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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World missionary commissioned to London

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

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

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

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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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Surviving the holidays

Postcards ordered? Check. Christmas Eve service planned? Check. Decoration team all on board? Check. Congregational Christmas party on the calendar? Check. Elf costume for the vicar tailored? Check. (Ok, maybe not that last one.)

There are many things that go into Christmas, whether it’s in a mission congregation or a well-established one. And with it, comes pressure, perhaps even more so on a young mission. Is “Prospect A” going to show up? Will the hopefully bigger crowd be the catalyst for a new starting point (Bible Information) class in January? Will the business next door to our storefront get robbed again during our Christmas services, sending 16 first-time visitors escaping to the parking lot before their information is gleaned? Will the music be ok? What about the technology? What about…?

With not as many people to shoulder the responsibilities of “doing Christmas” and the high expectations of capitalizing on Christmas, missionaries (both called and lay) may wonder, “Am I going to survive the holidays?” That’s what I was wondering. And then this registration came in,

“My husband committed suicide in July of this year and I am not wanting to celebrate the holidays this year.”

That was the note that came along with a registration for the GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays workshop that Light of the Valleys in Reno, Nev., is hosting this year. Griefshare is nothing too new to our circles. Many ministries have been blessed by this program or something similar. While GriefShare is nothing new to our congregations, grief or “surviving the holidays” is always going to be new to someone every year. Annually, someone will have to get used to an empty chair at the Christmas dinner table, one less person in the gift exchange, and traditions that will never be the same. Annually, someone will say, “I am not wanting to celebrate the holidays this year.”

But we have something to offer. Christmas isn’t just about a baby. It’s about a God who entered into our suffering. It’s about Jesus who came to save us from our sins and subsequently to save us from the effects of sin: death. More than any dressed-up elf spreading holiday cheer or carolers singing, “Fa-la-la,” we have something to help people “survive the holidays.”

That’s what Whitney found out. No, she’s not the one who had a husband commit suicide in July. But she did lose a husband in March. When her family didn’t want her to live alone, she moved 2300 miles west. Close to family, but far away from anything else she knew. But then she saw the GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays ad. With a deep breath, she was the first to open the door that Saturday morning. But it wouldn’t be the only time she would open it. After being comforted by the message and making a connection to another widow on Saturday, Whitney was once again the first one to open the door, but this time on Sunday.

I don’t know if Whitney will be back again. I pray that she will. But I know the message she heard twice in one weekend may not take away the pain or struggles, but it will help her survive the holidays. Fellow missionaries, the same goes for you. It may be a pain or a struggle to “do Christmas” in our settings, but the message we get to share isn’t just meant for the Whitneys of this world. It’s meant for you. It’s meant for me. Because of Jesus, we can survive the holidays.

Written by Joel Heckendorf, home missionary at Light of the Valleys Lutheran Church in Reno Nev.

 

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A new start in a mission reset

Farmington, New Mexico? What could possibly lead a pastor to move from a congregation where we had served for 18 years to a home mission church that’s kickstarting outreach efforts again? From the first phone call with the congregation’s chairman I kept telling my wife, Kay, “It just feels like God is saying, ‘Go!’” He made it even more clear when I preached on Isaiah 6 at the end of May: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV).

And so we went. We moved over 1,300 miles and left behind a wonderful church family with many friends and lots of ministry memories. We have joined a wonderful new family—our fellow believers at Christ the Rock. We have a new home in a beautiful parsonage. We live in a friendly community where just about everyone will stop and share a little bit about themselves.

Christ the Rock is in a unique place. Farmington is positioned in the high desert northwest corner of New Mexico. The Navajo Nation spreads out from the western edge of Farmington into Arizona. The Dinè have a long history here—it is their ancestral homeland. So on Sunday mornings, Tully, Jones, and Grandma Marian will say in their flowing Navajo, “Yá’át’ééh abíní!” “Good morning!” and I have learned to greet them in the same way.

Christ the Rock is also unique because the faces that sit in the chairs every weekend grew up in different places, even different countries! Every one of us come with different experiences, hurts, and challenges. We bond in the same way every church family bonds. We eat food together—chili seasoned with roasted Hatch green chilis; fry bread, Navajo tacos, mutton, steam corn, grits, spinach salad, spaghetti—all our favorites! We share our weekly experiences. We laugh together, offer advice, and sometimes even cry together.

The thing that binds us together is the same thing that holds every church family together—the incredible news that we have a Savior, Jesus, who loves us and will never stop loving us! Thankfully we see each other in person for Sunday morning Bible study and worship every week. In the three months we have been at Christ the Rock I have had the privilege of sharing Psalm 23 as comfort for a family grieving the loss of a sister/aunt/friend. Last Sunday I had my first baptism— baby Luminous. His birth is a ray of Jesus’ light for a family that has experienced more heartbreak and loss than seems bearable. His baptism is a special blessing that guarantees Jesus has illuminated his heart with the light of peace and forgiveness. Jesus is our connection. It doesn’t matter where we’re living or serving—whether in the heart of the Midwest or in the Four Corners region of the Southwest. Jesus gives us a great reason to “Go!” Please pray for us here at Christ the Rock as we “Go!” to the people in our community who are looking for Jesus and don’t know it yet. Pray that Jesus will be the answer for them too!

Written by Rev. Jon Brohn, home missionary at Christ the Rock in Farmington, N. M.

 

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The Word perseveres

Arriving to Iowa in July, I could tell the members of Good Shepherd had a lot on their minds. They had been through a lot the past few years.

In 2018, they had to make the difficult decision to close their school. The following year, the Lord answered their prayers for a pastor, giving them Rev. Billy King. In 2020, their mission in North Liberty finally started moving forward when it was approved to receive funding from WELS Home Missions. March threw them a curveball, like every other congregation, in the form of a virus. Even though this meant not meeting together for a while, it did not stop them from going forward with their plans.

Damage from the “Derecho”

All of that came to a halt on August 10th, 2020. A land hurricane (I later found out the correct term was a “Derecho”) swept through Iowa with only one thing on its’ mind – destruction. The whole city seemed to be without power and trapped because of all the trees on the ground. Everyone raced to the stores to buy up the last of the generators. The church building was damaged, members’ properties were ruined, and no one knew who was safe.

I heard all of this, but it was hard to believe because everything looked in order when I arrived. Yes, there were some trees missing and each member had their own account of what happened, but it looked like a regular church to me. What I loved to hear, were all the different stories of how the Lord blessed them in their recovery. The Good Shepherd family grew stronger and closer together through all of this.

Although the church and the community may have thought this was the end, God has used it for a new beginning. A year later, almost everything is back to the way it was. The church building and most homes are repaired, but I get reminded of what happened every time I see a tree stump or an empty lot where I knew a building use to be.

But all this has not stopped God’s mission. Services are regaining their numbers at both campuses. Bible studies are becoming more and more well-attended. We at Good Shepherd are planning to hold all of our regular events and hopefully add a few more. The mission in North Liberty has not been forgotten in all of this. We are all getting on the same page in order to move forward. Members are moving forward from the past and help in our efforts to serve the community.

Summer baseball camp

This summer has especially been filled with mission efforts for Good Shepherd. We had a great group of volunteers come down to North Liberty and hang door hangers inviting people to worship and come to our Summer Baseball Camp. A group from Lakeside Lutheran High School came down to help teach the kids baseball basics. Another successful event was our Vacation Bible School. Children came and discovered the many wonders of our Lord in God’s Wonder Lab. We even had a small group begin meeting to play disc golf.

It is hard to not hold onto the past and have it not affect your present or future plans. Our plans and expectations may fail but the perseverance of God’s Word will never end. Whether storm or flood, war or famine, “the Word of the Lord remains forever (1 Peter 1:25).”

Written by Rev. Lucas Callies, home missionary at Good Shepherd in Cedar Rapids and North Liberty, Iowa.

 

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Campus Ministry – Helping parents one worry at a time

My wife and I are blessed with three daughters. They are all in college this year! They attend Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind., and Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind. And while my wife and I are enjoying our new-found freedom of being “empty nesters,” we still worry about the kids. Who wouldn’t, right? Life outside of the nest can be exciting, but so challenging and spiritually dangerous at the same time.

That’s why I have always appreciated our WELS Campus Ministry program. For all of the worries that I have as a Christian parent as I send my kids off to “foreign lands” in the world of academia, I have found a partner in WELS Campus Ministry that calms my worried heart. Here’s a few of them to show you what I mean:

Worry #1 – My kids could lose their faith on a secular campus

The Kom family

I won’t lie. For all of the training that my kids have gone through with a Lutheran Elementary School, and Catechism classes and teen Bible studies and even the benefit of a WELS high school. . . I still worry that a secular institution could wipe all that out with some slick talk and well-placed peer pressure and what “experts” are now saying in their field of study. Mix in a little “new found freedom” of being on their own and it’s a recipe for disaster. (A dad’s mind tends to go to the worst case scenario!)

Enter WELS Campus Ministry. It was a group of all of four people that first year for our oldest daughter. But it was like gold for making connections, having a support group, and even having a real, live pastor in town to have as a sounding board and spiritual advisor when things came up. They would study relevant topics, books of the Bible and all sorts of other things that “popped up” during their week. It was a safe place to vent, get answers to difficult spiritual questions that may have come up in class that challenged their faith and to cultivate some friendships with some great students, some of whom had already been through the challenges that my daughter was seeing in class.

What a blessing for my kids! I don’t worry as much, just knowing that they have a spiritual support system in place that they can engage in while they are there.

Worry #2 – My kids could lose out on using their gifts and talents to serve God’s Church

I don’t know if this is true of every WELS Campus Ministry, but one of the things that had me pleasantly surprised was how they connected my kids to a local WELS/ELS congregation for worship opportunities and service opportunities. One of my kids plays the flute. Another plays the oboe. One sang in the traveling choir for high school and regularly sang solos and led singing in our worship services at home. I was worried that their gifts of service would get buried on a campus far, far away.

Enter WELS Campus Ministry. They connected my kids with local churches. One plays her flute for worship. Another has helped with hanging flyers on doors with their evangelism program. Another will be collaborating with the organist in the near future about solos and the music program at the church. It warms my heart as a parent to know that, not only will my kids be fed in their faith, but they also get to exercise their faith through our Campus Ministry as well.

May God continue to bless our WELS Campus Ministry as they serve our students. . . and their parents.

Written by Mark Kom, a WELS Campus Ministry students’ parent

Learn more about WELS Campus Ministry and sign students up at wels.net/campusministry.

 

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Starting a mission church

The prospect of starting a new mission church, while certainly exciting, can also lead to a lot of questions, not the least of which is simply how? That’s what we at Trinity in Crete, Ill. are going through right now. The town of Cedar Lake, right across the border in Indiana, is a fast-growing town with more and more housing developments popping up. We know it’s a great place to begin a new church to be able to tell more and more people about Jesus. Now, we get to start the process of trying to start one.

If this describes a similar situation for you, the first place to start is to contact your District Mission Board. They will be able to guide you in the right direction and provide you with the next steps to take, essentially walking you through the process. They’ll also put you in contact with a District Mission Counselor who will even be able to meet with you and check out the potential mission field and encourage you throughout the entire process.

But the next step is equally as important: gather a core group. These are the people who are committed to turning potential into reality. Before you have a location, before you have hard prospects, before you have a building, have a core group of people who are already actively doing ministry activities in the area. If you don’t have a location, start meeting in someone’s homes for group Bible studies. You’ll not only grow in the word, but your group will start to grow closer to one another as you bond to one another.

The smile bags Trinity Lutheran assembled and donated to the Cedar Lake Police Department for kids of all ages who are in difficult situations.

Start group activities like outreach events in the area or finding some way to actively get involved in the community. Maybe you’re able to do some sort of onsite worship – do it! Whether it’s time in the word, fellowship activities, service in the community letting your light shine, or whatever else you can come up with, have your core group do it and before you know it, they’ll be owning the ministry and mission church idea. Have them invite their neighbors, their friends, be involved in the community inviting them to any event you do because the stronger the core group is, the easier the next steps in the mission process come.

The Mission Board and the Mission Counselor will be able to guide you through the necessary steps to take after this, but the biggest thing you can spend your time investing in is your people – your core group. They’ll be the seeds that, God-willing, he’ll use to reap a new harvest in a new location as he continues to use us to advance his kingdom.

Written by Kendall Cook, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Crete, Illinois.

 

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A ripe mission field right next door

In Racine and Milwaukee, Wis., the school voucher program has opened many new and exciting opportunities to connect children and families to Means of Grace ministry. WELS Home Missions and the Southeast Wisconsin District Mission Board are helping in these efforts! Mount Lebanon Lutheran School in Milwaukee received funding from WELS Home Missions for a full-time School Pastor. A year later, Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine received funding for a full-time School Chaplain.

At Mount Lebanon Lutheran School in Milwaukee, Pastor Paul Krueger serves as the school outreach pastor. Pastor Krueger spearheads the efforts of the faculty and members of the congregation to reach families in the school. Similar work is taking place at Wisconsin Lutheran School where school Chaplain Mark Blauert leads efforts to connect children and families to Water of Life and First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Racine.

Mount Lebanon Lutheran School, Milwaukee, Wis.
“Our mission field is right next door across the parking lot in our school building; they are parents and grandparents in cars waiting to pick up their children from school,” says Pastor Krueger.

Over half of the school families at Mount Lebanon do not have a church home.

“We have children who are hearing everyday in classrooms about their Savior in devotions, Catechism classes, and in chapel. The children are excited and love to learn Bible stories and about their Savior! Mount Lebanon‘s congregation has its eyes on expanding this mission field to include the whole family – the moms and dads, aunts and uncles, the grandparents, and the siblings of our school children. Volunteers from church spend many hours in the school, church members plan outreach events, pray for, and adopt school families as they engage in great commission work. It is truly awesome to see the excitement for outreach ministry in the heart of Milwaukee.”

This excitement can be seen as members of the faculty and volunteers from the church come together for Bible study. After the study, they make calls to each family in the school. These conversations with parents of the school build relationships, lead to prayer, and include an invitation to church, small group Bible studies, and church outreach events. Outreach is truly a church and school effort.

Pastor Nate Bourman, lead pastor at Mount Lebanon, highlights this church and school joint effort, “Mount Lebanon church and school are really one community – a community with many parts but with one faith, one ministry, and really one family.”

Wisconsin Lutheran School, Racine, Wis.
In Racine, Chaplain Blauert focuses on building bridges from the school to the church. “We are always looking for an excuse to invite families of the school to church. Whether it is before or after school, at sporting events, or at parent teacher conferences, we are seeking to connect school families with our church and its members.”

Wisconsin Lutheran School offers Christian parenting Bible classes as a bridge to Bible information classes, baptism, and church membership. The brief Bible study takes place in the morning and allows parents to drop off their children and stay to study and be in God’s Word. “There is great excitement in seeing how the Holy Spirit works – parents and children are being baptized,” says Chaplain Blauert. With one-third of school families not having a church home, the mission field is ripe in Racine.

Where is the next ripe mission field?
The school voucher program has opened up new opportunities for outreach in Racine and Milwaukee. These unique gospel opportunities are why WELS Home Missions and the District Mission Board exist. Both boards seek to help churches and schools reach more people. If you see a ripe mission field, contact a member of your District Mission Board to explore a partnership in reaching more with the life-changing gospel!

“Every one of our Lutheran elementary schools is a ripe mission field that’s right next door,” comments Mission Board chairman, Pastor Michael Zarling. “Our Southeastern District Mission Board is excited to partner with churches and schools to develop a strategy to harvest these precious souls for Christ’s Kingdom.”

Written by Ryan Finkbeiner, principal at Mount Lebanon, in Milwaukee, Wis.

 

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Mission Journey to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”- Matthew 28:19-20

The eight teens that attended the Mission Journey trip

This passage tells us as believers what we are to do. This summer, eight teens and two adults from Immanuel in Gibbon, Minn., and St. John in Fairfax, Minn., did just that. Our Mission Journeys team volunteered to go door to door in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to help The Vine Lutheran Church, a home mission congregation that started in 2016.

The teens’ goal was to spread the gospel and see if people were aware of The Vine. They received two hours of training and then were sent out door to door with “a free pasta dinner” from The Vine.

One lady was so grateful for the large bag of groceries that tears fell down her face. With three children surrounding her, she told our team that she recently had a miscarriage and was struggling emotionally. They came at the perfect time. Another lady told a team that their family was struggling financially. She was so touched by the gesture, that she asked to be invited to participate the next time they delivered free bags of food.

One team came across a lady who expressed great concern about her brother who has pancreatic cancer. She asked the teen group if they could pray for him. Two teens immediately accepted and led a prayer at the door on behalf of her brother. Amazing!

Dave Malnes from Praise and Proclaim Ministries training the teens

An elderly woman greeted another team at the door. Once she found out that the team was from a church, she excused herself to find her boyfriend inside. A man came out and quickly sat in a lawn chair to tell a captivating story of how he was in a bad motorcycle accident and almost died. They were very interested in coming to The Vine and appreciated the personal invitation.

At the last house of the day, a team knocked on a door that looked a bit suspicious. Since they had an adult with them, they decided to go and knock on the door. A man answered the door, and it turned out to be a very positive conversation. It was apparent that he had a religious background but had probably not stepped inside a church for a long time. He expressed great interest in The Vine and gave the team his contact information. Things are not always as they seem!

Whitewater rafting

In addition to going door-to-door, the teens got to enjoy some of the things that northern Idaho has to offer. They hiked in the evenings, swam at Hayden Lake, ate “googys” (ice cream sundaes big enough to feed five people), visited Silverwood Amusement park, whitewater rafted in Montana on the way home, and saw bison in Yellowstone.

The teens visited over 500 houses and had 75 opportunities to share the gospel with the people they met. All around it was a great trip for our teens to grow in faith, share God’s Word, and see a different part of the United States.

Written by Anna Endorf, Mission Journeys team chaperone

 

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Beyond the dinosaur phase

Many little children go through a dinosaur phase. Even before they can read, they have that ability to pronounce and identify dinosaurs that are skipped over by many of us adults. For fun try these: Huehuecanauhtlus, Thililua, Protoceratops, and T-Rex. The last two were thrown in to help build your confidence in the reading of dinosaur names.

This past May I had the opportunity to visit with a few people in Laramie, Wyoming. Part of the visit included a tour of the University of Wyoming. On that campus there is a building that houses “Big Al”, an Allosaurus fossil. We didn’t get to see it, but it had me thinking of the children I’ve met who have gone through those dinosaur phases. Most of them have all grown out of it. They have pursued other interests. Yet it’s still cool that the Geological Museum on that campus has the bones of this much easier to pronounce dinosaur.

More came to mind that day as we walked around campus. I was with the pastor from Living Shepherd Lutheran Church, one of Living Shepherd’s members who works at the University of Wyoming (and a graduate), and another one of our WELS Mission Counselors. It was the week before our celebration of Pentecost. If you happen to read a few chapters ahead you hear that the early church went through some phases where the Lord saw to it that his Word continued to spread (Acts 6:7 and 12:24 to name a few).

With the phases connected to the congregation in Laramie and its campus ministry, the Word of the Lord continues to spread too. As it spreads, more phases are happening. For that congregation they found a new space to worship. Previously, they only had access to a building one day a week (Sundays) and now they found a location where they have 24/7 access. Pastor Adam Lambrecht has been able to build upon the work done prior to his arrival about two years ago with both the congregation and with the campus ministry connected to it. There are members connected to the university that can help with some ins and outs for this location of higher learning.

As there is excitement for the congregation, there is some excitement as they serve and reach out to college students. The college years are another phase. For most, when it comes to looking at fossils like “Big Al”, marveling at our Lord God as the Creator of all things is not what is taught. For many it’s a time to marvel at science, reason, and the “greatness” of human beings. Because of that, we realize that during that phase of life, Laramie’s mission field includes the college campus. As the Lord God puts people in various places at set times and set locations, he’s provided a congregation and campus ministry named Living Shepherd to reach out to those who do not know their Savior.

We, as a synod get to support this location through our prayers and offerings. Living Shepherd is one of our home mission locations with a campus ministry connected to it. Please continue to pray for Pastor Lambrecht and his congregation there in Laramie.

Written by Rev. Dan Lindner, Campus Ministry Mission Counselor

Visit wels.net/college to learn more about WELS Campus Ministry and sign up!

 

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Out of your comfort zone

How do you feel about talking with a complete stranger? How do you feel about sharing the joy of the gospel with a complete stranger? How do you feel about sharing the joy you have in your heart with a family member or a friend?

I would imagine answers to those questions will vary. One response could certainly be that it would be one of the most frightening conversations to carry out.

Risen Savior in Mansfield, Ohio, was looking for ways to share the gospel in the community, surrounding the church. The church enlisted the help of “Praise and Proclaim” and speaker Mr. Dave Malnes. A weekend was set aside to learn some techniques that might open the door to being able to share the message of our Savior Jesus – with strangers, family, and friends.

A total of 20 people attended the Friday night training and role playing session. Besides those from Risen Savior, members from four other WELS churches made the hour-long drive to be part of the  seminar.

One of the groups that went out to share the gospel

Saturday rolled around and it was time to put the training into practice. Practicing and having fun in the basement of the church is one thing, knocking on a stranger’s door is a whole different ball game. Eight groups, of two people each, were ready to head out Saturday morning (after the rain stopped). Anxiety, fright, sweaty palms, and plain terror filled the room.

A sampling of statements that could be heard before heading out the door:

“I’ll hold the clipboard. You can do the talking.”

“If you need me, I’ll be right behind you.”

“Do I have to talk?”

After an hour or so of walking the neighborhoods, we gathered back at church for a debriefing. The fear and anxiety was replaced with excitement and joy. Now you could hear  phrases like:

“After stumbling through the first couple, it became easier.”

“My heart started beating again after a couple of doors.”

“People were actually nice.” and

“It really wasn’t as bad as I anticipated.”

Excitement was in the air as people shared their stories. The goal was not to simply invite people to church but actually share the  gospel.

Adding up all the groups, the message of our Savior Jesus was shared with over 50 people. Five additional people were interested in getting even more information. Over 300 doors were knocked on during the day and information about the church was handed out or left at the door.

When I look back at the weekend, I know some people were praying for the rain to continue all day so they could stay in the warm confines of the church basement. However, after the event, the thrill of sharing the gospel overruled the previous fear and anxiety. The final phrases spoken that hit home:

“When are we able to go out and do this again?”

“I am able to share this with family and friends.”

Mr. Malnes put it best when he said, “Witnessing is more about God than about us.”  May God continue to bless our efforts.

Written by Brad Wright, home missionary at Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Mansfield, Ohio.

 

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Faces of Faith – Roy

Roy Mendoza was born in Detroit, one of 10 children. From an early age, his parents tried to get rid of him. Twice they took him to Mexico and left him there. They took him to California and other states and purposefully left him behind. He always managed to find his way back, but his distrust and hatred grew.

He soon began to take lives. People in Southwest Detroit called him a vigilante. Neighbors would ask him to take out an abuser, a thief, or some other untouchable, and he would. He became good at killing—he boasted about it—and he didn’t think twice about doing it. He felt no remorse, until he accidentally took the life of his own son.

Shortly after that horrific event, Roy landed in prison. He didn’t want to hear anything about God or forgiveness because he’d killed his own son. But then he heard a verse from Luke where Jesus said, “They will be divided—father against son and son against father.” By the Spirit’s power alone, these words piqued his interest, since he had been wrestling with guilt for the first time in his life. Within months of being in prison, God grabbed hold of his heart through his Word, and Roy cried. Tough guys weren’t supposed to cry, but Roy did. . . and it felt good.

Roy Mendoza

As he reflects on the 25 years he spent behind bars for his life of crime, Roy says, “I didn’t go to prison. I went to school—God’s school.” He hadn’t known how to read, but he somehow started to learn by reading an old King James Bible someone gave him. He poured over Scripture day and night. At one point, he taught 14 men the Bible every day—many of whom had worked to destroy his own family because of things he’d done against their families on the outside. Roy came to know Christ and God’s grace for him, and with a humble, penitent spirit, he brought the gospel to his own enemies.

Since 2017, Roy has been out of prison—by God’s grace, a changed man. One fall day in 2020, after church, a member of Palabra de Vida bumped into him on the sidewalk and told him to check out our church. He did. He walked inside, and I met him. He’s been coming faithfully to worship and Bible study ever since. After studying with me in Bible information class, he was received into membership. Now, Roy is training to be a leader at Palabra de Vida. He encourages others who are just starting out in their faith. He applies the Word to hurting hearts. We pray that God continue to use Roy to give life to others—a big change from a few decades ago! All thanks to the Holy Spirit.

In awe of God’s mercy, Roy sees the famous hymn as his own: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound—that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found—was blind, but now I see.”

Written by Ryan Kolander, home missionary at Palabra de Vida in Detroit, Mich. 

Hear more from Missionary Kolander in the presentation he gave as part of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) annual convention that occurred this past weekend: vimeo.com/566224349

 

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Worth the wait

The wait is over! After a long 14 months of the pandemic, we are finally able to enjoy many of our favorite activities again. Whether it’s flying to visit family, going to a baseball game, or simply giving someone a hug … as we finally get to enjoy these activities, we realize that we appreciate them more than ever. They were “worth the wait.”

The same thing holds true at church.

2020 was an unusual year for Intown Lutheran Church. The pandemic forced us to cancel most of our events and limit most of our gatherings. For nearly 6 months straight, we held “online-only” worship. It was all very unusual and unexpected. But as it turned out, something else about 2020 was unusual and unexpected too: the tremendous opportunities for outreach.

You might think that with extremely limited options for either gathering at church or going out and meeting new people in the community, our congregation’s outreach ministry would slow to a crawl. But surprisingly, we saw the exact opposite happen. The year 2020 turned out to be by far the strongest year of outreach that we have ever had, in 4 years of existence as a congregation!

How does something like this happen? Only by God’s guiding hand. It seems that during 2020 God used all the chaos and turmoil in our society brought about by the pandemic, politics, social justice issues, etc. to create a real spiritual hunger in many of our city neighbors who had previously been uninterested in church. Even though we were unable to do any of our normal outreach events, again and again God kept leading people to us “out of nowhere,” searching for spiritual guidance. During 2020 we brought more prospects through Bible Basics Class than ever before, and we confirmed more new members than ever before!

But nearly all of it took place online. The Bible Basics Classes were taught over Zoom.  The “New Member Sundays” took place over Facebook Live. Although many people were studying God’s Word and joining our church, in many cases they had yet to meet a single church member or come to a single in-person worship service. The blessings of Christian fellowship were sorely lacking.

But in the past few months, we’ve been able to gather again. The blessings of fellowship have come flooding back. And it has all been “worth the wait!”

On May 16 and May 23, we held back-to-back New Member Sundays, during which we officially welcomed 6 new members from 2021, as well as 10 of our new members from 2020 (most of whom had only been able to participate “virtually” up to this point.)

New member Sunday at Intown Lutheran Church

As new members stood before their congregation and heard the words “Welcome to the family, and welcome to the team…”

as they shared the Lord’s Supper with their brothers and sisters in Christ for the very first time…

as they experienced the smiles, friendly handshakes, and warm hugs of Christian fellowship…

as they watched excited kids sink their teeth into a celebratory post-church donut…

it was clear that all of this had been “worth the wait.”

So what comes next?

Members at Intown Lutheran

There is no fast-forward button in ministry. We can’t “skip ahead” to the next episode. Only God knows what special friendships will grow between old members and new. . . what growth will occur in the hearts of all the new people who have already enrolled in Bible Basics Class for summer. . . or what additional new people he plans to bring our way this fall, when we can finally start doing outreach at community festivals once again.

There are many things we don’t know, but there is one thing that we do. Wherever God decides to lead our growing congregation next – it will be “worth the wait.”

Written by Lucas Bitter, home missionary at Intown Lutheran Church, Atlanta, Ga.

 

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Plans A,B,C,D…

We were ready to take Minot by storm with a new, innovative approach for starting a church. It was 2014, childcare was a massive need in a still-booming North Dakota, so we were going to start an early childhood ministry through which we would grow a thriving mission church. What could go wrong?

A failed land deal, a collapsed oil economy, and one year later we were onto “Plan B.” It was the start of a trend. The past seven years have been filled with plan after plan to reach out to our community. During much of that time we were on the lookout for a more suitable location for our ministry than a hotel conference room. Yet, whether it was an appealing land purchase, a building that would lend well to a renovation, or just leased space where we could get our footing, every plan seemed to fall through and result in a change of plans. We met at that hotel far longer than we ever envisioned.

Grace Lutheran’s church service.

Until one day, one of our members was speaking with a friend from a local Baptist church. They were looking to sell their building, we were looking to buy, and finally, that meant we had a plan that would work. We moved into the building right before Christmas and took a couple months to get it ready. We started up a Mornings with Mommy program shortly thereafter. For the first time it felt our ministry had reached a fifth gear, since we were able to engage in ministry programs that the limitations of the hotel had not allowed!

That was a month before COVID.  You can guess what happened next. Fast-forward to 2021 and I couldn’t tell you what “plan” we’re on. (By now, we have probably run out of letters in the English alphabet.) But all the while, God accomplishes his plan. It has taken me a while to see it because it has never quite matched my plans, but when I remember what God told his people through the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (29:11); yet, plans that would somehow endure when the nation was about to get deported to a foreign land and the temple destroyed? If God could still turn that plan into a Savior and life and salvation, he can do the same for us.

Indeed, this is what I have seen in seven years in Minot: the message of a Savior bringing life and salvation to souls who crave it, even when my own plans have fallen apart. Christian baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals that would stop for no one. Grace from God that didn’t care what “plan” we were on.

I never saw myself as a home missionary, but when I started in Minot I set my mind to work hard and took comfort in the fact that the church would either take off in a “couple years” or it wouldn’t, but then I would be on to something else. It has been seven years now, and I have no idea how long it will take to reach that first “couple of years”, but I know that God’s plan will endure. As long as we continue to preach Jesus, nothing can stop it.

This is mission work. It is infuriating, and it is beautiful.

Written by Rev. Nate Walther, home missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

 

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Member roles from scratch

“My name is _______ and I’m the official _______ at my church.” How easy is it for you to fill in that second blank?

God the Holy Spirit gives gifts, talents, responsibilities, and roles to every believer in Jesus. We’re like parts of a body (Romans 12 and Corinthians 12). We depend on each other’s gifts to build each other up.

Unfortunately, an old phrase echoes around churches: “20% of the members do 80% of the work.” Why? I doubt anyone would say, “I don’t sign up because I’m lazy and afraid of commitment,” or “I don’t think my church’s ministries are worthwhile.”

More likely, a member who isn’t serving in any organized way in his or her church has more sympathetic reasons, like, “No one ever asked me directly,” or, “I think other people are already doing that,” or “I would like to serve, but the roles they offer just aren’t interesting to me.” Rather than thirsting for law or gospel, that Christian might be craving guidance toward a clear ministry role that suits his or her gifts and passions.

We at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Florida, are novices at everything, including member ministry. But as a new mission, we have the opportunity to organize all our ministries from scratch.

We decided to make Member Roles an early priority. They’re one of only four programs we offer (with weekly worship, Bible study groups, and quarterly mission outings). We want to make those roles obvious and official, so that every member with a role, has a title, understands the value of that role, and does it really well.

The “big board” that members put “pen to touchscreen”

On Ascension weekend, we renewed our confirmation vows—all members of all ages. On Pentecost, the members of Citrus Grove chose their ministry roles. These roles are the manpower for our four ministries: Gather, Grow, Give, and Go. Names were already filled in for the Pastor and Ministry Council, but 75 other blanks waited on the Big Board for any confirmed member to claim.

Some people had already found “their thing” during our early months of loosely-organized gatherings. They simply made it official by putting pen to touchscreen: Musician. Coffee Brewer. Women’s Bible Study Host. Others felt torn between two or three possible roles, so friends helped them pick the best one for their gifts.

Be careful if you’re thinking, “One? I serve in a whole bunch of roles at my church!” The right number of roles for each member is somewhere between zero and too many. Wearing too many hats can lead to its own problems: Pride, burnout, or guilt over unfinished or low-quality work.

We also started at one for another reason: None of these roles have job descriptions. (See how brave the members of this mission church are!) Over the next few weeks, members and leaders will work together to clarify the details of each role: Why is mine so valuable? How does mine connect people to Jesus? What exactly do I do, step-by-step? How long is the commitment? What if I run into an issue? What about substitutes? And anything else that will help the next member who serves in that role.

Earlier, I mentioned 75 blanks. Citrus Grove doesn’t have 75 members. That means the unfilled blanks await God’s timing. Those are the talents of people we haven’t met yet, but we’re already praying for them and looking forward to their fruitful service here. Until then, it’s a joy to see current members committing to serve Jesus, his church, and our mission field in roles so clear they can write them on their nametags.

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

 

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Becoming Bible teachers

In 2019, I began serving as a full-time online missionary with TELL Network. Much like its sister Spanish ministry, Academia Cristo, TELL’s vision is to reach people online, teach the true gospel and equip men and women to share the good news of Jesus.

Very early in my work, I visited the ministry leaders of Academia Cristo in Doral, Florida. For several days we discussed their strategy of discipleship and multiplication. I learned that online ministry includes building an audience online with daily gospel-centered content.

Interested persons click on a link to download the self-learning Bible app. On the app they watch Bible lesson videos and answer questions. Upon completing the app they are invited to live group class with an instructor. Here teachers begin to equip students to become Bible teachers using the same Bible lessons they are learning but in their own setting.

During the same trip, I was invited to a missionary multiplication meeting. Here online teachers and missionaries from Latin America strategized about who was coming through the live group classes and how to follow up with them. For prospects ready to begin teaching themselves, trips are arranged to equip and train further.

Today, much of what I learned is being duplicated for TELL English. Like Academia Cristo, TELL’s emphasis is creating a large online presence and directing interested people to the TELL app where they start the self-learning courses. God has blessed this work too! Along with 1.5 million followers on its main Facebook page, there are over 10,000 active users on the TELL app and over 150 sign-ups for live group class.

Over 30 countries are represented somewhere along the TELL English process: some beginners, others finishing their ninth or tenth live group class. In the TELL multiplication meeting, world missionaries, and others, strategize about following up with students and how to make TELL more effective in training people who, in turn, teach others the gospel.

Moses Adesina is a TELL student who shares the gospel in Georgetown, Guyana. He found TELL on Facebook, downloaded the app and now is on his sixth live group class. Moses says: “Thank God for the TELL program. Ever since I joined the TELL program I thank God that even my spiritual life has grown. I have grown deeper in the Bible. So have my sermons in church. Studying the Bible is what TELL is all about.”

Written by Dan Laitinen, TELL Missionary.

 

 

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Equipped to welcome

Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis., is a proudly bilingual congregation. Members from all backgrounds are happy to point to their two bilingual pastors as evidence that we are a bilingual family of believers. Whether I speak English, Spanish, or both, as a member of Bethel, I have Christian brothers and sisters who speak English, Spanish, or both. And I, as a member of Bethel, love that.

Now, when that’s a thing to be proud of, and when that’s a thing that brings joy to your membership, and when I love having brothers and sisters from a totally different culture and language, what you have is a place where anyone from any culture feels welcome. That’s what Jenny Chang and her kids found at Bethel.

Jenny is a second-generation Hmong immigrant. Her sister is married to a member at another WELS congregation in our area, but Jenny, herself, has no background in Christianity at all. Still, her sister and brother-in-law encouraged her to get herself and her kids baptized. Where does a person like that go? Where do you go for something your minority culture doesn’t provide, but when you’re not fully a part of the majority culture? Where do you go when you’re a child of Hmong immigrants and all you know that baptism is good?

Bethel Lutheran Church, Menasha, Wis.

Jenny came to Bethel. Her sister and brother-in-law encouraged her, but she took the initiative and spoke to Pastor Raasch and arranged for her baptism and the baptisms of her kids. She came to worship on Maundy Thursday (maybe one of the most intimidating services there is for someone with no background in Christianity) and then came back for the Sundays of the Easter season. She’s working around her and her kids’ schedules to get into Bible Information Class. Jenny found a place that welcomed her, not because they had the specific equipment to welcome second-generation Hmong immigrants, but because they had the equipment to welcome anyone from anywhere. And they learned to have that equipment—to be that welcoming—because they learned to take righteous pride and joy in their diversity as one family of believers from many cultures and two languages.

This pandemic has stripped away a lot of the distractions of Christianity and has left us with little else than our identity as Christians. What a blessing! What a blessing to be forced to celebrate who we are as believers more than what we have materialistically or what we do habitually. What a time to welcome people to celebrate that with us. What a perfect time for Jenny to hear her family’s encouragement and find the Means of Grace at a church that has nice things and does good stuff, but more importantly is proud of who Jesus has made us to be: his family from many cultures and at least two languages.

Written by Rev. Ethan Cherney, home missionary at Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis.

 

 

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Gifts for God’s glory

One of the things you realize very quickly in the new mission process is that no two new mission churches are the same. It makes sense that a new mission in Texas is going to look a little different than a new mission in South Dakota. Your regional context has an effect on what that mission church looks like. But there is another factor to consider besides the location…the people.

God blesses each mission (and every church) with a group of believers that work together to serve their Savior. The Apostle Paul talked about this most memorably when he described the believers in a congregation as a body of which Christ is the head. In this body, there are different parts that serve different functions. The hand is vital, but it serves a different purpose than the ankle, which is also vital. You need both, but you wouldn’t expect the hand to do what the ankle is supposed to do or vice versa.

When we take to heart what Paul wrote, it gives us great comfort that we don’t need to have the same gifts as other people. In fact, we won’t have the same gifts as other people. My gifts are unique and they serve God’s unique purposes. And in this comfort, we find an awesome way that God works among a group of believers (specifically, a new mission) to reach people with the gospel.

The ornaments Sure Foundation gave out at their Christmas service.

We may picture the ideal mission church member as a person who is incredibly outgoing and able to have conversations with just about anyone, anywhere. This kind of person certainly serves a new mission (or any church) well. However, there are tons of ways to serve in a new mission church and reach people with the gospel.

You might be able to use your gifts of woodworking to make guest gifts for all those who attend your Christmas service. At Sure Foundation, we were able to give out nearly 60 Christmas wooden ornaments with our logo on it.

You might be able to use your gifts of craftsmanship to construct a lectern from which the Word will be preached to many, or you might be able to build a cross. A cross that will hold the nails that are put there on Good Friday as a remembrance of what our sins did to Jesus. The nails that are turned to white on Easter to show the forgiveness that Christ won through his resurrection.

The handcrafted cross that holds the red nails that turn white for Easter.

The unique talents and skills that you bring to your mission will shape and form your mission. It will make your mission look like your people, and it will make your mission look like your community. Which means, that every mission will look different and will reach people in different ways.

In this way we can harmonize two beautiful passages from Scripture. Matthew 28 gives us our charge to make disciples of all nations. 1 Corinthians 10 gives us our purpose that everything we do is to the glory of God. We can reach people to the glory of God by using our unique gifts.

Whatever your gifts are, don’t rule them out. Get creative on how you might use your talents and gifts to serve the body of Christ. But also get creative on how you might use your talents and gifts to reach people with the gospel.

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

 

 

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Optimistic outreach

You’ve no doubt experienced it in your congregation. Nearly all of our ministry and outreach events for the last year have been canceled, postponed, or altered. We canceled worship for about six months. Human contact was greatly reduced. All this has certainly threatened our outreach efforts. However, in spite of these setbacks, God has given us many blessings amid the COVID-19 conundrum.

Necessity propelled us deeper into the digital age and further into social media outreach. This has prompted us to continue providing weekly video devotions, sermons, and a children’s message for both preschool and elementary age children. We used the “down” time to upgrade our equipment and video efforts as well as our website in order to help people connect with us and to find the information they were looking for.

Inside Redeemer’s new worship facility

COVID postponed our Jesus Cares Ministry and “Worship at the Cross.” We had hoped to begin this past fall (2020), but our special needs community remains under isolation. So, while they remain in quarantine, we have begun to record our Worship at the Cross service, which we post through our website and social media content once a month. Our contact and leader in this community has shared this information with the people who are members of her group and has encouraged them to check us out. We hope that by mid-summer 2021 or fall 2021, we will be able to “Worship at the Cross” face-to-face.

While our Easter egg hunt and other service events like a food drive were canceled, we were able to offer online worship and weekly Bible study. We kept in contact with our prospects and members, some of whom checked us out online and appreciated the gospel they heard. This past summer we were able to worship face-to-face for about six weeks before we had to close again.  However, this time it was for a good and positive reason.

Inviting people to the Easter for Kids drive-through event

Three and half years ago, we had begun worship and ministry inside a large professional building. While the management staff was friendly and accommodating, the location hindered our efforts. In July 2020 and in answer to our prayers, God provided us a stand-alone building for lease which is located on a major road and near an elementary school and one of the largest grocery stores and retail areas in the city. While the building required about $30,000 to renovate, God blessed our people so that we were able to raise all the money within our multi-site congregation! We did not ask for or need additional synodical or outside support.

Additionally, God blessed our members with many gifts. In addition to their offerings, many of them donated time and energy to make the remodel of our new facility a reality. People both within our congregation and in our community have commented on how nice it looks and how well it functions. This new space with the opportunities it gives us have invigorated our members and we are happy to report that, since we have moved into our new facility, we have seen a notable increase in guest attendance. We prayerfully hope to welcome five new members within the next two months!

There are still more reasons for our optimism. Under some restrictions, we held a drive-through “Trick or Treat” where we handed out bags filled with candy, crafts, Bible lessons, and invitations to our Thanksgiving and Christmas services. We handed out over 300 invitations. We did much the same at Christmas with our drive-through Christmas for Kids, and we did the same for Easter instead of our annual Easter egg hunt.

We recently resumed our door-to-door, face-to-face efforts to invite neighbors to our Easter for Kids drive-through event and our Easter worship. Like so many, we pray by summer of 2021 we will be able to return to more normal social conditions. We remain optimistic that our efforts will continue to see more visible measures of blessing. Thank you for all you do in your words, actions, attitudes, and offerings to support the efforts of WELS Home Missions in WELS! We truly appreciate it.

Written by Rev. Aaron Glaeske, home missionary at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Victoria, Tex. 

WELS Home Missions just approved funding for seven new home mission locations! Read more about these new mission plants in this article from this week’s Together e-newsletter.

 

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Hitting a homerun

Jesus was relational. And he probably would have liked baseball too. I mean, his ultimate goal is getting us home, right?

Harvey helping out around church

I follow Jesus’ example in being relational and loving baseball. My 14-year-old son, Jackson, is quieter; but he shares my love of baseball. He’s played select ball since he was 8 years old with a young man named Gavin. Gavin’s father, Harvey, has coached the boys for 6 years (12 seasons between spring and fall)! About five months ago, Harvey came to check out our new church building as he knew that if I wasn’t at the ballpark, I’d be there. He knew our family very well outside of church and decided he was ready to find out what it was that made us church folks different. Now he only misses an opportunity to be at church if we have an early game on a Sunday morning. He’s known to wear coaching gear to Bible study or service so he can head right to the fields from church so he misses as little as possible. He’s a fixture around Christ the Rock and will soon finish instruction classes and, God-willing, we will welcome him into membership.

Baseball is a team sport. So is mission work. My family and I witness by our behavior and attitude at church and at the ballpark. Now Harvey is really on our team too. Baseball can appear to some as a slow sport. But the good news is, there’s always a new day with plenty of second chances. Jesus is like that too. He sometimes takes six years to work in the heart of a friend we see all the time. But when someone you care about finds that second chance. . . WOW!

In baseball, often times you fail. But you never give up. Not every friend I develop a relationship with will come to church. But I know that if I keep following the example Jesus set, his will is done. Every biblical “hero” struck out at some point. Except Jesus. He’s our ultimate Hall of Famer! I don’t have to hit a home run every time because at the gates of heaven, God will see Jesus’ perfect record instead of my own sad and pathetic failures and stats. And Harvey will be right there too, holding up Jesus’ perfect game as his when we play together for the Bethlehem Braves. Or maybe the Jerusalem Giants? Who knows.

Written by Rev. James Skorzewski (Pastor Ski), home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Hutto, Tex. 

 

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