemic?

Zoom calls with the core group

Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah who was to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The work was going great at first, and then there were obstacles. Zerubbabel was no doubt frustrated.

Here’s what God had to say to his frustrated servant, “‘Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord Almighty.” Zerubbabel’s task would not get done by inner courage or fortitude, nor would it get done by the power of a huge army or a well-coordinated core group. No, to do the Lord’s work, human strength and wisdom alone would fail. God says, “My Spirit must do it; my Spirit is able to overcome all hurdles no matter how large they loom. By my Spirit’s power, any obstacle will become an opportunity.” And of course, that’s exactly what happened. God’s Spirit, molding and moving human hearts, got the work done.

There was the answer to my question. The Lord will get his work done no matter what the obstacle. His Spirit works through the Word read in e-mailed devotions, just as well as spoken in person. His Spirit builds the church through Zoom bible studies, just like he does in a classroom. Words of comfort carry the same Spirit over the phone, as they do spoken face-to-face. The Spirit can get work done through “shares” and “likes” on Facebook, just as well as knocking on doors. Serving our community with the love of Christ from six feet away is still serving our community with the love of Christ. God’s Spirit molds and moves human hearts, and he’ll get the work done.

How do you start a church during a pandemic? The same way you start a church when there isn’t one. “Not by power, not by might, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.”

Written by Dave Koelpin, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Folsom, Calif.

 

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Bad things with good purposes

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

In January 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak in China was terrible news for Hong Kong citizens. When we read the news of a new, deadly virus, we all recalled the memories of SARs in 2003.

The Spring Festival in China has been called the largest annual human migration in the world. People travel back to their hometown to celebrate the Spring Festival. In early 2020, it was expected that three billion Chinese citizens would take trips home during the Spring Festival. We were afraid that the Spring Festival traveling would make the COVID-19 pandemic worse. Hong Kong citizens have almost daily interactions with China. Students and the working class travel across borders every day. We all remembered that the SARs virus in 2003 was brought across the border, and the outbreak in Hong Kong caused huge loss of life. But due to that experience, we took immediate action and started wearing face masks in public areas. God uses our painful experience to prepare us for today.

Learning Greek online!

When we read the headlines, the number of cases increased every day. People ran to supermarket bought toilet papers, rice, canned food, etc. Schools, libraries, parks, and government offices were closed. Our city became so quiet! The busy downtown area had very few pedestrians, restaurants had a lot of empty tables, and you could even get a seat in buses and trains. That is very abnormal in Hong Kong! No classes, no social gatherings! We were encouraged to stay home to save lives. Our busy life was slowed down. Was it bad?

God turns bad things to good! We had plenty of time at home with quality time to read books and devotions. Parents had time to talk to their children. We had time to think about our friends, relatives, and neighbors. I wrote emails and messages to friends in Hong Kong and overseas. We live far away, but God connects us together with His good news.

The COVID-19 virus is teaching us to be humble! The headlines reported even celebrities tested positive. Despite their wealth and fame, no one was safe from this virus. People are busy running businesses, earning money, hoping to buy a big house, and find different ways to climb up the social hierarchy. All those things can’t help us: only God helps! Only God is more powerful than the COVID-19! Seek God’s mercy!

Bible classes and worships are stopped physically, but we put classes and worship online. We realize that people need to keep the physical distance, but God gives technology to draw us close to him. We need to be thankful to have social media and technology to broadcast God’s messages. Can you imagine if we didn’t have Facebook, Zoom, Instagram, and WeChat in our daily life? God teaches us gratitude.

We can’t stop the pandemic, but God controls it! No matter how fast the high-speed trains and air jets are, we are all stuck at home and can’t travel. We’re thankful to medical professionals that save many lives through their innovations, but we don’t have a method to cure COVID-19.

We are mortal, but God gives us eternal life. God uses the bad things for good purposes! Even in your worst-case scenario, God is still with you. We have time to have come close to God and to have quality spiritual life with family and friends. Don’t wait! Tell your friends about God’s good news: God is greater than COVID-19!

Written by Yvonne Yeung, senior editor for Multi-Language Productions in Hong Kong

 

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God’s been training you to do his work

Remember going to school and taking classes that you assumed you’d never use again in your life? Remember that summer job you hated, but it was at least some income to pay for school the next year? Remember that random encounter you had with a stranger asking you some very pointed questions about your faith that you felt you didn’t answer well? Remember that tragedy you went through as a young person and how hard it was to process and understand?

There are many times in our lives that we have wondered why this happened or how is God going to use this for good. I’m guessing this might be hitting home right now as we ponder how COVID-19 is for good. Especially in a mission field it is hard to make connections with people to spread the gospel, when “stay at home” orders are extended across the country. We are used to sharing the gospel in a personal way with people and connecting them to the Word through worship. Events that bring the community together and outreach to show our community we care are all difficult to host at this time. While we might be trying to expand our digital reach, that can be hard too. The members we have are struggling and finances might be difficult during these times.

Trust me, God has been training you this whole time to do his work. I never envisioned the mission work I’ve been privileged to lead in Sahuarita, Arizona, to look like this. Accepting the call four years ago to lead mission efforts at a multi-site congregation at Grace in Southern Arizona looked very different on paper than in reality. But the way that God has used my past training and experiences to further his kingdom, even in such difficult times, is amazing.

Our community research led our congregation to buy new property and build a church and child learning center to serve our neighbors with the gospel. The process was slow and tedious, the delays were many, and just when things were really moving forward, COVID-19 hit. What appeared to (potentially) be a major set-back has been a blessing. Builders for Christ was pulled from our project, but previous experience in the construction industry has allowed my time to be used as a project manager to lead our local volunteer crew. I’d already learned many lessons on patience at the start of the mission work here, and the delays aren’t causing extreme stress. The pandemic came just soon enough that we aren’t open yet and don’t have to navigate a very difficult situation with children under our care. In all of this we’ve still been able to connect to our community through the workers on the job site. We are grateful that construction work is considered an “essential” business so the delays haven’t been drastic. We look forward to serving the child care needs of our community once our building project is completed this summer. We are hopeful that we can invite guests to our new worship space to hear the gospel once the buildings are completed.

Sure it isn’t what we might expect as “normal” mission work at this time, but God has been training us our whole lives for this moment to take his gospel to our community. We can even rejoice in our past sufferings because they have trained us for this moment. We put our hope in Christ during these difficult times as the Lord of the Church. God’s been training you this whole time to do his work.

Written by Rev. Ryan Heiman, home missionary at Grace Lutheran Church and Child Learning Center in Sahuarita, Ariz.

 

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God’s kingdom is still coming

“Your kingdom come.” We used to pray that every Sunday in church together. When we did, we were asking God to rule our hearts and to send his Spirit to the hearts of others in the world. But we probably prayed those words thinking that, as congregations, we had God’s kingdom work pretty well under control. Not anymore!

Once upon a time, we had ways to measure our—I mean God’s—kingdom work. We tracked worship attendance. We counted kids in Lutheran school desks. We measured offerings. We quantified volunteer hours. Pastors mapped out hospital and shut-in visits. And if we liked the way things look on paper, we assumed God’s kingdom had certainly come! At least we had a good system in place for tracking kingdom work! When we prayed, “Your kingdom come,” we meant, “Just give my kingdom a little boost, God. But we mostly have our—I mean your—kingdom going strong.”

But now our people aren’t in pews. Our students aren’t in desks. Our offerings are not in plates. Our hospital visits are not even allowed! Is God’s kingdom still coming? How can it, if we can’t track it?

It’s a terrifying thing for a congregation to realize suddenly, the kingdom work we’ve gotten used to is no longer within our control. And yet, has it ever been? Did God’s kingdom ever fit within our church’s budget and calendar? Or does God’s kingdom belong to. . . God? The Alpha and the Omega, the Creator, Sustainer, and Light of the world?

Thank God he’s running his kingdom! Because who could have imagined that this was the way he would kick us out of our churches and into the world? I’m amazed by just how powerfully God’s kingdom is pouring into the world in these dark days! He’s hammering through once hardened hearts. He’s uprooting deeply ingrained grudges. He’s tilling up straight paths through the baked desert floor.

And the gospel! It’s been incredible to watch newly emboldened Christians scatter the gospel seed in public in ways I have never seen. Parking lots packed with cars and pastors with megaphones. Facebook exploding with worship service views, shares, and engagements. People talking about death and resurrection in their homes, with their children. Easter Sunday resurrection hope pouring through every media and social media into homes where unbelievers and believers alike are listening. Christians serving in their communities as fearless light and salt when others cower. WELS members across the country becoming stronger together, forming a gospel-seed tidal wave, as they engage with one another through social media!

Is God’s kingdom still coming? Oh, yes! And thank God he has let us be on the front lines bringing that kingdom to more people, in new ways, with renewed zeal. Yes, Lord, yes! “Your kingdom come!”

Written by Rev. Ryan Kolander, home missionary at Palabra de Vida in Detroit, Mich. 

 

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A COVID-19 Baptism blessing

“That’s awesome!”

That’s all I could say as I watched the couple sit at their kitchen table.

Jeff was confirmed on December 22, 2019. Having completed his “Starting Point” course, he was so thrilled to be part of our young congregation. His volunteer spirit—whether it’s making homemade salsa or taking beautiful landscape photographs to decorate our rented walls—is contagious. And so is his positivity. But there was one thing that bothered him—his wife didn’t really know Jesus and didn’t come to church with him. He wasn’t going to push. Partly because of his personality, but mostly because he trusted God’s timing. Then, on December 22, Deedee came to support Jeff. Then she came again on December 24. Even though Christmas Eve worship was interrupted by an armed robbery at the liquor store that shares a wall with our facility (perhaps another Missions Blog story!), Deedee was not deterred. She kept coming to worship every Sunday.

In late February, she asked if she could talk to me after church. Deedee wanted to be baptized. After going through the meaning and blessings of baptism at a Starbucks meeting in early March, we picked the date—April 5, Palm Sunday. And then, coronavirus came. After explaining that it wasn’t absolutely necessary for her to be baptized on that date, both Jeff and Deedee agreed they’d like to explore the options. Zoom to the rescue!

I set up my laptop six feet away from the church baptismal font (not for social distancing purposes, but only for the camera angle).

CAMERA 1 –

Pastor: “We all have a deep need for baptism. . . this is for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Not even the gates of Hades can prevent the gospel from going out. Be confident as you are now baptized in the name of the Triune God.”

CAMERA 2 –

Jeff (pouring water on Deedee’s head): “Denise, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

CAMERA 1 –

Pastor:  “That’s awesome!”

It was a highlight of my ministry. I’m not sure who I was more excited for—Jeff, Deedee, or myself! But the joy wasn’t over. Unbeknownst to Deedee, congregation members were filmed offering their support, “We will, and we ask God to help us.” What a surprise for Deedee to watch the recorded service on Sunday, not just to see herself, but her brothers and sisters in Christ welcoming her into our church family. Jeff’s follow-up email, “We really enjoyed the Baptism section with everyone in support.”

That’s awesome!

Written by Rev. Joel Heckendorf, home missionary at Light of the Valleys in Reno, Nev. 

 

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Faces of Faith – Hany Guzmán

As the morning mist mixed with the bright beams of the sun’s first rays over Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, ten-year-old Hany Guzmán would stand out on her earthen porch to greet the day. With a mug of atol de elote in her hand, she watched the cool fog slowly dissipate and the shadows silently disperse as they gave way to the scorching heat and piercing light of a Sunday morning. The sweet, corn beverage brought warmth to her body and strength for the day as she helped get her family ready for church. Slipping through the front door, she would wake her three younger siblings with whom she shared a single bed. They would march off together to attend their local congregation’s misa. Sometimes her parents would accompany them and other times they went alone, but Hany wouldn’t miss a mass for the world.

Hany and her siblings in Guatemala

Once they found their customary spot in the back of church, although the sun still shone brightly through the stained-glass windows of the cathedral, it seemed as though an even denser fog settled in. Hany and her siblings heard the priest read the Bible and give short talks about how they were to pray to the right saints to find fame and fortune, but it just didn’t seem to make sense. There was a spiritual haze that never seemed to lift, a darkness that just wouldn’t disappear. Hany wondered to herself, “Is there any way I can go to heaven?”

Five years later, darkness defined the day as Hany woke up on a frigid December morning in Anchorage, Alaska. A glance outside at the thermometer showed twenty-five degrees below zero as the first hints of daylight slowly revealed the silhouette of the mountains beneath a cloudless sky. It was Sunday morning and it was still her job to wake her younger siblings for church, but they could wait a while to brave the cold. The short trip to church was less than a block. She started to make some hot chocolate as she waited for the sun to creep over the Chugach Mountains. In a few short hours, she and her siblings would be on their way to Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo. She still wouldn’t miss a service for the world.

Hany at Camp Luther in Anchorage, Alaska

Although the sun barely skimmed the tops of the peaks outside, inside her church one thing was clear—the light of the gospel had changed her life. The same sun that warmed her face in Guatemala now shone through the stained-glass windows of her new church, but here the mystery of salvation had been revealed. Here she heard the unobscured gospel that brought clarity to her mind and comfort to her soul. Hany and her sisters and brother—Brianna, Alegría, and David—found their spots in the back pew. From her vantage point, Hany could see many people she had invited to church herself. In fact, she was personally responsible for seeing her church’s catechism class grow from a dozen kids to over thirty. Later in the service, the congregation would confess its faith together using the familiar words of the explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “All this he did that I should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just has he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally.” There was no longer any doubt; the darkness had dissipated and the fog had lifted. Wiping away a tear, Hany chimed in with confidence and conviction: ¡Esto es ciertamente la verdad! This is most certainly true!

Written by Rev. Christopher Ewings, home missionary at Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo (Faith Lutheran Church) in Anchorage, Alaska

 

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Filled to overflowing in Barcelona

In February 2017, 24 missionary wives met together in Athens, Greece, for the first ever World Missionary Wives Conference. What an amazing experience! I arrived in Athens barely knowing only four other missionary wives. I left the conference just a few short days later with two dozen sisters! Sisters with whom I share my joys and sorrows, blessings and challenges, laughter and tears. Our first World Missionary Wives Conference set the stage for more contact through a WhatsApp group, summer gatherings, Missionary Family Reunions, phone calls – more opportunities for encouragement.

On March 5-9, 2020, the long-awaited and much anticipated second World Missionary Wives Conference was held in Barcelona, Spain. Picture a room of 25 women who have been waiting three years to see each other face-to-face. Add in a heaping portion of hugs, a healthy dose of sharing, and a pinch of silliness (from jet lag, of course), and there you have the second World Missionary Wives Conference.

We based our conference on the theme “Filled to Overflowing”, taken from Psalm 23:5 “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” In Barcelona we filled our cups with encouragement, peace and joy for service around the world. God’s word served as our primary source of encouragement. We spent time together worshiping our Savior and studying what God says about various topics. One of our own missionary wives shared a keynote address, “Filling up throughout Life’s Transitions,” and facilitated a panel discussion entitled “Filling Your Cup.” World Missions Administrator Larry Schlomer led us in worship. Other ladies led us in small group Bible studies and devotions.

Fellowship provided more encouragement. Missionary wives so very rarely see each other face-to-face! The conference gave us a number of opportunities for fellowship. We enjoyed tours and tapas, churros and chocolate, Gaudí and games. Each activity laid a platform for sharing and encouraging, for cultivating friendships old and new.

The timing for the conference was providential. Just a few days later, and we would have had significant difficulties in Spain because of the coronavirus. But God kept us safe. After our delightful conference, everyone made it home safely and just about everyone sat in self-quarantine for 14 days, but no one got sick. We thank God for His mercy in getting us all to Barcelona and back safely and for keeping us healthy.

We’re back home with our families on our mission fields. Our cups have been filled with blessings of encouragement, peace and joy. Now what? Now comes the next stage–sharing those blessings with others. First of all, we share our blessings with our husbands. An extra dose of encouragement for a missionary is never misplaced. Next, we pour out blessings on our children, both those with us and those far from us. And then we turn to our mission fields.

For me, that means the Russian ladies I love so dearly. They are quite a group–old and young, scientists and gardeners, grandmothers and young women, feisty and meek, confident and insecure. But they all need encouragement. They hunger for God’s peace, especially in these uncertain times. They crave the joy that comes from God’s forgiveness. I have all those qualities to share, because my cup was filled to overflowing in Barcelona. How can I serve you? It’s my turn to pour! Funny thing. . . the more I pour, the more I want to bask in God’s precious word myself, and my cup just stays brimming.

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, missionary wife in Russia

 

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April cancelled

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive future updates directly in your inbox, visit oneafricateam.com. “Like” the One Africa Team on Facebook at fb.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS

 

There’s an unusual quiet on the campus.

The Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi, is normally in session; there’s usually a beehive of activity that makes the campus hum: Classes, homework, study hours, work detail, classroom learning and break out group discussions.

But now?

No power point presentations, no lectures nor recitations, no storytelling, no professor jokes nor student laughter. No opening day devotions or communicative Greek dialogue. No break-time chatting, checkers, or chess. Student houses stand menacingly vacant. The campus church building stands eerily quiet. No one is kicking up dust on the football pitch. No one tending to the maize in the fields. No students or their families to be seen. Gone without a trace. It’s as if they all vanished. Disappeared.

Well, in a way they have. In fact, I might add, rather quickly. Due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the Lutheran Bible Institute has also been affected. Just like every other school in Malawi, and most in the world. On March 20, Malawian President Mutharika declared Malawi a State of Disaster and ordered that all schools be closed as of March 23.

That mandate turned into a mad scramble for the faculty to quickly get the students back to their home villages. It wasn’t an easy doing, especially for the Zambian students. It first meant countless hours in the immigration office to sort out remaining issues with passports, student permits, and for some, birth certificates for kids recently born in Malawi.

And to think…

This was the final year for the Lutheran Bible Institute students. The three-year program was coming to a close at June’s end. The fourteen students and their families and the Lutheran Bible Institute faculty had anticipated a joyful–and eventful–graduation service. How things can change and change quickly! There was just no time for a special “cap and gown” service; there was no class speaker, no class song, no diplomas received, no gifts given. It wasn’t that there were COVID-19 cases in Lilongwe. In fact, at that time, there were no officially confirmed cases even in all of Malawi! This comparatively tiny country stood with few others as having zero infected people. So why cancel the classes if the virus wasn’t evident?

Because the fear was.

Maybe you’re seeing–or experiencing–something similar. Panic buying. Anxious thoughts. Worrisome nights and troublesome days. Some are struggling with lost jobs and new-found questions: Do I wear a mask or not? Quarantine or not? Do I have it? Did I give it to someone else? Do I get tested? Can I get tested?

The fear and the questions spread as quickly as the virus itself. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Price hikes, long queues, and empty shelves. And it’s not just schools that have been cancelled. Flights? Cancelled. Hotel bookings? Cancelled. Long-awaited vacations? Cancelled. Cruise? Rally? Convention? Even an election? Cancelled with a CAPITAL C.

A red-letter disappointment.

But despite the cancelled classes and graduation service, this class will still proceed onto the Lutheran Seminary in Zambia in September 2020. Each of the 14 students have met the qualifications and the faculty recommends them. And so there were still hopeful smiles on the campus. Before the 14 students parted ways, with a hoe they parted the earth and made time to do one last class activity:

They planted a tree.

With a lighthearted touch they hung a sign on the tree. More than a sign, it was the name that they gave the tree; a name that you could probably guess considering these times:

Corona.

Did you know that corona means “crown”? The virus, presumably so named, because in a way it resembles one. The coronavirus has brought a lot of sickness and death to our world. But it looks like we are adjusting to the situation: masks, social distancing, hand washing, working from home, and studying at home.

What a golden opportunity we also have been given: to fix our eyes on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Stop and pause this week. What a week it is!

Whom do we see?

  • A Palm Sunday donkey-riding servant king making triumphal entries, not just into cities like Jerusalem, but into hearts like ours.
  • A Maundy Thursday Passover lamb that offers, not just bread and wine, but body and blood.
  • A Good Friday center-cross “criminal” who, even as people taunted and mocked, still was breathing out forgiveness.
  • A Devil Destroyer who went to hell to proclaim his victory.
  • An Easter morning Death Defeater who came out of the tomb fully alive and victorious, guaranteeing our own resurrection and life. And victory!
  • A Powerful Ruler sitting at the right hand of God controlling all things.

And by faith, what Paul the Apostle knows is also what we know: “in ALL those things (even in a State of Disaster) God is working for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

THAT you know. What you maybe didn’t know was where on the campus the Lutheran Bible Institute students planted the tree. They dug the hole and placed the tree right next to the campus church where they worshiped most every morning and every evening. The place where law and the gospel was preached. The house of God in which name of Jesus was held high. The location where forgiveness was proclaimed and where the sacraments were administered. Where they learned to preach devotions and lead the service with liturgy.

Perhaps what you also didn’t know was the name of the church: Crown of Life.

What a paradox! A tree of death. A Crown of Life. Or is it a Crown of Death and a Tree of Life? As you’re thinking about that, think about this: There is another tree that comes with the same paradox. The tree on Golgotha. A tree of life or a tree of death? A crown of life or a crown of death?

Actually, both. It’s the place where law and gospel meet. The epicenter of God’s full wrath and full love. A converging torrent of anger over sin and love for the sinner. So, when God gives you the opportunities this Holy Week and beyond, sing your hosannas! Feast at the Lord’s table! Answer the hymn writer’s question: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” (CW #119)

Remind yourself that Satan has been defeated. Peer into the tomb and find it for what it is: empty.

And the next time your sins trouble you and you wonder if God has forgiven you, remember that the written code was nailed to the cross. (Colossians 2:14)

And the debt you owe because of your sins?

Cancelled.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, One Africa Team missionary

 

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Partnership in a new reality

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1: 3-6

How do we bring the gospel message to a billion people living in East Asia? This a question on the hearts of many in our synod as we look beyond our American borders.

God heard our prayers and for over a decade allowed WELS pastors and their families to live and serve in East Asia. This approach, however, has been adjusted as our WELS missionaries and families have been relocated out of East Asia for security reasons. But a change in a home address does not mean we change our mission.

Christian churches around the world are developing and enhancing their online approach to sharing Jesus. Our East Asia team is no different. We are revamping how we train, disciple, and mentor the national leaders who can take the gospel to places where we cannot go. By God’s grace our WELS seminary in Hong Kong has adapted to adversity and continues to serve their students and support national congregations.

The security risks that WELS missionaries faced also caused local East Asian leadership to reevaluate their approach for worship and Bible study. God has not been surprised by any of the issues facing our mission field and is blessing these new and innovative efforts. Each week our brothers and sisters in the faith are meeting in small groups or joining together online to hear the same message of God’s truth and God’s love for his beloved creation.

Baptism at Reformation in San Diego, Calif.

Our East Asia team is making every effort to build up the church leadership in East Asia. But with certain doors closed, we are exploring how God might use us to build up the church in East Asia from within our American borders. Every year a large number of students from East Asia attend our WELS high schools or are involved in our campus ministries. As God blesses their hearing and study of the Word, how might we equip them for sharing the gospel when they return to their home country?

As our WELS congregations continue being God’s salt and light in their local neighborhoods, visitors from East Asia come into our churches, admire the quality of our schools, and are looking for community and relationships. The WELS Joint Missions is very eager to offer support to any school or congregation that have these opportunities. How can we meet the spiritual needs of these visitors where they are at right now in their walk with God? And if they do call on Jesus as Lord, how can we support and equip them to reach others in East Asia?

These are not just theories and hopeful planning. God is blessing our WELS churches right now in these areas. WELS members are making contact with people from East Asia and inviting them to study God’s Word in our homes and churches. God is revealing new partnerships for us, both locally and worldwide, to carry out our gospel mission to East Asia.

Written by a missionary from East Asia

 

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