Adapt

Adapt. That’s a word that you will not find in Scripture. When you look for sections about spiritual gifts, you will not find the word “adaptability.” Yet, even though you will not find this word in Scripture, this is a word that has a direct application in people’s lives.

Sure Foundation, the new mission in Brandon, South Dakota, decided to take a year to plan, to organize, and to reach out to the community before launching worship every week. We met regularly to talk about how to accomplish these things and to put a plan in motion. A verse that we held close was Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

We had a plan, a good plan. Enter Covid-19. So many of our plans changed. Our ideas to reach the community were not doable anymore. The rental space that we secured was now unavailable. The people that we had were unable to meet together in person. Everything changed.

We planned our course, but the Lord was determining our steps. We knew that God was in control, we knew that God is the one who builds the church, and we knew that God’s plans are higher than our plans, but change is still difficult.

Pastor Wilke with Jayme from Anytime Fitness

What we as a church have learned is to hold our plans loosely and adapt, because we don’t determine our steps—God does.

Allow me an example. Sure Foundation was planning to partner with a local gym, Anytime Fitness, in a program called “The 21-Day Transformation.” In this program, the gym puts people through workouts with a personal trainer and gives them diet plans to follow for 21 days. It is a well-thought-out program with accomplished leaders. Sure Foundation was added to the program as the spiritual component for the event. It was an exciting opportunity to partner with a community member and to reach people with the Word. Covid-19 changed our plans, but it didn’t stop our ability to reach people. We recorded videos and put together devotional materials to help people grow in their spiritual lives. Participants learned how to read the Bible correctly and devotionally, and participants read through an entire book of the Bible while answering questions along the way. By God’s grace, Sure Foundation was able to get 32 new people involved in this program and many of our own members too. The 21-Day Transformation didn’t result in just physical transformation, but spiritual ones.

We planned. Things changed. We adapted. God blessed. There are going to be more changes and challenges ahead that have nothing to do with Covid-19, but we can always trust that the Lord will determine our steps—he is in control, he does build his church, and his ways are higher than ours. So, we will continue to trust our God and to hold our plans loosely, always prepared to adapt.

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

 

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Hope is alive!

Just like every other church, plans for our Holy Week and Easter services were well underway when our economy, schools, and society shut down in mid-March. We had picked out all the songs and lined up the musicians. We had ordered the invitation postcards and started to plan the social media posts.

But then the pandemic made all of those plans more or less pointless. So what’s a church to do as the most important week and most important day on the Christian calendar quickly approaches? It might as well be the word of the year for 2020: Pivot!

I was amazed as I watched churches of all types, including those in our church body, look for ways to spread the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection during circumstances that none of us would have ever expected. As Holy Week and Easter approached, we decided to focus our gospel proclamation on one word. It was a word that seemed especially powerful as the number of new cases and deaths from COVID-19 continued to rise each day. It was the word hope.

Working with a local print shop, we designed and ordered yard signs that conveyed a clear simple message: “Hope Is Alive!” Through social media, we invited anyone in the community to order a sign and put it in their yard as a way of encouraging their neighbors at a very difficult time. We asked for a small donation with each sign order to cover some of the expenses (a grant from the Board of Home Missions helped too!). We promised to give half of what people donated to a local non-profit program that was providing free meals for families in need.

We could tell that the message resonated with people right away. All told, nearly 200 signs were ordered. In a smaller town like ours, that means you couldn’t drive far without seeing one in someone’s yard. We were also able to pass along over $900 to the non-profit free meal program. Finally, the effort was a great opportunity for our members to be involved in Easter outreach, even during the shutdown. They helped deliver the signs and place them in people’s yards.

The message on the signs was then the focus for our online services, not only on Easter but on the Sundays that followed: Hope Is Alive! The signs definitely drew more attention to our website and social media pages and brought lots of new eyeballs to our online virtual services. The effort created new avenues for us to share the gospel with people we may not have seen had our doors been open on Easter.

Just like every other church, we would have loved for all of our initial Easter planning to have paid off. This year was a good reminder that, even when all of our plans turn out to be pointless, the message of Easter can be contained no more than Jesus could be kept in his grave. Because Jesus is alive, our hope is too.

Written by Jonathan Bauer, home missionary at Good News Lutheran Church in Mt. Horeb, Wis.

 

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We kept meeting, more people kept coming

Mark and Sonya are wonderful neighbors. The crackle of evening fires in their yard invites friends to stroll over for conversation. Sonya takes morning walks with several people from their street. Mark helps in the community with yard work and snow removal. They are terrific neighbors and great friends. Their friendliness combined with their openness about their faith in Jesus and belief in his Word creates amazing evangelism opportunities.

Church basement Bible study – a tiny home can only fit so many people!

Sonya asked about a Bible study with one of her friends: “One of my neighbors has some questions about creation. Pastor, will you lead a Bible study at our house about how God created the world?” About a week later, three of us sat in the yard on lawn chairs studying Genesis 1. The Holy Spirit explained through the Word how God made all things out of nothing in six days. The Holy Spirit revealed in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the Word and that all things were made through him. That first study answered some questions, but also brought up more questions. We decided to meet again next week for more Bible study.

As we kept meeting, more people kept coming. Other neighbors, family members, co-workers, friends – they had questions too, and the answers were in the Bible. Mark and Sonya were inviting everyone they met to Bible study at their house. Their daughter Michelle joked, “Whenever Mom meets someone new, she says, ‘Hi, I’m Sonya. I have a Bible study at my house, would you like to come?’”  As fall got cold, we moved inside Mark and Sonya’s tiny house (about 400 square feet). Almost 30 people were meeting for weekly Bible study. Children sat in the loft and on the stairs up to it. Adults cozied up on couches and folding chairs. We had a box of Bibles and a group of people growing in their understanding of the Word and their love for Jesus.

Worship in Stockbridge, Wis.

We continued meeting for Bible study in Mark and Sonya’s house for about 2 years. They live about 20 minutes from church, and we discussed the possibility of starting worship services in their town of Stockbridge. On paper, Stockbridge doesn’t seem like a great place to start a church. Stockbridge has a population of about 630 people, many who’ve lived in that area their whole life. But the folks of Stockbridge needed Jesus. Mark and Sonya and their children had filled their home for weekly Bible study. We wanted to share God’s Word with as many people as we could. When another small church in town allowed us to use their building on Sunday evenings, we excitedly planned to begin worship services there. On September 22, 2019, we held our first worship service in Stockbridge. We thank Jesus for every one of the people with whom we’ve been able to share God’s Word, and we look forward to continuing to share the gospel with as many people as Jesus brings us!

Written by Jesse Johnston, home missionary at Mt. Calvary in Menasha and Stockbridge, Wis. 

 

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Starting a church during a pandemic

Folsom is in northern California, between Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s a beautiful place to live and an exciting place to start a church. I arrived in Folsom in in the fall of 2019, with an energetic family ready to meet a fantastic core group. We had a year before we were scheduled to launch public worship. The next twelve months would be spent doing the important foundational work of starting a church.

The first phase would focus primarily on building strength and trust within the core group. The second phase was to unleash the group on the community. Invitations, canvassing, community service projects, etc. would all lead up to a grand worship launch with many new faces from the community.

Things were moving right along. We met regularly to plan. A logo was chosen, and we ordered all kinds of swag. The website was coming along and God provided a great place of worship to rent for our launch. We even had several prospects in Bible information class. Momentum was building. We were all set for phase 2, and then it happened. . . COVID-19.

How do you canvass when you can’t leave the house? Can you publish a launch date when your rented worship facility is indefinitely closed? How do you volunteer at community events when they’ve all been cancelled? Are we losing momentum? Questions were mounting. Frustration was building. Discouragement was a daily companion. How do you start a church during a pandemic?

Zoom calls with the core group

Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah who was to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The work was going great at first, and then there were obstacles. Zerubbabel was no doubt frustrated.

Here’s what God had to say to his frustrated servant, “‘Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord Almighty.” Zerubbabel’s task would not get done by inner courage or fortitude, nor would it get done by the power of a huge army or a well-coordinated core group. No, to do the Lord’s work, human strength and wisdom alone would fail. God says, “My Spirit must do it; my Spirit is able to overcome all hurdles no matter how large they loom. By my Spirit’s power, any obstacle will become an opportunity.” And of course, that’s exactly what happened. God’s Spirit, molding and moving human hearts, got the work done.

There was the answer to my question. The Lord will get his work done no matter what the obstacle. His Spirit works through the Word read in e-mailed devotions, just as well as spoken in person. His Spirit builds the church through Zoom bible studies, just like he does in a classroom. Words of comfort carry the same Spirit over the phone, as they do spoken face-to-face. The Spirit can get work done through “shares” and “likes” on Facebook, just as well as knocking on doors. Serving our community with the love of Christ from six feet away is still serving our community with the love of Christ. God’s Spirit molds and moves human hearts, and he’ll get the work done.

How do you start a church during a pandemic? The same way you start a church when there isn’t one. “Not by power, not by might, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.”

Written by Dave Koelpin, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Folsom, Calif.

 

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God’s been training you to do his work

Remember going to school and taking classes that you assumed you’d never use again in your life? Remember that summer job you hated, but it was at least some income to pay for school the next year? Remember that random encounter you had with a stranger asking you some very pointed questions about your faith that you felt you didn’t answer well? Remember that tragedy you went through as a young person and how hard it was to process and understand?

There are many times in our lives that we have wondered why this happened or how is God going to use this for good. I’m guessing this might be hitting home right now as we ponder how COVID-19 is for good. Especially in a mission field it is hard to make connections with people to spread the gospel, when “stay at home” orders are extended across the country. We are used to sharing the gospel in a personal way with people and connecting them to the Word through worship. Events that bring the community together and outreach to show our community we care are all difficult to host at this time. While we might be trying to expand our digital reach, that can be hard too. The members we have are struggling and finances might be difficult during these times.

Trust me, God has been training you this whole time to do his work. I never envisioned the mission work I’ve been privileged to lead in Sahuarita, Arizona, to look like this. Accepting the call four years ago to lead mission efforts at a multi-site congregation at Grace in Southern Arizona looked very different on paper than in reality. But the way that God has used my past training and experiences to further his kingdom, even in such difficult times, is amazing.

Our community research led our congregation to buy new property and build a church and child learning center to serve our neighbors with the gospel. The process was slow and tedious, the delays were many, and just when things were really moving forward, COVID-19 hit. What appeared to (potentially) be a major set-back has been a blessing. Builders for Christ was pulled from our project, but previous experience in the construction industry has allowed my time to be used as a project manager to lead our local volunteer crew. I’d already learned many lessons on patience at the start of the mission work here, and the delays aren’t causing extreme stress. The pandemic came just soon enough that we aren’t open yet and don’t have to navigate a very difficult situation with children under our care. In all of this we’ve still been able to connect to our community through the workers on the job site. We are grateful that construction work is considered an “essential” business so the delays haven’t been drastic. We look forward to serving the child care needs of our community once our building project is completed this summer. We are hopeful that we can invite guests to our new worship space to hear the gospel once the buildings are completed.

Sure it isn’t what we might expect as “normal” mission work at this time, but God has been training us our whole lives for this moment to take his gospel to our community. We can even rejoice in our past sufferings because they have trained us for this moment. We put our hope in Christ during these difficult times as the Lord of the Church. God’s been training you this whole time to do his work.

Written by Rev. Ryan Heiman, home missionary at Grace Lutheran Church and Child Learning Center in Sahuarita, Ariz.

 

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God’s kingdom is still coming

“Your kingdom come.” We used to pray that every Sunday in church together. When we did, we were asking God to rule our hearts and to send his Spirit to the hearts of others in the world. But we probably prayed those words thinking that, as congregations, we had God’s kingdom work pretty well under control. Not anymore!

Once upon a time, we had ways to measure our—I mean God’s—kingdom work. We tracked worship attendance. We counted kids in Lutheran school desks. We measured offerings. We quantified volunteer hours. Pastors mapped out hospital and shut-in visits. And if we liked the way things look on paper, we assumed God’s kingdom had certainly come! At least we had a good system in place for tracking kingdom work! When we prayed, “Your kingdom come,” we meant, “Just give my kingdom a little boost, God. But we mostly have our—I mean your—kingdom going strong.”

But now our people aren’t in pews. Our students aren’t in desks. Our offerings are not in plates. Our hospital visits are not even allowed! Is God’s kingdom still coming? How can it, if we can’t track it?

It’s a terrifying thing for a congregation to realize suddenly, the kingdom work we’ve gotten used to is no longer within our control. And yet, has it ever been? Did God’s kingdom ever fit within our church’s budget and calendar? Or does God’s kingdom belong to. . . God? The Alpha and the Omega, the Creator, Sustainer, and Light of the world?

Thank God he’s running his kingdom! Because who could have imagined that this was the way he would kick us out of our churches and into the world? I’m amazed by just how powerfully God’s kingdom is pouring into the world in these dark days! He’s hammering through once hardened hearts. He’s uprooting deeply ingrained grudges. He’s tilling up straight paths through the baked desert floor.

And the gospel! It’s been incredible to watch newly emboldened Christians scatter the gospel seed in public in ways I have never seen. Parking lots packed with cars and pastors with megaphones. Facebook exploding with worship service views, shares, and engagements. People talking about death and resurrection in their homes, with their children. Easter Sunday resurrection hope pouring through every media and social media into homes where unbelievers and believers alike are listening. Christians serving in their communities as fearless light and salt when others cower. WELS members across the country becoming stronger together, forming a gospel-seed tidal wave, as they engage with one another through social media!

Is God’s kingdom still coming? Oh, yes! And thank God he has let us be on the front lines bringing that kingdom to more people, in new ways, with renewed zeal. Yes, Lord, yes! “Your kingdom come!”

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

 

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A COVID-19 Baptism blessing

“That’s awesome!”

That’s all I could say as I watched the couple sit at their kitchen table.

Jeff was confirmed on December 22, 2019. Having completed his “Starting Point” course, he was so thrilled to be part of our young congregation. His volunteer spirit—whether it’s making homemade salsa or taking beautiful landscape photographs to decorate our rented walls—is contagious. And so is his positivity. But there was one thing that bothered him—his wife didn’t really know Jesus and didn’t come to church with him. He wasn’t going to push. Partly because of his personality, but mostly because he trusted God’s timing. Then, on December 22, Deedee came to support Jeff. Then she came again on December 24. Even though Christmas Eve worship was interrupted by an armed robbery at the liquor store that shares a wall with our facility (perhaps another Missions Blog story!), Deedee was not deterred. She kept coming to worship every Sunday.

In late February, she asked if she could talk to me after church. Deedee wanted to be baptized. After going through the meaning and blessings of baptism at a Starbucks meeting in early March, we picked the date—April 5, Palm Sunday. And then, coronavirus came. After explaining that it wasn’t absolutely necessary for her to be baptized on that date, both Jeff and Deedee agreed they’d like to explore the options. Zoom to the rescue!

I set up my laptop six feet away from the church baptismal font (not for social distancing purposes, but only for the camera angle).

CAMERA 1 –

Pastor: “We all have a deep need for baptism. . . this is for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Not even the gates of Hades can prevent the gospel from going out. Be confident as you are now baptized in the name of the Triune God.”

CAMERA 2 –

Jeff (pouring water on Deedee’s head): “Denise, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

CAMERA 1 –

Pastor:  “That’s awesome!”

It was a highlight of my ministry. I’m not sure who I was more excited for—Jeff, Deedee, or myself! But the joy wasn’t over. Unbeknownst to Deedee, congregation members were filmed offering their support, “We will, and we ask God to help us.” What a surprise for Deedee to watch the recorded service on Sunday, not just to see herself, but her brothers and sisters in Christ welcoming her into our church family. Jeff’s follow-up email, “We really enjoyed the Baptism section with everyone in support.”

That’s awesome!

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

 

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Faces of Faith – Hany Guzmán

As the morning mist mixed with the bright beams of the sun’s first rays over Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, ten-year-old Hany Guzmán would stand out on her earthen porch to greet the day. With a mug of atol de elote in her hand, she watched the cool fog slowly dissipate and the shadows silently disperse as they gave way to the scorching heat and piercing light of a Sunday morning. The sweet, corn beverage brought warmth to her body and strength for the day as she helped get her family ready for church. Slipping through the front door, she would wake her three younger siblings with whom she shared a single bed. They would march off together to attend their local congregation’s misa. Sometimes her parents would accompany them and other times they went alone, but Hany wouldn’t miss a mass for the world.

Hany and her siblings in Guatemala

Once they found their customary spot in the back of church, although the sun still shone brightly through the stained-glass windows of the cathedral, it seemed as though an even denser fog settled in. Hany and her siblings heard the priest read the Bible and give short talks about how they were to pray to the right saints to find fame and fortune, but it just didn’t seem to make sense. There was a spiritual haze that never seemed to lift, a darkness that just wouldn’t disappear. Hany wondered to herself, “Is there any way I can go to heaven?”

Five years later, darkness defined the day as Hany woke up on a frigid December morning in Anchorage, Alaska. A glance outside at the thermometer showed twenty-five degrees below zero as the first hints of daylight slowly revealed the silhouette of the mountains beneath a cloudless sky. It was Sunday morning and it was still her job to wake her younger siblings for church, but they could wait a while to brave the cold. The short trip to church was less than a block. She started to make some hot chocolate as she waited for the sun to creep over the Chugach Mountains. In a few short hours, she and her siblings would be on their way to Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo. She still wouldn’t miss a service for the world.

Hany at Camp Luther in Anchorage, Alaska

Although the sun barely skimmed the tops of the peaks outside, inside her church one thing was clear—the light of the gospel had changed her life. The same sun that warmed her face in Guatemala now shone through the stained-glass windows of her new church, but here the mystery of salvation had been revealed. Here she heard the unobscured gospel that brought clarity to her mind and comfort to her soul. Hany and her sisters and brother—Brianna, Alegría, and David—found their spots in the back pew. From her vantage point, Hany could see many people she had invited to church herself. In fact, she was personally responsible for seeing her church’s catechism class grow from a dozen kids to over thirty. Later in the service, the congregation would confess its faith together using the familiar words of the explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “All this he did that I should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just has he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally.” There was no longer any doubt; the darkness had dissipated and the fog had lifted. Wiping away a tear, Hany chimed in with confidence and conviction: ¡Esto es ciertamente la verdad! This is most certainly true!

Written by Rev. Christopher Ewings, home missionary at Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo (Faith Lutheran Church) in Anchorage, Alaska

 

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Kingdom work

Saying goodbye is a part of our ministry. Our congregation ministers to members of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and saying goodbye is a part of military life. I’ve had to do it 59 times over the past six years. 59 individuals have come to Redemption and have departed. Families come, stay for two to four years, and then they go to their next duty station. They come to be fed with the Word, and in the process I learn to love them, to rejoice with them, and to carry hardships along side them. Though saying goodbye is a part of this ministry, it hasn’t become any easier in the past six years. It still hurts every time.

As much as it hurts to say goodbye, I have to also remember that the transient nature of military life has also granted me some of the sweetest moments in my ministry. It was a military family who came to us while we were still worshiping in a conference center. They had been looking for a church online and came across our website and watched two separate videos on David and Ruth. They liked what they heard, so they came.

In spite of the fluorescent lighting inside and in spite of the portable worship space, in spite of the odd location of the conference center and in spite of the family passing multiple churches on their way, the gospel did its work on them and they kept coming. One Sunday I baptized four of their children. Another Sunday we celebrated two adult confirmations.

These are the moments when I have to remember that ministry is not about me. It is not about what I feel, rather it is about the work of the kingdom. Our congregation has to keep the work of the greater kingdom in view. While families are here we work to equip them for service as best as we can with the gospel of salvation. We strive to make our congregation a nexus for equipping individuals for wherever military life may take them.

The military family who came when we were worshiping in the conference center doesn’t live here anymore. They are over 1,500 miles away doing the work of the kingdom. In their new congregation, the husband stepped into the position of church president. He gave me a call a while back, “We want to run some outreach events,” he said, “I just wanted to pick your brain.” That’s the work of the kingdom.

When they lived here I confirmed two of their children that I had baptized. One of those young men would faithfully usher while he was here. He even spent one of his school breaks to build some book shelves for our church. This coming fall that young man will attend Martin Luther College to begin his studies for the pastoral ministry. That’s the work of the kingdom.

The work in Watertown is not about me, and it’s not even really about Redemption Lutheran Church. It’s about the kingdom of God. It’s about equipping the Saints for works of service wherever the Lord may take them. It’s about preaching the Word and planting it in the home so that families can be assured of God’s love for them wherever they find themselves. It’s about raising a new generation of missionaries who take on the work of the kingdom.

In a sense, saying goodbye is a good thing. Families come, but they leave equipped with the Word. That means that our work here is being multiplied across the country as families take the Word planted in them wherever they go.

Written by Pastor Aaron Goetzinger, Redemption Lutheran Church in Watertown, N.Y.

 

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Another church in Milwaukee

Another church in Milwaukee?!

“Really?”

That’s often the initial response that I get when I tell a WELS member that I lead a new second-site ministry in Milwaukee, Wis. Right in the middle of the “WELS bubble.” One mile away from a well-established, large, thriving congregation that has been around for 170-plus years. The site of the initial conversations to start the Wisconsin Synod and home of the first WELS president, Pastor Johannes Muehlhauser. This is where we started a new home mission church. I get it. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?!

It does sound crazy until you realize that there is a mission field right in our own backyard and the harvest is ripe!

Grace Downtown has prided itself on striving for excellence in worship and preaching. Worshipers gather in a beautiful neo-gothic style church with stunning stain-glassed windows and intricately carved wood furnishings full of Christian symbolism. There is history and tradition but also an eye on keeping worship fresh and moving the gospel forward. Many people love and appreciate this, and it is one of the reasons Grace continues to thrive. But not everyone gets it. Not everyone comes to it.

Grace leaders determined that the time was right to expand the reach of the gospel in downtown Milwaukee and try to connect with the unchurched in a new way. Let’s go to an area whose population is growing and there aren’t any churches serving them. That led us to the Historic Third Ward on the south end of downtown Milwaukee. It’s an area that has changed dramatically over the last decade, going from empty warehouses to high-end boutiques and housing. Young professionals and empty-nesters flock to this neighborhood where they can live, work, and play while walking between everything. Now they can walk to church too!

Renting a room right in the middle of the neighborhood at the Broadway Theatre Center, Grace in the Ward meets on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. for a service that looks more like a mix of worship and Bible study than the traditional liturgical service. There are definitely preaching moments, but they are mixed in with opportunities to reflect upon and discuss Bible truths with neighbors. Throw in a couple of hymns led by a small ensemble and some time in prayer and you have our service. While it looks different than what you might be familiar with, there is one thing that is strikingly the same–the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in all of its beauty.

Through these gospel efforts at Grace in the Ward, the Lord has led new people to come into contact with his grace and promises for the first time. Members of Grace are bringing their friends to come and see Jesus in a more relaxed and intimate setting. Some who got lost in the big church have found a home in a smaller gathering. Others who have wandered from church have found the new church within blocks of their homes to be a blessing to their lives. Forty-two percent of the Third Ward neighborhood isn’t involved with their faith. Through God’s blessings, that percentage will shrink as life-saving and life-changing relationships are made!

Another church in Milwaukee? That’s exactly the thing that a lost and hurting soul needs to hear. A church that gathers around the means of grace is right in their neighborhood to show them Jesus, their Savior, and his tremendous grace. That’s not crazy at all!

Written by Pastor Aaron Strong, Grace in the Ward in Milwaukee, Wis. 

 

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Davante’s favorite place

For the sake of this blog, his name is Davante. He started attending Wisconsin Lutheran School last year, when he was in first grade. It was a challenge for him to be in a structured setting that has boundaries. When something wouldn’t go his way, he’d start throwing and kicking things in the classroom and cry. When Davante’s mom was told of his behavior issues, she would often explain how chaotic things were at home, and that it was difficult to control because she often worked late and left her teenage children in charge. One time when Davante and several of his siblings were having behavior issues, she explained that she was not surprised because her new boyfriend had just moved in with his three children, resulting in ten children from an assortment of parents living under one roof. Another time when Davante was acting up in class, his mother explained that his father had recently been released from jail, showed up at the house intoxicated, caused a scene, and was dragged out by the police. Davante, after seeing the entire situation unfold, cried the whole night.

Although Davante struggles through a rough environment at home and continues to have behavioral issues, he has come to know Jesus as his Savior and wants to be baptized. He is assured on a daily basis of the love Jesus in his classes, in chapel, and when working with him on his behavior, as I remind him we love him and Jesus loves him most of all.

One day his class was asked, “If you could go to one place, where would you like to go?” Davante responded by asking, “What is that place that has all of the song books and Bibles?”

“You mean church?” his teacher replied.

“Yeah. I want to go there.”

I have a lot of pictures that he has drawn and given to me. I’m not sure if he gives them to me because he feels bad after his behavioral episodes, because he sees me as a positive male role model in his life, or simply out of his love for Jesus.

Ernest with his daughters Arianna and Mariyah at their baptism

Although Davante has come to know Jesus and grow in his faith in his brief time in our school, his mom has been resistant to invitations to church and opportunities for discussions about Jesus. As I talk to her, it is very obvious that she knows that she needs Jesus. She is very frustrated with how things are going with her life. Yet she resists the call to the hope we have in Jesus. She knows she’s made poor choices in her life and is burdened by the consequences that have resulted from past decisions. Yet she continues to resist the invitations to forgiveness and the peace we have in Jesus and to walk in the light of Christ. We continue to press on, looking for opportunities to share the love of our Savior and pray that the Holy Spirit breaks through her hard heart and bring her into his family. This past week she gave birth to another child. This is her eighth that I know of, from at least five different fathers. She is overwhelmed, needs help, and is very prideful. We will continue to share God’s Word with patient persistence.

While there are many stories in our school of parents who are resisting the work of the Holy Spirit, there are also success stories. A great example is Ernest. Two weeks ago, he was baptized along with his daughters Arianna and Mariyah. Not only was it really cool to see a grown man become born again along with his two little girls, but to see that they really understood what it meant as they purposely came to church dressed completely in white, just like being robed in the righteousness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Please continue to pray for our outreach efforts here at Wisconsin Lutheran School!

Written by Mark Blauert, school chaplain at Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wis. 

 

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Open your eyes

In John 4:35, Jesus tells his disciples, “Open your eyes and look at the fields, they are ripe for harvest!” With these words, Jesus was rebuking his disciples for looking past an evangelism opportunity that was right in front of their eyes. They had dismissed a Samaritan woman with whom Jesus was speaking at a well in Samaria, and now, after doing some evangelism of her own, that woman was returning with a whole crowd of Samaritans eager to see Jesus. “Open your eyes and look at the fields, they are ripe for harvest!”

In October 2019 we hosted a booth at a local family bike ride event. We asked people to fill out a survey, which included picking their favorite church name out of our top 5 finalists. In exchange we handed out drinks, gift cards, and candy.

When I arrived in Houston in July, I had a lot of questions. Probably the biggest question was how I would meet people in a neighborhood four miles from downtown, where people are always busy and often skeptical and slow to open up. I pondered all kinds of evangelism strategies, evaluating different methods to see what would fit our context best. I read books on evangelism and asked for advice from other home missionaries. And over the last six months, we’ve tried a little bit of everything. We hosted a booth at a local festival. We canvassed people on the streets asking them for their input on our logo options. We handed out more than 400 cups of free hot chocolate at a Christmas lights viewing event in our neighborhood. But if you asked me what our best outreach strategy has been, I would probably say that our best outreach hasn’t come from any of those strategies.

While we have made plenty of good connections at our outreach events, the strongest connections have come at times and in places we weren’t necessarily trying to meet people. My wife and I have met people while grocery shopping, going out to dinner, and working out at our gym. Members of our core group have had opportunities to share the gospel at playdates, neighborhood gatherings, and pick-up basketball games. I think it goes to show that evangelism can’t just be limited to a few hours on a Saturday during a church outreach event. It has to be a way of life. Too often we go through life worried about all the things we have to get done, and we miss the people who are right in front of us. But when we open our eyes, we realize that there are opportunities all around us.

In a city of 2.3 million people, those opportunities are endless. In our densely populated neighborhood, almost two thirds of the population is unchurched or de-churched. That is an extremely ripe harvest field! I am thankful that God has blessed me with an incredibly talented and dedicated core group, and that he continues to bless our outreach efforts. After all, whether it’s a planned outreach strategy or a spontaneous conversation at the grocery store, he’s the one who’s really doing the work.

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

 

 

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Spanish Pastors Conference meets in Puerto Rico

The 8th gathering of the Spanish Pastors Conference met in Guayama, Puerto Rico, for four days in January. Fifteen men (plus two wives) gathered for study, worship and fellowship. We tackled Christian Stewardship, focusing on the Biblical truths and the cultural realities that exist. Discussion was lively–and everyone commented that is was a good study. Beside the study, we heard a report of the work of the Latin America missions team and Academia Cristo along with a report from the Board for Home Mission’s Hispanic Outreach Consultant.

God’s power was displayed by the many earthquakes that occurred while we were on the island – several were 5.7 and higher! God’s grace was equally displayed as no damage occurred where we were staying. All the members of the local congregation reported nothing more than frayed nerves. Many of us awoke on Tuesday morning to the second of four large tremors. All of us experienced the last large quake on Wednesday as we traveled to the second largest city on the island, Ponce, to view local culture and take in local cuisine.

Even though the power was out for almost 24 hours (all of Tuesday), we still enjoyed the opening worship, singing everything loudly in A Capella fashion. Cell phones batteries were drained to the last remaining bar of power as news was relayed to family members that everyone was not only okay but also enjoying the quiet night, staring at the stars near the equator with no light pollution!

As the conference drew to a close, someone asked how many of the attendees had worked in Puerto Rico. Five of the 15 men raised their hands! We give thanks to God that this mission has been a vital part not only of sharing God’s Word on the island, but also of preparing men who are sharing the same message in the United States. A big thanks to the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico who hosted the conference!

The conference meets every other year (on the even years), and it has been determined that our 2022 conference will be held in Tucson, Ariz. We ask our gracious God to continue to bless the efforts of these men and the many others who are sharing the gospel with the lost in Spanish and English.

Written by Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant for the WELS Board for Home Missions

 

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Reaching souls for Jesus in West Texas

In the vast region of the high plains of West Texas lies great promise for the gospel to reach many new souls. Amarillo, Texas, is a growing city of over 200,000 people. Two hours to the south is Lubbock, Texas, an even faster growing city with a bustling 300,000 people. Lubbock is home to the only full-time WELS congregation, Shepherd of the Plains, within a five hour radius. Our ministry area in West Texas is as vast as the beautiful sunsets rest on the horizon.

Due to the far reaches of Shepherd of the Plains, many people from long distances have contacted me to find out if Shepherd of the Plains is the closest WELS church to them. When looking at the membership list, nearly 20% of our members live two hours away in several different directions. It was over five years ago when Shepherd of the Plains had it’s first contacts in Amarillo. Since then, strong relationships have formed and we have now grown to five families. This all without a resident pastor in Amarillo.

Currently our group in Amarillo has a worship service once a month. Because of the distance, we worship at 2:30 to allow my family and I to make the two hour trip after the morning service and Bible study finish in Lubbock. At each of our worship services in Amarillo, we set up worship in a large shop; where we house a makeshift altar, set up twenty chairs, have a digital piano, and have full projection for worship. It was just a year ago when we worshiped in a living room with couches and some folding chairs, until one of the families purchased a new home with the large shop area in mind to be able to use as our worship space.

Since Shepherd of the Plains also has a full-service livestream of every worship service (and now Bible study), the Amarillo group has begun to schedule once a month gatherings to livestream together. Each time the group gets together they have fellowship and bring food for a meal to follow their worship.

The Amarillo team has charged themselves with the goal of reaching many more with the gospel of Jesus, but they also recognize the importance of a full-time pastor to help in that effort. Because of this, they are in the process of researching and filling out a detailed request to call their first home missionary. The process to obtain home mission status is not a process the group takes lightly. They recognize that with regular prayer and guidance from the Lord, he will bless their work.

This is where the prayers of the brothers and sisters in faith through our synod comes into play. Please pray for the mission work in Amarillo and all of West Texas. If you know of anyone who lives in West Texas, the Texas Panhandle, or even two hours an any direction from there, please contact me at 806-794-4203 or through e-mail at jecares1@gmail.com.

Through prayer and your help in spreading the word about the gospel work in West Texas, we will walk together as a synod and reach many more souls for Jesus.

Written by Rev. Jeremy Cares, pastor at Shepherd of the Plains in Lubbock, Tex.

 

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Plot Twist

One of the things I love most about being a pastor is hearing the stories people tell. Each person that sits in the pew has a unique one, a fascinating account of the working of God’s grace.

Christina certainly had an interesting story. I met her only one week after I was installed as the pastor at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming. She had a connection to our church previously, when her infant son Leo was baptized. But she hadn’t been to church in a while, mostly because it was difficult for her to come with her infant son, whom she was raising while her husband was deployed in Kuwait.

After sitting down with Christina, she told me her story. She was born and raised in Minnesota, but moved to Wyoming when she was 16 years old. She graduated from high school in Meeteetse, Wyoming, a town with a total population of about 300 people. She attended the University of Wyoming and graduated with a degree in Education. She began teaching at a special school for at-risk children in Laramie. And along the way, she got married and celebrated the birth of her first child.

But the bigger story is the difference God’s grace has made in her life. It may seem like a strange plot twist that Christina and her family ended up in Laramie, but this is how God again brought her into contact with the good news of her Savior Jesus. It may seem like a difficult plot twist that Christina and her husband are raising their child together even though they are miles apart, but God is using it to strengthen their relationship, and to drive them even deeper into his promises.

And then, in what may seem like another amazing plot twist, God brings his gracious blessings through Christina to others gathered here at Living Shepherd. He gives a new, inexperienced pastor the blessing of a prospect eager to learn more about God’s Word and grow in faith. He gives a congregation the opportunity to put God’s love into practice by helping and supporting a military family. And he gives all of us fresh reminders of the power of his Word working in the hearts of his people.

Christina was officially welcomed as a member of Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming two weeks ago. Before she joined, I asked her to answer a few questions which we could use to share with the congregation so that we could get to know her better. One of the questions I asked was, “What title would you give to your autobiography?” She answered, “Plot Twist.”

It’s a fitting title to Christina’s story. She’s eager to see what else God has in store for her family, and she’s excited to see how God’s grace will sustain her through all the plot twists that may be ahead.

Written by Rev. Adam Lambrecht, home missionary at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming

 

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Alive and active

His body language was speaking loud and clear. Arms crossed. Slouched down. A toothpick pursed between his lips as he stared at the floor. Avoiding any sort of conversation with others. Refusing a bulletin to follow along. He didn’t want to be there, but somehow his girlfriend had convinced him to join her in church that morning. Perhaps she was buying lunch on the way home. Maybe if he went once she’d leave it alone for a while. Whatever it was, it sure didn’t seem like we’d see him again.

And then he came back the next week, this time looking up a couple of times during the sermon. The following week, he followed along in the bulletin. The week after that, he left the toothpick in the car. A few months later, he was asking about some classes where he could learn more about the Bible and ask some questions that have been on his mind.

Fast forward to mid-November 2019. His brother is on life support, making it hard to finish up his classes for church membership. He asks his other two brothers if it would be okay for him to invite the pastor to stop in at the hospital for a visit and prayer. It takes a week of convincing, but they finally give in. Their body language was speaking loud and clear. They didn’t really see the need or want this big, goofy, Spanish speaking, white guy in their brother’s hospital room. It seemed like they were paying more attention to their phones than to this stranger in the room. The conversation was short and God’s Word was shared.

On the way home I got a message: “Thanks. They’d like you to come again soon.”

For the word of God is alive and active.

Hebrews 4:12

Written by Rev. Paul Biedenbender, home missionary at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo. 

 

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ThanksGIVING

Our nation recently celebrated Thanksgiving. As most people enjoyed time with family, cooked the turkey, and ate too much pie, they were reminded of the many reasons they have to be thankful. In the strong middle class community of Falcon, Colo., it isn’t difficult to see most people through that lens: multiple new(er) cars in the driveway, name-brand clothes, nice houses.

As our mission church prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2018, we wanted to find a way to give to those who weren’t as financially fortunate or materially blessed. We could have donated to a food bank in nearby Colorado Springs or volunteered at a food kitchen for the homeless, but we wanted to impact people in our community – people that lived down the street. We wanted to provide everything for them to make and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner – a turkey, potatoes, vegetables, rolls, pies. But how would we find them?

For the last three years we have held worship services at an elementary school in our community. Over that time, we have developed a strong relationship with the school staff and leadership. So, we asked the principal if she had a way to identify families in need. She connected us with the school counselor, who connected us with other school counselors in the community. Due to privacy concerns, the counselors had to contact the families and ask if they would take us up on our offer and if their contact information could be shared with us so we could arrange to drop-off the food. In a matter of days we had five families lined up!

Our members and prospects rallied around the project by donating the food and wrapping it all up in boxes to be dropped off. They wanted to give so that others would have an extra reason to be thankful.

As we dropped off the boxes of Thanksgiving dinner supplies,

  • one of the school counselors asked if we could stop by her office before we delivered the food because the boy needed shoes and the staff had pitched in and bought him a pair.
  • one family invited us in and the mom shared how much they were struggling, even as they lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. The dad had left and refused to pay child support. The teenage kids were working jobs to help support the family. She broke down crying as we put all of the food on her counter. I asked if we could pray for her and she said, “Yes, please!” And right there in her kitchen I prayed for them.

As November loomed on the horizon this year, several members of our church family asked if we were going to line up families to bless with Thanksgiving dinner again. It helped them appreciate what they had by giving to others. Working through the local schools, we were able to donate to eight families that were struggling this year. And, not only did our members step up to donate the food, several of them were excited to knock on the door of one of these families and give them a box of food. Just because they wanted to give out of thanks.

Written by Rev. Steven Prahl, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Peyton (Falcon), Colo. 

 

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Out of the blue

If you can believe the internet, the modern idiom “out of the blue” refers to a flash of lightning that jumps out of a clear, blue sky. It’s something completely and totally unexpected. Sometimes mission work is just that—out of the blue. Maybe this congregation and its pastor were a little frustrated. Perhaps it seemed no one was interested in members’ personal invitations to worship. Who knows? Ministry moved slowly. Energy lagged and motivation struggled. Mission pastors and mission congregations face these things too.

Then, out of the blue, a bolt of blessing that energized the mission once again. I checked the messages on the church phone. I had missed a call from Alyssa. She wanted to talk baptism. I called back as soon as I could. Alyssa desired her 3-month-old son, Stetson, to be baptized, and she hoped Beautiful Savior would be the place, and the time would be soon. We set up a meeting. We discussed the wonderful truth that baptism is all about what God does for us in the gracious waters of life, as he forgives our sins and gives us a new birth into the living hope. We discussed the importance of continued contact with God’s Word in worship, and I expressed my hope they would consider our congregation as their new church home. Alyssa’s husband shared that he had never been involved in a church and had never been baptized. Another opportunity!

Stetson’s baptism was scheduled for the next worship service. It happened so fast that it came at the congregation out of the blue too! Nearly twenty-five guests in worship with us that Sunday! A front row seat at the miracle of faith as God allowed us to witness Stetson’s entrance into the kingdom of God! His soul, in desperate need of forgiveness (as are all of us) plucked, not out of the blue, but out of the pitch, black darkness of sin and ushered into the wonderful light of God’s grace! The opportunity to meet, greet, welcome, and celebrate with the family! A time scheduled to follow up with Alyssa and Dustin and encourage them further in their contact with God’s powerful Word! How incredible!

To be honest, I don’t know that there was anything that we had done “right” as a mission to create this opportunity. Maybe it was important that we had a solid website that shared solid information. Maybe not. Maybe the pastor’s personality, kindness, and careful instruction helped them feel comfortable at Beautiful Savior. Maybe not. But we are here. In La Porte. The right place at the right time for Alyssa, Dustin, and Stetson. We are serving. We are proclaiming God’s grace. God chose to bless us abundantly. . . a little out of the blue.

To be honest, I had been sitting, waiting, and wondering on what I would write this article. Then out the blue, mission work was placed in my lap, and a beautiful blessing to celebrate was given our congregation. Maybe in God’s planning and timing it wasn’t so out of the blue anyway. Thankfully, the energy it has infused into this missionary and his congregation is something like a lightning bolt.

Written by Rev. Kevin Boushek, home missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

 

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There is not just one way

There is not just one way. . .

. . . that people come into contact with the gospel. There are lots of different ways, and we are seeing many of them in play at your home mission congregation in Macomb, Michigan. The picture above proves that. From left to right, we begin with Bill and Amanda. Bill was an inactive WELS guys engaged to Amanda, who had no church home. They came to us because they wanted to get married, but also because they wanted God in their marriage. They took our pre-marriage course, then took our adult instruction course, and are now every-week worshipers and regular volunteers. Next to them is Bill’s mom, Andrea. She came because she now has family ties to the mission. Next to Andrea is Kay. Kay is a solid, life-long WELS lady who transferred in because she and her husband moved closer to Ascension. Her husband, Paul, has now completed our adult instruction class and, together with Kay, is a valued member and volunteer. Next to Kay is Gary and a few folks to right of him is Mary, one of our most senior members. They came to us because their WELS church in Detroit closed. Along with them came several others – all who know what it is to stay and serve to the end. Gary’s wife, Gloria, came along, too! Gloria is now our organist – on the very organ that their former congregation donated to our mission. The little girl next to Gary is Jillian, and that’s her mom, Joanne, next to her. They are other-Lutherans who moved into our neighborhood, visited us, liked what they heard, and stayed. Joanne’s husband (Jillian’s dad) is Jason who has also taken our adult instruction class and become a member. Behind silver-haired Mary is Mike, ex-military and one who has been – quite literally – battle-tested in the good fight. He lives in the neighborhood, too. The four folks to the right of him are Rod and his three children. They are former-WELS who bounced around for a while before visiting Ascension and enrolling those three great kids in our confirmation instruction class. Rod’s wife Cori has also taken our adult class and established membership.

What’s the point of all of that backstory? There is but one gospel that the Holy Spirit uses to gather people to Jesus, but there are lots of different ways that he brings that gospel to people. Did you hear them in all that backstory? Proximity to a church that proclaims that gospel, family members who become transmission lines for the gospel to others in their family, people who have had a long association with the gospel and who knew exactly where to find it and serve it in their new community, people searching for a place where they can have a meaningful relationship with God through Word and Sacrament, people drawn by authentic friendships to hear the gospel, and people reached through outreach efforts by one of your WELS home missions. If you look, you will find those same ways at work in your congregation, too. That is what makes every WELS church a mission!

P.S. – The guy in the back row under the cross is your home missionary, Dan Simons. I have the best seat in the house to watch the Holy Spirit reach out with the gospel in many ways, but with the same result: souls are added to the kingdom!

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

 

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The bigger the animal, the more special the feast

The bigger the animal, the more special the feast. Traditionally and culturally in the Hmong community, a cow is reserved for a special occasion. (when a baby boy is born, marriage, etc.) A cow signifies the happiness of the parents. A wedding feast with a cow for the meal is a feast for a family of wealth.

Faith Hmong Lutheran Church in Anchorage, Alaska, had a special meal like this in June. It was a meal to invite the community to, and a meal to share with the congregation for the three days of our annual camp. God’s Word says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

“Out of darkness”, is so true as we were held under the control of Satan and his lies. How wonderful it is to celebrate together with brothers and sisters under the cross and to share this experience with other redeemed children of God, young and old.

Ladies enjoying the beef bone

The question was brought up as to how we could gather and have a special meal – how special of a meal was the next question. Leaders in the congregation had to struggle with this question. Chickens, pig, goat, or even a cow? The price of livestock is not cheap in Alaska. To make it as special as possible, we would need to get a cow.

“Why not?” the leaders asked. $1,500-$2,000 is the asking price for a cow, but it would make this year’s camp very special.

In November 2018, the leaders got the ball rolling as we ended that meeting. The idea was that leaders would start to donate to this meal – $10 a week, $20 a week, even $50 a week, depending on what they were able to donate. Then, at the beginning of June, whatever else was needed, we would ask for a donation from the congregation to cover the cost.

What a blessing it was to see when brothers and sister unite and come together for a purpose. We were able to gather enough funds to cover the cost of the cow for this fellowship event.

Camp devotion

June 20, 2019, the day before our camp was to start, a couple strong youth and myself drove to Palmer, Alaska, to butcher this cow for our feast. We butchered the cow at the farm and hauled pretty much all the parts that were necessary – all of the meat, including the stomach, heart, lungs, and intestine. The phrase “leave nothing behind” was true for us as we only left behind what was not edible.

What a blessing it was to have many hands to help with this process. We were able to bring all the meat back to camp and process it there. Many people are familiar with hanging the meat first, but not in the Hmong community. We process the meat into smaller portions to cook right away, and to make sure we have enough to cook for all our planned meals.

Four meals were planned – one for Friday evening, two for Saturday, and one more on Sunday. We thank a couple of our ladies for taking charge of the meal prep. They are great cooks who really know how to cook this traditional food!

On Saturday afternoon, we held our special meal. Members were encouraged to share personal invitations to the Hmong community to come and join us for this special meal. Though the drive was about 1.5 hours from Anchorage, we had three non-member families come and join us for this special meal. The meal’s menu included Laarb ( fine ground beef mixed with herbs), which can be made raw and cooked, boiled beef bone soup (a very time-consuming dish, where the sauce is made from the intestine), short ribs, lean meats, tripe (stomach), BBQ beef, rice, and pepper to go along these dishes.

Lake games

We thank the Lord for an afternoon filled with laughter, conversation, fellowship, games, songs, and the sharing of God’s Word through devotions.

Three days was not long enough. If only we could hold time still for a moment. To see brothers and sisters in Christ gather together and to have families who don’t believe be able to join us and see the unity, fellowship, love, and care of Christians was a great blessing. It’s not just the planning that made all this come together, but God’s guidance and blessings. This was made possible by everyone involved. We had roughly 70 people throughout the three days, and nearly 100 people at Saturday’s meal. We had enough meat left over to share with the 18 families at Faith Hmong. The fact that each family was able to go home with a portion to enjoy shows us the abundance of God blessings.

We are looking forward to next year already! Maybe it won’t involve butchering a cow (as that’s a lot of work), but maybe something smaller. Any time we get to spend working together, loving each other, and being led by the Lord will be time well spent. May the Lord continue to bless this ministry and lead us to do all things to glorify him alone.

Written by Pastor Pao Moua, home missionary at Faith Hmong Lutheran Church in Anchorage, Alaska. 

 

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Surely the Lord is in this place

It wasn’t anything pretty. Just a small suite in an office building on a busy road in Nampa, Idaho. A gathering space with an office in the back. But it was a place to get started. It was a place to meet. It was a place we could invite people to. It wasn’t pretty when we got there, but surely the Lord was in that place.

Suite 120 in the Legend Building in Nampa is now the 24/7 ministry center for Cross of Christ’s multi-site congregation. After 25 years of God’s rich blessings on our church in Boise, Cross of Christ is branching out to the west in North Nampa to reach more and more souls with the saving and freeing message of Jesus and the Bible.

Who would have thought such amazing things would happen in this little place? One man found out on Father’s Day that his wife was leaving him. He came to our divorce support group where he reconnected with the gospel after not having attended church since middle school.

One couple tragically lost their son in a sudden death. They came to our grief support group where they heard about the resurrection and eternal life for all who believe in Jesus.

One lady stayed after class, apologizing for being so emotional (she didn’t need to apologize). She said our Cross Connections (basic Christian instruction) course was giving her just what she needed at just the right time in her life. The Good News she was hearing was so great it was all just feeling a little overwhelming, in a good way.

All we did was get a little place and open the doors so people could hear the gospel. How is it that lives are changed and people are suddenly connected to God, their purpose, and a Christian community?

Surely the Lord is in this little place.

When he woke up from his angelic dream, Jacob said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16). If Jesus has promised to be with us always, we’re going to try and be alert to all the ways God shows us that he is with us today.

Cross of Christ's new worship location

Cross of Christ’s new worship location

Now we’re gearing up for services to start in North Nampa, and we’ll need a place a little bigger than our suite 120 ministry center. So we’ll be renting a restaurant on Sunday mornings. The opening service will be November 24, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Just a little restaurant on a busy road in Nampa, Idaho. Tables and chairs and salt and pepper shakers. But it’s a place to meet. A place to worship. A place to invite more people to. It might not be a cathedral, but surely the Lord will be in that place too.

Because Jesus has given us his Word. And we will worship in the name of Jesus. And where two or three gather in his name, there he is also.

What sort of amazing things will happen in that little place?

I can’t wait to find out!

Written by Pastor Kurt Wetzel, mission pastor at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Ida.

 

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Backyard Mission Work

Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

Isn’t it fun to read or hear the stories of missionaries who live far away? To hear stories of the gospel taking root into hearts in places that are strange to us? When Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world, we often think of such far away places. If we’re being honest, Waukesha, Wis., is probably about the last place that comes to mind. Waukesha is home to four WELS churches, a couple of which were founded over 100 years ago. At first glance you might not expect to find much “world mission work” here.

That wasn’t always the case. There was a time when Trinity Lutheran in Waukesha was a bustling world mission outpost; a gathering place for German immigrants who made their way to America seeking a new and prosperous beginning for their families. As a mission outpost for immigrants, Trinity’s first worship services were held in the immigrants’ native German.

Alma Lopez’s Quinceañera service

Of course, as generations have passed, the days of worship and outreach in German at Trinity are now behind us. And yet, just as Waukesha was once a hot-bed for German immigrants, God has now brought a new group of immigrants to Trinity’s neighborhood, all in need of that same life-giving gospel message.

Immigrants from Central and South America have taken residence in the homes immediately surrounding our church, and just as in the days of Trinity’s founding, mission work is once again taking place in a foreign language, only this time in Spanish.

As part of that mission effort, this past August, Trinity celebrated its first ever Quinceañera service. The Lopez family requested that we help them celebrate their daughter Alma’s fifteenth birthday and transition into adulthood with a special worship service asking the Lord’s blessing. Nearly 30 people, most who had never stepped a foot into our church before, gathered to hear the Word of God preached in their native Spanish! Such days are a victory for God’s kingdom, as God assures us his word never returns to him empty.

No, Waukesha may not look anything like the world mission fields we often imagine, but the work being done here is exactly the type of work our Lord urges his disciples to pursue. World mission work can lead missionaries to travel to distant lands, but sometimes the Lord leads this world’s people to us; planting a ripe for harvest world mission right in our own backyards. God bless our synod’s efforts to carry out our mission to the world.

Yes, even in places like Waukesha.

Written by Pastor Phil Gurgel, home missionary at Trinity Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Wis. 

 

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After 16 years of waiting…

Well, it’s been over 16 years of waiting, but Living Word in Waukesha, Wis., finally broke ground on its first facility on September 15, 2019. In that time, we’ve set up and taken down for worship services nearly 1,000 times.

Living Word members wrote Bible passages and symbols on rocks that will be buried under the altar and in the foundation.

Are the members excited? Absolutely! In their time renting Rose Glen Elementary School, there have been times they couldn’t use the school due to school activities, times when the custodian forgot to open the building (not so good for a Good Friday service), and whole summers where the first thing anyone saw as they drove into the parking lot was a big, ugly dumpster blocking the school entrance. There’s nothing quite like a welcome dumpster that tells visitors, “We follow the theology of the cross.”

But the members have kept things in perspective. Worshiping in a public school for 16 years is nothing compared to dealing with persecution, or worshiping in graveyards, as some early Christians had to do, or having no place at all from which to proclaim the gospel, such as in many of our foreign mission fields.

View from drone with Waukesha West High School in the background, across the highway from where we’ll build. Members are breaking ground on the perimeter of the building.

Are the members excited and happy?  Of course.  But not just because they won’t have to set up and tear down worship each Sunday. Now we get to use a facility as an encouragement to our members in their gospel outreach. We’ll have a coffee shop as the hub of the building that will encourage members to tell their friends, “Come and see what we’re all about—Jesus, our Savior from sin, and your Savior as well.” We plan on partnering with Lighthouse Youth Center to reach out to Waukesha West High School students as well as partnering with Christian Family Solutions so we can provide professional Christian counseling to anyone who needs it. And we’ll continue to invite the community to our Faith Quest for children and our worship services and Bible studies where we know God’s word will do its work to save and strengthen souls.

Above all, we thank our gracious God and so many people he has worked through who have made sacrifices to get us to this point, including the members of our 16 mother congregations. Now we pray that God blesses the construction so we can finally realize our dream of a facility from which the gospel will reach many souls—and we’ve dreamed of it reaching quite a lot!

Written by Pastor John Borgwardt, home missionary at Living Word Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Wis. 

 

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Holy Smoke Ride

There are two things that strike me about home missions. First, opportunities for outreach come up way more often than we’d think— if we keep our eyes open for them. Second, apart from sin, just about any activity we are involved in can be brought into the service of the Savior. Permit me to share with you something that’s a little of both.

I have been a motorcycle guy since I got my driver’s license a whole lot of years ago at age 16. That’s partly because it was a cheap mode of transportation (in the beginning), and partly because motorcycles are just so much fun. My first was a little 50cc scooter my dad bought for me so I could get to my first “off the farm” part-time job in town. (That job was as a lifeguard at the community pool in St. Charles, Michigan. Tough job, I know, but someone had to do it. But I digress…) Over the years since, the motorcycle just got bigger. In 2017, our Treasurer at Ascension, Paul, bought his first motorcycle and became an avid biker. Since I was already riding, it was just natural that we became riding partners. Over the past two years the circle of friends who became part of our riding group grew. The time spent on rides with those guys has been a wonderful way to develop friendships and to recharge my batteries for service. Over the past three riding seasons, I have logged hundreds of miles and had dozens of meals with those guys. On the weekend before last, we rode 300 miles (round trip) for a cheeseburger and deep-friend Oreos. For motorcycle guys, that is completely normal behavior. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination. It’s about the camaraderie, not the cuisine.

Pastor Dan Simons (front) and some of the Holy Smoke Ride group

As those relationship have grown stronger, one of our group suggested that we do a ride that would start with church at Ascension and leave from there for a Sunday afternoon ride. He suggested that since I am the pastor at Ascension, I ought to plan it. I get that black and orange is not a liturgical color and a Harley jacket is a far cry from an alb, but out here in home missions, it might kind of work. The Holy Smoke Ride was planned, guys had the opportunity to sign up, and then we prayed for good weather.

That ride happened on August 25. Of the 8 guys who committed to the ride, 3 of them were in worship on Sunday morning. Ascension, in their usual friendly way, welcomed them, fed them with refreshments after the service, and made them feel at home. No one batted an eye at the row of motorcycles parked in front of church.

The ride was 100 miles of beautiful weather, excellent lunch at a gem of a smoked meats/BBQ joint north of here, and great conversation. After the ride was over, the group was invited back to our house for some “afterglow.” My wife, Maria, provided her crazy-good salsa & chips, tamales, and ice cream. The camaraderie and conversation continued until nearly dark. The Holy Smoke Ride is history, and we are already planning future rides. This one, everyone agreed, was one of the best.

I don’t know what might come of this as far as new members for Ascension goes. Statistics indicate that millennials and generation z are not big into motorcycles. But for late baby-boomers, it’s still a thing, and there are plenty of boomers who still need to get connected to the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I don’t know what God may bring from this. That’s his work in his own time. I do know that there are three guys who heard about the love of Jesus on Sunday morning who had never darkened our doorway before. I do know that I have the privilege of being a Christian friend, salted into a group of guys I count as friends. It will be interesting to see where this road leads. As far now, I’ll just crack the throttle, keep the rubber side down and shiny side up, and enjoy the ride!

P.S. – Over lunch one of the guys asked about the riding jacket I was wearing. He asked where I got it. When I told him that it was a gift from the members of the church I served in Milwaukee on the occasion of my 25th anniversary in the ministry, he was clearly surprised (in a good way). It was clear a paradigm shift had occurred for him about “church.”

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

 

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Real faces, real lives, real souls

I was nervous this year. This was our fifth year of holding an art camp for children ages 5-10. Some experts suggest that church outreach events have a shelf life. Some say the shelf life is three years. Others say five years. But both say that after a certain amount of time a congregation needs to change the event because it grow stale. This was year five of art camp.

So, I was nervous this year. Between not being able to quickly recruit volunteers and then a slow year for registrations, I was thinking we were going to have as many volunteers as kids. We did everything we had done in the past to advertise, but two weeks out from camp we had less than half the registrations we normally have. I was worried that our volunteers coming from Wisconsin, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, and Ontario would come for nothing. Maybe the experts were right.

I continue to struggle to learn this lesson—the Lord blesses in his own way in spite of my nerves. This year we had 57 kids. Not the most we’ve ever had, but then I took a closer look at the registrations. 52 of the 57 were non-Redemption children. 21 of 57 were returning children. 16 children were registered due to referrals. Maybe most exciting was that this was the first year we had more local children registered (31 of 57) than Ft. Drum children registered. That is important for us as we continue to try to break into a community that one community leader said “lives in relationship silos.” By statistical measure, this was our most successful art camp to date.

Still, I was nervous this year. Rain was in the forecast for our gallery afternoon and barbecue. A time when we try to make connections with parents. Stats are interesting, but they mean little if connections aren’t made and Jesus isn’t shared with people. But the wind moved the clouds and the sun shine was warm. People came. Real faces, real lives, real souls came.

A soul named Danielle brought her granddaughter to camp. She had tattoos down her arms and across her chest, gauges in her ears, a ring in her nose, and a face that could tell two lifetimes of stories. She came to the barbecue with her daughter and their friend, “Aunt” Becky. We talked about Jesus and it was like water for two weary souls.

Another soul was a young mother who thought she should find a church since her daughter was getting older. But she was skeptical and wasn’t sure if there was a church that would value her daughter. “We have a message here just for you and your daughter,” I said, “It’s all about forgiveness given to you by God through Jesus. He loves children and so does our church.”

There was another soul. A mother of three. A burnt out Catholic. She was starved for grace, but Catholicism was in her DNA and she was struggling with what to do. “Are you going to church now?” I asked. She said no. “Bring your kids; come and listen to God’s message of grace,” I said.

I could keep sharing with you the real faces, real lives, real souls that God brought us for three days this past July. This art camp was successful for many reasons, but most of all it was successful because real faces, real lives, real souls came, and the Word was planted.

Written by Pastor Aaron Goetzinger, home missionary at Redemption Lutheran Church in Watertown, N.Y.

 

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A church planter’s checklist

A mission planter has a check-list of items a mile long. We need instruments, people to play the instruments, worship folders, a place to print worship folders, coffee, songs, and on and on it goes!  Perhaps the biggest item on the list of things to accomplish is finding a place to worship. As you continue to invite people and share the gospel, one of the natural questions that arises is, “where are you meeting?” All I could say was…”Aaaaah, we have some options!” It was frustrating trying to find a place we could rent for worship and ministry.

I was called to launch a second campus for Shepherd of the Valley in Westminster, Colo. The target area is to the west about 15 minutes. Hundreds of homes had already been built on the northwest side of the city of Arvada and hundreds more were planned in the coming years. A large space of thousands of acres had been set aside for commercial development. There was only one church in this whole five mile radius, a church a little more than 2 years old. All signs pointed to a ripe mission field. That’s exactly what we found as we surveyed and participated in community events.

People were yearning for connections and longing to be better parents and spouses. As we chatted with them, we shared the gospel and let them know we were planting a church in their area to serve them. There was a lot of interest! However, we lacked one thing. . . a space for ministry and worship. Where do you start?

Ralston’s Crossing Event Center. . . and Shepherd of the Valley’s new worship location

On the advice of other mission planters and friends, I started asking the schools in the area. I was met time after time with a big NO! They didn’t have the staff to open the building, or they just didn’t want the hassle of a renter. We looked for commercial space to rent and convert, but in an area so new there wasn’t any good or affordable commercial space. Lots of people and no places to meet. Where would we meet? What would we do if we didn’t find a place? I feared we would have nothing since it was April 2019 and we planned to start in the fall.

The last possibility was an old Presbyterian church, built in 1911, now a wedding and event center. I hadn’t met the owner, the site was a bit out of our target area, but the location was along a state highway and many local people knew where it was located. It’s worth a try. I sent the owner an email two weeks before Easter, described what I was looking for, and asked about renting. The following Monday as I sat in the car in the Home Depot parking lot, my phone rang. On the other end was the most pleasant, upbeat voice I’d heard in awhile,

“Is this Jeremy? I’m so glad I got a hold of you! I received your message you were looking to rent the chapel. How can I help? I have to tell you, when I heard your message I was ecstatic you asked! I’ve never rented to a church before. This is going to be so much fun!”

What followed was nothing short of God’s gracious hand. The owner, Randy Miller, said to me, “I heard your message and was so excited to have a church meet in the church again! This is going to be exciting.” Randy asked us what we wanted to pay. He opened up his entire property for us to use on Sundays (check out these pictures!) and encouraged us to have as many outdoor services as we wanted to have. He talked about adding us to his main sign. He said to me, “You sound like a really nice guy so I’ll probably just give you a key and you can have access when you need it.”

Since then, Randy has moved schedules around so we have sole access on Sunday mornings. His wedding season goes from May through September, so for the rest of the year we have the place all to ourselves. Randy has said many times, “I’m so excited to partner with you and have your congregation here.”

It was struggle to find a place and extremely frustrating to be turned down by over a half dozen different spots or find nothing to rent within your budget. Ralston’s Crossing Event Center has been a blessing from God. The owner has been inviting people to attend our new church. This was just another reminder that the Lord guides the steps of his people and promises to be with them wherever we go.

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


Post-Script: Pastor Belter reports, “Every seat was filled. We counted 140 people in attendance and nearly 70 first time guests! I was also privileged to baptize three little children that day from the same family. That family is currently taking class for membership. We have contact info from 10 families for follow up and lots of positive conversations. Several inquired about next steps for membership. Several people commented, “We’re looking for a church with a more traditional structure and solid sermon from the Bible. We want a church that is true to the Bible.” Lots of people said they’d be back. To say that God is good is an understatement. He did do more than we asked or imagined as he always does. The launch team is excited to continue working as missionaries, inviting and welcoming people to hear the message of Christ crucified!”

 

 

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A cross-cultural camping trip to remember

On July 20-21, my church family (Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church) was able to take a beautiful camping trip to the Oregon Coast. With lots of laughter and some incredible food, the weekend was wonderful.

After a nine-hour drive from Boise to a little outside of Newport, my family and many others arrived at our group camp site. The site itself was quite sandy, and many trees guarded it from the wind and sun. Overall, we had a little less than ten tents set up around the large campfire, which was most certainly not the only heat source used to cook.

Peace in Jesus 2019

Over the course of our stay, all the people involved had been to the beach at least twice. As it was about a five-minute walk from our campground, we were able to see it quite frequently. Enjoying its views and doing fun activities there was the highlight of my (and I’m sure many others’) stay at South Beach State Park.

One thing that I would like to highlight is the high quantity of the youth on this trip. On the second night of our stay, all the teenagers went to the beach in the dark to play a very fun card game, strengthening friendships while having a great time. This was not the only activity young people enjoyed, as hacky sack and word games were also incorporated. Overall, the stay was very enjoyable for all ages.

Sunday morning was a service to remember. In the beautiful nature of our campsite, the church body was able to hear a meaningful sermon highlighting God’s amazing creation of the ocean. Not only this, but special hymns were performed and heard by many, leaving a lasting impression in the memory of this church camping trip. Even our church choir sang a meaningful anthem about God’s enduring love.

For every meal of the day, there seemed to be a delicious feast for all to take part in. The Vietnamese culture that makes up almost our entire church family had a heavy impact on the food made during the camping trip-I can assure you, no one complained. Although not specific to the culture, at one point an entirely whole (huge) tuna was cooked for people to eat, followed by spicy grilled squid the next day. One thing that can be said for certain is that hunger never entered our camp!

Peace in Jesus had a wonderful church camping trip to the Oregon Coast. Complete with full stomachs, endless fun, and the beautiful Word of God, this stay was one to remember; and leaving our temporary home was less than easy.

Written by Laura Hope Kramer, member at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church, Boise, Ida. 

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All about telling people about Jesus

The conversation took place in January. I had just told our leadership team that I didn’t think we should do our outdoor Easter service again this year. I thought my reasons were pretty valid. 1) It was a lot of work on our mission church, 2) it was located somewhere other than on our church grounds, and 3) even though attendance had climbed each year for the past three years, only one person came back to our church for a second visit. In other words, we saw no church growth because of our efforts. So, I had suggested that we have our Easter worship at church this year.

However, they didn’t agree. They thought we should host the outdoor Easter service one more year. So that’s what we did, but this year we decided we weren’t even going to promote our church. With that in mind, we changed up our Easter morning just a little bit. We had a worship service filled with songs, Scripture readings, a sermon, and prayers. However, we didn’t take an offering. We didn’t try and collect people’s information through connect cards or anything else. We all went in with the attitude that we were just excited to have the opportunity to share Jesus with them that morning. If they came back the next week, we’d get their information then. But on Easter, it was all about telling people about Jesus.

Children’s message

And God blessed us! He sent 138 people to worship with us that morning. 77 of them were guests. Just like we planned, we didn’t collect anyone’s information, but we did have great conversations. We didn’t take a collection, but we gave them a brunch and an Easter egg hunt.

Several weeks later, nine people who attended our Easter service for the first time this year are now regular attenders at our church.

It is so easy to fall into the church growth mindset. It’s easy to worry about the numbers and to be only concerned about the statistical growth. But when we fall into that mindset, we are trying to take on the job of Jesus. He’s the one who makes churches grow. Our job is a lot simpler than his. We simply get the joy of telling others about Jesus. That’s all our job is.

We love Jesus. We love people. We love telling people about Jesus. When we have that attitude, Jesus will grow the church.

Written by Rev. Stephen Apt, home missionary at Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Liberty Hill, Tex. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Seeds are small. But they grow.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

It began with just a small group of WELS military personnel and civilians gathering once a month in Minot, N.D., and a WELS pastor from Bismarck, N.D., being willing to travel the 110 miles north to serve them. For years. And then our Lord gave us a seminary graduate named Nathan Walther and his wife Heather to serve this field. Pastor Walther was installed at Grace Lutheran on July 13, 2014. Since then—in spite of crazy high building prices that prevented us from pursuing early childhood ministry as an outreach strategy, and in spite of many difficulties finding available space for our mission, and in spite of the long cold winters—our Lord’s Word has not returned void, but has accomplished the purpose for which he sent it. Today, Grace Lutheran is a congregation of 54 members. And they keep moving forward. In fact, even as I write this, they are closing on a deal to purchase and move into their own worship facility.

It began with just a small group of WELS members meeting in the living room of the city planner and his wife. This was in 2008, in Williston, N.D., a small town that had a regular influx of transient WELS workers who were part of the oil patch. Then our pastor in Circle, Wolf Point, and Terry, Mont., started making regular trips to serve them, driving 120 miles one way. Then came the oil boom. This small town went crazy, more than doubling in size, as oil companies raced in to drill wells. And through it all, our group continued to meet and mature, so that now they aim to be what our Lord has made them—to be the church in their corner of our Lord’s vineyard, as we await the time a full-time missionary can be called to that field.

Home mission church in Dickinson, N.D.

It began with just a small group composed of members from our two sister congregations in Sioux Falls, S.D. Their small city, which had always felt more like a town than a city, had become a community of a quarter of a million people living in and around it. It was time to plant a mission in an area that was always just beyond the reach of their evangelism efforts. And so it is that, on July 21, Craig Wilke will be ordained and installed as our missionary in Brandon, S.D.

It began with just a small group of WELS members, ten adults and five children, gathering at a community center in Dickinson, N.D., to live stream worship from the next closest WELS church—Redeemer, Mandan, N.D., 92 miles to the east. Then Our Saviour’s in Bismarck, which is next to Mandan, got involved as well. In the spring of this year our District Mission Board was able to put in a request for a full-time missionary for that field. Though there were not enough funds to grant our request, this group has no intention of just sitting on their 15 pairs of hands. They know there is work to be done while it is day.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

Written by Rev. Jonathan Werre, Chairman of the Dakota-Montana District Mission Board

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Faces of Faith – Sherry

Over 2,000 years ago, God sent a man named Philip to minister to a royal official from Ethiopia. Their time together was short. They had one Bible study about the book of Isaiah and a conversation about the blessings of Baptism. Soon after, the Ethiopian was baptized in the name of our Triune God and Philip was taken by the Holy Spirit to another town to go and minister.

That short encounter between two men centered around the good news of Jesus Christ caused the nation of Ethiopia to be one of the most influential Christian centers in all of Africa.

Just like God sent Philip to the Ethiopian, I like to think that God sent Sherry Deaton to Faith Church or maybe he sent Faith Church to Sherry Deaton. Either way, the encounter is nothing short of a miracle.

Two years ago, I received a phone call from Sherry who said she had received a flyer from our church the year prior. She was now living in the area and she recognized our sign out front. She asked if we could meet. We put it on the calendar and then, like so many others, she called to cancel.

That could have been the end of Sherry’s story, but God wouldn’t let me let her off the hook that easily. We rescheduled and that’s when I found out about her past. She had grown up in a broken home. Lived on the streets for a while in her early teens. Eventually she had three kids. Got hooked on meth. Lost her three kids to Child Protective Services (CPS), and in her early 30’s found Jesus. Or as she would say, “Jesus found me.”

Three different missionaries came knocking on her door on three different occasions and the third time was the charm. She was enveloped by God’s love and that’s when her new life began. God freed her from her addiction to drugs. Over time, he graciously gave her children back to her and two of them are now members at Faith Church.

Sherry is the perfect example of God’s amazing grace and his promise that he will never leave us the way he found us. If you were to ever meet Sherry in person, you’d have no idea that she has such a colored past. She’s got a sweet East Texan accent, a huge smile, and a Holy Spirit glow that is infectious. And she’s open enough to tell anyone her jaw dropping stories of unbelief and rebellion so that she can quickly introduce them to their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sherry works part-time at a pregnancy counselling center where she gets to work with women and their families that are going through some of the very same situations she herself has faced. Her experiences and her love for Jesus uniquely qualify her to speak into these women’s lives. Because of her faithful work, many mothers and children have received the gift of baptism, a new life in Christ and a family of believers to surround them with love and support.

On June 2, Sherry was commissioned as Faith Lutheran Church’s Deaconess over Women’s Ministry. Sherry has had many “Philips” sent into her life to show her Jesus’ love and now, like Philip, God is sending her into many other people’s lives. Please pray that God would fill her with his love and strength to continue on with this amazing work!

Written by Rev. Dan Schmidt, home missionary at Faith Lutheran Church in Tyler, Tex.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

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