The Sun Came Out at Midnight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There have been four surprises:

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

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

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

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

Written by: WELS Friendly Counselor to Pakistan

 

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

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Faces of Faith – Ching

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

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

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

Children in Thailand listen to a Bible message

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

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

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

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

Written by: Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

 

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The Gates of Hell Cannot Prevail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gates of hell cannot prevail against that.

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

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“Knows Little” Becomes “Knows the Gospel”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gospel is powerful and changes people.

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

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Nepal: Earthquake update

On Saturday, Nepal suffered a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, centered in Kathmandu and the Gorkha district, which is about 400 miles of where our World Mission contact is located in Dhangadhi. He has reported that he is safe, though he did feel the quake, even from that distance. Various news sources are reporting that nearly 4,000 people have been killed by the earthquake and its aftermath and thousands more are in the hospital.

Our World Mission contact reports, “There are numbers of rural areas where the government has no access. Most of the relief agencies starting to pour in at capital city. We want to reach areas in the Dhading, Gorkha, Chitwan and Rasuwa districts with some supplies. Medicine, food items, and clothes.”

He continued to explain that because the earthquake occurred during worship time and the church buildings are small, many of our members were saved. He plans to travel to the rural villages that aid agencies can’t reach to bring medicine, tents, blankets, and food.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief is assessing the situation and is prepared to provide relief. May God use this event to lead many to the true and living God. To help support relief efforts, you can donate online or send checks to WELS, Re: Christian Aid and Relief, earthquake disaster relief fund, N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive, Waukesha, WI 53188-1108.

Lenten prayer from Russia

Jennifer Wolfgramm, wife to missionary Luke Wolfgramm, gives insight into to political situation in their area of Russia and a Lenten prayer from their congregations. 

People often ask about the political situation here. We have not experienced any problems. We are far from the unrest. Our streets are peaceful. People are friendly to us.

However, we have experienced some changes because of the political situation. The Ukrainian Lutheran Church had a congregation in Crimea. This congregation woke up one day in 2014 and found itself in the Russian Federation. Political reality makes it unrealistic for the congregation to remain in the ULC. The congregation is re-registering as a member of our Russian Lutheran Church. Luke and Pastor Alexei went to visit the congregation in December. It takes all day to get from Novosibirsk to Crimea, so working together and supporting each other will provide some challenges. The pastor already Skype in to the regular Monday meetings of our missionaries and Russian pastors. We are enjoying getting to know the pastor and his congregation.

You may have seen on the news that the ruble is losing value. In the past six months, the ruble has gone from $1 = 30 rubles to $1 = 60 rubles. The devaluation of the ruble is already bringing on higher inflation. The economic crisis that has begun is supposed to be quite bad for the next year or two. So far, prices have not been rising as fast as the ruble is devaluating, so for those paid in dollars (like the missionaries), overall things are a little cheaper. However, our Russian friends and congregations will be struggling.

The economic crisis is a result of western sanctions and the falling price of oil. The economics and politics are connected. As economics worsen, we wonder what kind of political fallout there may be. Please pray that we can continue to work here in peace and quiet. We know that God will use everything for good.

Now, like you, we are preparing for the greatest day of the church year, Easter Sunday. Each of our four congregations plus the deaf congregation has mid-week Lenten services. This year we “Stand with Isaiah” and study Isaiah 53. Our children and adults are preparing special music for Holy Week. The children in Iskitim are preparing a play for the Sunday after Easter about the Emmaus disciples. Our missionary team quartet is preparing for five Easter outreach concerts, beginning on Palm Sunday. Another busy season, filled with the blessings of working with our Russian brothers and sisters to share the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection! May God bless you and us and we do His work around the world!

Prayer Requests

  • Thank God for our Russian pastors! Please pray that God would continue to bless them.
  • Thank God for our Daylight teachers! Please pray that they would make many contacts and be allowed to see some fruits of their labors. Pray that more teachers would desire to serve in Russia next school year.
  • Please pray that the children in Iskitim would grow in their faith. Pray that their parents would also want to learn about their Savior.
  • Please pray for the health of our deaf translator.
  • Please pray for the congregation in Crimea during this time of political transition.
  • Please pray for our members during the economic crisis.
  • Please pray for peace.
  • Thank God for blessing the children’s ministry in Iskitim!
  • Please pray that God would bless our efforts to share the Good News during Lent and Easter!

Happy Chinese New Year

“San-nihn faai-lohk” or Happy New Year in Cantonese Chinese, the language spoken in Hong Kong.

We are finishing up the New Year celebrations for the Chinese Year of the Sheep, which have lasted about two weeks. This is the equivalent to the celebration of Christmas in the States. There are three official consecutive days off of work for banks and government offices, so no mail. Restaurants are open and welcoming with higher prices. Family members are obligated to come home to visit their moms and dads, so airports, train and bus stations are crowded.

The first day of the holiday is usually celebrated with close family members. The second and third days are for visits to extended family members – aunts, uncles, etc. A wrapped present of a tin of cookies, chocolate candy or a box of imported noodles is always presented to the host. A New Year visit is never done empty-handed. (As a result, grocery stores set up gift wrapping tables just like the malls in the U.S. at Christmas.)

Homes are decorated with fresh flowers or plants, as well as red banners and pictures with Chinese blessing phrases written on them. One of the popular blessings is a wish for money and prosperity in the New Lunar Year. As a result, red envelopes or “lai ci” filled with money are given out as gifts to the children in the home visited. In Hong Kong, it’s also expected to give the red envelopes to show appreciation to the service people who keep the neighborhood clean and safe.

Unfortunately at this time, the Buddhist and Taoist temples are also filled with people buying offerings of fruit or burning incense to gain blessing for the New Year or to honor ancestors.

The Christian community here in Hong Kong has church as usual around all the celebrations. We thank the Lord for His blessings of salvation through Jesus, for his protection and preservation in His world, for good health, and for His light to shine in Asia!

May the Lord God, the Father, Son and Spirit, bless your Year of the Sheep with His peace through Jesus!

Mary Witte (missionary wife in Hong Kong)