Pressing the reset button

It was time to press the reset button.

A Lutheran church on the west side of Las Vegas in the area of Summerlin started back in 1990. After two building projects and quite a few years of numerical growth, the congregation fell on hard times. Families moved away, older members moved on to heaven, and the current pastor moved back East to serve another congregation. That’s when the local mission board stepped in.

Although there weren’t enough members left to support a full-time pastor any longer, the Arizona-California district mission board was convinced that the area was ripe for the harvest and the opportunities to share the gospel were too good to pass up. They worked with the congregation and submitted a request to the Board for Home Missions to “restart” the congregation.

The term “restart” simply means that the congregation needed to press the reset button. There was a small core group of Christians remaining from a well-established church, but the congregation could not go on functioning like it had in the past. It needed a facelift so to speak, a chance to start at the beginning and try it all over again.

The congregation in Summerlin went through a two-year vacancy from mid-2020 until mid-2022. During that time, the core group shrunk even smaller than it was before. In fact, the 20-25 members left began attending Shepherd of the Hills, a sister congregation in Las Vegas led by Pastor Tom Unke who was also the vacancy pastor at the time. The buildings in Summerlin sat empty and the future was questionable.

Now, as this near calendar year begins, there has already been plenty of progress in the right direction. A new pastor accepted the call to restart the church in late summer/early fall. The congregation’s name was changed to Foundation Lutheran Church. Already a website has been produced, social media pages have been constructed, and signs have been installed. The facilities are in the process of being updated, cleaned, fine-tuned, and painted. Most importantly though, contacts are being made, conversations are being had, and relationships are being formed with a number of individuals and families throughout the community, setting the stage for gospel opportunities to come.

For the time being, the core group of Christians is still attending Shepherd of the Hills. A grand reopening is planned for April 2023 when full-time worship services and Bible studies will resume in Summerlin. There is a lot of work still to be done leading up to that launch date, but it is an exciting time for Foundation. The reset button has been pushed. The congregation is financially backed by WELS Home Missions until it can stand on its own two feet again. And this small remnant of Christians is armed with the powerful Word of God as it looks to once again reach as many hearts and minds as possible with the gospel about our Savior.

Written by Rev. Matt Frey, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Summerlin, Nev.

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The Evangelical Lutheran light at Christmas

“An evangelical? Lutheran? church? This I gotta check out…” Such was the thought process for Steve Yetter, when he received a new-mover mailer from the people of Mount Calvary in Redding, Calif. It was late 2020 when Steve moved from his home in Santa Cruz to be closer to family and that put him within Mount Calvary’s mailer radius. Steve had been part of evangelical churches before, but he wasn’t sure how evangelical and Lutheran went together. He stopped by our church on a Saturday, got a tour, and came back the next day for worship. Steve’s experience is a good example of how that “Evangelical Lutheran” comes shining through in Word and Sacrament. Steve continued to worship, took instruction classes, and joined the congregation. The Lord’s light was shining.

Steve Yetter and Pastor Schaefer

Now, Steve occasionally plays guitar for worship, sings in the adult choir, and attends Bible class regularly. After being in various churches throughout his life, the gospel-centered nature of Mount Calvary congregation is refreshing for Steve—that’s the true meaning of “evangelical.” It’s all about Jesus and his free salvation. “I got the love from the front and when I was in the pew, that love comes from the Light,” Steve said. The Lutheran emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s work through the means of grace has also been different from Steve’s past experience. “Other churches talk about being in the Word, but here we’re saturated with it.”

Christmas is commonly considered the season of light. Evangelical Lutherans get to share that light, so that sinners repent and believe the good news. This Christmas, that Evangelical Lutheran light was shining at two locations. Steve is part of a Core Group reaching out at a second campus in Anderson, Calif. Earlier this year Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church of Anderson voted to unite their ministry with Mount Calvary’s. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we now have two campuses and one joint congregation. Thankfully, we’re getting support and direction from our District Mission Board and working on growing together to share the light of Christ. It’s all new for us, and this Christmas we were able to experience the blessing of the Evangelical Lutheran light. The congregation at both locations welcomed over 40 visitors who came because of online advertising, personal invitations, and mailers—something Steve knows a little about. The adult choir sang on Christmas Day at both locations—something Steve got to be part of too. “It’s about getting the light out to more and more people,” Steve says. “I’m happy to be part of it.” We’re happy to be little lights, who know the one true Light. As Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

Written by Rev. Benjamin Schaefer, home missionary at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Redding, Calif.

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More than we ask or imagine

“Pastor, we would like to meet with you to baptize our daughter.” That was the message that was left on our church answering machine 22 years ago. I was the first pastor of a brand-new mission church called Faith Lutheran Church in Radcliff, Ky., next to Ft. Knox army base.

Jared was the dad who left that message. He and his wife Cady brought their daughter, Madison, to church to be baptized. I took Jared and Cady through adult instruction classes. Jared had grown up Lutheran in another synod. Cady never really went to church growing up. In her words, I was her first real pastor.

Being in the military, Jared and Cady and their three daughters have moved 15 times around the United States in the past 22 years. Wherever they have moved, they have found the closest Wisconsin Synod church. There were times a church wasn’t close, and they had to drive an hour one way for worship. When they were stationed at West Point, where Jared was teaching as a Colonel, they invited cadets to their home where they set up a makeshift altar and worship space in their living room. They used materials provided by WELS Military Services for worship.

In May, I attended my first graduation service at Martin Luther College – our college for training for the public ministry. 22 years after I poured water over her head and spoke God’s Word into her ears and heart, I watched Madison walk the stage to receive her teaching degree.

Who could have imagined that all this could result from an answering machine message? A family that became a blessing to our mission church – and numerous other mission churches – a family committed to God’s Word, and another servant of the Lord trained at Martin Luther College. God will do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

The Lord of the Church has blessed me with the experience of a home missionary so that I am now serving as a District Mission Board chairman. Now I am working with the people, pastors, and churches of our southeastern Wisconsin district to start new mission congregations and support those that have already been started.

As people, pastors, and churches, let us continue to pray for our established churches, our fledgling churches, and those new churches we wish to start. Together we pray and trust that God will use our combined gifts to bring that family to church. That child to the baptismal font. To leave that message on the church answering machine. Then years and decades later, we will see that God has done and will continue to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

“Now to him, who is able, according to the power that is at work within us, to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20, 21).

Written by Rev. Michael Zarling, Southeastern Wisconsin District Mission Board Chairman.

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Blessings and answered prayers

431 days. That is the number of days between my first day living in Waco, Tex. (July 7, 2021) and our launch service at Christ Our Refuge (September 11, 2022). 431 days of planning led to a major milestone in the life of our local congregation. While we always viewed our launch service as a starting line and not a finish line, it is still good to reflect on blessings and answered prayers from God. I’d like to share three specific examples from our launch service with you.

Visitors
We had everything set up and ready to go on the morning of our launch service. We were just waiting for people to show up. One member said, “I just pray we have some visitors show up this morning.” God answered her prayer. I was standing outside greeting people when our first visitors arrived. It was a young couple with two little girls. One of the first things the mom said to me was that she had never been baptized, but she wanted to be. She went on to say that they wanted to have their two little girls baptized as well. It’s as if God was telling me, “Look, I’m going to bless the work that is being done here.” In all, we had 15 prospect visitors join us for our launch service.

Worship Facility
Our core group met in a number of different places during the 431 days that led up to our launch service. We met at on the outdoor patio of a pizza place, in member’s homes, and in a smoke-filled VFW Hall to name a few. We spent a lot of time searching for a space where we could hold worship services. The VFW Hall, a school gym, and an event space were a few of the options. Ultimately, God blessed us with a 6,000 square foot building which we were able to lease full-time and make our own. It is such a blessing to have a permanent location in the community and a place to come together and worship our God!

Music
Our initial core group (12 adults and 5 kids) did not contain a lot of musical ability. We prayed a lot for a solution to our lack of music. Enter Lilia. Lilia is a WELS member who just started her freshman year at Baylor. Our launch service had beautiful music thanks to Lilia using her gifts to glorify her God!

A launch service is something to celebrate, and we certainly thank God for all the ways he blessed us in the 431 days leading up to it. However, it is just the starting line. Please continue to pray for the ministry at Christ Our Refuge as we seek to share Jesus with the lost in our community.

Written by Rev. Andrew Westra, home missionary at Christ Our Refuge in Waco, Tex.

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The glory is God’s – New beginnings in San Antonio, Tex.

Our grand opening service began months before September with a planning meeting. Our core group (a small group of dedicated individuals that do the work of starting a church) met at pastor’s house to plan the details of a service that we planned the year before. With our goal for worship set, we were able to focus on our mission. The “West Campus” is the second site of Our Savior Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Tex. We are dedicated to finding family, serving our community, and growing in God’s Word. We wanted to make our grand opening service all three.

  • We want to be a place where anyone can find family. The core group had time before our grand opening to plan events and build relationships. We were finding family and giving personal invitations. We had time to plan a service that hosted guests and created conversation. Our approach was simple: food (breakfast tacos and local cookies) and children’s activities.
  • We want to be a church that serves community. Instead of guessing, we took our time before our grand opening to learn about our community. We held community events and engaged with the people we want to serve.
  • We are a church that grows in God’s Word. We held many “preview” services so that our grand opening would go smoothly. As a mobile church it takes a lot of practice to set up and take down an entire worship service. Our hospitality team worked hard to make sure we greeted all our guests in a professional and meaningful way. Our music group put in countless hours of practice so that we sounded great. Our children’s ministry established itself quickly to be ready for the big day.

As a multi-site church we not only invited our community, but we also invited the entire central campus. We wanted everyone to be a part of our first service.

Finally, on September 11, 2022, we held our grand opening service. Thanks to the planning, attention to detail, and by God’s grace, we were ready on time. But we were not ready for what came next. Our core group made it early. Guests from the central campus came pouring in; the support was overwhelming. Prospects and friends brought their families. Guests were coming for the first time because they got our community flier.

As the service was starting, our emergency chair volunteer was hard at work setting up more and more rows of chairs. God blessed us with a grand opening that was larger than the core group imagined. It was a humbling moment.

But the greatest thing that happened that day wasn’t anything that we did. The greatest thing was that we held a service that focused everyone’s attention on the promises of God in word and song. God used us to publicly proclaim his name to people, old and new. The glory is God’s.

I’m going to guess that not many home mission congregations write blogs about the second service they hold. It’s not planned out as much. But the truth is, the best part of any grand opening service happens the next Sunday too. And God willing, every Sunday after that.

Written by Rev. Micah Koelpin, home missionary at Our Savior Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Tex.

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Sharing their stories

How did you become a Christian? When did it happen? Were there other people who helped you to know Christ?

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to visit Ethiopia. The main reason for my visit was to teach a course on St. Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus. The course was intended primarily for young men who are preparing to be pastors in the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). There were seven students in the class.

When I arrived, I asked each student to share his story. How did you become a Christian? When did it happen? Were there other people who helped you to know Christ? All of them had interesting stories. One student is the son of the LCE’s one and only pastor. He didn’t ask to be born into that family, but he was. And that is how he became a Christian. Another student was a Sudanese man who came to Ethiopia as a refugee. His mother and father were not Christian, but he learned about Jesus from his uncle, a man who is now a WELS pastor. That’s how he became a Christian.

I shared my story, too. A father who was my seminary professor, who taught me so many “big religious words” and deep truths about the scriptures that I can’t possibly remember all of them. A mother who led me in my bedtime prayers, prayers that were so foundational to my spiritual development that I can’t possibly forget even one of them. And that’s how I became a Christian.

All of us told very different stories, but one thing was the same in every story. We were all so grateful to God for the people who helped us to know Christ.

St. Timothy had a story, too. His father was a Greek who almost certainly did not believe in Jesus. But Timothy’s mother was a dedicated Christian, and his grandmother was, too. That’s how Timothy became a Christian. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you.”(2 Timothy 1:5,6)

How can we thank God for those who shared the word of God with us? And how can we honor those people who have led us to faith in Christ? St. Paul tells us how. “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” (2 Timothy 3:14)

For about two weeks, the students and I studied the word of God in the Letters to Timothy and Titus. We grew in our understanding of the gospel. We honed our abilities to share the word of God with others and to lead people to Christ. That’s the best way to thank God for his blessings.

When people tell their stories and thank God for those who helped them to know Christ, how many people will thank God for you?

Written by Rev. Mark Panning, world missionary on the One Africa Team

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What matters most

“What can I do for that Christian student when they are away at school?” It’s a question with which parents, pastors, and congregations certainly wrestle. And there are many answers, but can I suggest a starting point based upon experience?

The WELS Campus Ministry at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh was in a tough spot. The 2019-20 school year began with a pastoral vacancy before COVID came and shut ministry down completely through the 2020-21 school year. When a new pastor arrived and began looking at the 2021-22 school year, there were some daunting realities: a building that looked abandoned, no core group, no established relationships, and continued restrictions for on-campus student interaction.

Where to start? Missions always depend upon people, and for the coming school year, finding a core group would be the focus. It would determine whether this ministry could move forward. But how would this group be found? Going door-to-door in a dorm or setting up shop in a student union are not advisable for a middle-aged pastor. Ultimately, it was an online database that would determine if this would work – what else could be used to reach students and determine if there was interest?

Armed with a Google Voice account, the text messages began to fly. . . a hope and prayer that a college student would respond to a text message from a complete stranger and then agree to meet for an open house. And while there were plenty of text messages that received no response, there were many thankful for the invitation. There were others that said they would come. And still others who said they knew fellow WELS members and would invite them too.

The first open house welcomed 19 students! When they were asked what they desired campus ministry to be, the overwhelming response was Bible study. An opportunity to gather and be fed by the Word of God. In fact, it was the only response. As so for each week during the 2021-22 school year, a time to gather for Bible study was offered. And the students came. . . with one big caveat: most needed a personal invitation through text message. When the week got busy or assumptions were made and personal texts didn’t go out, our numbers plummeted. It was a tangible reminder that relationships and personal invitations matter most.

And that takes this conversation back to that database, and with that I repeat an often made request. The online campus ministry student database depends upon home churches and pastors, area Lutheran high schools, parents, and students to provide information crucial for campus pastors to do their work. If you have a connection to a college student, please reach out to the local campus pastor and make sure they have the information (and even better, an introduction) they need to connect with that student. It’s where it all starts, and when you are thinking about what you can do for that student, it’s awesome to think about where it might lead!

The format for Bible study each week was simple: we started by sharing moments from the week that struck them as Christians, then we would study the Word, and finally there was an opportunity to ask any tough “apologetics” questions that were on their mind. Faith was strengthened and relationships were built. There were also numerous times during the year when students invited and brought others (WELS and non-WELS friends).

The majority of that core group is back again for the 2022-23 school year and as they gather this year, they are the ones who are asking what’s next. They want to start to work on the building that needs work both inside and out. They are organizing get-togethers at the house to enjoy fellowship and fun. They are doing together what the Bible tells us will result when Christians form their relationships around the Word of God!

Written by Rev. Thomas Voss, WELS Campus Ministry pastor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

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The response to free

Sermon illustrations are not always easy to come by. Sometimes you rack your brain for a story, a life-experience, something from a book that you’ve read, but nothing comes to mind. But, other times, you experience something that you just know will be a great sermon illustration someday.

We recently had one of those experiences at Sure Foundation. Each year in Brandon, S.D., there are city-wide garage sales that are widely popular. In each neighborhood, you can see numerous sales going on. People will come from Brandon, Sioux Falls, and even further away just to see what they can find.

As a church, we decided to get in on this event, but not as a fundraiser. We decided to collect things from the members of the congregation to give away to the community. But here was the catch. We weren’t advertising it as free. People would come hoping to find a deal at a garage sale, only to find out that everything was free.

Nearly every member family of the congregation participated by giving their stuff. We even had prospects, neighbors, and people from the community contributing stuff for the sale. Just like that, three big garage stalls were packed with stuff.

Throughout the eight hour event, we gave away almost all of the stuff! Those who attended were shocked to find out that everything was free. It was in that moment of shock that each person received a card from a smiling volunteer that said, “Just like salvation in Jesus is free, so are these. Enjoy this gift from your friends at Sure Foundation.”

What an easy way to share the love of Christ! But we haven’t gotten to the sermon illustration yet. Prior to the event, we instructed our volunteers to insist that everything was free. We figured that some would want to contribute something for what they had taken. So, our volunteers did just that. They insisted that everything was free, but people were so thankful, that they responded in thanks. Sometimes that thanks was obvious by the expression on their faces. But other times, people showed their thanks by giving. They gave and they gave and we put it in a box designated to go to a school district fund to buy lunch tickets, snow pants, and boots for those who can’t afford it.

The response was remarkable. Just shy of 300 people showed up to this event and we raised $1,000 for the school district fund from a FREE event! And there’s the sermon illustration. What’s the response to free? What’s the response to grace? The response to grace is a thankful heart. And our volunteers witnessed example after example of thankfulness overflowing into giving.

What an amazing blessing! It was an event that blessed the community with free things, it was an event that blessed us with an opportunity to share the gospel, and it was an event that blessed and encouraged our volunteers. Oh, and it was an event that blessed me with a great sermon illustration.

Written by Rev. Craig Wilke, home missionary at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in Brandon, S.D.

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Unexpected booms

We heard that Dickinson, N.D., was booming. A town of 17,000 has grown to around 25,000 permanent residents over ten years. And that doesn’t include some of the oil field workers and their families, which could increase the estimated population to 35,000 depending on the season. My wife and I were expecting that type of “booming” when we nervously arrived to start a new home mission church in North Dakota. We were expecting the housing market to be booming, making finding a house difficult. Thankfully we were able to sign a lease and begin renting a 100-year-old home. The landlord was nice enough to let us paint the place while we waited for our furniture and clothes to finally arrive. There’s plenty to explore. . . new businesses are springing up everywhere, Dickinson is revitalizing its downtown, young families are moving into the peaceful neighborhoods, and church bells ring around town on Sunday morning. The harvest is plentiful in this booming town in the middle of the wide-open grasslands of North Dakota!

All of that booming was expected. The unexpected booms came after the moving truck arrived. Our furniture and clothes had been in the house for only five days when a huge thunderstorm sprang up. The lightning, flashing in the nighttime prairie sky, is truly a sight to behold. We were admiring those magnificent flashes when suddenly the whole window turned white, immediately followed by the loudest boom we had ever heard. A boom so loud that it almost sent my 8-month pregnant wife into labor. We both stood there, stunned as the house went dark. Looking out the back window and seeing the tree shrapnel strewn about our yard, it became apparent that the tree in our backyard had been struck by lightning. Thankfully the power came back on, but the lightning strike had damaged many things. The following two weeks were filled with daily visits by various repairmen, our landlord, tree trimmers, family, and friends. The house was booming with people, and making so many new connections was wonderful. God blessed us with some valuable conversations and connections. Through that lightning strike, some repairmen became mission prospects.

We were preparing the house to host many people after my installation, and several things still needed to be fixed. We were able to host the installation service at the local Veterans Pavilion, which was booming with people. Over 90 people from other WELS congregations came out to show support for the new mission in Dickinson. God blessed us with overwhelming encouragement from the many people who came to the installation. We were able to host the pastors and their families at our house afterward, even with the air conditioner being on the fritz from the lightning strike. After the sewer backed up twice and flooded our basement, everything in the house seemed to have settled down from the booming events of the past month. We were able to start visiting the homes of all the members of the core group. Driving back from one of those visits, another lightning storm sprung up in the beautiful badlands of North Dakota. Then suddenly, another lightning strike hit the ground within 10 feet of our car. Dirt flew up everywhere, and the boom sounded like a gunshot. We were told that Dickinson was booming, but this was not what we expected. All my wife and I could do was laugh. We laughed about it and all that had happened to us since we arrived the rest of the car ride home.

Suddenly the idea of starting a new mission in the booming town of Dickinson, N.D., seemed less scary. We knew we had God on our side, who could work out the expected and the unexpected booms for our good. We have a God who has the power to calm any storm, and that is the God that Amazing Grace Lutheran Church gets to share with the people of Dickinson, N.D. God be praised!

Written by Rev. Joel Prange, home missionary at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Dickinson, N.D.

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Family ties

Santo Tomás Lutheran Church is a congregation that serves the Hispanic community in Phoenix, Ariz. It is “family ties” that have brought many people to walk through the doors of our church. This personal invitation from one family member to another to hear the good news that Jesus is their Savior continues to be an integral part of our ministry. “La familia es todo” (Family is everything), was the quote I remember one of our church members sharing with me. What this member was really stating was how important those ties are; as witnessed in the case of Irma and her relatives.

It was 2011 when I first met German (Hehr-mahn) and his family. It was German’s sister, Irma, who introduced them to me. At the time, he and his wife Dallana (Dah-yah-nuh) had three young girls who were not baptized. They were not church going people even though they both grew up in Catholic families. Irma, a member of our church, invited them to accompany her one Sunday so they could hear and understand better what we preach and teach. At first, they did not show much interest as the weeks and months went by. I decided to call them again to see how they were doing. They told me they wanted to baptize their three young daughters. We met at church along with the padrinos (godparents) to discuss how God blesses us through his wonderful sacrament of baptism. On December 24 of that same year, during a special afternoon service, we baptized their three daughters.

German and his family continued to visit our church as their Christian family ties began to grow with fellow believers from Santo Tomás. In 2021 we decided to restart our new youth Catechism classes. I visited German and Dallana to invite them to enroll their daughters in class; they accepted. German also extended an invitation to his sister Mariela to encourage her and daughter to also begin classes. For over a year, Mariela, German and Dallana sat together learning about God’s love while at the same time their children were taking Catechism classes and learning about their Savior.

This journey of faith for German, Dallana and Mariela, all members of the same family, began with a simple invitation from a relative. It was Irma who understood their spiritual need, and more importantly, that family ties have deeper meaning when it involves God’s grace offered freely through faith in Jesus their Savior.

On August 28, 2022, German, Dallana and Mariela were received as communicant members of Santo Tomás. God is good! In October of this year, their four children will also be confirmed along with nine other students from the Catechism class of 2022.

Irma never expected that her personal invitation to her brother German and his family ten years ago would lead to seven relatives being brought into Santo Tomás’ family to grow with fellow brothers and sisters in their saving faith. In the end it really comes down to the fact that by God’s grace, “La familia en Cristo es todo,” (the family in Christ is everything).

Written by Rev. Tom Zimdars, home missionary at Santo Tomás Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Ariz.

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His plans are best

This past May I graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and was assigned to a mission restart at Calvary in Canyon Country, Calif. That was a surprise! I thought for sure I was staying in the Midwest. I assumed that I was the only student in my class who indicated that cold weather and snow don’t bother me at all. I figured I would be assigned accordingly. But the Lord knows best, and his plans were better.

I received a call to a place that is far removed from snow and freezing temperatures, and it is wonderful! I made the 2,000-mile trek from my home in Wisconsin to California, where I fell in love with my new home almost as soon as I moved in. The beauty of southern California is vast, and there is endless opportunity to enjoy God’s creation here.

Even better though, are the people at Calvary, the greater Santa Clarita area, and California in general. In my two months at Calvary, I have met numerous people who want to help and offer their advice and guidance as I make the transition from the Midwest to the Southwest. I have found people at Calvary and in Canyon Country who are truly warm, welcoming, and caring. Canyon Country already feels like home!

It has been somewhat challenging for me, a brand-new pastor, to navigate church life, Home Missions, and my district mission board. I’d be lying if I told you I’ve got this all down. But God blesses his workers and puts many individuals in their lives to offer assistance. Members of our core group at Calvary are always asking what they might do to help or who they can contact to find answers. The district mission board, mission counselors, Home Missions office, and pastors in my district have also proven to be a valuable resource to orient me to mission work and navigate various boards in our synod. These people are truly blessings from God and have helped me adapt to my new setting.

Our efforts at Calvary these last few months have been blessed and made to prosper by our God. Our core group continues to meet around God’s Word and Sacraments so that we might be strengthened and encouraged for our work in Christ’s Kingdom. We continue to grow in our faith, plan for our future, and are even finding opportunities to share the love of Jesus with our friends, neighbors, and community. God be praised for his many blessings the last few months!

Written by Rev. Barton Cox, home missionary at Calvary Lutheran Church in Canyon County, Calif.

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Backpacks and Burgers in Kalispell, Montana

July 23, 2022. 10:00 a.m. The grill is heating up. Everything is ready to go for Backpacks and Burgers in Kalispell, Mont. People start walking past our pavilion in the park, and the core group kicks into gear. “Good morning! We’re North Valley Lutheran Church, and we’re here trying to show some love for our community. We’ve got backpacks. We’ve got burgers. We have face painting and crafts. Come on in and take a look around!” We’ve come a long way to get to this pavilion in the park.

Our work in northwestern Montana really began over ten years ago. A group of WELS members who had moved to Kalispell reached out to the pastor at Living Savior in Missoula. Missoula is 100 miles away from Kalispell, but out here in Montana, that’s the closest WELS church they could find. From that point on, the pastor from Missoula would drive up once a month to lead a worship service with Holy Communion.

Kalispell has changed a lot in the last ten years. The secret of Montana’s natural beauty has gotten out, and people are moving in. The latest United States census identified Kalispell as the fastest growing “micropolitan” area in the country. The city council is constantly approving new housing developments. Old hotels are being torn down and replaced with apartment complexes. In all of this, God has given us an opportunity!

Over the last couple years, the core group has intensified its efforts. The group meets for weekly worship in a hotel conference room. They also meet online for midweek Bible Study. I drive up two Sundays a month with one overnight stay so that I can spend Monday connecting with prospects. There have been challenges. When the next closest WELS church is 100 miles away, it can feel isolating. But God’s blessing has been immense. Last summer, we welcomed volunteers from four different congregations across the state of Montana for a weekend of canvassing. This summer, a dozen teens came from the Twin Cities to help advertise for Backpacks and Burgers. And it was an absolute joy to see the results that God brought about!

At our pavilion in the park, we gave away 40 backpacks and 80 burgers. We had a chance to welcome all kinds of different people. Fifteen new families expressed interest in learning more about our church. These families are not only from Kalispell, but also from nearby Whitefish and Columbia Falls. Some are new residents to Montana. Others have been here their whole lives, but have never been connected to a church. Still others have been attending big mega-churches, but are looking for a place where they won’t be overlooked – a place where they will be served with God’s Word. What a privilege we have to introduce these people to their Savior!

Way out here in Montana, we are so thankful for the prayers and the support of our brothers and sisters across the country. We are thankful for our partnership in the gospel. As our synod begins its ambitious goal of 100 Missions in 10 Years, we are praying that Kalispell, Mont., will be part of it. Next time you’re planning a vacation to Glacier National Park, make sure you keep Sunday afternoon open. We’ll be so happy to see you.

Written by Rev. Noah Willitz, pastor at Living Savior in Missoula, Mont.

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WELS Missions – 2022 Impact Report

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. . .

Matthew 28:19

God is blessing the efforts of WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions in amazing ways! Your prayers and gifts are making a difference in communities across the U.S. and around the world; we are grateful for your generosity.

Here are some ways your gifts are being used to share the good news of the gospel.

HOME MISSIONS

  • Five new churches were approved in Windsor, Colo.; Wichita, Kans.; Canton, Ga.; Conroe, Tex; and Lodi, Wis. Home Missions also approved enhancements or unsubsidized mission status at seven other locations. Learn more at wels.net/newstart.
  • Campus Ministry provides over 30 campus ministries with financial support and assists hundreds of other congregations in their campus ministry outreach.
  • Plans and preparations are being made to plant 100 new home mission churches and enhance 75 existing ministries from 2023-2033. Learn more at wels.net/100in10.

WORLD MISSIONS

  • Two missionaries are beginning ministry in London this year.
  • Over 500 worldwide gospel ministers are proclaiming the Good News, and more than 90 additional men have graduated from worker training programs this year alone.
  • Building of the theological education center in Vietnam has begun.
  • Plans are being made to welcome a synod in Uganda and an international synod in Latin America into WELS fellowship at the 2023 Synod Convention.
  • Nine new missionary positions have been approved.

JOINT MISSIONS

  • The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) is working with One Teams around the world and providing theological training to immigrants in the U.S. for service to their people groups.
  • Mission Journeys provides opportunities for volunteer trips to WELS mission fields at home and abroad.

Praise God for his mercy and grace and thank YOU for your prayers and support! There is always more work to do, and we are grateful for your continued partnership. Pray for God’s blessing on his Church. Share God’s grace and forgiveness with others you meet. Ask God to give us strength to serve others with love.

Learn more at wels.net/missions and like us on Facebook at fb.com/WELSMissions

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Impactful relationships

Depending on how you count, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs make up about 10-20% of the population of the Greater Toronto area. That’s almost two million people! That percentage is even higher in Mississauga, which has a particularly high population of Muslims. As you can imagine, they are a very difficult population to reach with the good news of Jesus. They don’t respond to typical evangelism programs, law/gospel presentations, etc. They are conditioned to be polite but skeptical of Christians, expecting them to “just try to convert them.”

That is because, much like many Christians in the West, our affluent and entertainment-saturated culture has caused many austere believers in Islam or Hinduism to soften their beliefs into simply “cultural” faith. That means they don’t believe much of what their religions teach, but they also don’t want to convert to Christianity because to them Christianity is a culture, not a religion. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean believing in Jesus as much as it means to stop being Saudi, Iranian, Pakistani, Indian, etc., and become Western/Canadian. Therefore, we cannot bring them to Jesus with simple presentations of the gospel. They see that as close to racism against their culture. Our only chance is long-term relationship investment.

That’s what is happening with Priyanka. Her name is changed, and she isn’t pictured to hide her identity. She is an immigrant from Bangladesh whose husband cheated on her, left her, but because of their culture and religious background, still “owns” her in a sense. Her fear of him is why her identity is hidden. And yet, despite all that, her culture makes it very hard for her to accept that Christianity may have something to offer her.

My wife has been regularly meeting her to take her to the doctor, have her over to make Biryani (a Bangladeshi staple) together, take her grocery shopping, or just keep her company. She is naturally resistant to Christianity, but after almost two years of meeting with her, she agreed to receive a Bible in Bangla, her native tongue, and has come to our house once for a Bible study. She is not a Christian yet, but this is the kind of long-term work that allows people from these cultures and religions to even listen to the gospel.

Missionary Caleb Schultz and his wife Johannah

But this is not limited to people of Middle Eastern or South Asian background. This is becoming more and more true of the non-immigrant population as well. Those who grew up in a Christian culture are also increasingly seeing the church as a social/culture club where people try to get you to behave differently. This has moved our congregation to a model of relationally expensive outreach. Investing in people over time, not to convert them, but just because Jesus loves them. That means expecting that it will take years in some cases for people to know Jesus. But in the end, those people will know a Jesus who didn’t just give them a set of beliefs or culture, but brought them into his life through his body, the Church.

You can do this too. Many white people are intimidated to engage immigrant populations (I was too!), but they really ought not to be. Invite them over for dinner. Ask them about their culture or homeland. Be the type of person they want to call first when something goes wrong in their life, because inevitably something will, and you will have an answer (Jesus!) that is far better than any other.

Pray for this woman and us as we try to reach the many people groups of our city.

Written by Rev. Caleb Schultz, home missionary at, Cross of Life, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

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The story of open and closed doors

The circumstances change, but the gospel will not be chained. Join us in praising God for open doors. Join us in pleading for an open door for his message of salvation to our English speaking community, our Hmong brothers and sisters, and our new Hispanic mission.

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

Colossians 4:3

An open door for the message of Christ . . .

Was it on the hearts of the St. John German community as they built their first church in 1871? Maybe that is why they built a church that seated 1800 people. We can imagine the prayers of desperation when their church building was condemned in 1961, when they had to decide how to move forward as a congregation on the corner of Hope and Margaret.

Did they hold their children close and pray when they opened a Lutheran Elementary School in which those children would bask in the beauty of the gospel? When a partnership was formed with Immanuel Hmong, were prayers of joy offered? Prayers for more open doors? And when the Hmong community mourned the loss of its pastor, there must have been prayers about the door.

God provided a new pastor from within the group, and there were prayers of thanksgiving about the door. Did they throw themselves on trust and pray that a door would open for the message when they had to close their school doors in 2017? When they entered into a three year vacancy, did they pray for open doors?

Through three vacancy pastors they praised God for holding open those doors. Covid literally closed the doors. Covid figuratively closed doors. Did they pray for the doors to reopen?

A humble servant came asking for a corner in which to meet with Spanish-speaking families she met through New Life Pregnancy Center. She needed a couple of classrooms where she could proclaim the mystery of Christ. Did they pray for open doors even as they unlocked the empty school’s doors?

The community center next-door asked to rent rooms through which members of the surrounding community would walk. They wanted to help with physical and emotional needs. They needed keys to the door. And St. John prayed that doors would open for the gospel.

A community garden is planted behind the church. A place to connect with the neighborhood without the need of a door. And another open door. Standing before the next open door and . . . a new awareness of how the community is changing.

A visit from our synod’s Hispanic Outreach Consultant, Rev. Tim Flunker. Demographics and interviews. Encouragement from the District President. A new ministry plan. An application for support from WELS Home Missions. A call list of bilingual pastors. Approval. A six week call deliberation. A road trip across the country. And a new pastor behind those parsonage doors. A hot installation afternoon. A tiny breeze through the open church doors. The fervent prayer for more open doors. A call to you, brothers and sisters in Christ. A plea to you, partners in the Lord’s vineyard. We ask of you, who already stand inside the Church . . .

Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

Actually, since Christ has opened the door for bold prayers, ask that God would open not doors but floodgates; that many may find peace and salvation through the mystery of Christ as they walk through our doors on the corner of Margaret and Hope.

Written by Jennifer Otto, wife of Rev. Timothy Otto who recently was installed as bi-lingual pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn.

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NEW Long-Term Volunteer Opportunities

Jesus gave the Great Commission to the Church saying, “go and make disciples of all nations.” Christians throughout the millennia chose different ways and methods to carry out our Savior’s command. Starting in Acts, churches saw the need to send missionaries to reach people with the gospel. In WELS, members partnered together to start churches throughout the United States and to send missionaries to many parts of the globe. WELS Home Missions, seeing the great need for the gospel, continues to plant new churches in hopes of the Holy Spirit reaching more souls for God’s Kingdom.

WELS Mission Journeys, under the leadership of WELS Home Missions, is starting a pilot program to give more individuals the opportunity to share their faith through a long-term volunteer opportunity. Mission Journeys wants to place mission-oriented individuals in strategic locations to assist in forming and developing quality core groups, the building blocks in starting new home missions. A core group is the local group that does the work of meeting, praying, outreach, planning, and evangelism.

We’re looking for individuals that love Jesus and can communicate that love with other people. They’ll need patience, flexibility, and a spirit of adventure. This would be a tent ministry, where the individual would have a job outside of the ministry to support themselves. This could include remote work, a local job, or some combination. Mission Journeys, as a part of this pilot project, will work with the individual for possible financial assistance in moving or other expenses.

Current opportunities include:

  • Bentonville, Arkansas: Bentonville is the home of Walmart, a corporation investing heavily in the community to provide a higher quality of life. The economy is booming for jobs in all job markets. The core group consists of four families.
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho: Idaho Falls is located on the western side of Teton National Park. Idaho Falls is a fast-growing area and a hub for the surrounding area. The core group consists of three families.

WELS Home Missions provides each location with a proven plan on starting. Each location has a home mission counselor to assist in planning and coordinating ministry ideas. The core groups also worship with a pastor twice a month. This pilot program is designed to give an individual with a heart for missions the opportunity to work on the ground floor of a mission start.

For additional information, please contact Mission Journeys Coordinator, Shannon Bohme, at shannon.bohme@wels.net or 651-324-4218.

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Just one time and then?

Chreaster connections? Maybe a little background is needed. They called them, “Chreasters,” in the congregation I had served in Wisconsin. Maybe we know them as “C-E Christians.” Not unique to WELS, this is common across Christian denominations. People who come to worship services maybe only on the big holy days of Christmas and Easter. We throw around words like Chreaster as an easy label for someone. (Likely with a dose of sinful, self-righteous derision). When we get to know people and their stories – where they came from, where they are at – these labels lose those negative connotations. To be clear, we always want people in the Word of God and in worship as often as possible. But there is also reason to rejoice when a face we haven’t seen in quite awhile is there in worship. Especially on days like Christmas or Easter. The message of what God has completely done for a world full of sinners, and therefore for me, resounds so clearly. Plus, it all starts somewhere. Why not start on a day when we know people will hear the good news of forgiveness and life in a way it cannot be missed?

So, at Good News in Lehi, Utah, we have developed our own Chreaster connections. Much of it happened through the simple ministry of a mission congregation. Blessed with a faithful start group from Prince of Peace Lutheran in Salt Lake City, we got to know one another through Bible study together. We worked to get to know our community. We looked to find ways we could connect with people so we could connect them with the gospel, the Good News. One of the most basic ways is one of our better ways. Invite people to join us in a worship service.

This past Easter we continued to work to find ways to connect with the community. Easter postcards were sent to thousands of homes. Social media and sidewalk signs were set up to let people know about our Easter service. And perhaps most importantly, our members took invitations and gave them to the people in their lives. And people brought people. Friends, neighbors, and family members we only see a few times a year were there.

It was a beautiful day. Having been pushed by the pandemic of last year to try outdoor worship, we did it by choice this year. Members arranged a meal. Decorations were done. A great day. Maybe, just this one time, maybe not again until Christmas, but the Word of God is powerful.

Written by Daniel Heiderich, home missionary at Good News Lutheran Church in Lehi, Utah.

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It’s good to be back with changes!

The COVID-19 pandemic hit us six months into our existence as a mission and as we all experienced, plans came to a halt. We pivoted as many churches did, finding new and different ways to do ministry and outreach that we continue to utilize. However, we looked forward to the day when some of our neighborhood outreach plans could resume. And guess what . . . they’re back!

During the year before we began worship, we actively reached into our target area through neighborhood festivals and events. Two of the neighborhoods in our target area host several events during the year, like Fall Festival, Easter Egg Hunt, and Fourth of July bike parade, to name a few. The events are organized and run by community directors. We can have a booth there for a small fee or by sponsoring an aspect of the festival. The results were fantastic during our first year as we were able to have dozens of conversations about our mission and our Savior, as well as build name recognition for our ministry.

Neighborhood festivals in our area started coming back mid-2021 and this last Easter we were able to participate in two Easter events on back-to-back weekends and the results were amazing. Hundreds of people turned out for these events. We provided small pots, dirt, and flowers for children to assemble, as well as stickers to decorate the pots. We handed out hundreds of invites to Easter Sunday worship and had several people join us on Easter as a result. Several families signed up for our Monday morning e-devotion and wanted more information on the church. It was great to be back at these events and the people were thankful we provided this blessing to their community. This year, though, there was a big change from our pre-pandemic outreach efforts at these festivals. Our congregation’s participants have changed!

Between the two Easter events this year, we had over 20 of our members participating. Fourteen of those were new members since our first year of existence! Our new members stepped up with a lot of excitement and eagerness to be involved in outreach. They were active in the planning in the lead up to the event. They engaged our neighbors and told them about our ministry. They arrived early to help setup and stayed late to tear down. They took ownership of outreach to advance the gospel.

As a mission pastor, you pray the Lord would bring in more souls to the kingdom and if possible, have them be part of your congregation, and if he is so gracious, that they become active partners in the ministry. The Lord has answered those prayers in a big, encouraging way. Our launch team has commented several times, “Pastor, we aren’t in the majority anymore!” And that’s a great blessing.

It’s great to be back to more in-person events . . . with some great changes!

Written by Jeremy Belter, home missionary at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Candelas, Colo.

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A new campus ministry in Cleveland

“I have this group of about ten college students coming to church.” That’s how the conversation started. Further communication turned into an opportunity for WELS Campus Ministry Mission Counselor Dan Lindner to meet in downtown Cleveland with a group of college students along with Pastor Paul Learman and his wife Rachel from Our Savior Lutheran Church in Strongsville, Ohio.

Each ministry to college students is unique. The work in the Cleveland area is no different. There is no immediate college or university in Strongsville, but the Greater Cleveland/Akron area is host to many schools that offer specialized studies in healthcare, science/technology, and music. There are also many young adults coming to Cleveland to work internships as part of their education. Since there are only two WELS churches in the Cleveland area, the students travel a distance to attend church.

“Our congregation was so impressed that these college kids are getting up Sunday morning on their own to drive 30+ minutes to attend worship and Bible study. We wanted to make them feel welcome while away from home and support them in whatever way we could,” says Pastor Learman. The students have also stepped into various ways of serving including using their musical talents in worship.

The welcoming environment at Our Savior also meant the congregation takes steps to connect with the college students and help them connect with each other. Invites are extended to go out to eat after church or come over to pastor’s or member’s homes for dinner. Discussions over Saturday morning coffee have offered the chance to mentor students pursuing similar careers as church members. The congregation has also provided exam week care packages and gas gift cards. Rides are provided for those without a car.

Their hope is that they can do even more. At the meeting in Cleveland the students shared ideas that could help the church serve even more students. Plans are underway to start offering a college Bible study and schedule Saturday outings together such as hikes in the local national park. The students also shared some information on ways our WELS Campus Ministry Committee may be able to help to either bolster existing work or start something new in other areas across North America. We value these young adults and their initiative.

The college years are a key time for young men and women to receive needed encouragement to remain faithful to their Savior. The hope is that if they stay close to home, they’ll continue to be active at their congregations. For those that join the military, we hope that they connect with our WELS Military Services Committee. For those that go farther away to college, we want to be able to connect them with the local WELS campus ministry/contact pastor. This third situation is where our WELS Campus Ministry Committee is here to help.

Some of the key ingredients we ask the Lord to provide and bless: 1) A mixture of the student’s own initiative, paired with continued encouragement from their parents, home congregations, and Lutheran high school; and 2) a hospitable welcome by the congregation with the intent to be a home away from home, by fellow college students attending school in the same area, and by the called workers serving that location. Congregations and parents are strongly encouraged to help a local church and campus ministry connect with their students away from home.

We thank our Lord for congregations like Our Savior Lutheran Church that are excited to welcome collegiates into their church family. Our hope is that there will be more situations just like it.

Learn more and sign up with campus ministry at wels.net/campusministry.

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Sharing light . . . and s’mores

Zion had been thinking about starting a new site for gospel ministry for about a decade. Lord willing, in the summer of 2022 we will be starting worship in the city of Lodi, about 13 minutes away from our country church in the Arlington/Leeds, Wis. area. It has been quite a journey! Jesus says, “Let your light shine in people’s presence, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). In 2021, an opportunity came along to do just that.

In 2021, we started a Lodi Ministry Team focusing on ways to be involved in the community. For the last few years, we had a float in their Christmas Lights Parade on the second Saturday in December. The idea came up to have a community s’mores party after the Christmas Lights Parade. There was a park nearby and if we could get a few fire pits and a crew of people to help, we might be able to pull it off. We asked the city officials if we would be able to do this and a problem arose. There was no one to organize and lead the Christmas Lights Parade this year. If a group didn’t get a permit within 24 hours, then it wouldn’t be happening. The chairman of our committee sent out an email, and we decided to do it. We put $25 toward the permit, and our Lodi Ministry Team of about 20 went to work. Our congregation helped out in so many ways. We blanketed the community with fliers about the event and asked people in the community to sign up and build a float to have it in the parade. Information about the event made it into the local paper a couple of times talking about “Zion Lutheran Church of Lodi,” and we didn’t even have a worship site there yet! The Facebook event reached 31,115 people. There were 1,226 responses. Twelve floats were in the parade, including ours. Over 500 people from Lodi lined the streets for the parade. Over 200 people stayed afterwards to hear the Lodi High School Chamber Choir sing carols and gather around one of our three fire pits to make s’mores with us. It was a great honor to not only be a part of it, but to plan it and make sure this community event continued for Lodi.

During the parade we handed out small bags to the spectators. Inside were two marshmallows, a fun-sized Hershey’s bar, and two graham crackers to make s’mores at the park after the parade. Also included in each bag was a sticker that said, “Need S’more Jesus?” and had our website listed. At the park we had a few hundred sticks for making s’mores on hand and a table with Zion members handing out wipes for people who wanted clean hands or another s’more.

This community need for a parade organizer was a gift from God. It allowed us to share not just pretty Christmas lights but Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. We thank God for the opportunity.

On Christmas Eve of 2021, we signed the lease to hold worship in Lodi in 2022.

Written by Rev. Scott Schwertfeger, home missionary at Zion Lutheran Church, Lodi, Wis.

Lodi was recently approved as an unsubsidized home mission at the spring Board for Home Missions meeting. Learn more at wels.net/newstarts.

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What’s a Missionary? You are a Missionary!

Picture Philip being called by God and told to go visit the Ethiopian Eunuch in a chariot in the middle of the desert. God basically teleports Philip to the scene and uses Philip to witness Jesus to the Eunuch by starting with the scroll of Isaiah that the Eunuch did not understand.

Starting a new mission church has many similarities to this account as recorded in the book of Acts 8:26-40. God didn’t tell Philip how to witness. He just says, “Go” and where to go. That is in essence what the call to a missionary is. A missionary is called by God to “Go” and is sent to a place that has been researched and approved as a great opportunity for mission work. This missionary then is to reach the people in that setting with the great news of Jesus applying God’s Word and using the resources that are right in front of them to reach the people where they are at in life.

We are excited to be a part of that mission work at The Shore Lutheran Church in Parrish, Fla. We came up with that name because we are near the shore of the Gulf Coast, but also just on the north shore of the Manatee River. It is at the shore where many wonderful events take place in the Bible. Events that reveal the powerful mission work and setting that God has before us. Jesus went to where people were at, the shore. Fishermen gathered there along with many other people as Jesus shared with them that he came to save them. Jesus called many of his disciples right there on the shore. It was on the shore where Jesus fed the disciples with a miraculous meal and served them. It is on the shore where God’s people witnessed his power to save them as the Red Sea parted for them to walk through on dry ground, but then also on the other shore to watch the water crash down and save them from the pursuing Egyptian army. One of the infant stages of a mission is to choose a name that will resonate with your mission field. We pray that our name, The Shore, will inspire in us to reach out to the people where they are at, but also build a wonderful safe place for all people to gather to praise the power of God and be calmed from the storms of life by their Savior.

It is our prayer at The Shore that we all hear God’s call for us all to be his missionaries. That is exactly what we are. God places us in all different areas of work, life circumstances, neighborhoods, everywhere, all of these places so that we may witness Jesus right then and there to this so quickly dying world. We have a living Savior which means we too will live. May we all join in sharing Jesus so that many others will live forever in heaven too.

Written by Rev. Jeremy Cares, home missionary at The Shore Lutheran Church in Parrish, Fla.

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Mission mysteries

The wick was missing. Five or six weeks in a row. A member would light one of two oil candles on our cafeteria table altar and then discover . . . the other had no wick. Well, it had one, but it had gotten pulled down into the oil below.

If pushing a frayed, charred, oily string back up through a pinhole in front of church two minutes before worship sounds like an easy job, several members of Citrus Grove will assure you – it is not! Our go-to fix-it guy went to his truck for a special tool, and without complaining, operated on the wick until he had it reassembled. Five or six weeks in a row. Why did this keep happening? One time a pastor who shall remain unnamed knocked it over. No mystery there! But all those other times . . .  We wondered if the candle box got bumped during the week as it sat in the school’s storage room. Finally, one Saturday while converting the cafeteria into a sanctuary, a leader of the congregation noticed another leader had set the candles on the altar and was unscrewing the tops to check the oil level. “Stop!” I heard him shout. But it was too late: The wick had pulled through again. But mystery solved! It wasn’t sabotage or carelessness. It was a Christian serving as well as he knew how. It was one of those tiny mission mix-ups best solved by a minute of training with a laugh and a smile.

Your second mission mystery for today is more serious, because it involves coffee. One weekend it was . . . gasp . . . cold. The member who serves as our barista was flustered and apologetic. She followed our regular procedure, but it never heated up. Of course the pastor had just told everyone to grab a cup of coffee and greet each other. Of course there were guests in attendance. And the coffee was cold. The brain trust of faithful coffee drinkers gathered around the machine. “It’s either the outlet, the extension cord, or the machine,” one said. Another said, “No way it’s the cord or the outlet. It’s definitely the machine.” By the next Sunday we had a shiny new machine, which worked flawlessly. Everyone was happy, because they had their coffee! But the following week, the mystery thickened. Our brand new commercial brewer got warm, but definitely not hot. A wise observer noticed a new light on the extension cord. “It looks like between the coffee maker and the hot water boiler, you’re blowing a fuse. Get a new cord. Or use two outlets.” We had already tossed the trusty old machine in the trash, but it served a final purpose: The cold coffee mystery was solved. Another one of those mission mix-ups, handled with a laugh and a smile by some very forgiving souls.

One thing is for sure: More mysteries will pop up as we pack and unpack equipment, rearrange cafeteria tables, and host outreach events in rented spaces. Mix-ups will be traced back to well-meaning Christians doing their best to serve Jesus and his people. Beyond a minute of training, the best reaction is to laugh and smile and thank Jesus for the brothers and sisters working alongside us in his harvest field.

Written by Rev. Phil Hunter, home missionary at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

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One day makes an eternal difference

Although our first encounter took place over six months ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. Last year was The Vine’s first time hosting a booth at Joplin, Mo.’s, downtown block party called Third Thursday. This once-a-month event gets crowds in the thousands, but God’s watchful eye coordinated the events of that day so that two of his children in particular would come in contact with us. Throughout the event we greeted attendees and offered Vine-branded gear along with plants, snacks, and water bottles to anyone that would take them. The entire day was constant communication from one person to the next.

I had just got done speaking with a younger couple when I turned around and saw them. Coming towards me was an elderly couple riding their scooters, slowly making their way down the road observing vendors as they went. They were accompanied by their rescued yellow lab showing them around with a slobbery smile at their side. As they approached our booth I asked them, “May I interest either of you in a free plant, coffee mug, or cupcake?” Their shock made me realize they probably thought I was trying to convince them to buy something. I believe after some convincing they took a free plant and a mug. Before they left, they asked who we were and where we were located. I let them know that we were a new Lutheran mission church in town that had been worshiping for about six months right on Main Street.

Two of my favorite things in life are evangelism and dogs, so it was easy for me to talk about our beliefs with them all while petting their pup. As I was listening to their story, they let me know that they were Christians that had been trying to find a church home for quite some time. After some wonderful discussion, they let me know that they would check us out on Sunday. If I’m being honest, I didn’t think much of it. Over the course of a Third Thursday, you might converse with a couple hundred people and dozens of them say, “See you Sunday” with a smile. But then I would show up for worship and see that was not the case. That Sunday came, and as I was talking to a visitor before worship started one of our members tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Pastor, someone is here to see you.” I looked to the door and saw them. Harry was in his wheel chair and Mary was standing right next to him with a big smile on her face. I quickly greeted them and let them know how happy I was to have them join us for worship. After the service they said that they very much enjoyed it and would see us again.

Fast forward about a month later and they had not missed a service. At the end of every service, I offer an open invite to anyone interested in going through a Bible Basics course with me. These classes teach the fundamental teachings of the Scriptures and upon completion allow one to become a member of our church if they desire. As I was greeting people after the service that day, Harry let me know that the two of them were interested in membership. The very next day we started class at their house. Although their homemade fajitas, apple cobbler, and chocolate chip cookies were incredibly delicious, the greatest joy for all of us was diving into the Word and hearing about our wonderful Savior. The two enjoyed asking questions they had held in before and finding many answers in the Word. After completing the course, the two gladly joined our membership right before Christmas. Their company is truly a blessing to everyone around them.

We might ask ourselves, “What can be accomplished in one day?” Well, we as blood-bought souls and former wretches that are now redeemed know firsthand that the Lord can do a great deal in 24 hours. On a cross at Calvary, the Lamb of God died to pay for the sins of the world. God reconciled the entire world to himself, not counting our sins against us but against his Son. On that one day we were saved. On that day, heaven was won for all of the Lord’s people. The Lord blesses our days in light of that one great day. In one day, life for Harry and Mary completely changed. In one day at a booth in Joplin they met brothers and sisters in Christ that wanted to welcome them in as family; that wanted to rejoice with them, mourn with them, and worship the one true God with them.

As Harry put it when he commented on our Facebook page: “It is so good to find a church home after so many years. I no longer feel as if I’m skating on thin ice . . . thank you so much!” The Lord has and will continue to do so much each day. Every one of us is proof of that.

Written by Pastor Jordan Bence, home missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Joplin, Missouri.

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Mission exploration in an unlikely place

When you think of places that are ripe for the harvest and logical locations to begin mission exploration, you probably start thinking big cities and highly populated suburban areas, right? It seems like a natural place to start. I mean, there are lots of people in those areas to connect to God’s Word and a seemingly endless potential of opportunities to do so . . .

But what about a place like the U.P. (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan)? It’s a huge area of land—larger than a lot of states, in fact. But yet the total population is less than 300,000. And even the largest city—Marquette—is only a little over 20,000.

It might seem illogical to do mission exploration in such a sparsely populated part of the country—a land where wild animals and trees far outnumber people! But yet the people who do live here are equally loved by God and just as desperately in need of salvation as people in the big cities. And in many ways, it’s actually easier to establish yourself and connect with people in towns of 3,000-5,000, as opposed even to suburbs of, say, 30,000-50,000.

This past October, I had the privilege of leading Pastors Ben Enstad and Wayne Uhlhorn on a little tour of several of the “larger” towns in the U.P. (and I use that word “larger” very loosely)—and in doing so, they, too, agreed that the U.P. certainly is a mission field worth exploring. We already have small congregations in a number of the larger towns—so in those places, we already have the benefit of some established connections. But the problem is that it’s also been hard to gain any sort of traction in those communities—because, due to financial limitations, the majority of those established congregations have to share one pastor between two or even three parishes.

Two examples: Iron River and Marquette. Iron River—the hometown of recent Olympic gold-medalist snowboarder, Nick Baumgartner—is a town of about 3,000 people, with a good percentage of those being unchurched. But yet the congregation that we currently have there barely has a presence, because the pastor lives 45 minutes away and is asked to spend his time also tending to two other parishes. Likewise, Marquette—which again is by far the largest “metropolitan” area in the U.P.—has a small, but long-established WELS congregation in the area, dating back to the mid 1800s. But yet the existing congregation is 10 miles east of town where hardly anyone lives; and furthermore, the pastor is pulled further in the opposite direction by the fact that he also serves another congregation 45 minutes southeast of his rural Marquette congregation.

So like I say, there’s certainly potential to be tapped. But a lack of financial resources, and therefore a lack of sufficient pastoral presence, has really been a hindrance to doing any sort of major outreach in recent years.

And this is where WELS Home Missions can come in and offer a much needed hand. Working together in collaboration with our already established congregations in Iron River and/or Marquette, Home Missions has the ability to provide financial resources that currently aren’t available to those congregations; and those extra financial resources could enable them to call an additional pastor. Such a pastor could focus his attention where that attention is needed, directing his efforts primarily toward outreach and really getting into the community. And with the blessing of our gracious Lord, I believe such work would bear much fruit—even in a place that otherwise seems rather unlikely.

I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to show Ben and Wayne the U.P., and I’m happy that they, too, saw the potential. It’s not where your mind might immediately jump to when you think about our Synod’s goal of 100 new missions and mission enhancements in the next 10 years. But God’s not limited to only being successful in big cities! And neither are those who live in small towns and remote areas any less worthy of hearing the precious, saving truth of the gospel!

Written by Stephen Lehmann, pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Iron Mountain, Mich.

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Our first church

Often mission churches start out by meeting in their pastor’s living room. That’s how The Vine, in Coeur d’Alene got started. A small number of us met for Bible study and then worship in my living room for over a year. It was cozy. It was comfortable. It was relaxing. It was our “church.”

But, after a year, our “church” was too small. The Lord had blessed us with enough people that we needed to find a new location.

Our next “church” was in a conference room at a local hotel. Again, it was a small room with a low ceiling. It required us to unload our equipment, set it all up, take it all down, and load it back into the trailer every Sunday (i.e. “church in a box”), but it served our needs well for two more years.

Then we found a store front rental unit that became our “church.” This made it possible for us keep our equipment set up from week to week. But it was still tight at times and had limited space for classrooms and extra outreach events and activities.

Certainly, we were grateful to the Lord for always giving us a place to call “church,” but we knew that we needed to look for something more permanent if we were going to grow and reach more of our community for Jesus.

So, one of our original members, Don, drove around the city on almost a daily basis looking for buildings or property that could potentially become our first “church,” but most of them were either out of our price range or out of our target area.

But Don was relentless. He never gave up. He said to me one time, “Pastor, we will find our church someday. The Lord already knows which one it is. We just need to trust him, and he will make it clear to us which one will be ours.”

A few months ago, the Lord did just that. He made it possible for us to find a church building that was owned by another church which was also looking for a new church building. Through a series of miraculous circumstances and events that only the Lord could have been behind, this church building recently became ours. We now have our first “church.” Thank you, Lord.

Even though we have our first church building which we can call “home,” we’ve always known that our identity as a “church” was not in a building; our identity was in Christ. That is the Church. A group of believers in Christ who gather together around God’s Word and Sacraments, regardless of whether they meet in a pastor’s living room, in a hotel conference room, in a store front, or in a church building.

Don never got to see our new church. He passed away just a few months beforehand. But Don got to see the “Church” triumphant in heaven with his Savior Jesus. That’s the Church that we all look forward to worshiping in someday.

Written by Pastor Kevin Schultz, home missionary at The Vine in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

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It felt like home

It had been over a year since we first invited this family to join us for one of our community events and worship. It was over a year before they came. We were thrilled when they walked through the doors to join us for worship the first time!

In a follow-up visit, the mom shared, “To be honest, we were terrified to go to a church. We were really just scared of being judged or not fitting in. But we finally decided we needed to have God in our lives and didn’t know where to turn. We remembered you guys and saw that you meet at a restaurant. We came and everyone was so welcoming. The whole service—it was just what we needed. It felt like home.”

They’re now one week away from finishing our basic instruction course and talking about membership.

As with many building projects over the last couple of years, we at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Idaho, have had our project schedules pushed back for months. However, permits are in place and most materials have been delivered or are on their way. That means we’re now seeing significant progress on our first permanent building for our multi-site mission in Nampa.

While we’ve had to wait, God has been teaching us patience. And there are some other great lessons that have come along with it. A new building will be a tremendous blessing for our church! Once we stop worshipping at the restaurant, though, and move to the new building, we’ll be in the official church building. Which is great but can still be sometimes scary for a first-time visitor. We want our new church home to still feel like home because there are many more of our neighbors who have been getting our invitations for years. They really need God in their lives, but they’re terrified to walk through the doors of a church.

So, we’re going to keep going to them. Our doors will be open, showing a comfortable place with coffee shop tables and chairs that feels like home. We’re going to be welcoming. And we’re going to keep making connections for the gospel.

It’s fun to make plans like this. Offering morning coffee to our neighbors in the apartments across the parking lot. And to the parents dropping off their kids at daycare on the other side of the parking lot. Opening our doors to college students from the university across the street as a place to study and get a hot meal. Inviting our community to find Christ-centered hope and comfort after the loss of a loved one.

So that when they come to our church, they can settle in. Settle in with Jesus and his family. So it can feel like home.

Written by Rev. Kurt Wetzel, home missionary at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Idaho.

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Working together for future results

Events like our Trunk and Treat in October can be wonderful team-building/fellowship events. Ours was clearly that. Our volunteer participation grew from a mere handful when we first launched the idea to thirty-six by the time our event was held. A positive attitude and a spirit of fun are infectious. It is always a good thing when God’s people work together – and have fun doing it! Here’s something that was truly awesome about our event: at least six of the volunteers were not members of the congregation. Two of them were folks who were invited by other members of Ascension to participate. Four were regular attenders but not yet members (we like to call them RABNYM’s). Two of our volunteers were a young couple we just received by adult confirmation/profession of faith in October. It was really good for all of them to be rubbing shoulders with our members (and visa versa) and to invest themselves in our ministry in this way. In this picture, the two women serving up free cider and donuts are Paoletta and Laura. Paoletta is currently in our Bible information class; Laura is a long-time member. We intentionally invite our RABNYM’s (Regular Attenders But Not Yet Members) to participate in our ministry where appropriate because we have found that this helps people make the personal connections and engages them in purposeful activity that matter to seekers these days.

Here’s another benefit worth sharing. Back at the beginning of 2016, Diana and Adrian were an unmarried couple who had just had a baby. After approaching a couple of non-WELS churches about baptizing their little baby and being turned down, they contacted me. We met, planned a baptism, and talked a bit about the plans they had to marry. Kaylee was baptized on April 26, 2016. In January of 2017 I joined Diana and Adrian in marriage. Within a few months, we lost touch as they went through some relocations and various other family challenges. We kept Kaylee and her family on our email list and continued to reach out to them and invite them to events. This family showed up at our Trunk and Treat.

Diana, Adrian, Kaylee, and Madelyn

Kaylee was looking for the man who had “bap-a-tiz-ed” her. It was great catching up with Diana and Adrian and my little friend Kaylee. It was even better to initiate a conversation about baptizing their new little one, Madelyn. God used this fun little seasonal event to reconnect us with a family he clearly wants us to serve.

Did I mention that we were pet-friendly? We did not advertise that, but it ended up being the case. I and a few of our volunteers brought their pooches. It’s amazing how a cute, friendly dog can generate smiles and conversations! In addition, a dinosaur made an appearance and delighted our young visitors. A few games, a bounce house, and free refreshments helped make it a fun even for families.

Events such as this are a great way to connect with the community, meet new people, get them on our campus, and plant some gospel seeds. Immediate results are not always obvious, but results always come.

Written by Rev. Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich.

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A unique outreach approach

Last Spring, a representative of American Legion Post 4 in Clinton Township reached out to me with a request. He asked if I would be willing and able to lead the post’s first ever Blessing of the Bikes. There would be no restrictions on what I could say, and this presented us with the opportunity to say it to people from around the area we might not be able to reach with the good news about Jesus in any other way.

Our Evangelism Committee came up with a novel approach to inviting attendees to visit us and learn more about Jesus: motorcycle kickstand coasters. The hard, plastic discs slide under the kickstand when parking on soft dirt or hot asphalt to prevent the kickstand from sinking into the ground. They are extremely practical, much appreciated, and used over and over again. They are bright enough to be noticed, strong enough to hold up the biggest bikes, and small enough to fit neatly into the back pocket of jeans or a jacket pocket. So for $373 we had 270 of them printed up in Harley orange and black with our logo, location and website address. We planned to hand them out to everyone we can at the event scheduled for Sunday afternoon, April 25th. Members of our Evangelism Committee were quick to volunteer to be at the event to hand them out. Thank you to Gloria, Sharon, Ken, Gary, and Jerry! There’s a great little riding group that I and another member of Team Ascension ride with, and I invited them to help hand them out, too. After all, one way to do outreach is to get some of those to whom you are reaching out involved in helping you reach out to still others. Thank you to Skoal. Big Scoops, Jackrabbit, and others! A plan was in place!

On the Sunday prior, the congregation surprised me with a celebration of my 40 years in the ministry. My presentation gift was a new black leather riding jacket. On the back – big and bold – was an orange and black disc with a cross and stylized Luther Rose in the center and the five “solas” around the edge: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. On rockers above and below that disc were banners proclaiming: “Let’s evangelize them all and let God sort it out.” The congregation has obviously bought into the sentiment of those patches: we recklessly share the gospel as much as we can, trusting that God will make of that what he alone can and will. They wanted to be sure that I would be well-attired for the Blessing of the Bikes event. That jacket is sure to spark conversations about our Savior in the years to come.

The organizer of that Bike Blessing event visited worship twice. Once he brought a friend and once he brought his wife. He has also asked me to be involved in this event again this coming Spring. Keep this in your prayers, asking the Holy Spirit to open doors for the gospel. What he does with this opportunity is up to him. We will just keep twisting the throttle on outreach.

Written by Rev. Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich.

 

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Merry Christmas from WELS Missions!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 ).

Can you hear the excited children’s voices? Can you see the expectation and joy-filled faces of God’s littlest believers as they recite these familiar words? We learn in Isaiah about God’s priceless treasure given in perfect love to his children. In a world that is often filled with pain, confusion, anger, and sadness we, as believers, can hold strong to the promises of God. He sent his Son to be perfection for us and to suffer for our sins, and we thank him for this priceless gift.

Our WELS home and world missionaries and those in their mission fields wanted to share a message of thanks for your prayers, encouragement, and financial support in this special video. It is because of God working through people like YOU that we are able to share this priceless gift in 64 different countries and 132 home mission congregations across North America. We are so grateful.

Let’s raise our voices together in song as we worship the Christ child this Christmas season and thank our Heavenly Father for fulfilling the promises of old.

Together with you, we sing with joy and gratitude celebrating our Prince of Peace!

WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions


 

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Comfort food of the gospel

Most people think of barbecue as comfort food. For me, it’s always been more. It could be that I was born in Texas, but I think it’s more than that. At my baptism, we had brisket. At my confirmation, we had brisket. At my graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, we had pork shoulder. (Student loans put brisket just outside our budget.) Barbecue has always marked spiritual milestones in my life.

There is something about the smell of barbecue that gets people’s attention. Men and women, young and old, just about everyone can appreciate a good piece of barbecue. A number of men in our congregation enjoy the process of barbecuing, too. So it was natural to include that in our fall outreach effort. Now each year, early in November, our congregation hosts a community barbecue meal. We call it “Holy Smoq” and it has become a fan favorite.

We have many of the same things that most of our sister congregations have for a fall festival Sunday—a bounce house, games, piñatas, and a photo opportunity for the whole family. Each of these is fun and brings something meaningful to the day. But the brisket is what brings people together.

A plate full of smoked meat and sides is food you can’t hurry. It creates the space for conversation. Brisket gives strangers the moments they need to become fast friends. Each year, I marvel at the conversations I have had and I get to see at our annual “Holy Smoq” event.

And that is our first goal, to give God’s people a chance to connect with our community. So many folks in our congregation get intimidated by knocking on a stranger’s door. But sitting down and enjoying someone’s company over a plate of brisket? That isn’t intimidating. It’s delicious. It’s delightful. The backyard barbecue feel gives people a chance to chew the fat together. And when Christians do that, they can’t stop themselves from letting their light shine. They can’t help themselves but introduce people to the Jesus who loves the world.

That is our real goal. Yes, we want lots of people to enjoy the slow-smoked goodness.  That’s why we make the best brisket in town and give it away. But more than that, we want to give them the food that money cannot buy. The kind of food that lasts unto eternity. Someday, we want this barbecue to mark a spiritual milestone in their life. People need more than a plate of comfort food. We want them to enjoy the comforts of the gospel—knowing that Christ has paid for their sins in full.

Many come to our “Holy Smoq” event looking for a plate full of comfort food. For me, it’s always been more. And God willing, it will continue to be, to many more souls.

Written by Pastor Lincoln Albrecht, home missionary at River of Life in Goodyear, Ariz.


 

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