A time to celebrate and a time to pray

Luke Wolfgramm, our WELS pastor in Russia, had a chance to talk with Holger Weiss, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany. The ELFK is WELS’ sister church and mission partner.

Let’s celebrate and give thanks with our brothers and sisters in Germany!

This is quite a year for the 1,300 members and 17 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK).

  • Steeden, the oldest congregation in the ELFK, is celebrating its 175th anniversary – that’s four years older than WELS.
  • Four other congregations (in Dresden, Zwickau-Planitz, Altengesees, and Saalfeld) are celebrating 150 or 100 years of God’s grace.
  • The ELFK seminary was founded in 1921, exactly 100 years ago.
  • And this year the Dr. Martin Luther School for elementary children is celebrating its 20th

When interviewed, Holger Weiss, said:

“God has performed miracles for our church. He preserved His truth among us despite two devastating world wars and decades of communist persecution. [Most ELFK congregations are located in former East Germany.]

Student at the ELFK seminary in Leipzig.

At first ELFK pastors were trained in the Missouri Synod seminary in St. Louis. [At that time both WELS and the ELFK enjoyed fellowship with the LC-MS.] But when WWI prevented men from traveling to the United States, the ELFK had to find a way to train their own pastors. The church decided to send men to the state seminary in Leipzig. But they also established their own auxiliary institute to battle false teaching presented in that liberal seminary. This was the beginning of the ELFK seminary.

We are so thankful for Dr. Martin Luther School in Zwickau. Every day 120 students attend grades 1-4 and hear about the Savior. Most of these students come from unchurched families. This has been an excellent way to reach out to our community with God’s word.

But I feel sad. I live in the land of Luther and the Reformation. But so many people here have no idea of what Christ did for them. Today we are still suffering from the pandemic. People have gotten sick and died. Businesses have been closed. Many are living in fear. They sought hope from medicine, science and politicians – only to be disappointed. People need to know that our real troubles are spiritual! We need a new awakening!

Please pray that God would move young men to study for ministry in Germany. Pray that we can open new congregations and preaching stations. Pray that we can send out missionaries. Pray that all of us can be lights welcoming souls into God’s happy family. And pray for our seminary. Right now, we are exploring ways that we can serve not only German students, but men from our sister churches. We want people all over Europe to hear about the Savior!

What a special year! We thank God for past blessings. Now it’s time to get busy praying and working to share the Savior – no matter where you live!”

 

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Plans A,B,C,D…

We were ready to take Minot by storm with a new, innovative approach for starting a church. It was 2014, childcare was a massive need in a still-booming North Dakota, so we were going to start an early childhood ministry through which we would grow a thriving mission church. What could go wrong?

A failed land deal, a collapsed oil economy, and one year later we were onto “Plan B.” It was the start of a trend. The past seven years have been filled with plan after plan to reach out to our community. During much of that time we were on the lookout for a more suitable location for our ministry than a hotel conference room. Yet, whether it was an appealing land purchase, a building that would lend well to a renovation, or just leased space where we could get our footing, every plan seemed to fall through and result in a change of plans. We met at that hotel far longer than we ever envisioned.

Grace Lutheran’s church service.

Until one day, one of our members was speaking with a friend from a local Baptist church. They were looking to sell their building, we were looking to buy, and finally, that meant we had a plan that would work. We moved into the building right before Christmas and took a couple months to get it ready. We started up a Mornings with Mommy program shortly thereafter. For the first time it felt our ministry had reached a fifth gear, since we were able to engage in ministry programs that the limitations of the hotel had not allowed!

That was a month before COVID.  You can guess what happened next. Fast-forward to 2021 and I couldn’t tell you what “plan” we’re on. (By now, we have probably run out of letters in the English alphabet.) But all the while, God accomplishes his plan. It has taken me a while to see it because it has never quite matched my plans, but when I remember what God told his people through the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (29:11); yet, plans that would somehow endure when the nation was about to get deported to a foreign land and the temple destroyed? If God could still turn that plan into a Savior and life and salvation, he can do the same for us.

Indeed, this is what I have seen in seven years in Minot: the message of a Savior bringing life and salvation to souls who crave it, even when my own plans have fallen apart. Christian baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals that would stop for no one. Grace from God that didn’t care what “plan” we were on.

I never saw myself as a home missionary, but when I started in Minot I set my mind to work hard and took comfort in the fact that the church would either take off in a “couple years” or it wouldn’t, but then I would be on to something else. It has been seven years now, and I have no idea how long it will take to reach that first “couple of years”, but I know that God’s plan will endure. As long as we continue to preach Jesus, nothing can stop it.

This is mission work. It is infuriating, and it is beautiful.

Written by Rev. Nate Walther, home missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

 

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Member roles from scratch

“My name is _______ and I’m the official _______ at my church.” How easy is it for you to fill in that second blank?

God the Holy Spirit gives gifts, talents, responsibilities, and roles to every believer in Jesus. We’re like parts of a body (Romans 12 and Corinthians 12). We depend on each other’s gifts to build each other up.

Unfortunately, an old phrase echoes around churches: “20% of the members do 80% of the work.” Why? I doubt anyone would say, “I don’t sign up because I’m lazy and afraid of commitment,” or “I don’t think my church’s ministries are worthwhile.”

More likely, a member who isn’t serving in any organized way in his or her church has more sympathetic reasons, like, “No one ever asked me directly,” or, “I think other people are already doing that,” or “I would like to serve, but the roles they offer just aren’t interesting to me.” Rather than thirsting for law or gospel, that Christian might be craving guidance toward a clear ministry role that suits his or her gifts and passions.

We at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Florida, are novices at everything, including member ministry. But as a new mission, we have the opportunity to organize all our ministries from scratch.

We decided to make Member Roles an early priority. They’re one of only four programs we offer (with weekly worship, Bible study groups, and quarterly mission outings). We want to make those roles obvious and official, so that every member with a role, has a title, understands the value of that role, and does it really well.

The “big board” that members put “pen to touchscreen”

On Ascension weekend, we renewed our confirmation vows—all members of all ages. On Pentecost, the members of Citrus Grove chose their ministry roles. These roles are the manpower for our four ministries: Gather, Grow, Give, and Go. Names were already filled in for the Pastor and Ministry Council, but 75 other blanks waited on the Big Board for any confirmed member to claim.

Some people had already found “their thing” during our early months of loosely-organized gatherings. They simply made it official by putting pen to touchscreen: Musician. Coffee Brewer. Women’s Bible Study Host. Others felt torn between two or three possible roles, so friends helped them pick the best one for their gifts.

Be careful if you’re thinking, “One? I serve in a whole bunch of roles at my church!” The right number of roles for each member is somewhere between zero and too many. Wearing too many hats can lead to its own problems: Pride, burnout, or guilt over unfinished or low-quality work.

We also started at one for another reason: None of these roles have job descriptions. (See how brave the members of this mission church are!) Over the next few weeks, members and leaders will work together to clarify the details of each role: Why is mine so valuable? How does mine connect people to Jesus? What exactly do I do, step-by-step? How long is the commitment? What if I run into an issue? What about substitutes? And anything else that will help the next member who serves in that role.

Earlier, I mentioned 75 blanks. Citrus Grove doesn’t have 75 members. That means the unfilled blanks await God’s timing. Those are the talents of people we haven’t met yet, but we’re already praying for them and looking forward to their fruitful service here. Until then, it’s a joy to see current members committing to serve Jesus, his church, and our mission field in roles so clear they can write them on their nametags.

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

 

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From one background to another

This is a world missions story that starts in the good ol’ U.S. of A. In fact, you could say that the mission work is mostly being done there. But at the same time, it’s reaching to people far across the ocean.

Back in the month of April, one of our Lutheran pastors in Arizona reached out to me here in Hong Kong. He said that he was getting to know a Filipina lady – one with a PhD, no less – who was living and teaching, not in the U.S., not in the Philippines, but in a city closer to us in Hong Kong. This lady works there at the overseas campus of an American public university, and she had started attending his online Bible instruction class in Arizona (even though they are separated by nine time zones). She was also bringing two of her local colleagues.

So, what could we do to help this lady and her colleagues? Of course, the pastor in Arizona would continue to teach them in the Bible instruction class. But would there be any chance that we could connect them with Lutheran Christians who live closer to them? By God’s grace and the work of his gospel through WELS World Missions, we do in fact happen to have a small group that worships less than an hour’s drive away from that campus.

This might sound like an amazing coincidence, but we know that nothing is purely happenstance in this world that our Savior holds in his nail-marked hands. It is also a blessing that comes as a direct result of the mission work that God has done through your gifts and offerings, your prayers and preaching. What grace from him that we are connected other Lutherans not only in North America but also around the world! What grace that we can work together to help acquaintances who might not reside in (or even visit) the United States! It takes a global village of Lutheran Christians to do this, and I thank God for all of you.

And that dear Filipina lady and her friends? They’ve finished the first part of the Bible instruction class and are continuing on to the second. Please pray for them that the Holy Spirit would grow them in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Pray that they would be encouraged by our Lutheran brothers and sisters. And pray that God would also use them to let his mission story continue on to others.

Written by Rev. Tim Matthies, Professor at Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong.

 

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Becoming Bible teachers

In 2019, I began serving as a full-time online missionary with TELL Network. Much like its sister Spanish ministry, Academia Cristo, TELL’s vision is to reach people online, teach the true gospel and equip men and women to share the good news of Jesus.

Very early in my work, I visited the ministry leaders of Academia Cristo in Doral, Florida. For several days we discussed their strategy of discipleship and multiplication. I learned that online ministry includes building an audience online with daily gospel-centered content.

Interested persons click on a link to download the self-learning Bible app. On the app they watch Bible lesson videos and answer questions. Upon completing the app they are invited to live group class with an instructor. Here teachers begin to equip students to become Bible teachers using the same Bible lessons they are learning but in their own setting.

During the same trip, I was invited to a missionary multiplication meeting. Here online teachers and missionaries from Latin America strategized about who was coming through the live group classes and how to follow up with them. For prospects ready to begin teaching themselves, trips are arranged to equip and train further.

Today, much of what I learned is being duplicated for TELL English. Like Academia Cristo, TELL’s emphasis is creating a large online presence and directing interested people to the TELL app where they start the self-learning courses. God has blessed this work too! Along with 1.5 million followers on its main Facebook page, there are over 10,000 active users on the TELL app and over 150 sign-ups for live group class.

Over 30 countries are represented somewhere along the TELL English process: some beginners, others finishing their ninth or tenth live group class. In the TELL multiplication meeting, world missionaries, and others, strategize about following up with students and how to make TELL more effective in training people who, in turn, teach others the gospel.

Moses Adesina is a TELL student who shares the gospel in Georgetown, Guyana. He found TELL on Facebook, downloaded the app and now is on his sixth live group class. Moses says: “Thank God for the TELL program. Ever since I joined the TELL program I thank God that even my spiritual life has grown. I have grown deeper in the Bible. So have my sermons in church. Studying the Bible is what TELL is all about.”

Written by Dan Laitinen, TELL Missionary.

 

 

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Equipped to welcome

Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis., is a proudly bilingual congregation. Members from all backgrounds are happy to point to their two bilingual pastors as evidence that we are a bilingual family of believers. Whether I speak English, Spanish, or both, as a member of Bethel, I have Christian brothers and sisters who speak English, Spanish, or both. And I, as a member of Bethel, love that.

Now, when that’s a thing to be proud of, and when that’s a thing that brings joy to your membership, and when I love having brothers and sisters from a totally different culture and language, what you have is a place where anyone from any culture feels welcome. That’s what Jenny Chang and her kids found at Bethel.

Jenny is a second-generation Hmong immigrant. Her sister is married to a member at another WELS congregation in our area, but Jenny, herself, has no background in Christianity at all. Still, her sister and brother-in-law encouraged her to get herself and her kids baptized. Where does a person like that go? Where do you go for something your minority culture doesn’t provide, but when you’re not fully a part of the majority culture? Where do you go when you’re a child of Hmong immigrants and all you know that baptism is good?

Bethel Lutheran Church, Menasha, Wis.

Jenny came to Bethel. Her sister and brother-in-law encouraged her, but she took the initiative and spoke to Pastor Raasch and arranged for her baptism and the baptisms of her kids. She came to worship on Maundy Thursday (maybe one of the most intimidating services there is for someone with no background in Christianity) and then came back for the Sundays of the Easter season. She’s working around her and her kids’ schedules to get into Bible Information Class. Jenny found a place that welcomed her, not because they had the specific equipment to welcome second-generation Hmong immigrants, but because they had the equipment to welcome anyone from anywhere. And they learned to have that equipment—to be that welcoming—because they learned to take righteous pride and joy in their diversity as one family of believers from many cultures and two languages.

This pandemic has stripped away a lot of the distractions of Christianity and has left us with little else than our identity as Christians. What a blessing! What a blessing to be forced to celebrate who we are as believers more than what we have materialistically or what we do habitually. What a time to welcome people to celebrate that with us. What a perfect time for Jenny to hear her family’s encouragement and find the Means of Grace at a church that has nice things and does good stuff, but more importantly is proud of who Jesus has made us to be: his family from many cultures and at least two languages.

Written by Rev. Ethan Cherney, home missionary at Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis.

 

 

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Gifts for God’s glory

One of the things you realize very quickly in the new mission process is that no two new mission churches are the same. It makes sense that a new mission in Texas is going to look a little different than a new mission in South Dakota. Your regional context has an effect on what that mission church looks like. But there is another factor to consider besides the location…the people.

God blesses each mission (and every church) with a group of believers that work together to serve their Savior. The Apostle Paul talked about this most memorably when he described the believers in a congregation as a body of which Christ is the head. In this body, there are different parts that serve different functions. The hand is vital, but it serves a different purpose than the ankle, which is also vital. You need both, but you wouldn’t expect the hand to do what the ankle is supposed to do or vice versa.

When we take to heart what Paul wrote, it gives us great comfort that we don’t need to have the same gifts as other people. In fact, we won’t have the same gifts as other people. My gifts are unique and they serve God’s unique purposes. And in this comfort, we find an awesome way that God works among a group of believers (specifically, a new mission) to reach people with the gospel.

The ornaments Sure Foundation gave out at their Christmas service.

We may picture the ideal mission church member as a person who is incredibly outgoing and able to have conversations with just about anyone, anywhere. This kind of person certainly serves a new mission (or any church) well. However, there are tons of ways to serve in a new mission church and reach people with the gospel.

You might be able to use your gifts of woodworking to make guest gifts for all those who attend your Christmas service. At Sure Foundation, we were able to give out nearly 60 Christmas wooden ornaments with our logo on it.

You might be able to use your gifts of craftsmanship to construct a lectern from which the Word will be preached to many, or you might be able to build a cross. A cross that will hold the nails that are put there on Good Friday as a remembrance of what our sins did to Jesus. The nails that are turned to white on Easter to show the forgiveness that Christ won through his resurrection.

The handcrafted cross that holds the red nails that turn white for Easter.

The unique talents and skills that you bring to your mission will shape and form your mission. It will make your mission look like your people, and it will make your mission look like your community. Which means, that every mission will look different and will reach people in different ways.

In this way we can harmonize two beautiful passages from Scripture. Matthew 28 gives us our charge to make disciples of all nations. 1 Corinthians 10 gives us our purpose that everything we do is to the glory of God. We can reach people to the glory of God by using our unique gifts.

Whatever your gifts are, don’t rule them out. Get creative on how you might use your talents and gifts to serve the body of Christ. But also get creative on how you might use your talents and gifts to reach people with the gospel.

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

 

 

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Looking forward and back

On Saturday, April 17, 2021, my wife, Leslie, and I landed in Lilongwe, Malawi. As we landed and looked forward to our new life living and working in Africa, we also looked back to 1991 when we first landed in Zambia to serve as part of the mission team. Back then we arrived with two daughters ages four and two, and one son who was six months old. Now, it’s just the two of us, and those three (and two more) kids are all grown up. Back then we left behind our parents and “took their grandchildren away,” as they would remind us at times. Now, we are leaving behind our grandchildren.

Missionary Mohlke and his wife, Leslie, with their shipping container as they prepare for the move to Lilongwe, Malawi

Back then, we were a young family, and I had just been assigned from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to serve in Zambia. Now, Leslie and I have been together for over three decades and have been blessed in many ways as we lived in Zambia, Nebraska, Idaho, and Arizona. Now, we look forward to being blessed as we live again in Africa and wonder a bit what the Lord has in store for us. That said, we know for certain that just as the Lord saw us through in the past, he will be with us and bless us this time too.

Many Changes

It is said that you can never go home, meaning that our memories of home remain the same but time changes everything and things are never as we remember. As Leslie and I returned to Africa, we kept reminding ourselves that this would be true, and indeed it was.

Back in 1991, we arrived in a country that had suffered from years of socialism and one-party rule. The consequences were a ruined economy and infrastructure. It was a challenge to procure the most basic of needs. Now, even though there are differences in name brands and price, almost anything can be purchased at a local store. Back then it was big news when certain items were available at the store. Now, one can compare prices and quality of items that you want to buy.

Back in 1991, the only forms of communication with family in the U.S. were airmail and long-distance calls that cost $1.00 per minute, that is, if the phone was working at all. Now, with cellular data, there are multiple means of voice and video communication. That is, if the electricity is on. I guess some things do stay the same.

Missionary Mohlke in Africa in the 1990s

Nothing New

As with water and electricity outages, other things remain the same. The biggest constant is the need to share the Good News of Jesus. People continue to struggle with sin and guilt and need the comfort of Jesus. The work of sharing this comfort is still carried out through Christian congregations who gather to be blessed through Word and sacrament and are willing to share the truth with their neighbors. Nowadays, the congregations are served by locally trained pastors and elders, but the work remains the same.

Something New

Back in 1991, my work was to serve a dozen churches, visiting them every four to six weeks. In between my visits, the work of shepherding the congregations was in the hands of faithful men and women who read sermons on Sunday and taught basic instruction and Sunday school. They visited the sick and managed the affairs of their congregation. When I would visit, I conducted worship and offered encouragement and training to those who were serving so faithfully.

Nowadays, WELS missionaries in Africa are not serving as pastors or overseeing congregations, but are working with the pastors and leadership of church bodies throughout Africa. Back in 1991 there were missionaries doing what I was doing in Malawi and Zambia. Now, the mission team works with partner church bodies in Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, as well as Malawi and Zambia. We also are working with Multi-Language Productions, offering basic biblical and shepherding training to individuals anywhere in the continent. Our prayer is that all these relationships and partnerships would be blessed by the Lord so more people may hear the Good News of Jesus in Africa and beyond.

Always

As Leslie and I begin this new stage of mission life, we know that it is the Lord who has called us here and will bless us. For this we are thankful.

The Lord be with you all.

Written by Missionary Howie Mohlke, leader of the One Africa Team

 

 

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Another day to serve

My alarm rings: another day to serve.

“Dear Lord, give me the heart to share your grace today. Thank you for freeing me from the bondage of sin so that I am able to serve you and others.” It’s been 35 years since I was told by my doctor that I would not survive two years due to cancer. “Thank you Lord for calling me to yourself through what the world cannot see as grace and freedom.”

Time to go to the cafeteria here at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School and meet up with my fellow volunteer servants to prepare for the day’s work. We have a devotion and prayer, and we are ready for a day of building a staff housing unit that will be a place of rest for the additional teaching staff needed to serve the Apache community with the love of a grace of our Savior. Peridot is part of the WELS’ oldest world mission field to the Apache people on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. This mission is a unique place, and the Apache people are as unique as the region in which they live. What a privilege to be allowed to support this mission!

Building site at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

As a member of Builders for Christ, I have been given the opportunity to help in many church settings as a project manager. The chance to serve a world mission is a rare opportunity for lay volunteers and can be a challenge to work out logistics. Some of the challenges such as funding, timing, materials, and planning onsite are no less difficult in making the puzzle fit. The Lord continues to counter what we call “stumbling blocks”. Oh how small our vision is in comparison to what God’s vision is for us!

Since Arizona has allowed school choice, our Lutheran schools have had a lot of interest from parents that could previously not afford private education, or who would like a Christ-centered curriculum. “Thank you Lord for making our schools a respite from the world. You can have the world, but give me Jesus.” In a time when so many of our churches are shrinking, Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School and mission are expanding. What a challenge! What joy and exaltation! We are free in Christ to serve him in so many ways. “But Lord, all I have is a few old tools and old hands to use them. Here am I, send me, send me.” And God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The afternoon draws to a close. Let’s straighten that framing a little, install the sheathing, and call it a day.

Today brought some local volunteers, our Apache brothers and sisters, who share the desire to serve God and their community.

Thank you Lord, for allowing us to serve together to assist in raising these little ‘Poppies’.” The “Poppies” are the children served by the loving staff here at the school. They’re referred to as the “Poppies of the desert floor” that erupt in splendid color as spring rains water and nourish the dormant seeds. With the “Poppies” come the parents and families to hear God’s refreshing and freeing word. The peace that transcends human understanding, and the rest the world cannot emulate.

Okay, that’s a wrap. “Thank you for another day of grace and the sharing of your spirit, Oh Lord.” Our hosts thank us for another day of work. They don’t know how blessed we are to help in our small ways. It’s not fair we get more in return than what we came to give. I love God’s economy! “Thank you Lord for another day of grace. Thank you for these missionaries that leave lives of luxury to spread your love among the ‘Poppies’.”

Rest well dear friends. And as the builders say, “I will see you down the road.”

Written by Mr. Randy Baker, project manager of the Builders for Christ project at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School on the Apache reservations in Arizona

 

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Optimistic outreach

You’ve no doubt experienced it in your congregation. Nearly all of our ministry and outreach events for the last year have been canceled, postponed, or altered. We canceled worship for about six months. Human contact was greatly reduced. All this has certainly threatened our outreach efforts. However, in spite of these setbacks, God has given us many blessings amid the COVID-19 conundrum.

Necessity propelled us deeper into the digital age and further into social media outreach. This has prompted us to continue providing weekly video devotions, sermons, and a children’s message for both preschool and elementary age children. We used the “down” time to upgrade our equipment and video efforts as well as our website in order to help people connect with us and to find the information they were looking for.

Inside Redeemer’s new worship facility

COVID postponed our Jesus Cares Ministry and “Worship at the Cross.” We had hoped to begin this past fall (2020), but our special needs community remains under isolation. So, while they remain in quarantine, we have begun to record our Worship at the Cross service, which we post through our website and social media content once a month. Our contact and leader in this community has shared this information with the people who are members of her group and has encouraged them to check us out. We hope that by mid-summer 2021 or fall 2021, we will be able to “Worship at the Cross” face-to-face.

While our Easter egg hunt and other service events like a food drive were canceled, we were able to offer online worship and weekly Bible study. We kept in contact with our prospects and members, some of whom checked us out online and appreciated the gospel they heard. This past summer we were able to worship face-to-face for about six weeks before we had to close again.  However, this time it was for a good and positive reason.

Inviting people to the Easter for Kids drive-through event

Three and half years ago, we had begun worship and ministry inside a large professional building. While the management staff was friendly and accommodating, the location hindered our efforts. In July 2020 and in answer to our prayers, God provided us a stand-alone building for lease which is located on a major road and near an elementary school and one of the largest grocery stores and retail areas in the city. While the building required about $30,000 to renovate, God blessed our people so that we were able to raise all the money within our multi-site congregation! We did not ask for or need additional synodical or outside support.

Additionally, God blessed our members with many gifts. In addition to their offerings, many of them donated time and energy to make the remodel of our new facility a reality. People both within our congregation and in our community have commented on how nice it looks and how well it functions. This new space with the opportunities it gives us have invigorated our members and we are happy to report that, since we have moved into our new facility, we have seen a notable increase in guest attendance. We prayerfully hope to welcome five new members within the next two months!

There are still more reasons for our optimism. Under some restrictions, we held a drive-through “Trick or Treat” where we handed out bags filled with candy, crafts, Bible lessons, and invitations to our Thanksgiving and Christmas services. We handed out over 300 invitations. We did much the same at Christmas with our drive-through Christmas for Kids, and we did the same for Easter instead of our annual Easter egg hunt.

We recently resumed our door-to-door, face-to-face efforts to invite neighbors to our Easter for Kids drive-through event and our Easter worship. Like so many, we pray by summer of 2021 we will be able to return to more normal social conditions. We remain optimistic that our efforts will continue to see more visible measures of blessing. Thank you for all you do in your words, actions, attitudes, and offerings to support the efforts of WELS Home Missions in WELS! We truly appreciate it.

Written by Rev. Aaron Glaeske, home missionary at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Victoria, Tex. 

WELS Home Missions just approved funding for seven new home mission locations! Read more about these new mission plants in this article from this week’s Together e-newsletter.

 

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Mission Journeys: Back up and running!

“Go and make disciples…”

That phrase has taken on new meaning this past year as individuals and churches adjusted to life during a pandemic. Many of our members will never take worshiping in their church for granted again. We pray that Easter services around our synod were filled with people singing praises to Jesus for his victory over sin, the devil, and death!

Members from Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Doral, Fla., recently visited the church in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

Mission Journeys, the WELS short-term mission trip program, is back up and running again. The first two congregations going out are Zion in Columbus, Wis., (pictured above) and St. Paul’s in Clintonville, Wis. These congregations are heading to a location south of Seattle, Wash., to assist in canvassing an area where a new home mission might be planted. All the precautions are in place, including the wearing of masks, as the teams go door-to-door. Additional teams will be heading to Idaho and Oregon this summer. If you and your congregation are unsure of traveling a long distance, Mission Journeys has domestic mission trip opportunities in the Midwest and beyond as well.

The park in Puerto Rico that Mission Journeys teams would be renovating and conducting outreach events.

International mission trips are still a year away as many countries around the world have strict restrictions upon entering. Fortunately, Puerto Rico is a part of the United States. This makes travel a possibility. Missionary Mike Hartman, team leader of the WELS Latin America missions team, has identified an opportunity to send mission teams to Puerto Rico. The initial plan is to renovate a park near the local church in Guayama and assist them in holding outreach events. Mission Journeys is looking for 12 congregations to commit to sending one mission team a year for three years. The teams will need at least half the members to have Spanish-speaking ability. We want over half of the 12 congregations to have Hispanic members and a Hispanic ministry. This would allow our Hispanic brothers and sisters the opportunity to serve on a mission trip in Latin America. God willing, these trips will begin in November 2021 and be spread out throughout the following months and years. Please add Puerto Rico and the national churches there to your prayer lists as WELS sends mission teams to partner in sharing the message of Jesus, our Savior, in a fertile field, where the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.

Written by Mr. Shannon Bohme, Mission Journeys coordinator

For more information or questions, visit wels.net/missionjourneys or send an e-mail to missionjourneys@wels.net.

 

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Faith and healing for 60 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devotion at a clinic in Malawi

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Hitting a homerun

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

Harvey helping out around church

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

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

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

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

 

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This is Eleanor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Arriving somewhere new

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

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

Beth Behmer and kids Nora, Emma, and Baby Ray

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

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

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

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

Guaman family confirmation with Missionary Nathan Schulte

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Behmer missionary family landing report

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

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

Missionary Schulte meeting Behmers at the airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missionaries Behmer and Schulte meeting to discuss their ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 19 and onward: 

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

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

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

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

 

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Linger with me before God’s throne

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

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

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

“No. Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Communicating the power of the gospel cross-culturally

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

Romans 10:14

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

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

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

New members at Grace Hmong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Mission partners in Finland

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

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

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

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

Pastor David and Marika in the home they are building

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

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

A couple of prayer requests:

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

Interview conducted by Pastor Luke Wolfgramm, Russia

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

 

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

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

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

Worship at a local restaurant in North Nampa

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

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

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

Cross of Christ’s new location in North Nampa

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

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

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

 

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My students are my teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These students are my teachers.

Written by a WELS missionary

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

 

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Hope remains

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

The Hope core group at work

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

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

Boarded up business during the protests

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Christian Noblewomen

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

Their faith was evident through the fruit that it bore.

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

Ester

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

Ribka

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

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

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

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


 

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2020 hindsight

Well, that didn’t go according to plan.

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

We never got to “go.”

Survive & Thrive after Quarantine webinar

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

But would you believe the Lord still brought blessing?

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

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

Ascension’s Christmas Festival

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

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

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

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


 

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And he brought him to Jesus

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

Bible information class in Mandarin at Reformation in San Diego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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So much more than a burial

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

Evangelist and Mrs. Mapulanga – December 2016

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

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

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

That is exactly what Pastor Khwima Msiska did.

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

Pastors Msowoya and Msiska

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missionary Holtz with Evangelist Mapulanga

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

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

A gift of grace.

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

But not without hope.

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

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


 

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A head-start on the restart

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

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

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

Home missionary Phil Hunter’s installation – poolside!

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

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

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

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

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


 

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2020 blessings in Vietnam

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

Matthew 28:20b

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

Pastor Fong burns a pagan altar

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

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

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

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

Zoom training

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

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

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

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

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator


 

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Perfect timing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Growing God’s garden

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

– Galatians 6:9,10

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

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

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

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

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

Worship at May River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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