Building trust in the heart of Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pastoral Studies Institute: Winterim 2024

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous WELS member, the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) was able to bring five of our East Asian PSI students to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for an intensive one week of instruction. They were able to attend classes that were specifically focused on their course requirements but also upon their cultural background. One of the PSI courses is “History of Christianity in the Student’s Context.” Our students were able reap the blessings of being taught by Professor Emeritus Glen Thompson who served at Asia Lutheran Seminary teaching Historical Theology and New Testament. Professor Thompson shared his class “History of Christianity in East Asia.” Much of his course was new information for our students since most East Asian history is rewritten to coincide with the current government’s policies.

While on campus our PSI students were able to attend daily chapel and meet and interact with our traditional students who were also on campus for their intensive Winterim courses. Our PSI men made the most of their time on campus in a second course, “Engaging the Spirit World.” This was a very practical addition to their training as future pastors, given the high rate of spiritism in East Asian culture.

This is just one more way that the Pastoral Studies Institute attempts to be flexible in our training methods, but consistent and academically rigorous in delivering our Confessional Lutheran content. This is another fine example of our WELS members partnering with us to be able to provide these kinds of exceptional learning opportunities. For more information about the Pastoral Studies Institute, please visit wels.net/psi.

Written by Harland Goetzinger, Pastoral Studies Institute director

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So I am sending you

“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ ” (John 20:21)

When was the last time you paused for a moment to reflect on how your life has changed? Consider where you are at now in life compared to one year ago, five years ago, or even further back. As Christians, we benefit from a time of reflection when we recognize God’s guidance of our lives through various experiences and encounters.

Years ago, the parents of Dan Kingsbury sought out a church whose teaching was faithful to scripture. After becoming WELS members, Dan was enrolled at St. Croix Lutheran High School. It was at St. Croix where Dan enjoyed interacting with international students from Asia. Over 50 percent of the world’s population resides in Asia, and it was on Dan’s heart to learn more about Asian people and their culture. While attending Wisconsin Lutheran College, Dan enrolled in Chinese Mandarin language classes with the hope of better connecting with others. While Dan had been encouraged to consider serving in full-time ministry before, it was a presentation from a Friends Network teacher that opened a new door. As Dan prayerfully considered his options, he reflected on the words of John 20:21 where Jesus speaks peace to his disciples’ hearts and sends his disciples to do the Father’s will.

Pastor Dan and his family

When Dan joined the Friends Network team and relocated to Asia in 2013, there were opportunities to help lead worship and Bible study. It was through serving both his mission team and the local believers that Dan grew as a leader. With the support of his team and his wife, whom he met in Asia, Dan eventually enrolled in Asia Lutheran Seminary. While his goal of wanting to be a better Bible teacher remained simple, the blessing of reflection reveals God’s incredible plan for Dan and through Dan’s work.

While attending Seminary classes, Dan helped with recruitment for the seminary and even taught pre-seminary courses. Following his graduation, Dan was called by Asia Lutheran Seminary to serve as Professor of New Testament and is one of several professors who can teach his courses completely in Mandarin.

God has guided Dan into a position where he now equips and helps to send others. As God guided and previously sent Dan, so God is now guiding and sending Dan’s students to further carry out The Great Commission. In January 2024, over a dozen students from various parts of Asia gathered with Dan to study the New Testament using only the Greek language. These Christian leaders take the gospel home to places where our mission teams cannot go.

Another large group of Asian Christians have identified four candidates from within their membership for future spiritual leadership. Dan and Asia Lutheran Seminary have the privilege to prepare this next generation. As a result, the older generation can apply the words of Jesus in John 20:21 to their own home mission field. As our Heavenly Father had previously sent them to share the Good News, so this new generation of spiritual leaders will one day be sent to serve their people.

When you look back over the last year or even ten years, how has God guided you?

Where do you see yourself when you read John 20:21?

Over the last decade, God has used the interests and abilities of Dan Kingsbury to reach the lost and encourage fellow believers. As Asia Lutheran Seminary continues to equip the Asian world with the Good News of Jesus, remember these professors, missionaries, and students in your prayers. Pray that they would enjoy the peace that only Jesus can bring. Pray that they would enjoy the courage to serve that only God can inspire.

Written by Rev. Neil Birkholz, Diaspora Ministry Facilitator for the Asia One Team. 

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All over the map

Ministry in Thailand is…all over the map.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What goes around, comes around

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

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

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

The Bey family in Indonesia in 1992

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

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

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

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

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Back home in Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thinking creatively

Last month, Asia Lutheran Seminary attended the Hong Kong Christian book fair. Tony, the connections missionary attended the event and made for himself a personal goal: to get our materials into the hands of as many people as he could. At the end of the day he had handed out over 7,000 Time of Grace booklets, small devotionals ranging on a variety of topics. The Hong Kong Christian book fair is held every year, selling Asia Lutheran Seminary publications, including books from Dr. Thompson and other various Lutheran resources. Attending the annual book fair is just another way for Asia Lutheran Seminary to get its name out there. Tony said, “I just wanted to hand out resources, I never expected that many people would walk away with materials and learn about Asia Lutheran Seminary.”

Despite the fact that most of the world is living in a post-COVID world, the COVID policies are still in place in Hong Kong, which has led to many opportunities to think creatively about how to continue to search for students and connect to others, the book fair being one of them.

And it’s not just Tony who is thinking creatively. The resilience of the church in east Asia is also impressive. Tony said, “Historically and again now in the present we are seeing how resilient the church in East Asia is. And how, despite that fact, they have found creative ways to continue to grow and find lost sheep.”

Written by Peter Janke, missionary on the East Asia mission team

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Unity and peace

The Winter Olympics, you may remember, took place this past February. One highlight of the Olympics is always the opening ceremony. Nearly a hundred nations stream into the stadium waving their flags, people from Asia and Africa, Europe and the Americas all join together under one Olympic banner.

This image of all these countries coming together is a beautiful image of unity, of togetherness. The problem, however, is that these countries do not come together because they’re striving in unity toward the same goal. They come to compete. Once the opening pleasantries finish, it’s time for the fierce competition. It doesn’t take long to see that the supposed “unity and peace” of the opening ceremony, while seeming beautiful, are nothing more than nice thoughts.

Yet for us who belong to the Kingdom of God, unity and peace are more than just “pleasantries.” At a recent East Asia meeting of local leaders and missionaries, brothers from different regions and countries all joined in unity. There were three different languages spoken and many different faces shown on the screen. The brothers gathered not to compete, not for pride of glory as the world sees it, but to spread the good news about Jesus Christ crucified.

A beautiful foretaste, it seemed to us, of what’s waiting in heaven, just as Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . .” What a beautiful scene, the nations gathered together under one banner, in one place, in true unity!

As we continue to reach and train Christian leaders here in East Asia, that multitude John describes in Revelation seems to swell. We thank you for all your prayers for the East Asia missionaries and local leaders as we continue to bring the gospel to the nations.

Written by a missionary in East Asia.

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