NEW Long-Term Volunteer Opportunities

Jesus gave the Great Commission to the Church saying, “go and make disciples of all nations.” Christians throughout the millennia chose different ways and methods to carry out our Savior’s command. Starting in Acts, churches saw the need to send missionaries to reach people with the gospel. In WELS, members partnered together to start churches throughout the United States and to send missionaries to many parts of the globe. WELS Home Missions, seeing the great need for the gospel, continues to plant new churches in hopes of the Holy Spirit reaching more souls for God’s Kingdom.

WELS Mission Journeys, under the leadership of WELS Home Missions, is starting a pilot program to give more individuals the opportunity to share their faith through a long-term volunteer opportunity. Mission Journeys wants to place mission-oriented individuals in strategic locations to assist in forming and developing quality core groups, the building blocks in starting new home missions. A core group is the local group that does the work of meeting, praying, outreach, planning, and evangelism.

We’re looking for individuals that love Jesus and can communicate that love with other people. They’ll need patience, flexibility, and a spirit of adventure. This would be a tent ministry, where the individual would have a job outside of the ministry to support themselves. This could include remote work, a local job, or some combination. Mission Journeys, as a part of this pilot project, will work with the individual for possible financial assistance in moving or other expenses.

Current opportunities include:

  • Idaho Falls, Idaho: Idaho Falls is located on the western side of Teton National Park. Idaho Falls is a fast-growing area and a hub for the surrounding area. The core group consists of three families.
  • Bentonville, Arkansas: Bentonville is the home of Walmart, a corporation investing heavily in the community to provide a higher quality of life. The economy is booming for jobs in all job markets. The core group consists of four families.

WELS Home Missions provides each location with a proven plan on starting. Each location has a home mission counselor to assist in planning and coordinating ministry ideas. The core groups also worship with a pastor twice a month. This pilot program is designed to give an individual with a heart for missions the opportunity to work on the ground floor of a mission start.

For additional information, please contact Mission Journeys Coordinator, Shannon Bohme, at shannon.bohme@wels.net or 651-324-4218.

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Just one time and then?

Chreaster connections? Maybe a little background is needed. They called them, “Chreasters,” in the congregation I had served in Wisconsin. Maybe we know them as “C-E Christians.” Not unique to WELS, this is common across Christian denominations. People who come to worship services maybe only on the big holy days of Christmas and Easter. We throw around words like Chreaster as an easy label for someone. (Likely with a dose of sinful, self-righteous derision). When we get to know people and their stories – where they came from, where they are at – these labels lose those negative connotations. To be clear, we always want people in the Word of God and in worship as often as possible. But there is also reason to rejoice when a face we haven’t seen in quite awhile is there in worship. Especially on days like Christmas or Easter. The message of what God has completely done for a world full of sinners, and therefore for me, resounds so clearly. Plus, it all starts somewhere. Why not start on a day when we know people will hear the good news of forgiveness and life in a way it cannot be missed?

So, at Good News in Lehi, Utah, we have developed our own Chreaster connections. Much of it happened through the simple ministry of a mission congregation. Blessed with a faithful start group from Prince of Peace Lutheran in Salt Lake City, we got to know one another through Bible study together. We worked to get to know our community. We looked to find ways we could connect with people so we could connect them with the gospel, the Good News. One of the most basic ways is one of our better ways. Invite people to join us in a worship service.

This past Easter we continued to work to find ways to connect with the community. Easter postcards were sent to thousands of homes. Social media and sidewalk signs were set up to let people know about our Easter service. And perhaps most importantly, our members took invitations and gave them to the people in their lives. And people brought people. Friends, neighbors, and family members we only see a few times a year were there.

It was a beautiful day. Having been pushed by the pandemic of last year to try outdoor worship, we did it by choice this year. Members arranged a meal. Decorations were done. A great day. Maybe, just this one time, maybe not again until Christmas, but the Word of God is powerful.

Written by Daniel Heiderich, home missionary at Good News Lutheran Church in Lehi, Utah.

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Cameroon Seminary Graduates Seven

May 27, 2022, was an amazing day for our brothers and sisters in Cameroon. Amidst celebrations that reached across Africa, the Lutheran Church of Cameroon graduated seven men into the full-time work of the holy ministry.

In 2016 the LCC identified 14 men to begin ministerial training. They were men with a reasonable level of education, a Spirit-led love for the Lord, and some years of service as laymen in their congregations.

There were, of course, losses along the way. A few students left the program for valid reasons. A political crisis made it unsafe for the men to be together and caused the loss of an entire year of classroom studies. The same crisis made it impossible for WELS missionary Dan Kroll to do any face-to-face teaching in the final three years of the five-year program.

Although the devil uses such things to try to discourage us, we endure with the knowledge that the Lord is refining us as he promised through Jeremiah (9:7): “I will refine and test them.” The Holy Spirit was refining well for the gain of the Lord’s church, so that seven men were able to complete the course to prepare them for full-time ministry. The LCC’s teachers have grounded these men in God’s Word and prepared them to shepherd the Lord’s flocks in Cameroon. The Lord has strengthened each of them to face the challenges of his unique ministry.

The names of the graduates are Solomon Anim, Jean-Jacques Dooh, Nicole Epie, Ferdinand Fomenyam, Thomas Ngalame, Vincent Ngalame, and David Tembuc, They essentially double the LCC’s ministerium.

One of the LCC’s other pastors, Gervase Ngalame, is moving to the seminary campus to assist in training the next group of men for the ministry. Currently, Pastors Mathias Abumbi, Joseph Njume, Daniel Muankume, Julius Njume, Barnabbas Ngalame, and Fon George are serving as full-time congregational shepherds.

We give thanks to God for the addition of these seven men. The Lord has reminded us that he is watching over his church in Cameroon!

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You made a difference for TELL as they train leaders for Christ!

[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

Mark 15:15

Multi-Language Productions’ online Bible-based training platform called TELL (Think, Evaluate, Learn, Lead) has been blessed with generous support from WELS members. We thank God for these gifts and pray for his continued blessings!

Your gifts to TELL are bringing the “Word to the World” through devotional videos and digital content. Below are just a few specific ways that your gifts are being used to support the training of English-speaking church multipliers throughout the world:

  • We have 1.4 million followers on Facebook. We leverage this large audience by paying for Facebook ads and inviting them to download our app or go to our website and begin their self-learning courses.
  • We have over 200,000 app downloads by people in over 50 different countries. After completing the three self-learning classes they are encouraged to sign up for live online classes.
  • We have over 200,000 distinct website visitors from 186 countries. These visitors can also complete courses on the website before signing up for live online classes.
  • We have 300 online students who have or are currently taking online classes with TELL pastors. As these students move through the 23-course curriculum, they are equipped to spread the gospel and multiply churches in their communities.

Thank you for your continued support of WELS Multi-Language Productions’ TELL program! There is always more work to be done. Pray for open hearts and many opportunities to share the gospel. Share this exciting update with friends and family. Ask God to bless the work of TELL as we continue to spread the gospel to millions online.

Thank you!

Learn more at wels.net/tell.

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Do miracles still happen in our mission fields?

A woman is bitten by a cobra. Our evangelist is there. He prays for the woman. She lives. People in her village are stunned. No one survives a cobra bite. How can this be? This event has such an impact on the people, along with the sharing of God’s word by this evangelist, that 22 men with their families convert to Christianity. Many say, “Your God is stronger than our God.”

An imam in a mosque is unable to raise fish on his farm. Everything he tries fails. Our leader who befriends this man for many months prays for his fish ponds one day. Suddenly his ponds are filled with fish. This incident has such an impact, along with the continuing witness of this Christian friend, that he becomes a Christian.

Then a mob of 500 people come to his baptism to kill him and those who are performing the baptism. He speaks to the entire group and tells them of his personal belief in Christ. Miraculously the mob spares him and the Christian leaders.

Do miracles still happen? Yes, we believe they do. Still our certainty in spiritual matters rests on God’s Word and not our experiences.

It should be noted that we have offered prayers for others who were bitten by cobras, believers and unbelievers, and they did not live. We always pray, “As God wills . . . ” We do not understand why God provides dramatic answers to prayers sometimes and other times not. We trust in God’s wisdom and love. We live by faith not by sight.

Now I will tell you about the most amazing miracles:

We were told not to work in the villages where these events took place. Christians from other churches said, “Do not go there. It is too dangerous.” There was not a single church in this area. But this is where we are having our greatest harvest.

Two months ago a mob came and destroyed the homes of 31 families in our fellowship. They used a bulldozer to level the small brick homes to the ground.

The people who suffered this loss are trying to rebuild their homes with bamboo sticks along dusty roads. Now members of this mob are coming and tearing down some of the second homes they made with palm branches.

Here is what surprises me.

  1. Our brothers and sisters in Christ talk about loving the people who destroyed their homes. If someone lit a match and burned my home to the ground, I’m not sure my first thought would be, “How can I show love to them?” They want to use this event to lead their enemies to Christ.
  2. So far no one has left the Christian faith and returned to their former way of life; even though from a human perspective their conversion has brought them great suffering.
  3. They have not asked for any help in rebuilding their homes because they do not want to open themselves to the accusation that Christianity has brought them material gain.

Such maturity! Such perspective! And from people who are new in the faith! How can this be? Oh, the power of God to change human lives.

I see miracles, the greatest miracles of all: the miracle of being brought to faith and the miracle of being kept in the faith through the message of Jesus Christ.

Do miracles still happen in our mission fields?

Yes.

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia

 

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Love your neighbors – of all faiths

My wife and I spent a week with a young man and his wife who have a heart for reaching out to those of Muslim faith. During the month of Ramadan they held a party at a ministry house where they like to spend time with their Muslim friends. As you may know, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during the 30 days of Ramadan. According to custom we broke the fast – at 8:20 p.m. that night – and everyone was given a fig to eat. We then enjoyed many special foods packed with flavor. Laughter and love filled the house. Our hosts and guests played the guitar and ukulele and sang songs until well past midnight. More than 35 guests joined us this night.

The day before this party the host asked me to have a devotion for his friends at the party. He said, “The most important thing is to tell them about the love of Jesus. It makes a deep impression – how Jesus loved even his enemies and asked God to forgive them when he was nailed to the cross.”

We had a devotion on Jesus being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and his crucifixion. Jesus was not weak – as some think. He was strong. He could have escaped. The mob fell backwards when Jesus said, “I am he.” Jesus then rebuked Peter who drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest saying, “Put your sword away!  Don’t you know those who live by the sword will die by the sword?” Then Jesus picked up the severed ear and reattached it. He performed a miracle of healing for the very people who came to hurt him. We also shared some of the words Jesus spoke on the cross, such as, “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” – and how he rose again on the third day.

Then we asked, “Why did Jesus suffer and die on the cross if he had the power to escape? We explained, “It was not the nails that held Jesus to the cross, it was his love for you and me.”

The day after the party we traveled 220 miles south to one of the fastest growing cities in America. One of our WELS churches in this large midwestern city has a  center that provides care for women. We had a Henna Party from 3:30-7:30 p.m. With great skill our friend’s wife painted beautiful henna designs on the hands and forearms of all who came – describing the love of Jesus in the designs she made. The woman who has served as the director of this center for more than 25 years and the dedicated ladies who volunteer made everything run smoothly.

I was planning to “stay out of the way” but as the first people arrived, I was stunned to find many from the countries I serve on the other side of the world. My heart swelled as I spoke with some of them in their native tongue. It was a parade of nations – 75-100 ladies from places like Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Nepal, Bhutan, Assam, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. My eyes marveled as I realized – God is bringing the nations to us! You no longer have to go overseas to share the gospel with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. They are here! On our doorsteps!

My friend told me, “The most important thing is that you love Muslims. Really love them – even if they show no interest in Christianity. If they think you are a friend because you want them to become Christians, they will feel you are a hypocrite. Be kind to them. Spend time with them. Care about their families. Let them be in your heart – and in your prayers – and even in your living room! When you introduce them to the Friend of Sinners, be a friend!”

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia

 

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It’s good to be back with changes!

The COVID-19 pandemic hit us six months into our existence as a mission and as we all experienced, plans came to a halt. We pivoted as many churches did, finding new and different ways to do ministry and outreach that we continue to utilize. However, we looked forward to the day when some of our neighborhood outreach plans could resume. And guess what . . . they’re back!

During the year before we began worship, we actively reached into our target area through neighborhood festivals and events. Two of the neighborhoods in our target area host several events during the year, like Fall Festival, Easter Egg Hunt, and Fourth of July bike parade, to name a few. The events are organized and run by community directors. We can have a booth there for a small fee or by sponsoring an aspect of the festival. The results were fantastic during our first year as we were able to have dozens of conversations about our mission and our Savior, as well as build name recognition for our ministry.

Neighborhood festivals in our area started coming back mid-2021 and this last Easter we were able to participate in two Easter events on back-to-back weekends and the results were amazing. Hundreds of people turned out for these events. We provided small pots, dirt, and flowers for children to assemble, as well as stickers to decorate the pots. We handed out hundreds of invites to Easter Sunday worship and had several people join us on Easter as a result. Several families signed up for our Monday morning e-devotion and wanted more information on the church. It was great to be back at these events and the people were thankful we provided this blessing to their community. This year, though, there was a big change from our pre-pandemic outreach efforts at these festivals. Our congregation’s participants have changed!

Between the two Easter events this year, we had over 20 of our members participating. Fourteen of those were new members since our first year of existence! Our new members stepped up with a lot of excitement and eagerness to be involved in outreach. They were active in the planning in the lead up to the event. They engaged our neighbors and told them about our ministry. They arrived early to help setup and stayed late to tear down. They took ownership of outreach to advance the gospel.

As a mission pastor, you pray the Lord would bring in more souls to the kingdom and if possible, have them be part of your congregation, and if he is so gracious, that they become active partners in the ministry. The Lord has answered those prayers in a big, encouraging way. Our launch team has commented several times, “Pastor, we aren’t in the majority anymore!” And that’s a great blessing.

It’s great to be back to more in-person events . . . with some great changes!

Written by Jeremy Belter, home missionary at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Candelas, Colo.

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The seven provinces of Costa Rica

This past March I visited a number of our Academia Cristo students in Costa Rica. The last time WELS missionaries had been in the country was in March 2018, and even then, only briefly. We traveled there mainly to get to Nicaragua. A short stop. We didn’t have very much online student activity yet in Costa Rica.

But, four years later, the focus was Costa Rica. A lot more students and a lot more activity!

Pedro and María

For example, I’d like to introduce you to Pedro and María, who live in the capital of San José.

María and Pedro downloaded our Academia Cristo app in late 2020. They watched all 38 self-study videos in the App. When they finished those foundation lessons, they were invited to sign up for live, online classes. They successfully finished all 13 live classes in 2021 and loved what they had learned. After a thorough review of the doctrinal points with me, we welcomed María and Pedro as our new brother and sister in the faith.

Pedro and María were ready for the next level of Academia Cristo classes. They were now Lutherans and they wanted to share that message with others. For these students, we start training them to start what we are calling “planting groups,” which, if the Lord blesses their efforts, will eventually become more established congregations.

One of the tools we use to help these new leaders make plans and takes steps toward their goals are monthly goal setting meetings, usually online. We study a portion of the Bible together and then we talk about their dreams for their ministry efforts and we discuss what small steps they can take before our next meeting.

It’s nice to talk about their dreams during an in-person visit because you get to spend much more time together. Pedro, María, and I did just that. They invited me into their house. We studied the Bible. We walked around their neighborhood. We met up with other Academia Cristo students. We visited their family and another family who would like to start a congregation one day. Lots of time together.

As I listened, I heard a theme that I could tell was Pedro and María’s dream for the ministry in Costa Rica. They kept saying, “We want Academia Cristo to be in all seven provinces of Costa Rica.” There it was! The big dream. The hope and prayer of a couple excited about the gospel.

So we wrote it down on the document that has their goals and next steps on it.

“THE SEVEN PROVINCES OF COSTA RICA”

We review this goal every month and pray about it together. Then we discuss the next steps they can take to help achieve it. Step by step. Aiming for that goal.

May the Lord bless Pedro and María and other Costa Ricans as they start their groups and work to reach all those seven provinces of Costa Rica.

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, world missionary on the Latin America mission team.

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A new campus ministry in Cleveland

“I have this group of about ten college students coming to church.” That’s how the conversation started. Further communication turned into an opportunity for WELS Campus Ministry Mission Counselor Dan Lindner to meet in downtown Cleveland with a group of college students along with Pastor Paul Learman and his wife Rachel from Our Savior Lutheran Church in Strongsville, Ohio.

Each ministry to college students is unique. The work in the Cleveland area is no different. There is no immediate college or university in Strongsville, but the Greater Cleveland/Akron area is host to many schools that offer specialized studies in healthcare, science/technology, and music. There are also many young adults coming to Cleveland to work internships as part of their education. Since there are only two WELS churches in the Cleveland area, the students travel a distance to attend church.

“Our congregation was so impressed that these college kids are getting up Sunday morning on their own to drive 30+ minutes to attend worship and Bible study. We wanted to make them feel welcome while away from home and support them in whatever way we could,” says Pastor Learman. The students have also stepped into various ways of serving including using their musical talents in worship.

The welcoming environment at Our Savior also meant the congregation takes steps to connect with the college students and help them connect with each other. Invites are extended to go out to eat after church or come over to pastor’s or member’s homes for dinner. Discussions over Saturday morning coffee have offered the chance to mentor students pursuing similar careers as church members. The congregation has also provided exam week care packages and gas gift cards. Rides are provided for those without a car.

Their hope is that they can do even more. At the meeting in Cleveland the students shared ideas that could help the church serve even more students. Plans are underway to start offering a college Bible study and schedule Saturday outings together such as hikes in the local national park. The students also shared some information on ways our WELS Campus Ministry Committee may be able to help to either bolster existing work or start something new in other areas across North America. We value these young adults and their initiative.

The college years are a key time for young men and women to receive needed encouragement to remain faithful to their Savior. The hope is that if they stay close to home, they’ll continue to be active at their congregations. For those that join the military, we hope that they connect with our WELS Military Services Committee. For those that go farther away to college, we want to be able to connect them with the local WELS campus ministry/contact pastor. This third situation is where our WELS Campus Ministry Committee is here to help.

Some of the key ingredients we ask the Lord to provide and bless: 1) A mixture of the student’s own initiative, paired with continued encouragement from their parents, home congregations, and Lutheran high school; and 2) a hospitable welcome by the congregation with the intent to be a home away from home, by fellow college students attending school in the same area, and by the called workers serving that location. Congregations and parents are strongly encouraged to help a local church and campus ministry connect with their students away from home.

We thank our Lord for congregations like Our Savior Lutheran Church that are excited to welcome collegiates into their church family. Our hope is that there will be more situations just like it.

Learn more and sign up with campus ministry at wels.net/campusministry.

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Faces of Faith – The Mwale Family

Anderson Mwale began working with the Lutheran Mobile Clinic as a maintenance worker for the Msambo village clinic in January of 2020. He was married to Annah, and had a one-year old girl named Harriet who was active and playful. They were members at one of our Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) church in Msambo, outside of Lilongwe, Malawi. Anderson had once considered becoming a pastor and was an elder at Mtima Woyera Lutheran Church where they were members. As part of his duties with the clinic, Mr. Mwale would give a devotion for the people who had come to clinic in the morning each week. He would weigh children, direct patients where to go, and be responsible for cleaning the clinic building and getting it ready for clinic. He helped oversee the completion of a new clinic building and kept the site secure during construction. When COVID-19 came to Malawi and the clinic had to temporarily shut down, he would supervise the use of the building, keep the grounds clean and safe, and gave sermons on Sundays. When clinic resumed in October, he helped supervise new volunteers who maintained COVID precautions at clinic with our patients.

He remembers the date – February 28, 2021, when Harriet became very sick with malaria. It was not a clinic day so he and his wife brought her to Kamuzu Central Hospital where she was treated for nearly a week. Afterwards, she had weakness in her right side, and could no longer run and play. They prayed for her to recover, but cerebral malaria had caused permanent neurological damage. The Mwale’s brought her to our clinic for follow-up where one of the clinicians realized that she would need ongoing therapy and seizure medication. Harriet was the first child who was referred to Children of Blessings, a private clinic giving free therapy to children with physical needs. The cost of transportation to the clinic three times a week, however, was not affordable for the Mwale’s, so the Central Africa Medical Mission, with the help of special donors, began providing the funds for this in March of 2021. Within a few months, Harriet could hold her head straight, stand with support, and was no longer crying in pain. Her seizures were under control. Her mother learned the exercises to do at home. The Mwale’s were thankful that there was hope for their daughter.

Within a few months there were four more mothers who came weekly to the Lutheran Mobile Clinic for help with their children’s disabilities, as well as their illnesses and malnutrition. Mrs. Mwale befriended these moms and often traveled with them and their children to therapy. Meanwhile, a new vicar at Msambo had weekly Bible studies with the women. One mom became a member of the church and her daughter was baptized. Since the start of 2022, two more children were baptized by Pastor Msiska, who became the vacancy pastor at Mtima Woyera, and continues to share God’s Word with these mothers.

Mr. Mwale said that many prayers have been answered concerning Harriet, and he is thankful she is getting the help she needs. He expressed his gratitude to the donors who support the Lutheran Mobile Clinic and provide the transportation needed for Harriet’s therapy. He trusts the Lord for her future, and knows she is loved and saved by Jesus.

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All twenty-two and Clarice, too

Do I have a story for you.

A seven-day Psalms study with African pastors in Lusaka, Zambia, might seem a story without sizzle. But this one: wow.

In a way, the story starts almost two years ago. In June 2020 the Confessional Lutheran Institute (CLI), the educational arm of the One Africa Team, formed a cohort of African Lutheran pastors. These men, all ordained, want to keep learning the Bible, church history, doctrine, and shepherding God’s flock.

For most of the 19 pastors currently in the cohort, our March 31–April 7, 2022, Psalms course was the third in a series of nine courses and a final thesis, all of which will lead, God willing, to a Bachelor of Divinity (BDiv) degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS).

The main teacher for this Psalms course, in which students met mornings and afternoons and worked on learning Psalms like the back of their hand, was Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS) Professor Bradley Wordell.

Dr. Ernst Wendland from Lusaka Lutheran Seminary, who has published extensively on Psalms, also taught two afternoons. He got help from several seminary students who had composed Psalm settings in Chewa, Nsenga, and Tumbuka. Missionary Daniel Witte taught the last day and a half.

Ho-hum? Hardly. You see . . .

1) This was the first time the full CLI Bachelor of Divinity (BDiv) cohort was able to be together in person. Previous COVID-19 travel restrictions had forced the BDiv brothers into one previous course via WhatsApp — an online communication platform, and the most common way to communicate via cell phone in Africa — and one course held successively in separate countries.

2) From 2010 to 2014 and 2015 to 2019 the Greater African Theological Studies Institute (GRATSI) had organized similar classes for other African pastors in our fellowship, but only pastors from Malawi and Zambia.

Now GRATSI has become CLI, and pastors in the current BDiv cohort are from five countries: Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Zambia.

3) This Psalms course also brought together three other Kenyan pastors who already have bachelors degrees in theology. They are starting on a Master of Theology program, also through Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

I wish you could have been with all of us in Lusaka to see the new camaraderie between these 22 pastors: the laughs, the discussions, the prayers.

I wish you could have experienced the energy in the meeting room as pastors saw more clearly than before how all the Psalms center in Christ and connect in a story that summarizes the whole Bible, ending in the most perfect praise to God.

I wish you could have been there near the end of the last day as the pastors composed and sang for each other a refrain for Psalm 118. The melody is in both the WELS’ 1993 and 2021 hymnals, from Tanzania.

The refrains your African brothers wrote for that melody (we drummed it with our hand on the tables, too!) were not in Hebrew (׃חַסְדּֽוֹ לְעוֹלָ֣ם כִּ֖י ט֑וֹב־כִּי לַיהוָ֣ה הוֹד֣וּ), nor in English (“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his covenant-love is eternal”), but in their heart languages, such as Akoose, Chewa, Kiswahili, Lenje, and Tonga.

4) Another unforgettable part of the story: Professor Bradley Wordell brought his wife Andrea and her mother Clarice Fastenau along on the trip.

Clarice’s husband, Missionary Don Fastenau, served as principal of the Lusaka Lutheran Seminary (1969–1980). He went to be with the Lord in 2018. The Fastenaus had left Lusaka in 1980. Andrea and Clarice had not been back to Zambia in 42 years.

Andrea and Clarice loved seeing Zambia again. They marveled at how things had changed. And was Clarice, now age 82, spry! “Energetic” hardly fits.

For instance, this photo is Clarice at the bottom of Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall, near Livingstone, Zambia. Clarice climbed all the way down to The Boiling Pot, and all the way back up the rocky stairway.

So now Clarice has a story to tell friends and family the rest of her life, of how many things had not changed in 42 years, and how different Lusaka looks today.

And I have a story to share of God’s grace uniting pastors across a continent and believers around the world.

And you have a story too. Tell someone else about how WELS’ work in Africa is becoming fewer missionaries doing things for others, and more and more a partnership in Christ.

For instance, here is Pastor Mesue Israel, principal of the Lutheran Seminary in Kumba, Cameroon, encouraging his classmates and Professor Wordell and me with a heartfelt message from Isaiah 53 about Christ crucified, risen, and reigning.

Pastor Israel and many other pastors continue to study the Psalms too, so they know them like the back of their hands. With joy Pastor Israel told me a whole story about it again just this morning!

Please pray for those working in fields that are ripe for harvest. Share their story, engage with future news, and receive updates.

Written by Rev. Daniel Witte, world missionary on the One Africa Team.

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Sharing light . . . and s’mores

Zion had been thinking about starting a new site for gospel ministry for about a decade. Lord willing, in the summer of 2022 we will be starting worship in the city of Lodi, about 13 minutes away from our country church in the Arlington/Leeds, Wis. area. It has been quite a journey! Jesus says, “Let your light shine in people’s presence, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). In 2021, an opportunity came along to do just that.

In 2021, we started a Lodi Ministry Team focusing on ways to be involved in the community. For the last few years, we had a float in their Christmas Lights Parade on the second Saturday in December. The idea came up to have a community s’mores party after the Christmas Lights Parade. There was a park nearby and if we could get a few fire pits and a crew of people to help, we might be able to pull it off. We asked the city officials if we would be able to do this and a problem arose. There was no one to organize and lead the Christmas Lights Parade this year. If a group didn’t get a permit within 24 hours, then it wouldn’t be happening. The chairman of our committee sent out an email, and we decided to do it. We put $25 toward the permit, and our Lodi Ministry Team of about 20 went to work. Our congregation helped out in so many ways. We blanketed the community with fliers about the event and asked people in the community to sign up and build a float to have it in the parade. Information about the event made it into the local paper a couple of times talking about “Zion Lutheran Church of Lodi,” and we didn’t even have a worship site there yet! The Facebook event reached 31,115 people. There were 1,226 responses. Twelve floats were in the parade, including ours. Over 500 people from Lodi lined the streets for the parade. Over 200 people stayed afterwards to hear the Lodi High School Chamber Choir sing carols and gather around one of our three fire pits to make s’mores with us. It was a great honor to not only be a part of it, but to plan it and make sure this community event continued for Lodi.

During the parade we handed out small bags to the spectators. Inside were two marshmallows, a fun-sized Hershey’s bar, and two graham crackers to make s’mores at the park after the parade. Also included in each bag was a sticker that said, “Need S’more Jesus?” and had our website listed. At the park we had a few hundred sticks for making s’mores on hand and a table with Zion members handing out wipes for people who wanted clean hands or another s’more.

This community need for a parade organizer was a gift from God. It allowed us to share not just pretty Christmas lights but Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. We thank God for the opportunity.

On Christmas Eve of 2021, we signed the lease to hold worship in Lodi in 2022.

Written by Rev. Scott Schwertfeger, home missionary at Zion Lutheran Church, Lodi, Wis.

Lodi was recently approved as an unsubsidized home mission at the spring Board for Home Missions meeting. Learn more at wels.net/newstarts.

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New evangelism resources in Vietnam

I’m sitting at a laptop in a government hotel room in Hanoi, Vietnam. Ten days of quarantine ahead. I’m ready to teach a class to Hmong student pastors. Due to COVID, the pastor students are unable to attend classes in person. Instead, they must Zoom in. What a joy to watch that little number at the bottom corner of the screen grow as more and more students connect. We end up with 60 student pastors eager to learn about Jesus! And the topic for the course: How to make an evangelism presentation, using a set of thirty illustrative posters! How did we arrive at this exciting project?

Pastor Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator, knows that it is very economical to print full color posters in Vietnam. One day, the request came in from the Vietnam pastors: “Please create an evangelism presentation that includes a set of posters!” The pastors would use the evangelism presentation throughout the hundreds of Hmong villages in Vietnam.

A script for the evangelism presentation was developed under the direction of Pastor Boun. I visited him at his home in Kansas City to review my prototype drawings. He suggested many revisions that would make the pictures more compatible with the Hmong culture. Months later Pastor Boun approved a final script and drawings. He then placed an order for 650 sets of the thirty posters to be printed in Hanoi. Each of the student pastors will teach another three or four church leaders how to make the evangelism presentation. Those church leaders would in turn teach more leaders in the remote villages.

The evangelism presentation describes the lost condition of all humanity and God’s marvelous way of saving the world from sin. A three-panel poster on infant baptism is very graphic. The baby, born with a sinful nature, has been swallowed by the Serpent! The baby is pictured in the belly of the Beast! But the third panel of the poster depicts what happens through the waters of baptism: Jesus reaches down—right through the Serpent’s mouth—and rescues the baby!

Three posters are used to explain the doctrine of Justification. In his inspired words in Romans 3:19-31, Paul uses a forensic or “courtroom” analogy to explain how we are declared “not guilty” before God. Our first poster depicts a secular courtroom scene, complete with a boy on trial, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and a judge. The next poster depicts the “spiritual courtroom,” where we see Satan accusing the boy before God, demanding that the boy be sentenced to eternal punishment. But Jesus, our mediator, our defender, declares that he has already taken the punishment the boy deserves. God declares the boy “not guilty!”

It would be exciting to describe all the posters, because they illustrate the amazing love of God for once-lost sinners, But I will mention one more, the final poster in the set of thirty. In the picture, Jesus stands in his white robe behind a white-robed boy. The hands of Jesus rest on the boy’s shoulders. The picture explains what it means to be God’s own child in a constant state of grace under the loving hands of our Savior. As Paul explains in Galatians 3:26-27: “In fact you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Indeed, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (EHV).

Our Vietnam student pastors ponder with excitement that last picture. Is this truly how we appear before God—all the time—clothed in a white robe of Christ’s righteousness? The answer for all of us through faith in Christ is a resounding “yes!” God says it many times and in many ways throughout his Word, and succinctly in these words: “I will remember your sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12).

Written by Dr. Terry Schultz, Artistic Development Missionary for Multi-Language Productions.

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What’s a Missionary? You are a Missionary!

Picture Philip being called by God and told to go visit the Ethiopian Eunuch in a chariot in the middle of the desert. God basically teleports Philip to the scene and uses Philip to witness Jesus to the Eunuch by starting with the scroll of Isaiah that the Eunuch did not understand.

Starting a new mission church has many similarities to this account as recorded in the book of Acts 8:26-40. God didn’t tell Philip how to witness. He just says, “Go” and where to go. That is in essence what the call to a missionary is. A missionary is called by God to “Go” and is sent to a place that has been researched and approved as a great opportunity for mission work. This missionary then is to reach the people in that setting with the great news of Jesus applying God’s Word and using the resources that are right in front of them to reach the people where they are at in life.

We are excited to be a part of that mission work at The Shore Lutheran Church in Parrish, Fla. We came up with that name because we are near the shore of the Gulf Coast, but also just on the north shore of the Manatee River. It is at the shore where many wonderful events take place in the Bible. Events that reveal the powerful mission work and setting that God has before us. Jesus went to where people were at, the shore. Fishermen gathered there along with many other people as Jesus shared with them that he came to save them. Jesus called many of his disciples right there on the shore. It was on the shore where Jesus fed the disciples with a miraculous meal and served them. It is on the shore where God’s people witnessed his power to save them as the Red Sea parted for them to walk through on dry ground, but then also on the other shore to watch the water crash down and save them from the pursuing Egyptian army. One of the infant stages of a mission is to choose a name that will resonate with your mission field. We pray that our name, The Shore, will inspire in us to reach out to the people where they are at, but also build a wonderful safe place for all people to gather to praise the power of God and be calmed from the storms of life by their Savior.

It is our prayer at The Shore that we all hear God’s call for us all to be his missionaries. That is exactly what we are. God places us in all different areas of work, life circumstances, neighborhoods, everywhere, all of these places so that we may witness Jesus right then and there to this so quickly dying world. We have a living Savior which means we too will live. May we all join in sharing Jesus so that many others will live forever in heaven too.

Written by Rev. Jeremy Cares, home missionary at The Shore Lutheran Church in Parrish, Fla.

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Little pastor

Forty years ago, his pastor called him “Xiao Mushi” (little pastor). He was planting seeds in this young boy’s heart. Michael was just a second grader. He lived in a village in central Taiwan. It’s 300 year old temple to the goddess Mazu is among the largest on the island. Sometimes while his small church is worshipping, a temple procession a half-mile long makes its way past the country church. She is taken out of the temple once a year to be among her people. Inside the church, worship has to pause as small trucks passed by blaring loud music. Right in the middle of the procession, a statue of Mazu, often called the Holy Heavenly Mother, is carried along by worshippers as “she” sits on a chair. Her expression is calm but wooden eyes can only look forward. Throngs of people bow down and worship along the narrow road, hoping she will grant peace and prosperity.

This is where Michael grew up. In his Lutheran church Sunday School he heard about the Savior who also was born in a small village. This Savior gave his life for the world, rose and then ascended to heaven. He doesn’t need to be carried around on a chair, but rules from a heavenly throne. Michael’s dad, an employee of a local bicycle factory preached this good news to the congregation on the Sundays when the pastor was not there. Michael was watching his dad be a Christian leader. Michael was growing in his faith in Jesus.

Michael’s church

Thirty years later, his pastor – the son of his first pastor! – encouraged him to take Christian leadership training courses offered by the church with help from Asia Lutheran Seminary (ALS). Over several years this somewhat shy man started to come into his own. He completed the first phase of his training. The next step was clear. Late in 2021, this “Xiao mushi” was officially installed as a bi-vocational leader for his church! Michael has been given the chance to proclaim Jesus in this part of Taiwan that still has the fewest churches per capita on Taiwan. As his father retires, Michael joins the ranks of many around the world who serve God in their secular jobs as well as in their called gospel ministry. Like his father, Michael designs bike parts and  preaches the Good News to a small congregation of the faithful.  May God bless Michael and all who serve in this way! May God multiply the ranks of “Xiao Mushi” around the world!

Written by Rob Siirila, part-time East Asia missionary

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Mission mysteries

The wick was missing. Five or six weeks in a row. A member would light one of two oil candles on our cafeteria table altar and then discover . . . the other had no wick. Well, it had one, but it had gotten pulled down into the oil below.

If pushing a frayed, charred, oily string back up through a pinhole in front of church two minutes before worship sounds like an easy job, several members of Citrus Grove will assure you – it is not! Our go-to fix-it guy went to his truck for a special tool, and without complaining, operated on the wick until he had it reassembled. Five or six weeks in a row. Why did this keep happening? One time a pastor who shall remain unnamed knocked it over. No mystery there! But all those other times . . .  We wondered if the candle box got bumped during the week as it sat in the school’s storage room. Finally, one Saturday while converting the cafeteria into a sanctuary, a leader of the congregation noticed another leader had set the candles on the altar and was unscrewing the tops to check the oil level. “Stop!” I heard him shout. But it was too late: The wick had pulled through again. But mystery solved! It wasn’t sabotage or carelessness. It was a Christian serving as well as he knew how. It was one of those tiny mission mix-ups best solved by a minute of training with a laugh and a smile.

Your second mission mystery for today is more serious, because it involves coffee. One weekend it was . . . gasp . . . cold. The member who serves as our barista was flustered and apologetic. She followed our regular procedure, but it never heated up. Of course the pastor had just told everyone to grab a cup of coffee and greet each other. Of course there were guests in attendance. And the coffee was cold. The brain trust of faithful coffee drinkers gathered around the machine. “It’s either the outlet, the extension cord, or the machine,” one said. Another said, “No way it’s the cord or the outlet. It’s definitely the machine.” By the next Sunday we had a shiny new machine, which worked flawlessly. Everyone was happy, because they had their coffee! But the following week, the mystery thickened. Our brand new commercial brewer got warm, but definitely not hot. A wise observer noticed a new light on the extension cord. “It looks like between the coffee maker and the hot water boiler, you’re blowing a fuse. Get a new cord. Or use two outlets.” We had already tossed the trusty old machine in the trash, but it served a final purpose: The cold coffee mystery was solved. Another one of those mission mix-ups, handled with a laugh and a smile by some very forgiving souls.

One thing is for sure: More mysteries will pop up as we pack and unpack equipment, rearrange cafeteria tables, and host outreach events in rented spaces. Mix-ups will be traced back to well-meaning Christians doing their best to serve Jesus and his people. Beyond a minute of training, the best reaction is to laugh and smile and thank Jesus for the brothers and sisters working alongside us in his harvest field.

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

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If those doors could talk

“Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in” (Psalm 24:7).

Psalm 24 paints an interesting picture for us. Gates and doors lifting their heads to joyfully welcome the King of Glory passing through them? Amazing! Wouldn’t it be something to hear how they would describe such a tremendous scene?

Rev. Kirk Massey, pastor at Church of the Open Bible, and his family

There’s another set of doors I’d love to hear. What stories they could tell about the people who’ve walked through them and the wonderful things that happened inside! This year marks the 100th year that the doors of the Church of the Open Bible in Whiteriver, Ariz., have swung open and welcomed people inside to hear about the King of Glory.

If those doors could talk . . . maybe they would talk about the first person to ever walk through them. On April 30, 1922, a crowd gathered on the front steps of a brand-new church building in the middle of Whiteriver. Several years of planning and believing and finally building had led up to this moment. The hard work of their hands was finished. A church anchored on a shelf of volcanic lava, thick timbers placed carefully, a cross on the top that had been carried up the steep roof strapped to the back of the missionary. Now, all eyes were on the two men at the doors. The “Inashood ‘Ndaezen” (Tall Missionary) Edgar Guenther, and Chief Alchesay, leader of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. As they watched, Alchesay took the key, turned the lock, and led his people into the church. He strode down the center aisle and told everyone following him that “This was the only church I put my thumbprint on.” Pointing to the Bible and looking at Rev. Guenther he said, “You listen to him when he speaks from this book.” Then he and 100 of his band were baptized.

If those doors could talk, they would talk about Alchesay passing through them one last time, six years later. As he was dying, he had one request: to be buried with the key to the church in his headband, since that key had opened God’s house for him, and opened heaven for him.

If those doors could lift up their heads and talk . . . oh the stories they could tell from the last 100 years! Seeing babies brought in by proud parents to have their names written in the Book of Life at the baptismal font, hearing the sounds of children singing songs about their Savior Jesus, rejoicing in the adults who came in burdened with sins and leaving in the peace of forgiveness. So many people have gone through those doors, some of them finding peace and being changed forever, some walking away in anger, and other leaving in a casket while their footsteps ring in heaven.

The doors of the Church of the Open Bible have been open for 100 years, because about 2,000 years ago, the doors of this world opened up to welcome the King of Glory into it to save us, the gates of Jerusalem opened up for Him to pay for the sins of all people, and the Holy Spirit has continued to open the hearts of people like Alchesay for the King of Glory to enter in.

Pray that those doors continue to open and say, “Come in! You’ll find the King of Glory here. And He’s got good news for you!”

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, world missionary on the Native American mission team.

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Prayers for a church

In 2010, Caroline McCatty prayed that God would help her and her husband Lawrence to find a really good church. At the time, the couple was in the process of moving from England to the United States. Caroline knew the transition would take them to a new place, and she didn’t have any connections in the area to which she could reach out and ask for a church recommendation. As they settled in the East Coast of the United States, God led the McCattys to a small WELS church. The pastor there taught from the Bible, and focused on Jesus as the Savior of the world. Previously, the McCattys had attended a church in England, but not one that clearly preached the truths of Scripture. At the WELS church in the United States, they learned messages from the Bible that they had never heard before–and quickly grew to love.

Five years later, the McCattys returned to their home country as WELS members. Upon their return, they lifted up a different prayer – one that requested Scripture-based worship and instruction. The couple observed a different scene in England than what they had witnessed at the WELS church in the United States. They asked for that same Christ-centered gospel message to come to England: they wanted the solid meat that WELS offers, rather than a watered-down version of Scripture they saw throughout England. They prayed for six years; then God led WELS to start up mission work in England. Missionary Michael Hartman is leading the effort and is working with the McCattys and others in England to coordinate services and ministry.

The McCattys serve as an example to us of an existing core group of WELS and CELC members living in England. Thus far, members of the CELC church bodies on four continents are known to live in England. The goal is that this core group serve as a starting place for gospel outreach to the country. If you know a member or contact currently living in England, please contact Missionary Hartman. (Email: Michael.Hartman@wels.net / WhatsApp: +13058900560 or +447360712166.)

Read the rest of the McCatty’s story in their Forward in Christ article.

Written by Rev. Michael Hartman, world missionary in London, England.

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Opportunities for Hispanic outreach

More than 2,000 WELS members in North America report that Spanish is their first language. They worship in well over 100 congregations, with almost 20 of those having regular services in Spanish. There are a dozen congregations that do not have Spanish services but still have Spanish Bible classes every week. Every year Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduates men who are fluent in both Spanish and English. Over 30 WELS pastors in North America engage their communities in Spanish every day.

There is so much activity in this area that the Board for Home Missions has called a full-time Hispanic Outreach Consultant, Pastor Timothy Flunker. He has plenty to do, including the goal of assisting at least ten new congregations each year to reach out to Hispanic people in their communities.

At the same time, our mission team in Central and South America (the One Latin America Team) has developed an outreach strategy called Christ Academy (Academia Cristo in Spanish). It begins with a mobile app that offers four self-led courses at the Bible Information Class level of study. Over 500,000 people have downloaded the mobile app. The last course in this tier focuses on training students to share what they’ve learned with others. Students must complete all four courses before they are able to sign up for live classes. Over 1,300 people have signed up for live classes.

In the first level of live classes, students work through 13 Bible Institute level classes that are taught live online by a WELS missionary or national partner. At this level, a large emphasis is placed on gathering a group of people to share the gospel message. Over 400 people have completed at least one of the live classes, and about 75 of them have indicated that they have gathered a group.

The Joint Mission Council recently wondered how the Christ Academy model would work in the United States and Canada. They asked the One Latin America (1LA) Team to devise a pilot project using the Christ Academy app in a dozen existing WELS congregations in North America. Rather than adding to Pastor Flunker’s duties, they encouraged the 1LA Team to call a pilot project director from the group of men who were already involved in the Christ Academy program in Central and South America. We are happy to announce that Pastor Carl Leyrer, a veteran in the Christ Academy work, has accepted that call and is beginning his work.

We ask God’s blessings on the work of both Pastor Flunker and Pastor Leyrer.

“A la verdad la mies es mucha, pero los obreros pocos. Rogad, pues, al Señor de la mies, que envíe obreros a su mies” (Matthew 9:37-38).

“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'”

Written by Paul Prange, Joint Mission Council Chairman.

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One day makes an eternal difference

Although our first encounter took place over six months ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. Last year was The Vine’s first time hosting a booth at Joplin, Mo.’s, downtown block party called Third Thursday. This once-a-month event gets crowds in the thousands, but God’s watchful eye coordinated the events of that day so that two of his children in particular would come in contact with us. Throughout the event we greeted attendees and offered Vine-branded gear along with plants, snacks, and water bottles to anyone that would take them. The entire day was constant communication from one person to the next.

I had just got done speaking with a younger couple when I turned around and saw them. Coming towards me was an elderly couple riding their scooters, slowly making their way down the road observing vendors as they went. They were accompanied by their rescued yellow lab showing them around with a slobbery smile at their side. As they approached our booth I asked them, “May I interest either of you in a free plant, coffee mug, or cupcake?” Their shock made me realize they probably thought I was trying to convince them to buy something. I believe after some convincing they took a free plant and a mug. Before they left, they asked who we were and where we were located. I let them know that we were a new Lutheran mission church in town that had been worshiping for about six months right on Main Street.

Two of my favorite things in life are evangelism and dogs, so it was easy for me to talk about our beliefs with them all while petting their pup. As I was listening to their story, they let me know that they were Christians that had been trying to find a church home for quite some time. After some wonderful discussion, they let me know that they would check us out on Sunday. If I’m being honest, I didn’t think much of it. Over the course of a Third Thursday, you might converse with a couple hundred people and dozens of them say, “See you Sunday” with a smile. But then I would show up for worship and see that was not the case. That Sunday came, and as I was talking to a visitor before worship started one of our members tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Pastor, someone is here to see you.” I looked to the door and saw them. Harry was in his wheel chair and Mary was standing right next to him with a big smile on her face. I quickly greeted them and let them know how happy I was to have them join us for worship. After the service they said that they very much enjoyed it and would see us again.

Fast forward about a month later and they had not missed a service. At the end of every service, I offer an open invite to anyone interested in going through a Bible Basics course with me. These classes teach the fundamental teachings of the Scriptures and upon completion allow one to become a member of our church if they desire. As I was greeting people after the service that day, Harry let me know that the two of them were interested in membership. The very next day we started class at their house. Although their homemade fajitas, apple cobbler, and chocolate chip cookies were incredibly delicious, the greatest joy for all of us was diving into the Word and hearing about our wonderful Savior. The two enjoyed asking questions they had held in before and finding many answers in the Word. After completing the course, the two gladly joined our membership right before Christmas. Their company is truly a blessing to everyone around them.

We might ask ourselves, “What can be accomplished in one day?” Well, we as blood-bought souls and former wretches that are now redeemed know firsthand that the Lord can do a great deal in 24 hours. On a cross at Calvary, the Lamb of God died to pay for the sins of the world. God reconciled the entire world to himself, not counting our sins against us but against his Son. On that one day we were saved. On that day, heaven was won for all of the Lord’s people. The Lord blesses our days in light of that one great day. In one day, life for Harry and Mary completely changed. In one day at a booth in Joplin they met brothers and sisters in Christ that wanted to welcome them in as family; that wanted to rejoice with them, mourn with them, and worship the one true God with them.

As Harry put it when he commented on our Facebook page: “It is so good to find a church home after so many years. I no longer feel as if I’m skating on thin ice . . . thank you so much!” The Lord has and will continue to do so much each day. Every one of us is proof of that.

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

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Strawberry fields forever in Vietnam

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey (strawberries?) to my mouth!

Despite COVID-19 restrictions and obstacles, our mission to the Hmong people in Vietnam moves forward. We continued in our second year of online instruction for our Hmong students.

Recently I taught a course on the book of Psalms to our 57 students. My partner Bounkeo Lor taught a class on Christian Stewardship. His brother Ger Lor taught the Augsburg Confession.

About half an hour before each class began, I opened the Zoom classroom. Students like to check in early, talk to each other, catch up on news, and say prayers. I get to practice my limited Hmong vocabulary by greeting the students and asking them questions.

On the day of the final session of our Psalms class, one student showed us a blessing from her garden. Ntshuab showed us a basket of strawberries. I quickly consulted my Hmong-English dictionary to find the Hmong word for strawberry. “Kuv nyiam txiv pos nphuab,” (I like the strawberry) I said to Ntshuab.

Then I decided to change my Zoom background to show a basket of strawberries. The students smiled and chatted about strawberries. More students entered the classroom and probably wondered why I featured a picture of strawberries.

The class continued for two hours. We reviewed and celebrated the message of the Psalms. One student remarked, “I never realized before how much the Psalms talk about Jesus.” He had learned the chief message of Scripture and the Psalms.

When we concluded, the students regretted that we couldn’t study more of the Psalms. We focused our ten sessions on just 12 of the 150 Psalms. I also regretted that we could not study more of the Psalms but promised we would do so in the future.

I said, “Each Psalm we studied is like a sweet strawberry. They are delicious and we want to eat more of them.” “Yes,” said one student, “I wish we could have eaten more strawberries in this class.”

Our Hmong students remain eager to learn God’s Word. We finish one class. They want another class. We study one book of the Bible. They want to study the next book. We cover one topic. They want to hear all the topics.

Our brothers and sisters in the Hmong Fellowship have the desire of the psalmist who wrote, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey (strawberries?) to my mouth!”

Written by Joel Nitz, world missionary in Vietnam.

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Mission exploration in an unlikely place

When you think of places that are ripe for the harvest and logical locations to begin mission exploration, you probably start thinking big cities and highly populated suburban areas, right? It seems like a natural place to start. I mean, there are lots of people in those areas to connect to God’s Word and a seemingly endless potential of opportunities to do so . . .

But what about a place like the U.P. (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan)? It’s a huge area of land—larger than a lot of states, in fact. But yet the total population is less than 300,000. And even the largest city—Marquette—is only a little over 20,000.

It might seem illogical to do mission exploration in such a sparsely populated part of the country—a land where wild animals and trees far outnumber people! But yet the people who do live here are equally loved by God and just as desperately in need of salvation as people in the big cities. And in many ways, it’s actually easier to establish yourself and connect with people in towns of 3,000-5,000, as opposed even to suburbs of, say, 30,000-50,000.

This past October, I had the privilege of leading Pastors Ben Enstad and Wayne Uhlhorn on a little tour of several of the “larger” towns in the U.P. (and I use that word “larger” very loosely)—and in doing so, they, too, agreed that the U.P. certainly is a mission field worth exploring. We already have small congregations in a number of the larger towns—so in those places, we already have the benefit of some established connections. But the problem is that it’s also been hard to gain any sort of traction in those communities—because, due to financial limitations, the majority of those established congregations have to share one pastor between two or even three parishes.

Two examples: Iron River and Marquette. Iron River—the hometown of recent Olympic gold-medalist snowboarder, Nick Baumgartner—is a town of about 3,000 people, with a good percentage of those being unchurched. But yet the congregation that we currently have there barely has a presence, because the pastor lives 45 minutes away and is asked to spend his time also tending to two other parishes. Likewise, Marquette—which again is by far the largest “metropolitan” area in the U.P.—has a small, but long-established WELS congregation in the area, dating back to the mid 1800s. But yet the existing congregation is 10 miles east of town where hardly anyone lives; and furthermore, the pastor is pulled further in the opposite direction by the fact that he also serves another congregation 45 minutes southeast of his rural Marquette congregation.

So like I say, there’s certainly potential to be tapped. But a lack of financial resources, and therefore a lack of sufficient pastoral presence, has really been a hindrance to doing any sort of major outreach in recent years.

And this is where WELS Home Missions can come in and offer a much needed hand. Working together in collaboration with our already established congregations in Iron River and/or Marquette, Home Missions has the ability to provide financial resources that currently aren’t available to those congregations; and those extra financial resources could enable them to call an additional pastor. Such a pastor could focus his attention where that attention is needed, directing his efforts primarily toward outreach and really getting into the community. And with the blessing of our gracious Lord, I believe such work would bear much fruit—even in a place that otherwise seems rather unlikely.

I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to show Ben and Wayne the U.P., and I’m happy that they, too, saw the potential. It’s not where your mind might immediately jump to when you think about our Synod’s goal of 100 new missions and mission enhancements in the next 10 years. But God’s not limited to only being successful in big cities! And neither are those who live in small towns and remote areas any less worthy of hearing the precious, saving truth of the gospel!

Written by Stephen Lehmann, pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Iron Mountain, Mich.

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Our first church

Often mission churches start out by meeting in their pastor’s living room. That’s how The Vine, in Coeur d’Alene got started. A small number of us met for Bible study and then worship in my living room for over a year. It was cozy. It was comfortable. It was relaxing. It was our “church.”

But, after a year, our “church” was too small. The Lord had blessed us with enough people that we needed to find a new location.

Our next “church” was in a conference room at a local hotel. Again, it was a small room with a low ceiling. It required us to unload our equipment, set it all up, take it all down, and load it back into the trailer every Sunday (i.e. “church in a box”), but it served our needs well for two more years.

Then we found a store front rental unit that became our “church.” This made it possible for us keep our equipment set up from week to week. But it was still tight at times and had limited space for classrooms and extra outreach events and activities.

Certainly, we were grateful to the Lord for always giving us a place to call “church,” but we knew that we needed to look for something more permanent if we were going to grow and reach more of our community for Jesus.

So, one of our original members, Don, drove around the city on almost a daily basis looking for buildings or property that could potentially become our first “church,” but most of them were either out of our price range or out of our target area.

But Don was relentless. He never gave up. He said to me one time, “Pastor, we will find our church someday. The Lord already knows which one it is. We just need to trust him, and he will make it clear to us which one will be ours.”

A few months ago, the Lord did just that. He made it possible for us to find a church building that was owned by another church which was also looking for a new church building. Through a series of miraculous circumstances and events that only the Lord could have been behind, this church building recently became ours. We now have our first “church.” Thank you, Lord.

Even though we have our first church building which we can call “home,” we’ve always known that our identity as a “church” was not in a building; our identity was in Christ. That is the Church. A group of believers in Christ who gather together around God’s Word and Sacraments, regardless of whether they meet in a pastor’s living room, in a hotel conference room, in a store front, or in a church building.

Don never got to see our new church. He passed away just a few months beforehand. But Don got to see the “Church” triumphant in heaven with his Savior Jesus. That’s the Church that we all look forward to worshiping in someday.

Written by Pastor Kevin Schultz, home missionary at The Vine in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

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Reflection in the water

It was a long year of online learning for Brenda. The plans to attend a university in San Diego in person were altered by the pandemic. Brenda chose to return home to East Asia and attend classes online. This meant that she was often awake in the middle of the night for live classes that were taking place in California. Even with the scheduling challenges, Brenda found blessings in her situation. She was granted extra time at home with family that she would have otherwise missed. She also found time to reflect on the “family” she had grown to appreciate during her high school years at St. Croix Lutheran High School. Many of the teachers, staff, and fellow students at St. Croix had shown Christian love that left a meaningful impact on her. She recognized what a blessing it was to regularly study God’s Word at St. Croix. Brenda’s plan had been to ask to be baptized around graduation time of her senior year. But during that year the pandemic shifted her interactions with her St. Croix family to be online and she never inquired about baptism. The long, first year of university study online made Brenda eager to connect with Christians when she was finally able to travel to California.

Brenda reached out to Pastor Dave Huebner from St. Croix and asked if he knew of any WELS churches in the San Diego area. Pastor Huebner was able to connect Brenda with Reformation Lutheran Church in San Diego, where it just so happens that a number of the members are originally from East Asia. One of those members is Mark, who is currently enrolled in the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute in hopes of one day serving as a pastor. Mark and Brenda discussed the teachings of our church and eventually Brenda asked if she could be baptized. As I listened to their conversation and later walked Brenda through the process of baptism in our church’s sanctuary, it was clear that the Holy Spirit was at work. From the early years of her high school career to that moment, God had been working through his messengers and message to plant faith in Brenda’s heart. As we looked at the water in the baptismal font, Brenda and I reflected on her story and the way God had worked in her life to make His love known to her.

As the Apostle Paul gave thanks for his gospel partnership with the Philippians (Phil. 1:5) so we also give thanks for the partnership we have in our synod, specifically the partnership between our schools, WELS Campus Ministry, and our congregations.

Rejoice with us that Brenda has found a church family in San Diego where she can continue to grow in the Word. Pray for the partnership between Brenda, Reformation, and WELS Campus Ministry to bring the gospel to more students at Brenda’s university. Finally, take time to reflect in the waters of your own baptism and be reminded once again of the forgiveness and love your God has for you.

Written by Rev. Neil Birkholz, North American Asian ministry consultant.

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World missionary commissioned to London

Missionary Michael Hartman was commissioned as a new missionary to London, and Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bare and Rev. David Bivens were installed as part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team at the opening worship service of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Mission & Ministry event on February 8. Missionary Hartman and two other World Missions representatives left for his second exploratory trip to London the day after the service.

Plans are being made for ministry, and details such as visa applications, school details, etc. are being sorted out for the family’s eventual move to the country. You can view photos from the service on the Flickr album.

Please keep these missionaries in your prayers as they continue to serve God’s people in their new positions.

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It felt like home

It had been over a year since we first invited this family to join us for one of our community events and worship. It was over a year before they came. We were thrilled when they walked through the doors to join us for worship the first time!

In a follow-up visit, the mom shared, “To be honest, we were terrified to go to a church. We were really just scared of being judged or not fitting in. But we finally decided we needed to have God in our lives and didn’t know where to turn. We remembered you guys and saw that you meet at a restaurant. We came and everyone was so welcoming. The whole service—it was just what we needed. It felt like home.”

They’re now one week away from finishing our basic instruction course and talking about membership.

As with many building projects over the last couple of years, we at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Idaho, have had our project schedules pushed back for months. However, permits are in place and most materials have been delivered or are on their way. That means we’re now seeing significant progress on our first permanent building for our multi-site mission in Nampa.

While we’ve had to wait, God has been teaching us patience. And there are some other great lessons that have come along with it. A new building will be a tremendous blessing for our church! Once we stop worshipping at the restaurant, though, and move to the new building, we’ll be in the official church building. Which is great but can still be sometimes scary for a first-time visitor. We want our new church home to still feel like home because there are many more of our neighbors who have been getting our invitations for years. They really need God in their lives, but they’re terrified to walk through the doors of a church.

So, we’re going to keep going to them. Our doors will be open, showing a comfortable place with coffee shop tables and chairs that feels like home. We’re going to be welcoming. And we’re going to keep making connections for the gospel.

It’s fun to make plans like this. Offering morning coffee to our neighbors in the apartments across the parking lot. And to the parents dropping off their kids at daycare on the other side of the parking lot. Opening our doors to college students from the university across the street as a place to study and get a hot meal. Inviting our community to find Christ-centered hope and comfort after the loss of a loved one.

So that when they come to our church, they can settle in. Settle in with Jesus and his family. So it can feel like home.

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

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Opportunities for women’s ministry in Latin America

We praise God for blessing the work of Academia Cristo! Currently, more than a million people have liked the Academia Cristo Facebook page, more than 500,000 people have downloaded the app for biblical instruction, more than a thousand people have signed up for live biblical classes, and there is potential for church planting in every country in Latin America. The fields are ripe, and technology is allowing Academia Cristo to take uncut grace to grace-starved Latin America where many still rely on works to earn their salvation and do not know their Savior.

As Academia Cristo has grown, the mission team quickly realized that many of those studying God’s Word with them were women. Seeing this need, a call was issued for a new position, a Dean of Women, to encourage these women to carry out the Great Commission in their homes and respective communities while embracing biblical principles and Christian freedom.

The primary focus of the Dean of Women is the same focus of the Academia Cristo mission team:

  1. Make disciples in Latin America by sharing the message of God’s grace with as many people as possible.
  2. Identify and train potential leaders.
  3. Encourage those leaders to make disciples who plant churches.

There are many women in the Academia Cristo Program who support the mission, desire to reach others with the gospel, and who are capable of sharing the Word. They have distinct roles and unique opportunities, and the Dean of Women position was created to help them to take advantage of these opportunities.

Meet Marli (in blue) in Cuernavaca, Mexico. After intensive study with Academia Cristo, Marli now participates in the advanced classes of the program and is personally guided by a missionary as she shares the Word of God with her Grupo Sembrador or small group in her community. Her group meets regularly, digging into the Word of God, sharing Sunday school lessons with youth, and even doing periodic humanitarian services in the area.

Amelia is a teacher who lives in Pucallpa in the river-jungle region of Perú. Like Marli, Amelia is also in the advanced courses of Academia Cristo and is being guided by a missionary to share Jesus with others in her hometown. With much prayer, Amelia is slowly transforming her home into a place for others to come and to gather in the Word. She is especially passionate about the children in her community and is currently using her summer vacation time to teach about 30 children how to read using the Bible – a special project that she began once she realized that some of the children could not read in her Bible studies with them.

Join us in praying for the ministry of Academia Cristo and specifically for the newly developing Women’s Ministry that will prayerfully support and guide many more women like Marli and Amelia to use their God-given gifts to share Jesus with others.

Written by Elise Gross, Director of Women’s Ministries for Academia Cristo, on the Latin America mission team.

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African outreach trips – Fall 2021

During 2021, missionaries from the One Africa Team were able to make several trips to visit various church groups throughout Africa. Many of these trips were originally delayed due to COVID travel restrictions. Missionaries and other national church partners traveled to Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, and Ethiopia. Here’s a recap of each visit:

Tanzania

The One Africa Team looks to partner with various churches in Africa to ensure unity in doctrine and practice, and to combine resources to continue reaching the lost.

The African Mission Evangelical Church (AMEC) formed in 1993 after they split with the main group of Tanzanian Lutherans. In April 2021, Missionary John Hartmann made a preliminary visit to Tanzania to meet with a dozen AMEC pastors to learn more about their history and introduce them to WELS doctrine and beliefs. In November, Missionary John Roebke and Missionary Hartmann returned with Kenyan national pastor Mark Anariko Onunda to continue potential fellowship discussion. It is the prayer of AMEC to partner with WELS to provide solid confessional Lutheran training for their pastors. The One Africa Team will return in 2022 to continue their discussions. We thank God for this opportunity for a potential ministry partnership in Tanzania! Read more about their visit in this article from the One Africa Team blog.


Kenya

Missionary Dan Witte and three LCMC – Kenya pastors

In 2019, the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) – Kenya joined in fellowship with WELS. Because of the pandemic, no One Africa Team members were able to visit. Finally, after months of video conferencing and e-mails, Missionaries Howard Mohlke and John Roebke were able to travel to Kenya in August 2021 and meet with the members and leadership of the LCMC – Kenya. On this trip, the two missionaries traveled to various LCMC – Kenya congregations to see some of the buildings WELS helped build and share messages and encouragement from the Bible.

The attendees listening to the Bible and watching the Jesus film

They held leaders’ workshops where they gave presentations on the Bible, principles of stewardship, and Church and Ministry. The attendees also received microSD cards with audio Bibles and a Jesus film in both English and Swahili; immediately the SD cards were put to use. Read more about their trip in this article from the One Africa Team blog.

Then, in October 2021, One Africa Team Missionary Dan Witte traveled to Kenya to teach a course on African Church History to three pastors of the LCMC – Kenya. He was also able to participate in the dedication of St. Peter’s Kindu Church in Eastern Kenya. Read Missionary Witte’s reflections from his trip.


Uganda

Missionaries John Holtz and Dan Kroll visited Obadiah Lutheran Synod in Uganda in early October 2021 . They were evaluating and preparing the last steps needed before recommending that Obadiah Lutheran Synod be brought into fellowship with WELS and visited some of their churches. Missionary Holtz was also able to meet with seven students who gathered online to study Luther’s Small Catechism during the pandemic. Read more about their trip from Missionary John Holtz.


Cameroon

One Africa Team missionaries Howard Mohlke, Dan Kroll, John Holtz, and Africa Business Manager Stefan Felgenhauer traveled to Cameroon in October to meet with a group of pastors and laymen of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC). After not meeting in-person for two years, this gathering was appreciated. The group discussed the partnership in the ministry that these groups share, the future of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon seminary, ministry training opportunities, and other ministry topics.


Ethiopia

In October 2021, One Africa Team missionaries Mark Panning, John Holtz, Howard Mohlke, and Africa Business Manager Stefan Felgenhauer traveled to Ethiopia to visit WELS’ sister church, the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). God greatly blessed mission work in Ethiopia through a Lutheran elementary school. The original plan was for the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE) to start a nursery school in Bishoftu, but God had other plans. Read how God’s bigger plan ultimately brought more blessings than they could ever imagine in this One Africa Team blog article.


God is truly blessing mission work in Africa! Please keep the One Africa Team missionaries and the family of believers in Africa in your prayers. We thank God for all the blessings poured out on mission work in Africa, and we pray he continues to bless this work in the years to come.

 

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Working together for future results

Events like our Trunk and Treat in October can be wonderful team-building/fellowship events. Ours was clearly that. Our volunteer participation grew from a mere handful when we first launched the idea to thirty-six by the time our event was held. A positive attitude and a spirit of fun are infectious. It is always a good thing when God’s people work together – and have fun doing it! Here’s something that was truly awesome about our event: at least six of the volunteers were not members of the congregation. Two of them were folks who were invited by other members of Ascension to participate. Four were regular attenders but not yet members (we like to call them RABNYM’s). Two of our volunteers were a young couple we just received by adult confirmation/profession of faith in October. It was really good for all of them to be rubbing shoulders with our members (and visa versa) and to invest themselves in our ministry in this way. In this picture, the two women serving up free cider and donuts are Paoletta and Laura. Paoletta is currently in our Bible information class; Laura is a long-time member. We intentionally invite our RABNYM’s (Regular Attenders But Not Yet Members) to participate in our ministry where appropriate because we have found that this helps people make the personal connections and engages them in purposeful activity that matter to seekers these days.

Here’s another benefit worth sharing. Back at the beginning of 2016, Diana and Adrian were an unmarried couple who had just had a baby. After approaching a couple of non-WELS churches about baptizing their little baby and being turned down, they contacted me. We met, planned a baptism, and talked a bit about the plans they had to marry. Kaylee was baptized on April 26, 2016. In January of 2017 I joined Diana and Adrian in marriage. Within a few months, we lost touch as they went through some relocations and various other family challenges. We kept Kaylee and her family on our email list and continued to reach out to them and invite them to events. This family showed up at our Trunk and Treat.

Diana, Adrian, Kaylee, and Madelyn

Kaylee was looking for the man who had “bap-a-tiz-ed” her. It was great catching up with Diana and Adrian and my little friend Kaylee. It was even better to initiate a conversation about baptizing their new little one, Madelyn. God used this fun little seasonal event to reconnect us with a family he clearly wants us to serve.

Did I mention that we were pet-friendly? We did not advertise that, but it ended up being the case. I and a few of our volunteers brought their pooches. It’s amazing how a cute, friendly dog can generate smiles and conversations! In addition, a dinosaur made an appearance and delighted our young visitors. A few games, a bounce house, and free refreshments helped make it a fun even for families.

Events such as this are a great way to connect with the community, meet new people, get them on our campus, and plant some gospel seeds. Immediate results are not always obvious, but results always come.

Written by Rev. Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich.

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Open windows, open doors

One night, a few of us were playing board games with some new Bible study friends. It was a beautiful spring night in East Asia, and we had all the windows of the eighth floor, one bedroom apartment open. At the time some of us were probably getting a little too into our game of “Dutch Blitz,” shouting and laughing. We were loud (much to our chagrin, we later realized our voices were echoing off the building across from us . . . ).

Around 10 P.M. or so, we heard an indignant knock on the door. I peered through the peephole and glimpsed a large man with a large frown. In half decent English, he politely asked us to keep it down as his two year-old was asleep in an apartment across from us. I apologized profusely from behind the door. Appeased, the large man thanked us and left. Thus our party ended.

Then on Sunday about a dozen of us were praising and praying to God. Again, with the windows open. After worship, we got ready to head downstairs for lunch. I was first out of the apartment. As I turned my head down the long hallway, again I saw a large man. This time he was stomping towards me. He didn’t look happy. “Oh, no.” I thought, “That’s the guy from the other night. We’re probably singing too loudly!” He stopped in front of me panting and asked if we were the ones singing the “Christian songs.” I said yes. Then his face lit up.

He told me he’d been searching for us for the past two months. Every Sunday morning, he heard our hymns and wanted to join us, but because of the echo off the buildings, he could never tell which apartment we were in. Every Sunday he’d walk up and down the stairwell searching for which floor we were on. But it turns out, if we hadn’t been so loud a few nights before, he never would have found us!

Leo joined us for lunch and later joined our local Lutheran church. Now he helps lead his own confessional Lutheran church in his city.

We sometimes cannot even imagine how God is going to use us and the preaching of his Word to bless the kingdom, but he reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-11, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Please take 30 seconds to pray that windows and doors will stay open for us as we continue sharing the gospel here in East Asia.

Written by a missionary in East Asia.

 

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