Flyover country

When I was assigned to serve in South Dakota back in 2007, the first images that floated through my mind as I sat in the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary gymnasium were from the TV series Little House on the Prairie. Cue the theme song and little Laura Ingalls running through the grasses. That’s where I was about to go . . . somewhere in South Dakota. People came up to me afterward and said, “Oh, you are going to love it there!” Little did they know how much their words were fighting with the stereotype in my head. But, I do love it here! I love serving God’s people here, raising my family here, and reaching the lost here. I love seeing the people he continues to send here from all over the country.

I am blessed to serve on the Dakota-Montana District Mission Board, and when I travel for meetings and visits, I can’t help but stare out the window during take off and landing and think of my old silly stereotype.

Many people consider this district flyover country. How much mission work is there really to do in Montana and the Dakotas? There are rural areas that are losing population. But I have only seen the population of towns and cities grow in my 17 years here, and I don’t see any end to the mission work that needs to be done. What seems like rural America is growing. Families are moving here from all over the country looking for something better. Praise God that he would include the gospel among those better things to be found! Praise God that he would not just fly over “flyover” country, but use his people here to know the names of those living and moving here. There is just as much sin-brokenness and need for the gospel here as anywhere else. People moving here are coming along with the same hurts and burdens that weighed heavily on their hearts while living on either coast. If they were worth reaching there, they are most certainly worth reaching here.

Maybe the biggest difference is that you can see more of the sky while talking with someone about the God who created it for them. You can feel more grass under your feet when you talk with someone about the one who took on human flesh and felt the grass under his feet as he made his way to the cross for them. And you probably hear more wind while the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith through the same means of grace that are needed everywhere.

Who knows, maybe you and your family might even consider moving to Montana or the Dakotas to reach these people, too.

We are excited to welcome Joshua Schroeder as our missionary to Kalispell, Mont., this year. Our new mission in Williston, N.D., will begin calling from the field this summer, too.

We are so thankful to be a part of a synod that sees the value in reaching the lost, wherever they may be!

Written by Rev. Mark Schutz, District Mission Board (DMB) chairman of the Dakota-Montana district and pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Spearfish, S.D. 

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Vicars and graduates assigned to home and world mission fields

Martin Luther College graduates to world mission fields

  • Borgwardt, Matthias P. – Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School – Grade 6
  • Vilhauer, Jake L. – Lusaka, Zambia – One Africa Team Outreach Missionary

Seminary pastoral assignments to home mission congregations

Six pastoral graduates from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary were assigned to serve WELS home mission congregations.

  • Bitter, Benjamin D. – Peace, Trinity, FL
  • Fury, Clayton J. – New Start, Conway, AR
  • Pankow, Tristan J. – Living Shepherd, Laramie, WY
  • Schroeder, Joshua M. – New Start, Kalispell, MT
  • Steinbrenner, Eli E. – Good Shepherd, Plymouth, WI
  • Ungemach, Jacob D. – New Start, Cincinnati (Oakley), OH

Vicar in a Mission Settings program assignments

29 Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students were assigned to serve as vicars through the Vicars in a Mission Setting program, and one additional vicar was assigned to serve a WELS World Missions partner in Colombia. The Vicar in a Mission Settings program allows third-year seminary students experience ministry in a mission-minded congregation thanks to financial support from WELS Home Missions and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. *Denotes home mission congregation

Backus, Jonah A. – Apostles, Billings, MT
Bain, Abel B. – Christ, Denver, CO*
Balge, Philip R. – Beautiful Savior, Marietta, GA
Boulden, Nathan B. – Amazing Grace, Myrtle Beach, SC*
Brauer, Nathaniel A. – Living Savior, Asheville, NC
Dimke, Alexander M. – Faith, Anchorage, AK
Fix, Jon P. – Beautiful Savior, College Station, TX
Fluegge, Eric M. – Immanuel, Findlay, OH
Friesenegger, Michael F. – Abiding Grace, Covington, GA
Gensemer, Daniel R. – Tree of Life, Cary, NC
Heichelbech, Gregory J. – Zion, Denver, CO
Helmer, Eric. M – St. Peter, Schofield, WI
Lewis, Jacob H. – Trinity, Kiel, WI
Lindemann, Kyle D. – Christ Alone – Keller, TX*
Loersch, Josiah L. – Light of the Valleys, Reno, NV*
Melso, Noah J. – Gethsemane, Omaha, NE
Mittelstadt, Josiah S. – Our Savior, San Antonio, TX
Neumann, Micah C. – Carbon Valley, Firestone, CO*
Nguyen, Minh T. – Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, Madison, WI*
Nordlie, Noah P. – Grace, Sahuarita, AZ*
Prins, Ethan D. – Resurrection, Verona, WI
Rugen, Matthew A. – Santísima Trinidad, Medellín, Colombia (World)
Schroeder, Justin M. – Good News, Mt. Horeb, WI*
Schulz, Jonah W. – Sure Foundation, Woodside, NY*
Sims, Marcus J. – Hope, Toronto, ON, Canada*
Vogt, Noah J. – Abiding Faith, Smyrna, TN
Westra, Caleb L. – Foundation, Peyton, CO*
Zabell, Jacob D. – Risen Savior, Chula Vista, CA

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Faith beyond four walls

As a mission congregation with no permanent facility, Peace Lutheran in Gilbert, Ariz., has had to adapt.  We have worshiped in a number of different locations—member’s homes, school cafeterias, classrooms, etc.  In 2022, our Sunday morning services were being held in a high school auditorium.  But that Fall, we were notified that some renovations were going to be taking place and we would have to find another place to hold our services.  Our leadership came up with the idea of setting up a tent on the land we had purchased for our future church home.  The property already had an older barn structure on site.  We poured a concrete pad, extending off of the barn and set the tent up for services, with the barn acting as our “fellowship hall.”  The members instantly loved it!  Despite the fact we had heavy rain the first few Sundays, God’s people gathered around Word and Sacrament.  Despite the fact at times it got windy and chilly, God’s people invited their families and friends.  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Psalm 122:1).

By the Spring of 2023, the renovations in the high school auditorium had been completed and we moved back inside due the Arizona heat.  However, it didn’t take long before people started to ask, “When are we going back to the tent?”  So in the Fall of 2023, we did just that—we went back to our church home.  And it has been a wonderfully blessed experience!

Over the course of the past two years we have been working on the building project for our permanent church home.  Our building plans have been completed and submitted to the county for approval.  God’s people have been incredibly generous. We’ve raised enough money to put a shovel in the ground.  We are excited to finally have a permanent church home and during this planning process we have decided that we will incorporate outdoor services as a regular part of our Sunday services because people loved them so much.

This entire experience has highlighted for all of us at Peace that church isn’t just a building or a structure. Church is God’s people gathering around his means of grace. Church is God’s people celebrating and sharing the news of Christ’s empty cross and tomb. Church is God’s people proclaiming the forgiveness Jesus brings to souls aching for peace. And that’s something we can do, wherever we are.

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

Written by Rev. Mark Schroeder, home missionary at Peace Lutheran Church in Gilbert, Ariz. 

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A new city, the same gospel

“Here in Bread of Life: the Church of the Lord, members of his body, by God it was formed. Reunited family, branches of the Vine, reconciled people, declare his love divine.” On November 19th, 2023, over 80 individuals gathered to celebrate the reality of these beautiful words, an English translation from the hymn “Aquí en Pan de Vida” adapted and translated by Pan de Vida’s longtime worship coordinator and staff minister, Amy Reede Nuñez. Pan de Vida Iglesia Luterana in Garden Grove, Calif., celebrated its 20th anniversary on that night with a special worship service followed by a meal and a mariachi band.

All Nations Sunday at King of Kings Lutheran Church.

Although this Spanish outreach mission currently calls Garden Grove its home, most of its rich history occurred about five miles east of its current facility. Pan de Vida launched in Santa Ana, Calif., back in 2003 under the leadership of Pastors Brian Doebler and Chris Schroeder, recent Seminary graduates who did six months of language training in Mexico. English classes and Bible studies blossomed into Spanish worship services, first in the pastors’ homes, then in local elementary schools, and finally in Pan de Vida’s own building that they purchased and renovated in 2008.

In all of these different locations, the Holy Spirit quietly worked through the means of grace as his church proclaimed Christ’s message of reconciliation. Individuals who came to learn English stayed after class to hear about God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit planted and grew faith in their hearts. Families invited their friends, and their friends kept coming back to hear about their heavenly Father’s infinite love for them in Christ. A couple walked across the street from their apartment one Sunday morning to inquire about this new church and kept coming Sunday after Sunday to hear the good news of the gospel. To this day, the highlight of their week is when their pastor comes to their home to feed them with Word and Sacrament, and then they get to feed him with home-cooked food that is way too spicy for him to handle. One of my favorite parts of my first nine months as pastor at Pan de Vida has been getting to hear everyone’s story of how God worked through the faithful proclamation of his Word to connect them to this body of believers. He blessed so many people through the ministry that took place in Santa Ana.

In 2021, due to a number of factors, Pan de Vida had to sell their longtime home. However, God provided for his people once again, this time through the brothers and sisters at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Garden Grove, who graciously opened their facility for Pan de Vida’s use. Although many changes have occurred for Pan de Vida in the last couple of years, the celebration of its 20th anniversary reminded us of one thing that will never change. The same gospel that called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified this family of believers in Santa Ana is the gospel it continues to proclaim in Garden Grove. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. May the Lord of the Church bless his people as we strive to faithfully carry out his ministry and declare his love divine to those around us.

Written by Rev. Grant Hagen, home missionary at Pan de Vida in Garden Grove, Calif.

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Small in number, mighty in love

Crosspoint Church  in Georgetown, Tex., has been putting on an Easter Eggstravaganza event for over four years now. Each year it has become bigger and bigger, yet membership has stayed at 40 members. In 2023, the event attracted nearly 1,000 people. Rev. Mike Geiger and the members at Crosspoint were expecting just as big of a turnout, if not bigger, for this year as well. However, being a congregation consisting primarily of retirees, they needed more resources than what they had available to help this event be another successful one. The University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire’s campus ministry was asked if they would be willing to go down to Texas during their spring break. Four students volunteered and spent the week going door-to-door handing out invitations to both the Easter Eggstravaganza event and the Easter Sunday service, doing the heavy lifting of tables, tents, and signage to set up for the event, running different stations at the event, and helping take it all back down at the end of the day to get the church ready for service the next morning.

While Crosspoint may be a small church in number, it is still mighty in love and God’s grace. I don’t think there was one member who didn’t contribute in some way to the event, whether it was helping host the college students, stuffing all 14,000 eggs, setting up the event, lending tables or tents for the event, running the event, or helping take it down. There was so much love and hospitality everywhere you went. While planning and putting on the long-awaited event, the congregation was so full of joy and hope, praying that the Holy Spirit would use it as an opportunity to bring some more people closer to Jesus. After a week full of work by the campus ministry students and months of work by the congregation, the event was finally able to commence.

There were 817 people in attendance at the Easter Eggstravaganza, enjoying the event and learning more about what Crosspoint stood for. On Easter Sunday, four new families joined us. The families had either been at the event the day before or had gotten an invitation during our canvasing earlier in the week. We hope that through the Holy Spirit these people will come back and learn about Jesus, and eventually be led to become members at Crosspoint. May God bless all the work Crosspoint is doing to expand their ministry and grow their congregation in one of the fastest-growing areas of Texas.

Written by Ally Veley, member of In Christ Alone, the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire WELS Campus Ministry.

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Multiple home missions under one roof

St. John’s Lutheran in St. Paul, Minn., is an old congregation established by German immigrants over 150 years ago. It was the second WELS congregation started in the Twin Cities area. In the 1980s, the neighborhood demographic started to change. Asians and African Americans moved in while Caucasians moved to the suburbs. Throughout the 1990s and in the 2000s, the change continued as Hispanic immigrants moved into the area.

In 2005, St. John’s opened their facility to Immanuel Hmong, a WELS congregation focused on reaching out to the local Hmong community. As the neighborhood around St. John’s changed, so did the congregation. By 2015 the membership had decreased to about 300 souls. Enrollment in the school continued to decline throughout the years. In 2017, St. Johns made the difficult decision to close the school.

Over the next three years, St. Johns considered merging with other area congregations or closing their doors as they could no longer completely support a full-time pastor. Then, in 2020 a member of the church passed away and left a large bequest to the congregation. With the help of District President Rev. Dennis Klatt and Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant, the members of St. John’s “opened their eyes and looked at the fields” around them and decided to move forward in a new direction. They decided to ask WELS Home Missions for some financial help to call a bilingual pastor with the goal of starting a Hispanic ministry in addition to the English-speaking community.

In spring of 2022, St. John’s installed Rev. Tim Otto to serve as pastor to focus on outreach to the Hispanic community. What a joy to see God answer in a greater fashion than we could ask or imagine: the building now hosts worship in three languages every weekend!

Check out below some of the recent activities happening at St. John’s facility.

Hispanic Services in St. Paul, Minn.

Over the past year, St. John’s has started up Hispanic services and held various local community events under the name of Iglesia Lutherana San Juan.

In September, San Juan had a table at Fiesta Latina. It served to create a prospect list of around 100. The group gave away over 100 Bibles and a lot of flyers advertising their Hispanic ministry. This event was held by CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio) at a building next door to the church.

In January, San Juan started an evangelism program to the community called Kicks and Conversations (Patear y Platicar). They invited the community to come out of the cold and to play soccer or basketball in the gym. Attendees could also practice their English on Wednesdays in January and February leading up to Ash Wednesday. There was good participation and attendance from the community varied from 10 to 30 people.

In summer 2023, San Juan started a summer evangelism program partnering with Raices y Ramas, a Hispanic pregnancy counseling organization. The program is called Community Thursdays (Jueves en comunidad) and ran for six weeks over the summer. San Juan opened the gym and volunteers organized and ran crafts for the moms.

For more information on St. John’s/San Juan, please visit their website at stjohnev.net

Celebrating Thanksgiving & Hmong New Year in St. Paul, Minn.

In November each year, the congregation of Immanuel Hmong Lutheran in St. Paul, Minn., welcomes friends and guests to a special Thanksgiving and Hmong New Year celebration. This is a yearly celebration that includes members dressing in traditional Hmong attire. The celebration includes a special worship service followed by dinner that includes many Hmong dishes.

In addition to the annual Thanksgiving and Hmong New Year celebration, Immanuel Hmong also hosted various other activities such as marriage retreats, vacation Bible studies, summer fun festivals, family camping, and many different choirs.

God has truly blessed Immanuel Hmong, and we pray that God would continue to bless this home mission!

For more information on Immanuel Hmong, please visit their website at immanuelhmong.net

Written by Daryl Schultz, Minnesota District Mission Board member.

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Resilient in the face of rejection

“Christianity is dying.” “Religion is a waste of time and money and energy.” “I will be blocking any further posts from you.”

Our church ran an advertisement on Facebook recently for our Lent sermon series. The quotes above are a sample of replies we got as people scrolled through their feeds and ran into our post. Encouraging, right?

You’ve probably heard similar things. Perhaps no one has said something like this to you when you’ve invited them to church. Usually, people are much more polite if you already have a relationship. But they may have thought it. “Who still cares about that ‘church’ stuff?”

When we see churches all over the country shrinking, and people reacting more and more negatively to our invitations, we can become discouraged. We might even get angry. We’re tempted to lash out at those who disparage our faith, whether online or in person.

But some people responded quite differently to our ad.

“God bless you at all times and all places.” “Thank you.” “Pray for me.”

God’s children, even in an age that seems less and less interested in the gospel, are known through our attitudes of peace, joy, and kindness. Your neighbors see Christ’s love reflected in you, which is a wondrous work of God’s Holy Spirit.

The early Christians faced similar rejection and persecution. Many people accused them of cannibalism (because they were “eating someone’s body and blood” in worship) or of conspiracy and sedition (because they claimed another Lord ruled over them).

Likewise, we may face rejection and scorn for what seems like unfair reasons. But in that, we’re no different than our Lord. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness”. 1 Peter 2:23-24

I’ve got an appointment on my calendar this week to stop by a new member’s home; someone who’s been ill recently and hasn’t made it to worship in a couple weeks. Their reaction to Christianity? A text that made me smile. “I’m frustrated. I really want to get back to church.”

This is going to sound obvious, but it’s a truth I’ve had to remind myself of more than once during our church’s restart project, “Don’t look for encouragement in discouraging words.” I found myself returning to those negative comments, reading them again and again, as if I expected a reply to suddenly occur to me that would absolutely flip their worldview on its head and convince them of the truth of the gospel. That won’t happen!

Instead, find encouragement among your brothers and sisters in your church. Cling to one another. “The family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings,” so let us “love each other deeply” (1 Peter 5:9 and 4:8). Love like that will stand out today, tomorrow, and always.

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

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Sowing seeds in urban soil

When you think of church, what pops into your head? I think of my home church building, St. John’s in New Ulm, Minn. I can see the stained-glass windows and large wooden cross up front. I can hear the organ and bells, the singing of hymns, and the subtle crack of the microphone as the pastor proclaims the sermon. I can smell the midweek Lenten supper simmering in the basement. I recall conversing with family and friends in the narthex after the service. It transports me to another world. Maybe you can relate.

Now, imagine you don’t have most of the things in that “other world.” There is no church building. No grand pipe organ blasting “Speak, O Savior; I Am Listening.” No microphones. No midweek Lenten soup. No Sunday morning conversations that last until the lights are shut off, telling you it’s time to go home. Would it still feel like church?

It might not feel like church, but it would be.

We don’t have a traditional church building in Boston or a large music ensemble yet (and one day, I hope we do). But we still have a church. Our church meets in many different places around the city: in libraries, co-working space, coffee shops, restaurants, and homes. We don’t have a large group of people, but we gather together to take in the scriptures, confess sins, recite creeds, and pray the Lord’s prayer. We do gather for fellowship and eat food together, and we share in the Lord’s Supper – just like you do.

It can be challenging for church to always feel like church when planting a new mission congregation. No programs are established and there isn’t a regular meeting on Sunday morning. It’s hard for the members of the congregation as well. Many of them are familiar with growing up in well-established congregations. I ask that you keep us in your prayers as we continue working on planting.

This may all sound a bit pessimistic up to this point, but I promise it’s not meant to feel that way. Why? Because church planting, especially in a city, gives us opportunities to reach many people with the gospel. Some predict that 68 percent of the world will live in urban centers by 2050. That tells me that we must continue to plant churches in urban environments. We have to start somewhere. From a human perspective, if we can work in cities, we can reach more people worldwide.

Church planting efforts, like the one in Boston, may feel small to begin with. At times, they may not feel like church, but they are. Efforts like the one WELS is making in Boston are critical as we seek to see the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

I am incredibly grateful for all the prayers and support of the work in Boston. Continue to pray for us and all of our church plants as we attempt to reach many with the good news of Jesus!

Written by Rev. Joshua Koelpin, home missionary in Boston, Mass.

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Registration now open – Taste of Missions 2024

We are thrilled to announce that registration for Taste of Missions 2024 is now open! Whether you join us in person or virtually, we invite you to be part of this special day as we celebrate the spread of the gospel of Christ throughout the world.

Date: Saturday, June 15, 2024
Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Location: Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. OR online!

The day kicks off with a worship service, as we commission new home and world missionaries to their important work. It’s an inspiring occasion that sets the tone for the day ahead. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, you’ll have the opportunity to explore displays, hear missionaries share their stories and answer your questions, and sample ethnic dishes. Bring the entire family to learn about the diverse mission fields where WELS is making a difference and get a glimpse into the lives touched by Jesus.

For those joining us virtually, you can still be part of the experience! Tune in to our livestreamed sessions, including the commissioning worship service and insightful talks from speakers across our home and world mission fields. Plus, we’ll be sharing mouthwatering recipes for you to try at home.

View the full list of activities for the day and register at tasteofmissions.com. Registration is $15 per person, with children 13 and under attending for free. Those attending in person will receive food tickets to sample ethnic cuisine and can purchase additional food from the food trucks. Or attend virtually for free! Sign up today at tasteofmissions.com/register.

We can’t wait to welcome you to Taste of Missions, where together, we’ll celebrate our Savior’s mission and the incredible work being done around the world.

 




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Is your church a success?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is Grace Hmong a successful church or not?” In the end, only God knows the answer. But it’s an answer that God shares in his Word. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

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

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

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Taste of Missions school challenge and poster contest

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

School challenge for grades K-8

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

High school poster contest

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

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

 

 




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Save the date! Taste of Missions 2024

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

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

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

We can’t wait to see you there!

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

 




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Seminary students assist home mission churches

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

Mount Calvary –  Redding/Anderson, Calif.

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

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

Divine Savior – North Collin County, Tex.

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

Divine Savior Church Bible and Brews outreach event

The Way – Fredericksburg, Va.

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

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

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A little “hope for everyday” goes a long way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Merry Christmas from WELS Missions

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

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

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

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

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

WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions

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Overflowing with opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s what makes Christians stand out.

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

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

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

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Outstanding ministry blessings in Vancouver

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

“The Story of the Bible” initiative

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

Sampling dishes from the International Food Festival

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

International Food Festival

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

Congregation annual meeting

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

Discipleship training

Discipleship training with Mission Counselor Matt Vogt

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

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

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

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





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Being part of the event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How’s it going?

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

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

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

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

How’s that going? Incredibly!

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

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

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

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Hope in Houston

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

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

Current worship space for Hope Lutheran Church

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

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

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

The original Church of Christ building in 1927

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

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

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Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus

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

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

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

The worship facility at Our Savior Lutheran Church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The gospel in Garden Grove…in three languages!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In three languages!

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

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Brats and building bridges for Jesus!

Sometimes you just need to be creative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sometimes, It’s just clear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rivers of living water will flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peace like a River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Faces of Faith – Veronica

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

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

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

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

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

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Faces of Faith – Michaela

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

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

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

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

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

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