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 missionspromotions@wels.net 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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Faces of Faith – Pastor Chaleunsouk

The following is an interview I conducted with Pastor Tom Chaleunsouk. After you read this, say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for his grace and his gift to the church.

Tom Chaleunsouk was born in 1952 just outside Vientiane, the capital city of the country of Laos. In the early 1970s he worked as a night watchman on the American Air Base in Vientiane. Tom was married in 1973 to his wife Kaysone, who was from the same village. By 1980, they had been blessed with three children.

After the Vietnam war ended, the air base was abandoned by the United States government and regime changes were taking place in Laos. The Lao communist government actively sought to find all those who assisted or worked with the Americans during the conflict, which placed the lives of thousands in grave danger. Many were killed and many were sent to concentration (“re-education”) camps in the northern part of the country.

Pastor Tom (right) and his wife Kaysone (third from right) during a youth volleyball tournament at the church

In 1980, having been warned that his life was in danger, Tom took the bold step of fleeing across the Mekong River which runs along the border of Thailand and Laos. To avoid being seen by communist soldiers, he crossed the river in the middle of the night on an evening in October when the monsoons were nearing the end and the river was at flood stage. The crossing was about a quarter mile wide. He crossed alone to protect his family from possible capture or death in the event he was caught by the authorities. He could not swim, so he fashioned a triangle of three bamboo poles and plastic bags into a kind of life preserver. He tied them under his arms and jumped into the river. On the other side of the river, he was picked up by Thai soldiers and put into the United Nations refugee camp in Nong Khai.

Meanwhile, arrangements had been made for Tom’s wife, Kaysone, to secretly follow Tom across the Mekong River with their three small children. Kaysone’s father took them to the river where a boat was waiting for them. Their oldest child, Thephone (who was four years old at the time), began to cry. For fear of being caught by the communist soldiers, Kaysone’s father took the boy back to the village, leaving Kaysone and the two youngest children alone. They successfully crossed the river and were taken to the U.N. refugee camp. It would take another four years before Tom and Kaysone were reunited with their son.

Tom and his wife were raised in the Buddhist religion. In the refugee camp, Tom met a Thai Christian evangelist who held gatherings in the camp. He approached Tom one day and invited him to join them, where he shared God’s word and prayed for him and his family.

In 1981, Tom and his family were brought to the United States and sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church in Pease, Minnesota. They were welcomed by the community, which helped them acclimate to a new country and culture. Tom and his family were eventually baptized, and Tom’s desire to not only learn more about Christianity, but also to be able to teach his native people about Jesus, became a driving force for him.

The Nong Khai church (left) and sala (right) in Ban Houymakhat. A sala is a covered open structure. All of the house church mission groups gather with the congregation here on the first Sunday of the month for a joint communion service and fellowship.

The family moved to Lakeville, Minnesota, where they started attending Bethlehem Lutheran Church. After Tom made his interest in becoming a pastor known, two pastors who were part of a multi-cultural WELS outreach team in St. Paul came to visit. Tom began part time studies with the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute in 1998, and was enrolled full time in 2000. In 2005, he graduated and was commissioned as a missionary to the Issan (Thai-Lao) people in Thailand.

Over the course of his service to the Lord and his church, Tom has continued to offer pastoral instruction to interested students in Nong Khai, Thailand. Together with one national pastor and one national evangelist as well as some dedicated laymen, Tom oversees four “house churches” in different villages and a central church in Ban Houymakhat, Thailand.

Pastor Tom and his wife Kaysone have been and continue to play a vital role in our mission work among the Issan people in northeastern Thailand. Through their untiring dedication and service to the Lord, many have come to know their Savior. Pray that the Lord blesses them with health and a safe working environment!

Written by Rev. Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

 

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A Lutheran seminary for a Confessional Lutheran church body

On a recent trip to the Asia-Pacific Rim, I spent almost two weeks with the faculty and staff at a small Lutheran seminary.

The request of their team was this: “Be our consultant. Speak to us about ways that we can fulfill our calling as a Lutheran seminary.”

Our studies were grounded in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. We studied the Smalcald Articles which reminded us that the first and chief article of our faith is redemption and justification by faith. We were also reminded that no teaching of our seminary may come from any place other than the Bible. Those same Smalcald Articles reminded us that the goal of seminary training is pastors who know how to do pastoral care, preaching and teaching God’s law and gospel, equipping God’s people to live lives of repentance, and to use the keys with each other.

Building on that foundation, we talked about the WHAT, the HOW, and the WHY of theological education at a confessional Lutheran seminary.

WHAT is their mission? To train evangelical Lutheran pastors who want to and know how to serve Christ’s flock and to reach out to others. WHAT kind of institution do they want to be? They decided on the following:

  • An institution which is centered on Jesus Christ and the Bible principles of Scripture Alone, by Grace Alone, by Faith Alone.
  • A culture where faculty, staff, and students work hard and are always growing.
  • A place of learning where the growth of the students (knowledge, faith/character/attitude, and skill) is strongly pursued.
  • A place where God’s people can learn from their mistakes.
  • A place where God’s people love each other.

HOW are they going to accomplish this mission? The faculty and staff agreed that they need to be in the Word together and that they needed to be praying for God’s help. They agreed that solid teaching in every course is vital. They also agreed that that they need to have a functional system for communication and accountability regarding curriculum, goals, and students. Finally, they decided that they need be examples for each other, admonishing and encouraging each other in love and humility.

As for the WHY of their service, they agreed that their motivation is the Savior who died and rose again for them. In Jesus Christ, they want to give glory to God in all they do. In Jesus Christ, they want to serve as the best faculty and staff that they can be.

Please pray that the Lord continues to guide and bless the faculty and staff who serve at this worker training facility. Please pray that they can be a blessing to the students entrusted to their care, and that those students, in turn, will be a blessing to many people in their region.

Written by Rev. Brad Wordell, professor for the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI)

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Online outreach in a restricted-access country

Imagine a country where it is illegal for churches to gather without special permission, to proclaim any gospel other than what the unbelieving government approves. A country where churches, obviously, cannot do any promotion, canvassing, or big outreach events, where all social media is controlled by the powers that be, and where most everything that is perceived as coming from the West is considered suspect by the authorities. How would you do large-scale outreach and evangelism in a setting like that, especially when you know that there are millions of people in that country who are looking for meaning and are open to spiritual direction?

Believe or not, one group has still launched an outreach website on the approved social media platform through the help of Multi-Language Publications (MLP). It is not overtly Christian, at least not at first glance. It talks about sports, common marriage problems, and movies that are popular. Each blog post offers simple life advice and insights on these topics to get people’s attention and then quotes a relevant Bible passage. Finally, at the bottom of the article there is a link to more information. From there, readers can access a page that tells them more about the Christian message through articles such as “Who is Jesus?” and “What is the Bible?”

Now, keep in mind that there is no way to promote this web page. There is no Facebook targeted advertising campaign; there are no flyers; there is no canvassing. There is only word of mouth. Praise God that several “Promoters” (outreach-minded brothers and sisters) have agreed to post the weekly articles on their local version of a “Facebook Wall.” Praise God that, in the first 12 hours of the first article being released, there were already 753 views! Within a few days, there were over 1,200 views! But, more importantly, 120 people (10%) had gone on to view the article “Who is Jesus?”

By Facebook, Twitter, and Google standards, these numbers are insignificant. But the impact in a restricted-access country filled with spiritually curious people is powerful, and it is growing. In fact, this site is the sister of two other sites launched earlier, also with the help of MLP. The one launched in March, a simple discipleship website, had 7,300 visits last month. The second, a leadership training site, had 15,600 visits last month. Remember, there is no promotion; just one person telling another, “Hey, check this out!”

Please pray that these sites continue to grow and reach tens of thousands of people every month. Our goal for the first year is 150,000 visitors, and our 3-year goal is 1,000,000. Please pray that these sites are not shut down by the government. Pray that the authors, website manager, and “Promoters” have the courage to continue boldly and clearly proclaiming the gospel. But most of all, pray that the Holy Spirit works through the gospel on these sites to create and strengthen the faith of many people.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

To learn more about WELS Multi-Language Publications, visit wels.net/mlp.

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Pastor Long

Pastor Long 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.

On coming to faith: An evangelist came to my village in 1997, but there was persecution in my village. The church in my village had two leaders. One of them was killed. The other one had to flee. Because I was a part of the local government, I knew what was going on among the Christians. As I learned more about Jesus, I came to believe in him. I kept my faith secret for many years. Finally, in 2003 I resigned from my government position and became an active part of the church. In 2007 I was called to serve as a pastor.

On ministry: I serve as a pastor in Lang Moua village in Hasan Province. I serve 366 families, about 1980 members. There are elders who assist me in the congregations. I preach twice per month and the elders also preach. I also teach the Bible at many gatherings each week. Many of my members want to receive Christian counseling; most of that work is done by the elders. I enjoy ministry. Serving God in any way makes me happy. I support myself as a farmer; my fields are in the mountains, and it takes me a couple hours to travel there. Also, I am often traveling to visit congregations in surrounding areas.

On learning: I started coming to Pastor Lor’s classes in 2013. But then my wife became sick, and I was not able to attend for a couple years. My wife is better now. We have three sons and one daughter. I am very happy that I can come here to learn more about the Lord.

What WELS members can pray for: I would ask the people of WELS to pray that God continues to strengthen my faith and to give me more knowledge, so that I can preach and teach the Word faithfully. I appreciate those prayers. Please allow me this opportunity to say to the people of WELS, “Thank you for supporting these classes. When we look back on our past selves, we see that we were like the Pharisees. In our sermons we were telling people that they needed to be better in order to be right with God. But now we know the Gospel and are living with joy. The members are happy. The elders are happy. I am so happy. We have given the blessings of baptism to all our children and infants.”

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

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Pastor Tong Poa

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

On coming to faith: My parents and the children in my family were brought to faith through Christian radio broadcasts in our country. I was seven or eight years old at the time. Because the persecution against Christians was strong in our area, my family relocated to Houalenga village in Song La Province when I was about ten years old. There were other Christians there, but there were no leaders for the church. For that reason, I was asked to start leading liturgy at the age of 10.

On ministry: After I graduated from high school in 2008, I was also appointed a leader in the church. Now, 11 years later, I oversee 18 congregations in which there are 245 families with about 1,630 members. I work with one other pastor. We are in the city, and we serve the surrounding villages which can be reached from our city. I am married. My wife and I have 3 children ages 9, 6, and 2 years old. The congregations do not pay me a salary, but they do help pay for my transportation. There are many talented men in our villages, but the churches look to me as a leader. This is a special privilege from God. I wish I had more time for ministry. Some of the people I serve live in the mountains, and it takes me a long time to reach them. I travel by motorbike as far as I can, but then I must walk the rest of the way. To reach some of my people, I must walk 10 kilometers through mountainous terrain. Some of the places I serve do not have any cellular service.

On learning: I have been coming to these classes for 3 1/2 years now. I received training from others before, but these classes have helped me understand the Bible much better. I always return from here ready and eager to teach God’s Word to my people. Because I am the tallest pastor here, about a year ago the brothers gave me the nickname Saul.

What WELS members can pray for: Besides supporting my family and my ministry, I am also taking care of my parents, who are in their mid-60’s. In the past we struggled to survive, but the Lord has provided stability for us now. Please pray that the Lord continues to provide for our daily needs, so that I can continue to serve the spiritual needs of the members of my congregations. Please pray that God gives me health and strength and endurance, so that I can face any hardship.

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

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Pastor Zongchin

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

On coming to faith: I was a businessman, and my business took me to Laos in the 1990’s. There I met Pastor Lor’s grandfather, who shared the gospel with me. He read to me from Matthew 24, where Jesus is talking with his disciples about the end of the world. Those words stuck with me. After I returned to Vietnam, I realized that I believed in Jesus. I gathered with the few other Christians in my village. I told everyone openly, “I am a Christian.”

On ministry:  But then the persecution came. I was followed by people and persecuted for 3 years. As I told people about Jesus, 15 families were converted. Because the persecution grew stronger, many of those families fled. I also had to move to the province of Song La. I remember thinking to myself that I was like Abraham, traveling to a new place which was not my home, because of the Lord. While I was there, a pastor from Laos came and taught me more about the Bible and about being a pastor. We studied the parables of Jesus and the meaning of baptism. He gave me practical advice about how to lead a congregation. Because of persecution by local government leaders, all the other Christians left; only I and my family remained. I sent a letter to the government in Hanoi. They sent a representative out to investigate. Then the persecution ceased for the most part. During the next 11 years I told people in my village and other villages about Jesus. In some areas I had to talk to people in the jungle, secretly, at night. Now I oversee 1580 members from 310 families in 14 congregations. Many of those congregations are led by elders, whom I am trying to train. I am a full-time pastor and I oversee many congregations, but I do not get paid as a pastor. In many cases congregations do not even pay for my travel to go serve them. I support myself as a rice farmer. I also grow a kind of grass that is dried and used for making brooms.

On learning: My ministry involves preaching and teaching and the training of elders. I need training so that I can do these things well. I have been learning Lutheran doctrine for almost seven years now. The training I am receiving from WELS is much better than the training I received earlier. Now I know how to interpret and explain the Scriptures. Now I am confident that I am preaching and teaching God’s Word correctly.

What WELS members can pray for:  I would appreciate it if the members of WELS would pray about my use of time. I want to have a proper balance in my use of time and money. Pray that I continue to gain more knowledge for teaching God’s Word to others. Pray that the WELS can continue to train me and the next generation of leaders in our church. In my congregations there are four men who want to be pastors. Two of them are my sons. They keep asking me, “How soon can we begin our training?”

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

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Memorandum of Understanding signed in Hanoi, Vietnam

On April 24, 2019, WELS President Mark Schroeder, World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer, and Director of Missions Operations Mr. Sean Young checked in after their first full day in Hanoi, Vietnam, with exciting news to report: After surveying the land chosen for the theological education center, a memorandum of understanding was signed by WELS and Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) representatives confirming we can move forward with all land purchase, construction, and training plans!

Praise be to God! This is a huge step forward as we continue to train the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church in the truths of the gospel. Please continue to pray for this amazing mission opportunity and support it with your financial gifts. Learn more at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

 

View additional photos from their trip in the WELS Missions Flickr album.

 

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Rejoice in the lost sheep

One of the features that can be found in our Philippine flag is an eight-rayed sun. These eight rays represent the first eight Philippine provinces that revolted against the Spanish colonial government in the 19th century. One of these eight provinces is Cavite. You might ask, “What does Cavite have to do with Law & Gospel Lutheran Church?”

Pastor De Guzman teaches the Catechism in Cavite

Cavite is the site of Law & Gospel congregation’s first-ever teaching station outside its base in Novaliches, a suburb in the metropolitan Manila area. The work in this area started in September 2018, when a couple who are members of a WELS congregation in Appleton, Wis., reached out to me, asking if I would consider doing mission work in the said area. Our contacts in Cavite, a family of five, are relatives of the couple (specifically of the wife who is a Filipina).

For more than a year now, my wife and I would travel a total of about 5 hours, back and forth, every Saturday to teach Bible study and a kid’s Bible class. Not an easy one, though, as we have to contend with the infamous Manila traffic.

Considering the amount of time, energy, and money we’re spending each week for this small teaching station, some might question whether it’s worth all the efforts and resources. A better question to ask is, what value does God place on one lost soul? Jesus says in one of his parables:

Kid’s Bible Class in Cavite

“Which one of you, if you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls together his friends and his neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:4-7

By God’s grace, our contacts–a couple and their two teenage children–have already finished studying Luther’s Small Catechism. There are a lot more lost souls in the community that we need to reach. As each lost soul is valuable to God, traveling long hours to Cavite every Saturday is definitely worth it.

Written by Rev. Alvien De Guzman, pastor at Law & Gospel Lutheran Church in Novaliches, Philippines 

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

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Bright Promise

Bam, bam, bam!

We heard pounding on the front door at 1 A.M early on a Sunday morning. I stumbled around in the dim light and answered it only to discover a very drunk man who wanted to talk. I was half-asleep, and he was. . .  well, you know. The conversation was almost comical. Finally, it became clear to me that he was asking if he could sit down. Given several factors, that was not a good idea, so I asked him if we could talk another time. He tried to show me where he lived but pointed in all four directions and mumbled something about building three. I asked him for his contact information, but he had lost his phone. As I escorted him out, I noticed that he had gotten sick all over the floor of the entryway. I watched him go to the elevator and get in. In the morning, I noticed that he must have come back out of the elevator, took off his jacket, and gotten sick some more.

“That’s disgusting,” you say, “Do you really have to share this in a Missions Blog?” Yes, I do. Because some great things happened through this rather unfortunate and disgusting situation. First of all, I learned even more about the beautiful heart of my beautiful wife. Our entryway is public. People walk through there. In fact, our landlord lives just across the hall from us. Without a single complaint, my wife put on her rubber boots and dish gloves and cleaned up the whole mess on her hands and knees. She never said one negative thing about this bozo who scared us half-to-death (imagine getting a knock on the door at 1 A.M. in a country where missionaries are being expelled every day. . .) and then made a disgusting mess all over our hallway.

Second, the next day (or I guess I should say that is was much later that same day), the young man returned to apologize. He happened to show up when a Christian brother was also arriving. The young man said he was embarrassed. I told him that we are Christians and that we forgive people. We gave him a Bible. We told him to read the gospel of Mark and send us any questions that he had. He was shocked. We exchanged contact information, and I have had further opportunities to shower him with grace.

In the local language, his name could be translated “bright promise.” The night he banged on our door, there wasn’t much “bright promise” to be seen—just a young man making a fool of himself and possibly throwing his life away. But God used it to introduce him to the life-changing gospel of our living God. It turns out that he actually lives 3 floors above us—the exact same door. For some reason, the elevator doors opened on our floor and brought us together. I’d like to think it is for his eternal good, the “bright promise” of heaven.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Clouds and Sunshine

Which side of the clouds are you looking at?

As I was flying into a city in East Asia, I spotted this scene out of my seat, 42A. We had been flying above the clouds in bright blue skies with puffy white clouds. But as we descended it got darker and darker. Black clouds cast a pall over the city. . . but then a break in the clouds revealed my destination. There was even a little sun out on parts of the city.

Doesn’t this pretty much sum up what it means to see the world as a follower of Jesus? The group of people I was going to visit had been under a dark cloud. Local authorities told them they could not meet in the location they have used for a year and a half. They would be watched. Their lives would be touched by moments of fear and doubt.

But when I met to encourage them, I found that the Son was still shining. Brothers and sisters didn’t want to let the fear of persecution split up their group. They did want everyone to be doubly united in faith and hope to carry on. With God’s help, they will! They see the One who is both over the clouds and walks with them under the clouds.

It’s not an easy situation, but the early Christian church faced much worse. Persecution in the 21st century has grown to the point where many say Christians worldwide are the most persecuted of any group. Governments that want to control Christianity have more tools than ever such as surveillance cameras and other technology. But God’s eye is always on those who trust in him.

His Kingdom will not be brought down. Some brothers and sisters may be getting a small bruise as they stumble on a stone of persecution right now, but no one and no thing can ultimately oppose the Rock of Ages. As Jesus said, “Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” – Matthew 21:44.

So let us fear God! May God bless governments with wisdom. May he strengthen his people whose lives are momentarily disrupted by fear. May he help all of us to keep seeking his Kingdom and his righteousness. We can trust his promise that the gates of hell shall not overcome it.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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A Little Child Shall Lead Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by a mission counselor to an Asian country

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The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 12:3

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

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

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

Written by: A missionary in East Asia

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Pastor Ham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pastor Vue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pastor Vang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Sun Came Out at Midnight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There have been four surprises:

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

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

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

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

Written by: WELS Friendly Counselor to Pakistan

 

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

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