Building trust in the heart of Japan

In the heart of Japan, gospel outreach is blossoming through the power of building relationships and serving the community.

Kanon, the son of Pastor Haga of Megumi church in Mito, spearheaded an impactful English camp. With meticulous planning and heartfelt efforts, Kanon orchestrated an enriching experience for 15 children. From engaging geography and science classes taught by Sam of Kingdom Workers and Annalisa from Friends Network, to fun-filled activities like kickball and board games, the camp was a hit! The kids enjoyed a scrumptious pizza lunch that allowed them to creatively construct their own pizza. This camp not only provided a refreshing break for parents but also played a pivotal role in building trust within the community. The experience mirrors the experiences Kanon had as a child as well, learning about the church through these community activities where people can see Christians as loving and generous people right in their own town—not a strange and mysterious western religion.

Further strengthening the bond among Christians, a recent BBQ event by the members of the Tokyo church took place at Koganei. Here’s what one member, Yuki, said: “We had a BBQ event at Koganei Park. There were 12 brothers and sisters present. We brought all the ingredients ourselves. Takahashi-san bought and cut all the meat and vegetables for us! We are very thankful to her! It was a little windy that day, making it hard to start a fire; however, we still enjoyed cooking because everyone helped each other and seemed so happy! The meal was delicious!”

One attendee suggested we play some sports after the meal, so he went back to his house to gather equipment. We had our meal for around an hour and a half, then started singing hymns. One had the same melody as “It’s a Small World,” but the lyrics were about praising God. The other was “Jesus Loves Me.” Takahashi-san prepared the lyrics for us. She accompanied us with her guitar, making our singing even more amazing!

After singing, we all joined in playing frisbee with one another. We tried to make a game out of it and see how many times we could catch a frisbee in one minute. It felt like we had returned to our childhood.

Thank you, God, for giving us this gracious time with our brothers and sisters!

These stories are not just about the events; they are about the transformative power of relationships, community service, and faith. Whether it’s through educational camps or fellowship over BBQ and hymns, the gospel is being shared and relationships are deepening. The Lutheran church in Japan is actively and creatively reaching out to build trust within the community. Since the camp, two of the children attended the Easter service in Mito, and after finding belonging and purpose among the brothers and sisters in Tokyo, one of the East Asia members was recently baptized. Join me in continuing to pray for the spread of the gospel in Japan and thank God with me for all he has done in Japan.

Written by Rev. Peter Janke, world missionary for the Asia One Team.

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A community of digital disciples

The screens slowly appear one by one. Some cameras are focused on faces, some cameras remain off. Living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, stools, couches, bare walls, windows, the backdrops vary. I count nine screens. Nine people who clicked an ad on their phone. Nine people who entered their names and phone numbers. Nine people who watched a few hours of video lessons and learned about Jesus. Nine people who clicked to learn more. Nine people in whom the Holy Spirit is hard at work.

It is my first night teaching a TELL class to a group of students throughout Asia. I offer a prayer of thanksgiving that God has given me the opportunity to learn the Bible with these nine people.

These students have completed the first level of TELL self-study courses. The course I am teaching is “Work of the Savior.” It is their first live class as well as mine. Two of my students are new to faith. One young man from Pakistan lets me know that he has been reading the Bible for a month and is excited to learn more and grow in his faith. Four men introduce themselves as Pastors: two from India, two from Pakistan. They too share the excitement of having found an opportunity to learn and grow so that they can better lead their small congregations. One camera remains off, the microphone remains silent. Another young man from Pakistan lets me know that he has been a Christian his whole life. He is currently working on a master’s degree but believes God might be leading him to study at a seminary instead. The final picture is a young woman. Although she is the only female in the group, she confidently shares her faith throughout the night, proclaiming God’s power to heal our sin sick souls as we learn about Jesus healing the paralyzed man.

We talk, we listen, and we learn. I can see the joy in people’s faces as they relish the opportunity to study the Bible with fellow believers. I can see the light in their eyes as they hear about God’s plan of salvation. As we close our evening class, the screens disappear one by one. Nine screens, nine strangers, nine brothers and sisters were able to meet together in God’s Word. I am humbled to have had this incredible opportunity. I can’t wait until the next night where I will turn my computer on and find nine of God’s children ready to hear his Word.

Written by Mr. Jeremy Seeger, missionary on the Asia One Team and TELL teacher in Asia. 

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“Pastor, you get seven minutes!”

It is our largest and most time intensive outreach event of the year. It involves over 60 participants and volunteers, months of preparation, with practices on Sunday afternoons often going past 5 p.m. All leading up to Hope Lutheran Church’s annual free Christmas concerts for the community.

Why Christmas concerts?

Honestly, to me, Hope seems unusually blessed with musical talent in voice and instruments. Standing out among the instruments is Hope’s steel pan orchestra, which has been a part of Hope’s worship from the start and reflects the Caribbean roots of many members.

Years back Hope was searching for a church building to call its own. A building became available in an area of the city that typifies Toronto’s population, which encompasses over 50 percent first generation immigrants from all over the world. This diversity is reflected in languages, foods, customs, and religious beliefs.

Hope was searching- searching for different ways to reach out to our new and present community. A mission counselor visited and simply said, “Make use of your strengths. Share your strengths. You love music. Share your music.” From that encouragement, Hope has used music for outreach. In the summer, Hope plans a music camp for children, and in December, Hope offers free Christmas concerts for the community. Many non-Christians see the outward signs of Christmas and are interested in learning more. And who doesn’t love free?

This is where, “Pastor, you get seven minutes” comes in. The concert is planned out in detail and to the minute. Every year I am reminded that I get seven minutes for a devotion. If this is our biggest outreach event of the year why only seven minutes?! Is it because I am the least musically gifted of all people? Perhaps.

Or as a church leader said to me when I first came and got my first seven minutes, “People are coming for a concert, but we want our community to know you, see you, hear you. Tell everyone the message of Christmas – and please do it in seven minutes.”

And so I plan and prepare a message for those seven minutes for so many who are searching but don’t really know the Christ of Christmas. Then I sit down and realize once again that it’s more than seven minutes. From the start of the concert to the finish; in words, songs, and the re-enactment of Luke 2, the message of Christmas is shared – and shared in a beautiful way. From parking lot guides and greeters welcoming, to refreshments and fellowship afterward, Christian love is shown and invitations are given, “Christmas Eve is coming, won’t you join us?”

Written by Rev. Mark Henrich, home missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto, Ont. 

To view Hope Lutheran Church’s full concert by visiting the Hope Toronto Youtube channel.

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Isolation and gathering together

If there were 100 Thai people in a room, how many would be a Christian?

One.

Let that sink in for a minute.

How would it feel to be the only Christian in a room with 99 unbelievers?

Let’s change the question.

If there were 100 Thai Christians in the room, how many would be Lutheran?

One.

Let that sink in for a minute.

How would it feel to be the only Lutheran in a room with 99 other Christians?

If you answered “isolated,” you would be correct. Often, Lutherans end up feeling especially isolated in their communities. On one hand, they are different from the 99% of unbelievers around them. On the other hand, in the small Christian group, they are different from the 99% of other Christians. They don’t preach in a non-Lutheran worship service. They don’t commune with Christians in other churches. Due to fellowship problems, they will not participate with other Christians in evangelism or church activities. They are isolated.

Yet, they aren’t. Lutheran members gather regularly for church and fellowship. The pastors meet twice a year for conferences. During the conferences, they grow together, encourage each other, update each other, and preach the gospel to each other. They remind each other that they are not alone in their struggles.

Hebrews 10:24-25 – “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds his readers to think about each other. He reminds them to stir each other up to love and do good works. Meetings face to face give Christians the time and place to spur each other on as well as encourage each other.

The leaders in Thailand take these reminders to heart. They encourage each other. They encourage each other with God’s promises: God no longer remembers their sins (Hebrews 10:17-18), God’s Word is powerful and active (4:12), and God is with them (13:5). They especially remind each other that God is with them in their lives and ministry, always (Matthew 28:20) even if they feel isolated. God is with them, even when they are the only Lutheran in a room with 100 other people.

Please keep the Lutherans in Thailand in your prayers, especially their leaders. Pray that they continue to encourage each other with God’s promises. Pray that they continue to stir each other into acts of love. Pray that they continue to gather—and all the more as they see the day of Jesus’s return approaching.

Written by WELS World Missionary to Thailand..

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Faces of Faith – Zag

“John 3:16 says that God loves me, but I did not see or understand it until I started my training. . . Now it is the most precious and special verse to me. God has revealed to me, ‘my love is here’.”

Meet Zag Yaj, a church leader in the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam who is in the second group of 60 students studying to be a pastor. Hear how this training has been “the most rewarding experience in his life” in this special Faces of Faith video.

Learn more about theological training and mission work with the Hmong in Vietnam at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

Faces of Faith – Num

“Before, I worked hard to earn grace, but I now know grace is free. God sent his son to die for us.”

Meet Num Ntxawg Yaj, a Hmong regional church leader in Vietnam who’s benefiting from WELS’ rural training program. He also began his pastoral studies in July 2023 as a member of the third cohort of students. Hear how this training has revealed the truth that sets him free in this special Faces of Faith video.

Learn more about theological training and mission work with the Hmong in Vietnam at wels.net/vietnam.

All over the map

Ministry in Thailand is…all over the map.

In January, I became the Asia One Team champion for the ministry in Thailand.  Part of my role is to catch up on the history of ministry in Thailand.  One way to describe Thailand’s past ministry: three-tracked.

In the past 30 years, the WELS helped start three different ministries with three different focuses in Thailand.  One ministry focused on ethnic Thai people, another on Hmong people, another on various people groups around Northeastern Thailand.  As they focused on different people, they focused on different regions in Thailand.  Hence, the ministries were all over the map, literally and figuratively.

Unfortunately in those 30 years, some ministries fell off the map.  Support changed.  Circumstances changed.  Ministries changed.  Thailand also suffered from this change when some ministry fell off the map.  The devil worked hard to push the entire ministry in Thailand off the map.  But, God is good and he kept ministry on the map.  He kept it on the map through the dedication of many leaders, both local and missionary.  Therefore, ministry in Thailand continues today.

But ministry is not just about the past, but also the future!  In the past year, the leaders in Thailand officially decided to pool their knowledge and start working together.  All three-ministry tracks have connected and joined.  The three strands have woven together.  After two conferences of discussion, they started mapping out a plan for ministry going forward in Thailand.  Their main purpose: to strengthen each other in faith, build unity, and spread the gospel.  Their name (translated into English): the Lutheran Christian Confederation.

The Confederation asked the Asia One Team to help support their ministry.  So, the Asia One Team continues to find ways to support.  The Asia One Team supports conferences to encourage and build each other up in God’s Word.  It supports the growth of the local leaders in God’s Word.  It connects local ministry to other resources, such as Multi-Language Productions and Christian Aid and Relief.  Lord willing, the Asia One Team will help the Lutheran Christian Confederation build up local leaders to then add new leaders.

As the various groups in the Confederation use the same ministry road map, Lord willing, he will put more ministries all over the map.  As this happens, the more his Word can lighten the dark places off our map.  After all, that’s what a map is for, to see where we have been and to see where we can be going.  A map helps us see where the light is and where it needs to go.

May the Lord guide the ministry of the Lutheran Christian Confederation and the Asia One Team as they spread God’s Word all over the map.

Written by Missionary Mark Zondag, Asia One Team champion in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

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What goes around, comes around

As a WELS pastor, I have been blessed with three overseas calls. In between stateside parishes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, I served in Indonesia, Bulgaria, and Indonesia again. The first two deployments included moves with our children. On those occasions, I vividly remember my wife, Connie, and I informing our parents that we were taking their grandchildren and moving around the world.

As “Third Culture Kids,” our three daughters have carried their overseas experiences as children into adulthood. The international travel and lifestyle bug especially bit our youngest, Grace. During her college years, she volunteered with Kingdom Workers, which landed her in Brazil and Mexico. Later, as a young wife, she and her husband, Jeremy Seeger, spent time with Friends Network in East Asia. While there, they also visited Connie and me in Indonesia. Their return to the U.S. was via Bulgaria, where they connected with friends from Grace’s childhood.

Fast-forward to early 2023, when Facebook Messenger chimed on my wife’s iPad. It was Grace and Jeremy. They informed us that Jeremy, a WELS teacher, had accepted a call to serve as a Tech Missionary on the Asia One Team. They soon will be moving with their daughters to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Although retired from the full-time ministry, I am still serving in a part-time capacity as the WELS friendly counselor to Indonesia. This means that my son-in-law and I will be serving on the Asia One Team at the same time! As the sun sets on my time with WELS World Missions, Connie and I feel truly blessed to see it rising on Jeremy, Grace, and their daughters as they prepare to join the Asia One Team in Thailand. Like all our WELS workers at home and abroad, they have answered the Lord’s call to serve by humbly saying, “Here am I. Send me!”

The Bey family in Indonesia in 1992

As we begin retreating into full retirement, we will be joining the ranks of those who also serve as they sit and wait prayerfully for the furlough visits of their children and grandchildren. As we do so, any number of clichés come to mind: “The shoe is on the other foot!” “Like mother, like daughter!” “It takes one to know one!” Or perhaps the most fitting, “What goes around, comes around!” Just as we took our children around the world so that we could live and serve in places initially foreign to us, our son-in-law and daughter will be taking their children around the world to Asia. Now, we are experiencing emotions that our parents must have felt so many years ago when we announced that we were taking their grandchildren around the world to live in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.

Together with so many other Christian parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, friends and loved ones, we give thanks to our gracious God and Savior for raising up a new generation of called workers who are willing to go wherever the good Lord calls them. We place them solely into his loving hands and under his watchful eye as we pray for their safety and health, and for their spiritual well-being.

To Jeremy, Grace, and their daughters, and to all our families in fields across the globe, allow me to say, “Thank you for your service, for your ministry!” As you travel around the world to do the work to which the Spirit has called you, we pray that these benedictory words of Solomon might always fill your hearts and minds: “May the Lord our God be with us, just as he was with our fathers” (1 Kings 8:57). You will be in our thoughts and prayers continually. But of far greater importance is the fact that you will always be held securely in the arms of Jesus. Soli Deo Gloria!

Written by Rev. Gregory Bey, WELS friendly counselor to Indonesia 

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Back home in Asia

It was May 2008 – 15 years ago. I sat in the auditorium of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for assignment day. My name was read, “Jonathan Bare, Graduate Mission Associate – East Asia.” By the middle of the next month, I had been commissioned and was on a plane to Asia. Asia became my new home, the place my wife Kim and I would meet (she was serving there as a Friends Network missionary) and get married, where our son Josiah would be born, and where we’d serve until taking a call back to our new home in the U.S. in 2016.

Fast forward seven years. In January this year, my family moved “back home” to a new home in Asia. My current call is to serve as the president of Asia Lutheran Seminary and the Integrator of the Asia One Team. Before my arrival, Asia Lutheran Seminary was asked to transition from being a seminary for only East Asia to being a regional seminary for all of Asia. To facilitate that pivot, my family and I are stationed in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which serves as the hub of the Asia One Team.

So, what’s it like to be “back home” in Asia? First off, many things have changed.

There’s the obvious – my family situation has changed. When I moved to East Asia in 2008, I was single. An international move meant boxing up a few belongings that would stay in my parents’ basement, packing two suitcases, and getting on a plane. Now Josiah is ten and we have a six-year old daughter, Elina. Moving meant giving away trailer loads of stuff, packing up a few dozen boxes that would be stored, selling vehicles, and finding a way to get 12 suitcases to the airport (not including our carry-ons). Moving meant tearful goodbyes to family, friends, and coworkers and finding a new house, a new school, a new car. . . the list goes on and on. In the process, God taught us to be patient and flexible every step of the way. He still teaches us that a bit more every day, it seems. Moving “back home” with a family means a daily resetting of expectations, working through sadness over the loss of friends, and figuring out new lives in Thailand.

The team has changed. Missionaries have come and gone – some to new calls or retirement in the U.S., and a few, home to heaven. East Asia was its own field in 2008. Now all of Asia is served by one WELS team of missionaries. The Asia One Team serves over 16 different countries with a unified vision for reaching out and serving all of Asia. The work of the team is divided into three main branches: Explore, this includes following up on new opportunities and expansions. A second branch is Asia Lutheran Seminary, which coordinates the training and equipping of leaders throughout Asia. Finally, support, which provide the tools and expertise our missionaries and our sister churches can use to carry out their work. It’s a growing team too – this year alone, two new missionaries have already accepted calls to join us. God willing, by the end of this year we’ll welcome three more to their new home in Asia!

Asia Lutheran Seminary has changed. When I first arrived, Asia Lutheran Seminary was focused on training in Hong Kong. That expanded to East Asia and our first cohort of East Asia students graduated in 2016. Since that time, Asia Lutheran Seminary became a fully-accredited, Master of Divinity-granting seminary serving all of East Asia, and now Asia Lutheran Seminary is pivoting to serve all of Asia (all while continuing to focus on Hong Kong and East Asia). We have initial plans in place to establish a regional branch of Asia Lutheran Seminary in Chiang Mai. We’ve also created a Regional Theological Education Program within the seminary to assist with meeting the needs of our sister churches throughout Asia. And in addition to all those changes, I came in and am now the president of these efforts – humbling, to be sure.

But not everything has changed, this is still home – and it’s good to be “back home.” We know it’s home because it’s the place that God has called us to be. He has placed us here – and we know that he is with us each and every step of the way. It has not changed that his word is still going out to all the world – and we are still his witnesses. As his word goes out, he is accomplishing his purpose through it and strengthening us for the task in front of us. Because of that, it’s good to be “back home.”

Written by Rev. Jonathan Bare, president of Asia Lutheran Seminary

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Equip believers to serve

Last month I finished teaching the course, “Equip the Believers to Serve” to a group of nine men and women. It’s a course that I love teaching for two reasons. First, in Asia there is some misunderstanding about serving God. Many students come into the class thinking it is going to be a course about how they will dedicate more of their lives to church work. I  suspect this is everywhere, even in my own heart. How often do we realize we do a poor job of balancing all the callings God gives us in our lives by over valuing some and undervaluing and abandoning others? And for the students, in the face of long hours at their jobs, busy family lives or relationships, assistance or leadership in small groups and house churches, and the classes they take in the evenings at Asia Lutheran Seminary; it sounds like another burden on an already strained set of shoulders.

But right from the first chapter, I get to see the students’ perspectives change and their hearts lighten as they see that serving God doesn’t mean dedicating yourself to long hours in the church sacrificing time with family and friends. Serving God is loving others through the opportunities and relationships God has given at the moment. That means showing love to your family is serving God, spending time with a friend is serving God, helping your neighbor is serving God, being a good citizen is serving God. . .  and yes, you can serve God in the church too. It’s a great way to love others! When the light turns on and students “get it,” I thank God I get to take part in teaching it. And there’s a second reason I love to teach the course. I get to see them passionately use what they learn right away. Each student shared with other brothers and sisters in their church or small group what it means to serve God. They equipped believers to serve! I could say more but why not let you hear it from the students in their own words:

Q: In your own words, define serving God.

Student: “My identity is as a child of God, a new creation of God. So, to serve God is to love the people God puts around me with a grateful heart, to serve the vocations God has given me at the moment, and to use the life of an ordinary person to show God’s love in family, friendships, work, and church. I shared this with three sisters, and I want to do it again with more!”

Q: What aspects of this course can you start to apply tomorrow?

Student: “There are many aspects that I can apply in this course: First, I will pass on the concept of “what is serving God” to more co-workers, brothers and sisters, and my family around me. Because when I understand what it means to truly serve God, I feel that my life is so meaningful, and I am willing to serve God with more dedication in the future. I hope more people understand this and change. Second, on a concrete level, I will apply how to serve God in my family, work, church, relationships with friends, and relationships with neighbors.”

Q: Name two of the most useful chapters in the course and explain why they were most useful to you.

Student: “Chapter 1, understanding the meaning of serving, let me understand that serving is not only in the church, family, workplace, but also in a wider field. Chapter 6, seeking God’s help while serving God, let me understand that in fact, everything I do needs God’s help. I need to be humble and rely on God.”

Q: How has this course affected your work as a church worker?

Student: “I used to be under a certain amount of pressure when doing church work, and it was easy to focus on the results. But after taking this course, I understand that as long as I do my best, God will be pleased. I don’t look at the results to receive rewards and praise from people, but to please God. This course made my ministry easier and more joyful.”

Student: “It made me see that I am not just serving as a certain position in the church, but that I am the first to realize that I am a child of God, a newly created person of God. My calling is to be a good spiritual Christian, to be a real new creation. Then do my duties in various aspects, such as in the family, in the country, in the work, in the neighborhood. . . these are the fields of service every day. When I do these identities well, I am also expressing God glory, as members of the church of God, shining as a light and being salt. If I fail to be a good Christian, a citizen, a child or a neighbor, then even if I do a lot in the church, I will be like a Pharisee, not living a real Christian life.”

Student: “My wife and I shared the course with a sister from our church and her husband. We talked together for a long time about how serving God doesn’t just mean serving in the church and that Jesus makes us a new creation. Finally, we were going to leave, but they stopped us several times and said, ‘Stay for a while, his daughter is happier, she has long wished that her father could be with her and her mother. We served and worshiped God together.’ We made an appointment for the next meeting, and I said, ‘Next week, take time to come to my house as guests and invite your family to my house for dinner, and they readily agreed.’ My wife and I bid farewell to them and returned to my home. We recalled the process together, we prayed, thanked God, and prepared for the next meeting.

Written by Peter Janke, a world missionary in East Asia. 

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Do miracles still happen in our mission fields?

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

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

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

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

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

Now I will tell you about the most amazing miracles:

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

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

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

Here is what surprises me.

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

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

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

Do miracles still happen in our mission fields?

Yes.

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia

 

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Open windows, open doors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by a missionary in East Asia.

 

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Where there is no boom

“There is no boom,” said a Lutheran pastor recently in East Asia. We were talking about the challenges of mission work in East Asia. Between culture, religions, hostile governments, pestilence, warfare, and centuries of tradition that are all deeply ingrained and intertwined into the lives and minds of the people, there are no quick and easy approaches to teaching God’s word and making new disciples. There are no flashy shortcuts that lead to “booms” or surges in new believers. If you are looking for “the boom” in Asia, you will probably be disappointed. The Word doesn’t return empty. That is still true. But in Asia it takes so much time, so much effort, so much pouring into relationships. It takes so much patient teaching, teaching, and more teaching. Seeds are scattered abundantly, but by the time the birds, weeds, and scorching sun have had their way, not many remain to take root. And sometimes years of faithful labor and precious harvest can be scattered to the winds in an instant.

The town after shelling

In Myanmar, for example, a Lutheran pastor and his congregation have faithfully taught God’s word, shared the gospel, and discipled believers for years. Over the course of about three decades, they have gathered and shepherded about 300 souls. Longing for fellowship with other confessional Lutheran’s and hungering for God’s word, they reached out to a WELS pastor in the U.S. and have been greatly encouraged through his teaching and encouragement. They managed to stay in touch and continue to be in the word together through the pandemic, and the Myanmar church leaders still found ways to connect with their people and strengthen them with gospel (even though they could not gather in person). And then came the boom – the boom of war. Civil war erupted in Myanmar earlier this year. As battles spread across the country, the army shelled the town where many of the church’s members lived. As the town burned, the army shot civilians as they fled. Many of the church’s members fled across the border to India, to other towns in Myanmar, and even into the jungle to hide. The town went up in smoke. The flock was scattered and was mostly unaccounted for. In terms of numbers and an organized church, it looked like their harvest went up in smoke too.

The baptism of two people

In this environment, there is simply no “boom” of flashy programs and fast numbers. There is only the faithful plowing and re-plowing, sowing and re-sowing of God’s word, seeking and re-seeking the lost. Within a few weeks of the shelling, church leaders and the WELS pastor started connecting again online. God’s word continued to be taught, and the gospel (and this pastor’s encouragement) continued to strengthen their weary souls. And soon after that, these Burmese shepherds of souls in this shell-shocked area of Myanmar began to seek out and find what members they could. They managed to find and reconnect with a few families, worship with them in their homes, comfort them with the gospel, share the means of grace, and even baptize. In our correspondence, there was no complaining about lost ground, only rejoicing over souls saved and sins forgiven. There is no flashy evangelism “boom” here. But there is another kind of power at work. It’s the gospel, God’s power of salvation. This power is often a still small voice amongst the cacophony of the world’s booming and bellowing, but it is still God’s power to save. The only program in town right now (in Myanmar) is simply being with people in the worst of times and bringing the good news of Jesus into their lives. These tireless shepherds know this is the only thing that can cut through darkness and gloom and truly refresh downtrodden souls. And it is this same gospel that motivates, strengthens, and refreshes the souls of these weary shepherds of souls. Remaining in the word has kept them strong. But God also helped them through a WELS pastor on the other side of the world who found the time to be with them in their worst of times and bring the good news of Jesus into their lives. No boom. Just the gospel, God’s power, in a still small voice and in an unassuming way – yet still a mighty power to save and strengthen.

In this article, I’m not criticizing the big efforts that sometimes do lead to big harvests or “booms.” We pray for and long for those too. But I am thankful for the quiet and unflashy ways the gospel is having big impacts in ways that are easy to miss. I am also thankful for the army of unassuming shepherds (on both sides of the ocean) as they quietly walk together to equip, encourage, and minister through myriad difficulties and disappointments.

Written by Stephen Wiesenauer, Asia One Team leader.

 

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While we were waiting

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7a

Missionaries are doers. We thrive on rolling up the proverbial sleeves and getting stuff done. We like to be “out there” in the field with people. We want to be active and interactive. But when COVID hit last year, borders closed, and travel ceased. Asia was closed for business, and that is still largely the case today. As the usual list of accomplishments (sometimes measured in flights logged, people met, or classes taught) was stripped away, it chipped away at our doer identities. We found ourselves sometimes pacing pensively and pondering, “What do we do now? What will we do if we can’t do mission work?” We found out doers don’t do waiting well.

Driven by necessity and lack of options (sadly, not always driven by expectant faith), we were reduced to waiting – waiting on God. I don’t mean reduced in a diminutive way, but in the way that Psalm 37 reduces all our objects of hope, help, confidence, comfort, and salvation to only the Lord. The drum beat of Psalm 37 is those “he will. . . ” phrases. He will grant. . . He will act. . . He does. We wait. We know this is true. But it still feels frustrating when we really can’t do what we want.

The missed flights, cancelled workshops, and tweaking plans (again) has sometimes been excruciating. But while we were waiting, we have seen God be faithful and active. He has answered prayers. He has helped a time of trouble. Let me tell you some of the things he has done for Asia.

  • While we were waiting, God built a strong, supportive, growing relationships between missionaries, partners old and new, an amazingly supportive Administrative Committee, and national church leaders, even though the Asia One Team has not yet met together in person (not even once). 15 months ago, we wondered how we would grow together as a team. I can point to Zoom and a few other tools, but I prefer to point to God answering daily prayers and doing it while we happened to be on Zoom.
  • While we were waiting, God did open some borders. Our friendly counselor to South Asia and national contact, Haris, have been able to travel to a predominantly Muslim country in South Asia. Asia One Team missionary family Guy and Linda Marquardt made it to Thailand, and newest missionary Mark Zondag and his family are on the way too.
  • While the Wiesenauer family sometimes bemoaned missing a furlough this year, being “stuck” in Thailand built strong local relationships and opened new doors. God worked through everyone else in all the places they were “stuck” too. Just ask any missionary about the doors God opened in their locations.
  • The Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam grew by 12,000 members and planted new churches. In Indonesia, our sister church forged stronger relationships, built a seminary, and strengthened worker training programs. In India, the brothers there plowed their way through challenge after challenge – growing together in the process. In a predominantly Hindu nation in South Asia, our national church partner got through travel restrictions to deliver relief items, gain the trust of local officials, and open new doors for the gospel. Go tell it on the mountain happened literally in South Asia, one mountain after another. And in one of the most restrictive parts of Asia, two dozen members were recently confirmed.

A Confirmation class in Asia

  • While we were waiting, the Holy Spirit was faithful to strengthen and work through national Christians – sometimes with and often without WELS missionaries. This is a poignant reminder that God delights in working in all his children.

I could go on. But the point. . . While we were waiting, the Lord did stuff. He was our stronghold in a troubling time. He helped. He acted. He is still on the move. God also continues to prepare good works for us to do and blesses the work of our hands, but how comforting and joyful it is to know that our identity and success is in his hands, no matter what happens to our plans.

Waiting on the Lord is hardly an endorsement for laziness or fatalism. Indeed, none of us ran out of work to do. But someday when we are in a post-covid world, borders are open, and missionaries are flying all over the world again, I hope we will not forget what we have learned. Waiting on the Lord is never a last resort or the thing we do when nothing else works. It is the first and best resort of missionaries and God’s children in any walk of life in every circumstance. It is based on the enduring promise that God will be faithful. We only need to behold the cross of Christ and the empty tomb to be reassured that this is true.

Written by Stephen Wiesenauer, world missionary on the Asia One Team.

 

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From one background to another

This is a world missions story that starts in the good ol’ U.S. of A. In fact, you could say that the mission work is mostly being done there. But at the same time, it’s reaching to people far across the ocean.

Back in the month of April, one of our Lutheran pastors in Arizona reached out to me here in Hong Kong. He said that he was getting to know a Filipina lady – one with a PhD, no less – who was living and teaching, not in the U.S., not in the Philippines, but in a city closer to us in Hong Kong. This lady works there at the overseas campus of an American public university, and she had started attending his online Bible instruction class in Arizona (even though they are separated by nine time zones). She was also bringing two of her local colleagues.

So, what could we do to help this lady and her colleagues? Of course, the pastor in Arizona would continue to teach them in the Bible instruction class. But would there be any chance that we could connect them with Lutheran Christians who live closer to them? By God’s grace and the work of his gospel through WELS World Missions, we do in fact happen to have a small group that worships less than an hour’s drive away from that campus.

This might sound like an amazing coincidence, but we know that nothing is purely happenstance in this world that our Savior holds in his nail-marked hands. It is also a blessing that comes as a direct result of the mission work that God has done through your gifts and offerings, your prayers and preaching. What grace from him that we are connected other Lutherans not only in North America but also around the world! What grace that we can work together to help acquaintances who might not reside in (or even visit) the United States! It takes a global village of Lutheran Christians to do this, and I thank God for all of you.

And that dear Filipina lady and her friends? They’ve finished the first part of the Bible instruction class and are continuing on to the second. Please pray for them that the Holy Spirit would grow them in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Pray that they would be encouraged by our Lutheran brothers and sisters. And pray that God would also use them to let his mission story continue on to others.

Written by Rev. Tim Matthies, Professor at Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong.

 

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Linger with me before God’s throne

It is true that our job is to teach students about the Bible. By God’s grace, we have a school through which to accomplish this work. We’ve asked for your prayers: that God continue to provide us students interested in serving people. You’ve walked with us and prayed with us as we’ve watched God pour out his blessing on this work by bringing Asia Lutheran Seminary many people who wish to study God’s Word.

Additionally, God has provided us with plenty of opportunities to share his love with those who aren’t sitting in our classrooms. Where we live, the vast majority of people still do not know their Redeemer. God recently gave me an opportunity to share. Andrew’s mom urgently waved me down as I was walking down the street to go eat. I had never met her. She needed help picking up her 27-year-old son who is wheelchair-bound as a result of cerebral palsy. There was no one else around to help. So, I awkwardly lifted up a grown man while she situated his wheelchair. I told him he was heavier than he looked. He laughed at me for being weak. The irony was not lost on either of us. At that moment, we became friends.

As we rode the subway one day, Andrew asked me, “Are you ashamed of me?”

“No. Why?”

“Because I am disabled. People can’t accept that.”

I asked him, “Are you ashamed of me?” Long pause….

“Dude…? No!” he said with a smile and a laugh. His question shook me though. I almost cried. I thought about shame, the suffering he’s endured, and the importance of face in this culture. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Andrew’s father is completely out of the picture.

God granted me the grace to realize that if my sin were a physical deformity, it would be far worse than the distorted body that sat before me in that wheelchair on the subway. And yet, I have a Father who has not abandoned me, but who has saved me and restored my relationship with him despite my dreadful condition. He is not ashamed of me, his son. This Father has not abandoned Andrew either. How could I not tell him? That his shame has been done away with and that the God of the cosmos has sacrificed everything to restore his soul and body so that they could live together in life everlasting. I imagined what Andrew would look like walking around in heaven untwisted and new. My moment of reflection was interrupted by Andrew who reminded me I was at my stop.

It would be deceptive to give you the impression that this work is all just one success story after another. There are those, but many situations involve an amount of painful growth and waiting. We linger while God does his amazing work in us and the people around us. It involves suffering, prayer, awkward conversations, and more waiting. This story is just one example of that lingering. However, instead of just asking you to rejoice with me when visible harvest comes, I want to invite you to linger with me before God’s throne while I pray for Andrew. If you would, please take 30 seconds to pray for him with me, and for those millions here who do not yet know Christ. The apostle Paul’s prayer request so many years ago is mine as well, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:19)

Written by Tony Barthels, instructor at Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong

 

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My students are my teachers

I teach seminary classes and Bible institute courses in three countries – two Muslim nations and one Hindu. The students are my teachers.

Tonight I go to the home of a man who has been head of a Bible school since 1996. He is distinguished and well-educated. I was invited for supper at his home two months ago. He lives where three of his four brothers also have families. Their tiny homes abut one another, and until recently had thatched roofs.

I take off my shoes at the door and my host leads me to the living space – a bedroom! There is a narrow walkway between the dresser and bed. My host, and some members of his family, sit on the bed cross-legged while I sit on the only chair. We visit like this for an hour and a half.

Then it’s time for the evening devotion. We leave the bedroom and go to the one “living room” for the four families. Hunched together–husbands, wives, and children sit in the dim light. The oldest daughter of my host is sitting on a cot. She pulls out a tiny, hand-held air-organ from under the cot and plays hymns. Everyone sings. Then a brother reads the Word of God. I was asked to share a devotion.

Now it is time to eat. They lead me back to the bedroom. A small narrow table is pushed up against the footboard of the bed. My coworker and I sit at the table while others sit on the bed. Course after course of food is brought in. We talk, laugh, and enjoy the delicious food. Then at 10:30 at night, after 3-4 hours of visiting, it is time to go back to where we are staying.

I think of this family, and families in America, and I ask myself, “Who is the most happy?” I realize that it’s not what’s in the house that makes a happy home. It’s what’s in the heart that makes a happy home.

My students have a passion to learn the Word of God. They will travel great distances to attend a workshop. One young lady walked two days to reach a bus, and then rode the bus for three days.  Five days of travel one-way. Then she will sit on the floor with a hundred other people for 5-10 days from 8 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. to learn and discuss the Scriptures in large and small groups.

My students have a passion to reach the lost. They love the people who persecute them. One man had his home vandalized several times for sharing the gospel. He was also beaten, cut with a knife, and threatened with death. I see his face light up and hear the excitement in his voice as he talks about new ways to reach the lost. I wonder, “How can this be? They hurt you. They left a 2-foot scar on your body. . .  and you love them?!” I gain new insight into the love of God which caused him to send his Son into this world.

My students have great faith. While Christians make up only 1% of the population, they trust God to do great things. The don’t focus on what they cannot do. They focus on what they can do under God. They don’t play defense–that is, they don’t hide from the world. They are always on the offense. Attack, attack, attack. . . not with weapons of violence, even though their enemies use these weapons, but with love and truth. They are peacemakers storming the gates of hell. It is an inspiration for me to work with men and women like these. They have a joyful spirit, a contagious faith.  “Forward, forward, forward” in Jesus we go.

These students are my teachers.

Written by a WELS missionary

Details have been intentionally left out due to the sensitive nature of the mission work occurring in these countries. Please privately email [email protected] if you’d like to learn more.

 

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Christian Noblewomen

Throughout my ministry, whether it was serving U.S. congregations or as a member of WELS World Missions, I saw many Christian noblewomen with a variety of spiritual gifts offering their time and talents to the Lord. These sisters in Christ possessed the characteristics of the many women who can be found in the Scriptures, such as Miriam, Ruth, Hannah, the Marys of the New Testament, Anna, Tabitha, and many more.

Their faith was evident through the fruit that it bore.

Two other biblical names come to mind when I think of my position as a WELS Friendly Counselor to Indonesia: Ester and Ribka (Hebrew for Rebekah). Both of these Christian noblewomen are members and current workers of our sister church, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). Both have a unique set of spiritual gifts and skills, distinct from one another, which they are using in the gospel ministry of GLI.

Ester

Ester (which probably means “star”) is an appropriate name for Gereja Lutheran Indonesia’s Publications Coordinator. Through her work, she is “letting her light shine before others so that they may glorify their Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). On a local level, she also is active in her congregation and as a member of the regional women’s group. She is also the wife of GLI’s seminary chairman, Pastor Mikael. She was able to accompany her husband when he came to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for extended studies and attend classes with her husband. Her studies helped her better understanding English theological words and phrases. Strengthened in faith and with a deeper understanding of doctrine and terminology, she is now better equipped to translate, print, and share materials. Her commitment to faithful translations will serve GLI for generations to come.

Ribka

Ribka is the administrative assistant at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran, the seminary of GLI. She also assists GLI’s leadership in various ways, including processing reports in English for WELS personnel, interpreting between Indonesian and English speakers during meetings, as well as helping with travel and housing arrangements for visiting guests. She is a faithful and accurate translator of God’s word. The assistance she offers synod and seminary leadership requires a high level of trustworthiness, and she faithfully carries out all of her tasks.

While God has gifted GLI with many such women who also use their time and talents to glorify their Savior and assist fellow believers, I was privileged to work personally with both Ester and Ribka in recent years. What a blessing that God gives his church faithful men AND Christian noblewomen who are equally equipped with the spiritual gifts needed to carry out his great commission of sharing the message of salvation. To God alone be the glory!

Written by Rev. Greg Bey, part-time friendly counselor to Indonesia

Learn more about Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI) at wels.net/indonesia.


 

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2020 blessings in Vietnam

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:20b

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lord is always with his church. Our brothers and sisters in the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam are not stopping reaching out to lost souls. Pastor Zang said, “Most of the pastors in the Hmong Fellowship Church are farmers, and they know very little about germs. They have heard many scary things through television and radio about the impact of COVID-19, but they see it as less dangerous when compared to the lost souls that have no chance to hear the gospel before they die. The souls will be condemned eternally to hell without hearing the word of God.” In 2020, more than 12,000 have come to be believers in Jesus.

Pastor Fong burns a pagan altar

In 2020, Pastor Fong and his evangelism team reached out to many villages in his area. The Lord has blessed their outreach tremendously. They were able to establish nine new mission congregations in nearby villages. Fong said, “We proclaimed the Word and cast demons out of some people that were brought to us. The people had sought help from shamans in their community, but they couldn’t drive out the demons. In Christ’s name, we were able to drive out the demons and heal the sick.” Besides this, they also burned the pagan altars of the unbelievers to prove to the community that Christ has power to overcome Satan. In some cultures, you don’t dare to burn the altars in which sacrifices are offered to the devil because they think that they will bring curses to their family.

Despite the pandemic, the Lord has provided a way for the WELS to continue training the Hmong Fellowship Church church leaders. The last WELS trip to Vietnam was in January 2020. In November, the Vietnam mission team responded to the request of Hmong Fellowship Church and offered Zoom training to 57 students in Hanoi. Rev. Joel Nitz teaches the gospel of Mark and I teach Law and Gospel. The students are divided into two groups. Each group spends eight hours per week online. Due to poor Wi-Fi connections, some students have had to travel to the city to get a better connection. They have never utilized technology to assist in their ministry before. Instruction via Zoom is something new for them. It took me two days to guide the students in how to use the program. Praise be to God, they finally learned how to use it! Due to their excitement, some students have asked permission for their wives and parents to join our training as well. They are welcome in Christ’s name!

During the training. Rev. Nitz asked the students to recall the blessings in their lives given to them through Christ. Pastor Tsheej and Ntsuablooj said, “The biggest blessing in my life is the opportunity to be part of WELS training in Vietnam.” Pastor Nukhai said, “The more I learn from WELS, the more I feel like I know nothing about the Scriptures. There is so much to learn. If I look back to the last eight years, before I received WELS training, I saw a dark path in front of me. But now I see a clear path before and after me. I will dedicate my whole life to learning from WELS, God-willing.”

WELS’ teaching has helped the church leaders identify the false teaching in Vietnam. Thanks be to God for the well-trained pastors in WELS! The Hmong Fellowship Church has grown from 126,000 to 138,000 in 2020. To Christ alone be the glory!

Zoom training

The Hmong Fellowship Church has been tremendously blessed; however, there are also some big challenges ahead of them. More than 1,360 leaders are waiting for someone to train them in the Word of God. They are also waiting to build more churches for new believers to worship their Lord. Evangelism work is the priority for them. They are very skilled in doing evangelism in their community. With proper training and materials, these men will continue to share God’s word.

The building project in Vietnam is still active but has been delayed due to COVID-19. Once I visit Vietnam, I will arrange a Zoom or face-to-face meeting (God-willing) between WELS representatives and the representatives in Vietnam. The government also wants to make this project happen as quickly as possible.

Our brothers and sisters in Vietnam send their greetings and say, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” to all WELS members. They appreciate your help and support, especially to train their leaders in the word of God. They also ask for your continued support and prayers.

Finally, I would also like to thank our members in WELS for your continued support for the work in Vietnam. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. May the Lord of the Church send more workers to harvest his fields. May the Lord continue to bless our leaders, members, and the work in the U.S. and around the world so that the lost souls may be saved through faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator


 

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Christ-centered wedding blessings

Greetings from East Asia! I want to share with you that God is still working powerfully here in East Asia even during these very trying and special times. COVID-19 has pretty much shut down international travel, yet I feel so blessed that I have been able to remain both safe and healthy here in East Asia during these unusual times.

While most may look back on 2020 as a challenging year, my new wife Christine and I will look back on all the blessings God has poured out on us during these past months. As my Asia Lutheran Seminary classes and opportunities to meet friends face-to-face became limited in February through April, opportunities to spend more time with Christine and lead online studies became greater. While most Bible study friends confined themselves to their homes and socialized mostly on social media in one of our four weekly online studies, Christine and I were excited to explore the empty parks and travel to see each other on the traffic-free roads. Even while large gatherings were banned, we fell deeper in love. We were soon engaged and were trying to figure out how to hold a wedding in such special times. One of our plans was to invite our friends to a secluded park and have an outdoor wedding, but the logistics of bringing chairs, tables, and a shelter seemed too much. Finally, in the middle of July, we were referred to a banquet hall that was just given permission to open their doors to group gatherings (as long as the virus situation in our city stayed under control). We booked our wedding for August 8 and invited our friends. We thought maybe 100 friends might be able to join. . .  within the couple weeks we used to finalize all the details, we had 260 friends asking to join our special day. Many friends were so excited to have this chance to see each other and celebrate something so joyful after months of isolation.

By God’s grace we were able to hold our wedding on August 8th, 2020. Throughout our planning, we made an effort to put God first and desired every detail to point to God and his glory. We knew that there would be many of our friends in attendance who were not believers and several who knew very little about Christ and his redemptive work for all mankind. Other friends in attendance had been studying God’s Word with us for some time, but had not yet come to place their faith in Jesus and call themselves a believer.

Our preparations were blessed. The Holy Spirit was working powerfully during our wedding service. One brother who held onto a quarrel with the pastor of our wedding was moved by his preaching and servant-like attitude and reconciled the difference in the days after the wedding. Another friend that had been attending Bible studies for over three years was moved to be baptized. When Christine and I were moving from table to table to greet and toast the guests, she told us about her desire to be baptized. Praise God for moving her, through our Christ-centered wedding service, to want to join the fellowship of believers! Christine and I made our way to the stage in front of the banquet hall, this time accompanied by our friend. Christine held the microphone as I had the privilege of pouring the water connected to our Triune God’s name over our friend’s head. We sang Amazing Grace for the second time that day, and this time my friend could personally relate to the words, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”

What a privilege to see the Holy Spirit working so powerfully here in East Asia and around the world. We give God all the glory and honor for changing our lives and those around us to follow him and praise his name.

May God continue to bless the work he is doing here in East Asia. Thank you for all of your support and prayers. It is our privilege to see the answers to your prayers.

Written by Mike, evangelist with Friends Network and partner of our work in East Asia 


 

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I could not find Jesus, but he found me

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is the name of an autobiography written by a Muslim who used to be an ardent defender of Islam. While we do not agree with all of the writer’s theology, the book describes how Nabeel Quereshi became a believer in Jesus and an evangelist to Muslims. The title of Nabeel’s book could be used for another Muslim man who has become my friend.

*Names changed for security reasons*

Habib attended a madrassah (a Muslim school of learning) for three years. He shared with me:

“I never stopped reading the Koran (the holy book of Islam). One day I read surah 19 (the word for chapter in the Koran) ayah 21 (the word for verse) called Maryam (the Muslim name for Mary). I learned that Issa (the Muslim name for Jesus) was born of a virgin and that he came to this world for the people. When I read this, I was overwhelmed. I wanted to learn more about Jesus. My teacher told me, ‘You don’t need to know about Jesus. Learn about Mohammed. Jesus came for the Israelites, not you.’ In spite of his warning, I read more and more.

The Imam at my mosque called me and asked, ‘Why don’t you come to the prayer times? You used to sing the verses of the Koran for everyone to hear. I heard you became a Christian.’ Shortly after that I went to the barbershop in my village and the barber told me, ‘Everyone is complaining about you. They say you do not pray (Muslims have five daily calls to prayer). You do not read the Koran.’ My barber was sympathetic and told me to go to the Catholic church. When I entered the Catholic church, a man confronted me and said, ‘What are you doing here? Muslims are not allowed inside our church. Go to the mosque.’ I told him, ‘I am a Christian.’ He said, ‘We do not share Jesus with Muslim people.’ I did not know what to do.

Soon I met a humble Christian brother who gave me a Bible. I read the Bible day and night. I felt it was written for me. I also became part of a small group of Christians and was baptized. Then I learned that the imam at my mosque—and the village elders—made a sharia (“law”) judgment against me. They summoned me to a meeting. They said, ‘If you do not renounce Christianity and return to Islam, we will kick you out of the village.’ I remembered Jesus’ words, ‘Whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 10:33). I told the imam and the village elders, ‘Yes, I am a Christian. I will never leave Jesus. I will never leave this truth.’

They isolated my family from the rest of the community. My father went to the mosque for the daily calls to prayer, but they would not let him enter the mosque. They told him, ‘You cannot enter the mosque, because your son is a Christian.’ This upset my father very much. He began to beat me and told me I must become a Muslim again. I could not live with my parents so I had to find a way to make a living. I started a study circle and became an academic coach. This was going well until people told the parents of my students that I was a Christian. The parents stopped sending their children. I had no job. Finally I found work at a fish market where I brought water in buckets to splash on the fish.

Only my mother would talk to me. I shared the gospel with her—and in time she became a Christian. My father became angry with her and deserted her. She was alone and the people in our village began to persecute her. Now I care for my mother. She cooks meals for me. We pray that one day my father will become a Christian too.

God opened the door for me to study at a Bible school. We are working with this Bible school to teach students and to prepare them to be evangelists. I never had such in-depth learning. It was profound. Now I am sharing the gospel in a new area. I am thankful for the bike I was given. I ride this bicycle to six villages where we tell the people about Jesus. We are starting churches in these communities.

Against impossible odds I became a Christian. I was in a madrassah and never stopped reading the Koran. I could not find Jesus, but he found me. Now I want the whole world to know about Jesus.”

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia


 

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A lifeless body, a life-giving opportunity

The gospel is like water. It will always find a way to break through boundaries that seem impossible. In an area where preaching the gospel is hard to do, the Holy Spirit will inspire and open the ways so that people can hear that good news.

Friends carrying the casket

In a country like Indonesia, it is not easy to find opportunities to preach the gospel. We can not leave tracts in some places, nor doing street evangelism. However, the opportunity is always there. Indonesian people like to socialize, are close to neighbors and friends, and have a high sense of commitment to communal work. When a friend or neighbor needs some help, they will come to help as much as they can. At least once a month, people in a neighborhood will gather to discuss things that happened or work together for the good of their community. People here like to connect and interact.

Some special moments of life—like birth, marriage, or death—are shared not only within the family, but also by neighbors and friends. In a moment of sorrow, like the death of a family member, people will especially show their sympathy. They will come to the deceased person’s house to offer their condolences to the bereaved family. Some of them will come to the funeral ceremony. However, there is something special in this moment, especially when a good Christian dies.

What do we see when a Christian dies? Basically, there is no difference in comparison to other people: sadness, tears, and a sense of loss. People will come and solemnly follow the funeral rites. Even the closest neighbors will join the family in accompanying the deceased to the grave. At the funeral service, songs of praise to God are uttered, words of comfort regarding faith will be preached, and the hope of eternal life in Christ is proclaimed. What makes a Christian funeral different is the hope we have that Jesus has redeemed the late believer by his death on the cross. The family left behind shows their belief that their loved one is already with Jesus in heaven, and that death is only a temporary separation. Sadness is certainly felt, but hope that springs from faith silently creeps into the heart and brings comfort. This is what distinguishes the funeral rites of believers from non-believers.

Friends and neighbors helping bury their friend

The funeral service is an opportunity for many people, whether Christians or not, to sit and listen to the hope of the Christian faith. But why would people want to come to a Christian funeral if they are not Christian? Why would they show us this kindness to their Christian neighbors? In a community that highly values solidarity and good relations, such friends simply want to show respect.

While we are still alive we can touch the lives of others by living a good Christian life, demonstrating our faith through good works, being an example of love, and bearing the fruits of the Spirit. But even our death can become a vehicle that impacts the lives of others in a spiritual way. After we breath our last, our lifeless bones most likely will never be used by God, like those of Elisha to give life to one who is dead (2 Kings 13:21). However, our funeral service provides an opportunity for our pastors to preach the gospel freely, without restriction, in a solemn moment, not only for the Christians but also for non-Christians. The result is that all the people who are present will hear Jesus’ name and the good news of forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is the gospel message used by the Spirit to call people to faith in Christ, to bring dead souls to life both here on earth and forever in eternity.

Written by Ester S.W., Multi-Language Productions (MLP) coordinator in Indonesia


 

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A flight with Jesus

A few weeks ago during family worship we read and discussed Matthew 2 and the flight to Egypt. As we began, one of the kids remembered that Annibale Carracci had painted The Flight to Egypt in 1604. She ran and located a print among our piles of books which were being sorted and packed for our imminent relocation to Thailand. Like a lot of art from this period, it looks very European (that’s all the artists knew), but still evokes so much thought and emotion by pulling you into the scene.

As we looked at the painting and read the account from Matthew, our children pointed out the range of feelings at having to leave so suddenly. Joseph looks grumpy in the picture. Maybe he’s thinking, “I can’t believe we have to move. . . again!” Mary looks sad, but she also seems concerned for her husband as she looks back at him. And Jesus, he just looks like a content baby as he clings to mom—but maybe there is a hint of distress as well. Our 8-year-old wondered if the expression on Mary’s face in the painting was disappointment at all the things they had to leave behind. After all, they left in such a hurry. Our youngest pointed out, “Babies are too little to be sad about moving.” But then he added that Jesus could be sad if he had to leave his Transformers behind. The older kids were more aware of the reason they had to leave. . . a bad leader didn’t like Jesus, and he didn’t want anyone to take away his power.

But the Lord provided a way to keep the holy family (and the Magi) safe. All the kids pointed out that even though there were a lot of difficult, surprising, and stressful things happening, everything was okay because God was with them. No one missed the divine irony that God was literally with them as Mary carried him in her arms (or in an ancient baby stroller as one child imagined). God was literally and physically with them, but at the same time watching over them from on high.

No one missed the similarities between the flight to Egypt and our flight out of one Asian country to Thailand (even if one flight was much more intense than the other). One big difference, however, is that although God is still with us, this time Jesus is the one carrying us in his arms. Of course, we still hold Christ in our own way—in worship, adoration, thanks, and praise. But how much greater is the peace in our journey knowing who holds who with an everlasting love.

Even though we don’t always know the way in which our Shepherd leads us, what a comfort it is to know that our guide and protector is Christ Jesus. And while we groan with the burdens of major transition, what a comfort too that when we pour out our feelings and concerns to Jesus, he can look back at us with understanding eyes and say, “I know what you mean. I’ve been there too. My Father got me through it though. And he and I will get you through this.”

As missionaries take flights (literally) to new countries, or perhaps wait a little longer in some in-between-land, or stay put in Herod’s land for a while longer—the Prince of Peace will be with us. Whatever transition, trial, or trauma you face, Jesus will still be Immanuel, God with us, no matter what.

Amen.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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Christmas outreach in the Philippines

In a predominantly Roman Catholic country like the Philippines, is there a “better time” for a community gospel outreach? By “better time,” I mean that time of the year when people are generally more receptive to gospel conversations and church invitations. While Filipinos are generally receptive to gospel conversations, we find that a “better time” to do community gospel outreach is the Christmas season. How did we make use of this opportunity?

Christmas Day worship at Law and Gospel Lutheran Church

One of the Filipino Roman Catholic traditions associated with the Christmas season is holding a nine-day “Simbang Gabi” (evening mass) which begins on December 16 and ends on Christmas Eve. These evening masses (some conduct them on early dawn) are one of the few times when some nominal Roman Catholics would be in attendance. Since most of our current prospects are Roman Catholics (at least by association) we found it a golden opportunity to make use of this tradition to share with them the true meaning and purpose of Christ’s birth. For the very first time since our mission congregation’s inception, we held our own nine-day Simbang Gabi or “evening services.” A few evangelical churches in the country have also been holding their own Simbang Gabi, but only for selected nights–we did it for nine straight nights!

Edmar’s baptism

One of the incorrect thoughts Filipino Roman Catholics attribute to Simbang Gabi is that some form of “novena” needs to be completed so that their personal petitions would be granted. That is to say, their attendance in these nine-day evening masses are works that they must do in order to get something from God. What a contradiction of the Bible’s message that we cannot offer anything to God in exchange of anything! Millions of souls in our country are living with the yoke of the law still on their shoulders. These people need to know the real meaning and purpose of the tradition they have been religiously observing. They need to understand what St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

I would say the highlight of our observance of the Christmas season was bringing four young souls to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism at our Christmas Day worship. These four young souls are children of our active prospects in what is known here as Villareal area, an area which is not very close to our base in de Jesus Compound. Nine evening services plus one morning service (Christmas Day) equals ten straight days of preaching! It was physically exhausting, but spiritually refreshing. I wouldn’t mind doing it again next Christmas season. After all, the baby who was born on the first Christmas Day came in order “to seek and to save that which was lost”.

Written by Alvien de Guzman, Pastor at Law & Gospel Lutheran Church in the Philippines

To learn more about mission work in the Philippines, visit wels.net/philippines.

 

 

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Spiritual unity in South Asia

The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in partnership with WELS Joint Missions, guides and assists spiritual leaders around the globe through their pre-seminary and seminary training. The PSI connects with these spiritual leaders through WELS world mission work and through outreach to immigrants and refugees in the United States and Canada. They are able to evaluate and serve these international groups and synods that want support, training, and a connection to a church body that shares the gospel message in its truth and purity.

E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, traveled to a country in South Asia in December to teach Ephesians and 1 Peter. Read more about his experience: 


For two and a half weeks, I had skated over icy sidewalks in Novosibirsk, Russia. I was looking forward to my next teaching assignment in a country in South Asia. Average temperature? 85 degrees! As we drove from the airport to the seminary facilities, I was second-guessing my choice of wool socks for this day of travel between Siberia and South Asia.

Seminary in South Asia

Later that first day, I got to sit in on a staff meeting with the WELS friendly counselor and the three spiritual leaders that serve with our friendly counselor to administer the seminary training program. The meeting began with a wonderful reflection on a passage from Scripture that featured deep insights and highlights from the Greek text. This was not a hasty “let’s-open-with-a-religious-thought” devotion! Everyone sitting around that table was clearly enjoying time in God’s Word, mutual encouragement, and a partnership in the gospel. The meeting that followed displayed an excellent partnership between local leaders and our friendly counselor. These men impressed me!

It will be challenging to describe the South Asian leaders who work with our friendly counselor in this place; security realities won’t allow familiarity. But here are three men who obviously hail from the same continent. After that, commonalities are more difficult to see. These guys have strong and independent personalities. Their differences were clearly evident to me when they took their turn translating my lessons for the 25 students before us.

One of these guys didn’t just translate. He ran the class. I mean he allowed only one speaker at a time. Side conversations was strictly forbidden. And the amount of time he took to convey my sentences in his language was about the same length of time it took me to say my sentences in English.

WELS Friendly Counselor (left) with the three South Asian leaders and E. Allen Sorum (right)

The second chap relished in the kind of class mayhem that I rather prefer myself. When I placed a question before the men, it seemed their natural style was to all answer at exactly the same time at an above average volume. Somehow, this translator was able to synthesize a group answer and share it with me in a way that was both entertaining and helpful. This leader/translator used my English sentence as a launching point for additional points that he wanted to add to my original point. At least that’s what I think was going on when my one sentence in English became his one paragraph in Telegu. He was greatly enhancing the learning that was going on in that room, I am sure.

The third man took my wimpy, timid English sentences and turned them into powerful oratory. He wasn’t content to merely instruct. He wanted to encourage, rally, and motivate his co-workers. All of my translators were themselves pastors. They know the challenges these men face back home in their young congregations. Most of the students were already pastors. They were, in general, just getting started at ministry, trying to establish a Christian movement in a hostile environment.

These three spiritual leaders who were also pastors, partners with our friendly counselor, seminary administrators, and translators share another attribute: they care deeply for their students. Spiritual unity is a hard thing to establish and maintain in any place. But when there is a bond of peace and love in Christ, and a good dose of humility, unity has a chance. We talked a lot about this unity: unity of faith, unity of love, and unity of purpose.

The friendly counselor who is blessed with the task of overseeing this ministry asked me to teach Ephesians and 1 Peter; fitting texts for these men and their ministry settings. When we got to the spiritual warfare portion of Ephesians 6, I asked the men to raise their hand if they dealt with demon possession. Almost every man raised their hand. We enjoyed, therefore, a spirited discussion on a Lutheran approach to exorcisms; Lutheran as opposed to Pentecostal. The students agreed that the Pentecostal approach common among them seemed more interested in ascribing glory to the exorcist than to serving the (possibly) possessed individual.

The Lutheran approach acknowledges the obvious. It is Jesus who has power and authority over the universe including the spirit world. So we ask Jesus to remove demons, we see ourselves as his agent carrying out his mission to rescue people, and we give him all the glory.

I was impressed by these men who must carry out their mission in these circumstances. I was impressed by their thirst for truth and their gratitude for partnership with their fellow Christians of WELS. They articulated their appreciation for WELS Christians many times. I assured them that their WELS brothers and sisters appreciated our partnership with them. I articulated that many times. May God strengthen our unity through the bond of peace and love in Christ. May we be a blessing to each other.

Written by Rev. E. Allen Sorum, Director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI)

To learn more about the Pastoral Studies Institute, visit wels.net/psi.

 

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From decision to grace

My name is Agus Prasetyo. I am a dosen (lecturer or professor) at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL) which is the seminary of Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI).

Before learning true doctrine, I very strongly held the position of “decision theology” and saw the sacraments as symbols rather than as means of grace.

I falsely thought that I:

  • decided to believe in the Lord Jesus when I was 12 years old;
  • decided to accept baptism at the age of 13 years old;
  • decided to study at a heterodox seminary where I received a Bachelors and Masters degree of Theology;
  • decided to serve in a place where I wanted to live and work;
  • decided to reach out to people with the gospel in order to make them decide to believe in Jesus;
  • decided to teach people to make decisions to believe in Jesus and also make the decision to accept baptism.

I was (falsely) taught that baptism:

  • is a symbol or confession of faith and that anyone who has been baptized is considered to have been legally accepted as a Christian;
  • requires the ability to make faith decisions in Christ before it is administered, so baptism is for adults only;
  • is a proof of the growth of the church quantitatively;
  • is a way to make people legal members of Christianity so that they can support the work of the church. That is why I used to only baptize teenagers and adults who were able to make a decision.

NOW I AM VERY GRATEFUL, because I know that those statements are false theology.

First, I am grateful because God gave me the opportunity to learn the right doctrine through Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). GLI is a sister synod of WELS and a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). After I finished my Master’s program, I had the opportunity to study Christian doctrine with Professor Gregory Bey who has served as an STTL dosen and WELS Friendly Counselor in Indonesia. Together, we began our studies of basic Christian doctrine using “New Life In Christ” and “Luther’s Catechism” – both of which are produced by Northwestern Publishing House and translated into Bahasa Indonesia with funding from WELS Multi-Language Publications. I needed about two years to complete our initial studies because my mind was still influenced by the theology that I had previously learned. After continuing to study doctrine at a deeper level by auditing classes in exegesis and Christian dogmatics at STTL, and with much prayer, I finally understood the true biblical doctrine, even though it could not always satisfy my human reason and logic—something I had relied on heavily in the past rather than faith alone.

Secondly, I am grateful because I received a great blessing, namely, an understanding of baptism in the true sense: A means of grace, given by God, for all people, without the need of man’s ability to make a decision for faith. “A sacred act in which Christ offers, gives, and seals to us the forgiveness of sins and thus also life and salvation.” (Luther’s Catechism) My children were also baptized as soon as I became a Lutheran. I am grateful to have received that great blessing.

Thirdly, I am grateful to have been ordained as a pastor by GLI and called to serve as a dosen at STTL. I know there are many mistakes in the Indonesian Bible translation. Accordingly, I feel that it is very important to teach the original biblical languages to our seminary students. Therefore, I continue to study and teach Greek and Hebrew to our students at STTL so that they can become workers in GLI “who rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and teach the Bible correctly.

I am grateful for my calling which permits me to help guide the seminary students of GLI and prepare them to be workers who have the right doctrine from the Bible. My former training and experiences outside of confessional Lutheranism have given me some unique insights which allow me to anticipate things which our young pastors will face that are not in accordance with the orthodox teachings of the Bible. My personal walk of faith has helped me to discern errors. This has been an aid in helping to formulate a curriculum for STTL that can meet the needs of GLI both now and, God-willing, for many more years to come.

As we move into the future, please keep us in your prayers!

From someone who was lost but now is found,

Professor Agus Prasetyo, dosen at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL) in Indonesia

 

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Pursuing a Kingdom culture

As my friend Bo and I watched our kids play together on the playground, Bo turned to me and said, “I’m not afraid to lose my culture.”

Bo is an important member of a successful business, owns his home, is blessed with a wonderful wife and 2 kids, is well-liked by his neighbors, and finds many joys in the life he has been given. Bo and his family have invited us to celebrate their cultural holidays and festivals with them. Bo has been a quality language partner who genuinely wants me to learn his native language. His hope is that we can continue to be neighbors for a long time.

What would cause a man like Bo to be at peace with losing his culture? Especially considering this man has many visible blessings and opportunities from growing up in his culture. He has not been turned away or forgotten by his own people. Instead he is respected and enjoyed by many.

Bo spent a few seconds smiling at the surprised look on my face before explaining the joy he has in his heart from his family pursuing a new culture: a Christ-centered culture.

My friend has no plans to stop speaking his native language or befriending his fellow countrymen. He will continue to celebrate local holidays and enjoy the unique foods that accompany the festivities. But Bo simply has bigger things on his mind and in his heart. He is pursuing a Kingdom culture. His family reads the Bible together, prays together, worships together, and enjoys living life with their Christian friends.

Many of our contacts in East Asia initially pause when presented with the teachings of Christianity, because to them Christianity is a cultural way of life in the West. Bo would say you could count him as one of those skeptics in the past. In the present, Bo is quick to speak on how Christianity isn’t pursuing a Western culture at the expense of losing an Eastern culture, but instead it’s a new culture altogether. In a Kingdom culture, God reigns supreme in the hearts of God’s people, the followers of the Way speak truth from Scripture and build each other up in love, and we all walk together with our Good Shepherd on the narrow path to eternal life.

Bo’s way of thinking has moved away from being set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19) and is now pursuing his citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

Only the Good News of our Savior Jesus can change a human’s heart to pursue God and want to follow His Word. My prayer is that we keep our eyes fixed on our Savior as he desires to lead us to our true home and citizenship in heaven.

How might that affect our own cultural practices? Does our way of thinking in our earthly culture ever cause us to lose focus on the life God calls us to lead?

Ask God in prayer to help you know the way in which you should go. Listen to him as he speaks to you through your Bible reading. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters in the faith who are willing to walk with you home to heaven. Invite others to join you and enjoy the warmth of a Christian community.

Jesus calls us to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). May God bless you with his peace and joy as you pursue a Kingdom culture.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia

In 2003 my family and I left Africa after 21 years to serve a congregation in the United States. At that time I wrote an article for the WELS Board for World Mission’s newsletter entitled, 10 Things I Learned In 20 Years In Africa.

Flash ahead 16 years. . . and my wife and I are unexpectedly having to leave our work in South Asia to come back to the United States. To mark this occasion, please allow me to tell you briefly about 3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia.

1) The caste system really hinders the spread of the gospel. In Zambia and Malawi, I saw how people from different tribes often didn’t get along well together. But the walls that tribalism erects in Central Africa pale in comparison to the barriers that the caste system builds to repel the gospel in places like South Asia. It’s rare for a Hindu of any caste to speak to a Christian. It’s practically unheard of for an upper caste individual to do so. God’s Word, of course, can accomplish great things. But it faces an enormous challenge among well over a billion people who live in South Asia. Something to keep praying about.

2) It isn’t easy to train a pastor in another culture. When you think of training a pastor, you first think of some sort of school where students study the Bible and its teachings; where they learn ways to share those teachings with other through sermons, classes, and conversations. Certainly, that is the foundation of a pastoral training program. But in WELS, future pastors also benefit greatly from having a host of role models; other, often older, pastors who know how to touch people’s hearts with a sermon, men who display the love of Christ in word and action.  But such role models often aren’t available in many of our mission fields. In classes you can describe practical situations and ask students, “What would you do?” But it’s not the same. Something more to pray about.

3) The Lutheran liturgy is really, really important. In our world mission fields, many congregations do not have their own pastor. These congregations are served by dedicated laymen. And for this reason, many of our world mission fields also prepare a “sermon book.” A sermon book contains a simple sermon translated into the local language for every Sunday of the year. In spite of the sermon book, I often wondered if they were adding a smattering of false teaching to their sermons. But there is one thing that can’t be “messed up”: the liturgy. And because all of our congregations use a simplified Lutheran liturgy, translated into the local language, I can be sure that each and every Sunday the Christians at that congregation are confessing their sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. I can be certain that they are hearing a summary of the gospel in the Apostles or Nicene Creed. I know that they are worshiping in the name of, and receiving the blessing of, the Triune God. Something to be grateful for.

And the ½ thing. . . it’s never easy to leave a world mission field. When we left Africa in 2003, our family mourned our loss for a long time. I suspect it will be the same now. We will miss the work, the people, and the life. But my wife and I will carry on, grateful for the blessings that we had and certain that the Lord will continue to bless the people and the work in South Asia, even as he will bless us in our new call in the United States.

Written by Rev. Mark Rieke, former Friendly Counselor to South Asia

Friendly Counselor Mark Rieke and his wife Sue are moving to La Crescent, Minn., where Pastor Rieke has accepted a call to serve First Lutheran Church after unforeseen circumstances made it impossible for them to return to their home and his call in South Asia. Please keep Mark and Sue in your prayers during this transition!

 

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Faces of Faith – Fang

I met Pastor Fang for the first time in 2012. He and a few other leaders from the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC)  gathered with me in a small hotel room in Hanoi, Vietnam. We spent a few days together studying the Word of God, quietly, so as not to attract attention. Then the men left to their villages.

Fang was a very polite and humble student in my class, but he challenged me with all kinds of questions about Scripture and leadership. At that time I seemed like a baby pastor to them, compared to many other Hmong pastors who preached their philosophies, ideologies and traditions. For almost two years, Fang and I confronted each other in the classroom on a regular basis. He thought that my teaching—that sinners are saved by grace alone—was not based on the Bible. His reasoning was that if sinners are saved by grace alone, it is too simple and can’t be trusted. It’s like giving a math test of 1+1 = ? to university students. He said, “Sinners need to cooperate in their salvation by doing good and living a holy life.” He added, “None of the other Hmong pastors teach like you. They all teach that if we are good, God will love us, and we earn our salvation through our own merits.” Even so, he kept coming to my training – thanks to God.

In June 2014, Fang came to me and said, “Pastor Lor, I apologize for being angry with you and even labeling you as a cult preacher. Now, I totally admit that sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Throughout my ministry, I’ve tried so hard to please God with good works. I thought that I could be saved through them. But the harder I tried, the more distant from God I felt. The more guilty I felt. I also gave many rules to my members. After two years of studying with you, I have been moved by the Holy Spirit to believe that I am saved through faith in Christ alone.”

Salvation by grace alone means a lot to Fang. He told me that since his members understood grace, they are more active in the church’s activities and more confident in their outreach to their community. Now they can say that they are saved and that they are children of God. Before that, they were hesitant to witness that they were saved because they weren’t sure that they were good enough to be saved.

Pastor Fang’s funeral

Last October, I was invited to preach for the Hmong National Conference in Lai Cau. More than 1,000 people attended the conference. Fang and his wife, Yong, came to me. She said, “Pastor, I appreciate your hard work and how you trained my husband in the word of God. He is now a better husband and is a more caring pastor to his members.” I asked his wife, “How so?” She said, “The love of God motivates my husband to love us more. He was a man of traditions, but now he has a gentle and humble heart.” I told her, “Praise God for his love and mercy! And continue to support your husband’s ministry.”

Sadly, on July 18, 2019, Fang was taken home to his Lord. He was on a trip to assist another family who had lost a loved one just two days earlier. He preached for several hours under a hot sun, and then he was invited to stay with a family for the night. Early in the morning when the lady was done cooking, she called out for everyone to come to breakfast. Fang didn’t answer the call. The man of the family went to wake him up. We still don’t know the cause of his death.

He will be missed by many, especially his fellow workers in Vietnam. His associate called me hours after his death, “Pastor Lor, Pastor Fang passed away this morning. It was a tremendous lost to the congregations in this area because he served his Lord and members from his heart. We all miss him a lot. We know that you will miss him too.” Through his ministry, the Holy Spirit brought many to believe in Jesus. He was a model of faith not only to his members, but also to the community near and far in Northern Vietnam. Both he and his wife worked so hard in their rice field to make sure that they could serve their family and members. He told me, “Pastor, I am not rich but I thank God that he gives me the strength to work in my rice field so that I can support my family and do the work that my Lord has entrusted to me.” I remember one day, after a break from long hours of training, he brought me a well-cooked whole chicken and said, “Pastor, my wife and I thank you for sharing the word of God with us. We have nothing to pay you, so we brought you this chicken.” I didn’t know what to say, so I split the chicken and ate it with him and the other students. That was one of the most enjoyable moments in my life. I ate the chicken with tears in my heart.

More than 600 people, both the Christian and non-Christian community, attended Fang’s funeral. I thank God that he knew the truth that he was saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. No doubt he could have accomplished much more if he had lived longer, but God knows what is best for him and his family. Now, he is united with the saints in heaven, safely in the arms of our Heavenly Father. He is protected by our Lord Jesus Christ. He has no more tears, and he suffers no more persecution due to his faith in Christ. No more worries about his rice field so that he can take good care of his family and members. Peace is his in Christ forever!

Brothers and sisters, let’s remind ourselves daily that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Grace may not mean much to some of us, but for Fang, it was his only hope: his only hope in Jesus. He was willing to endure hardships for the sake of the gospel so that he could bring it to lost souls—sinners saved by grace through faith alone in Christ. God gives us the best treasure, so let’s share our best treasure to all nations, tribes, and languages through our prayers and stewardship.

Thank you for supporting the training in Hanoi, and please continue to pray for your brothers and sisters in Vietnam.

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

 

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Pastor Chaplai

Pastor Chaplai is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

Pastor Chaplai shared his story with PSI Professor Rev. Brad Wordell, with Bounkeo Lor serving as translator:

On coming to faith: In 1997 one of my children was sick. No remedies were helping. I decided that I wanted to visit a Christian church in our area, to see if they could pray for my child. Before I went, other people warned me about the dangers: “The church will make you give them all your money”, “If you decide to stop going to their church, they will persecute you.” We decided to go anyway. I brought my whole family. They kindly welcomed us and told us about the Bible. They prayed for us. We told others what happened. Later that year, my family and five other families were baptized. But as the church grew, the persecution against us also grew. We were fined by local authorities. We were arrested and threatened. One night the locals captured several families, put them all in a truck, drove 160 kilometers to a very remote place and dropped them off in the middle of the jungle to die. But they survived. One time many of the Christian men in our village were captured and taken to a house, where we were interrogated separately. They told me to denounce my faith like all the other men had done. I told them, “I don’t know about the other men, but I still believe in Jesus.” They locked my legs in stocks. They would threaten me, pretend like they were going to hit me, and demand that I sign a piece of paper renouncing my faith. When I refused, they would lock me up again until the next day, when the process would begin again. Finally, after many days, they gave up. They told me I was stubborn and let me go. I went back to my church and told everyone, “Don’t be afraid of them.” The community trusted me. Many families came to me to learn about the Bible. One time, in four days, 60 families became Christian!

I didn’t know much about the Bible. We did not have Bibles to give to people. As the church grew, the local government put more pressure on us. They would arrest us and slap us repeatedly in the face and then release us. But there were too many of us. Some officials came to our church pretending that they wanted to become Christian. They wanted to check us out and see what we were really doing. For two years we were being watched closely by soldiers. Finally they gave up and left our village. A few years later, I moved to Sa Pa to start a new church there. The persecution there was severe. In spite of brutal beatings, the Christians did not renounce their faith. One night, everyone in the village was baptized secretly in the freezing cold water of a nearby river (We didn’t know that immersion is not a requirement). For three years, I had to travel by night and teach the Bible to people between midnight and 5 am. We would sleep during the day. In 2003, I was chosen to be the leader of the whole area. In that same year, the persecution began to decline.

On ministry: My ministry has been very blessed. I might be the only pastor here who is able to say that every one of my relatives is a Christian – every one! I now oversee eleven congregations. I serve 1,934 members in 324 families. I still travel to new areas to tell people about Jesus. I have to be careful in some of those areas because of resistance and possible persecution. Because I was one of the first ones to believe in my region and because all the Christians think of me as their leader, so many people are coming to me all the time for all kinds of help. I must admit to you that ministry is very difficult. Many times I have wanted to give up. But I keep serving because I love God.

On learning: If it were not for these classes, I most certainly would have quit before now. I want to say thank you to WELS because you have given me peace. I did not have peace until I learned the gospel in these classes. All of us here are learning so many things. We take the things we learn here and teach them to our people. The printed materials, translated into our language, are very useful to us. All of us are baptized now, including our babies. We have peace and joy from the true teaching of God’s Word.

What WELS members can pray for: I ask the members of WELS to pray for me and the members of my churches. They are immature in their faith and do not understand “the priesthood of all believers.” They have not learned how to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God and to serve together in the body of Christ. I want to motivate them with the gospel, not the law.

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.

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