Faces of Faith – Bidit

On occasion, I have met WELS members who imagine that the work of a cross-cultural missionary involves learning exotic languages or traveling to far flung places to share the gospel. Usually when people imagine cross-cultural ministry this way, they also imagine that they could never do. At least for me, the reality has been quite the opposite. Let me share an example through the recent work I have been able to do among the Nuer people from South Sudan who live near Vancouver, British Colombia. I don’t have to go anywhere, and I don’t speak the Nuer language (except for one word). I don’t deeply understand the culture. I have never been to South Sudan. Yet God has enabled me to reach a group of about 60 people in this culture. How? By giving to me special gifts in the form of Nuer leaders like Bidit (pronounced Bi-deet).

Like many of the other South Sudanese in our area, Bidit came to Canada as a refugee when he was a young man. He hopes someday to return to his country and serve his people. But for the time being, he has grown up to be the father of five, a leader in his community, and the kind of servant of God who makes my life as a missionary easy. The gospel clearly flows from his heart.

For the sake of his family and their cost of living, Bidit lives over an hour away from our Sudanese mission in a bedroom community of Vancouver. Yet every Sunday, he leaves his house 3 hours before church begins to first bring his family to church. Then he drives around the community picking up other South Sudanese people who need rides to church. He always comes prepared with a case of water and beverages to make people feel welcome at our South Sudanese mission service. After he arrives, Bidit is often the one leading the service in his Nuer language. When the people are talking in Nuer, he will come sit next to me and interpret so I can understand what they are talking about. After the service is over, Bidit will discuss with me who we should visit this week—for example, we came together twice this week to visit a gentleman who was hospitalized with a serious illness. Later, after our weekly chats on the phone, Bidit messages everyone in the South Sudanese community by Facebook to invite them to come to worship again next Sunday. If that weren’t enough, Bidit also just volunteered with Kingdom Workers to spend a month in Ethiopia to advance our gospel ministry among the Nuer people living in refugee camps there.

Do you see how easy this work becomes when God gives you a leader like Bidit? Instead of spending years to learn Nuer culture and language, my job is instead to equip leaders like Bidit,  through programs like the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Instead of trying to organize a congregation in a foreign culture, I only need to prepare a sermon with clear law and gospel. Instead of traveling to Ethiopia, I only need to connect leaders like Bidit with our WELS partners. Through Bidit, hundreds more people are reached with the gospel than if I tried to do this myself. Please keep the lay leaders like Bidit in our cross-cultural ministries in your prayers! For it is through men and women like Bidit that God truly opens doors for the gospel across different languages and cultures.

Written by Rev. Geoff Cortright, home missionary at Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church – Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada

To learn more about South Sudanese ministry, a WELS Joint Missions ministry, visit wels.net/sudanese.

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Memories in Malawi

Recently I’ve been digging through old photos, looking over the 25 years I’ve lived in Malawi as a missionary wife. There are an amazing amount of memories that come to mind looking over those pictures. My husband, Paul, was assigned to Malawi when he graduated from the Seminary in 1993. In remembering those early years, and comparing them to our life here today, several things came to mind.

The early years – Malawi, Africa

We didn’t know much about Malawi when we arrived in 1993 with our one year old son. Paul was called to serve rural congregations in the North of Malawi. We knew he was called to teach God’s Word to the people there. We had something valuable to share and were willing to do it. What we didn’t know at the time was that Malawi, and the millions of people who live here, had something valuable to teach us. Reflecting back, I can clearly see how God provided for us in big and small ways.

Our second child was born in 1995 while living in the small town of Mzuzu. When the doctor who delivered my baby asked if I had packed a flashlight, I realized that I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. Power cuts and dim lights are common. I learned to be ready for scenarios I hadn’t had to think about living in the U.S.

After our daughter was born, we had planned to travel throughout Malawi. I learned that some items, like disposable diapers, were impossible to find in Mzuzu. I was resigned to traveling for 10 days with a toddler and a newborn with only cloth diapers. It was then that I learned that God is much better at planning ahead than I am. Weeks before I even knew I would need them, a group of Christian women in the U.S. had a baby shower for me and shipped an enormous box of disposable diapers to Malawi. The diapers arrived two days before our trip. God’s timing was the best.

Nitz Family – Christmas 2018

As Paul and I met the people of Malawi, we saw that many Malawians struggled with the effects of poverty. Shortages of food, water, medical care, and jobs impacted people’s daily lives. As the needs of Malawians were made known to us and we sought ways to help, Paul and I were learning a lesson about giving and hospitality that Malawians had to teach us.

From our early days of language learning and visiting people in their homes, to traveling to remote villages with Paul to greet people who had never seen a “European” woman and her  baby before, we were welcomed with clapping, singing, and smiles. Chairs appeared out of no where for us to sit on while our Malawian hosts sat on the ground. If possible, a bottle of Coca Cola or Fanta was procured for us. We never left empty handed. Mangoes, green maize, sweet potatoes, a live chicken – these people were happy to share with us. Not because we needed theses things, but because they wanted to show their love to us. Malawian’s have a phrase, Tikulandirani ndi manja awiri! We welcome you with both hands!They welcomed us not just with their hands, but with their hearts as well.

Yes, I’ve learned a lot during my years in Malawi. I’ve learned to drive on the left hand side of the road. I can navigate muddy, rutted roads that look impassable to the uninitiated. I’ve treated our neighbors’ dogs who had venom spat in their eyes from encountering a huge spitting cobra. I learned it’s not really a good idea to pick up a giant horned chameleon on the side of the road and try to to take it home in the car. These are all good things to know to live well in Malawi.

But most of all, I’ve learned that God’s people love each other no matter where they are in the world. God’s people in Malawi have shown their love to me and my family for 25 years, and by God’s grace we’ve been able to join with them in worship, Bible study, English classes, Sunday School, weddings, funerals, births, and graduations. While my own family is growing up and moving away, and I can’t physically be there for them in all the ways I wish I could, I am learning God provides for all our needs, big and small, in ways that I never even imagined He would.

Written by Susan Nitz, missionary wife in Malawi, Africa

To learn more about mission work in Malawi, visit wels.net/malawi.

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Back Home to Africa

Who doesn’t love to be home? Especially when you have a wonderful family such as my parents and older sister. I was born in Malawi, Africa, though I spent the first ten years of my life in the small town of Chipata in Zambia. My father, Pastor John Holtz, worked as a missionary there until he received a call to move to Malawi in 2008. I spent the rest of my school years there all the way until I graduated secondary school at age 18. Since then, I have been attending Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) as a nursing student, currently in my third year. I have been extremely blessed to have been able to go back home to Malawi during the longer breaks to see my family and old friends.

Heather (left) and two friends after observing a surgery

As part of the nursing program at WLC, third year students go on an immersion trip to Lusaka, Zambia (the capital), where they stay on the seminary grounds. I did not live in Lusaka, but my family traveled there often for work and missionary gatherings. So there I was, surrounded by my classmates in a place so foreign to them yet so familiar to me. It felt odd, simply put. At the same time, it was a huge blessing to be able to share my life in such a unique way with the people who have accepted me into their lives in the United States.

The purpose of our trip was to experience the medical field in a Third World country. We visited the government-run hospital known as Chelstone, a private children’s clinic known as Beit Cure, an organization for disabled children known as Special Hope Network, and also some grade schools for teaching. We also traveled to a rural clinic in the town of Mwembezhi where WELS missionaries originally started their work. I thought that all of these organizations were impressive. With limited resources and endless patients, these facilities are doing a great job at providing inexpensive to no-cost care while still providing respectable patient outcomes.

First church (refurbished) built by the WELS mission in Mwembezhi, Zambia

You may be wondering if it is my desire to work there . . . that answer is difficult. In Zambia, only local residents are hired. The advanced health care systems in the United States have a much different focus, some of it good, and some of it I do not particularly like. On top of it being hard to “adult”, it is even harder to know where to start when you are pulled in so many different directions, as many missionary kids often experience.

But here’s the good news: God is in control. There may come a time when our parents move, and we feel like we have lost our home. Though we desire to go back, what is there for us to do? We need to remember that God leads us and knows what is best for us. When we worry about our future and transition into adulthood, it clouds our vision to the joy that is in Christ Jesus. Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all you ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Patio area is where devotions are held in the mornings. Pictured: women line up for their children to receive vaccinations

So what does it feel like to be back home as an adult missionary kid? Contrarily, going back to Malawi makes me feel like a kid again. Many of my childhood memories were experienced there and in Zambia, my friends are there, my pets, my house . . . but most of all what makes it home is my family. I know its cliché, but how can I deny it? Whenever I am home, I feel myself again, though it is bittersweet. I go back, knowing I’ll have to leave again in a few weeks. I always cherish my time there, though I remember that life on this earth is temporary. Any struggles here on earth are nothing in comparison to the glory that will be experienced in heaven. Something that I find both comforting and amazing is that those same people, that my dad and all the other missionaries and Lutherans in Africa impacted, are going to be with me in heaven someday. I thank God for my life in Africa, and I thank God for my life here too. But most of all, I thank God for saving me a place in his Kingdom.

Heaven is my home.

Written by Heather Holtz, current student at Wisconsin Lutheran College and daughter of Africa Missionary John Holtz and wife Mindy

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New Hope in Uganda

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


“Come over and help us!”

This first century request came from a man in Macedonia (Acts 16:9). Convinced that this plea was an outreach opportunity from God, a four-man team (Luke, Paul, Silas, and Timothy) set out on a mission journey to answer the call and share the gospel of Jesus. They traveled to various locations, spoke to the local people, visited the places of prayer, “reasoned with the people from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead . . .” (Acts 17:2,3)

The gospel did amazing things. It gave the people . . .

Pastor Makisimu Musa, wife Mary, with children Grace and Mark

New Hope.

Come over and help us!

This twenty-first century request came from a man in Bugiri, Uganda. Convinced that this was an outreach opportunity from God, a three-man team was formed and set out on a mission journey to answer the call and share the gospel message of Jesus. What Paul and his team did in Macedonia and beyond, the three-man team did in Uganda: traveled to various places, spoke to the local people, visited the places of prayer and expounded the Scriptures. By God’s grace, the results were the same: the gospel worked wonders and it gave people in Uganda . . .

New Hope.

The first century mission opportunity came by way of a vision (Acts 16:9). Last month’s opportunity came via an email. The request for help came from a man named Makisimu Musa, a pastor leading a fledgling church body in Uganda. Back in 2008, he caught wind of a Lutheran church body in America called WELS as well as a synod in Zambia and Malawi called the LCCA. (Pastor Musa was attending a school in Kenya and was told about the Lutheran Church, specifically about WELS and the LCCA in Zambia & Malawi.) He heard about their sound doctrine and practice and wanted to know more. He consulted with his fellow pastors and evangelists and together they decided it was time for them to reach out for help.

Frustrated with church politics, confused with false teachings, discouraged with a lack of Biblically sound materials, and uncertain of a God-pleasing way forward, they sent the message:

Come over and help us!

Translator Lydia

Those weren’t the exact words nor the only words, but it was the bottom line message. It went first to Pastor David Bivens (Divine Savior Lutheran Church, Sienna Plantation, TX), the Chairman of the Administrative Committee for Africa. Pastor Bivens then passed it along, and eventually it landed on the desk of Missionary John Hartmann in Zambia, who is the One Africa Team Outreach Coordinator for Africa. He assembled a team, set the dates, and planned the trip. On December 1, 2018, Missionary Hartmann, Pastor Pembeleka (LCCA-Malawi), and I touched down in Entebbe, Uganda.

The mission journey began. The outreach mission trip dates were set for November 30, 2018 – December 13, 2018.

We stayed with Pastor Musa and his family in his rural home. He had put together an aggressive schedule for us: travel to eight congregations, meet six pastors and five evangelists, teach three days of lessons, and attend two days of meetings.

In it all, we witnessed the Body of Christ in action:

  • Church leaders attended 18 hours of  lessons and presentations (Justification, the Church, and Stewardship);
  • Pastors preached the Word and administered baptism;
  • The pastor’s dear wife and others cooked our meals, washed our clothes, and tidied our rooms;
  • A Lutheran member drove us safely to all of our destinations;
  • Congregations prepared meals and traditional entertainment of plays, dramas, dances, and songs;
  • Several people served as translators, turning our English words into Luganda and Lusoga.

Spending a dozen nights and covering over a thousand kilometers gave us a glimpse of the Ugandan people and their beautiful land. Uganda truly lives up to her name: the Pearl of Africa. So many natural wonders! Among the many, Uganda boasts the second largest lake in the world (Victoria) and the source of the longest river on earth (Nile). We were blessed to see them both.

Left to Right: Rev. John Holtz, Rev. Bright Pembeleka, Rev. John Hartmann

But for us, the real Pearl of Africa is the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45,46): the gospel of Jesus Christ! It’s what prompted the first email from Pastor Musa. It’s what motivated our mission outreach trip. It was the foundation of our lessons and the focus of our meetings.

And it will guide any future plans and discussions with these new found brothers and sisters in Uganda.

May I humbly send you a request, too? Our plea comes from Uganda:

Come over and help us!

You don’t need to go there to answer the call. We simply, yet resolutely, ask for your prayers. Will you put Uganda on your prayer list? Pray for this mission outreach effort. The Lord has given us this wonderful opportunity and the gospel is already doing amazing things. The Pearl of Great Price is the only True Pearl of Africa . . . and the world!

Oh, by the way . . . as these Christians in Uganda find their footing and forge ahead, it’s this “Pearl” that reminds them why they chose the name they did for their new church body:

New Hope

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

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Faces of Faith – Simon the Translator

An exciting ray of hope continues to shine among the growing number of Lutheran congregations of South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. As the camp has extremely limited internet access, Multi-Language Publications (MLP) has provided hundreds of pounds of printed materials, from catechisms to seminary resources, to serve these vibrant congregations.

PSI training in Kakuma Refugee Camp (Simon pictured in green)

Very few of our Nuer brothers and sisters speak English. Enter student pastor Simon, early 30s in age, who speaks fluent English and was my translator for a week of Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) sponsored classes for 17 men at Kakuma last October.

The relationship one builds with a translator over a short period of time is often amazing, but none have ever compared to working beside Simon, with his passion and exuberance for the message of Christ. Simon’s method of translating included walking closely beside me and mimicking my every hand gesture. It often felt like we were in some kind of choreographed dance together. I found myself motivated to be more demonstrative in my movements, with Simon immediately responding. At the same time, Simon began punctuating the points I made in class with an exuberant “Alleluia,” which was echoed back by the students. Seeing Simon get more excited got me more excited! It was an exhilarating experience as we fed off each other in a class on the life of Christ.

Simon preaching

On the last day of classes, Simon was asked to preach at our camp-wide, combined church service. Simon however, did not restrict himself to simply preaching. Grabbing a large, goat-skin covered drum in one hand and wielding a strip of rubber truck tire tread for a drumstick in the other, Simon just wailed on that drum from the opening song. Stalking the congregation to root out the timid, Simon urged the assembly on to greater and greater heights of joyous praise. The room became an ocean of music, rhythm, drums, and movement.

Needless to say, Simon preached with the exuberance he displayed in his music and his translating. I videotaped over an hour of Simon preaching. Rarely have I seen a man preach with such intensity and passion.

Two days later our visit to Kakuma was over, and we needed to say goodbye until next year. I couldn’t wait to work again with this amazingly gifted brother.

Simon (on the right) plays his drum for worship

Less than two weeks after we left Kakuma Refugee Camp, I got the news from Pastor Peter Bur, our U.S.-based South Sudanese pastor who serves as South Sudanese ministry coordinator. Peter told me that Simon and a few others were walking home late at night after an evening church gathering and decided to take a shortcut outside of the parameters of the camp. As they walked through a deep, unlit valley, they were attacked by robbers (not of the Nuer tribe) looking for a little cash or a cell phone. Simon was shot in the chest and died a short while later.

I miss Simon more than I can put into words. Although the only word I ever understood him say when he preached was “Alleluia,” that one word said it all. We both believed in the same Savior Jesus. We both knew we were on the road to Paradise. And during those classes, we both knew there was nothing more important and exciting we could be doing than preparing men to take the message of Jesus to the ends of that camp.

Simon got to Paradise way before anyone expected. Kakuma will never be quite the same. Neither I suspect will the heavenly choir, with Simon no doubt shouting his “Alleluias” the moment he arrived. I will see you again, Simon, when we will sing and play drums together to our Savior King forever!

Written by: Rev. Terry Schultz, Consultant for Multi-Language Publications 

P.S. – To learn more about WELS Joint Missions outreach to the South Sudanese, visit wels.net/sudanese.

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Back to Africa – The Felgenhauer’s in Zambia

Written by Kathy (nee Uhlhorn) Felgenhauer, whose husband Stefan is the new Director of Africa Missions Operations for the One Africa Team. 

My husband and I visited the continent of Africa for the very first time 20 years ago. Four years later, we moved here for our first tour of duty. Most of the missionary families currently living in Africa have lived here for more than two decades. They hardly consider their overseas service as “foreign” anymore. Their lives tell the story of WELS mission work in Africa.

Our family has a unique perspective. We have transitioned back and forth between North American culture and African culture several times. We have a well-rounded view of both developed countries and developing countries. The readjustments we’ve made have been a trial, but they have also give us valuable insight into both worlds.

The Felgenhauer family back in Africa (Zambia)

So now we’ve been here in Zambia for just over a week. What are we thinking? What are we feeling? And how is the adjustment going this time?

First impressions can be useful tools. Stefan and I find it interesting that in our time of moving between cultures, we have short-lived first impressions upon returning to a place we used to live. It’s fascinating to take note of those first impressions, before our previous experience takes over and we settle into our routine once again. I keenly remember my first impressions when we moved to Africa the second time. Even though we had lived six years in Africa and still had keen memories of that time stuck in our minds, we had forgotten about the challenges of day-to-day living in a developing country.

In general, the first impressions we have had this time are of moving to a somewhat familiar African country (Zambia) but also the added dimension of leaving our oldest child back “home” for schooling. Listen to what each member of our family has taken notice of thus far…

Anna (age 12 – born in Malawi): I was looking forward to seeing the Seminary campus because we never lived close to any of those before. It’s different than I thought, but I was amazed at how big it was and happy to see the kids there. I can’t wait to get my bike so I can ride it there. A lot of things seem the same, like the gates on doors and the geckos and skinks on the walls, but I forgot how hot it is. I’m looking forward to visiting Malawi and seeing some of my friends. It’s fun to order Fanta at restaurants again and hopefully soon we can go swimming somewhere.

Benjamin and Anna

Benjamin (age 14 – born in Malawi, will return to the USA for school in 10 months): Africa is like I remember it, but Zambia is a bit more modern (than Malawi) with a lot more shopping centers. I was looking forward to being outside and barefoot, and I am doing that again. It’s really dusty though. Being in Africa feels like being back home. It’s kinda hard getting used to slower Internet. I look forward to finding soft drinks in glass bottles like I remember and visiting game parks to see the animals. It seems weird to think that the next 10 months will be the longest amount of time I spend here.

Louisa (age 16 – born in Germany, attending high school stateside): I am loving all the photos they’ve sent mostly of foods I remember, such as Blackcat peanut butter and Parmalat yogurt and the mango juice. I was happy to see some jacaranda flowers. Finding time to facetime my family when it is still daylight so I can see outside has been tricky with a 7-hour time difference, and I can’t talk to them during my evening because they are sleeping. I can’t wait to visit at Christmas.

Kathy (not as young as I once was – born in the USA): As the plane was descending I saw purple jacaranda trees, and exiting the plane we saw bright flame trees. That alone put a smile on my face. Climbing into a car for the first time again was an odd feeling, sitting in the passenger seat on the left. It actually made me feel a bit dizzy, and I’m a bit nervous about driving again with the deep ditches on the sides of the roads. I had forgotten how dry and red the earth looks this time of year. The streets seemed less congested on our drive, but the style of the house we are currently staying in was so familiar. Tiled floors throughout, locked gates on doors, a limited water supply in the reserve tanks, and candles at the ready for the electricity outages. “I know how to do this”, I told myself. The trill and song of the birds that first morning was unbelievable. I knew I had been missing it. It is a new place with much that is familiar. I long to settle into our life, getting our own kitchen items, our own bed, and our own daily routine. That’s going to take quite some time yet. It’s already been 5 months of transition since Stefan was hired, and it could be several more. I am praying for patience. I keep checking the time to see what Louisa must be doing back in the US. I am so thankful for the technology that lets us keep in touch.

Stefan (a little more grey – born in East Germany): I’m so happy to be back in a warm climate again. I did forget how warm it is this time of year and how dusty everything gets. I knew I was back in Africa when we stepped off the plane, and I had to walk quite a ways on foot to get into the airport. The wait to get through immigration tested my German patience. The woodsmoke-filled air is strong too, but I do know the rains are coming and that will bring relief. I am enjoying the African scenery, and it makes me excited to explore and learn this new area. Visiting the other countries where One Africa Team is active is a priority for me and one I look forward to. In some ways Zambia is more modern than I would have thought, but the Internet is still slower than I got used to in the US. Overall, I am thankful for the opportunity to be here and to serve the Lord in this way. It’s the work I love to do. It’s good to be back.

The Felgenhauers lived in Malawi from 2002-2008 and from 2012-2015 and are currently based in Lusaka, Zambia.

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Walking Between Two Elephants

The current political situation in West Africa has created great difficulties for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Please pray for a swift resolution to the conflict between the English-speaking and French-speaking regions of the country, and we trust that God will use this situation for the good of his people. Missionary Dan and Karen Kroll have temporarily relocated to Lilongwe, Malawi, while the situation on the ground is being assessed.

As we sat with fellow workers from our mission field, we learned much about the situation there. They had come from the place we call home, a place which had now become unsafe for us to return to. They had traveled in a military convoy of about two hundred vehicles, not sure if or when some opposition leaders might attack. The government is strong, but so are those who oppose them in the name of independence. Everybody here was raised with a “might makes right” attitude, so violence becomes the order of the day.

Lutheran Church of Cameroon

There is a hopelessness in the air as the proverb rolls off his tongue, “We are walking between two elephants.” We learn the other half of the proverb about five minutes later as he continues, “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” We (ordinary people) are only spectators in this fight, and we don’t choose sides. ANYBODY with a gun makes us run into the bush to hide, makes us afraid to be home, but we are the ones who suffer in this fight. We are the grass.

As Isaiah begins his encouragement to the people of Israel who had been informed of God’s impending judgement, he acknowledges the same idea, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever”(40:7-8). “It isn’t easy” is a common phrase that comes up in our area – it usually refers to a tragic event or near impossible project that needs to be done. This is a classic situation, walking between two elephants, and it’s getting uglier every day.

When God decides that we need to walk between two elephants, or he finds it necessary to allow the elephants to fight, the best we can do is to prepare for any outcome. This is out of our hands. Almost any way we become involved, we will agitate somebody – we will most likely only make it worse.

Missionaries Dan and Karen Kroll

“…BUT the word of our God stands forever.” A pretty important “but” that turns our attention away from the terrible things that are happening in a different part of the world, a war zone, across town, or even in our own home. Whenever we look to people or expect anything of this world to bring peace and happiness, we will surely be disappointed. In fact, the devil will use that to get our attention away from our Savior Jesus. As soon as independence, peace, prosperity, or personal satisfaction rule our hearts and lives, we can be lost and trampled underfoot.

Is there a way for us to leave the elephants alone? In spite of the worldly suffering in this situation, might we rather focus on the good news that our ever-gracious and wise LORD is still in charge, even stronger than the elephants. We remember always that he plans only good things for us (Romans 8:28). The best example is the sacrifice of his own Son to keep us close to Him for eternity. Let us continue to read and study his word to remind us that even our biggest elephant (death) no longer has power over us. Together with Jesus we cannot lose. The whole world needs to know about this great victory in Jesus – even if it means we have walk between two elephants while we tell them!

Written by: Missionaries Dan and Karen Kroll 

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Worship Wrestling

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive updates, visit oneafricateam.com.

Written by Rev. James Aderman, a pastor who has served congregations in Florida and Wisconsin and is currently retired. Pastor Aderman recently went to Malawi to teach continuing education courses for pastors from Malawi and Zambia.

The topic was familiar. If I had closed my eyes I could easily have imagined myself in a group of WELS pastors in the United States.

But I was 8,500 miles from Wisconsin. I was south of the equator in Malawi, Africa.

The Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) hosts an annual continuing education week for its pastors at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi. I had the privilege of leading the 40 LCCA pastors who attended the 2018 conference in a discussion of Bible interpretation principles and of Christ-centered worship. It was the worship material that launched this discussion.

“My people think liturgy-based worship services are dull,” one pastor said. Others nodded in agreement. “That’s why some of my members slip off to Pentecostal churches on Sunday,” another said. “We Lutherans have so much to celebrate because of God’s grace,” said someone else. “Why can’t our worship be more lively?”

“But the liturgy reflects our teaching about grace,” another pastor countered. “Everything about it points us to Jesus. We dare not lose that.”

The discussion volleyed for some time. At the end there was consensus.

  • God’s grace in Jesus motivates us to worship him in the best ways possible.
  • Lutheran liturgy provides a solid structure on which to build our worship.
  • Liturgy doesn’t have to be dull or repetitive.
  • Our excellent hymn texts can be placed into music that is more familiar to African ears.
  • Pastors can do a better job teaching the Lutheran approach to worship.
  • The liturgy offers the freedom to help Christians of any culture fully rejoice in God’s grace.
  • We pastors can improve the way we lead God’s people in worship.

“I applaud you, my brothers,” I told them, “for your willingness to wrestle with developing worship services that bring praise to God and best benefits God’s people. You’ve given me new encouragement to keep my eyes open wide, so I do the same for fellow Christians in America.”

Written by: Rev. James Aderman, Retired pastor and volunteer professor in Malawi

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Now I Believe

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

I didn’t know what he meant.

I heard his words, but I didn’t grasp his message. I wondered what he was really saying. What was the meaning behind the words? Was he even talking to me? Or to someone else? Or was he just talking to himself? Three times he repeated the same thing:

“Now I believe.”

I was a bit uncertain about his words because I had just walked up to him. His name is Bright Pembeleka. He is the pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Blantyre, Malawi. He’s been serving in the public ministry for 13 years.

Bright Pembeleka graduated from the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia in 2005

We both had come to the same place: the mortuary. We were collecting the body of a Lutheran Church member. Pastor Pembeleka has been there before. Many times.

As a pastor he knows the routine all too well when someone dies: visiting the family, preparing the sermon, leading the worship, saying the prayers, conducting the burial service. But this time was different. Powerfully different. Life-changingly different.

This time he would not wear the robe of a preacher but the cloak of grief. The Lutheran member who passed away wasn’t just a church member, the person was his own daughter. Edina was 21 years old. Just 21!

It’s not supposed to happen this way! But it did.

Watching one coffin after another being carried out of the mortuary and being placed into waiting vehicles reminded me once again: The old must die. The young can.

We waited while the embalmers did their job. Sensing an opening in the conversation, I risked asking Pastor Pembeleka what he meant by what he said, “Now I believe.” His explanation came freely, though heavily – it didn’t just land in my ears, it settled in my heart.

“I have officiated at a lot of funerals. I did so because it was my job. It was part of my work. But now it is happening to me… now is really the first time I know what it means to grieve. Now I am the one experiencing the pain. Now I know the heart-ache that others have talked about.

Now. I. FEEL.”

His eyes were reddening with tears. His voice was cracking with sorrow. His heart was breaking with pain. The cloak he wore was both dark and heavy.

Now I believe.

Grief seized him and gripped him. He and his wife and children would now be the ones to weakly stand, then kneel beside the pile of fresh dirt. Even fall upon it.

Maybe you’ve been there – waiting at the mortuary. Visiting at the funeral home. Walking the path to the grave. Placing a wreath of flowers. If so, you understand. If not, you likely will. Because sooner or later death touches the ones we love.

Malawi National Pastors at the Funeral

The cloak is dark and heavy.

Pastor Pembeleka would be at the funeral, but this time he wouldn’t be leading the service. His brothers in Christ would. Fellow servants and seasoned preachers. A band of disciples who gathered, supported, encouraged, prayed and rallied around their grieving brother and family.

Some of whom have buried their own children. They know. They have experienced. They understand. They FEEL. They believe.

They gave what they had, and what they had was what was needed most: the Word of God. After all, it had something to say to Pastor Pembeleka, his wife, his children and everyone there. It has something to say to you who weren’t. At a Christian funeral, GRIEF isn’t the only cloak worn on such days! So is the robe righteousness. The mantle of God’s grace. God has draped his people with a love that seizes and grips and doesn’t let go.

In death there is life! (John 11: 25, 26)

Most fittingly, Pastor Eliya Petro chose and preached on the assuring words found in John’s first letter, ”God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life…” (1 John 5: 11, 12). Edina has life because the Son has her!

A chorus of Lutheran women, uniformed in purple and white, confidently sang that truth again and again as they walked in a long double line to the funeral house, “She’s in the hands of God, yes, she’s in the hands of God.”

She is… because Jesus has conquered death!

She is… because Jesus lives!

She is… because Jesus has taken away her sin!

Pastor Pembeleka, you and your brothers have taught your congregations well. The people, whether sitting in the pew at church or sitting on the ground in a graveyard or kneeling close to the pile of dirt, have heard the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ from you. Week after week, sermon after sermon, service after service, funeral after funeral. Look around, dear brother. The gospel has done miraculous and marvelous things!

The people are expressing the very faith that God has given them. They are sharing the good and comforting news of Jesus with you and your family when you are the one grieving, the one paining, the one sorrowing, the one experiencing. They are serving you, standing with you when you are the one feeling.

Thank you, Pastor, for showing your humanness. Your frailty. Your need. Thank you for sharing your pain and your sorrow and your tears. When we are weak, then we are strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 10)

Now I believe.

In my weakness and God’s strength,

Missionary John Holtz, Malawi

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Faith and Love in Action – Africa

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Are you a planner? I am. At this time of year many people plan what they’d like to accomplish during the year and beyond. As I finish my term of service with the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM), I am starting to make some plans for what comes next. Though planning of some degree is wise and sensible, what happens when plans are upset? Do you feel frustrated or angry, wondering where you went wrong or questioning the wisdom of God?

Many people greet the New Year hoping for prosperity. But how do you define prosperity? Is it based solely on your net worth, or is it based on what you share, be that time, money, or skill? Your definition of prosperity could depend on your definition of “enough”. But what if you don’t have all you need? Does that mean God’s plans for you fizzled, or His promises don’t apply to you?

Some of the rural Malawians that the Lutheran Mobile Clinic serves are wrestling with very grim situations, just like many other people throughout the world. Grave illnesses, the death of the main breadwinner, flood, drought, the breakup of families and other consequences of living in a sinful world have snuffed out the survival and prosperity plans of some of these people. In these circumstances it is easy to forget that God is watching and intervening for their good. Hope is fleeting and future prosperity seems impossible. They may fear that God is guessing, rather than knowing His plans for their lives. They may wonder if God’s promises apply to them.

This is where organizations like CAMM and Christian Aid and Relief come in. We understand, by the grace of God, that His promise in Jeremiah is to us, just as it was to the Israelites who, being carried off into exile, were most certainly wondering about their future. However, as volunteers, donors, and those who pray for these “faith and love in action” organizations, we also understand this promise is not just to us; it is also about us.

Believing that God is the source of every blessing and that everything belongs to Him, we are free to use everything He has given to care for ourselves as we care for others. Because God places us and gives to or withholds from each of us as He sees fit, there is always something you can do for someone in need, whatever that need looks like. Perhaps you have nothing but time; be a full-time volunteer. Maybe God has given you money; give wisely and generously. Have you identified and developed the talents with which you were blessed? Use them in service, wherever you are. Are you enduring a season of life where time is limited, money is tight and you’re unsure of or unable to use your skills? Be a prayer warrior and expect the Lord’s guidance in His time.

Will this be a prosperous year for you? It might depend on your definition of prosperity. However, no matter what sort of year this turns out to be, we are confident in God’s providence, and privileged to share with others, because God is faithful and He never breaks His promises.

Written by: Amanda Artz, Clinic Administrator at the Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Lilongwe, Malawi

P.S. – Want to learn more about the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM)? Visit their website at www.camm.us or follow them on Facebook

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A Most Blessed, Christ-filled Christmas from Malawi

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

I just have to smile. After all, it’s Christmas time! It’s the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I just have to smile.

I just have to chuckle, too. Christmas is also a time that I do.

Here’s why: at Christmas time my family and I display some of our nativities in remembrance of our newborn King. When setting them up and seeing them displayed, my mind immediately recalls the time I once bought a Crèche in an open air market here in Lilongwe, Malawi.

What’s so funny about that?

Picture this: Mary and Joseph and Jesus, some shepherds, the Wise men, a star,1 a cow, a couple of sheep, a donkey or two…

and a hippo.

My Nativity Scene Hippo celebrating the season

Ok, granted, it is Malawi. It is Africa. And hippopotami are abundant here. And to top it all off, it is a very different culture from the USA. But a nativity scene hippo? Hmmm… maybe this explains a few things.

For years I always pictured that Joseph was wide-eyed in amazement because of the birth of the Baby. Now I’m wondering if his eyes were like saucers because he was a bit worried and astonished that the three-toed, barrel-shaped beast with the beady eyes, big mouth, and bad breath was meandering just a bit too close to the manger.

We all love to sing Silent Night and we seem to think that all was indeed calm, but now I doubt if it was really all that quiet. I mean if

the cattle were lowing,
the sheep were baaing,
the donkeys braying,
and now the hippo gets a bit edgy and chimes in with its snorting, grunting, bellowing and blowing, then maybe the Baby was crying after all with the noise!

And yet we faithfully and confidently proclaim “No crying He makes” when we sing Away in a Manger. Yikes! Strange thoughts run through my mind! I just have to chuckle. I guess it’s fun to have fun with it. Gives a lighter side to the very important and monumental fact of Christmas:

The INCARNATION!

The “ten dollar” word that means God became Man. The second Person of the Trinity, True God, became the “first-born among many brothers,” True Man! (Romans 8:29).

Born to die!
Died to live!
Descended to earth so that we might ascend to Heaven!

That means we can sing Joy to the World with gusto all year round if we want! We have untold, incalculable, immeasurable, even indescribable joy not just on the 25th of the last month of the year. That gives us reason to worship every day of the year!

And worship we do. All around the globe Lutherans are worshiping this Christmas season. Which brings up something to ponder again at this time: Lutherans worship in different cultures and different cultures worship in different ways. Lutherans in fellowship worship in different ways. Even at Christmas.

The instruments played in your church may not be the ones in ours. Dancing choirs may be common place here, but not there. Your congregation dresses one way, but they do so very differently on the other side of the world…or maybe even on the other side of town.

There really wasn’t a hippo in the stable on that first Christmas in Bethlehem, but it didn’t seem to bother the marketer much that he included one in the nativity set he sold me. I walked away with a good deal and a good deal to ponder each Christmas in Africa: there are many differences at Christmas time in Malawi compared to an American Christmas in Wisconsin. Here are some:

  • No snow! While you may be singing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” we are opening up our umbrellas because it’s the front end of the rainy season.
  • Decorations? There are a few but there are probably more in one Wisconsin Walmart than in the whole country of Malawi.
  • I’ve never seen a Christmas tree set up in a Malawian house.
  • Strings of lights framing houses? Are you kidding? Most houses don’t have electricity hooked up and the ones that do don’t have power most of the time anyway.
  • The most common and most favorite Christmas meal in Malawi seems to be chicken and rice.
  • I have never seen or heard of a Living Nativity in Malawi enacting the Christmas story. (Maybe it’s because it’s too difficult to get the hippo to cooperate).

Plenty of differences, but there are also similarities:

God’s people gather for worship.
Sins are confessed and songs are raised.
The Word of God is preached.
The Bethlehem Story is pondered.
Gospel news shared.
Fellowship enjoyed.

The Babe in the manger is honored with humble gifts and worshiped with happy voices. I just have to smile… at the absurdity of it all. There are many things more surprising than a hippo in a Nativity set! Imagine…

A God in love with us!
A night sky of angels exploding in song!
Shepherds who seek!
A virgin birth!
A believing husband-to-be!
God becoming Man!
A leading star!
Wise men who followed and those who still do!

And there still are missionaries who live in far off lands who, at Christmas time, still set up trees, decorate their houses and string lights even though there’s little power. Some still display nativity sets… with or without a hippo. On behalf of the Lutheran Mission in Malawi, have a most blessed Christ-filled Christmas!

By: Missionary John Holtz – Malawi

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Reformation Rain

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

It doesn’t rain in October in Malawi. October is an oven preheated to broil. The sun is intense. The heat blisters. The ground hardens. Rivers dry and the lakes recede. It never rains in October in Malawi.

But to everyone’s surprise, showers fell on the 29th of October. People are still talking about it. “Hey, did you hear…?” That was the very day that most churches in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa – Malawi Synod (LCCA-MS) were celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.

A Mother Nature mistake? A global warming mix-up? Climate change chaos?

Or…the gift of God?

I prefer the later. After all, if God controls ALL things, then doesn’t He also have command of the weather? Interestingly, as the rains pounded the roof and streaked the windows during the worship service at Our Good Shepherd in Mzimba, the liturgist Pastor Milton Nyirenda was reading the Scripture lesson:

“As the rain and 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 from 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.” (Isaiah 55:10.11)

Like lightning, it struck me: it was raining more on the inside of the church than on the outside! Not because there was a hole in the roof, but because the LORD was showering His people with His grace!

Women’s Choir from Madalitso, Malawi

A raining of the life-giving gospel message. An unending downpour of good news in Jesus. A surprising cloudburst of love and forgiveness. This rain had already started to fall in the Garden of Eden and has continued to this day. 500 years ago Martin Luther got soaked. On the 29th of October 2017, so did we. On that day in Mzimba, and throughout Malawi, God’s grace in Jesus was proclaimed, preached, taught, received, shown, sung and danced! Even drawn and colored!

The picture at the beginning of this post shows some of the northern region ladies coloring Luther’s Seal or Coat of Arms. We studied the meaning and Scripture truths behind each of the five components that make up the Seal:

  • The black cross
  • The red heart
  • The white rose
  • The blue sky
  • The gold ring

Luther’s “logo” proclaims his faith and theology and ours as well. Isn’t the cross not only the central message of Scripture, but also central to our lives? Aren’t our hearts alive in Christ and beating with His love? Aren’t we, saints dressed in the white robes of salvation, place delicately in a joyous white rose of hope? With a firm resolution, hasn’t Jesus promised His second coming? And don’t we, with eager expectation and with our spiritual eyes to the skies, look forward to it? Isn’t God’s love more precious than gold and as unending as a circle?

A resounding YES to each one! With Jesus being the Answer to each question, every one of them falls upon us like rain: cool, refreshing, invigorating, motivating.

No wonder the Lord included verse 10 in Ephesians chapter 2: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Apparently God must have been quite busy prior to the 29th of October because on that day His people were actively doing the good works He prepared for them:

Structures were erected.
Tarps were hung.
Food was prepared.
Guests served.
Dishes washed.
Hospitality was extended.
Offerings were given.
Shut-ins were visited.
Songs were sung.
Gifts were shared.
Children were taken care of.
Cups of cold water were given to thirsty people.

But there was not a greater work done that day than what God was doing for us by raining down His Grace in Word and Sacrament. Vicar Frank Mukhweya preached his sermon using the theme that was previously chosen and used by all the other LCCA-MS called workers who stood in the pulpit that day. It was the same text that is imprinted on the special Reformation chitenje (skirts) that the LCCA-MS had designed and made for this significant occasion: Chipulumutso chichokera kuchisomo (We are saved by grace).

The text was preached, the Lord’s Supper was received and God tipped the water jars. His people were doused. And if you ever wonder what the weather will be like the next time you go to your church, just open up your Bible to Ephesians 2:1-10. No matter the day or the month, there you can count on Reformation rain.

By: Missionary John Holtz – Malawi

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Picking Up The Cloak and Going On

When Elijah went up, Elisha went on.

On the same day, God brought them both to a significant juncture: the Lord called Elijah homeward–his work was done. Elisha moved onward–because his wasn’t.

The sights and sounds were phenomenal; it must have been an amazing event to witness.

So was the June 2nd Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) graduation1 in Lilongwe, Malawi even though there was no whirlwind or chariot and horsemen of fire. That day was remarkably momentous. Not just because the students received a well-deserved diploma and congratulatory handshake, but because (in a sense) each one “picked up the cloak” and moved on.

The cloak?

Go back for a moment to 2 Kings 2:13. It’s there on the ground. But because of the attention-grabbing whirlwind and the “I can’t believe what I’m seeing” chariot and horsemen of fire, we sometimes miss the cloak.

Let’s not overlook it anymore.

The cloak had been Elijah’s. It had fallen when the old prophet ascended.2 It was the same cloak that Elijah had just previously rolled up and used to smack the waters.3 It wouldn’t be all that incredible had not the waters divided and dry ground appeared.

“My father!  My father!  The chariot and horsemen of Israel!”4

 And just like that, Elijah was gone.

Keep in mind, it’s not just any person who had left the scene. The person who is gone is Elisha’s spiritual father, his teacher and mentor! The one with whom he had spent time and built a relationship. This meant no more chats or discussions; no more opportunities to ask questions. No longer can Elisha sit at Elijah’s feet and learn from him. Might Elisha be feeling a bit alone? Inadequate? Intimidated? Elijah is gone. Gone! Ah, but look – his cloak isn’t! Elisha sees it and picks it up…

And goes on.

In a sense, the LBI students have done the same. They have gone on. But before they did so, they (like Elisha) picked up the cloak.

For three years they walked and talked with their “spiritual fathers.” But now the time is over with their teachers and mentors.  No longer will they study the Gospel of John with Pastor Panning or speak Greek with Pastor Nitz. They won’t learn any more biology with Professor Mwakatika or Pastoral Theology with Professor Kumchulesi.

Though a new class is coming to the LBI in September, the work of the professors is done for this particular group of “prophets’ sons.” Look, the cloak has fallen from the professor’s shoulders, and these nine students of the Word have picked it up.  They are off and running. A “passing of the baton” of sorts. Soon they will be found in Lusaka, Zambia in yet another classroom for three years.

God-willing, in 2020 these nine men will become full time called workers in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA). Academically speaking, these men have run a marathon already… but the road ahead of them is equally long. Won’t you take a moment to offer a prayer on their behalf?

If you’d like, you can simply use the one the hymnist wrote:5

God of the prophets, bless the prophet’s sons;
Elijah’s mantle o’er Elisha cast.
Each age its solemn task may claim but once;
Make each one better, nobler than the last.
Anoint them prophets, men who are intent
To be your witnesses in word and deed,
Their hearts aflame, their lips made eloquent,
Their eyes awake to ev’ry human need.

“The mantle has been cast.” Keep in mind this mantle is not so much a swath of cloth but a symbol of something far greater. Elisha had begged for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah’s spirit was nothing less than God’s power and strength. And got it! He simply wanted to go on in the same power that Elijah had been given. He wanted to be able to do the Lord’s work and do it well.

And he did. Because the power was not from Elijah, it was from God.

Just as the Lord had given Elijah what he needed to do his work, the same Lord would equip the new man who would follow. Elisha would go on in the strength of the Lord.  He was, well, cloaked in it! Wrapped up in the grace of God!

So are the nine students who have graduated.

Yes, they have picked up the mantle and gone on. The campus is now quiet. The students and their families are gone. The only things that linger are memories and pictures of that graduation day. Oh, and the tree that they planted.

All in all, it was indeed a special event. But even though those nine young men were all wearing brand new suits and received unanimous recommendation to go on to the Seminary, we realize…

It really wasn’t about them.

It wasn’t even about their professors. And most certainly it was not about the piece of paper they can now frame and hang on their wall.

It was about Jesus Christ, our living God and Savior! It was all about the Lord who gives the power and abilities to teach and to learn. It was our gracious God who called each man to be in the place where God wanted him to be. All along it was the Lord who was daily strengthening faith, forgiving sins, equipping and empowering these students and their teachers “in the spirit of Elijah.”

That’s good to know when you reach your own significant juncture in life. Maybe you’re there right now. Or, perhaps one is right around the corner. There may come a time when someone special in your life leaves you behind. Not necessarily through death, but that may be the case too. It may be that that someone special in your life is called by God to go in a different direction than you thought–or hoped. But chances are, you may at least for a while, feel alone. Lonely. Perhaps intimidated by the work that God has called you still to do. You may wonder how to move forward with the gifts you have–or don’t have.

The answer is there, but it’s easy to overlook.

Sometimes the things that are the most near to us are the things we don’t see. What has been with us all along, is “the mantle, the double portion of the spirit of Elijah.” Better put: the gospel in word and sacraments. The power of God for salvation!

 My father!  My father!  The chariot and horsemen of Israel!

What a joy it must be for our Lord Jesus to see us doing what Elisha did…

Picking up the cloak…and going on.

By: Missionary John Holtz
__________________________________________
1.) 2017 LBI Graduates:

  • Four LBI graduates from Malawi: Baloyi, Mr. Gomezgani Anthony, Kalima, Mr. Greshan David, Mpingiza, Mr. Joel, Namakhwa, Mr. Justin Lackson
  • Five LBI graduates from Zambia: Banda, Mr. Daniel Favour, Banda, Mr. Jatelo Lingililani, Mwanza, Mr. Elias, Nhliziyo, Mr. Dumisani James, Nyirongo, Mr. Chisale Doubt Jackson

2.) 2 Kings 2:13

3.) Kings 2:8

4.) “Elisha’s exclamation… refers to Elijah, his father in the faith. Just as mighty horses and chariots are emblems of a king’s strength, so Elijah had been a spiritual bulwark of God’s people.” Arno J. Wolfgramm, The People’s Bible, KINGS, page 169.

5.) CW 543 God of the Prophets, Verses 1 and 2

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Evangelism in Malawi

The answer was surprising.

At first… only at first.

I had asked a rather straightforward question of some of the pastors in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) in Malawi. I had been requested to teach a course on Evangelism so I figured that it would be good to first find out what evangelism was currently being done in our geographically small, but extremely populated country. So my question?

“What evangelism program do you currently carry out?”

That word: “program.” Do you like it? Mind it? Or cringe a bit when you hear it? I don’t know, maybe it’s not the best word to use. I suppose it can sound like we are talking about something merely mechanical or canned. Maybe it sounds too much like a staged performance or show, a theatrical technique.

I don’t mean it in that way at all.  Would another word be better?

Approach?
Effort?
Method?

We know that the Lord Himself gave us the “Great Commission” at the end of the Gospel of Matthew.We see Jesus himself engaged in evangelism throughout his life. As Luke wraps up the story about Jesus bringing salvation to tree-climbing, branch-clinging Zacchaeus, he includes Jesus’ own words to that short man: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” 2

Jesus reached out with the gospel message to needy people, but he wasn’t the only one. So did his disciples. We find them on various occasions talking, sharing, telling, and inviting.

“Come and see!”3

It wasn’t so much about a program but a person. And that person is Jesus.

When you think about your own congregation, how would YOU answer that same question? Whatever word you prefer to use, how are you personally and and as a congregation reaching out to the lost?

Knocking on doors?
Hanging flyers?
Mass mailings?
Telephone surveys?
Travel canvass witness teams?
Friendship Sundays?
TV? Radio? Websites?
Personal invitations?
Chats over Coffee and doughnuts?
Breakfast meetings? Luncheons?

The answer every Malawian pastor gave me was none of the above, but each said the same thing. Their answer?

Funerals.

Funerals? Yep, funerals.

Was that even one of your top answers for your congregational gospel outreach? Had funerals even crossed your mind?

A surprising answer, but only at first.

Attend just one funeral in Malawi and you will understand. You see, everyone attends the funeral. EVERYONE.

It’s not just family and friends and congregation members who come to the funeral. So do people in the work place. The neighborhood. The whole village. The entire community. Even those who didn’t even know the person well, or even at all, will come to the funeral to show respect. It’s just an unwritten rule inscribed in every Malawian heart: you just don’t NOT attend.

Recently I did attend a funeral in May. The dear wife of retired Pastor Akim Daile was called to eternal glory. Jean had had a long and fierce battle with cancer and finally, the Lord said, “enough.” To say there was a “crowd” at Mrs. Daile’s funeral is an understatement. Pockets of people were everywhere. The funeral house was jam packed. Hundreds gathered around the coffin, viewed the body, followed in procession and sat at the gravesite.

Choir sang.
Women danced.
Men shoveled.
Wreathes were laid.
Speeches made.

My, oh my, were there people! Everyone was there – including our pastors. Each one knew what it meant… among the hundreds and hundreds of people, there in the crooks of the trees are perched the Zacchaeus’ of our world. They are people with a great need, and that great need is Jesus – the One who walked out of his own tomb. The pastor takes his place in the center of the crowd. He stands near the coffin and offers a silent prayer; he opens his Bible and reads the text. He begins to share the Word of Life.

That’s what evangelism looks like in Malawi.

By: Missionary John Holtz, Malawi, Africa 

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Behind the Scenes

“Ooooooookay!”

That’s the word we hear from Milton after sitting down with him and talking about the needs of our mission here in Cameroon. He usually says it with a smile and then heads out with list in hand. What follows is often the sound of a drill, a hammer, a welding machine, or maybe the motorbike if we’ve sent Milton on an errand.

While on furlough, missionaries often make presentations around the U.S. about their foreign mission field at Mission Festivals, as part of special worship services, or mission focused Bible studies. A common comment from members is, “I couldn’t do what you do.” We are humbled to hear those words because there are so many “behind the scenes” people – who you may never meet – that work tirelessly to ensure world missions run smoothly. We think of people stateside like Carolyn and Kasey at the Center for Missions and Ministry (CMM) office and Tim who volunteers his time to ensure financial organization for all the Africa mission fields. Our children who know we can’t be there for yet another Parent’s Day at school, or any holiday for that matter and plenty of others stateside whose names we won’t share in this post (word limit)!

And then there’s Milton Ngole.

Milton began serving our mission in Kumba in 1999 as an on-call handyman. Missionaries soon realized his desire to learn and offered him full-time employment in 2001. Milton will try anything: electrical, carpentry, mechanics, contracting, serving as an envoy between the mission and the government on necessary documentation and even the mundane tasks like caring for the dogs. Repeatedly, if necessary. That’s not a bad reminder for all of us – and maybe especially – in our spiritual lives as the Lord strengthens us in his Word, we can, “do all things through Him who gives me(us) strength” (Philippians 4:13).  I can’t does not belong in our vocabulary as Christians.

Fortunately, Milton’s desire to learn also includes the scriptures. He was confirmed in 2010 by the late Missionary Dan Myers and now serves as the congregational chairman. God brought Juliet into Milton’s life and she was taught and confirmed under Missionary Joel Hoff. Milton and Juliet’s daughter Marion turned one year old in June.

Milton is steady and faithful, and an extremely important part of our work. He doesn’t need a lot of accolades or recognition. He works for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23), so that our message can move freely as we work together to build the Lord’s Kingdom through the Lutheran Church of Cameroon.

Observing Milton’s work reminds us often of the variety of gifts the Lord uses to build His kingdom. So, what about you? What gifts do you have? How do you use them to accomplish the Lord’s work here on earth? From those of us in Cameroon, we thank you for doing all you can do stateside, as the Lord himself empowers you to His glory.

By: Dan and Karen Kroll
Kumba, Cameroon

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A Hidden Gem, Malawi, Africa

It’s a travel cliché describing an intriguing place that is little known and seldom visited.  These “must-sees” are often not seen because they are off the beaten track in “out-of-the- way” places.

But they are worth the effort. Those who stumble upon them feel as though they’ve found, well, a hidden gem.

There are a few of them in Malawi, Africa.

Now there is one more.

This one, however, is not a place, but a person. Her name is Amanda E. Artz. She is the new Administrator for the Lutheran Mobile Clinic (LMC).

The Central Africa Medical Mission Committee (CAMMC) first “stumbled upon” her when they received her application for the position.  As Christians, however, we know it was not a mere “stumbling upon.”  This did not happen by chance.

God had His hand in the whole process!

Amanda saw the ad from CAMMC at her church1 (By the way, an Africa-size thank you, Pastors,2 for including the announcement in the bulletin!).  God then stirred in Amanda a desire to ask questions and eventually apply for the position.  God then moved the committee to select her.

What God ordains is always good.3

So here we are now in Malawi – and in particular at the Lutheran Mobile Clinic – so very blessed because God has ordained that Amanda be here!4

God has given us a kind, compassionate Administrator who is a good listener and hard-worker.  She’s eager to learn and ready to take on challenges.  Respectful, dutiful and humble.  Active church goer.  Bible Study participant. Accomplished musician.

A hidden gem.

In case you might be interested in the work of an LMC Administrator, Amanda gives us peek into it:

“As clinic administrator I attend clinic each week, keep track of the day to day and monthly finances and financial transactions, manage payroll, manage clinic, house, dog, and vehicle maintenance and schedules, stock and inventory house supplies, maintain regular communication with each member of the staff, hear and attend to staff requests and concerns, manage staff employment documents, participate in planning landscaping and gardening projects, request and attend meetings as needed with businesses and organizations in Lilongwe,  pay the bills, submit payroll taxes, pension and life insurance payments, and various other duties as needed and as necessary.”

So if you assumed that you’d always find Amanda in her Lilongwe home office, sorry, you just won’t.  On any given day she’s “off the beaten track in out-of-the-way places” doing what LMC Administrators do and being found where LMC Administrators are found:  the rural villages, government offices and health care facilities.

But be forewarned:  if you are going to find her, you may just need a 4 X 4 Land Cruiser to do so.

As you might well imagine, living and working in a developing country like Malawi brings not only unique joys and adventures but also its challenges.  Amanda humbly yet confidently begs your prayers.  For what specifically can you pray?

I’ll let Amanda answer that:

“Pray that in the thick of the daily stresses of living in Malawi, the people representing the Lutheran Mobile Clinic are clear displays of Christ’s love.  Pray that in everything we say and do, and in our interactions, approaches and executions of tasks big and small we are fit ambassadors to those who don’t know God as well as those who do.  Pray that we remember we are involved in something much bigger than any one of us and that we always re- member our Father is watching and interested and eager to help.”

Well said, Amanda.

Yes, to be “a clear display of Christ’s love.”

A sparkle off a precious Stone.

An eye-catching ray of light off a polished Jewel.  The glint off a discovered hidden Gem.

Is not the Kingdom of heaven actually likened unto a Hidden Treasure and a Pearl of great Price? (Matthew 13:44-46)

Is not Jesus, our resurrected and living Easter Surprise, also THE HIDDEN GEM?

Even though the Lord has revealed Himself in Holy Scriptures as the Pearl of Great Price, not everyone finds it.

Even those who have, at times, take it (Jesus) for granted. (Forgive us, Lord!)

While Amanda was contemplating the question whether or not to apply for the position in Malawi, she had other questions rolling around in her mind:

Will I fit in?

Can I do the work?

Should I give 3 years of my life to this venture?

What will I do for a job when I return to the States?

These questions circled around her heart like vultures around a dead animal.  But Amanda’s mother kept focusing her on Jesus.  Amanda appreciatively recalls that her mother’s (Mary) most frequent response to her concerns was:  “Trust in the Lord.”

Just what Amanda needed to hear.

And just what she did.

So when the plane landed at Kamuzu International Airport on 22 November 2016 one of the passengers who disembarked without a return ticket was Amanda E. Artz.

We are glad – and blessed – because she was.  For those of you in the States, yes, Amanda is now a bit “off the beaten track” and a bit “out of the way.”  But for the Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Malawi, it has been worth all the effort to get Amanda on field.

Oh, by the way, did you notice that Amanda’s middle name starts with an “E?”

Maybe you guessed it already…

Emerald. : )

Amanda Emerald Artz.

A hidden gem.

___________________________________

By: Missionary John Holtz, Field Coordinator, Malawi

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Put your heads down

This month’s article is written by Rachel Holtz, daughter of Missionary John and Mindy Holtz

“Put your heads down! Put your heads down!”

This is what the crew shouted at the passengers aboard the South African Airways aircraft, flight SAA 204, going from New York, USA to Johannesburg, South Africa. Sophia Weisensel, my roommate and good friend, and I were among those passengers.

We were on our way to my home in Lilongwe, Malawi. I was SO excited. Indescribably excited. I hadn’t seen my family for the whole of my first full school year at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota.

But just as the plane was about to takeoff, we were told to put our heads down and assume the brace position. At first we didn’t know what was going on. There were lots of questions running through my mind.

What happened? Why are we stopping? Will we make our connection flight? How will I let my parents know what’s going on?

 It turned out there was a malfunction in one of the engines and we had to abort the takeoff. We sat on the plane for an extra two hours waiting for the problem to be solved. It was eventually, but the delay caused us to miss our connecting flight from Johannesburg to Lilongwe. Sophia and I spent two nights at the airport hotel in Johannesburg, waiting for the next SAA flight to Lilongwe.

I was so close, yet so far away.

Fast forward the two days of wandering around the airport, watching movies in the hotel room, and eating at the same restaurant with food coupons. My indescribable excitement had been put on pause because of the two day delay, but during the flight to Lilongwe it continued to grow.

Finally, FINALLY, we landed and got through customs and sorted out the luggage.

What was it like to finally be home? When I saw my dad, mom, and sister, Heather, the anticipation and happiness that built up inside of me let itself out through a burst of tears. I hugged them all as I cried.

My initial excitement lessened to a more normal level during my first few days at home. I was happy to be back. It felt SO good. Yet…

…something also felt weird.

Something was different and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I felt a slight sadness after coming home that I didn’t expect. Talking to another good friend about it helped me understand what was troubling me. It was a certain undefinable change.

I had been apart from my family for about nine months. I changed during that time. They changed during that time. But we didn’t change together as a family unit. There was no specific big change that I could point out, but it was there. And it made me sad. I longed for how it used to be. More questions were running through my mind. God, what do I do? How do I make it feel like it used to? Before I left?

 Thankfully, it only troubled me for a little while. All I had to do was remember to be grateful and remind myself of God’s promises.

I need to be grateful for God’s presence in my past and be assured of His presence in my future. There’s no point in wishing for what once was. God gives us what we need at the proper time and everything that happens to us is for our eternal good. God also promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us. Though I’m still comparably young, I can see how God has always been with me.

And looking back on my freshman year at Bethany, I don’t understand how I managed it. How did I make it through all those changes? Being away from my family, adjusting to an American culture, a different school system, and a Minnesota winter, to name a few.

Well, obviously it was my plenteous determination, cultural adaptability skills, and superior intellect.

Not so much.

God was with me, and He gave me strength when I needed it. Sometimes I didn’t even ask for it. Sometimes I didn’t even realize He was giving it to me.

Pretty soon my family and I will be experiencing more big changes: I’m going to leave Malawi again to start my sophomore year of college, my sister will be going to Wisconsin Lutheran College for her freshman year, my parents will be alone at home for the first time. Now our family will be separated and stuck in three different directions of change. When we reunite, it might feel more different than ever.

I KNOW I don’t have to worry about tomorrow, next week, or next year, but I’m sinful and I worry anyway. I KNOW that God will carry me through anything, but I’m sinful and I rely on my own abilities. I KNOW that God has plans and purposes for me, but I’m sinful and I think I know what’s best for me.

The only thing I can do is continuously run back to God and his promises.

Going back to one of my dad’s favorite hymns always gives me comfort.

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;

Leave to your God to order and provide;

In every change he faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul; your best, your heav’nly friend Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end. (CW 415)

When the crew aboard flight SAA 204 told us to put our heads down, I only grasped the physical meaning at the time. I only thought to put my head down to assume the brace position, but I should have also put my head down in prayer.

Of course, we shouldn’t only pray in the case of airplane emergencies. But always. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, pray continually. And we can pray with the assurance that God will answer us with what we need. With what He knows is best.

Change can be especially hard, but God has a plan. Pray for strength, patience, courage, and guidance. God will give you what you need, even if you forget to ask for it.

So tiyeni. Let’s go.

Let’s follow the SAA 204 crew’s advice. Let’s put our heads down…

…in prayer.

Your Mission Partner’s Daughter,

Rachel Holtz

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Pure Water for Nigeria

Pure drinking water is a paramount need in Nigeria and so many other places in the world which lack sufficient water treatment infrastructure. A woman wrote of her immigrant family homesteading in North Dakota in the early 1900s. She wrote of frequent sickness because her family drew drinking water from a meager stream. That’s how it is in rural Nigeria today – and in some cities too.

I visited the village of one of our churches. The congregation leader was my eager guide. “Show me where you get your water.” He took me to a stream. It was low due to the dry season. In the exposed stream bed, my host pulled a palm-leaf cover from a hole in the mud. Two feet down was the surface of the murky water. “This is what we drink,” he said matter-of-factly. Even without public health training, I could imagine all sorts of micro-organisms that the villagers were ingesting every day. It is any wonder our Nigerian friends are so often sick, especially in rural areas?

Pastor Ted Lambert and I were teaching Seminary in 2002. I assumed that the students had a good source of water. One day we crossed the sand street visit young men making cement blocks. For water they had dug a square hole alongside the road. Road run-off collected there for mixing cement. How shocked we were when our students came to draw water from the pit. “What’s that water for?” we asked. “For bathing .” Thank God they could get better drinking water elsewhere.

Nigerians will tell you that our discoveries are common knowledge. So Lambert asked WELS Christian Aid and Relief to help. We dedicated our first borehole (drilled well) in 2002 at Ikot Osom, where villagers had been walking to a distant stream for water. The local head chief thanked us, “You think you have given us water. You have actually given us life.” That first deep borehole is still at work for hundreds of Ikot Osom people, managed and maintained all this time by the Lutheran congregation just 20 yards away.

In November 2015, we dedicated a new borehole in the front yard of our sister Lutheran church at Ikot Ntan Nsit. With the start of the new generator, flip of a switch or two, drinks of cool water and a short prayer, we asked our Triune God to bless this water for the surrounding community.

Our boreholes in Nigeria are dilled deep enough to draw water from clean gravel layers 130 feet down or deeper. Our drillers go deep enough for the water to test pure. Each unit has a gas-powered generator, submersible pump, two or three 1500 liter storage tanks, and a cement block house to elevate them for water pressure. The local congregation is in charge of their borehole, distributing the water and charging a water fee just large enough to fuel their generator and service their pump. This is a total “hand-over” package manage. WELS will not return to repair their precious boreholes. So far, this seems to work in most places.

We’ve had some failures. One could not be drilled when the workers hit a thick rock layer. Another tapped a vein of water contaminated by salt and iron and was abandoned. Yet another congregation did such poor drilling work that water would not flow. But they linked up with a United Nations group to get their borehole productive for the community. The only two hand pump wells we did failed after short use. For this reason, we stick to the more costly mechanized borehole version.

In all, we’ve done 30 borehole projects in Christ the King Lutheran Church (synod) and All Saints Lutheran Church (synod) in Nigeria. 26 were sponsored by WELS Christian Aid and Relief and its predecessors, one by a foundation grant, and three by WELS congregations and donors. 26 boreholes remain successful, thanks to careful management by our sister Lutheran congregations.

Pure drinking water remains a daily concern in Nigeria. Thanks be to our Lord of abundant love for the many WELS donors who sponsor boreholes for Nigeria. May our fellow Lutherans in Nigeria providing pure water for their communities also attract many souls to drink of the water of life which only Jesus supplies!

Written by Rev. Douglas Weiser, part time missionary to Nigeria

To view a video highlighting bore hole activity, visit this link.

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Don’t let go until He blesses

I never have fully understood Genesis 32:24. “…a man wrestled with Jacob till daybreak.” Read the whole context1 and you come to find out that the “man” was God!

God in a wrestling match?

I can’t help but picture an angelic announcer with a microphone and a note card: “Ladies and Gentlemen…welcome to the Jabbok Arena for the match of the century. In this corner, contending for the crown, weighing in at 178 pounds, Jaaaaaaaacob! (Applause); And in this corner, weighing in at…well, I don’t know how much He weighs…the undefeated and undisputed reigning Champion of the universe…God! (Applause)

What is this? The Old Testament version of World Wrestling Federation? Not Hulk Hogan verses Da’ Crusher, but the Deceiver vs the Destroyer.

No four-sided ring and no leather bound turnbuckles; no folding chairs to slam or ropes from which to jump, but an under-the-stars night time match of grappling, rumbling and tumbling. Jacob putting God in a “half nelson?” I still can’t entirely understand how it all took place but maybe I grasp it a bit more now than I did before.

Like Jacob, I too, have been in a strenuous wrestling match. Not a physical bout but a spiritual one. Not just for one night but for one month. A Call put me in the ring.

John Holtz, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Bylas Arizona, together with the Administrative Committee for the Native American Mission is extending this Call to you to be their shepherding pastor on the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Like a ring-side bell, that announcement began the match. I wasn’t wrestling with the Calling body but with the real CALLER Himself: God. Clay Jar vs The Blesser. Four weeks of grappling in prayer. Agonizing, arduous, exhausting prayer.

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”2

He did.

God blessed me immeasurably through time in the Word. The LORD has blessed me through talks with Christ centered, mature-in-the-faith people. He’s given me a new look at the gospel work He’s calling to be done. He’s has called to mind once again that we are to walk by faith and not by sight. Christ has reminded me again and again through His Word what He displays through my jar-of-clay weakness: His victory-of-the-cross strength! To be sure, in both Malawi and the San Carlos Reservation, the needs are so great, the work is so important, the people so precious and the message so valuable. Consequently, the wrestling match was so strenuous. But through all the straining and struggling, He led me to a decision. I returned the Call that I had received to Our Savior’s Church on the Apache Reservation. I believe the Lord led me to continue to serve in Malawi. The BLESSER blessed me with assurance that He will be with me and not forsake me.3

Dear Mission Partners, I write to you these thoughts to thank you for your prayers, emails and phone calls. Perhaps not everyone who reads these communiques knew about the Call, but many of you did. And when you found out, you prayed for me and my family, for Our Savior’s congregation and for the Malawi mission field. In your own way, you stood outside the ring and offered prayers for the one in it.

As far as I know, there is always some Called Worker in WELS some place in the country or in the world who is wrestling with a Call that has been laid upon his/her heart. Might be a teacher or pastor, a missionary or lay minister. If ever you do hear about such Calls that are extended, even if you don’t know the person well, and especially if you do, might I ask that you also say a prayer for that person? I’m sure he or she would appreciate that kind of support. “Mission Partner” in the true sense of the words.

Though Call decisions may come easier for some than others, there is still is an important decision to make. Because a Call is from God, the wrestling is with God.

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Jacob didn’t until God did. Through the strenuous process, like Jacob, we are blessed to see God “face to face.” We do so by faith through His Word. We see God as Jesus has made Him known.4

We know Him. He is both Destroyer and Blesser. By His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave He destroyed the power of sin, death and the devil and blesses us with life and eternal salvation. Though, like Jacob, we all have been deceivers, we too have all been justified.

Clay jars have overcome.

Unlike He did for Jacob, God didn’t change my name after the match.5 But sometimes I think I’m limping a bit more. Did he touch my hip? Not sure, (maybe it’s just arthritis) but He did touch my heart. He once again touched it with His grace and love and mercy.

He’s given me a wife worth far more than rubies,6 two children who love me far more than I deserve and family members who accept God’s will even when it doesn’t match theirs. He’s already blessed me with a cloud of witnesses that has gone on before me7, a mission family presently surrounding me and leaders currently guiding and encouraging me.

Whoever He Calls, He blesses. Wherever He Calls, He equips.

Dear Mission Partner, you too have a calling, a vocation to serve and glorify the Lord who has called you to the position and place in which you find yourself today. And if today the one in the ring wrestling with God is YOU, you may very likely discover that the match is long and strenuous. But…

“Don’t let go until He blesses.”

Tiredly but sincerely,

Your Mission Partner,

John Holtz

_____________________________________________

  1. Genesis 32:22-32
  2. Genesis 32:26
  3. Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20
  4. John 1:18
  5. Genesis 32:28
  6. Proverbs 31:10
  7. Hebrews 11
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Outside the Comfort Zone

Amanda Oswalt is getting what she prayed for: an experience outside of her comfort zone. It certainly is all that…and much more. Amanda stepped out of the sparkling and sanitized hallways of St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin one day and into the handmade brick and mortar, dark and dusty clinics in rural Malawi the next. Could there be a more stark contrast in health care and facilities? Not from Amanda’s perspective: “It was such juxtaposition from where I came from and into what the medical reality is here.”

BWM-Malawi-AmandaOswaltJust what are the medical realities in Malawi?

Well, to name a few…

• Limited medications
• Long queues
• Little/no electricity
• Outdated equipment
• Insufficient funds
• Staffing shortages
• Cramped quarters
• Overcrowded rooms
• Minimal/no pain management

With such circumstances just what is Amanda, the Nurse-in-Charge, to do? Lots, actually. Though she is seldom called upon for direct patient care, Amanda has a full
plate. As the Nurse-in-Charge, she makes sure that everything with the staff and clinic management medically runs smoothly. She purchases the majority of the clinic’s medications and works with the Malawian Government to procure others. She also reports back pertinent statistical data of the Lutheran Clinics to both the Malawian Government (which gets the lion’s share of the data) and the Central Africa Medical Mission Committee (CAMMC) in the States. Because the national staff can adeptly do the hands-on care of the patients, Amanda isn’t really needed for that work. Instead, she is needed and responsible for a lot of the behind the scenes work. In her terms, she is “almost exclusively a manager.” Amanda, however, recalls one unique situation where she was literally hands-on with patient care:

“I had to hand-ventilate a child that was intubated for over an hour. I then had to teach the child’s mother how to do it; then her and her family would then be responsible for breathing for that child.”

As recent as December 2013, when Amanda interviewed for the job, she would not have guessed – or even dreamt – of finding herself in such situations in a developing country! Even after interviewing for the position, she actually thought that – for one reason or another she wouldn’t get the job.
But she did. She got the job and we got the blessing!

The Lord had plans of His own. The Lord knew we needed Amanda “for such a time as this.” (I stole those words from the book of Esther1). Amanda is bringing to our Lutheran Mobile Clinic (LMC) what Esther brought to the palace: her God-given personality, strengths and unique set of skills. A wonderful combination that the LMC in Malawi needs at this time. Isn’t it grand that the Lord determines not only our times but also the exact places for us to live?2 For Amanda, it’s in Area 10, Lilongwe, Malawi. As the crow flies (if it dares over the ocean) a mere 8,490 miles3 from home!

Though sad that Amanda is so far away from her Wisconsin home, her parents are also both proud and supportive of their daughter. They realize that Amanda hasn’t just moved clear across the globe to pursue a dream, but more-so to follow the Lord’s calling in her life for these 3 years that she’s signed up with the CAMMC. (2015 – 2018).

“Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this…I appreciate you and your support so much! Thank you!” – Amanda

Amanda admits that living and working in a country such as Malawi does not come without its tough and challenging days. Even BWM-Malawi-AmandaOswalt1though it is called the Warm Heart of Africa, it doesn’t always give a person the warm fuzzies. Amanda treasures her “go-to” Bible verse that she’s kept close to her heart and mind since she was young:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5,6.

Amanda shares this comment:

“These verses were my confirmation passages and whenever I’m having a rough day or moment I tend to meditate on this passage. It always reminds me that He has the plan and I need to let go of my attempt of control and just trust.”

Ah, yes….trust. Blessed is the one who trusts, not in faith itself but in the object of our faith, our Lord Jesus Christ! We are weak but HE is strong. Strong enough to lean on. As you lean on Him, Amanda, know that we (your “family” in Malawi) are tightly wrapping you up in prayer. May I assume that there are many people in the States praying for you as well? Word has it that WELS has a lot of prayer warriors in LWMS and supporters of the Central Africa Medical Mission! I’m sure that many of them, like your parents, are impressed with your courageous spirit and very proud of what you are doing. Yes, what you are doing is indeed admirable. Thank you for working hard to make the clinic a blessing for thousands of patients as well as an opportunity for others to follow in your footsteps.
Thank you for humbly yet boldly serving the Lord and His people with dedication, commitment and love. But every now and again, Amanda, take a break from your work. Do what you enjoy in a country not your own:

Play a little rugby (have you told your Dad and Mom?) Hit the volleyball around. Watch a local soccer game or two. Taste the local cuisine. Hang out with newly made friends. Take time for tea time. Travel a bit. Oh, and do all these things – as well as your work – while leaning on the Lord! And while you’re leaning on the Lord and talking with Him, be careful for what you pray. You might just get again what you got when you came to Malawi: an experience …outside the comfort zone.

Your Mission Partner,

John Holtz
Malawi


1. Esther 4:14
2. Acts 17: 26
3. Calculated as great circle distance on the surface of the spherical Earth.

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Nigeria: The day in the life of a regular family

This is the Pastor Michael Egar family. A family like most of ours no doubt.

But not like the families of us all. For one thing, Pastor Egar is so very grateful to have his wife and three children. He grew up without his parents, being raised by his grandmother. He was a convert to the Lutheran faith only eight years before his seminary graduation. Egar says he is very thankful to God for giving him such a good woman as his wife and that they have the blessing of three children

For another thing, as a seminary student in Nigeria, Egar spent much of five years living at the seminary, 250 miles from his home and family. That sort of devotion to his spiritual goal demanded much sacrifice on the whole family’s part.Nigeriablog-04202015-350

So it was a very joyful week indeed, when Egar graduated from Christ the King Lutheran Seminary on March 14, 2015 and was ordained a pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria a week later! The ordination worship was cause of great celebration. But with the crowded church grounds, busy schedule, plus food duties for Mrs. Egar (Anthonia), getting the family together for a photo by mid-afternoon was a bit stressful.

And this is where I learned that Egar’s family is just like our families. Their elder son participated in the family snap (photo). But he was not the most eager for it. Why? Because, as his dad explained, the young man had been on the receiving end of a fatherly lecture about driving the family motorbike around Ogoja in a safe manner. How many 14 year old sons enjoy their dad’s lectures about safe driving?

Safe driving lecture included, it was a great day for the Egar family. Dad was ordained a Lutheran pastor. And they all learned that they would move to rural Bitiah Irruan, where Pastor Michael Egar is to serve the largest congregation of All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria. Surely motorbike driving skills will be of value there!

Written by Rev. Douglas Weiser, non-resident missionary to Nigeria.

Malawi flooding update and Easter greetings

Hello to all,
I pray you had a meaningful Holy Week.
I wanted to send a brief update out now that the flooding in Malawi has subsided. Thankfully the rains have let up and the ground has been drying out. Progress is slow. The good news is thatdyeeggs-04132015-350 with many special gifts and support and help from Christian Aid and Relief our church has been able to extend help to many members who were seriously affected from the flooding. People are slowly rebuilding. They are used to a hard life and carry on amid the difficult conditions. Rob’s farthest church in Southern Malawi in the Elephant Marsh is still inaccessible. He is hoping by the end of April perhaps the roads will be dry enough and he could visit it again. For now the ground is too muddy and many people have not returned to the area after being evacuated by boat. Our rainy season total is around 60” with nearly 2 feet of that water coming in just 4 days in January. The subsistence lifestyle relies heavily on personal fields and the yield of the crops. Some people can’t plant again. In some areas where the flooding swept through the topsoil has been washed away and only sand is left behind. In other areas there isn’t enough time left in this year’s rainy season to plant again and new crops won’t have the chance to get watered any other way. So it is very helpful that some programs have recognized the longer term struggles and are continuing to offer supplies as needed. It will be a long road to recovery until the heavily affected areas are back to normal. Once people are settled again the plan would be to rebuild the many churches that were damaged as well. EasterEgg-04132015
Here in Blantyre city I organized a special Easter Bible group this week and held it at our urban church—Beautiful Saviour. We had the biggest turnout ever with nearly 30 kids attending along with their moms (Nathanael snapped some pictures while I was teaching and helping so I’ll share a few). Some of the kids were unchurched and hearing about God’s love, sin and the Easter story for the first time. We had an Easter egg hunt and hard boiled nearly 60 eggs for decorating and dying. It was amazing to see the enthusiasm and excitement that lit up the room…and hopefully that will carry on into their homes and hearts.
Our family wants to wish you a blessed Holy Week as the Holy one became weak for sinner’s sake.
God’s blessings for a wonderful Easter celebration on Sunday.
Missionary Robert, Rebecca Wendland and family

If God is for us, who can be against us?

This is a special article because Missionary Holtz was in Nigeria for teaching, graduation and ordination.

If God is for us, who can be against us?1

Excellent question, Paul, just excellent.

Paul’s query is much more than simply thought-provoking and much greater than merely discussion raising.  It’s heart-touching and faith building.

Sermon worthy.

Of all the Scripture that could have been used very fittingly for the sermon text on Graduation Day at Christ The King Lutheran Seminary in Nigeria, the nine students chose this one from Romans 8:31b:  If God is for us, who can be against us?

Why this particular text?  Why this specific question?  The nine graduates had one answer:

“Because  this very Word of God speaks personally and powerfully in our circumstances here in Nigeria.”

During the years of their Seminary training, it seemed to them that so many – too many – things were indeed against them:

  • Ebola
  • Boko Haram
  • The death of 3 classmates
  • The death of 3 local lecturers
  • The death of two student wives
  • A serious internal church issue

It’s not that any of the students or lecturers were killed by – or even infected with the Ebola Virus; it’s not that any of them were kidnapped or even personally threatened by a terrorist group; but these two weighty Nigerian issues were serious enough concerns for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) that the Board for World Missions (BWM) temporarily suspended all travel to Nigeria by WELS Called Workers who would teach at the seminary in Uruk Uso, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.

Cancelled travel meant postponed classes.

Postponed classes pushed Graduation Day further down the road.  Graduation became a tantalizing mirage that the students could never reach.  The closer they came, the further it went.

But the nine students didn’t quit the program.  They pressed on.  They persevered.  They rode out the storm.  Then one day two lights of hope shone over the troubled waters in the distance:

Nigeria declared itself “Ebola Free” on 20th October 2014 and her president, Goodluck Jonathan joined Nigeria with neighboring nations2 for a stepped up military campaign against Boko Haram.  Though both were still menacing issues for Nigeria, neither one was hovering anywhere near the Lutheran Seminary.  The WELS Board for Missions was satisfactorily assured and gave the green light to Missionary Doug Weiser3 to engage the traveling professors.

Classes could resume!

The professors came in three week waves.4 The students were elated.  Graduation Day would happen!

It did.

Though the normal six year seminary time had stretched over seven years, graduation finally took place on 14 March 2015.

WELS Pastor Joel Jaeger5 preached the text the students chose:  “If God is for us who can be against us?”

Even though this sounds like a searching question, it’s really one of a half dozen powerful answers to his first probing question.6 Like an ammunition clip for an AK47, Paul’s six questions are lined up one right after another and ready for action.  Paul rapid fires these six rounds.  He not only hits the target but he tightly groups them centering on the bulls-eye truth:

Through Jesus Christ we are more than conquerors!7

The Seminary Students needed to hear that message on Graduation Day.

They did.

Who can be against the class and ultimately succeed?

What can be against the graduates and victoriously triumph over them?

  • A deadly disease with plenty of victims but no cure?8
  • A terrorist group with plenty of machetes but no conscience?
  • A dwindling class?
  • A growing anxiety?

Paul’s question is really his answer!  It’s the answer the graduates rejoiced to hear:

NO ONE and NOTHING can go up against our great God and be victorious! 

A cross and a grave couldn’t stop Jesus, how could anything or anyone else?

Graduation Day was a good day.

Gowns were donned.

Gifts were received.

Congratulations were given.

But more importantly,

Sin was exposed.

Grace was announced.

Christ was praised.

Then on the 15th and 21st of March 20159 God supplied nine more gifts10 to His Church in Nigeria.

Just in case you ever wonder if Satan, the world or a relentless bombardment of life’s challenges have gotten the upper hand, ask yourself an important answer:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Your Malawi Missionary Partner,

John Holtz

____________________

John Holtz, Doug Weiser, Joel Jaeger

Christ the King Lutheran Seminary

Graduation Day 14 March 2015

___________________________

  1. Romans 8:31b
  2. Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
  3. Pastor Doug Weiser retired from the pastoral ministry (serving in Bellevue, Washington at the time) in June of 2014 and was commissioned as the Missionary to Nigeria the same day. He jokes that he has the record for the shortest retirement:  three hours!  With WELS budget funding, Pastor Weiser can travel to Nigeria at least four times per year, teaching at the Seminary and coordinating the WELS work there.  He organizes WELS pastors, professors and missionaries to teach at the seminary while he works with the two synods.
  4. Missionary Holtz was in Nigeria teaching the Seminary class a course on Evangelism, 23 February 2015 – 13 March 2015.
  5. Pastor Joel Jaeger presently serves Christ Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Previously he has also served in Nebraska, Germany and St. Lucia. Pastor Jaeger has traveled to Nigeria four times to teach in the seminary.  This time he taught the book of Titus.
  6. Paul begins Romans 8:31a with his question: “What shall we say in response to this?”  In response to what?  Paul had just assured the Romans that God works for our eternal good and assures them that God has predestined, called, justified and glorified them.
  7. Romans 8:37
  8. To date and to my knowledge, no known cure for Ebola has been officially announced or recognized. However, there has been a lot of progress made in this particular medical arena.  Some people who had been infected with Ebola are still alive.
  9. 15th March 2015 was Ordination and Call day for two students who will serve in Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria. Missionary John Holtz preached for the Ordination service.  He used John 10:11-18 as the text.  The theme of the sermon:  “Lord, you are the Good Shepherd, help me to be a shepherd under Christ!”  The 21st of March 2015 was Ordination and Call Day for the other seven students.  They are serving in their sister synod called All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria. These synods formed years ago when certain groups of dissatisfied people broke away from the Lutheran Church of Nigeria.
  10. Ephesians 4:11. Pictured from left to right on page 1, student’s names are in bold type: Pastor Doug Weiser, Joseph Odama Ogar, Vincent Onah Odey, Pastor John Holtz, Wonah Johnson Egbe, Samuel John Udoh, Egar Michael Nleng, Eshua Sylvester Odok, Idorenyin Joshua Udo, Agwu Johnson Ogar and Orji Stephen Odey, Pastor Joel Jaeger.

A heart for the people

Next month we will resume with an article on an LCCA Called Worker. This is a special edition article.  This month’s focus:  Lawrenz Family

In your mind, picture a bovine herd grazing on an African plain: cattle or Cape Buffalo or Wildebeest – doesn’t matter which animal you imagine.  Now narrow your sights just to the calves.  The ones born around the same time of year are similar in size, roughly the same in height and weight. But do you see that one that is a bit taller, bigger and bulkier than the rest?   Notice that it is also more solid and muscular than the others.  Tough as nails. According to Ngoni culture and language, that one is called the Jere.  In every herd of animals, or even in a gathering of various species of animals, there is always one that stands out by its sheer size and bulk. That one is Jere. Now look at another crowd in Africa.

Pastor Jere and Malawian children in a fishing village

Pastor Jere and Malawian children in a fishing village

This time, not animals, but people. See the one that stands out above the rest?  The one that is a bit taller than most?  Solid and robust? That’s Jere. Some know him as Steve Lawrenz.  Many, however, in Zambia and Malawi, know him as Jere. Pastor Jere. Jere is his African name, given to him by a man from the Ngoni tribe in Zambia. The name stuck. He carries the token Ngoni name well!  A bit taller than most of the rest of us.  Tough as the calluses on the feet of Ngoni warriors.  Strong as an ox. Steve used to pick up missionary kids by the ankles and swing them around upside down.  They loved it (until they turned 18 years of age).   Some people have commented that Steve doesn’t know his own strength.  Why would he?  After all… he’s Jere. Interestingly, Jere is also the name of the Ngoni Chief of chiefs sitting on the throne in Malawi.  Jere is the surname of the royal family.  The Chief of chiefs will always be a Jere. Chief Jere stands tall, not only in his home village but in the whole country.  The name and the position is so highly honored that a late Chief Jere has been pictured on the 20 Kwacha monetary note of Malawi: Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa II Lazalo Mkhosi Jere.  (Whew!  How would you like to write that name every time you had to sign a check!?) Ironically, some have stated that Steve Lawrenz even looks like Chief Jere. But these are not the reasons why so many people know Steve Lawrenz as they do.  The Africans in Malawi and Zambia know Steve Lawrenz, not for his name nor his height but for his… heart. Like David of old, a man after God’s own heart. A heart for the people Pastor Jere and Malawian children in a fishing village But Steve will be the first to point out that it’s best to look at God’s heart and not his. After all God’s heart is filled with a love for the people that is as unfailing as it is eternal.  God’s heart beats with a passion to touch the hearts of people, filling them with forgiveness and faith and love. He who is loved much has much reason to show it. Jere does. When God called, Steve came.  He came to Africa with energy and enthusiasm and determination.

Child wearing a cross sticker

Child wearing a cross sticker

Only the Lord knows how many sermons Steve preached, babies he baptized, and people he confirmed and communed.  Over Steve’s ministry of 28 plus years in Africa, how many Gospel seeds were planted, watered and nurtured?  How many hearts were encouraged, lives changed or faith renewed? It wasn’t so much the fruit of his work that encouraged him as it was the promises of God.  The Word fed his faith and the people fueled his passion. His heart beat for the people. It was easy to tell. One can just hear it in his voice and see it on his face.  If Steve will allow me and if you’ll indulge me, may I say that I see a special verse in Scripture that has Jere written all over it: 1 Thessalonians 1:8.  It reads…”We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because you had become so dear to us.”
If I didn’t already know Paul had written those words to the Thessalonians I would think that Steve had penned it to the Zambians and Malawians. Jere’s life and style of ministry revealed his heart for the people.  He truly shared not only the gospel but his life as well.

Steve and John

Missionary John Holtz with Steve Lawrenz

The people indeed had become dear to him.  Oh, so dear. Find Steve in Malawi and you’ll hear him with people: chatting in Chewa, rehearsing people’s names, delighting children with his much loved antics.  Jere loves to put cross stickers on the foreheads of African children and tell them about Jesus. Locate Steve and you’ll notice that he’s chumming with the national pastors, working on building relationships and looking to do the good works that the Lord has already prepared for him to do. But no more. No more?  Well, I should clarify those words a bit better: he will be doing these things in Africa no more.  America, yes.  Africa, no. Steve and his wife Lori are leaving Africa.  They are bidding farewell to the land of Malawi in which they hung their hat for the last seven years.  From their home in Blantyre, Malawi and from 10,000 feet in the air, on 2 March 2015 they will wave good bye to neighboring Zambia where they raised their three children, Scott, Diana and Adam. What’s it like to get rid of most of your things, pack the rest and move back to a place you left almost 3 decades ago? “Exciting!” Steve says with enthusiasm.  “I love adventure!  In fact, for me, going to America now is like going to a foreign country.  Yes, I grew up in the USA and served as a parish pastor for 4 years in Minnesota and 6 years in Pennsylvania.  Except for furloughs, however, I’ve been away from the USA for almost 30 years. So many things have changed.  Lori and I will need time to transition back into American culture.” Steve agrees wholeheartedly that the time is right for their move: “About my position being eliminated and I going back to the USA, I agree with it totally!  I support the idea of going back to the USA with no missionary to replace me because it is the right thing to do in the development of a mission.” Steve recalls the time when there used to be 13 missionaries in Malawi and 11 in Zambia.  At this time there are now but four mission families in Zambia and with Steve’s and Lori’s departure from Malawi there remains but four also. Dear Steve and Lori. We will miss you.  Many many Malawians and Zambians will miss you. Thank you, Steve and Lori, for sharing both the gospel and your lives with us in Africa.  You have become dear to us. You have touched the lives of countless people in these two countries and left an indelible mark upon them…God’s indelible mark!  God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the cross has found its mark not on foreheads but in hearts. Dear Mission Partners, if you ever see Steve in America, call him by his African name. Call him…Jere. He’ll be glad you did.  You’ll be glad you did. If he starts reaching down to pick you up by the ankles to swing you around upside down, either let him show you his strength, or you can ask him to instead share with you a story or two of his experience in Africa.  In Chichewa or English or both. You’ll be in for a real treat.  He not only has a flair for a good story, but a passion for the greatest one ever told.  The story of how God has… a heart for the people.

Missionary to Malawi, John Holtz, gives a great send off to Missionary Steven Lawrenz as his time in Africa comes to an end and he returns to the United States.

We are not afraid

We were not in class on that Friday morning. We were walking to the mortuary before the morning dew had cleared. Shocking news had punched our hearts as we woke. “Pastor Umoessien is dead.” Even those in charge said, “We don’t know what to do.” Should the seminary continue with classes and pay our respects later? No, word came that the morticians wanted to begin their work. So we cancelled class for the day. Students, Director, and WELS instructors started their sad procession together. Leaving our lane, turning left on the sand road. Our oldest student came for chapel a few minutes late. He caught up with our sad walk. “Pastor Umoessien is dead.” Student Samuel’s mouth dropped open, his lips quivered, his eyes frantically searched ours, “What?” We explained that Umoessien had been killed the previous night, January 15, 2015, in a car-motorbike collision. “No, he was just here that same morning talking to us!”

Pastor Umoessien

Pastor Umoessien

But yes, Umoessien was dead. A ‘keke’ (motorbike tricycle taxi) pulled up to park at the entrance path to the mortuary. Emem, Mrs. Umoessien, had come with one of her sons. We all crowded into the first room of the mortuary. Our friend’s body was laid out on a mat on the floor, covered in a dignified way. We lined the north wall and clogged the doorway. There was no plan for who should speak. The two WELS pastors were silent, giving way to whatever the Nigerians needed to say or do. The Director was also silent. Unbidden, student Egar offered the prayer.He praised the Lord our God and thanked him for this opportunity for us to honor a man we loved and to declare to the world that we are not afraid. We are not afraid because our God is in charge. The same one who gave us Jesus as our Savior has now taken Umoessien away. And we trust our Lord in all he decides for us.

When Egar concluded, we all said, “Amen,” including the new overnight widow of Rev. Eme George Umoessien.

In fact, Pastor Umoessien was one of five men connected with the seminary who died within the last year and a half. Evangelist Happiness Uko, Ev. Samuel Eyo, retired professor Rev. Edet Akpakpan, and Ev. Saviour Udo had all preceded Umoessien, leaving this earth for heaven. Of them, only Akpakpan had achieved old age. But many student and instructor devotions, a student sermon at the dead pastor’s congregation, and the general population of both our synods in Nigeria kept making the point, “We are not afraid.”

Pastor Umoessien

Pastor Umoessien

Why would people keep asserting our faith in such words? Because adversity and death, so easy to suffer in Nigeria, are feared. People fear death because it tempts them to believe that God is not in charge. They fear death when they revert to the old ways, fearing that someone has cursed our seminary or the living spirit of a dead person has decided to plague our seminary. In defiance of the old and default animistic views of cause and effect, our fellow Christians tell themselves and the whole world, “We are not afraid.” Nor should we fear death or any other adversity. For if God has so freely given his own Son to take away the guilt of our sins, how would he not take care of us in all the lesser issues of life – issues of both life and death (Rom.8:32)?The family of Christ the King Lutheran Seminary and both synods in Nigeria have suffered a string of deaths. But they assure you and one another, “We are not afraid. We will continue our studies. We will go into the field with the gospel of our Savior.” So take heart in your own lives! Receive whatever God sends you with both hands!

Rev. Doug Weiser, missionary to Nigeria, recounts National Pastor Umoessien’s death and how we have no need to fear death because of our faith in Jesus.

God bless Malawi

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

(1 Thessalonians 3:9)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

DestroyedMalawi-02052015-350

Greetings from Malawi in Jesus’ name! In the past few weeks, many of you have heard about the severe flooding in Malawi. Unusually heavy rains have caused extensive damage, especially in the Southern Region of Malawi. About 80% of our LCCA churches are located in this area. Thousands of our Lutheran members have been affected by these floods. Many have lost their homes. Others have lost their fields and gardens. Many have been injured, and some have even lost their lives. With one united voice we cry to our gracious God in heaven that he may have mercy on all who are suffering from this disaster.

But how can we thank God enough for you, our brothers and sisters in America! You have poured out your earnest prayers like a mighty flood before God’s throne. You do not know our names and we do not know yours, yet you have come to our assistance with your generous gifts and offerings. Even now, the affected congregations of the LCCA are receiving disaster relief from the WELS – warm blankets, plastic roofing sheets, nails, and a bucket to carry water. These gifts of love do more than warm our bodies in the cold hours of the night. They warm our hearts, for now we know that you are one with us in Christ!

malawi-02052015-350We thank the WELS Christian Aid and Relief Committee for their generous and ongoing financial contributions. We thank the Kingdom Workers for supplying manpower to assist in the distribution of relief. Most of all, we thank everyone who has offered heartfelt prayers and generous gifts to help us in our need. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

God is always good to us, but these hardships in Malawi will continue for some time. We humbly ask that you will continue to hold us up in prayer, just as we will always pray for you. We ask that you will continue to support us with your financial contributions, just as you have been doing right up to this time. May the God who loves us and who has washed us of our sins in Jesus’ blood bless you for your kindness.

Your brother in Christ,
Rev. Riphat Matope, president, LCCA Malawi Synod

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The tree of life: Malawi flood update

The rains were no surprise.

The floods were.

River banks can hold only so much.  Land can soak in only so much.  Sand bags can stop only so much.

Then the inevitable happens.

When floods come, fields go.  When a cyclone hits, everything is hit.  Soil erodes.   Roofs cave.  Houses collapse.  Bridges break.  Pit latrines become unusable.  Dirt roads become impassable.

In November and December Malawians were praying for rain.   Now they are praying for help.

Sabina certainly was.

One minute she was taking inventory of her fish, the next she was taking refuge in a tree.

Perched like a bird on a branch she helplessly watched anything and everything imaginable flow past in a muddy, churning torrent:  household items, livestock, clothing, baskets, garbage, crops, grass and logs.

Even bodies.  Human bodies.

Oh, she has an amazing story to tell.  And tell she did.  In a face–to-face interview with Missionary Paul Nitz of Lilongwe, Malawi, she told it. You can find her story at  WELS Missions Blog Both Sabina and Paul can tell it better than I ever could.

But one thing I can say: She survived.  Hundreds didn’t. Could she ever forget that tree?

When the elders of our Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) congregations took me on a trek through their lands in Malawi’s Central Region, to my shame, at first I didn’t see it.

What I saw was only the destruction left in the wake of the floods.

I saw collapsed houses and piles of broken bricks and useless rubble.  I saw the obliterated fields and newly cut river channels.

I saw the bent over corn stalks.  Each flattened one was like the needle of a compass, pointing out the direction that the flow of water had taken.

I saw clumps of grasses, sticks, branches and uprooted trees trapped and wrapped against clusters of banana trees.

As I saw incalculable devastation I could only imagine incredible loss.  I witnessed so much ruin that had come with so much rain.

But the elders of the congregations saw more than I did.

Even when the rains first began to fall, they knew exactly where to go.  As they helplessly watched the waters rise and the floods sweep away so much of what they had or owned, they sought refuge and safety in the one thing strong enough, the one thing big enough and the one thing close enough: the tree.

Yes, that tree.

The Cross of Christ.  And, by faith, they climbed up into it.

The Tree of Hope.

At some point along our trek through the devastated land, the conversation turned.  We stopped talking about what was lost and instead talked about what was found: Opportunities to serve!  Moments to share God’s comfort and blessings in the middle of a flood of problems.

The elders shared with me how people were coming weekly and faithfully to the church to hear the Word.  One elder informed me that he was now the elected lay preacher.  He was full of joy that he had the privilege of leading the worship and giving the sermons.

I had thought all along that what I was going to come back with was but a report and an assessment of the flood damage.  More than that, however, I came back with sharper eyes and a stronger message:

Though the destruction was great, God’s love in Christ Jesus is greater still!

Thousands of Malawians are displaced and struggling to put back together the life they once had.  Among them are many Lutheran church members.  Some are grieving the loss of family and friends or both.  Others are trying to scrape together the means to rebuild a house or prepare a meal.   Most fear the hunger that will hit even harder when there is little or nothing to harvest in a couple of months.

But they are not without hope.  In Christ, hope is as certain as it is comforting.

There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off    — Proverbs 23:18

Mpemba-Beni-02032015-350The WELS Board for World Missions (BWM) and Kingdom Workers (KW) are working hard at addressing the immediate needs of those in our Lutheran congregations who are greatly affected by the floods.  Through funds made available through Christian Aid and Relief, we are handing out much needed practical items that our LCCA members need now: buckets for clean water, blankets for warmth, plastic sheeting for temporary roofing and nails to fasten bamboo together for framing temporary shelters.

May I take this opportunity to thank you for your gospel and prayer partnership.  It’s a partnership, not only with me, but with them: our brothers and sisters in Malawi who share the same faith in our wonderful Lord Jesus.

As partners, please stay and linger with us for a while at the tree.  That tree.

The Tree of Hope.

Missionary John Holtz, Malawi