Supporting the family of believers

Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Psalm 105:1-3

We have many reasons to thank our gracious Lord. Precisely in difficult times, we recognize his merciful love particularly clearly. The Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) has been part of the worldwide Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) from the beginning. Since then, there have been sometimes more, sometimes less close ties between the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany and the ULC. With the outbreak of the Russian war against Ukraine, the blessings God bestows on people from different cultures through spiritual fellowship became evident. Our history differs, but the unified faith in the common Savior, Jesus Christ unites us.

For members of the ELFK, it was not a question at all whether we will help people who had to leave their homeland because of the war. We were only moved by the question: How can we help? As Christians, we want to thank God for the grace and love he has shown us. Through the Apostle Paul, he let us know how we can show this gratitude in a special way: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galations 6:10) And so we were moved by the question: What possibilities will God open up for us, especially to help brothers and sisters in faith from the war zone in Ukraine? Since then, some refugees have also found refuge in the vicinity of our congregations. God has blessed us richly and prepared hearts to help those who often arrived here with only a suitcase or a few bags. They were warmly welcomed. Bishop Horpynchuk (ULC) and I were in communication to help brothers and sisters in faith and to find lodgings near congregations. God helped us to help. Glory be to him forever and ever!

An idea to say thank you to the helpers and at the same time to support ELFK in proclaiming the Good News among Ukrainian refugees was allowed to become a reality in October 2022 when the Baroque Plus ensemble from Kiev visited Germany. Let me take a little personal look back:

The Baroque Plus ensemble

I look back with gratitude and joyful emotion on a week in which we were able to get to know and love new friends. As president of the ELFK, I am grateful to God. I had the opportunity to experience fellowship with brothers and sisters in faith during these days. Already on the evening of the arrival of the ensemble, there was a joyful reunion for my wife and I. At the end of April this year, we had offered a guest room in our parsonage to an ill parishioner of the Resurrection Church in Kiev. When he went back home on May 11, tears flowed. We knew we would meet him again in our heavenly home, but the war was still a reality in Kiev and so we worried about him and his family. No one had told us that Petro would be one of the drivers who would take the ensemble from Kiev to Saxony. And so on October 11, exactly five months after his departure, we were happy and grateful to see and hug him once again.

Although we did not know the other members of the team beforehand, we became familiar with each other very quickly. Wherever Christians come together, they are united by the same faith. God brings them together and lets them enjoy the fellowship. We were able to experience this clearly. It was also good for us to see the smiling faces. We knew that one day after their departure from Kiev, the attacks with drones and missiles on the Ukrainian capital flared up again. Our guests also knew that. Whenever there was even the slightest thought of home, smiles changed to tears. As the group was on route to Germany, a rocket struck in close proximity to the house where the families of the bishop and a member of the ensemble live. Windows were broken, but God helped and preserved loved ones.

I would like to tell you another short incident. After the ensemble had rehearsed once again in Nerchau, there was an opportunity for a walk. We all enjoyed walking along the narrow river Mulde under the sunshine, blue sky, and colorful trees. Again and again, the conversation partners changed. During one of these conversations, a member of the ensemble told me, “It’s so nice and quiet here.” There was again, the thought of the situation at home: sirens wailing for air alerts, bullets whistling, and explosions thundering. At the same time, by God’s grace, we may live in peace, enjoy tranquility, and go about our work as usual.

Since February 24, 2022, it has been our daily prayer that God will soon give peace to Ukraine. The threatening gestures from Moscow have expanded those prayers. For a few weeks now we have been increasingly asking God to keep peace in our country and give it again in Europe. We know that God is in the regiment. He directs and guides everything. And he is also almighty in this. We can trust in him. As the Apostle Paul says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) It is perhaps not easy for us to see how a war with all its hardship should serve any human being for the best. But let me say this at the end of this unfortunately much too long article: If only one lost person has come to faith in the Savior through the journey of the Baroque Plus ensemble, through the fellowship in the church services, through the proclamation of the gospel and the love connected with it, then it was the best for this new sheep in the flock of our Lord Christ. And then there will also be joy about this sheep in heaven (Luke 15:7).

I would like to close with another thank you. Thanks to God, who made possible and blessed the journey of Baroque Plus. Thanks to the brothers and sisters in Ukraine, who had the idea and the willingness to travel almost 2,000 km by car to faraway Saxony, a part of Germany. But thanks also to all the brothers and sisters in faith in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) for all their support in praying, preparing, and carrying out this wonderful opportunity. We look forward to a healthy reunion – if not here on earth, then certainly in our eternal homeland.

Shared by Rev. Michael Herbst, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany




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Fellowship in Latvia

What does “fellowship” look like?

The Europe mission team is working to strengthen ties between WELS and a dozen confessional Lutheran churches of Europe. These churches believe the same things we do. Now what?

Have you ever heard of the Confessional Lutheran Church in Latvia? Luke and I visited Latvia once in 2002 to apply for fresh Russian visas. Two Latvian pastors (who are brothers) took extra good care of us. Ivo and Ugis Sildegs arranged a place for us to stay, showed off tourist sights, and helped us contact the Russian embassy. They also introduced us to the Latvian church. We met a team of pastors working on a weekly, professional-grade newspaper aimed at the public. We ate birthday cake with their synod president. We had a great time – even though the February weather was rough!

Then we went back to Novosibirsk. For the next 20 years WELS had only limited contact with our brothers and sisters in Latvia. In fact, it has been ten years since anyone from WELS visited them.

This past May 40 participants from CELC sister churches gathered in Albania where Luke and I are currently living. Three representatives from Latvia also attended the conference. One of them was Ivo, the pastor who had cared for us so many years ago. After the conference we kept in touch with Ivo and made plans for a fall visit.

We just finished our second trip to Riga a couple days ago. What did we find?

Rev. Luke and Jennifer Wolfgramm

We found people worried about surviving the winter. We stayed in an apartment in downtown Riga that was freezing cold inside. When we asked the neighbor if her apartment had heat, she said, “No, and we’ll be thankful if the heat ever turns on this winter!” One of the pastors kept busy chopping wood for the church’s wood-burning stove nearly every day of our visit. Another congregation is working to replace its natural gas heater with a geo-thermal system. Leaders repeatedly told us, “We can’t make plans too far in advance. We just need to get through this winter.”

We found people worried about war. A large statue of a woman in downtown Riga commemorates Latvian independence which they won only in 1918 – and promptly lost again during WWII. Latvia has a long history of being controlled by other neighboring countries. They worry that if Ukraine falls, they will be next. Fellowship means sharing each other’s burdens. We listened sympathetically, but we didn’t despair!

Best of all fellowship means studying God’s Word and praying together. The men studied Old Testament “Wisdom Literature.” There was an especially poignant moment when they read Song of Songs: “See how the young man in this book loves his wife? Jesus is our faithful husband who shed His blood for us, His bride. Will He now abandon us to face cold and violence alone? Never!” Those words meant something to those church leaders. What a joy to share God’s promises!

We found opportunities in the church. We met talented, experienced pastors and three gifted seminary students. (That’s huge! There are only 300 people in the Latvian church.) Fellowship means sharing resources, organizing online seminary classes during the year, and in-person courses in the summer. Fellowship means worshiping together on Sunday, drinking tea, and sharing news from Albania, Finland, Germany, and the U.S. Fellowship means rejoicing in our new-found friendships and marveling that this is just the beginning of eternity.

We found opportunities in the community. Everywhere we turned we heard people speaking Russian. Some were from Russia, but many have fled from Eastern Ukraine. They’ve left everything, maybe for a time, maybe forever. They miss home. They miss their families. Fellowship means working together to assist those in physical need. Fellowship means sharing Jesus’ peace with souls groaning for good news.

It was a week of strengthening fellowship. A week of studying, worshiping, and praying together. Visiting, eating, and laughing together. Celebrating our common faith, love, and purpose, and looking forward to the next time we can meet again!

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, world missionary wife on the Europe mission team.

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Back to square A (Albania)

Luke and I moved to Russia in 1997 right after he finished seminary. We arrived in Novosibirsk with next to nothing. . . no cultural knowledge, language skills, children, ministry experience, or possessions. Gradually over the next 25 years, God gave us all those blessings and more. Russia became our home, the place where we felt comfortable, the place where we raised our three children. We knew where to fix the transmission, how to file taxes, which plumber to call, what to substitute for cream soup, and where to get stitches. We had one adventure after another at church, school, and home, and each adventure gave us new knowledge, appreciation, and experience.

Now we are living in Durres, Albania. . . and it feels like déjà vu!

Once again, we are the new guys, sorely lacking in cultural knowledge and language skills. We don’t know much about how ministry works in Albania. We are empty nesters. It’s like we’re newlyweds again!

We’ve spent a grand total of 87 days in Albania. That isn’t much, but we are having adventures and learning.

Albanians are hospitable and friendly. Pastor Nikola Bishka (Niko) and his family found us a lovely apartment to live in and let us borrow things we needed. They are always happy to help. (We especially appreciate their old espresso machine!) Church members have welcomed us warmly.

Albanians don’t want to tell you “No.” I learned this the hard way. Don’t keep waiting around if someone says they’ll do it “in 20 minutes.”

You can buy eggs one at a time. And there’s always a lady selling live chickens just down the block. (Should I surprise Luke some day?)

Locals advise me to look for goods imported from Italy. That is the signal for quality. My new favorite butter comes from Italy. And coffee. And small appliances. And laundry soap. And wine.

Don’t buy bread or baked goods at the grocery store. A nearby bakery will offer fresher goods and cheaper deliciousness.

In Durres, directions are given much like in rural Nebraska: by landmark. We don’t even have a street address. We’re in the apartment building by the pub, “Bar ZaZa.” Taxi drivers and pizza delivery guys know exactly where we are.

Don’t eat olives off the tree. They don’t taste good. Fresh olives must be brined for at least two weeks before eating. My favorite olive merchant is also an excellent, patient man to practice language with. So I buy a lot of olives!

You can keep your washing machine outside on the balcony. (This isn’t Novosibirsk!) I don’t think they are worried about freezing pipes in Durres.

Our apartment is on the 10th floor, and we have a beautiful view overlooking the Port of Durres on the Adriatic Sea. The deep turquoise of the sea at noon becomes a lovely light blue at sunset.

Sunset is the perfect time to wind down and take a walk. The sun is not so hot, the water is beautiful, and the ice cream vendors are still out in full force.

Though I can’t understand most of the words at church, I can see the fruits of faith. I see that the people are happy to gather for worship. They care about each other. They love their pastors. They sing praises with gusto. They are patient and loving with us.

Right now, we are in the U.S. for some family time, classes, and meetings. God-willing we’ll head back to Albania soon. We’re looking forward to learning more about life and work in Albania with new adventures!

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, wife of World Missionary Luke Wolfgramm.

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Prayers for a church

In 2010, Caroline McCatty prayed that God would help her and her husband Lawrence to find a really good church. At the time, the couple was in the process of moving from England to the United States. Caroline knew the transition would take them to a new place, and she didn’t have any connections in the area to which she could reach out and ask for a church recommendation. As they settled in the East Coast of the United States, God led the McCattys to a small WELS church. The pastor there taught from the Bible, and focused on Jesus as the Savior of the world. Previously, the McCattys had attended a church in England, but not one that clearly preached the truths of Scripture. At the WELS church in the United States, they learned messages from the Bible that they had never heard before–and quickly grew to love.

Five years later, the McCattys returned to their home country as WELS members. Upon their return, they lifted up a different prayer – one that requested Scripture-based worship and instruction. The couple observed a different scene in England than what they had witnessed at the WELS church in the United States. They asked for that same Christ-centered gospel message to come to England: they wanted the solid meat that WELS offers, rather than a watered-down version of Scripture they saw throughout England. They prayed for six years; then God led WELS to start up mission work in England. Missionary Michael Hartman is leading the effort and is working with the McCattys and others in England to coordinate services and ministry.

The McCattys serve as an example to us of an existing core group of WELS and CELC members living in England. Thus far, members of the CELC church bodies on four continents are known to live in England. The goal is that this core group serve as a starting place for gospel outreach to the country. If you know a member or contact currently living in England, please contact Missionary Hartman. (Email: Michael.Hartman@wels.net / WhatsApp: +13058900560 or +447360712166.)

Read the rest of the McCatty’s story in their Forward in Christ article.

Written by Rev. Michael Hartman, world missionary in London, England.

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World missionary commissioned to London

Missionary Michael Hartman was commissioned as a new missionary to London, and Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bare and Rev. David Bivens were installed as part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team at the opening worship service of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Mission & Ministry event on February 8. Missionary Hartman and two other World Missions representatives left for his second exploratory trip to London the day after the service.

Plans are being made for ministry, and details such as visa applications, school details, etc. are being sorted out for the family’s eventual move to the country. You can view photos from the service on the Flickr album.

Please keep these missionaries in your prayers as they continue to serve God’s people in their new positions.

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Finding a way to gather

David works in a sausage factory in Finland. Ingvar delivers the mail in Sweden. Artur teaches history in the local university in Portugal. Not only are the European CELC (Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Synod) pastors scattered across a dozen countries, many serve as “tent ministers.” They preach and teach on weekends and support themselves with secular work during the week. (St. Paul was the original “tent minister.” See Acts 18:3.)

Tent ministry saps time and energy for serving souls. It also limits face-to-face meetings for professional growth and encouragement.

Early this past spring, Pastor Holger Weiss (Germany) and Pastor Ingvar Adriansson (Sweden) were struggling to organize logistics for study and fellowship. By tradition European pastors gather for a regional conference and/or Summer Quarter study. But this year borders were closed. Travel was nearly impossible. So, Holger and Ingvar proposed a workaround: “Let’s organize an online study with time to share news and pray for each other!”

Using the theme: “Worldwide Judgment and Deliverance: Then and Now,” local pastors supplied four Bible studies on the early chapters of Genesis. About twenty different participants prepared for online meetings by viewing videos ahead of time. Then we gathered to share observations and discuss practical application for life and ministry. The format was so interesting that small-group discussion time came to be known as “The Fastest Fifteen Minutes of the Week.”

After small group and plenary discussion, we shared news and prayed for each other. It seems Pastor Artur Villares from Portugal is dealing with the greatest blessings and challenges.

First the good news. After years of dialogue with an LC-MS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) trained pastor from Brazil, the Portuguese church finally colloquized Rev. Denício Márcio Godoy and received him into fellowship. Denício (pictured in photo above) lives in Belo Horizonte, population 6 million, the 18th largest city in the Americas. What an outreach center! The pastors in our Zoom meeting welcomed Denício and wished him well before our connection was cut. Please pray that God will soon reopen travel to Brazil!

Please keep Pastor Canoa in your prayers as he recovers from the stroke and God-willing continues to serve the flock in Lisbon

We have another reason to pray for our brothers and sisters in Portugal. Antonio Canoa, the only other pastor in the Portuguese church, recently suffered a crippling stroke. At this point Antonio is unable to serve his congregation in Lisbon. Artur, who lives four hours north in Porto, is doing his best to keep in touch with church members online. Please pray that God would care for Antonio and his people in Lisbon. Please pray also for the Portuguese speakers Antonio was befriending in Europe, Africa, and South America.

Travel restrictions might prevent us from seeing each other, but nothing can limit our Savior’s mighty gospel call! Help us, Lord! We trust in You.

Written by Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary in Europe

 

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A time to celebrate and a time to pray

Luke Wolfgramm, our WELS pastor in Russia, had a chance to talk with Holger Weiss, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany. The ELFK is WELS’ sister church and mission partner.

Let’s celebrate and give thanks with our brothers and sisters in Germany!

This is quite a year for the 1,300 members and 17 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK).

  • Steeden, the oldest congregation in the ELFK, is celebrating its 175th anniversary – that’s four years older than WELS.
  • Four other congregations (in Dresden, Zwickau-Planitz, Altengesees, and Saalfeld) are celebrating 150 or 100 years of God’s grace.
  • The ELFK seminary was founded in 1921, exactly 100 years ago.
  • And this year the Dr. Martin Luther School for elementary children is celebrating its 20th

When interviewed, Holger Weiss, said:

“God has performed miracles for our church. He preserved His truth among us despite two devastating world wars and decades of communist persecution. [Most ELFK congregations are located in former East Germany.]

Student at the ELFK seminary in Leipzig.

At first ELFK pastors were trained in the Missouri Synod seminary in St. Louis. [At that time both WELS and the ELFK enjoyed fellowship with the LC-MS.] But when WWI prevented men from traveling to the United States, the ELFK had to find a way to train their own pastors. The church decided to send men to the state seminary in Leipzig. But they also established their own auxiliary institute to battle false teaching presented in that liberal seminary. This was the beginning of the ELFK seminary.

We are so thankful for Dr. Martin Luther School in Zwickau. Every day 120 students attend grades 1-4 and hear about the Savior. Most of these students come from unchurched families. This has been an excellent way to reach out to our community with God’s word.

But I feel sad. I live in the land of Luther and the Reformation. But so many people here have no idea of what Christ did for them. Today we are still suffering from the pandemic. People have gotten sick and died. Businesses have been closed. Many are living in fear. They sought hope from medicine, science and politicians – only to be disappointed. People need to know that our real troubles are spiritual! We need a new awakening!

Please pray that God would move young men to study for ministry in Germany. Pray that we can open new congregations and preaching stations. Pray that we can send out missionaries. Pray that all of us can be lights welcoming souls into God’s happy family. And pray for our seminary. Right now, we are exploring ways that we can serve not only German students, but men from our sister churches. We want people all over Europe to hear about the Savior!

What a special year! We thank God for past blessings. Now it’s time to get busy praying and working to share the Savior – no matter where you live!”

 

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Mission partners in Finland

Did you know that WELS shares fellowship with a Swedish-speaking church in Finland? Get acquainted with Pastor David Akerlund, his wife, Marika, and their congregation.

The following is taken from a recent interview with Pastor David Akerlund:

I serve as one of three part-time pastors in St. Johannes Evangelical Lutheran Church. Our church began in 2008 with six members. Since then, God has blessed us. We have grown to 28 members who meet at two different sites, in Jakobstad and Vaasa on the west coast of Finland. I serve together with two other pastors, Pastor Ola Osterbacka and Pastor Oyvind Edvardsen, and one Bible teacher/organist, Hans Ahlskog.

I usually preach two Sundays a month. I visit the sick and share the gospel with people in my neighborhood. God gives me many opportunities to talk about the Savior with my extended family and workers at the meat-packing plant where I work. Sharing the gospel takes time. I’m thinking about one of our recent confirmands. . . I first shared the gospel with him (Rasmus) in 2008. He’s a cousin on my wife’s side of the family. At family gatherings, I would talk with him and my other relatives about our eternal needs. Our conversations continued over the course of nearly a decade before Rasmus was finally ready to take adult instruction classes and join our church.

Pastor David and Marika in the home they are building

I love sharing the Good News of Jesus. There are so many people in our neighborhood who are searching for answers to the most serious questions in life. Who is God? Why am I here? Where am I going? I want to share God’s truth with people who are hurting and looking for comfort.

I’m married to a wonderful woman named Marika. Together we are a support family for a little girl named Lena who is nearly three years old. We are building a house. [David and Marika are actually building their house with their own hands, brick by brick and board by board.] My dream is that God would allow us to adopt children so that our house will be full!

A couple of prayer requests:

  • Please pray that God would give our congregation many open doors for sharing His comfort with the people in our community.
  • Please pray that God would help us through the long, difficult process of adopting children.
  • Please pray for me and my service. I think it would be great if I could become a full-time pastor for the workers at our meat-packing plant! Many of them are interested to hear about the Savior. I would love to spend all my time preaching, teaching, meeting prospects and encouraging people with God’s Word.

Interview conducted by Pastor Luke Wolfgramm, Russia

St. Johannes is an Associate Member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), a group of 32 confessional Lutheran churches and synods from around the world. The CELC gathers at triennial meetings for encouragement, fellowship, study, cooperation in projects, and an internationally united voice. Learn more at celc.info.

 

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Pandemic blessings and challenges in Russia

So, how are you handling the pandemic? Let me share just a little bit about how God led us through the past six months in Russia.

Challenges

Stress and loneliness

My wife Jennifer had barely completed her 14-day quarantine after the World Missionary Wives Conference in Spain when the Novosibirsk governor declared strict self-isolation requirements for our region. People were allowed to leave their apartments only to go to the nearest grocery store or pharmacy, walk their dogs, and carry out trash. For six weeks people adopted stray dogs and fought for the privilege of taking out garbage!

On a more serious note, many worried about their health and the well-being of their extended families. People lost their jobs as normal routines ground to a halt. Worst of all, after March 29, we could not gather with our brothers and sisters at church. I’m guessing that many of our struggles in Russia were similar to challenges you faced in the United States.

8th grade distance learning

At first the quarantine seemed like good news for our youngest son, Peter. The governor’s declaration called for an extra week of spring vacation. So of course, Peter put off doing his homework. But then we got word that the order had changed and that distance learning would begin the next day! Peter had to scramble to get his homework done. Meanwhile, teachers and schools scrambled to teach online classes – a completely new experience for everyone. The next three weeks were chaotic because each teacher chose a different platform for teaching and collecting homework. Jennifer and Peter spent many hours figuring out computer logistics so they could get lectures, readings, and homework assignments. Our whole family celebrated May 27th when the school year finally came to an end.

Travel restrictions

Our Russian pastors wanted to comfort their people, especially older members. But the fear of spreading a dangerous disease prevented us from travelling. Instead they led devotions and prayers by telephone. Special legal documents allowed us to travel for work, but even these papers only permitted us to travel within city limits. Police cars sat at the edge of the city to enforce travel restrictions. I could not visit Iskitim or Tomsk. National borders were closed, so trips to Albania and Bulgaria to visit our sister churches were cancelled.

Tamara appreciates online worship services and devotions

Personal issues

Because of closed borders, we decided at first to postpone our furlough until next year. There was just one problem: Peter was planning to start high school in Wisconsin. We started searching for ways to send Peter to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor. We are grateful that WELS World Missions convinced us to find a way to travel back to the U.S. as a family. Jennifer and I spent many hours in June and July searching for a way to travel to the U.S. Most years planning the trip is half the fun, but this year all routes were closed.

I confess that our family struggled with stress and worry, fears and feelings of helplessness. But God was near! “Do you really trust me? Do you really believe I’m almighty and loving – that I haven’t forgotten you? You know who I am. Take another look at my Son’s cross. I am with you, even when you can’t feel my warm smile!” It’s true! Even now. Especially now. God is pouring out blessings.

Blessings

Sharing Jesus online

The Russian church had a website before COVID-19, but the quarantine pushed us to enhance the way we share the gospel online. We began streaming Sunday morning worship services with better audio/video. We posted mid-week devotions on Christ’s resurrection, David the Man of God, and Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Our members started sharing digital comfort with their isolated friends and relatives. WELS Christian Aid and Relief provided funding so we could purchase modest cell phones for shut-in members. Our Iskitim grandmas were delighted with the opportunity to see worship services and devotions from their own homes. Our most technologically savvy granny made sure that our members in Iskitim were able to connect online to each other and to the gospel.

Luke and Andre

Local seminary

Travel restrictions allowed me more time to work with our seminary student, Andre Gydkov. The two of us spent many hours studying Biblical doctrine. . . everything from the Trinity to the person of Christ, from God’s creation and the fall into sin to the High Priest who reconciled us with God. We also discussed a wide range of topics that fall outside of formal seminary curriculum, but which are vital for soul-ministry.

Peter’s Confirmation

My son Peter and I had ample opportunity to work our way through catechism classes. We discussed the chief parts of our faith and explored practical ways for Peter to dive into his adult life of faith. At the very end of July, we organized an at-home confirmation. We invited Andre and his daughter and set up a video call so that our stateside family could witness Peter’s vows and encourage him on his special day.

God provides an open door

Peter’s Confirmation

After weeks of struggle and prayer, we saw God’s answer. At just the right time, Russia opened her borders to Great Britain so that we could travel to the U.S. through London. We spent two weeks self-isolating near Jennifer’s side of the family in Nebraska. And now just this week we traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin, and met with Peter’s faculty advisor at Fox Valley Lutheran High School. We’re grateful that God allowed us to travel together so that we can help Peter get ready for a completely new and exciting chapter in his life. We’re also looking forward to spending time with our older daughters and offering them our love and encouragement.

God is in control

Without a doubt, the past six months have been a time of testing. God is asking, “What is most important to you? Do you really believe in my power, in my love? Will you trust me?” This season is providing us with special opportunity to remember God’s great promises and share his rock-solid comfort with others. We know Jesus is with us. We know he will give us joy and strength so that we can be his lights in a dark world longing for hope.

Please keep us in your prayers. Please pray that God would bless our time here in the States. We have much that needs to be done! Please pray that God finds a way for us to return to our mission field in his good time.

Written by Pastor Luke Wolfgramm, Russia


 

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25 years of autumn blessings

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever!”

Decorating church for the Harvest Festival

Autumn is a beautiful time in Siberia! Graceful birches are dressed in gold. Rugged apple trees are weighed down with their small, red fruit. Markets overflow with sturdy pumpkins, plump tomatoes, and mounds upon mounds of potatoes and cabbages. Delicate mushrooms pop up in the forests. Once again, our gracious Father has filled our vegetable cellars and pantry shelves with the fruits of a bountiful crop. Our Russian congregations have the tradition of thanking God for his good gifts with a Harvest Festival the beginning of October.

But our thankfulness doesn’t end with vegetables! This fall marks the 25th Anniversary of our Russian Lutheran Church. In 1994, the very first members were confirmed. Now, 25 years later, we have much for which to be thankful:

  • Four national pastors faithfully preach and teach God’s Word to any who will listen.
  • One talented seminary student serves as an apprentice to Missionary Wolfgramm, studying in the classroom and practicing his skills in the Iskitim and Tomsk congregations.
  • Active men lead the congregations, taking care of practical matters like building maintenance, finances, and fire codes, all the while insisting on sticking to the truth of God’s Word.
  • Gifted women show their love for the Savior by teaching Sunday School, bringing vegetables and flowers from their gardens, playing and singing for worship, encouraging each other, and helping their neighbors. When their eyes are weak and their bones are feeble, they continue to show their love for Jesus with their encouraging words and faithful prayers.
  • Energetic children learn Bible stories, sing for worship, listen to children’s sermons and grow in their understanding and appreciation of Jesus’ love.

On November 3, our congregation in Akademgorodok will host a joint service celebrating the Reformation and commemorating our church body’s 25th Anniversary. We will give thanks for these blessings and look to the future. How can we best use the time, talents and treasures our Heavenly Father has entrusted us with to serve our congregations and those around us? How can we share the Good News with others in our community and throughout Russia?

Autumn blessings are readily apparent to all of our senses. See the vivid colors at the market. Smell the pumpkin baking. Feel the horseradish burning in your eyes. Let’s make time this fall to remember these blessings, both physical and spiritual. Please join your Russian brothers and sisters in thanking God:

  • for his providence. Thank him for nourishing food, warm clothing and homes, sunshine, and even snow.
  • for spiritual blessings: for forgiving our sins, hearing our prayers, and giving us eternal life for Jesus’ sake.
  • for pastors and leaders who remain faithful to the Bible.
  • for places where we can worship God and encourage each other.
  • for the blessings he has given the Russian Lutheran church these past 25 years.

Please pray that God would continue to bless the Russian Lutheran Church with strong, spiritual leaders and faithful members who work together to share Jesus’ love.

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, missionary wife in Russia

To learn more about world mission work in Russia, visit wels.net/russia.

 

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Proclaiming the Good News in Ukraine

The Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) is experiencing renewed focus and enthusiasm for evangelism. The ULC pastors brainstormed ideas for doing outreach in their respective communities.

Church in Kremenets

The program they developed is a three evening program that involves music (both instrumental and vocal), Bible study, prayers, a worship service at the conclusion, and time for mingling and fellowship. The first three of these programs have already taken place at congregations in Kiev, Krements, and Ternopil. Many visitors attended! Local church members and pastors are excited about the results and rejoice that new people are hearing the Good News of Jesus. The next step? Friendship evangelism workshops are being scheduled to help the churches become more welcoming, and for training the pastors and church leaders to carry on programs of evangelism. We pray for God’s continuing blessing on their outreach efforts.

Church in Kyiv

This June, WELS members will once again help five congregations conduct Vacation Bible Schools. The WELS Mission Journeys program is becoming more involved with planning and scheduling these mission trips. Both the Ukrainian churches and our volunteers have been blessed with this cooperative effort.

Please pray for the ULC pastors. They are faithful to their calling, preaching God’s Word and administering the sacraments. Pray for the members of the ULC churches as they support the mission of preaching and teaching Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Pray that the Lord will bring many more people in the Ukraine to know and follow the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ!

Written by Pastor Roger Neumann, Europe Administrative Committee Liaison to the Ukrainian Lutheran Church

To learn more about world mission work in Ukraine, visit wels.net/ukraine.

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Sharing the Precious Message in Albania

I have a feeling we’re not in Novosibirsk anymore . . .

“You have palm trees!”

It’s such a touristy thing to say, but I can’t help it. We don’t have palm trees in Novosibirsk, Russia. I’ve just landed at the airport in Tirana, Albania. (Albania lies on the Mediterranean Sea, directly east of Italy’s heel.) Seminarian Nikolla Bishka is picking me up in his Ford Focus for the thirty minute drive to his hometown of Durres.

Albanian Pastors (L to R) – Niko, Agron, and Mikel

For the next two weeks “Niko” and I will study Paul’s letter to the Galatians and talk about what it means to serve as a pastor. I’m excited for the new challenge. For the past twenty-one years I have served as a missionary in Siberia. Now I have been asked to do some traveling in order to mentor pastors and seminary students in Russia, Bulgaria, and Albania.

Niko is twenty-six years old, quiet, but friendly. He lives with his parents, Pastor Mikel and Pavlena, and his younger brother Viktor. As we drive along the country’s main highway, Niko tells me how things have changed. The old dictator is gone. Life is better . . . but wages are low and prices are high. Gasoline costs $6.25 a gallon! Students are protesting peacefully in the streets of Tirana demanding improved living conditions. Many people are leaving the country to search for work in Italy or Germany. Religion is allowed. There was a time when all religion was banned. In the 1960s, Christians were imprisoned and even executed for their faith. Now about seventy percent of the population claim to be Muslim, and the rest are nominally Christian. Most of Albanian’s three million souls live in spiritual darkness.

Downtown Durres

Niko drops me off at my hotel which he carefully chose for its low price and beautiful view overlooking the ruins of an ancient Roman theater. We agree to start our studies the next day at the congregation’s rented facilities. I’m grateful for the chance to rest! The trip from Novosibirsk to Tirana takes a full day – three flights, six time zones, and nine hours in the air.

The Durres church is a storefront located right on the city’s main road. Immediately upon entrance, neatly labeled photographs of church members greet me. Niko points out his picture. Then he points out a picture of the congregation’s first pastor, Missionary Richard Russow, with the church’s founding members (2006). The church is decorated for Advent and Christmas.

Mikel (left) and Niko (right) leading worship

With a prayer for God’s blessing, Niko and I dive into our study of Galatians. What a joy! No wonder Martin Luther called this little book his “Katherine von Bora.” Luther loved this letter for its clear comfort: God has saved us by His mercy. There is nothing, NOTHING, we need to add to Christ’s perfect work of rescuing us for life. This freedom lets us love God and people with all our hearts. The people of Albania need to hear this precious message! Something else strikes us as we read Paul’s letter: the apostle dearly loved the people he served. He writes with such emotion as he urges his people to believe God’s truth and to reject Satan’s lies.

May God give Niko and all of us that same love for God’s word and God’s people! Please pray that God would give Niko many years of gospel service. Pray that God will lead many Albanian people to freedom in Christ!

Written by: Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, Missionary in Russia

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25 Years of Grace Renewal

The public history of the Ukrainian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession was interrupted in 1939 when World War II had begun and the Red Army occupied western Ukrainian lands. Some pastors, like Rev. Theodor Yarchuk, became martyrs at the hands of communists. Other faithful men, like Deacon Stepan Chermkhivka, were persecuted and finished in GULAG concentration camps in Siberia. The sheep were scattered among the fields stained by the red blood of Ukrainian Christians, pastors, deacons, and teachers. Some Ukrainian Lutherans were able to escape to the west. The pure gospel voice of the Lutheran church has been silenced in Ukraine for almost 50 years and two generations of people. Other Protestant churches like Baptists and Pentecostals were allowed in the Soviet Ukraine. The Lutheran church, on the other hand, was under the strictest ban.

But “the Lord is gracious and compassionate” (Psalm 145:8). On Easter of 1993, two public Lutheran worship services took place in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Ternopil. Pastors from WELS  (Melvin Schwark, Roger Kovaciny) and ELS (John Shep, Jay Webber) were first preachers and teachers of theology of the newly organized Lutheran congregations in Ukraine. The Lord has promised, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not returns to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My Word that goes out of My mouth: it will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10, 11).

The Word of the Lord accomplished what the Lord has desired. The Lutheran Church in Ukraine has been raised by the gospel of Christ back to life. In two years the Lord has blessed his church with faithful seminary students and deacons who also became missionaries to other parts of Ukraine. Soon Lutheran congregations were founded in Kremenets, Sevastopol, Simferopol, Lviv, Zaporizhia, Radomyshl, and Kharkiv. Old Ukrainian Lutheran churches in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lazarivka in western Ukraine, as well as an old German Lutheran church in Ivanivka (former Johannestahl) in southern Ukraine were reborn.

The Ukrainian Lutheran Church has been blessed to be reborn as a confessional Lutheran church body. Fellowship with WELS and ELS has been very fruitful in establishing good, solid, pure Lutheran doctrine in Ukraine. Not all churches have this blessing. Even among those who call themselves Lutherans we find very little Lutheran doctrine and practice. Often we can find none! We are so privileged to be in fellowship with those Lutherans who are Lutherans not only by name, but also by their teaching, their confession, and their practice. We have still a lot to learn. And we are willing to share our knowledge of the Lutheran doctrine with others.

Luther’s Small Catechism has proven to be a true gem that has brought to light of the gospel a former Baptist congregation in Tokmak, a city in southeastern Ukraine. When a young deacon of the congregation had read Luther’s Small Catechism and then shared it members of the congregation, they realized the teaching was Biblical and they wanted to know more about Lutheran doctrine. Now the Grace of the Christ Church is a member of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church and shares the precious Gospel with people in that area of the country.

2018 marks the 25 anniversary of the renewal of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church.

The ULC has decided to give this year a special title – 25 Years of Grace Renewal. “Because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved… By grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”, writes St. Paul in his letter to Ephesians (2:4, 5, 8). With joy we proclaim this message to Ukrainians. It’s true – the history of Ukrainian Christianity is long and reaches back to the 10th century. But as in times prior to the Lutheran Reformation, the pure gospel doctrine of justification by grace through faith is darkened by many different false teachings. But now the light of grace is shining more brightly in the country of Ukraine.

It is a joy to see children and adults baptized. It is a joy to see both children and adults in our Catechism classes. It is a joy to hear the pure gospel preached at our congregations and see how Ukrainian Lutherans share the message about Christ crucified. It is so refreshing to commune with other brothers and sisters the true body and blood of our Savior in his Holy Supper. The ULC Vacation Bible School, in partnership with WELS pastors and members, attracts several hundred Ukrainian kids. Our annual Youth Forums unites our teenagers, young Christians around the word of God and the mission of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, to reach out to as many people with the gospel as possible.

We do have challenges. We are a small church body, and we live in a country engaged in war. Some of our churches were left in the occupied territories. Our economy is weak. So often it is difficult to make ends meet. We have only five church buildings throughout Ukraine. The majority of our congregations have to rent their worship facilities… and because of this they are limited in many of their activities. Yet we are optimistic because we have the Lord’s promise that he will always will be with us and he will take care of his church. He does take care of us through his means of grace. We are optimistic because we have faithful and supportive brothers and sisters from WELS. Most of all, we are optimistic because we have God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory in Christ. He himself will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:10, 11).

Written by: Bishop Slavik Horpynchuk, Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) 

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