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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