A Little Child Shall Lead Them

*Specific details have been left out and names changed due to security precautions

Sophia was born in March 2013. When her mother went in for an 8-month check-up, the doctor told her, “Unless you reach the capital city within 24 hours, you and your unborn child will die.” To get there meant an 14-hour drive over many dangerous roads. To make matters worse, the government had shut down all air and car travel between cities because of strikes and protests. No one could travel the roads.

The father went into the police station and asked for a special permit. The chief of police gave him a document showing he had permission to travel the roads, but only at night. They got into a car and began the 14-hour journey. There were road-blocks by the police and by the protesters. The father had to get out of the car and remove the obstacles–trees, tires, barrels, etc–that the now-sleeping protesters had set up. Some of the roads were along the sides of cliffs where the tires come so close to the edge that a passenger must hang out of the window and bang on the side of the car to let the driver know if they are too close or “just the right distance” from the edge.

It took two nights to reach the city. By the grace of God his wife and daughter survived. She was born into the world a month early and was born into God’s family in baptism.

But life would not be a smooth road for this little girl . . . there were more challenges to come. After one year of life the family learned their little girl could not hear. She was unable to speak. With the help of friends she received ear implants. How she smiled the first time she was able to hear. Every day her mother took her to speech therapy.

Sadly, there were other health complications: frequent illnesses, infections, fevers, and stomach discomfort. She had trouble walking. Her parents and siblings often held her hand to keep her from falling. In spite of all this she was cheerful and bright – and she filled her family’s home with happiness.

Then on April 11, 2018 she had trouble breathing. Her mother rushed her to the hospital in only 15 minutes; but it was too late. Her little heart stopped beating. God took her out of this world to himself.

The father was caring for suffering people in a far-away place. To return to where his wife and daughter were required two days of walking and three days of driving. He decided to wait so he could tell a group of 150 people about the love of Jesus. They knew his daughter had just died–and they were surprised he did not leave immediately. He explained, “I know that my daughter is in heaven and I will see her again one day. I want you to know about Jesus so that you will have comfort when you or your loved ones are dying.” The next day he spoke to another group. Then he began the long journey back.

The family is grieving, but they have peace and love in God in their home. The father says, “I find great comfort in the baptism of my daughter. It is critically important that others baptize their children and grandchildren.” In some countries it is illegal to baptize anyone under a certain age. Many refuse to do it for this reason. They are afraid of being arrested and put in prison. In one place those who convert to Christianity and are baptized are guilty of a capital crime. According to the constitution, they are to be executed. How the devil rages against baptism . . . but “a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Weak and stumbling though this little girl was, she has overcome Satan, the world, and death. She now lives as a powerful testimony of what it means to live and die–and live again–in Christ.

Written by a mission counselor to an Asian country

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The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest

When you work with people of another culture and another language, those people handle your linguistic shortcomings in a few different ways. First, you have “the Simplifier,” who slows the conversation with you way down and only uses simple words, immediately rephrasing sentences that may be too complex. Next, you have the “the Louder.” This is the person who speaks extra slow to make sure you understand, making big gestures as sign language to help you along. And, for some reason, they think it will help if they speak louder and louder until they are nearly shouting at you . . . but in a very eager and friendly way. Finally, you have the “the Firehoser.” That’s the person who forgets almost immediately that they are speaking with someone who is just learning their language. They are so excited to speak with a foreigner who understands their language that you are soon swimming in complex vocabulary and grammar you’ve never studied, at speeds faster than a 747.

My friend YuTong is definitely a “Firehoser.” I invited him to a local restaurant to eat lunch with me. Since his father is a chef, Yutong knows a lot about food preparation. He began to explain to me in his language why many local restaurants fail to make foreign food correctly. Within seconds, he was using all sorts of jargon I didn’t understand. I smiled and nodded in agreement. I really wish I had understood what he was talking about. It sounded so interesting, and he was so excited about it.

Most of our conversations go that way: him excitedly telling me things, me straining my little brain to understand while looking up words in the dictionary as fast as I can. Thankfully, Yutong is also a “Simplifier” when he remembers to be, so he slows down and makes sure that he doesn’t lose me.

It was during one of these “Simplifier” moments that he told me about his imminent divorce. He and his wife have not been communicating. In fact, it got so bad that she became pregnant twice and had an abortion both times without even informing him of the situation. Since he wants to have children, he was devastated when he found out. Tears require little language to communicate volumes. So, when his eyes watered up in a way that is very rare for men in that culture, I knew he was hurting badly.

When I told him that I would pray for him, he asked how God could help him. What an opening for the gospel!

Whenever I have these sorts of opportunities, I am immediately reminded how my grasp of the local language falls short. How can I communicate law and gospel effectively in another, very difficult language? Even if I am a “Simplifier” in my communication and use exaggerated gestures like the “Louder,” how do I express the wonders of our God is a way that the local people will really understand? It is difficult enough for people to believe in Christ when the gospel presentation is clearly spoken. How will they believe when I am stumbling over every other word? But I am also reminded of this passage from the Scriptures:

Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3

I am reminded that, even when I am using my own heart language to share the gospel, my ability to argue eloquently, turn a phrase, or expound on the Greek of a certain Bible passage will never, ever bring someone to faith in Jesus aside from the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

Our job is to expose them regularly to the marvelous grace of Jesus. He will take care of the rest.

Maybe you are frightened to share your faith with that neighbor or coworker—not because they have no interest, but because you are afraid of messing up the message. Hey, at least you are not trying to share in another language (At least, not usually)! But the real comfort is that the Holy Spirit puts his power and authority behind those simple, stumbling words to change hearts—forever! Praise God!

Written by: A missionary in East Asia

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Pastor Ham

Pastor Tsavxwm Ham is 50 years old and serves in Son La province of Vietnam. He comes by motorcycle and bus (a 9-hour trip) to the training seminars in Hanoi. He is the chairman of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC). 

I’ve been a pastor in Kon Tong village since 2006. Before that, I served as an elder in the church from 1996 to 2003. In 2003, I began studying to be a pastor through the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC). I passed that program in 2006 and became a pastor. In 2007, I was appointed as Chairman of the Hmong Fellowship Church.

My story of how I became a Christian is important to me. Before I became a Christian, I was one of the men in my village who was educated in the Hmong traditions and customs. I was also the director for Hmong funerals and a funeral musician. During that time, I felt very sad. I wanted to help the people. They would always give me a lot of meat when I would do a funeral for them. They treated me very well – and I really wanted to help them. But I had nothing to help them with. The funeral could only leave them sad and empty. At that time, I also worked as a Shaman and a fortune teller for the people. In my heart, I knew that all of this was wrong and a lie, and I couldn’t keep on deceiving my people by acting as a fortune teller and a Shaman.

All of this time, instead of helping the poor families, I took money from them as the Shaman. I felt very bad about that. I thought about how I could change my life and do something to help the community. Around that same time, I heard a pastor preaching through a radio broadcast. A village near me had already become Christian, so I contacted the leaders from that village to get materials from them. Through the radio broadcast and the Christian materials, I also became a Christian and left my former life behind.

One year after I became a Christian, in 1997, I was arrested and tortured by the local government. The persecution of Christians was heavy at that time. Since I was appointed as the Chief of my village, I had some authority to be able to defend my faith and the new faith of my village against the persecution. But the attack against our faith was very harsh. In 1998, I was recommended by the local government to receive special training – ‘re-educating’ me because of my faith. The goal of this training was that I would renounce my Christian faith. But at the beginning of the training, they talked about what Christians believe about God and creation. It was meant to show me the foolishness of Christianity, but it motivated me to learn even more about God and the creation of the world. And when I came back from the training, I was even more motivated to serve my congregation.

After I returned from the seminar, the local government sent officers to follow me to my village. They ask me to renounce my faith. I said I would not. The officials told me that I must – and I told them, “you taught me to have more faith in God because your introduction of the seminar talked about God.” I confronted them because they were saying that I needed a license to have a church. But they hadn’t had a license to carry out the education seminar. So I told them that I didn’t need a license to serve a church in this area either. In the end, they couldn’t get me to renounce my faith and they went home.

But still, I received a lot of persecution and pressure. After the officers left, they sent 8 higher officers to arrest me. They arrested me and my wife and separated us. They questioned us both and threatened us. They wanted us to renounce our faith. But I asked them, “Why can the people in the city have a church, and the minority in the mountains cannot have a church?” They answered: “In the city, we don’t have laws to control this, but in the rural area we can’t allow there to be churches.” I asked, “who made these rules?” They wouldn’t answer. At that point, they said, “Why don’t we call a Hmong officer to talk to you in Hmong – we aren’t getting anywhere in Vietnamese.”

So they sent the Hmong officer to talk to me. I asked him the same question. He explained that this was not from the central government, but that these rules were added for the local government. I pushed on. “If it isn’t from the central government, how can you arrest me?” After a time, they delivered their response: We will not do anything to you, we will let you go home. Just don’t spread the news that we persecuted your family. They sent another three soldiers to watch me for three weeks. They wanted to make sure I don’t cause any problem for the government.

After this time, I met with the first believer in my area. I asked him to come to Hanoi with me. We would go to talk to the Christian Mission Alliance (CMA) church. We went and met with the president, but he didn’t help us. He just sent us back and said all sorts of bad things about the Hmong people. We were so disappointed. I was so angry. I resigned from my post as the chief of the village, and traveled by foot for three days through the jungle villages around my home to try to help out Christians who were being persecuted by the government and to try to get them released from prison. All the while, I tried to convince the local government officials that the persecution didn’t come from the central government, but from local government.

I took members from the churches into the jungle and we talked in secret about our faith. We talked about what the best way would be to avoid persecution. We wanted to make sure that we were able to have a good foundation for the Christians in the Hmong community. At one point, we went back to the CMA again, but they wouldn’t protect us – and they wouldn’t provide us with anything. They only gave us a few Bibles and sent us back home. The warned us not to say that we received the Bibles from the CMA. So, we went home, and I continued to meet with my members and the other Christians in our area. And we would pray together.

Another time when we were being persecuted and Christians were being arrested, I tried to debate with the officers. I told them, “Since I was 15, I was an officer in the government.” They sent a top general to come and talk to me. His goal was to convince me to recant my faith. He told me, “If any war comes to this country, it will come from the Christians.” But I said, ‘Christians won’t bring war. But if you will bring war against the church, that is your choice. We won’t deny our faith. If you want, I will call together all of the Christians in our province – and you can kill us all. But we won’t wage war.” I continued, “We have fought for this country. Their families have shed blood to protect this country.” The general sat silently. “I’ve never seen anyone speak as boldly as you,” he said.

Again, the general attacked: “Christians are bad people. Every Sunday they come to church and they are engaging in sexual immorality. The men and the leaders seduce the women.” I told the officers, “You come and stay with me for three days. I will feed you and you can stay at my house. We will go around and find Christian leaders who do this. If we catch any of them, I will be the first to hand them over to be executed. If not, you will need to apologize to this community.”

I continued, “You aren’t here to protect the people, but accuse them of wrongdoings – things that they aren’t doing.” I told them that if they didn’t stop persecuting us I would write down all of their names and would go directly to the United States Embassy and submit their names.

I remember – the general got so mad. He threw his documents in my face. But in the end, the general just left. They sent word: “We apologize, and we will leave you.” Since then, the persecution in my area has reduced. That was the local government at that time – but at this time the government has changed and there is very little persecution in our region.

Even though our region was one of the most persecuted in all of Vietnam, the Christians multiplied quickly. We worked hard to spread the gospel. I also ran a clinic in my house. Whenever we would admit sick people into our house, we would give them the gospel.

In 2004, I heard that the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) was welcoming churches into their fellowship. So I called the VFC to see if we could be part of that. At that time, I started to receive some theological training from them. In 2007 they appointed me to oversee 16 districts and the towns in them in my area. Then, in 2010, they appointed a few more pastors to help me oversee those congregations and then they called me to oversee all the congregations in the Songla province. In 2012, we were invited to the VFC’s annual meeting in Hochimin. There I was called to be the chairman of the HFC.

Currently, in the HFC, we have 240 senior pastors and 330 additional pastors. Many of our churches don’t have pastors and are served by local elders who have been appointed. In total, we have more than 100,000 members. In the congregation that I pastor, we have 58 families that are members. Some of the people who come to worship with us aren’t members yet. In total, we have an average of 380 in attendance every week.

In addition to serving the local congregation, I also personally oversee 30 pastors and around 18,000 members in my area. Our goal is to continue to share the gospel with the families and villages around our church and in our district who don’t yet know Christ. We have some goals for our congregation – our current church building and location is too small to provide for the growing church. We hope to build another church building on the hill in the village – a bigger church so we can have more people come to worship. We also hope to build a small park in the area around the church to attract tourists from other villages to our town and provide an opportunity for our members to do outreach to them.

The training we are receiving is key – the leaders and members in my church need more training in the word of God so that they are well equipped. We want to train leaders in our church to spread the gospel to the surrounding villages. When we receive the training from WELS in Hanoi, we take it back and train the local leaders with what we have received.

The pastors in my area have received training from a variety of churches in the past – the Vietnamese churches, Korean missionaries, and even Hmong pastors who have come from the United States. But each of these groups and individuals came and did the training based on what they wanted to accomplish. And all we learned were rules to follow, good works that must be done, and how to live good lives to please God. We would go to training from these churches, but among our churches, there was no stability, no peace, and no gospel. We had no unity among our churches because we all just interpreted the Bible based on our own ideas or the various things we had learned.

That all started to change in 2013 when Pastor Lor started doing training for us in Hanoi. Now we have both physical and spiritual unity. The Lutheran doctrine has brought peace and harmony to the people in the villages – and as a result, our members are sharing their faith and our churches are multiplying.

Personally, since I have been receiving training from the WELS, I see a change in myself as well. Before this, I taught and used my own authority in the church. At that time, I thought, “I’m the smart one – I’m the one with training, and I am the one with the authority. I can force my members to do the right thing.” But since I have been studying with the Lutheran Church, I have changed. I have reevaluated myself and how I taught in the past – and know that I have taught false teachings. The training made me value my members more – and know that they need the gospel. I used to use the law to motivate my members. That was how I showed my authority. But since receiving this training, I now understand that the law won’t help the members. I started to share the gospel and taught them to understand that the gospel will motivate you to love and show care for each other. What I have noticed is that now my members respect me even more than they ever did when I only used the law, rules, and traditions to lead them.

On May 29th, 2018, I gathered together 129 local church leaders at my congregation. I retrained them in Lutheran theology as we have learned it from WELS. I assured them and demonstrated to them that this teaching was the true Biblical teaching. After that training, they encouraged me to keep on receiving training so that in the future the local leaders can continue to receive training from me. It is their dream that they can all receive formal training as well. At that meeting, I also invited local government officers to attend. When I finished the training, they applauded my teaching. The head officer said that this was one of the best teachings that they had ever heard. They encouraged me to continue my training and bring it back to the villages so that the people can continue to learn the Bible and grow in their understanding.

We’re not done yet. We need more training – for this generation and the next generations of pastors. I’m 50 years old right now – I hope we can continue to partner in training until I am 60 or even 80 – until we can carry on this ministry by ourselves and be confident to train our own pastors and leaders. The HFC is scattered across 14 provinces of Vietnam.  It is our goal as HFC to be the ‘big brother’ and standard for solid Christian Hmong churches in all of Vietnam.

Finally, I don’t have anything to send to my WELS brothers and sisters in the U.S. to even begin to show our gratitude or appreciation. All we can send is our ‘empty’ words of Thank You to you.  But we are thankful. We trust that in the future the training will continue to equip leaders so that the gospel will spread to many more throughout Vietnam. Pray for us. Pray for our religious freedom in this country, especially for the Hmong in the rural areas. And pray that the many minority people will have the opportunity to hear the gospel and believe it.

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Pastor Vue

Pastor Vue is 44 years old. He serves the Zhoukao congregation in Galapa village of Munyue district in Dien Bien province, Vietnam. He travels one day by motorcycle to the closest large city and then one more day by bus to get to Hanoi for training. 

I’ve been serving in my current location since 2008. It is a relatively new village for us. I served in another city from 1999 to 2008 and then was called to serve in Galapa village in 2008.

I became a Christian in 1997 in the village of Kuangtao in the southern part of Song La province. At that time there weren’t any Christians in that entire village. I was the first one to become a Christian. I had heard the gospel from Pastor Ham, who is now the chairman of Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC), and from radio broadcasts.

I had known Pastor Ham from the past – from before he was a Christian. I was always a person who was really afraid of death. Passing away really frightened me. When Pastor Ham shared about a new hope for people in death, that changed me. That’s really how I became a Christian.

After I converted, I found that there were many people in my village who were also interested in the Good News. Many people became Christians and we started a small congregation and worshiped in a house. In 1998, we built a small church building and I was elected to be an elder in the church. Around that time, the persecution from the local government against Christians became very heavy. In 2001, I was arrested and put in prison, tortured, and persecuted.

In 2008, I relocated from Son La province and was made pastor of the Zhoukao congregation in Galapa village. My church is made up of 114 families and a total of 583 members. Three additional pastors were appointed by the church body to assist me. I was given an oversight role over all of the congregations in Dien Bien province. I have a total of 8 pastors under my oversight. In the southern part of the province there are 19 congregations and in the northern part of the provinces, there are 19 congregations. In total, I serve 2,640 members.

Before I became a pastor, I started to receive some training from the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) – very simple doctrine. We received training three times a year. They taught us the basics of Bible doctrine, but one of the largest challenges was that they did not teach us how to train our members. That training continued until 2014. During the final year of that training, I had already started to receive training from Pastor Lor in 2013.

After I began coming to this training, we all realized that we didn’t really understand law and gospel. The previous training we had just combined everything together. I know I used a lot of law with my members and I was very confused by what I was learning.

Today I thank and praise God that the Lutheran church sent Pastor Lor to train us. First, I see very clearly – the training has clearly shown us the Word of God. Each training session is divided into clear small portions we can understand. Second, the training is conducted in Hmong. Even when Anglo pastors come and teach us, it is translated into Hmong. And no matter who is teaching us, the message is always very clear.

Before, we used the law to force our members to do good works. As an example, we prohibited our members from drinking alcohol. At that time a group separated from our church because of this. Now I have gone back to them and apologized for our false teaching in the past and invited them back to our congregation.

Because we are teaching the Bible clearly and are properly using the gospel, and not just the law, we have more in attendance every Sunday. And our offerings have increased as well – ever since we removed the law that demanded offerings. There has been a tremendous increase in giving in our congregation.

Personally, I see now that I am living in Grace, and not under the law. This has meant a huge change for me and my understanding of God. I still am struggling to bring this same clarity to all of my members – but I see they are slowly growing as well. When I come back from training, they have seen a big difference in how I teach and preach. They see that the teaching that I bring back to them is the real Word of God. The Truth. That it is based on Biblical principles. And so they want me to continue to be trained so I can bring back more of God’s word.

As we continue to receive the training from WELS, I trust that we will continue to see our lives change for the better. I ask that WELS pray for the HFC. Pray that we will have a place to do the training – that we won’t have to continue to rent out another church and training space, but have our own space. This training is not just for our generation, but for many to come – until we are ready to handle the training for ministry by ourselves.

There are so many people who don’t believe in Jesus in my village and in my area. This is a big Hmong village – more than 400 families. Currently, our church building is small, we are already full when all the members come to worship. If we grow more in the future, we will have to expand – please pray for that as well. Also, there is currently some pressure on our congregation from the Hmong community – there are some in our community who want to cause problems for us. They accuse us of doing illegal things or create conflicts over our property. They accuse us of harboring illegal foreigners. None of this is true – they just want to cause us problems in the community. Please pray about this as well.

Personally, I also have a prayer request. I have already sacrificed my life for the Word of God. My family has been lacking so many things – I don’t get paid a salary from the congregation. I am happy to serve as I can. I support myself by farming. Please pray for me that I have the strength to carry the Word of God to the people. Pray that God would strengthen my life that I am giving to Him for service in His Kingdom. And pray that God would strengthen my family.

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Pastor Vang

Pastor Vang is 36 years old. He serves in Lao Cai province as pastor of Shan Zhou Fu congregation. He travels an hour by motorcycle and 4-5 hours by bus to get to the training in Hanoi. 

When I was 8 years old, my parents became Christian. That was in 1990. I became a Christian when my parents shared the Good News with me. In the early years, some of my brothers came to Hanoi and received training from the Christian Mission Alliance (CMA) church – our congregation was established by the CMA and was under them at that time. That was around 1991-1993. In 1998-1999, I served as the secretary for the congregation and began to serve in the church.

In 2001 and 2002, the persecution from the local government became intense against the churches in our area. As a result, we divided our church into smaller congregations and worshiped inside houses. At that time, we reached out to the CMA for assistance, but they did nothing to help. From then on, we didn’t have any connection with the CMA. In 2003, our pastor contacted the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC), and in 2004 we registered our congregation under the VFC.

I received training from the VFC from 2004 to 2006. Then in 2006, I was called by the church to be a pastor. At that time, I was still unclear about so many things in the Bible. Looking back, I see that while we talked about Jesus as our Savior, we didn’t understand law and gospel and we promoted a lot of work righteousness. That was the church that I had grown up with – if you don’t do good, or live according to the rules, you don’t count as a Christian. We always had a lot of legalism in the church. The pastors promoted many traditions to control the members.

There are currently 140 members in my local congregation. I also oversee 12 additional congregations in three different districts of Lao Cai. Those churches have a total of 1400 members. Those 12 congregations are led by elders – I am the only pastor. In our whole province, there are only 12 pastors, but we have a total of 65 congregations and more than 9,000 members.

All of us pastors are so very thankful for the training – and for WELS opening the door for us to receive this training. Every time I go back home, I conduct a training session for the elders that I oversee. Every time we focus on law and gospel and how to interpret the Bible. Even though I have received much training ever since 2003, I was always really confused by the training. I didn’t understand the scripture well. Since 2015, I started to receive training from the pastors here – Lutheran training. This opened my eyes. The first year, I was still trying to understand it all, but since 2016, I see the message is really clear. This made me really happy and now I enjoy my studies. I really enjoy our training here. We see Christ at the center of the Bible and the center of everything that is taught. We truly believe that salvation comes through faith alone, through Christ alone, through Scripture alone. This foundation has made me confident as a Christian and confident in my salvation.

This training has changed me a lot as a pastor as well. Before the training I just preached the law – I treated people with contempt. If I saw a member committing sin, I hated them. If they had addictions, I hated them. Now, as I look back, I see that I was a Pharisee at that time. Now, I hate that time of my life. But since I received the training from Pastor Lor and Professor Bare and the other pastors, I have learned to show compassion to the sinner. I have learned to show Christ to the sinner.

Thanks be to God – thanks to all the professors and teachers who have come to teach. One thing I am certain of – the students coming are now certain of their salvation in Jesus Christ. They are confident that Jesus did everything for them. This is a special thing. And this is something they didn’t have before. Before the training, so many others were just like me. My members were also just like me. But now we have compassion and love. And now we have joy.

The Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) is a very big church body. We have more than 340 pastors and more than 100,000 members. It is my dream that WELS and the HFC can hold hands together to do the ministry for the people in this country. I want to see the training continue – not only for myself – but for many people, for the younger generation. We will need much more training in the future. In my local congregations, we need more evangelists so we can send them to the villages around us and other places where people have not heard or believed in Jesus.

I pray for the training – that through this training our pastors can be united in the same faith and the same doctrine. And I pray that this training will continue into the future. That’s what I pray for. I also pray that in the future we will have our own facility for us to go and receive full-time training.

I also ask for you to pray for me and my family. I pray one day that I will be able to reduce my farming work so that I can have more time to do the ministry of leading the church.

Finally, I want to thank the Lutheran church for supporting the training. We don’t actually deserve to receive anything from the WELS – but they just give and support the training by sending professors and providing the financial ability for the training to take place. For that – I thank you.

Thank you so much. I will never forget you. You helped us to see the Word of God clearly. You have brought us the truth – and that has changed our lives.

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The Sun Came Out at Midnight

On Monday, August 13, 2018 the crescent moon – thin and red – hung low in the night sky as I drove up to the church. It reminded me of the same crescent moon I saw the first night I was in Pakistan in March 2009. That day my hosts arranged a visit to a Sunday School upon my arrival. The children threw petals of flowers, sang hymns, recited Bible verses and put on a play. As I walked back to the car, there in the western sky (now dark) was a white crescent moon. In my first hours of being in the country I was surprised to see this well-known symbol on the flag of Pakistan displayed so marvelously. And tonight, there it was again.

I was nervous. We had been preparing for this event for more than a year. I took a nap at 7 p.m., woke up at 8 p.m., and shaved and put on a suit and tie. My translator told me to wear a suit since in the Pakistani mind this shows greater respect to the students and to the event itself.

As I drove up to the church an hour early, my nervousness gave way to excitement. I was going to see men whom I had come to know during my visits to Pakistan, men whom I had not been able to converse with except through written reports – men who were my dear brothers in Jesus.

Then the moment came. Our contact and I stood before the camera. We saw the eleven men and four wives gathered in the classroom. All of the students introduced themselves. We exchanged pleasantries and then we began our study of Luke’s Gospel. The men will teach what they learn from Luke’s Gospel to the 58 house churches in Pakistan. Each man will visit 4-5 house churches a week. The ladies will minister to women and teach children in our Sunday Schools.

Our 10-day Bible Institute ran from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Central Standard Time, which is the same as 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Pakistan. The “day” was broken up into four, two hour sessions with breaks in between.

Our contact and I have found that standing while teaching keeps us alert… The first two nights we stayed up the entire night. Now we take a nap while the students have lunch. We wake up half an hour before the third session to make sure our brains are in gear. We also eat snacks to keep our energy level up – granola bars, honey on bread, apples, peanuts, and decaf coffee. We sleep as best as we can during the day.

I was not used to so many filters in teaching – the filter of culture (the Pakistani mindset, the American mindset), the filter of language (translation from English to Urdu and back again), and then the filter of technology (cameras, microphones, picture quality, sound quality, being unable to move around while teaching). I wish I could be physically present, but that was not possible due to security concerns. In spite of these filters, and because of them, God in his great mercy supplied what I was lacking and enabled us to connect head-to-head and heart-to-heart.

There have been four surprises:

  1. The amount of interaction. It was our goal to have a lot of interaction, but we didn’t know if we would be able to achieve it. We wanted to avoid “the sage on the stage” where everyone sits quietly and listens to a man talk for a long time. Every day we taught there was more interaction.
  2. How much the students know. Their knowledge of the Bible is deeper than we had expected.
  3. The camaraderie and good will. There is a joy and a closeness among us. Many times the students spontaneously wanted to sing a hymn after learning a Bible lesson. With the accompaniment of drums, they stood and sang an Easter hymn after learning about Jesus raising to life the only son of the Widow of Nain.
  4. The formation of a team. We spent several sessions talking honestly about the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats in our churches in Pakistan. Talking back and forth – listening to the students thoughts and concerns – makes them feel they are respected. This shows them that we consider them to be valuable members of our team.

The first three days we were without the use of a live video transmission for only 45 minutes during 15 total hours of teaching. We had high hopes, but we did not expect the video signal to work so well. This was a great gift from God. When the video transmission stopped, we used the phone. We, of course, have plans to repeat and enlarge our Bible Institute; but we will not mention them here for security reasons. I thank everyone who worked so hard – in Pakistan and in America – to make this happen.

The Old Testament prophet Zechariah said, “When evening comes, there will be light” (14:7). On the evening of August 13, 2018, a crescent moon was setting in the western sky and the sun came out at midnight.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

Written by: WELS Friendly Counselor to Pakistan

 

To learn more about WELS mission work in Pakistan, visit wels.net/Pakistan.

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Faces of Faith – Ching

His name is Ching. He was born 28 or 29 years ago in the jungles of western Thailand. He technically has two birthdays – the date that his parents told him he was born and the one the government assigned to him when his family was assimilated into Thailand’s population. The two birthdays are a year apart.

His family was moved to Village 9, one of the settlements established by the government for refugees. He attended school through the third grade, but had to leave due to family difficulties and the need to work in the fields in order to help support the family. No one in his family was Christian including his four siblings.

A strange dream caused his mother to seek out the local Christian leaders of our fledgling mission in Village 9. Through her contact with our young Bible Institute student (now one of our national pastors), the Holy Spirit led her to faith and she was baptized along with three of her children.

Children in Thailand listen to a Bible message

By the time Ching was 15, his interest in the Christian faith led him to the city of Chiang Mai, about a seven hour drive from his home in Village 9. He attended classes at our Bible Institute until its closure in 2009. He then transferred his studies to our seminary in Chiang Rai. At the same time he continued his secular education and earned his GED. When he completed our four year seminary program, he was graduated with a BTh degree and was ordained into the pastoral ministry.

He married in March of 2016. A year later he was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and he underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments. Though the doctors told him he would never be able to have children after the chemotherapy, the Lord has blessed him and his wife with the joy and expectation of a child this November.

I asked him once why he decided to become a pastor. Music has always been among his interests. In his youth, he once heard a Christian song that led him to seek out more information about the words and music. His friends in turn invited him to become more involved in worship where he was drawn to the music of the church as well as the message. From there, a thirst and desire to learn more led him on the path to service in the church. Pastor Ching and his wife currently are serving as officers on the Board of Directors of our new Thailand Evangelical Lutheran Synod Foundation in Chiang Rai.

Please continue to remember Pastor Ching and his wife in your prayers.  Pray that the Lord grants him a complete recovery from his cancer, and that he and his wife are blessed with the birth of a healthy child.

Written by: Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

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From the Far Side of the Sea

For my wife Connie and I, the words penned by ancient Israel’s King David take on a very personal meaning:

I settle on the far side of the sea. Even there your hand guides me, and your right hand holds on to me.

Psalm 139:9-10 EHV

As part of the WELS foreign service team, we have lived on the tropical island of Java in Indonesia since 2011. Indonesia is an archipelago, a geographic grouping of islands scattered about a region of water. The sandy shores of this nation of islands are bordered by the Pacific and Indian oceans, as well as being interconnected by several seas, straits, and gulfs.

Greg Bey and his wife Connie in Indonesia

One of the country’s many beautiful beaches on the southern coast of Central Java was the site of the 16th synodical convention of Gereja Lutheran Indonesia this past June. The modest hotel at which the convention was held was a mere 10-15 minute walk away from the water’s edge. Reflecting on the vastness of the Indian Ocean at the setting of the sun, the following words recorded by the Prophet Habakkuk seem most applicable: For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14 ESV)  All that we need to know about the glory of God our Savior, the God of free and faithful grace, the God of undeserved kindness and love, has been written down for us in the Holy Scriptures for our eternal benefit.

Pastor Ordination at GLI

To the great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9 EHV) God’s Word of Truth proclaims:  He will… have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19 ESV) In a sense, GLI is truly a microcosm of the “great multitude” from around the world who so desperately needs to hear the good news of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation which He freely offers to all through faith in Christ. It is estimated that there are more than 300 native languages and ethnic groups throughout the archipelago. Some sources state that the living languages in use exceed 700.

It is a privilege for GLI to be able to reach out to various tribes, people, and languages. This small fledgling confessional Lutheran denomination is able to do so only because the Lord of the Church has already blessed it with members and ministers in a number of major geographic regions including West, Central, & East Java, West Timor, Kalimantan (Borneo), and Irian Jaya (Papua).

GLI Delegates at their synod convention

This was evidenced at the GLI synodical convention as new leaders from among the clergy and laity were elected and new pastors and vicars were ordained and installed. While the baton was passed from the first generation to the middle-aged and younger men of the second and third generations, those added to the cadre of elected leaders and called workers consisted of individuals from various tribes including Javanese, Batak (Sumatra), Papuan, Dawan (Timorese), and Dayak (Kalimantan).

While GLI is small church body with a mere handful of far flung posts and congregations, the LORD has provided it with with big opportunities, the greatest message, and His promise of blessing. Please join in its ministry through your words of encouragement, by your offerings, and especially with your prayers.

Blessed is everyone who has the God of Jacob as his help. His hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything which is in them. He is the one who stays faithful forever.

Psalm 146:5-6 EHV

Written by: Greg Bey, Friendly Counselor to Indonesia

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God Can Turn Setbacks into Blessings

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

Acts 8:4

The book of Acts shows us that the Lord used even the persecution of his church to further the spread of his Word. What seemed a setback actually resulted in added blessing to the church as the scattered believers brought the message of salvation to those whom they might not have otherwise encountered.

South Asian Fellowship at Christ in Pewaukee, WI

When our World Missions contacts in Pakistan, Dr. and Mrs. Jordan, were forced to leave their country and come to the United States for safety reasons, it seemed a significant setback to the efforts to share the gospel in that country. A small but growing Lutheran church had been established. Christian literature had been provided in the Urdu language for tens of thousands of Christian school children, for adults who desired instruction, and for hundreds of low income Christian households that wanted Bible materials for the spiritual instruction of their families.

Yet as happens so often in mission work, our Lord used these unforeseen developments to further his work rather than hinder it. Through the miracle of modern technology in communications, the departed leaders were able to continue to advise, encourage, and train those left behind in their church in Pakistan. Plans for in depth Bible training of the next generation are being carried out and a new wave of leadership has begun to emerge. In fact, outreach through household churches is being done on a scale greater than thought possible.

The Lord’s blessings are not confined to Pakistan alone, but are also evident in the United States. Extended time in America enabled the Pakistani couple to accelerate and complete courses with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), a partnership between WELS Joint Missions and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. After graduating from the PSI program, the Jordans began to use the advantage of their Asian background and language to establish a network of Asian immigrant friends who were living in the Pewaukee, Wis. area, where they reside. Their membership at Christ Lutheran Church in Pewaukee prompted the congregation to work with the Jordans to establish an International Friendship Center (IFC) to reach out to these immigrants with Christian love and the message of salvation.

Activities of the IFC over the past months have included meals, gatherings at church, and numerous visits to homes that have involved over 60 immigrants. In all of these activities, the gospel has been shared and relationships between American mid-westerners and people from India, Pakistan, and Nepal have begun to form. This summer, Christ Lutheran volunteers are providing activities for Asian children in a nearby park leading up to the church’s Vacation Bible School in July. Joint trips to farms, businesses, and places of interest in the community are being planned; and classes helping these immigrants to adjust to U.S. culture and life are being developed.

We don’t know where all of this comparatively new outreach effort will lead, but the Jordans and the volunteers at Christ Lutheran do know that God has provided an unexpected opportunity to be his people in a unique way, perhaps showing again in the 21st century that setbacks in man’s perception often become blessings that are part of God’s master plan.

Written by: A volunteer with the Christ Lutheran South Asian Task Force

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Faces of Faith – Tsavxue Ham

Brothers and sisters in Christ – I’d like you to meet my friend Tsavxue Ham, a pastor and chairman of the the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam. The HFC is a church body of more than 100,000 members seeking training from WELS and requesting fellowship.

Tsavxue Ham on the left, Pastor Lor on the right, examining a patient

This past March I had the chance to visit Ham’s village near the border of Laos and Vietnam. He runs a micro-hospital there. Ham is skilled in both herbal medicine and modern medicine. Since the age of 7, he’s been learning about herbal medicine from his elders. When we arrived at his village, there were more than 30 patients waiting for Ham because he had spent the last three weeks attending WELS pastoral training in Hanoi. People seek Ham’s help first because it takes more than two days to travel to the big city to receive medical treatment. Because so many patients were waiting for Ham, who is also busy supporting his family as a farmer, I offered to help examine some of his patients – I too have a background in medicine. But for me, the most miraculous thing was the opportunity to share the Word of God and to pray for the sick. We spent two days at Ham’s village. We had many opportunities to share the Word with his members and the community.

Ham’s medical knowledge has opened a door for the mission work in his area. Through his micro-hospital, he has the opportunity to share the Word of God with many people who come from far and near. Many patients travel for days to receive treatment from him. Some prominent people in the city and country have received treatment from him. Most of his patients first sought help from shamans, but the shamans couldn’t cure their sickness. Once they arrive at Ham’s micro-hospital, he gives them treatment, prays for them, and shares the Word with them. After a few days or weeks, they leave his place with joy and happiness in Christ, not only because they were cured from their diseases but also because they’ve learned that their sins are forgiven in our Lord Jesus Christ. As soon as they return home, they share their joy and happiness in Christ with many others, just like the Samaritan woman who had received forgiveness from Christ at the well of Jacob (John 4:1-42).

Tsavxue Ham (far left) with other leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church

Even though Ham lives in a region with a lot of religious persecution, the Holy Spirit has worked through the Word preached by Ham to add more than 25 congregations to the HFC in the last two years. He is a strong leader not only in the church but also in the community as well. Many prominent doctors in Vietnam admire his medical knowledge.

Currently Ham’s hospital only has room for 15 patients. He has to send many patients home after their visit due to the limited space. Ham does not charge his patients for their services. Instead, he and his wife work very hard on their farm to provide food and medicine to the sick. Ham said, “We are poor, but there is nothing more precious than sharing Jesus with others. My wife and I work hard on our farm to make sure we can provide three meals per day and shelter for our patients because we want to seize the opportunity to share Jesus to our poor patients during their stay with us.” Ham’s wife, Ntxawm Muas, said, “My daughters and sons-in-law are also willing to work hard on their farm to support their father’s work, to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” Being poor is not an obstacle for Ham and his family to serve Christ and his patients.

Ham and his wife have three daughters and three sons. All of them are married except the youngest son. Two of his sons are studying medicine in Hanoi, Vietnam. They plan to return to the village to help in their father’s micro-hospital so that their father may have more time for the church. Not only do Ham and his wife work hard for the work of the Lord, but the entire family is working hard on their farm to make sure that they can provide meals, medicine, and shelter for the sick. Ham’s daughters help his wife prepare three meals per day for his patients. Sometimes Ham has to go up to the mountains for days or weeks just to collect herbs to help his patients.

In my entire life, with the exception of my grand-uncle, I have never seen a person as dedicated to the work of the Lord as Ham in the Hmong community. He has been a Christian since 1997 and has been serving the church and his patients for 20 years. Ham heard the gospel through my grand-uncle, Pastor Ntsuabvas Lor, who was murdered in 1999 because of his faith in Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, please keep Ham and his family in your prayers!

Written by: Pastor Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

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Bearing Much Fruit

I want to tell you about a friend. We’ll say her name is “Lydia”. We started working in this city in East Asia because of her and her husband. When I first got to town, I thought they’d be critical factors in the work here. But as the year went on I saw their life being filled up with, well, life. Both husband and wife worked; and they have a son who is very smart and also very strong willed, which can make for a lot of work at two years old. On top of that, they bought a home and are renovating it. That’s a full life. So in my mind I said “goodbye for a while” and hoped they could continue to study with us. I couldn’t really see them helping lead or being a main contributor to our ministry while their lives were so busy.

That’s how it went until after this last winter break. I saw them a bit (if they could make it), or I’d sporadically go over to their place if they had time. After winter break she called me up and said she wanted to give a presentation. When we got to her home, she had copies and a projector set up.

Her presentation was about mothers.

She wanted to help. In her own life she saw the difficulty of raising a child, and she also saw it in others: the loneliness, the huge change in social life, the work, and many mixed feelings of guilt, anger, and even child abuse. She wanted to do something about it. So she told me of her plan to create a support program for moms. They would find a time to meet together to learn how to parent, to give them a break to develop friendships with other women, and to provide a time to hear about forgiveness and the gospel comfort as they raise their children. A ‘support for moms’ program to take on the challenges of raising a child in this culture.

To put it mildly, I was blown away. I had resigned to the fact that they would be occasional “receivers” of the work here. Maybe they’d come once or twice a month, but we wouldn’t see too much of them. But instead, God was working in her something massive. In fact, this is so big that she quit her job to focus on the program. Can you imagine quitting your job to dedicate yourself to serving others and sharing the gospel? She wanted to do just that, especially to this specific group.

There’s so much here that I would love to talk more about, but I’ll just mention one more thing. Last week at our Bible study we focused on John 15, the vine and branches. Jesus promises, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Those who remain in Jesus will bear much fruit. That verse made me think about our expectation of Jesus’ promise. Maybe I had been looking for some consistent fruit from her – like a good ole’ reliable apple, or some other plant like wheat or corn – i.e. faithful attendance to studies and consistent outreach work. But maybe God was growing in her some other fruit that takes a bit longer to develop. Maybe like a sweet cherry tree. The sweet cherry tree can take from four to seven years to see fruit; but once it blooms, it produces a large quantity of sweet, much sought after cherries. Maybe God was slowly building in Lydia something that would produce a little later, but something much sweeter and richer in taste.

We can wonder about that same promise of Jesus in our lives, especially when we can’t see the fruit right away. Does that mean we can reverse the logic and say, “I must not be connected to Jesus because I can’t see the fruit?” While that could be the case sometimes, I think we can also rest in God’s promise. He says you will bear much fruit. Maybe you can’t see it right now, or it’s not the kind you are thinking of, but Jesus is connected to you and in you – and you will bear fruit.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Reaching the Vietnamese

Have you heard about Friends of Vietnam?

Friends of Vietnam, Inc. (FOV) is the international outreach arm of Peace In Jesus Lutheran Church (a predominantly Vietnamese congregation) in Boise, Idaho. FOV endeavors to reach out through educational opportunities by supplying English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers to Vietnam in order to witness about Jesus in private settings. FOV also strives to bring students into the United States to study at WELS schools. FOV is building bridges for the gospel between Vietnam and the U.S. through education. The FOV Board was established in August 2016 and has an aggressive plan to bring the gospel to Vietnamese souls. There are some exciting things happening in Vietnam! What follows is an interview with Mr. Hưu Trung Lê, President of the Friends Of Vietnam Board:

Q: What are the goals of FOV?

Friends of Vietnam is an exciting and new ministry striving to accomplish two main goals: 1) prepare and send individuals to Vietnam to teach English and also share the Good News in private settings, and 2) assist students in Vietnam to come study in schools of our fellowship in the United States. The vision includes bringing students from Vietnam to study at WELS elementary schools, high schools, and colleges. In pursuit of fostering friendships and understanding between Vietnamese and American cultures, Friends of Vietnam endeavors to connect more Vietnamese souls to the gospel.

Q: Why is FOV important, in your view?

FOV is really important because we are striving to share the gospel with some areas still in the dark. We would like to share the correct teaching about Jesus with Vietnamese people. The bridge of the gospel is important, so FOV is trying to build many such bridges.

Q: What FOV success stories might you be able to share?

Our first FOV teacher is in Vietnam right now! He had a very difficult time at first in Vietnam due to the challenges of living in a new country, the language barrier, etc., but now he is settled in and has a good job teaching English at ILA English center in Saigon. He continues teaching four classes a week, on Saturday and Sunday. Our teacher’s manager at the school did an evening classroom observation and he was really impressed with the class, and he thought our teacher was doing a good job. Our teacher plans on continuing his contract with this school through October 2018.*

*name withheld due to security concerns

FOV President Hưu Trung on a survey visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Q: What is your dream for FOV?

My dream is that we bring more students to our WELS schools so the young generation of Vietnamese people can know more about the gospel, and to place more teachers in Vietnam. Maybe someday we will have our own Lutheran high school in Vietnam! And more importantly, I dream one day we will have a Vietnamese Lutheran Church in fellowship with WELS in Vietnam, so we could have regular worship. My dream is that more people in Vietnam will hear the gospel and believe in God. We try our best to follow what Jesus taught us in Matthew 4:19: “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’” That is what FOV is trying to do.

To learn more about Friends of Vietnam, visit their website at www.friendsofvietnam.net or check out their Facebook page.

If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved with Friends of Vietnam, please call the general line at (208) 912-8283, or Hưu Trung Lê at (208) 891-5344.

Interview conducted by Rev. Daniel Kramer: Peace in Jesus Lutheran Church – Boise, ID

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A Man of Many Hats

Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions teach that the public ministry may assume various forms. For example, public ministers of the gospel may serve as a parish pastor, a world missionary, a seminary professor, a mission counselor, a synod president or as the editor of a theological publication. Theoretically, a WELS pastor could serve in all of these forms of public ministry at different times. But typically no man would serve in all these roles at the same time… unless your name is Alvien De Guzman.

Pastor Alvien De Guzman and wife Marieta

Now, please don’t misunderstand. Pastor De Guzman is not a Lutheran “Superman”. He is as flawed as every other minister of the gospel. Rather, what he is (as the only confessional Lutheran in fellowship with the WELS in the country of the Philippines) is a man who is serving in a lot of roles at the same time. You might say that these days, Alvien De Guzman is “wearing a lot of different hats.”

Actually, it’s been that way since the beginning of his relationship with WELS. In 2014, Pastor De Guzman’s first hat was as a tent minister, devoting his weekends and evenings to conducting Bible classes in his home, while also working a secular job. Shortly thereafter, Pastor De Guzman began working with WELS Multi-Language Publications to develop confessional Lutheran materials in his native language of Tagalog. He put on the hat of a religious publications editor.

About that same time, through the financial support offered to him by WELS Board for World Missions, Pastor De Guzman became a full-time mission explorer. In consultation with our Asia-Pacific Rim Administrative Committee, he developed an outreach plan for several barangays (neighborhoods) in Novaliches, a suburb of Manila. He planted a congregation which bears the name Law and Gospel Lutheran Church. He looked for ways to connect with his community. Over the course of time, the Lord brought through his doors a growing number of children – Pastor De Guzman then put on the hat of a youth minister. He taught Sunday school and trained others to do the same.

More recently, Pastor De Guzman has donned the hat of a multi-parish pastor. Preaching stations have opened in neighboring suburbs of Navotas City and Cavite. The opportunities to bring the gospel to new locations have begun to stretch Pastor De Guzman to the limit. Who would provide the workers for these fields the Lord was opening to him?

Law and Gospel Lutheran Church – Manilla, Philippines

In a very short period of time, three different men who recently left the Lutheran Church of the Philippines for confessional reasons have requested further theological training from WELS. They are eager to serve alongside Pastor De Guzman. But first Pastor De Guzman will need to don the hat of a seminary professor – teaching classes and monitoring the field experiences of these men, under the direction of WELS Pastoral Studies Institute.

God willing, all of these men will one day shepherd congregations of their own, united with Law and Gospel Lutheran Church as an independent church body, in fellowship with WELS. It will be a new synod in the Philippines, with a new synod president – and another hat for someone to wear.

God knows what the future holds for our mission work in the Philippines. But from my human perspective, I expect that for the foreseeable future, one man will continue to wear a lot of hats. May God grant this man the grace to wear each of his hats well, for his sake and for the sake of those he shepherds, in Jesus’ name.

Written By: Rev. Robb Raasch – Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Rim Administrative Committee

Want to see more photos from the WELS World Missions and Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) visit to the Philippines? Check out the WELS Missions Flickr album.

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Inner Peace! Inner Peace!

In the movie Kung Fu Panda, poor Master Shifu cannot find any peace. He tries to meditate; he chants the words, “inner peace, inner peace” over and over again, but nothing changes. There is no peace for him. He just has too much on his mind… there are too many troubles, nothing is going the way that it is supposed to go. Worst of all, his enemy is coming, and his student (fat panda Po) is much better at eating noodles than he is at learning Kung Fu.

Maybe your life feels like that sometimes. It’s difficult to live with inner peace. There is so much to do. There is so much that could be done better. There is stress and uncertainty. There are unmet expectations that you put on yourself and others put on you. There are setbacks and disappointments. There are often mental and physical roadblocks to important things you are trying to get done. Life rarely ever goes the way you planned it.

In the midst of that storm, you try to have inner peace, but it just will not come to you.

Here’s the problem: When we cannot find inner peace, it is usually because we are trying to do God’s work. I do not mean the ministries we have been assigned – I mean the work that only God can do. Charles Spurgeon once wrote: “You are meddling with Christ’s business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances.” It is not our business to run the world and to make all things work out for the good of the Church. Our business is to trust and to live out our vocations in that trust. God will take care of the rest.

Christ’s birth, death and resurrection is the guarantee that we do not need to worry about God’s business. In fact, we do not need to worry about anything. The angels sung about it: “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” I like the Chinese translation there (from the CSB): 平安临到他所喜悦 的人. “Peace comes to those who delight him.” God delights in you!

As Zephaniah wrote,“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (3:17)

God delights in you because He delights in Jesus who lived a perfect life in your place, died as punishment for your guilt, and rose to guarantee that you are now innocent in God’s sight. When God looks at you, He sees Jesus. He sees perfection. He sees a billion reasons to rejoice and sing. And in that moment – in every moment – He commits himself to working out all things for your good.

So, be at peace. Tomorrow may bring trouble of every kind, but peace is yours through Christ!

Written by: A Missionary in East Asia

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Time to Tell the Story

One of the many differences about living and working in East Asia is this time of year, Christmas-time. Instead of reminding everyone about the “real meaning” of Christmas or reading about how we need to stop the materialism and stress to enjoy Christmas, I’ve found that over here I more often get to share the answer to this most basic question: “What is Christmas?” Each time I’m asked the question, I’m given another chance to sling my well-rehearsed What-Is-Christmas story. And, “well-rehearsed” is the right word. I probably told the Christmas story individually over 30 times last year. That’s a lot of telling and retelling. Last year, as Christmas drew closer I thought, “I’ll be glad when this is over because I’ve been telling the same story so many times”. I was getting flashbacks of practicing for Christmas pageants as a child, mechanically shout-speaking the words of Luke 2, “IN THOSE DAYS CAESAR AUGUSTUS…” But as Christmas arrived, my attitude was refocused as I got to thinking…

First, I appreciate the opportunity to focus the Christmas story. Sometimes we pack the nativity scene with extra characters, metaphorically and literally, finding every possible story that relates to Christmas to give it a fresh look. However, I’ve found that retelling the simple story of Luke 2 helps me cut it down to the basics. The conditions tell us Jesus’ beginning was a humble one, yet the angels tell us this was a massive event. After telling it so many times, I find myself ending the story by saying something like, “Basically God loved us so much he sent his own son to save us.”

It’s after telling people this focused message over and over that I see just how important this event is. This is God’s love put into action. Here is where I consider myself blessed to have heard other aspects of the Christmas story – of all those who waited for a Savior, or of those who scoured the writings for news about his coming, or about how so many promises of God were completed in this birth. It’s such an important point that I have to add it to my retelling. Unfortunately, I can’t share every detail every time without drawing a blank stare, but I’ll keep working on it. Nonetheless, all those facts tell me that Jesus’ birth is a massively important event – for me and for the person I’m telling it to.

Be like the Bethlehem shepherds, sharing the news of Christ’s birth

That leads me to these thoughts: How can I feel worn out from telling this amazing and important story?! And, how could it feel old when these people are hearing this news for the first time ever?! At Christmas, I’m excited to play the role of a shepherd of Bethlehem who goes throughout the city telling people “about this child.” I’m able to do this because our synod loves these people so much that they support and allow me to live over here to tell them. It’s even more exciting to see the people that have learned the Christmas story and are now becoming “Bethlehem shepherds” themselves, telling this story to others clearly and more naturally in their native language – sharing it better than I ever could.

This isn’t just a phenomenon on this side of the globe. There are people where you live that need to hear the Christmas story too, whether it’s for the first time or retold for the who-knows-how-many-time. This story is worth telling and retelling.

After thinking it through, I was excited for Christmas, and I’m excited for the new year. Let’s go tell the story of Jesus and his love.

By: A Missionary in East Asia

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Thankful to Be Let Go

“I’m sorry, but I can’t be your teacher anymore …”

It is rarely enjoyable to be let go. It’s challenging when your boss tells you that he or she can no longer keep you on staff – the pain and the sadness are real. Oftentimes, it leads to us to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” and, “Where do I go from here?”

If you have ever spent significant time learning another language, more than likely you have invested in a teacher or tutor. After 3 years of serving on the East Asia mission field, I have not met a better tutor than Linda. Linda, a professional teacher in our local preschool, is encouraging to all of the skill levels that enter her classroom, and she also knows how to push each student to give their best effort (my 5-year-old son thrives in her class as one of the few foreign children). She and her husband both serve as teachers in our school system while also raising their young son without full-time daycare assistance from the grandparents, which is very uncommon where we live. On top of all of this, Linda has been my regular language tutor along with tutoring several other missionaries on our field. When the missionaries gather, the conversation often turns to the blessings of studying with Linda.

While it seems somewhat trivial to be sad over being “let go” as a student, the truth is many of us on this mission field know that Linda is one of the best. We genuinely enjoy her company! We had always told Linda that if she ever needed to step away from teaching us, we would not be upset but instead be supportive and understanding. As I considered this possibility, I never figured I would feel “thanksgiving” for Linda letting me go as a student, but that is exactly how I feel and how our mission team feels right now.

Linda and her husband Adam have a strong desire to share their Savior with the lost souls living around them. They saw potential for a new church plant in our area, and this past summer they moved to our neighborhood. For years they have been growing under the guidance of our missionaries, Friend of China teachers, and national Lutheran pastors (graduates from our seminary in Hong Kong). Part of the reason Linda was eager to tutor us was to enable us to serve the people in the local language. Now she is a part of the core group that is launching a sister church in our neighborhood this upcoming Thanksgiving weekend. Adam and Linda are answering the call to prepare this location for worship, which includes taking the time to meet with local prospects that are interested in learning about Jesus and what it means to go to church. In summary, Linda has stopped training the missionaries so that she herself could go and serve the people – her people – by sharing the Gospel in her native tongue. This is something she can do far better than any of the foreign missionaries could ever even dream of doing.

The Apostle Paul gave thanks for the work God did in the hearts of his brothers and sisters:

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 1:2

This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for our partners in ministry and their excitement to share their faith, love, and hope in Jesus. So, yes, it actually feels good to be let go because we get to watch our God accomplish great things through servants like Adam and Linda. Please keep this young church in your prayers.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving (and eat some extra turkey for the missionaries who can’t get any)!

By: A Missionary in East Asia

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Grace in Indonesia

For the past 14 years, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI) has been working together with WELS as a sister church body. It has been a blessing and an honor for us to be involved together in spreading the gospel to the many people who are lost and thirsty for the truth in my country. Only the Gospel, through which the Holy Spirit works, can bring more people to know God’s plan of salvation through Tuhan Yesus Kristus – The Lord Jesus Christ.

Reformation is observed every year in Indonesia at every congregation and preaching station of GLI. As we celebrate the 500th Reformation anniversary this year, we are especially thankful for the ordination of new pastors in 2017, which brings the total of ordained ministers in GLI to 20. Also related to this year’s Reformation celebration was a church music seminar for teens and young adults, with a focus on equipping them with a better understanding of biblical music and song. Another special event was a theological conference in October for our called workers and seminary students in Indonesia that elicited specific discussions about liturgy and preaching methods.

Looking ahead, we are currently planning Vacation Bible School 2018, an exciting four day event which will include around 130 young men and women from all regions of Indonesia where GLI is doing the work of Gospel ministry. These younger members will have the opportunity to learn more about their church, their Savior, God’s Outreach Plan of Salvation, being “the next generation” of our church, and the importance of biblical knowledge in daily life. Through this special event we hope to engage more of our young people and encourage them to be involved in GLI’s ministry both now and in the future.

The expression “one size doesn’t fit all” explains the unique challenges and struggles in Indonesia since the geographic areas of ministry are many and so diverse. Some of us struggle with regulatory controls, extremism, and political tension. Others struggle with practical challenges such as the lack of electricity and even clean water in remote areas. These challenges mean that outreach is never the same from one area to another, or from one day to the next.

However, Jesus IS the one size that fits all! We must always remember these words of the Apostle Paul:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” – Romans 1:16

The Apostle Paul encourages us to be confident in the Gospel and love the truth. When we love the truth, God will be there to guide us, to encourage us, to open our mind to a variety of ways to proclaim the gospel. We are moved and motivated by the Gospel to spread the good news to people who are lost and thirsty. The One, Jesus Christ whom we proclaim, DOES fit all. His active and passive obedience is a fit for our sinful condition. We have the definite hope that lays in the Father’s hand: salvation through Jesus Christ.

Cultural challenges will always be there to draw people away from Christ. Satan will use these to manipulate us. We in the church must work very hard so that local belief systems, customs, and traditions do not affect the beliefs of our newborn Christians. The Bible reminds us:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” – 2 Timothy 3:16

It always works well when a good portion of our church strategy in overcoming cultural challenges includes increases in attendance at Bible information classes, such as New Life in Christ and Luther’s Catechism, Bible group studies for families, and a strong focus on our youth group, because in our country the youth impacts us significantly. The church should be a place for our Christian people that feels like home. In all of this, we ask the Holy Spirit to let God’s Word create the biblical pattern in our lives.

We see only opportunities to spread the Gospel when we see every place as a green pasture. God be with us. Please keep us in your prayers, that God’s grace in Indonesia becomes a powerful message for everyone who puts their hope in our Savior Jesus Christ.

By: Pastor Mikael Simanjuntak – Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI)

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Better Than Curry

I love curry. Indian and Nepalese cooking has a unique flavor that appeals to me… It’s close to the top of my list of favorite foods. We recently found out that some of the population around our Aganai Lutheran Church in Tokyo, Japan also share that same taste. Several curry restaurants have been popping up near the church with chefs and workers from Nepal.

When Aganai’s pastor, Pastor Nakamoto-sensei, went to pick up his curry take-out one day, he invited the Nepalese staff to come visit church. Coming to a Lutheran church is a big step for someone who grew up in a country where over 80% are Hindu. One of the Nepal workers stopped by Aganai Lutheran Church while a Kingdom Worker, Dave Reineman, was attending a Japanese language lesson taught by a local church member… That caught the interest of the man from Nepal. He wanted to learn Japanese too, so he could communicate better with his customers. He started coming to the classes, and he brought the curry restaurant owner too. Seeing this, Pastor Nakamoto decided to start classes with a prayer and then a devotion, which eventually moved into using the postcard sized ChristLight lessons developed by Multi-Language Publications (MLP) in Japan. It became an opportunity to tell the stories of the Bible in simple Japanese.

How would they be able to dig deeper into the Word if they only are just learning basic Japanese? How could these restaurant workers study the Bible on their own? Kaori-san, our MLP-Japan translator, inquired about what MLP might have to offer.

Transport yourself to the other end of the Asian world – to the country of Nepal. In Nepal, thousands are hearing God’s Word. We have translated most of the Bible Teaching Series booklets that are currently available from MLP. Those booklets in Nepali have been a key resource in reaching people throughout the Himalayas and Western Nepal. Some leaders travel for many days down the mountains, just to get to classes or pick up books to bring back to their groups.

Back to what is happening in Japan…

What a blessing that the resources developed for the difficult living conditions of Nepal are now able to have an impact in the advanced city of Tokyo! These Nepalese people that are now living in Tokyo, Japan can still read the Gospel message in their native Nepali language.

That scenario isn’t unique to Japan. Society today is much more mobile – with travel, work, and digital communication. We are finding many opportunities to reach global mission fields in a new way. Hmong people in Vietnam are now benefiting from the MLP-supported translations that began with the Hmong ministries in the USA. The same is true of the connections to the Nuer tribe in Sudan – their first contacts with us came through a church near them in America, and they are now developing material through MLP to reach out to people in their home country of Sudan.

What a great blessing it is to have resources in 53 languages available to share! Remember, even your neighbors can benefit from these resources. Think about any new, non-English families that have moved into your area – how will you share the gospel with them in a meaningful way to them? I encourage you to consider what resources MLP has in their native languages.

Let them taste and see that the Lord is good – it’s much better than curry.

By: David Kehl, Multi-Language Publications – Asia Coordinator

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A New School Year at Asia Lutheran Seminary

Asia Lutheran Seminary has been blessed to start our 13th year of operation in Hong Kong!

This August, the school year began with about 15 students taking part in a 3-week introductory immersion course in Hebrew. This year we welcome 4 full-time students in Hong Kong, 1 in India, and 10 other Chinese-speaking students outside Hong Kong. In addition, we still have almost 50 other students taking classes part time in Hong Kong, and another 60 taking courses via our online program. Thus, we are running four separate programs — a Bible Institute level program and an upper level Bachelor of Theology and Master of Divinity program both in Hong Kong and as extension degrees.

A fifth program to train translators had its first graduation class in June. Students from almost a dozen countries in South and East Asia participated in that program.

For the Bible Institute level courses, we now have native Hong Kong pastors teaching or co-teaching almost all of our courses in Cantonese. Our online Bible Institute courses are all being taught in Mandarin Chinese, mostly by native pastors. All of these local teachers are graduates of Asia Lutheran Seminary or our online programs.

Professor Angus Cheung

What’s even MORE exciting, this past school year one of our Chinese graduates was called and installed as the first full-time Chinese professor at Asia Lutheran Seminary. Angus Cheung is a member of our sister church, South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), here in Hong Kong. He is currently teaching Bible Institute level courses for us while pursuing his Ph.D. in Theology. With the Lord’s blessing, he will be ready to take over my position when I retire, and join President Steve Witte, and Professor Aaron West on our faculty.

My wife Beth and I had a wonderful and restful furlough this summer, spending several weeks with each of our 2 children and their families. Because of these summer visits (and regular Skype chats), our daughter’s five- and three-year-old in Milwaukee, and our son’s five- and two-year-old in Ottawa, Canada all know who their grandpa and nanita are. This was a blessing my parents didn’t have when our two children were born in Zambia while we were missionaries there 1977-1983. We thank the Lord often for this blessing!

We are also blessed to have our son, Pastor Luke Thompson, come for a visit. He gave 2 presentations to the local church here on apologetics, and he preached at our Sunday English service on September 24th. That service will thank the Lord for blessing me with 40 years of ministry, as well as thanking Him for the 15 years that Rob Siirila spent with our mission field.

We are also excited because Beth and I will have our first chance to return to Zambia 35 years after we left. I have been asked to teach an advanced course at the seminary in Lusaka next April, and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing our old stomping grounds and hopefully some of our old colleagues and parishioners.

Please continue to pray for us and our work. The government in the mainland has just passed a new and much more stringent set of laws intended to discourage religious activity of any kind. But we know our Lord has all in control, so we will allow him to show us the way forward.

God’s richest blessings to all of you.

Dr. Glen Thompson, Academic Dean of Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong

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The Light is Green – Go!

On a recent early morning taxi ride in East Asia, a fellow worker and I met one of the most carefree (for lack of a better word) taxi drivers we’ve ever had. Again and again, he found ways to make traffic signals simply “disappear.” He wasn’t content with just ignoring them… not one bit. One of his slick and slightly terrifying tricks was to make a sharp right turn when he got to a red light, do a quick u-turn in the middle of the road, and then turn right back onto our original road.

My co-worker and I nervously chuckled as we finally, and safely, arrived. He must have heard us because he too let out a laugh and admitted, “I didn’t stop for a single red light!” Then he explained, “Actually, red lights and I have an understanding. I don’t pay attention to them, and they don’t bother me!”

A good laugh helped dissolve the tension built up from our ride. Living in a culture where laws are taken so lightly can be aggravating. Yet, I always try to check my tendency to be self-righteous. Not all law breakers have had good parents. Some have gotten themselves into bad financial straits and red lights seem bad for business. Others are just having bad days. In any case, all of us are born law breakers. I may stop for red lights, but in my heart sometimes I wish I didn’t have to.

God called us to this country. We know many who don’t acknowledge their Maker or their responsibility to Him. They ignore the signals God has placed in their lives. Others act like our driver – they think they have an understanding with God. “I don’t bother Him, and he doesn’t bother me.” They keep him at a distance.

Yet the God we know sees all the red lights that we ignore. He knows all the times we have disregarded other red lights in our lives: unchecked anger, unbridled lust, unlimited selfishness. I am no different than my carefree driver, except that Jesus found me. Jesus gave me a new heart. And, along with that came a new set of eyes that are no longer color blind.

That day our driver was taking us to a meeting with our co-workers. We discussed plans on how to get this life-changing message out to more people in this part of the world. As we listened to each other, we rejoiced to see how the Holy Spirit is working. Small groups of people are gathering around the life-giving Word in more and more cities. The Holy Spirit is opening eyes once blind to the truth. People’s hearts are being sensitized. Jesus’ light is shining with good news of forgiveness and new life. With God’s help, red lights are becoming green lights which shout out “Go! Go with the good news!”

We’re not here to change driving habits. We weren’t sent to “civilize” the country. But, one by one, the Gospel is doing amazing things. It is changing lives. Jesus has given us the green light to serve others.

So, it’s time to get on the road.

The light is green! Go!

By: A missionary in East Asia

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The Gates of Hell Cannot Prevail

Looking out of our 36th floor apartment in Hong Kong gives us a good view of everyday life in our corner of Asia. In early September, the soccer field in Sycamore Park was re-purposed for use in a Hungry Ghost Festival – a traditional festival also held in other Asian countries. An ornate temple was set up on one end of the park, and a theatre graced the other end. A large furnace sat looming on the side. This bustling activity was accompanied by many other sights and smells happening around the city.

The smell of burning joss paper in small red cans filled the air in some areas – providing money for dead relatives to use in the afterlife.

Rice, pork, fruit, wine and other foods were put out on sidewalks and tables in front of buildings for the ravenous spirits wandering the earth.

People believe that during this lunar month, the gates of hell open and the restless spirits of their ancestors come out. They believe that supplying food, paper images of money, and clothes for the spirits of dead relatives will not only take care of them in the afterlife, but will also bring blessing to them in this life. Neglecting them can bring misfortune. All other hungry ghosts are released – as if on parole from prison. They too roam around unseen and need to be appeased.

In the Sycamore playground seen from our balcony, people were burning incense and waving it before the shrine set up to appease their gods. In one ceremony, Daoist priests led people from station to station. Operas were put on to entertain these visitors from the dead as well as to celebrate the deeds of those considered gods. To end the festival, a 15-foot long paper image of a spirit god was paraded to the entrance of the furnace, stuffed in, and swallowed by the flames.

In part, you come to respect a culture which honors commitment to family, shows respect and obedience to elders, and keeps alive the memory of ancestors. With this festival, it’s hard to know how many believe in the interaction with the dead and how many simply see this rite as part of their duty to honor relatives in their traditional ways. It poses a challenge for the Christian who wants to respect a cultural heritage, while also making sure people know the beautiful comfort and hope that is in Christ.

There is a spiritual world out there. People feel it and fear it. The Bible talks about it.

Yet, what cultural religions do and what the Bible reveals often don’t match. The Bible talks about the angels and demons that affect our lives by fighting for our souls – the angels as messengers of God that protect us, and the devil and dark forces of the heavenly realms that draw us away from God. Unlike the hungry ghosts, Scripture helps us understand that those who have died are not the ones troubling or blessing us. Their existence is not in limbo, nor are they ones who bring us luck or trouble.

Multi-Language Publications continues to provide resources to all people in East Asia – helping them realize that in Christ, we find the peace and comfort for life after death. Those who die in him have found rest. Only in the risen Christ do we understand that our own resurrection brings us to the presence of God himself – where blessings are lavished on us because of Christ’s sacrifice for us, not because we have caring relatives who remember us. In Christ, we are convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God. That is our daily peace.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against that.

By: David Kehl, Multi-Language Publications – Asia Coordinator

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God Willing, No Waiting in India

One-third listening; two-thirds waiting.  Imagine you’re teaching in a classroom and for every 10 seconds that you talk you have to pause for 20 seconds as your students sit there and wait for more.  That means you’re only teaching for one-third of the time you have with your students.  And if you’re a student that means you have to fight the temptation to drift off and zone out for two-thirds of the time you’re sitting in class!

This is just a taste of the challenge we friendly counselors in India face with our students for each seminary class we teach.  There are 22 official languages in India.  The students at the CELM Seminary primarily come from the regions of Andhra Pradesh (and Telangana) and Madhya Pradesh, where the primary languages are Telugu and Hindi, respectively.  Since our students come from the lower, Christian castes their English level is often not very high.  This means that, if we want to teach them about being shepherds for God’s flock, the English sentences we speak have to be translated into both Telugu and Hindi for each class.  One-third listening; two-thirds waiting.

Two-thirds listening, or even one-hundred percent listening in a second language?  The friendly counselors and their wives try to overcome this great challenge in a few ways.  One way is by offering English classes.  Teaching English to the students slowly increases that 1:2 listening to waiting ratio over their time at the seminary.  And God willing, by the last few years of classes they’ll be able to learn in English-only classes.  While it would still be using their second and not native language, it does give our counselors more class time to teach them God’s Word.  This also allows the students to use the numerous English resources available for Bible study and to converse more with the counselors on a deeper personal level.

One-hundred percent listening to a non-native speaker?  Conversing with the students both on a personal level and in class without a translator is the ideal situation for the friendly counselors.  Because of this, the counselors are also in the process of learning the Indian languages.  While this presents its own immense challenges, it provides another opportunity to improve that one-third listening amount.  It also equips the counselors to respond better to questions asked in class and during study periods.

One-hundred percent listening to a native speaker?  That’s the goal.  In order to get there the seminary is using a method that has already been mentioned: providing in-class translators.  How does that overcome the current listening-to-waiting ratio?  If members of our national faculty do the translating then it allows the seminary to transition better to national-led classes in the future.  The faculty members doing the translating are then, in essence, auditing the classes and preparing themselves to teach the class in the future.  This naturally leads to the ultimate goal: seminary classes in India being led and taught by Indians.  One-hundred percent listening; no time waiting.

With God’s help, the friendly counselors in India are overcoming the three-language challenge more each year.  Once one-third listening becomes one-hundred percent listening, the Lutheran pastors in India will become more effective pastors and evangelists.  That means not only will there be more listening and learning in the CELM seminary, but someday there will be even more voices singing and praising God in heaven whatever their language on earth may have been.

Brock Groth, Friendly Counselor to India

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Death and Demons Defeated

Recently, a member at a WELS sister church in Asia died in an accident. This young woman, wife and expectant mother, fell out of a tree while harvesting berries. Our sister in Christ attended three Christian training workshops at the Scripture Learning Center in South Asia. Her dream was to eventually serve the local national church.

An American may wonder why a pregnant woman was climbing trees! An understandable question. The answer is bone-jarring poverty leads Christians to work in unsafe conditions in this Asian country.

The husband called the pastor who was attending a seminary session. The pastor left immediately and took an all-night bus to offer personal support to his grieving member.  But, the bus had a flat tire at one o’clock in the morning and there wasn’t any spare. He then walked nine hours to reach the village.

There is immense pressure–from the surrounding Hindu community–when Christians die. In this instance, the Hindu neighbors said the mother’s abdomen must be cut open to remove the baby. Their belief was that the baby would become a demon and haunt the village. However, the law says it is illegal to do this. If the family gave in they would be breaking the law. And, once they broke the law, then, anyone in the community could accuse them of committing a criminal act!

Several men spent the night at the church guarding the body, so that no one would come in the middle of the night and remove the baby from the mother’s body. They dug two graves but, both times the Hindu community confronted them and would not allow them to bury the mother with her child. Sometimes Hindus intimidate Christians into carrying their deceased many hours from their villages. Christian families then are unable to visit the grave site.

The pastor spoke with the family and the Hindu neighbors respectfully to assure them that the unborn child would not become a demon. He also shared the gospel of Christ’s resurrection and the comfort we have in the death of a loved one. He explained, “She is in heaven. She will not become a demon.” Finally, the family and the neighbors came to an agreement.

I, along with the men studying at the national seminary, were praying for the national pastor throughout this ordeal. I witnessed great concern on the faces of all the men. Local pastors have two issues to handle when a member dies, grief and loss along with the challenge of burying the deceased.

While a complicated burial ritual in the earthly sense, God’s message is simple and His word was used to preach the saving gospel message to many who remain in darkness.

By South Asia Coordinator

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It’s Not Easy, But…

Six years ago we moved to the island of Java in Indonesia. We had lived here before, around 25 years ago when our children were quite young. Now, our three daughters are all married with children of their own, so it’s just me and the hubby. He is presently an advisor for our sister church here, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). He also teaches Christian Dogmatics and courses in Old and New Testament Exegesis; all in the language of Bahasa Indonesia. It’s not easy, but he loves it.

When Greg accepted the call to teach at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL), I really wasn’t sure what my role would be this time. During the six months we waited for our work visas prior to moving to Indonesia, lots of people asked me what I’d be doing. To be honest, I really wasn’t sure. But, a retired Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS) professor wisely told me I wouldn’t know till I got there, and God had a plan.

Shortly after arriving in Yogyakarta, we attended our first Sunday service at the seminary school with the students, faculty, their families and many others living nearby. We were welcomed warmly. Before and after the service everyone greeted each other with handshakes, kisses and the words, “Tuhan Yesus Memberkati”.  (The Lord bless you.)

The worship service was completely in the language of Bahasa Indonesia. While everyone here knows at least two languages, very few speak any English. Bahasa Indonesia is the official government language learned at school, but almost everyone’s first language is from their island homes. There are more than 700 indigenous living languages spoken throughout the 17,000 islands, an archipelago spread out along the equator as far and wide geographically as the U.S.

After worship, an older man who ran the school library seemed eager to speak a bit of English to me. He said the library was filled with English books, but few could read from them. He asked if I might be willing to start an English club. I thought about it. I was an experienced teacher. I knew English. “Sure,” I replied. The following day my husband attended a faculty meeting and when he returned he announced, “Your name is on the faculty roster. You are now our seminary’s English teacher.”

Wow.  I had no materials during that first semester, so I spent lots of time writing and preparing lesson plans using the internet, back translations from Greg’s old language lessons and making class time fun by doing lots of basic conversational role-playing. Our students knew little, or no English, so it was quite an adventure! These students, “my boys,” were filled with excitement to learn; they soaked up my English lessons like a sponge.

It was and is a joy to get to know each of our future leaders in such a special way. Most of the students are far away from their homes and families for many years at a time, so I lend a motherly (or, maybe grandmotherly) touch to their lives. Trying to get them to speak in conversational English I would find out things that maybe they hadn’t shared with the men, like needing to skip breakfast because the rice had run out in the dorm, or that the roof and ceiling in their sleeping area had been leaking during a recent monsoon down pour.

After the first couple of weeks of teaching, a few of the students asked if we could begin our English class with prayer like in Pastor Bey’s classes. Since I did not feel comfortable leading a class of young men in prayer, student leaders were assigned for each class period. Each student would take a turn standing in front of the class reading his prepared “heart prayer” in English and helping lead us through selected readings like Luther’s Morning Prayer, the Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer–all projected on the wall in English . Our students also love to sing and play piano, or guitar. So, I made a point of finding familiar melodies from their Kidung Jemaat hymn book that were also familiar to me from our Christian Worship. We would begin a verse in Indonesian and then repeat it in English.

That was six years ago and I have had the opportunity since to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) for all of our seminary students, as well as some of the teachers, their wives, church members and even visitors from some of the many universities in our city. All are welcome to join us. It has been a privilege and a blessing to volunteer my time and talents in this way.

The students also appreciate the little snacks and drinks I bring to share in our two hour long classes twice weekly. It warms my heart each time they say, “Thank you, Ma’am,” because in their accent it sounds like “Thank you, Mom!” Sometimes the students joke that as a volunteer it actually costs Pastor Bey for me to teach as I am always bringing drinks and snacks and even birthday cakes for the students to share. More than one student has told me it was the first birthday cake he’d ever had!

Each class seems to have one, or two students who do very well in their English studies. These are the students who as vicars, evangelists and pastors have already helped translate when WELS representatives come for a visit. They will also someday, hopefully, be joining their brothers at the regional and world Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conferences (CELC ) where English is required. One of my graduate students is already helping with our Multi-Language Publications (MLP) literature translations. It’s exciting for me to see their progress over the years. I’ve been blessed to get to know these men and am thankful God has given me this opportunity to serve.

It’s not easy, but I love it.

By: Connie Lea Bey, Indonesia

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Facing Challenges While Remaining Faithful, Thailand

Working in a foreign field is not only exciting, it’s challenging.  We are faced with cultural and language barriers that are unfamiliar to our work in the USA.  The devil is also very active in the foreign mission field.  In Thailand where 98% of the people are devout Buddhists, it is often difficult to break through the superstition and work righteousness that have such a strong hold on the people.  Add to that the fact that the very culture of everyday life is permeated by Buddhist philosophy and it can seem like a long uphill struggle to reach out with the gospel.

Today the Lord blessed me with something that brought a smile to my face in the midst of adversity.  As I said, the devil uses every opportunity to exert his power to thwart the efforts of the gospel.  But he cannot win.  One of our young national pastors is a 27-year-old man who was married a year ago.  He graduated from our seminary in Thailand two years ago and has served as my assistant, a translator, and a co-worker in the administration of our Thailand mission field.   We are in the process of applying to the Thai government to establish a Thailand Evangelical Lutheran Synod Foundation that will benefit our missions and the communities we serve.  This young pastor is listed in the application to become the first president of the Foundation.

He had not been feeling well for the past couple of months and frequent visits to a medical clinic were unsuccessful in treating his condition.  The symptoms were alleviated for a couple of weeks only to return again and again.

Today he was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph glands.  I was at the hospital with him and his wife when the doctor told him the results of the CT scan they had taken.  He was 95% sure of his diagnosis and a biopsy of the lymph nodes was sent out to confirm his findings.  As the doctor told Pastor Ching about the results of his test, I watched him closely.  Most people would react with a certain degree of shock or disbelief or distress when first hearing the news, but Pastor Ching did not.  He remained collected and listened intently as the doctor explained everything to him.

His wife too, sat quietly and listened.  She did not break down, but when the doctor was finished, she did show signs of becoming teary eyed and it was her husband who then comforted her in the face of the news.

I had a devotion with them and we prayed before I left the hospital.  As I was walking to my truck, I reflected on everything that had just taken place.  I thought about his future and the dreams he and his wife may have for a family.  I thought of his age and how sad it would be for someone so young to face such a great trial.  I thought of our work in establishing the Foundation as well as all the other important work he carries out for the church.  And for a minute I thought the devil was applauding what might seem to be a victory in his effort to thwart our mission work and the proclamation of the Gospel.  But then I smiled to myself, because the victory is still ours–it’s the Easter message.

Today Pastor Ching demonstrated a strong faith and confidence in the Good Shepherd.  Even if there are personal set backs for him and detours for our mission work, the devil did not and can not win in his battle to stop the message of salvation.

Please keep Pastor Ching and his wife Khu in your prayers.  And please continue to pray that the Lord will use these trials not only for their benefit, but also for the benefit of his church.  He not only can do that, He will.  Pray that He does it mightily.

By: Missionary Ken Pasch, Field Coordinator, Thailand

Post Script:  The biopsy results have come back and the diagnosis was confirmed. Pastor Ching will begin chemotherapy treatments as soon as additional tests have been completed to determine the exact course of treatment.

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Sharp Contrasts from East Asia

It was so different where Ester came from in East Asia.  At home it never gets below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but here she experienced the snow and severe cold for the first time.  Instead of the noisy, crowded city where she usually lives, she was able roam around the quiet, open, tree-lined campus of our synod’s seminary in the USA.  Instead of her homeland where a majority are of the Islamic faith, she was surrounded by Christians who share the same faith as she has. What a contrast!  Add to that the fact that she was the only woman in classes filled with men studying to be pastors.  Her husband Mikael had come to America to reinforce the seminary training he had in his homeland.  Ester came along to get training as translator for Multi-Language Publications.  She took classes like systematic theology, soteriology, isagogics, to learn more doctrinal content and theological terminology.

Although she was raised in a Christian home, Ester struggled to know God’s calling for her life while she was in college.  She felt that God wanted her to serve in media.  Then in 2004 she landed a job translating Lutheran books.  It was the first time she knew anything about Lutheran.  Ester’s faith journey took another jump when she met Mikael in our Lutheran seminary in her home country where she was teaching English for the students.  Mikael was one of her students.  Now she is a translator for Multi-Language Publications providing resources for him and the other church workers and congregations of Christians throughout their country.

In my regular Skype calls from my Hong Kong office, I often only see Ester’s silhouette because of the bright, hot sun shining behind her through the louvered windows. Yet I can still notice her smile. Being a translator isn’t an easy job nor one a lot of people pursue. Many think all you have to do is hit Google Translate and voilà it’s done (but try to make sense of some of that – especially if it is theology).  To improve her skills, Ester has gone through continual training including the Translation Courses held by us here in Hong Kong.

Recognizing that there are not enough solid biblical materials available for pastors and church workers, Ester has been busy producing devotion booklets, Luther’s Small Catechism, and Christlight Sunday School material.  She sees this as basic resources for understanding the Scriptures which points people to Jesus and His saving work.  That is a sharp contrast from what is being taught in the streets around her.  Soon she will tackle the editing of the doctrinal book, God So Loved the World, as a textbook for Lutheran leaders.

Among Ester’s challenges is the fact that reading interest is low.  Video and digital outreach are being explored as the option.  In some remote areas where people are illiterate, the Road to Emmaus and Come Follow Me movies dubbed in the local language have been received with excitement. They have become great tools to explain the gospel clearly.

Ester says that it is not always easy to live in a country where most of the people are not Christian.  There are always elements that want to keep Christianity from growing. Despite all the challenges, God continues to bless the work.  Ester doesn’t not know how wide an impact her work will have but is sure the Holy Spirit works through it.  And that is where the joy comes in – knowing she is working behind the scenes to make Christian materials available for broken people.  She wants them to also hear the good news that she saw in action and learned to appreciate even more during her year on the seminary campus in the USA.

By: Rev. David Kehl, Asian Publications Coordinator

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A Water Festival at Easter Time, Thailand

In Thailand the month of April is often considered to be the most unpleasant month of the year because as the impending summer heat mounts, the humidity levels rise, and the air becomes heavy with moisture.

April is also the month in which the Thai celebrate the traditional Thai New Year.  It is based upon the Buddhist calendar and the date of the Buddha’s birth.  In Thailand, the official calendar year is 2560, though 2017 is also used.

During the New Year observance known as “Songkran,” the Thai set aside three days to officially ring in the new year though the festival usually stretches out to a week. The actual new year date is tied to the lunar calendar, but for the past century, it has been fixed to April 13-15.  Throughout the country, most businesses, schools, and government offices are closed. People travel to their home towns and villages for large family gatherings (similar to our Thanksgiving traditions) and religious observances.

Many people visit the Buddhist temples during this time to make merit and seek forgiveness for their past sins.  Water is poured over the Buddha statues as an act of purification.  Food and offerings are given to the monks.  In the home, everything is cleaned and washed.  We might call it a thorough Spring cleaning.  Children pour water on the hands and over the shoulders of their elders as a sign of respect and a wish for good luck in the coming year.

Over time, the festival evolved into what has become a country wide water festival.  The hot, humid April days have no doubt contributed to its development.  People young and old gather on the streets with hoses, water blasters, buckets, and pails of water to douse anyone and everyone that passes by.  Those riding on motor scooters are often soaked to the bone before they arrive at their destination.  In the cities, pickup trucks patrol the streets filled with party revelers and garbage pails of water.  Anyone within reach as they pass by is likely to be doused with water.

It’s all done in fun and is an accepted (and expected) part of Songkran.  For many, it is a time to stay off the streets, not just to keep dry, but to avoid the long traffic jams that inevitably accompany the water festival.

It is also a time to reflect upon the deep seated history and beginnings of the festival.  Westerners and those who are not of the Buddhist faith may find it to be a fun-filled holiday, but underscoring the festivities are the sad tenants of work righteousness and merit-making that are carried out in an effort to appease the conscience, cover one’s sins, and seek good luck for the future.  For Christians, joy is found in the fact that Jesus has covered us with his merit and righteousness, granting us full and complete forgiveness of sins.  Luck does not play a part in our lives for we walk hand in hand with our Savior who guides us each step of the way on life’s path.

Pray for our work among the Thai people as we reach out with the gospel of Christ to bring hope to those whose lives are guided by superstition and the teachings of work righteousness.

By: Ken Pasch, Thailand

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Easter in a Cemetery, India

Indian Christians have a wonderful Easter tradition. Like Christians throughout the world, they gather before the sun comes up. But unique to India, Christians here gather in the cemeteries where their Christian family members have been buried. Tombs are white washed and decorated the day before.
They light small candles and place them on the graves of their loved ones who are now in heaven Easter morning.

There they give thanks for their parents and others who taught them about the Savior. There they hear God’s promises about the resurrection and sing of those promises.  There they celebrate in the most tangible of ways the results of Jesus’ resurrection.

What a wonderful way to proclaim the truth of the empty tomb!

The Christians of India do not have this prayer in their hymnals (as we do in CW on page 60), but they know it in their
hearts: “For the faithful who have gone before us, who have shared with us your good news, whose souls are now at rest in your heavenly kingdom, we give you thanks, O Lord.  Thanks be to God.”

A blessed Easter to all of you.

By: Friendly Counselor Mark Ricke, India

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Peace in Jesus, Hong Kong

When I was a pastor in the States, I often encouraged our members to go into all the world and make disciples of all peoples. God gave me the chance 33 years ago to go to Taiwan to be a missionary. Every day I learned the native language and culture. Every week I had a chance to share the good news with East Asian people. Every year I got to see how God loved the East Asian people and wanted them to believe in Jesus and receive eternal life.

Thirteen years ago, God called me to Hong Kong. There I was able to go into East Asia and start meeting even more people.  Through contacts made by American Christians who served as English teachers, we had a chance to meet together with East Asian people to study the Bible. Some were already Christians, but many were not. For some of them, it was the first time they had ever seen a Bible. Adults and children had the chance to get to know Jesus.

East Asian children are like all children. They like to run around. They like to play with friends. The children in this picture are blessed because their parents bring them to church. But most of their friends don’t know Jesus yet. We are making some Sunday school books in in their native language so they can hear and see Bible stories in a language they can understand.  We are training pastors and teachers who can teach them and their parents to know the Bible better. With your encouragement, prayers, and support we are able to share Jesus with them.

Do you see their fingers? Everyone in East Asia likes to pose for pictures like this. I don’t think they know what the “V” means. Maybe it’s “Peace.” I like to think of it as “V”ictory in Jesus.  Whatever it means, our mission is to help children and adults in East Asia know that Jesus has won peace with God for us. He’s the Savior of all the people in the world – wherever they live – whatever language they speak!

God be with you in the New Year!

By: A missionary in East Asia

 

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“Knows Little” Becomes “Knows the Gospel”

I recently had a chance to teach an East Asian man named Xiao-Dong. His name means “knows the East.” The same sounds in the native language can also mean “knows little.” That was certainly true for him. He hadn’t had much formal Christian training. What he had learned was from books and the internet.

“Knows Little” and his fellow students were East Asian grass roots church workers who were part of four weeks of training spread out over a year. They weren’t yet affiliated with us but were willing to study. Church workers from our daughter church SALEM in Hong Kong and I were doing the teaching.

BWM-ALSblog-012816-350We didn’t hit it off well in our first meeting. I was responsible for going through the teaching about the end times. I diagrammed on a white board our Lutheran understanding. I could see “Knows Little” was becoming agitated. In fact, he suddenly got up and went to the white board. Without asking for permission, he sketched out his understanding which was much different. Then he sat down. It was a bit embarrassing for the others in the class.

“Xiao-Dong was zealous, but he was being true to his alternate-name “Knows Little.” Fellow students talked with him later asking him to be patient and respectful. I also encouraged him to make good use of this time and let the Holy Spirit guide him. We kept teaching. He didn’t speak up much in the next classes. Nevertheless, in other classes he still didn’t look too comfortable with some of our teachings such as infant baptism. We were getting worried this could be a difficult situation.

The gospel, however, is the power of God. Our teaching centered around the grace of God in Jesus. We patiently taught the Biblical truth of law and gospel. Over the course of several months we saw a marked change in “Knows Little.” The frown on his face became a smile. The hardness we had seen was melted by the good news of a Savior who loved, forgave, and accepts him. His initial doubts about us were removed as he heard sound teaching that was followed by genuine care for him.

At the end of our training, he got up and shared what he had learned. “I want to thank you. I never knew the difference between law and gospel before. I was living in the law. I never really saw or shared the love of Jesus. Now I know. Thank you for teaching me the gospel. Thank you for showing me in your teaching and in your lives what it means to love one another. I have so enjoyed the brotherly love. I want to share this love with my church and with my neighbors.”

The gospel is powerful and changes people.

All of us start out as “know nothings.”  Thank the Lord for pastors, missionaries, and brothers and sisters who can correctly teach the gospel. Thank the Lord for power to demonstrate the effects of the gospel in our lives. Even though we get to know something, there is always much more to learn. God’s will is that all of us who “know little” become people who “know the gospel.” People who get to know Jesus know all they really need to know.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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