Is your church a success?

How do you measure the success of the church? Do you base it on the membership, weekly service attendance, weekly Bible study attendance, or stewardship?

Since Grace Hmong was established as a mission congregation in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) in Kansas City, the leaders of Grace Hmong have contemplated this question. “Is Grace Hmong a successful church or not?” In the end, only God knows the answer. But it’s an answer that God shares in His Word. “…My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent” (Isaiah 55:11).

This is exactly what the pastors and members of Grace Hmong strive to do every day, and God has blessed Grace Hmong and its ministry work abundantly.

Even though Grace Hmong is a small mission church with small membership in an area where many of the Hmong people already call themselves Christians, every Sunday the Word of Christ is still preached to its members and new souls are regularly brought to our services. Many Hmong people around the community come to the services at Christmas and New Year’s to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ preached. Here the seed of the gospel is planted inside their hearts waiting to sprout sooner or later. Each year, babies are baptized into faith, and adults are baptized and confirmed into the family of God. Every Sunday morning, no matter how many people attend the service, the gospel is preached. Through the word of Christ that is preached every Sunday morning, the members have grown so much in their faith. In the past, they were not sure about their salvation because they based their salvation on good works. But now, they are confident of their salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

As Jesus told his disciples to go out to the world to be his witnesses and teach what he has taught them to the world, so the members of Grace Hmong go out to the world. They go out to the Hmong community with a helping hand while sharing the good news of Christ. For some, this is the first time they’ve heard about Jesus. Others call themselves Christians yet sill base their salvation on good works. We get to share the Word in its truth and purity with them.

By God’s grace and blessings, the word of Christ has not only been preached in Kansas City, but in Vietnam too. When Pastor Bounkeo Lor was still the pastor of Grace Hmong, God used him to extend the word of Christ to another corner of the world – to the country of Vietnam, where Christians are often persecuted in the rural areas. Grace Hmong and its members knew that God wanted Pastor Lor to travel to Vietnam to share the love of God to both the Hmong brothers and sisters in Vietnam who called themselves Christians and to the unbelievers. When WELS called Pastor Bounkeo Lor to be the Hmong Asia coordinator, he accepted the call. And when the time came for Pastor Bounkeo Lor to be the Hmong Asia coordinator, Grace Hmong still continued to be part of the Vietnam mission. The ministry of the church is to nurture and equip the members of the church to be ready to share the gospel.

Even though Grace Hmong is a small mission church, it continues to partner with the Vietnam mission. Through the ministry work in Vietnam, God has blessed the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) with grace upon grace. The HFC has grown from 55,000 to 145,000 members in the last 9 years. More than 350 pastors and leaders are seeking training from WELS. Currently, WELS pastors and professors are conducting training to 120 church leaders quarterly. The 55 students that graduated from the theological education program in Vietnam are also training more than 1,400 members twice a month in the rural areas. More and more church leaders are seeking WELS training. Since receiving training from WELS, their faith has grown so much in the Word of God. Many thousands of children have also been baptized in the last several years. They are confident in their salvation through faith in Christ. The power of the gospel has done great things in Vietnam, and a lot of people have put their hope in Christ.

“Is Grace Hmong a successful church or not?” In the end, only God knows the answer. But it’s an answer that God shares in his Word. “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” (Matthew 28:19-20).

As the church fully embraces Jesus’ command, we will understand that this is what it should be all about—being faithful to God by sharing the gospel in Word and sacrament.

Written by Rev. Ger Lor, missionary at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Kan.

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Taste of Missions school challenge and poster contest

The 2024 Taste of Missions School Challenge is now open! This year brings two different opportunities for students of all ages to learn about WELS mission work:

School challenge for grades K-8

All Lutheran grade schools are invited to participate in our annual Taste of Missions School Challenge! Visit tasteofmissions.com/schools to view Missions-themed activities that grade school teachers can use to help students in their classroom learn about WELS Home and World Missions and get involved with WELS Missions’ annual Taste of Missions event. Two classes (one from grades K-4 and one from grades 5-8) will be randomly selected to win a Taste of Missions party for their classroom, tickets to the event, and additional surprises. Get involved and submit the form on the Taste of Missions website by Fri., April 12, for your chance to win.

High school poster contest

Calling all WELS and ELS high school artists! Encourage high school students to participate in the first ever Taste of Missions high school poster contest. Students can express their creativity and learn about WELS mission work by crafting an 11” x 17” masterpiece capturing the heart of WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions. An overall winner will receive a $250 Amazon gift card, Taste of Missions swag bag, and their artwork will be displayed at the Taste of Missions event on June 15, 2024, at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis. All other submissions will be eligible to be voted Fan Favorite by attendees at Taste of Missions for another chance to win.

The deadline for students to submit their poster is Fri., April 26, 2024. Digital or mailed/dropped off submissions are accepted. Find official rules and specifications as well as submission information at tasteofmissions.com/postercontest.

 

 




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Save the date! Taste of Missions 2024

Taste of Missions is back, and we couldn’t be more excited! Last year nearly 500 WELS members gathered in Mequon, Wis., to send off nine new home and world missionaries to spread the gospel in the far corners of the world. Even more celebrated with us online. It was a remarkable day, filled with engaging conversations with home and world missionary families, insightful Q&A panels, ethnic eats, and uplifting worship alongside brothers and sisters from across the globe. See what it was all about by exploring our Flickr album.

We want YOU to come join the fun again at this year’s Taste of Missions on Sat., June 15, 2024. Bring your family to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis., to send off new missionaries in our special commissioning service, enjoy delicious offerings from food trucks, and connect with some of your synod’s current missionaries. Can’t make it in person? Virtual attendees can watch all the events via livestream, view exclusive video updates from missionaries, and even try their hand at cooking up some ethnic recipes from our website.

Mark your calendars—registration opens on March 11! While you’re waiting, visit tasteofmissions.com for some additional event details and catch up on any videos you may have missed from last year’s gathering.

We can’t wait to see you there!

P.S. The fourth annual Taste of Missions School Challenge and NEW poster contest for WELS/ELS high school students will open on February 19! View photos and activities from last year’s challenge and keep an eye out for future announcements at tasteofmissions.com/schools.

 




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Seminary students assist home mission churches

Over the winter break, three groups of students from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary traveled to various home mission churches to learn first-hand what it’s like serving as a home missionary and assist in local outreach efforts.

Mount Calvary –  Redding/Anderson, Calif.

Mt. Calvary in Redding/Anderson, Calif., after “grocery canvasing”

Mount Calvary in Redding/Anderson, Calif., hosted 12 seminary students for 7 days. They spent this time exploring and studying the neighboring communities while helping with “grocery canvasing” to assist local nonprofits collect food. While gathering groceries, they also gathered information about the surrounding community and people.

Divine Savior – North Collin County, Tex.

Divine Savior Church in North Collin County, Tex., had the assistance of students from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary as it participated in a food drive to serve the surrounding community and learn more about the needs of their neighbors in Celina, Tex. The food drive was a success; by the end of the day they had collected and donated 1,864 pounds of food to fight hunger in the community! One student shared, “It’s been encouraging to see the community open up their doors to not only give to a good cause, but also help us reach more people with Jesus.”

Divine Savior Church Bible and Brews outreach event

The Way – Fredericksburg, Va.

The third group of 12 senior Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students visited The Way in Fredericksburg, Va., to attend a special church planting course. This course was led by WELS mission counselor, Rev. Mark Birkholz, and a few experienced church planters—Rev. Matt Rothe, home missionary at The Way, and Rev. Lucas Bitter, home missionary at Intown in Atlanta, Ga.

Training the next generation of church planters is critical to the success of the 100 Missions in 10 Years initiative. Learn more about this ambitious goal at wels100in10.net.

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A little “hope for everyday” goes a long way

We live by the phrase “hope for everyday” here at Living Hope in Chattanooga, Tenn. The hope our Savior gives us is all encompassing. It’s eternal. And that hope for eternal life filters down to our everyday lives too. There’s hope for everyday life, everyday problems, and everyday people. So, that’s our mission: bring “hope for everyday” to people around us so they come to see the big-picture hope they have with Jesus. We’ve found that just a little “hope for everyday” can go a long way.

Jeanette would agree. Jeanette has been through some very dark and hopeless looking days in her life. As a child she grew up in the foster care system. Later, she got married and had two sons. But Jeanette’s husband became abusive and for 16 years she suffered severe physical and emotional abuse. Child Protective Services even had to step in and take her sons away from a home that had become dangerous.

After that incident, Jeanette left her husband but soon had another scary encounter. She was randomly attacked by a gang outside of a bar and may have been beaten to death if it hadn’t been for a kind stranger who confronted the gang with his shotgun and ran them off.

Jeanette continued to fall on hard times after this due to a back injury that left her disabled. She ended up homeless for more than seven years. She usually stayed on friends’ couches but had nights of sleeping outside in the cold, too. Jeanette’s life seemed broken and full of hardship. Hope seemed like a far-off thing. Definitely not an everyday thing.

Eventually, Jeanette got into affordable housing. Then one day hope showed up at her door. One of the ways Living Hope has tried bringing hope for everyday into people’s lives has been through an effort called grocery canvassing. We pack up bags of essential groceries and knock on doors in nearby neighborhoods that could use some love. The food is just one little way of spreading everyday hope, with the aim that we’ll be able to talk about our eternal hope in Jesus with people too.

When a Living Hope member knocked on Jeanette’s door with a bag of free groceries, she already knew who we were. She’d been saving a Living Hope Christmas flyer on her fridge the last few months. She didn’t know much about the Bible or her relationship with God but she wanted some answers and was willing to learn. Right at the door, Jeanette asked if she could come to church tomorrow. She just needed a ride. Some Living Hope members brought Jeanette to church the next morning and she’s been coming back ever since.

Jeanette took a Bible information class, got baptized, and joined as a member at Living Hope this past June with her sons there to share her big day.

Jeanette says that walking into Living Hope “felt like joining a whole ‘nother family.” A void in her life had been filled by Christ. She’d always wanted to make sure she was doing the right thing and finally, through studying the Bible and being at church, she knows Jesus has made her right. In Jeanette’s words, “It’s a feeling of freedom.”

A free bag of groceries may seem like a small thing. But it’s the little things, the little actions of spreading everyday hope, that can turn someone’s life around when they get connected to their eternal hope in Christ. A little “hope for everyday” can go a long way for lost and hurting souls.

Written by Rev. Eric Melso, serving Living Hope Lutheran Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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It’s just sand, you can’t grow anything there

The story goes that the farmers of Alabama and panhandle Florida weren’t interested in the lands now known as Panama City Beach – an area across the Hathaway Bridge from Panama City, Fla. They referred to it as worthless property because you “can’t grow anything there.” Looking back, I wish I had lived back then and bought up a lot of the worthless sand. With foresight, Gideon Thomas purchased land right on the water in the 1930s. In 1936 he had a formal opening to what is now titled “Panama City Beach” – complete with his beach hotel and 1,000-foot pier. The rest is history for this bustling community.

A lot has changed from those times when it was fondly dubbed “the Redneck Riviera.” The latest growth spurts means more stores, support services, and construction crews that draw in more workers. A main driver behind many of the new planned communities is the St. Joe Company. The development that gets the most attention is Latitude Margaritaville Watersound 55 – an affordable retirement community a bit like “The Villages” of mid-Florida. Presently 3,500 homes have been built and pre-purchased by people from 49 of the 50 states. They anticipate 160,000 new homes in the next 40 years. A new airport was built a few years ago to accommodate growth and now a new hospital and medical facility are in the process of construction. A recent news article wrote, “There’s no sign of Bay County slowing down when it comes to people moving to our area.” They recognize the unchanging asset here – the beautiful beaches. We would like to see a new solid gospel community in the middle of it built on our unchanging asset – the good news of Jesus.

Besides Panama City, the closest other WELS church is two hours away. But Amazing Grace in Panama City has some very active core members living in the middle of the growth areas such as families like Andrew and Tian with their four primary school children. Or Keisha, with her two teenagers and two preschoolers, who drives at least an hour to church (depending on traffic) from Santa Rosa Beach area. These families find it difficult to convince others in the area to make the long drive to “the City” over the Hathaway Bridge. For the last year we have been offering weekly a Bible class that swells to 30 in attendance when the snowbirds arrive. It has attracted new people like Jevone from Jamaica or Susie, a retired school music teacher. To provide even more points of contact, we volunteer as mentors at the West Bay Elementary School and provide occasional lunches or treats for the teachers and staff.

We are thankful the South Atlantic District Mission Board saw something special in our proposal to begin an outreach mission there and included it in the first round of picks for the “100 missions in 10 years.” Now comes the waiting portion as calls go out to pastors to lead the mission endeavor.

In the early 1930’s there was little use for what some referred to as “the ugly white sand.” Today it is often referred to as one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches.” What will the future be like for WELS gospel outreach there? Pray for it (and if you are looking for a warm place to retire and be a part of the outreach, join us). We pray this effort develops a church home for many others to enjoy the world’s most beautiful message.

Written by Rev. David Kehl, serving Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Panama City, Fla. 

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Merry Christmas from WELS Missions

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Aren’t star-filled skies overwhelmingly beautiful? What about that incredibly special star above Bethlehem that led the Magi to Jesus? Every December, millions of people look up to the skies and recall the account of the birth of the Christ child. In Matthew 2:10 we read, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with overwhelming joy.” And just like the Magi of old, we, along with Christians around the world, rejoice to think of God’s greatest gift to mankind, Jesus Christ. What joy this gift brings to our sin-sick world!

Thank YOU for your prayers and special gifts for Home, World, and Joint Missions. WELS Missions has created a year in review video of the many blessings made possible by your generous support. God tells us to share his message of salvation with every nation, tribe, people, and language. There is always someone new who has not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ.

As we celebrate this Christmas season and share gifts, love, and joy with our family and friends, we are reminded that Jesus Christ, our perfect substitute, humbled himself, was born as a man, and lived among us. He lived a perfect life, then ultimately died on the cross for all believers. Let’s pray for God’s continued blessings as we share this joy-filled message to the lost in the U.S. and around the world.

Together with you, we rejoice with overwhelming joy. Merry Christmas to all!

WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions

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Overflowing with opportunities

When 40,000 cars drive past your church’s campus every 24 hours, you know that there will be opportunities to meet people.

That statistic was among the first things I was told about our congregation’s location after being assigned to a mission restart on Long Island, N.Y. Our campus is located more or less dead center on the island, right at the intersection of a main north-south artery and the Long Island Expressway, or “LIE.” (The joke we tell around here is that the lie in LIE is “express.” At rush hour, it resembles the world’s largest parking lot.)

Forty thousand cars a day; close to a million people within a twenty minute driving radius; certainly there’s opportunity for us to meet people! So we put out some new roadside banners and cleaned up our roadside landscaping; we put out a big clothing donation bin; and we pop out for every flat tire that pulls into our parking lot (probably three a week) with a water, a smile, and an invitation to church.

There’s other opportunities to meet people, of course! There’s street fairs and festivals every weekend from June to September, where smiling people from a small, friendly local church can hand out some frisbees and tote bags and. . . you guessed it. . . an invitation to church.

And when you’ve taken all these opportunities to meet people that present themselves, the funny thing is, you end up meeting people!

You meet people who’ve been in church all their lives and people who’ve never darkened the door. You meet people whose home lives are very buttoned up and neat, and people whose home lives are anything but. You meet people who want to ask every question under the sun, and you meet people who fear the sound of their own voice. You meet people who are happy, who are sad, who are kind, and some who aren’t.

And with the eyes that our Savior gives you – eyes like his own eyes – you love them. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them” (Matthew 14:14).

New Yorkers are busy. Every time I leave our island, I see how much more slowly everyone else lives life. Not New Yorkers. Our lives are fast-paced, and our days are full. And being that busy, we don’t always interact well with one another. The caricature of New Yorkers (“I’m walkin’ here!”) isn’t terribly inaccurate. We’re “peopled out.” It can be hard to love at every opportunity when you can easily bump shoulders with hundreds of strangers on a normal day.

But it’s what makes Christians stand out.

New Yorkers guard their affection. It’s doled out sparingly. But the love God puts in our hearts, as his children, doesn’t need to be guarded and measured. We let it spill out, out our front doors and into our commutes and our workplaces, our schools and our supermarkets, and into every interaction we have. Why? Because while we may have new opportunities to meet people every day, we just can’t be sure how many opportunities any one of us has left.

Maybe 40,000 cars don’t drive by your church by every day. Maybe you don’t see new people on every trip to the supermarket. Maybe it doesn’t feel like the same opportunities exist for you to show love. But I promise you, and more importantly, God promises you: They do.

Written by Rev. Timothy Walsh, serving Grace of God Lutheran Church in Dix Hills, N.Y.

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Outstanding ministry blessings in Vancouver

Sometimes God just blesses us with blessings piled up on top of each other. At Saviour of the Nations in Vancouver, BC, we were blessed to have such a weekend on Oct. 1-2. Taking advantage of a local holiday weekend we were blessed to do a discipleship training with our mission counselor, Rev. Matt Vogt. But we packed much more into this weekend.

“The Story of the Bible” initiative

Since Sept.10, we have been doing an “all ministry Bible information class,” meaning every Bible class is a Bible information class. In place of a traditional sermon, we are substituting in a modified Bible lesson connecting an Old Testament story to Jesus in John’s gospel and the relevant doctrines. On Oct. 1, we had 50 people in worship, including five people who have never heard the gospel. And it happened to be on the day we had the clearest presentation of law and gospel. Among them was a gentleman who was raised a Hindu who called the message “beautiful”, a Muslim woman who had never attended a church before, a Japanese woman who had never heard of Jesus before, and a skeptic who was attending worship with his family member. Our Sudanese members came from Surrey and sang as a choir in worship to everyone’s delight.

Sampling dishes from the International Food Festival

The gospel message was doubly reinforced by also celebrating four adult confirmations in the same service. Our other prospects who regularly attend got to hear these four confirmands—Cindy, Taehoon, Chanmuk (Danny), and his wife May—publicly confess their confidence and faith in Jesus. It was a day we all pray the Holy Spirit can use to work in the hearts of those who heard the gospel for the one-hundredth time, and especially for those hearing it the first time.

International Food Festival

To celebrate all that was going on, including Korean Thanksgiving weekend and the Chinese mid-autumn festival, we had an “International Food Festival” after the service with 60 people attending, our highest attendance ever for a meal. We counted 14 countries from four continents represented in various groups among our attendees. Everyone brought dishes from their home country. We tried all kinds of food and had fun voting for different categories like “veggie magic” and “Instagram perfect.” One of our prospects who worked very hard on her Indian dish was so happy she won—it was a big hit for everyone!

Congregation annual meeting

After the food festival wrapped up, we had our annual meeting where we elected two new council leaders: Taehoon Kang from Vancouver and Hakim Kon from our Surrey Sudanese mission. I shared an overview of the church’s past year and what we are doing to share the gospel through building relationships. Rev. Matt Vogt was conveniently present to explain what WELS is to prospects and how we are planting new missions. Our chairman, Volo, presented about the budget and shared gratitude for the financial support we receive through synod subsidy.

Discipleship training

Discipleship training with Mission Counselor Matt Vogt

Twenty-one members, Pastor Matt Vogt, and 13 kids came back on Monday to do an all day discipleship and leadership training. Pastor Vogt shared with us what Biblical leadership looks like and inspired our members to be more involved with the day-to-day operations of our ministry. At the end of the session, both our Sudanese leaders and Vancouver leaders put together respective lists of areas where laypeople can step up and help with the ministry. We hope to be implementing a few each quarter and working on the lists in the coming months.

We ended the day with fellowship over a dinner of Mexican food and celebrating one of our Sudanese kid’s seventh birthday with a cake, singing, and a Lego present to top it off.

God really piled up the blessings for us this weekend. He let us lean into our mission name, “Saviour of the Nations”, to build more meaningful relationships with people through music, food, and above all, the gospel.

Shared by Rev. Geoff Cortright, home missionary at Saviour of the Nations in Vancouver, B.C., Canada 





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Being part of the event

“What are some outreach strategies that you use?” “How do you meet new people?”

These are examples of the kind of questions that people ask me when they find out that I’m a pastor at a new church. My answers to these types of questions are usually pretty basic; make friends, work networks, get involved in the community, etc. When people ask those types of questions they are sometimes looking for specifics and ideas. With one year under my belt, I haven’t been at this long enough to know what is effective or not in the long run. However, one of the best outreach strategies that we employ at Amazing Grace started years before I even got here.

The active city of Dickinson has many vendor events throughout the year. Each one is sponsored by a large entity in the city. The Dickinson Press puts on an event called “The Women’s Expo.” The name makes it clear that the event is tailored to appeal to the women of the community. A member of Amazing Grace knows the person who runs the event and made a deal with her five years ago. Amazing Grace will provide entertainment for the children that come to the event in return we get a free booth space. It’s simple, a win for everyone; the mothers can shop or take a break while they or dad brings their children to play, The Dickinson Press has another thing to attract people to the event, and Amazing Grace has a booth presence as thousands of people walk by and are seen as a sponsor of the event.

Some years Amazing Grace sets up arts and crafts tables, other years we bring in a bouncy house. This year we had a bouncy house and six volunteers from the congregation to help manage all of the children. From 9 a.m. through 4 p.m., the bouncy house was full of kids.

So, why is this an effective outreach strategy for us? Maybe you can see it already. The dad or mom stays by the bouncy house to watch their child. This leads to a natural, unintrusive conversation environment. I and the members of Amazing Grace meet so many wonderful people and couples, some of whom are interested in checking out our new church. We had invitations to our launch service on October 15th out on the table if anyone was interested and had exposure to thousands of people in the community. Plus, over the years we’ve built a reputation with a major entity in Dickinson, the Dickinson Press. Five new prospects have connected with us from the most recent Women’s Expo.

Each situation is unique. We can’t run a whole vendor event on our own, but we can provide a valuable service for the event and the community through the Women’s Expo. If you are asking yourself the question, “How can my church meet new people?,” think about providing a service to a big event that’s already happening. Setting up a booth at an event is great, and the way I see it, being a part of the event in any way you can is even better. All of this is to open up more doors into people’s lives so we can share the saving gospel message with them.

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

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Giving God the glory. . . on and off the field

Jack Strand is a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bloomer, Wis. Jack played quarterback for Bloomer High School and was recruited to play in college. During the recruiting process, he and his parents, Jim and Veronica, made sure that the colleges that were recruiting him had WELS churches with campus ministries in their areas. It was important to Jack to keep God’s Word, what Jesus called the one thing we need most, at the center of his life.

Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) offered Jack a scholarship to play football. Ascension Lutheran Church was five minutes from the college campus. Rev. Jordan Uhlhorn from Ascension and Rev. Daniel Sprain from Shepherd of the Valley in West Fargo, N.D., lead the campus ministry each Thursday night for college students in the area. He committed to playing football for them in 2022. Jack is now a sophomore at MSUM where he plays football, studies engineering physics, and goes to church and campus ministry.

Another WELS member, Josiah Behm from Appleton, Wis,, is a junior who plays linebacker for the MSUM Dragons football team. Jack and Josiah go to church together on Sundays, the campus ministry studies on Thursdays, and to the various campus ministry events. About ten students attend the campus ministry studies and events. Jack and Josiah’s teammates see that their faith is important to them as they let their lights shine on and off the field.

Here’s what Jack has to say about being a student athlete:

“It gives you a different perspective than a non-Christian student athlete might have, because you are doing everything for a different reason. God says to do all things for his glory, so not only are you playing for other people and earthly reasons, but most importantly to give God glory. Being a student athlete is stressful and takes up a ton of time, so finding time to be in the Word and talk to God can be difficult, but absolutely necessary. It’s a blessing to be able to go to God in prayer in good times and bad. When things aren’t going well, you ask for his guidance and help, and when things are going well, you give him thanks and praise. Being a student athlete is also a great opportunity to let your light shine and show by example how a Christian lives their life.”

Here’s what Jack has to say about what campus ministry means:

“It’s a great opportunity to meet and connect with people your age who have the same faith, beliefs, and values in life as you do. Too often, people get sucked into college life and what they might see and do on campus, and so having a group of students who share the same faith is very valuable while continuing the walk of faith during the college years. Having gone to a public high school, I didn’t know a lot of WELS people my age. Now with campus ministry, I have the opportunity to meet WELS people my age and make friends with them, and continue to strengthen my faith while I’m in college. During our Bible studies we learn, talk to one another, and ‘encourage one another and build one another up’ as Paul said, and it is a blessing from God to be able to do so.”

Written by Rev. James Strand, serving at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Bloomer, Wis., and father to Jack.

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How’s it going?

“How’s it going?” Many have asked me that question lately. That likely doesn’t surprise you, because it is such a common, generic greeting employed by many of us. Often, we don’t even expect a real answer. The people who have asked me do want a real answer. They ask for a specific purpose. They know I have experienced a big change – the ministry I serve has experienced a big change. They finish the question like this, “How’s it going working with another pastor?”

In March of 2023, Divine Savior Church – Sienna submitted a request through our district mission board to the Board for Home Missions for an enhancement grant – financial support to allow our church to call for a second pastor. Under God’s careful watch and blessing, the Board for Home Missions granted that request. Our leadership crafted a clear job description for a Pastor of Discipleship, then moved quickly to extend call number one. We knew it was a strong possibility we would need to extend call number two, and three, four, five, maybe more, but God had other plans. Our faithful God worked through that process, Rev. Dan Laitinen was the first pastor we called and he accepted the call. He moved with his family to Sienna in July 2023, and we celebrated his installation on July 30 with worship and a massive serving of Texas-smoked pulled pork.

That celebration kicked off a massive change, both for me and for our ministry. Honestly, I was nervous. How well would we get along? Would I be a good teammate? What information is the most important to share immediately?

So. . . how’s it going? I’m learning how to better communicate, and let go, and many other ways in which I can grow as a pastor. I struggled at first to remember to say, “I’m one of the pastors here.” Yet, all of that puts too much emphasis on myself and Pastor Dan, we are under shepherds. I want to put the emphasis on Jesus, the great Shepherd, and his mission to reach more for his flock.

How’s that going? Incredibly!

As we partner with Divine Savior Academy on our campus, there are so many opportunities for ministry. This year, the school has grown to 350 students in PreK – 11th grade. We anticipate more students next year with the completion of a building project. So much ministry can happen! While I serve 10th graders and teach the Old Testament, Pastor Dan can study the Bible with Kenneth, our security officer, and Keith, our technology specialist, progressing towards membership at Divine Savior Church. While Pastor Dan invites them to his home to encourage and equip Connect Group leaders for our small group ministry, I am the invited guest at the homes of academy parents like Jake and Amanda or Will and Jordan, who take our START class to becomes members. While I take time to engage and interact specifically with worship visitors and guests, Pastor Dan leads a Sunday morning small group study. While Pastor Dan works with our youth group leaders to plan consistent events to connect teens to Christ, I work with the Outreach team to plan our Soccer Camp and Easter Egg Hunt.

How’s it going? Thanks for asking! I have a real answer to give: More kingdom work is happening. More people are equipped to serve in our mission. More souls are connected to Christ!

Written by Rev. Kevin Boushek, home missionary at Divine Savior Church in Sienna, Texas.

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Hope in Houston

“Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20, CEB)

Hope Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas, started a capital campaign earlier this year with the theme “Beyond” based on that verse from Ephesians. We were in a bit of a tough spot at the time. A few months earlier we had a meeting with the owner of the dance studio we currently rent, and she let us know that unless something changed, she would have to close down by the end of the year. Without many other options, we decided to take on a substantial portion of her lease payment in exchange for more access to the space. But this was hardly a long-term solution. We knew we needed to act quickly to get into a permanent space. We started looking around, but in the middle of a big city like Houston, real estate is hard to come by. We searched for several months and toured several properties without finding any good options.

Current worship space for Hope Lutheran Church

Meanwhile, our members were busy showing just how true it is that God can do “far beyond all that we could ask or imagine.” Our leadership team had conducted an informal poll months earlier to assess how much we could expect our members to contribute when it came time to purchase a building. The total came in around $400,000. So, trusting that God would provide, our leadership team set our fundraising goal at $500,000. After only two months of fundraising, we held our Celebration Sunday, where we revealed how much our congregation had raised. The total came to $607,153 with an additional $120,000 pledged over the next two years! Sure enough, God provided far beyond what we asked or imagined.

Around the same time we were celebrating the results of our capital campaign, we found a church for sale in our target area. It was a Church of Christ that was built in 1927 and remodeled in the late 1950s. It is situated on its own block within a neighborhood in our target area. There is a large parking lot, ample street parking, and plenty of green space for kids to run around. We quickly put in an offer, and it was accepted. We are currently under contract, and if all goes well, we will close in the next few days.

It’s an incredibly exciting time in the life of our church. Thanks to the Church Extension Fund’s grant program for new missions, we get a 4:1 match on the land value and a 2:1 match for every dollar we spend on the remodel. Because of this, we can afford the necessary renovations to make the almost 100 year old building our home for the future. And because Church Extension Funds grants keep the cost down for us, we will be able to taper off of synod subsidy faster, which enables WELS to start more missions in the future. We are extremely grateful to Church Extension Fund for partnering with us on this project!

The original Church of Christ building in 1927

We hope to have the remodel completed by late 2024, when we will be able to move in and open our doors to the community. We cannot wait to see what kind of impact we’ll be able to have in our community once we have a permanent space. Our people have been very involved throughout the process and have all kinds of great ideas for how to use our new space. We’re very optimistic about the next stage of our congregation’s life, knowing that God will do “far beyond all that we ask or imagine.”

Written by Rev. Andrew Nemmers, home missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. 

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Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus

Jill walked up to our front door, and I could tell she was nervous. With a smile and hopefully a friendly greeting, I gave her a bulletin and welcomed her to church. That Sunday she heard about Jesus’ love for her.

Jill sat in her living room, and I could tell she was distraught. Her husband had passed away a few months ago, so she moved closer to family. That past Sunday was the first time she had been to church in a while. But it wasn’t just her husband. Her story was all too common: shame, regrets, broken relationships. These weighed on her conscience. That afternoon, she heard about Jesus’ love for her.

Jill began to attend Sunday worship, and I could tell she loved it. She talked to the other members of Our Savior. She participated in Bible Class. She told me how she was working to invite her family to come and visit her new church, a place that told her about Jesus’ love. Jill studied God’s Word in our new member class, and I could see evidence of the Spirit’s work. She learned the depth and the glory of God’s love for her in Jesus. She surprised me with how well she applied what we learned to her life and her religious background.

The worship facility at Our Savior Lutheran Church.

Not long after Jill suffered from a fall. Jill lay in the nursing home after her fall and I could tell she was confused. She couldn’t talk very well and the pain was bad. She questioned why God would allow this to happen.  I told her about the forgiveness we have in Jesus and the hope of eternal life we both shared. We prayed that God would grant her healing and recovery.

As God saw fit, he did not grant her that full recovery. Over the next few weeks, her condition worsened. Jill was moved to a hospital, so I visited her frequently. I continued to tell her about Jesus’ love for her. Sometimes she was “there.” Other times, the medicine made it hard to remain engaged.

Her eyes are what I noticed. The medicine wasn’t as strong now because she was in hospice. Every time I walked in, her eyes lit up. She knew I was there. I held her hand; she squeezed back. I told her about Jesus’ love for her. Her eyes followed along as I read from the Psalms, from the Gospels, and from Paul’ epistles. Her family was there sometimes. They heard too. I had opportunities to share Jesus’ love with them directly. She and I prayed that God would keep her eyes firmly fixed on her Savior, Jesus, and that Jesus would bring her home to heaven.

God answered. Within a span of about 3 months, Jill visited our church, worshiped with us, grew in Bible class, fell sick, and entered into glory. God granted me in those last months the wonderful opportunity to tell her about Jesus’ love for her. God granted me in those last months the wonderful opportunity to witness to her family about Jesus’ love.

Jill lives now in heaven, rejoicing in paradise. I know she couldn’t be happier.

Written by Rev. Orie Thomford, home missionary at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Burlington, Iowa. 

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The gospel in Garden Grove…in three languages!

“Pastor, has there ever been a trilingual ordination service in the history of WELS?”

It was a very good question. This past Sunday, August 6, 2023, the installation and ordination service of two pastor was held at King of Kings in three languages. The three languages were English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Songs, prayers, and Scripture readings happened in all three languages with translations printed in the bulletin. If there had been a trilingual ordination service sometime earlier in WELS history, it was probably not in those three languages.

One of the men being installed and ordained was Rev. Grant Hagen, a Spanish-speaking graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS) who had been assigned to a Spanish-speaking congregation. The other man being installed and ordained was Rev. Trung Le, a Vietnamese-speaking graduate of the Pastoral Studies Institute of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, who had been assigned to lead Vietnamese outreach for an English-speaking congregation.

The English-speaking congregation, King of Kings in Garden Grove, Calif., had opened its doors to the Spanish-speaking congregation, Pan de Vida Iglesia Luterana, a couple years earlier. The chancel furniture was from Pan de Vida’s previous location. The man who preached the Spanish sermon, Rev. Luis Acosta of the WELS One Latin America Team, stood behind the pulpit and told the assembly of more than 200 people how ably Hagen had served as a senior vicar in a Spanish-speaking congregation in Milwaukee, Wis.

The man who preached the Vietnamese sermon, Rev. Daniel Kramer from Peace in Jesus in Boise, Idaho, told the assembly, including 20 pastors who had come to participate in the laying on of hands, how Trung Le had come to faith and ably served in the leadership of that congregation in Idaho.

Because the WELS Joint Mission Council is helping with part of the effort, I had the privilege of preaching the English sermon. All three of us preachers used the text Matthew 9:36-38, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Because the Lord sees how harassed and helpless we human beings are, and because he has compassion for us, he knows exactly what good gifts to give as a result of his people’s prayers. On this day, in southern California, he gave two men who are in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. They join Rev. Brian Doebler in Garden Grove, Cal., in proclaiming the everlasting gospel.

In three languages!

Written by Rev. Paul Prange, Administrator for Ministerial Education and Joint Missions Council chairman. 

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Brats and building bridges for Jesus!

Sometimes you just need to be creative.

The core group for a new mission start in Kronenwetter, Wis., was looking for a way to both get the word out that a new church was coming to this growing community, and to begin building a prospect list for sharing the gospel. We knew that there was going to be a community garage sale weekend in mid-summer. This meant there would be a lot of residents moving around the village eager to find bargains and hidden treasures at the nearly 100 garage sales that would be taking place in our target area. They were going to get hungry during the day, and of course some of them would need to go to the bathroom.

The core group got creative and saw a golden opportunity! In this part of our country, folks love their bratwurst as much, if not more, than they do their Green Bay Packers. So, it was decided to hold a free brat fry. We would also use this opportunity to open the doors of Northland Lutheran High School, where the  mission will eventually begin, to allow garage sale shoppers to use the facilities and become familiar with the building and the ministry it does.

On the day of the brat fry, the Lord blessed us with perfect weather. A good number of residents stopped by to take us up on the offer of free brats and hot dogs and to use the Northland High School’s bathrooms. That got them in the door. The banner by the food table proclaimed that a new mission church was coming. This accomplished our exact goal, as questions were asked and comments were made, resulting in natural and easy conversations about our intentions. Most of the people who came wanted to give us free will donations.

While we thanked them for their thoughtfulness and politely refused their money, we asked them instead to fill out a 60-Second Survey. We told them that their opinions were valuable because we wanted our mission church to meet the needs of people living in Kronenwetter. If they wanted to be put on our mailing list for regular updates on how the mission was progressing, they could give us their name and address. Twenty-eight surveys were completed, and nine families are now on the prospect list. It’s a start!

I had the opportunity to meet (and eat with!) a young couple blessed with a four year old daughter. Not long ago they moved to Kronenwetter, they told me that they had Lutheran backgrounds from where they used to live but had not found a new church home. They were concerned because their daughter had not been baptized yet, and now she was starting to ask questions about God. It was obvious to me that they were feeling guilt for not doing a better job of Christian parenting. It was a joy to share with them the good news about forgiveness in Jesus, and to let them know I would gladly work with them to have their daughter baptized and that it wouldn’t cost them anything. I also told them they could bring their daughter to my church’s Sunday School starting this fall. They were thrilled to know that a church was coming soon to help them all grow in God’s Word and love on their journey to eternal life in heaven.

As the core group was cleaning up at the end of the day, the consensus was clear. Even if the only result of the brat fry was this little girl’s baptism, our efforts were more than worth it. But we are confident of God’s blessings and we praise and thank him for letting us use brats and bathrooms to build bridges for sharing Jesus!

Written by Rev. Jeff Mahnke, pastor at St. Peter Lutheran in Schofield, Wis., and chairman of the Western Wisconsin District Mission Board. 

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Sometimes, It’s just clear

If you live in the north central and north east states of our country, you’ve lived with a smoky haze for weeks. Even with wildfires thousands of miles away, the smell of burning forests can sting the nose, limit vision, and threaten fragile lungs. We long for clear skies and fresh air.

Sometimes God lets us struggle through what we think is a smoky haze when the answer doesn’t seem to be clear, or even in sight. He does this to drive us to his Word, drive us to our knees in prayer, drive us to seek counsel and collaborate with fellow saints. This is always for our good, even if we cannot see the good in the moment or a while after we emerge from the haze. And then, sometimes, it’s just clear.

Mission Counselor Wayne Uhlhorn and I left Green Bay Tuesday morning with a heavy haze of smoke filling the air and our lungs as we set off for Marquette, Mich., to hold our next core group meeting. By the time we reached Marquette, the haze was completely gone. The sun was shining brightly and the fresh air filled our lungs. It was just…clear.

I share this not only to relate the wondrous natural beauty God created in the Marquette area, but also because our journey to Michigan works as a great metaphor for the new start in Marquette. Sometimes it’s just clear.

From our first visit two years ago with Pastor Stephen Lehmann until now, and every trip in between, it’s just clear—we need to start a new church in Marquette! This isn’t just the opinion of a mission minded pastor an hour away in Iron Mountain (Lehmann), nor that of a Midwest mission board. From visits we made with movers and shakers in the community to other WELS people we keep finding in the Marquette community, everything and everyone has kept saying…it’s just clear.

Rev. Lindloff, his wife, and their three children.

Rev. Joseph Lindloff, his wife, Julie, and their three children

That’s not to say there hasn’t been haze, trepidation, or uncertainty.

The fall of 2022, our board wasn’t sure we were ready to submit a request for the spring Board for Home Missions meetings. Why? We didn’t have an established and active core group. If you know anything about church planting these days, that’s kind of a big deal! But we knew Marquette was an excellent example where we still need to do some exploratory missions. Obviously, it was just as clear to the Board for Home Missions as it was to us.

Along the way, there has been other haze to contend with. There are naysayers regarding the 100 missions in 10 years initiative (though most who give me the chance to explain will at least understand, if not come to support it). We also had to answer the question, “Why would you start a church in Marquette? We already have one there!” In Marquette County? Yes. In the city? Nope. That said, our goal isn’t that one church close so that another would thrive, but that we would have two thriving congregations in Marquette County. St. Paul’s would focus on the rural community south of Marquette, near Harvey and K.I. Sawyer. The New Start location would focus on the area west of Marquette proper, near Northern Michigan University and the communities of Negaunee and Ishpeming. It’s just clear.

Six months after deciding to move forward with submitting the request for a New Start in Marquette…three months after BHM approval, here Wayne and I were sitting in the beautiful backyard of our gracious hosts, Ashley & Eric Nicholas (the core of the core group), talking about starting a new mission in their community. And just three days prior, Rev. Joe Lindloff had accepted the call to be the missionary of our new start! It’s just clear when you see things come together like this and knowing it’s all part of God’s gracious plan.

And still, there’s more! At this meeting we got to meet two new members of the core group. Evan, a traveling nurse, is looking for a new position closer to home not only so he can be home every night with his wife and child (and #2 on the way), but also so he can help establish a new mission with a man who years ago was a senior he looked up to at Michigan Lutheran Seminary. Next, we met Sydney, who went to NMU to get her graduate degree in counseling. She works at Christian Family Solutions(CFS) and decided to stay in Marquette after completing her degree. Early on in our research for the new start, we saw a huge opportunity if we could get a CFS counselor in an office and on site at the new start. And now, three months after approval, God introduced us to Sydney who is excited by the prospect of setting up shop together with our new mission!

I think by now you’re seeing it too. It’s just clear. God is working in wondrous ways to gather more sheep in the Marquette community. I can’t wait to see what else God has planned for his church in Marquette!

Written by Rev. Ben Enstad, pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Green Bay, Wis. and DMB Chairman for Northern Wisconsin District. 

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Rivers of living water will flow

Like the loops and curls of the mighty Mississippi River that form the western border of the state of Mississippi, so also are the twists and turns of life that lead unwitting travelers toward Christ’s astonishing grace. Near the river in rural western Mississippi, Pat recalls her childhood days of picking cotton in the fields. Pat and her thirteen siblings attended a Baptist church in Lyon, Miss., where she also participated in summer Bible school and other youth events.

Although Pat quit school in the ninth grade, she kept busy working long hours with her mom in a local department store. When she was 16 her parents separated, leaving her mom to raise the children alone, including one with down syndrome. Looking for a new start, Pat made the life-changing decision to leave her Mississippi home and live with her sister in Indiana at age eighteen. Upon her move to Indiana, her relationship with Jesus stagnated.

Pat settled in Greenwood, Ind., a southern suburb of Indianapolis. In 2007, she and her husband purchased a home in a new subdivision on the southside of Greenwood surrounded by open fields. In one of those open fields, just two-tenths of a mile from Pat’s home, WELS purchased land. In 2014, Builders for Christ volunteers gathered at that open field to construct a new church, Light of Life Lutheran. For years, Pat would drive out of her subdivision and pass by the church.

In the spring of 2023, Pat decided to turn into the church parking lot. She had spotted vehicles unloading food that would be served that evening for the Lenten meal. Pat pulled up to speak with the pastor and asked about the church. One issue that really concerned her was the dress code. As a young girl she often felt judged because of her hand-me-down attire. She wondered if she would need to wear a dress to church, since that was what she was used to when she went to church as a teenager in Mississippi. She was assured that she could come as she was.

Pat attended the midweek Lenten service that evening. Although she admits the service was different from what she was used to, members of Light of Life visited with her after worship. Wading in the gentle current of the river of life, flowing freely from God’s Word, she began attending weekly Bible information class on Monday afternoons. To encourage her, members from the church also attended the class.

The church Pat had routinely passed by had become a place she attended several times a week for worship and Bible studies. Pat said, “It makes me wonder why – it’s like this church has been in my face all these years. And now I finally decided, ‘I am going to stop at this church.’ I know I believed in God, but since I’m an adult, it makes things so much better because I can understand. As an adult it is so different. I feel I need to be here. Now I make a point to be here. It’s a plan. ‘Pat is going to church on Sunday.’”

She appreciates the streams of support in newfound friendships among the members of Light of Life. “I feel like I belong here. And everybody is so helpful.” Pat now seeks to channel her renewed faith in Christ as she finds new ways to be active in the life of the church. May the current of God’s grace continue to overflow in Pat’s life until it leads to the river of eternal life in heaven.

Written by Rev. Scott Miller from Light of Life Lutheran Church in Greenwood, Ind.

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Peace like a River

“Peace like a river” was a fitting theme for the 60th Annual Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society Convention, held this past weekend in La Crosse, Wis., held just steps to the Mississippi River. This convention serves as a an annual opportunity for men and women to come together in one place and serve by increasing awareness of, interest in, and support of the mission outreach of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

This year’s convention included speakers from Wisconsin to Ecuador to Colorado to East Asia. Each workshop leader and keynote speaker had something unique to present as a result of their unique mission fields.

Rev. Daniel Lewig, of Richland Center, Wis., spoke on “upcycling evangelism.” He shared examples from personal experience with their church, Bethlehem Lutheran. He reminded attendees that each congregation has it’s strengths and weaknesses, so why not lean into those strengths. They did just that by leaning into their Live Nativity event that had great attendance, and they never looked back. What began as a well attended event, eventually led the church to settle on Bethlehem as their name. How fitting!

Coming from the other side of the country, Rev. Paul Biedenbender and Vicar CJ Fury from Denver, Col. presented on the Vicar in a Mission setting program, which allows seminary students to serve their vicar year at a home mission, or mission minded, church. Vicar Fury was able to give a first hand account of some of the responsibilities and projects he took on during his vicar year at Christ Lutheran, as well as stories of the ministry he’s been able to do this past year.

To speak about World mission work in Latin America, LWMS had Missionary Elise Gross, the director of Women’s Ministry for the One Latin America team, as one of the keynote speakers. Elise told her story of growing up as a missionary child in Antigua and how she now has a missionary child of her own in Quito, Ecuador. She addressed how her role as director of Women’s Ministry has given her an opportunity to connect Latin American women with Academia Cristo, as they have the monumental task of sharing the gospel with their families, which takes strength and courage.

The convention had many other Home and World missionaries who were able to present and share their stories of faith, struggle, success, and unexpected situations in a mission field. Along the way, attendees were also able to receive Home and World Mission updates from Rev. Larry Schlomer and Mr. Sean Young, a 100 in 10 initiative presentation by Rev. Paul Schupmann and Steve Wolf, members of the 100 in 10 task force, and LWMS Business Meeting highlights.

After four days filled with WELS Missions, the 60th Annual LWMS Convention came to a close. The weekend was spent with over 1,200 attendees sharing their love and support for WELS Missions and all by the hand of God, who made all things possible. God willing we will meet again next year in Sioux Falls for the next Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society Convention!

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Faces of Faith – Veronica

I was driving one Sunday morning, and I needed to stop to use my phone. As I was looking for a safe place to pull over, I saw someone holding a sign that read “The Vine Church – Worship Service Today.” I pulled in and parked as far away from the church building as possible, because I had no plans to go in. I just wanted to use my phone.

A woman approached my car with a big, welcoming smile and said, “Come on in for the service; we’d love to have you.” She was super friendly, so I thought to myself, “Why not?”

I had no idea what kind of church it was, but the people inside were friendly too. After I found a place to sit, a young lady came and sat next to me. She made me feel comfortable and not so alone. Pastor Kevin Schultz was awesome. His message really touched my heart as he told us about the undeserved love of Jesus. I knew I was at the right place.

I came back the following Sunday, and I kept coming back every week after that. I became a member of The Vine in Hayden, Idaho, and I never looked back. It’s been wonderful being part of this amazing congregation. I finally found my church home. . . all because the Lord led me to a church’s parking lot to use my phone. He had so much more in mind for me on that day!

Written by Veronica, a member at The Vine in Hayden, Ida. served by Rev. Kevin Schultz. 

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Faces of Faith – Michaela

As most college students headed out to their spring break trips, 12 students from UW-Madison and UW-Stout campus ministries used this time to come together. We traveled down to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Deltona, Fla., to serve the Lord and his people through a Mission Journey.

On our Mission Journey trip, we cleaned up an area of land outside the school, washed tables and walls, and hung 500 door-hangers in the surrounding neighborhoods for the upcoming Easter events at the church in hopes of bringing in more members of the community. We were also able to attend the Lenten service where the congregation was having a Puerto Rican themed dinner and presentation to update the congregation on future evangelism goals.

In our down time, we were able to enjoy time by the pool, go to the beach, see the manatees at Blue Springs, go on an airboat ride, and have a game night. All the while, we were able to form and build connections between the two campus ministries, the congregation, the pastors who guided us, our host families, and those we met in the community along the way. The Christian fellowship we experienced was invaluable.

Good Shepherd showed us the perfect definition of Christian love and hospitality. This Mission Journey fanned the flame for all of us on the trip as well as those surrounding us. As we returned to Wisconsin, we were all invigorated to do more in our own congregations and continue to serve the Lord in our everyday lives.

Written by Michaela Hansen, a member of the University of Wisconsin – Stout campus ministry.

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Faces of Faith – David

David is a freshman at the University of Arizona who is majoring in Biomedical Engineering. He was born into a Lutheran family and has been part of the Lutheran church since he was very young. As he grew older, he reflected on his faith and investigated parts of it, finding that it was an integral part of his life.

When he started applying for college, he explored WELS Tucson Campus Ministry (TCM) because of its familiarity with his home church, Shepherd of the Hills, in Tucson, Ariz. He realized that in college there are a lot fewer people that share the same faith, some even outright deny it. Therefore, he wanted a place to share his faith and worship with others. He feels that TCM has allowed him to study God’s Word in an environment that is supportive and kind. He is also a student assistant at TCM and he helps plan events to bring people into the faith.

One personal experience he had that helped him as he grew older was attending the LYFE group (high school youth group) at his home church where Jonathan Rhodes, a LYFE group leader, was a role model for him and remained a role model even during David’s college years. He hopes to grow stronger in his faith and remain a member of TCM next year as well.

Written by Rev. Tim Patoka, campus pastor at WELS Tucson Campus Ministry.

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God works through the big and the small

Big is good, but…bigger is not necessarily better.

Easter was about a month and a half ago, and maybe you saw advertisements that looked something like this.

“10,000 Easter eggs, packed with candy and fun!”
“40 thousand Easter eggs!”
“100,000 Easter eggs for your kids to pick up!”
“Thousands of eggs dropped out of a helicopter!”
“Easter bunny skydiving into egg hunt!”

Maybe you and your church reached out into your community via a massive Easter event, and you got to talk with people and love people who would never profess to be interested in learning more about Jesus, let alone open the door of your church’s sanctuary on Easter or any other day.

If so, wonderful! Praise God!

Or, maybe, seeing headlines like those put a pit in your stomach and made you and your church feel at least a little inadequate. Maybe like you’re not doing enough, like you’re less than.

First, there is no enough. We can never be enough. Our identity, as souls loved by Jesus, is and always will be enough. Secondly, comparing your church to other churches is not the name of the game, nor is it beneficial to anyone.

And lastly, a big event can be wonderful, but. . . bigger is not necessarily better.

Within a 10-mile radius of our ministry center, there were over a dozen other big Easter egg events advertised. But 16 months ago, a seemingly small thing happened, a family with three young girls attended worship for the first time. It seemed like a small thing, but following worship that day in January 2022, we had planned an open forum to talk through a ministry plan and brainstorm new ideas. It happened that the family, who was there for the first time, decided stay for the open forum, and they decided to speak at the open forum.

And it just so happened that their idea was a special needs Easter egg hunt. Their former church, of a different denomination in a different state, had held one previously. We looked —there wasn’t one anywhere near us!

Long story short, for two Easters now, we’ve hosted an Easter egg hunt for children with special needs—children with Down Syndrome, autism, and other needs. Children who would not be able to be at an event with hundreds or thousands of other people. But a few dozen? That’s just right.

This year 12 kids came, from five families, and it started unexpectedly down pouring five minutes before the event was supposed to start (one can never trust even the best weather apps). Regardless, we still got to have fantastic conversations, show love, and one of the unchurched families attended worship the very next day and became interested in taking our Foundations course to learn more about God’s grace.

100,000 eggs? A helicopter? No, not exactly, but God works through the big and the small. Whether your church is big or small, your events are large or small scale, God promises to work whatever he wills. And whatever he wills is always best.

So be confident and joyful in his promises, whether your ministry seems big or small. God always works in just the right way, and his grace is always good and always working.

Written by Rev. Nathan Loersch, home missionary at Illumine Lutheran Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

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It’s not about the jars

A pastor who is much smarter than I am once said that planting a mission church comes down to “the man, the mission, and the moment.” How are things looking for our new church in Canton, Ga.? The moment seems right. Our county has grown over 400 percent in the last 30 years and the population of Canton itself is projected to grow by 25 percent over the next 10 years. That’s a ton of people who will be looking for a new church home or who have never even heard the good news about Jesus.

Everything appears to be lining up for the mission, too. By the grace of God, Christ the Rock is blessed with a launch team of 25 people of all different ages from all different kinds of backgrounds, who are willing to share what it means to build on Christ the Rock with our growing community. And when 70 percent of the people in our area are unchurched or left churched, it’s a tremendous blessing to have mission-minded Christians ready to go with that mission in front of them!

It’s when we get to that last one, “the man”, that’s when things get a little sticky. Because who am I? What do I bring to the table? How can I accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished to get a new church off the ground? The moment and the mission might be right, but, man…a lot of times I feel ill-equipped. Like I’m the weak link in the “man, mission, moment” mantra.

Maybe that’s okay, though. What was it Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4? “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. . . we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Paul, the greatest missionary ever, his reminder was it’s not about the jars. . . it’s about Jesus. A clay pot is so fragile. It’s temporary, non-descript. It is so not the center of attention! It’s what’s inside the clay jar. . . that’s the real focus. That’s the treasure! If you make mission work all about the jar of clay instead of the treasure of Jesus inside, then you are going to wrestle with feeling fragile and inadequate.

But thanks be to our Savior, who transforms us into clay jars with the greatest treasure the world has ever seen inside of us. The treasures of forgiveness, life, and freedom through faith in what Jesus did for you and me. That good news comforts and strengthens us as we carry out our mission. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Now I am by no means an expert when it comes to pottery, but I do know that words like “pressed on all sides” “persecuted” and “struck down” don’t sound like good things when you’re talking about something fragile. Then you notice Paul says we are “not crushed” or “in despair” or “abandoned” or “ destroyed”. That can only be possible if someone is taking care of the jar. The glory of the gospel we carry is that Jesus loves us enough to fill us up with this good news and he holds us tight in his arms. He is our strength when things get tough.

The moment is right. The mission is clear. The man. . . is just a clay jar. But it was never about the jar. It’s all about Jesus.

Written by Rev. Cale Mead, a home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Canton, Ga.

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It takes a village

“It takes a village to raise a child.” Many of us have heard this old proverb, and many of us who have been blessed with children understand how true it is. In the case of my wife and I, we clearly see the wisdom behind it. Our four children continue to be influenced and shaped by the people who make up our village. Close relatives, neighbors, friends, and church family have brought something unique to the table that further creates a safe and healthy environment for our kids and helps mold them into the adults they will become in the future.

As a new church planter in Windsor, Colo., I can’t help but conclude that this proverb also applies to mission starts. Indeed, it takes a village to plant a new mission. After accepting the call and moving from Southern California in January, I have seen the extensive village that is involved in influencing and shaping a new mission. Each part brings something unique and vital to planting and raising this mission. And each part is committed to creating an environment for this church to succeed. So, who makes up this village? Well first there is the District Mission Board (DMB), which I would consider to be the parents of this mission start since they identified Windsor as a place for another mission. The DMB consists of pastors and lay leaders within the district who have passion for reaching the lost and understand the logistics, finances, etc. of starting a new mission. But that was just the beginning. Within a few weeks of arriving, I took part in a Church Planter Intensive led by Pastor Jared Oldenburg in Castle Rock, Colo. This two-day seminar provided an opportunity to think about overall vision, mission statement, and the core values of our new mission. In addition, there was practical advice and countless tips that would further shape how we did outreach, evangelism, our church structure, and the timeline to launch.

Then there is the regional mission counselor(s). These pastors assist every mission in getting off the ground and provide valuable feedback through the process. With extensive experience in mission work and a detailed understanding of the “step-by-step” approach, they are able to assist them in a strong start. They give guidance and advice on what to do next when it comes to planting a church. In my case, mission counselor, Matt Vogt, facilitated a brainstorming session with our core group (pictured above) to help gain traction in moving us to the next level of church planting.

Windsor, Colo., core group meeting with Mission Counselor, Matt Vogt

But the village influence continues! Within 30 minutes of Windsor is our neighboring WELS churches in Fort Collins, Loveland, and Greeley, Colo. These established congregations and their seasoned pastors bring ministry experience, knowledge of the area, and additional minds to bounce ideas off of as we continue to grow.

Thus far, I can’t help but thank God for the village he has provided to influence and help shape his new mission in Windsor. It has been eye opening to see how God puts the right people at the right time in the right location to further his Kingdom. To that end, I would encourage you whether you’re an established congregation or new mission, a pastor or lay member to contemplate these questions, “Who has God put in my village?” Because the proverb applies well, it takes a village!

Written by Stephen Koelpin, home missionary in a new mission start in Windsor, Colo. 

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A gift for making gifts

Two years ago I received the call to serve Christ the Rock in Farmington, N.M. As I was deliberating, I received a phone call from one of the members. He told me that his name was Tully. His friends called him Tools. As a long time mechanic, the name fit him perfectly. Tully told me about the ministry at Christ the Rock and the different opportunities for serving in Farmington. He was excited to have a new pastor come and serve, and he, along with his wife, Terri, believed that I was the one.

They were right! In August 2021, we arrived in Farmington, N.M. At my installation, Tully presented me with a special gift – an amazing gift! It was a sand art name plate. The cross and Bible were a reminder of what I do and who I serve. On the other side was a painting of a mountain, Shiprock. In Navajo it is called Tsé Bitʼaʼí, “rock with wings” or “winged rock.” The mountain is sacred to the Navajo and is the most prominent landmark in northwestern New Mexico. Every time I look at his painting I am amazed at his talent!

Tully has done sand art for a long time. All of the colors come from natural sand and crushed rock. The blue, he is proud to share, is made from crushed turquoise. He used to make his name plates to sell at art shows. He still does, but he makes most of them to give away. New members at Christ the Rock receive one with their family name, along with some traditional Navajo art on either side. When we attended District Convention together last summer, he made name plates for our district officers. Tully loves to give, and he gives generously with his talent for art.

However, Tully has another gift. He has a gift for being one of our most active evangelists. He invites everyone, and I mean everyone, to come and visit Christ the Rock. He takes our information to the local Navajo station so it can be broadcast to the Navajo Nation. He invites his family members to come every week. Tully loves Jesus and wants everyone else to know Jesus’ love for them. I love to watch the way Tully uses the gifts God has given him to make gifts, spread the gospel, and further his kingdom. That’s what being a missionary is all about!

Written by Rev. Jon Brohn, home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Farmington, New Mexico. 

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From the very beginning

How do WELS churches get started? How do we decide where they should go? This is not a secret nor is it a simple process. Through Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s 2023 Winterim course, 14 seminary students were able to experience firsthand the earlier steps in exploring potential churches in three communities outside of Austin, Texas. The students began the week by meeting with WELS Mission Counselor, Matt Vogt and the core group of WELS members in each of the three cities. The 14 students were divided into three teams, one for each city, and asked to research thoroughly and report how much potential each community had for growth in the coming years.

The communities of Leander, Jarrell, and Kyle/Buda, seem to display potential for a new WELS church. Mission Counselor Vogt and Professor Allen Sorum worked alongside the South-Central district mission board, local area pastors and home missionaries, and their district president to prepare for the week. The students were trained and tasked with conducting community and church leader interviews, doing some door-to-door canvassing, and interviewing other potential core group members. When asked about their favorite part of the experience, students shared many examples of how the Holy Spirit opened hearts to conversations about the gospel.

Once their research was complete, the 14 students were able to present the information they gathered with their team (pictured). Students, local pastors, and Home Mission representatives listened, reacted, and asked questions about each location. With these insights from the seminary students, the South Central District Mission Board will prioritize which location(s) to pursue first.

As for the 14 seminary students, they were able to gain real experience exploring a potential mission field and sharing their faith before they receive their divine calls. Many students expressed greater interest in serving as a church planter after the trip was over. One student noted, “It was eye opening to see the grand scope of what WELS Home Missions does and the support we give to our home missionaries. It makes mission work less scary.” These men are going to be a part of the first few Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduating classes to potentially receive assignments to new home mission churches approved as part of the 100 Missions in 10 Years initiative. WELS Home Missions is thankful for partners at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary that are training the next generation of church planters.

Next week, the Board for Home Missions will meet to carefully consider and prioritize each request submitted for a new home mission or enhancement. Stay tuned to hear where those first new home mission starts and enhancements will be located as we work towards our goal of starting 100 missions and enhancing 75 ministries in the next in 10 years. 

Learn more about our 100 missions in 10 years initiative at wels100in10.net .




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Right place, right time

“Missional Living” is a lifestyle in our mission church. It’s a constant reminder for the members of our congregation to live every day of their life as if it’s a mission trip and recognize where Jesus is already at work in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. Our goal is to just wake up each morning and say, “Lord, what kind of mission trip are you going to take me on today to reach one more person for Jesus?”

One example of missional living happened recently in my dentist’s chair. I know, that’s not the place where you would normally think of “missional living,” but it was on this day.

I went in for a regular teeth cleaning and check-up. While I was getting settled into the chair, I asked the dental hygienist how things had been going in her life lately. She told me that although she had just got engaged, she was struggling with some incompatibility issues with her fiancé. I listened attentively to her while she worked on my teeth.

When there was a “break in the action” (in between rinses), I asked her how compatible she and her fiancé were spiritually. That question opened the floodgates, and she began telling me all about her past religious experiences and struggles with God and the Bible. I listened to talk about her struggles while she continued to work on my teeth and tried my best to answer her questions (again, in between rinses). I didn’t want to say anything that might upset her, since she was holding a sharp object in her hand. So, I did much more listening than talking.

After she was finished cleaning my teeth, I said, “You know, I’m a pastor, and I would be happy to meet with you sometime for coffee and help you with some of these problems that you and your fiancé are struggling with.” She replied, “I would like that. In fact, I’ve got a lot of other questions about God and religion that I’d like to ask you too.” I smiled and agreed.

As I was leaving, she said, “Thank you for listening to me and answering my questions. I’d like to come and visit your church sometime. Would that be ok?” I joyfully replied, “Absolutely! I think you will be blessed by it.”

God was certainly up to something in this young woman’s life that day, and I was exactly where he wanted me to be to join him on his mission. What a privilege it is to be used by God to accomplish his purpose in the lives of others. On that day, at that time, his purpose for me was to be in that dentist chair and make a connection with that young woman at a time when she needed it most. Let us continue to make those connections and remain in a mindset of “missional living.”

Written by Pastor Kevin Schultz, Home Missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Hayden, Idaho

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True love, God’s love

As couples prepared to buy chocolate, candies, teddy bears, cards, and roses for each other on Valentine’s Day to express their love for each other, Faith Hmong in Alaska uses this time of the year to gather couples for an evening of food, relaxation, photos, and God’s Word on the message of true LOVE.

“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” – 1 John 4:10a

The message that evening focused on Genesis 2:17, “They become one flesh.” This reminded couples that marriage doesn’t stop after the wedding ceremony, having their first child, or being able to accomplish some of their goals. Couples must be intentional with their marriage. They can’t just show love or affection towards each other once a year on Valentine’s Day; they must show love for each other and serve each other every day to continue to strengthen a marriage, which is built on the foundation of Christ. It was great opportunity for couples to gather together and experience an evening filled with God’s Word, great conversations, and time to reflect on each other.

Faith Hmong in Alaska uses this kind of event as an outreach opportunity to invite friends, family, and neighbors to the Faith Hmong community. We also have events for kids and parents to spend time together, such as a family paint night, which is planned for next month. Coming to worship services can be a little intimidating for some, but with events like these, believers and friends can come and relax and hear about their Lord. It’s a fun way for the church members to do outreach in the community.

We have been serving the Hmong community of Anchorage since 2009 and have established a beautiful relationship with our Anglo brothers and sisters at Faith Lutheran Church. Every Sunday, our doors are open early in the morning for an English service, followed by a Hispanic service preached by Pastor Chris Ewings and Pastor Nathan Wagenknecht. Then, we end our Sunday with a Hmong service starting at 3:00 p.m., followed by Hmong Sunday School. We designate the first Sunday of each month as a fellowship Sunday for the opportunity to invite friends, families, and neighbors to attend and enjoy some snacks and conversations.

Faith Hmong continues to focus its ministry on the Hmong community in Anchorage, and God continues to bless us. We look for opportunities to share what so many people in the world are still seeking – LOVE. A love the world cannot give, but rather true love that comes only from our Savior, Jesus.

Learn more about our ministry at faithhmongalaska.org.

Written by Pastor Pao Moua, Home Missionary at at Faith Hmong Lutheran Church in Anchorage, Alaska

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Five years post-merger

Just over five years ago, the congregation I served in suburban St. Louis decided to close its Early Childhood Center, prompting a discussion about our future. We were exploring different options and along the way we brought another nearby church into the discussion. It became clear that we were headed for a merging of the two churches.

We sought the assistance of the Minnesota District Mission Board (DMB) to guide us in the right direction. After running a demographic study of our area and talking to our leaders, the district mission board agreed to take this merger on as a project. They helped us secure unsubsidized mission status, which, among other things, gained us access to a mission counselor who helped us through the process. He recommended books to read (Better Together by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird was the most helpful). After he made several visits to the area and sat in on some meetings, he gave our churches some advice as we finalized the plan.

One congregation. One site. Double the staff. Double the resources. Double the outreach effort. That was the plan.

This past fall we celebrated our fifth anniversary at our united church, Christ Alone.

Looking back, not everything went according to our plan. There were missteps and miscommunications, especially in the early going. Doubling the people led to disagreements, ranging anywhere from how the two church cultures would meld together to which of the two sets of paraments would adorn the one altar. Doubling the volunteer pool led many volunteers cutting their own involvement in half. New responsibilities were not clearly communicated, which led to the Great Paper Towel Shortage of Easter 2018. (Many casualties.)

Having the mission counselor as a sounding board was important. He kept reminding me that a church merger doesn’t work if it’s survival-driven. It must be mission-driven. Holding out the mission in front of members must remain the priority. It was our why. We did not only do this so that our institution would survive, but rather that Christ’s kingdom would thrive.

In the fall of 2017, Christ Alone consisted of roughly half the members coming from one church and half from the other church. Although we really think of ourselves as one congregation today, our members could be identified in thirds. One third from one church. One third from the other. And one third of the members are brand new to Christ Alone—some brand new to Christ—whom God brought to us over the past five years.

God knew what he was doing from the beginning. Though our hands were a little wet, we were still able to open our hymnal pages to Jesus Christ is Risen Today that first Easter together. Though there was a clash in cultures, Christ has brought about unity. Though it hasn’t all gone according to our plan, God is providing opportunities for us that were not previously possible.

While not every situation would be necessary for the district mission board to get involved, congregations who find themselves considering a merger may want to reach out to a member of their DMB. Doing so will certainly result in some sound wisdom, possibly a mission status designation, or, if the Lord wills, maybe even becoming one of those 75 mission enhancements that will accompany the 100 new mission churches over the course of the next ten years.

 

Written by Pastor Steve Waldschmidt, pastor at Christ Alone in Dardenne Prairie, MO, and Minnesota District Mission Board Chairman

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