Still open, and open wide

If walls could talk, I’d be asking the walls of the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible a few questions.

Open Bible? It’s the name of a quaint, white painted wooden church in Whiteriver, Arizona, nestled on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. It was dedicated in April of 1922. That clocks the building at 100+ years old. Like any centenarian, these walls have heard a lot. Imagine all the meetings, discussions, services, studies, classes, and conversations that have taken place inside the church. If these walls could talk, I’m guessing they’d have a lot to say.

Celebrating 100 years of Open Bible

I went to Open Bible on October 15, 2022. It was no ordinary day. We enjoyed a meal and live music; we were blessed with guest speakers, historical videos, and a worship service. It was the 100th anniversary celebration. About 275 gathered that day. Looking around inside the building, some questions about the history of Open Bible came to mind. . . why then? Why there? And why are there holes in the stained-glass windows?

Oh, if walls could talk. But they didn’t. I’m being stonewalled, hey? Well, even though the walls didn’t say anything, some people did.

Why then? Bill Kessel did a masterful and engaging job of explaining the history of Open Bible. I wondered, why was Open Bible built when it was? Bill answered my question with an analogy; God answered it with a Scriptural truth. Picture two local rivers, twisting and turning through the White Mountains. At times, far apart, sometimes near, but always separated by a rocky landscape; but then eventually the two courses of water meet, flow together and form one river. Now picture two lives. Two men, one Apache and one German. Two individuals about as different as two could be. Geographically they were sometimes far apart and other times near, but their paths never crossed. Until one day they did. They found each other. Or, better said, God brought them together. With his own power and his own timing, the Lord set them on a common course. From then on, their lives, like two rivers converging, flowed as one. God had the heart of the Apache Chief Alchesay and the WELS Missionary Rev. Edgar Guenther in his hand. No one could have ever imagined that God used a flu pandemic to bring two “rivers” together to meet at just the right time (1918) to accomplish what he desired. Rev. Guenther did his work, the Holy Spirit did his. The gospel was shared. A faith was born. A friendship formed.

Chief Alchesay

Why there? God not only determined our times, but also the places. . . What was God carrying out in the rocky landscape of Whiteriver? His plans. Plans that no one ever could have imagined. With a newfound faith in Jesus, Chief Alchesay and other Apache desperately wanted a church in their Whiteriver community. Not just any church, mind you. A Lutheran one. One that would faithfully preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. They expressed their desire for a place of worship. God honored the yearning of their hearts. A petition was signed. Permission was granted. Land was given. A church was built. It was a memorable day on April 30, 1922. A key was presented. The door was opened. Open Bible was dedicated.

On that single day, 101 Apache were baptized! Chief Alchesay was the first, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Open Bible currently has a membership of about 900 souls. The message of the anniversary day reflected the promise of God: “Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.” (Exodus 20:24b) God is doing just that. Coming and blessing. Kirk Massey, pastor of Open Bible, is quick to thank the Lord that the members of Open Bible are taking ownership of the ministries there.

But I had one more question: Why are there holes in the stained-glass windows? The answer was honest and straightforward. . . bullets and a bottle. Someone fired a few rounds of a rifle and someone else threw a whiskey bottle. The results were the same. Broken windows. What prompted the shooting and the throwing, no one knows. Probably never will. Frustrating? Yes, because stained-glass windows are a challenge to repair. The cost is high, and repairmen are few. But instead of anger over what we can’t control (or even fix), how about looking at the window holes through a different lens? Broken panes can serve as a reminder of a broken life. Certainly, our own. Who hasn’t seen or experienced a broken relationship, promise, or body? But especially that of Jesus! Ironically, the windows in Open Bible that have been broken are the ones that create the 3-paned picture of Jesus hanging on the cross. If any life was broken, it was Jesus’! Not just his body, but his relationship with his Father. The significance is as astounding as it is life-changing. By way of Jesus’ brokenness, we are made whole! What we can’t restore, Jesus can.

Bill Kessel with members from Cibecue

And he will. If not in this life, then in the next. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10) Broken? Take heart, Jesus is the key to full restoration.

Speaking of a key, just prior to his death, Chief Alchesay had one request. (And it was honored). He humbly asked to be buried with something that was extremely special to him: A key to Open Bible. Why? He came to believe that Jesus Christ was the key that had opened the Scriptures to him and heaven for him. Alchesay was filled with humble joy that he–chief of sinners–was forgiven and chosen by God to be one of his children. He considered it a great honor to help build the church so that the Word could be preached, well, to help build the Church.

The Whiteriver church still stands to the glory of God to share with people that the Father’s heart, Jesus’ arms, Holy Scriptures, and heaven’s door are still open, and open wide.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native American mission counselor




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A rich welcome

Dear Heavenly Father,

The hymns have been sung, the Scripture has been read, and the sermon has been preached. The hands have been laid, the verses spoken, the blessing pronounced, and the promises made. Yes, even the cake and other treats have been eaten, the fellowship enjoyed, and the pictures taken. It’s officially done.

Lord, on Sunday, October 2, 2022, in Whiteriver, Ariz., at a historically significant WELS church called Open Bible, Pastor Kirk Massey installed me as the Native Christians Counselor on the Native American mission team. But I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know, Lord. I’m not informing you of something you didn’t already see. The comforting truth, Lord, is that you knew it all before it all even happened. Long before the Divine Call was extended, you saw that this day would arrive and you knew who would be there. You ordained what would happen and that it would happen.

It did.

Lord, thank you for all those brothers and sisters in Christ who were able to join us. The events of the day were humbling, and indeed were a rich welcome into the Native American mission. Thank you, Father, for each one with whom we will now do ministry and do life, both on and off the reservations. Thank you for the many people who stand beside and walk alongside us: our families, our friends, our synod, our co-workers. Thank you for those who have gone on before and for those who will come after. Whether near or far, in person or on Zoom, the family in Christ truly is a gift from you. And so is the work.

Ah, yes. The work.

When we stepped out of the installation service that day, we didn’t just step outside. We stepped into the mission field. One statistic in particular sticks in my mind, Lord. More than 90% of Native Americans aren’t Christian. They don’t believe in Jesus. They don’t know the true and only way of salvation.

As I stood in the open air, it was then that I once again realized: it’s not just the high altitude of the White Mountains that takes my breath away. So does the thought of the mountain of mission work looming before us. The ministry work appears, not just like a solitary mountain on the distant horizon, but more like a sprawling range surrounding us on all sides. Seemingly endless. As far as the eye can see.

Lord God, you were–and are–very much aware of all the ministry opportunities and challenges that lie before us. And around us. Bless our efforts according to your will.

Please hear me, Father. Not just my prayer here, but also the petitions, intercessions, and requests still to come. The ones that I’ll be saying later today, tomorrow, and the day after that. And the ones after that. Yes, Lord, I recognize not just the monumental task before us on the Native American mission field, but also the overwhelming sinfulness within me. It looms large. Mountain large. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” (I hear you, Paul. I feel your struggle).

But by your power, dear Father, I also hear your voice. Thank you for telling me of the rock-solid certainty of forgiveness through your Son Jesus. Because he shed his blood, I’m washed clean! You, a perfect God, in love with a sinner such as I? Yes, shocking, I know. But that’s just it. Your gospel is as surprising as it is real.

So when I step out my door, Lord, or look out my window or drive down the road, let the mountains be a daily and vivid reminder of the one Jesus climbed for me.

For there on that Calvary mountain, as he hung on the cross. He was paying a price too steep for our blood. But not for his. Paid in full. Was it worth it? For us, yes! We get a free gift, though at a high cost. He decided that he’d rather go to hell for us than to live in heaven without us.

Open Bible Ladies Choir

Salvation won.

How richly blessed we are to have a God like you. What a great reason and motivation for us to work while it is day in the Native American mission and beyond. You give us a reason to raise our voices in song! The ladies from Open Bible congregation did just that. How wonderful it was to hear them sing How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace. . . in the Apache language, no less. All glory to you, Lord!

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for inspiring the Apostle Peter to write the text, and thank you for leading Pastor Gary Lupe to preach it. Verse 11 is such a comfort. Thank you for including it in your Word:

“And you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Your Word, Lord, brings to our attention what lies ahead. (And we just got a taste of it). So when it is no longer day and when our faith turns to sight and our prayers to praise, we will be ushered into our eternal kingdom with a rich welcome.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native American mission counselor

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If those doors could talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Growing in faith

Autumn is a time to be thankful for the plentiful harvest and the journey of growth in our faith throughout the year.

At the beginning of the year with the slow re-opening of the reservation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, members of our Apache Lutheran churches were happy to get back to church to worship and and meet at the church garden with fellow Christians. Cheryl Pailzote took the initiative to revitalize the garden at Open Bible Lutheran Church in Whiteriver, Ariz., and shared her knowledge with others to build a healthier community, physically and spiritually.

Plentiful harvest from the garden

Bernard Dale, from the Hondah community on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, shares his experience of planting from the seed to harvesting and tasting the abundance of hard work and dedication.

Bernard compared his experience of growing food, to also growing in faith. He was feeling the repercussions of the pandemic with faith the size of a seed. Throughout the year while they tended to the garden, they were also able to tend to their faith with the support of others from the group who shared devotions and God’s Word with one another. By the time harvest time came around, Bernard recalled the feeling of revitalization.

We are thankful for the blessings from the harvest from the garden, and the growth of our faith in God’s Word.

Written by Kasheena Miles, WELS Native American missions and assistant with Native Christians.

 

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Growing God’s children

I blame Adam and Eve.

Among all the problems that sprung up when they just HAD to listen to Satan instead of God were thorns, literally. The ground was cursed. The thorns grow with no help from anyone, and they can make life miserable for everyone.

Here in Arizona, we are home to approximately 1.2 million different varieties of thorns. The worst are what my children and I not-so-affectionately call “goat heads.” When we go through months without rain, you can forget about them as you stare at the hard, bare ground. But at the slightest hint of rain, they come back with a vengeance. They are tricky, luring you in with little yellow and purple flowers, begging you to let them grow for a day. But they’re hiding a terrible secret. Those little flowers can seemingly overnight multiply by a thousand, filling every square inch of ground with devilish balls of thorns that look like a goat’s head. They go through bicycle tires, shoes, and pants, and then they sneak in your house to feed upon rich targets of bare feet. Worst of all, they’re nearly impossible to kill. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)

From growing plants to growing children

On the other hand, trying to grow something good here requires a great deal of the sweat God promised. Hours and hours can be devoted to preparing poor soil, shading plants from the burning sun, and watering every single day.

It’s just as hard to grow God’s children. Our Native American Mission Field is unique in that we operate schools. August marked the beginning of another school year where our teachers are going to battle and sweat and nurture and grow the children entrusted to their care. Covid restrictions make it harder than ever, and not being able to have in-person education over the last year has put many of our children far behind. The goat heads of frustration, anger, depression, social awkwardness, and lack of confidence spring up without any effort on our part. They stab and hurt and threaten to choke the joy and learning out of the lives of our students. Our teachers work tirelessly to weed, water, fertilize, and nurture those growing children with God’s Word, love, patience, and perseverance.

In a moment of levity before the start of the school year, staff members at one of our schools were all given capes so they could do the work of superheroes to help their children this year.

Their strength will come from the Lord! Pray for our teachers, parents, and students as they begin another year sharing Jesus!

Written by Pastor Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator for WELS Native American mission field

 

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Another day to serve

My alarm rings: another day to serve.

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

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

Building site at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Pandemic proclamation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Faces of faith on the Apache reservations in Arizona

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

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

Devastation from the wildfires

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

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

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

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

 

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Christmas Presence

Many people in our world think of Christmas as a time for presents. In fact, not only has “Black Friday” become an accepted holiday in the vocabulary of most Americans, but this year it also graduated from a singular to a plural. It seemed like every Friday from October until December became “Black Friday” so we could buy even more presents at a discount.

Here in Native America in our missions to the Apache people in Arizona, we used Christmas as an opportunity to focus on presence instead of presents. After all, Immanuel arrived–God himself came into our world to live like one of us! And we had no shortage of excited volunteers eager to announce his presence to our communities!

Children from East Fork Lutheran School share the story of our Savior’s birth

In the month of December, more than 325 children in Apacheland put on their fanciest Christmas dresses and best clip-on ties and were proud to announce loudly and clearly that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. The students at East Fork Lutheran School were able to tell the Christmas story to several hundred people in the school gymnasium under the theme, “Did you Know?”  Meanwhile, the students of Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School rented a community hall to fit everyone in to hear their program focused on sharing the story of Christmas, using the theme of “Savior of the Nations.”

It was a memorable night on both the Fort Apache and San Carlos reservations, as each school was able to use its ever-growing presence in the community to share the glorious presence of Jesus. These Christmas programs are well attended by our local communities, including many who would not normally walk into one of our churches. And our students were ready! All of the students had been practicing for more than a month under the direction of dedicated teachers, and it showed. They certainly made their parents and teachers proud as they spoke clearly and sang loudly about this miraculous and glorious event.

With approximately half of the population on both of these Apache reservations under the age of 18, our schools continue to have real opportunities to share Jesus. Our pastors and teachers have the chance each day to continue training hundreds of eager evangelists who share Jesus with the youthful exuberance and blunt simplicity of childhood. Pray that they will continue witnessing as they grow up and that they will become leaders in service to their newborn King!

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Native American mission field coordinator

Learn more about world mission work on the Apache reservations in Arizona at wels.net/apache.

 

 

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A Lutheran Revival?!

The bright yellow sunflowers lining the roads and filling the meadows were craning their necks to catch the last rays of sunlight as I drove down into the red valley known as Dischii Bikoh.

In English, we call this place Cibecue, Arizona. And in September it is especially beautiful after the monsoon rains and cooler temperatures allow the flowers to run wild. But I wasn’t there to sight-see the wonders of God’s creation. In Cibecue, Ariz., on a Tuesday night there was an even more beautiful sight to see: a group of Christians eating together, praying together, singing together, and encouraging, all within earshot to hear what wonderful things Jesus has done and how wonderful it is to be a follower of Christ. They put up a tent in someone’s field, cooked the food, provided the musicians and the loudspeakers, and invited the entire community to come and listen to the powerful gospel all week long.

For most WELS Lutherans, the idea of a tent revival may sound, well, un-Lutheran. But for a group of Lutherans with the word “evangelical” right in our name, it certainly was appropriate for this community on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. As pastor and church member after church member got up to speak words of encouragement from Scripture and personal testimony of what Jesus meant to them, it was music to the ears of a community looking for Christian role models and heroes of faith. It is not an easy thing to identify yourself as a Christian in a place where being Native is equated with practicing traditional religion and there is strong pressure to cast Christianity aside when the two identities collide. But what joy to hear from Christians who are not afraid to be Christians first and always! And what joy to hear from Christians who fell to temptation but experienced the sheer joy that comes from repentance and forgiveness from Jesus!

All week long, with sincere tears and ear-to-ear smiles, by loudspeaker and in quiet conversations over soup and fry bread, the gospel was shared and Christian encouragement was both given and received. Lutheran Apache Christians, armed with the Word of God, were unafraid to share their burdens with each other and tell others how Jesus set them free from the superstition and fear of idolatry, or from the chains of addiction or the prison of hopelessness and despair. Jesus changed their lives and their futures, and they were there to tell the entire community about this powerful and loving Savior.

Events like these are some of the things your Christian brothers and sisters in Native America are trying. They’ve armed themselves with the Word of God in regular Bible study, and they’ve done some hard work to figure out how to best share the gospel in their communities to their people. Won’t you join together in praying for them as we continue to make the efforts and take the risks and go boldly with the best message in the world?

Written by Missionary Dan Rautenberg, Native American mission field coordinator

 

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Two Walking Miracles

“Two walking miracles.” That’s how Marlene Truax describes her twin grandsons, Thomas and Dakota.

Born at 26 weeks and weighing just 1 pound 13 ounces and 1 pound 11 ounces respectively, doctors gave them a 50% chance of survival at best. All the family could do was put them in the Lord’s hands and find peace in trusting him. As Marlene remembered thinking, “If they live; they live. If they don’t, it’s still the Lord’s plan.” The boys spent much of the next year in the hospital, and over those long months the prognosis was not always good. Even after their eventual release from the hospital, Marlene remembers that the first three years were an especially difficult struggle.

But even when survival was in doubt and the future very murky, one thing that was always certain was that the boys were loved. And as the boys grew, Grandma Marlene especially made sure that they knew not only about the love of family but the love of Jesus. Every Sunday they were in church at the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible in Whiteriver, and they were enrolled at East Fork Lutheran School.

This past May, these two walking miracles walked across the stage to receive diplomas as members of the first graduating class of the reopened East Fork Lutheran High School. It was a special moment and a testimony to the power of prayer, the goodness of our God, and the blessing of Christian family. As Marlene put it, it was also a time to be thankful. She was thankful for the people who have helped them along the way, and especially thankful to the Lord for taking care of them. She gives all credit to the Lord – that it was only through him that this special day was possible, only through him that these young Christian men can look forward to serving the Lord in their future, and only through him that we all have the promise to eventually live with him forever.

Her faith and thankful heart have been passed on to these two young men. Dakota’s advice and encouragement is to, “In everything, do it all for the Lord. Always thank God for waking you up every morning and for all he does. In everything be content and give thanks.” Dakota also had the opportunity this past year to take courses in the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) and use his training to do readings in church. After high school, he hopes to continue learning and helping people to look to the Lord for help when life is difficult.

Thomas is also thankful for being able to learn God’s Word every day at East Fork Lutheran School. In his words, the most important thing he learned was God’s Word and, “how we will be with him if we believe and trust in him because he is the one and only God.” He hopes to teach that to others after high school.

Please join all of us on the Apache reservations in thanking our God for the miracles we can see and the ones we can’t. Thank him for providing mature Christians who make a difference in the lives of their family, friends, and communities, and the called workers who assist in sharing the love of Jesus. Pray for Thomas and Dakota and young Christians everywhere that they may grow in faith and godly living and accomplish the work God will give them to do in the years ahead.

Love in Christ from your Native brothers and sisters,

Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator for WELS Native American Missions

To learn more about mission work on the Apache Reservations, visit wels.net/apache.

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Poppies and prayers for the Apache reservations

The poppies in Peridot, Ariz., are out in full force. They spring up on the barren hillsides seemingly out of nowhere while we sleep. When the sun rises the next day, the dull, drab colors of the rocky slopes are on fire, covered in brilliant yellows and oranges.

Indian Day at East Fork Lutheran School on the Fort Apache reservation

It’s an amazing display of God’s power and artistic touch. A person wouldn’t think that anything could grow on those rocky desert slopes without the rich soil that is the lifeblood of so much greenery. But those poppies don’t need much dirt. The tiniest cracks in the rocks are enough. All they need is a small drink of water and warm sunshine and they open up and reach for the sky.

The poppies remind me of the new opportunities that our Lord has given to our schools on our Apache mission field. You might not expect to find some of the fastest-growing schools in the WELS on Apache Indian reservations in the middle rural Arizona. And you certainly wouldn’t see the facilities or amenities of a typical school or the neighborhood filled with fine, well-kept homes in an affluent suburb. But like the poppies, our schools on the Fort Apache and San Carlos Apache Indian reservations don’t need much to bloom.

The focus of our mission field is to train Native Americans to lead and to serve in God’s kingdom. And this training starts already in elementary school with children learning the truths of Scripture and being in a safe environment where Christianity is modeled and practiced by faculty and students alike. And while our schools have been in existence for more than 100 years, recent developments have caused them to burst into brilliant bloom like the poppies.

Field trip for Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School on the San Carlos reservation

The state of Arizona now allows parents to choose private education instead of sending their children to the failing public schools on the reservation. In communities where 75% – 80% unemployment is the norm and paying even the smallest tuition amount is a challenge, our schools are now accessible to many more families. And with half of the population on our reservations under the age of 18, we rapidly attracted more students than we have facilities and teachers. Like the poppies, we’ve burst into life in an instant, increasing the number of students by 100% in the last 5 years.

Among the red rocks and desert hills, Christian schools are blooming. Dedicated teachers who are passionate about sharing Jesus are equipping children to serve our Lord and be leaders in their homes, churches, and communities. Pray for them, and for the continued opportunities to bloom on the Apache reservations where they’ve been planted.

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Native American Missions Field Coordinator

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… and because I love you.

125 years ago God said something to the people of the San Carlos and Fort Apache Reservations in eastern Arizona. He said to them what caused him to do for them what he did for these past 125 years, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you…” (Isaiah 43:4) He said those words first to his people Israel who were facing deep water crossings and hot blazing fire. But he also said those words most certainly to the people of the San Carlos and Fort Apache Reservations in eastern Arizona who faced floods of regret and hopelessness and fear, and who faced fires of bitterness, anger, and hate. Because these people were precious and honored in the Father’s sight, he sent them his Son Jesus. And it all came to be for that one reason: because he loved them.

Camp Dress Show

It was just like our God was saying the very words, “And because I love you… I am sending spokesmen to you from me who will tell you about my Son Jesus.” It was so and the first missionaries came in 1893 to the mountain shadows of the Triplets there by the Gila River. The people living there had been banned to live in that place that one of the officials of General George Crook called “stinking malarial flats.” A most remarkable and miraculous thing happened too because God loved these people: he caused them not only to be loved by those who spoke of Jesus to them, but to love those people back. It was love that saw past skin color. Right from the beginning it was so. Pastor Harders in Globe, Arizona, described the feeling he had for his people on these reservations as greater and stronger than the love a man has for a brother.

And the people realized it was true too. There were not many of the dominant culture in 1893 who loved those who lived on the Gila River flats, but Apache people quickly came to know that they were loved. They were loved by the One who made the sun go by the Triplet mountains every day, and by this same One who sent his Son to be with them there. They were also loved by those who came to serve them and live with them, and in many cases, be buried with them. The list that started with John Plocher and George Adascheck is long. Over 125 years, literally hundreds of men and women worked and lived there on the reservations of eastern Arizona.

Rev. Eric Hartzell’s presentation

So the day of celebration came after the clock had ticked for 125 years. It was Saturday, October 27, 2018. Busloads of connected and interested people came. There were presentations of historical interest and pictures and displays looking to the future. Under some friendly mesquite trees, ladies were making frybread in the way that only they can make it. Local artisans and workers displayed their talents and their wares. Choirs came. Cars came cautiously into the parking lot in front of the church (the same place where the foundation blocks of the first school are still visible), and then the cars were directed up the hill to the baseball field to park. That parking field was the same field where Pastor Henry Rosin and other missionaries played baseball on Sunday afternoons with worthy opponents.

And so many times during the day someone would say hesitantly to someone else, “Do you remember me? I used to teach school here at Peridot.” And probably as many times someone would say, “Do you remember me? I was your student in second grade when you taught school here.” Those who had given of their time and talent to upgrade buildings and church and had done so elsewhere on the mission stations came to see those who had helped them and benefited from their work.

There were back to back historical presentations. There were attempts made to encapsulate and explain what had happened and was still happening during the 125 years. Dr. William Kessel presented Apache Christian voices from the past. He did so from his grandfather Edgar Guenther’s missionary diary and recollections…and from his own. The presentations were made in the Peridot church, and it was full for close to five hours of presenting.

Peridot and East Fork Lutheran Schools sing at the Apache 125th Anniversary joint worship service

The crowning joy of the day came at 4:30 p.m. to see everyone packed into the big high school gymnasium that had been rented for the occasion. The choirs came to sing for the service, stationed at strategic positions in the bleachers. There were more Apache believers than white believers, and that was as it should have been. Pastor Gary Lupe spoke carefully and well to everyone about Jesus being his Savior, that he was proud and happy to say that he was a Christian, and that he believed in Jesus and followed Jesus and stood with Jesus. It was wonderful to hear! President Mark Schroeder was last to speak after two hours of service and many speakers. How is it possible for speakers to limit themselves to their recommended five minutes? (It wasn’t possible!)

And when it all came to an end in the early evening, there was one thing that stood as the reason why there were 125 years to celebrate and be thankful for. This one thing that occasioned and caused it all was what had happened 125 years earlier when God himself had spoken to his people on the San Carlos and Fort Apache Reservations, and said, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you…” (Isaiah 43:4)

Should this world continue on for another 125 years, this Lord of ours will be true and faithful. It is our prayer, and it is our hope that he will…. because he loves us!

Written by: Pastor Eric Hartzell, Globe, Arizona

Pastor Eric Hartzell grew up on the Fort Apache Reservation and graduated from East Fork Lutheran grade school and high school. He went on to become a pastor, and in 1982 he received a call to East Fork and Canyon Day Lutheran Churches. He served there for 14 years. 

To read or download Pastor Hartzell’s or Dr. William Kessel’s presentations from the 125th anniversary celebration, visit www.nativechristians.org/125th-historical-presentations.

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Never Forget

Never Forget.

A widely seen and regularly used slogan in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, those words are usually reserved now for the anniversary of the attacks.

The first WELS world mission – Peridot, AZ

Perhaps that is the nature of anniversaries: we set a date to remember the past, because we so easily forget the big events (bad or good) that changed the course of history and forever affected so many lives.

Our God knows his people so well. He knows our propensity to forget, and he knows the importance of taking time to remember the things that should not be forgotten. A quick overview of the Old Testament will reveal the Lord, time and time again, setting anniversary dates for his people to remember the important events of their past. Time and time again, he reminded them through his leaders of his love and providence. Time and time again, he reminded them to heed the warnings of tragedies in the past and celebrate their miraculous deliverance. Time and time again, he reminded them of his impeccable record of faithfulness in spite of their repeated unfaithfulness. Those anniversaries were set so they would never forget.

This month everyone in our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has a chance to mark an important anniversary. Our first world mission effort to the Apache people of the Arizona Territory began in October of 1893. 125 years ago our WELS ancestors would not be deterred or denied in their quest to share Jesus. They could not forget the great things God had done for them, and they could not forget about those who did not yet know. Thousands today give thanks that they do know!

But we do not remember the past simply to live in the past. We remember so we can learn. We remember so we can be inspired. We remember so we can move forward with new strength, new resolve, and new purpose.

Remembering the past to move forward with new strength, new resolve, and new purpose.

In WELS Native American Missions, we are resolved to recapture the missionary spirit which prompted brave men and women to come to the unknown and share Jesus. We are inspired by the Christian love that prompted so many to save, sacrifice, and give generously to support the work among the Apache people. And we know our purpose: the gospel has been given to us to hold, yes; but also to pass on! There are other Tribes and other reservations to reach. 125 year later we remember so we can share the unforgettable.

Will you join us in remembering? Never forget how grace changed your life and future forever. Never forget the sweetness of the word forgiven in your ears and on your tongue at the Lord’s Table.  And never forget that your mission field begins at your front door.

Written by: Pastor Dan Rautenberg, Native American Missions Field Coordinator

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