Good bones

I don’t know about you, but one of the most dangerous things I did during this pandemic was to turn on Home and Garden Television (HGTV). I know, I live on the edge, but hear me out. HGTV is dangerous because it gave me ideas, and ideas led to trips to Harbor Freight, and trips to Harbor Freight led to purchasing 28-foot scaffolding, and scaffolding may have led to teenagers performing front-flips onto giant bean bags. I told you that HGTV was dangerous!

In spite of the great dangers involved in watching home improvement shows. . . I still do it. I try to quit, but there is an allure to seeing a project take shape. In all the shows, I love the phrase, This place has good bones.” Good bones means you have something solid to work with. It means you know it is going to be incredible in the end.

About two years ago, the members of Carbon Valley Lutheran in Firestone, Colorado, started our own rehabilitation ride. After years of searching, we found some good bones”  at a former plant nursery—an all-steel structure, 3 ½ acres, commercial zoning, sewer, water, parking lot, street lights, landscaping, and water tap all were there. We could work with this.

But there’s another reason HGTV is dangerous. It inspires you to take that leap of renovation faith without really showing all the time and work that goes into the final project. And yet that work is really what gets you to the big reveal. Don’t worry, we didn’t stop being a church. We continued worshiping in a local elementary school, strengthening the faith of our members. We reached out to our community through service projects and local festivals. We raised money through the generosity of our people. We asked the right questions and walked through the loan and town processes. We rolled with the twists and turns and ultimately stepped out on faith.

Outdoor worship at their new location

And when the pandemic took our public school location, the bones of our building became our impromptu worship location. We worshiped outdoors in the middle of our steel structure. We watched as the roof and walls were stripped. We saw the foundation piers being dug. We heard the concrete slabs being cut. And the big reveal hasn’t happened yet. But it’s coming.

God does amazing things with bones, even more amazing than transforming an old plant nursery into a sanctuary. God brings bones to life through the perfect life of his son Jesus, and he builds up believers to make an impact on communities. He’s doing that very thing in us at Carbon Valley Lutheran and through our new building that will be used for generations to come. And he still builds up the body of believers to share Christ with their community. So much so, that we’ve even had five families visit us in the “bones” of our new building.

Written by Tim Spiegelberg, home missionary at Carbon Valley Lutheran Church in Firestone, Colo.

Want to watch Carbon Valley’s building progress? Check out Carbon Valley’s Facebook page to see pictures.


 

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Upside down

We’ve probably all heard it a number of times these last few months: the disruptions of COVID-19 have left us feeling like things have been turned upside down.

If you happened to say something along those lines while you were sitting next to Christopher, a young man who just recently joined our church, he’d understand exactly what you mean. In fact, he may even understand that truth better than you.

Because there was a time in Christopher’s life when God literally turned him upside down. It was only a few years ago, while he was living in Michigan. He was driving to visit his girlfriend when the combination of slick roads, high speeds, and a sharp turn left him upside down in a ditch. And if you asked Christopher about it, he’d tell you that being upside down in his car was a monumental—and wonderful—turning point in his life.

Looking back on it now, he sees God’s gracious hand in that pivotal moment. He sees a loving God bringing him even closer to the family of the girl who is now his wife. He sees a patient God using a life-threatening moment to teach him to re-prioritize the truly important parts of his life. He sees a gracious God directing all things—even a car on a slippery road—so that an undeserving sinner would be rescued from real spiritual danger. When he thinks about those moments upside down in his car, he can’t help but give thanks to the God who used them to bring him into contact with his Word.

That’s where Christopher found out just how gracious and loving his God is. He joined our church family at Living Shepherd in Laramie, Wyoming, a few weeks ago, after eagerly studying that Word. He’s still learning, of course. He’s daily rejoicing in the amazing miracle that took place on the cross, where Jesus paid for his sin; and at the empty tomb, where God declared him not guilty for all eternity. He’s soaking it up, relishing the beauty of a God who works all things for the eternal good of his people.

There’s a lot more to Christopher’s story—he could probably write a long and fascinating book about his life. Before God flipped his life upside down, he was fighting a daily battle against the demons of alcohol, the persistence of guilt, and the darkness of Satanism. That is what made his upside down experience so pivotal. He would describe it as the key chapter in the book of his life, so far. And he’d likely tell you that even these “upside down” times of COVID-19 are opportunities for God to work amazing miracles in the lives of his people.

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


 

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Faces of Faith – Katherine

Sometimes mission connections happen in very interesting ways. Every year, Spirit of Life in Caledonia, Mich., hosts a booth at the local Davenport College Panther Palooza event. It’s an event where freshmen go to learn about opportunities to serve, learn, and work in the community. During that event we were publicizing a women’s self-defense class being held at Spirit of Life. Little did we know, God would bless us with a new member and a really great friend.

Katherine Campoverde was studying to be a recreational therapist at Davenport. She was Catholic growing up in Ecuador, and she had family in New York City as well. She spoke to us and visited the church that next Sunday. After some weeks, Katherine went through class to join our Lutheran church. For a few years we enjoyed having her as part of our church—but upon graduation, Katherine moved back to NYC for work. It was bittersweet for us because we wished her the best, but we were also concerned about Katherine’s connection with the church. We don’t have all that many congregations in NYC.

When Katherine arrived in NYC, we stayed in touch. I looked up her address in the WELS church locator and discovered a great blessing: Katherine was living less than 2 miles from Sure Foundation Lutheran Church, our WELS home mission congregation in Woodside. I immediately grabbed the phone and called the pastor there. And after a few short weeks, Katherine was connected. An even greater blessing was that Sure Foundation has Spanish services every week. Now Katherine could not only worship, but she also brought her father to worship for him to hear God’s Word in their first language.

But the interesting connections continued. Katherine’s mother still lives in Ecuador. So while she was on a trip to visit her mother, she introduced her to our world missionary living in Ecuador as well.

Recently Katherine had the opportunity to come back to visit us here at Spirit of Life, and she was welcomed with open arms. It’s really interesting to see how God works. He blessed our congregation to do some outreach at a local college. We shared the Word and Sacrament together with a new member. Little did we know the impact that would have in another congregation in NYC and possibly all the way down in Ecuador. God’s Word is so amazing, and his plans for our life are too.

What a blessing it is to have mission congregations around our synod who can connect and serve believers even when school and work causes them to move!

Written by Allen Kirschbaum, home missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich. 


 

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Campus Ministry: My second family

Do you remember how you felt your very first week of college? Maybe you were excited about starting, making lots of friends, and feeling confident about all your classes. For me, I was the exact opposite. I was nervous, lonely, and honestly a little scared about the prospect of being on my own. It didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone at all on campus, and I was going to a non-Christian school for the first time in my life. I didn’t feel any better as I left my dorm room for the campus ministry Bible study for the first time. Several times I considered running back to my room and taking a nap, but I pushed myself to go because I knew I needed to be surrounded by believers during this challenging time.

Two years later, I’m no longer nervous to go to Bible study. Instead, I look forward to it. Bible study is the perfect break from school, work, and all the other distractions in life. The people in my Bible study are more than acquaintances I see once a week; they are my friends, confidants, and second family. They have helped me through roommate concerns and relationship problems, sickness, and the loss of loved ones. The relationship status of “second family” didn’t come quickly, but it did come naturally. We made an effort to spend time together outside of Bible study by playing games, conversing in our campus center, and preparing Lenten/Advent meals together. We also made a habit of preparing a meal or having a potluck together off campus in order to help relieve the stress that school can bring. Another way we have built our friendships is by going to church together. Several members of the group will plan to go to church together on Sunday mornings and during Lenten/Advent season. We have unofficially claimed a pew near the front of Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, which we call the “MSOE pew”.

Rebekah and her friend Katie in the “MSOE pew” at Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wis

Not even a pandemic was able to stop our campus ministry group from getting together and continuing to grow our community. We used Zoom to meet once a week for Bible study, refreshing our hearts and souls. Just like before, this time was used not only for spiritual purposes, but also to play games and talk after Bible study was over. The games especially were a source of endless laughter as we learned, for people who already can’t really draw, playing Pictionary is much harder when you play it with a computer mouse.

This campus ministry program means the world to me. I am so thankful that I am a part of such a wonderful group and that God has placed these people in my life. It is so refreshing to be in the habit of meeting together and encouraging one another to show God and his love in our lives, as Paul urges us in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching.” I praise God every day for The Point of Grace campus ministry group at MSOE, and for the entire family of believers all around the world.

Written by Rebekah Bartels, a junior at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in Milwaukee, Wis., and member of The Point of Grace campus ministry


 

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His message always finds a way

In the same way my word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty. Rather, it will accomplish whatever I please, and it will succeed in the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:11

A year ago in July of 2019, I was installed as the first pastor of a new home mission in Mansfield, Ohio: Risen Savior Lutheran Church.

Interior remodeling at Risen Savior

Getting situated with my family, planning for the remodeling of our church building (purchased from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod for $1), getting to know my new members, and taking a tour of the Ohio State Reformatory (a right of passage for Mansfieldians who appreciate the city’s claim to fame as the filming location for The Shawshank Redemption) filled up the first few months.

Planning began that would help the congregation spread the gospel message out to the community.  There were so many great plans and new ideas for reaching new potential members. Community events in March, a big Easter celebration, and the grand opening of the newly remodeled church. Postcards were mailed out and a big weekend planned for knocking on doors to introduce ourselves and meet the locals. The core members (10 families) were filled with excitement.

Unfortunately, our efforts came to an unexpected standstill when Covid-19 led to community-wide shutdowns and isolation for many individuals and families. It was time to switch gears. We had to find new avenues to share the gospel message.

Risen Savior’s church set-up

Now, I’m not a computer guy. In fact, I am—for all intents and purposes—technologically illiterate. Videos and social media became the avenue for the foreseeable future, which was certainly not in my wheelhouse. Recording and downloading services for the current members, creating digital devotions for both members and prospects, reaching out to members and prospects via phone, email, and social media, while trying to forge ahead with our building remodel. All of these skills had to be learned, and learned quickly. It was overwhelming and quite the challenge to say the least.

Knocking on doors, inviting friends to church, helping with community events, and simply chatting with people met in everyday life vanished. This is where the Risen Savior members took over.

Our mission outreach tools became Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Zoom, instead of our typical in-person approach. While sharing simple devotions and Sunday services with the members, I quickly realized that these weekly messages were not simply for them. The digital resources were being shared on members’ social media platforms to their family and friends. Even our members who were stuck at home could still be involved with hearing and sharing the message!

On any given pre-pandemic Sunday, an average of 15 people heard the word of God in our building.  Once technology took over and the members began sharing, the weekly number  rose to over 500 different people hearing the gospel message. In the days and months ahead, we will continue to see how God blesses these efforts.

Over the past few months, the world has changed and along with it our outreach ministry, but the word of our God is still strong and powerful. His message always finds a way, and it does so through every member of his church in small, seemingly insignificant acts every single day. We are reminded of this fact in Isaiah 55:11, “In the same way my word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty. Rather, it will accomplish whatever I please, and it will succeed in the purpose for which I sent it.”

I look forward to a future of serving this community. I am excited to witness our Savior’s message spread through the continued efforts of Risen Savior members. And I can forge ahead trusting that our Lord’s Word will not return to him empty, no matter the challenges placed before us. To God be the Glory!

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


 

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Outreach to the not so lost

Kaitlin was an energetic young freshman. I was a brand-new campus pastor. Both of us were trying to find our place. She had come to Wisconsin Lutheran College from the east coast, not really knowing anyone, but she made some good friends pretty quickly. I was still trying to figure out what campus ministry at a Lutheran college meant. I knew that it meant chapel and Bible studies, but I’m not sure that I anticipated how much it meant outreach.

Kaitlin (left)

It was only a couple weeks into school when Kaitlin came to my office and said, “I don’t really know what confirmation is but I think I want that.” Doesn’t outreach usually mean that I have to go reaching out? Knocking on doors? Sending mass mailings? My first prospect in my new ministry just showed up. I was floored!

We proceeded to spend the next several weeks going through Bible Information Class at the same time that she was in theology class, attending chapel everyday, and attending every single Bible class that she was offered. She was on fire! Our one-on-one time together was awesome. She had a religious background, but it perhaps wasn’t as formal as she would have liked it to be. She knew she had faith in Jesus, but it seemed to me that she wasn’t quite sure what that even meant. But she sure wanted to know!

When it came time to wrap up our class, the question of confirmation came up. She and I drove to a few WELS churches in the area, and she got connected with a local church and was formally confirmed.

Fast forward a few years, and she was eager to connect with WELS Women’s Ministry to organize an event where the women could discuss different ministry options. She continued to attend every Bible study she could and regularly attended chapel. She went through some tough times and was there for her friends when they went through tough times. She worked through the challenging decisions around choosing a major and then deciding what to do after graduation. But through it all, she kept Christ at the center. She never lost sight of the big picture that God is love and that God loved her first, so she was good no matter what.

Sometimes students come to college with a faith background that is rock solid. Sometimes it just looks rock solid on the outside. College is a time when students start asking some big time life questions, and those questions aren’t limited to career choices. Sometimes those questions center around faith. “What do I believe? Why do I say that I believe that if I don’t really get that?” There are plenty of voices out there that would be more than willing to answer those questions in a way that would drive a wedge between that students and their Savior.

But isn’t this the value of Campus Ministry in the WELS? God-willing, campus ministry is a place where students can wrestle with things that they wrestle with every day regardless of where they are. God-willing, campus ministry is a place where that wrestling happens in the context of Jesus Christ and him crucified and that students are led to struggle under the cross of Christ and guided by his word! Outreach in campus ministry isn’t just about reaching the lost (although it is), it’s about being there with God’s comforting grace for the found in the good days and the bad. God grant us 100 more years of reaching with the cross of Christ.

Written by Greg Lyon, campus ministry pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wis. 


 

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Here I am Lord, send me

Everyone has a dream job. From traveling the world to being a billionaire, we all desire a unique outcome for our lives. My dream job is to do mission work. . . travel to developing countries to help people physically and spiritually. Coming into public college at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, I expected to push that dream back until after graduation.

UW-River Falls Mission Journeys team at Divine Peace in Rockwall, Tex.

By the end of my freshman year, my expectation was proven wrong by a simple video. After a Sunday service in May of 2019, a video explaining the WELS Mission Journeys program was shown. These few minutes of information inspired some of our campus ministry students to go on a mission trip. Almost immediately, I took the opportunity to fulfill my dream and worked tirelessly to give myself and some of my fellow campus ministry students the opportunity to do mission work. Come January 2020, four campus ministry members and our pastor were trained and ready to serve as missionaries. Once packed, we set our van on the 17-hour drive to Divine Peace Lutheran Church, a home mission congregation in Rockwall, Texas.

Getting to know the members of Divine Peace

This week long mission trip proved to be beneficial for all involved. We canvassed for hours, painted the offices, redid the parking spaces in the parking lot, and experienced God’s love in many ways. Our host families gave us a chance to get to know the hands and feet of God’s kingdom in Rockwall, Texas.

Through these connections we were able to gain insight into what living as a WELS Lutheran is like when outside the Midwest. We got to listen to live music, drove a 1916 Model T, learned to two-step at a honkytonk, and went to a Bible study called “The Bible on Tap”. This trip taught each of us that getting the physical work done is important, but taking the opportunity for fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ is far more important.

Fun at the Fort Worth Stockyards

My lifelong dream is to be a missionary. Maybe I will never make it to another country, but I know now that even a small mission trip like this can change someone’s life. Here I am, a junior in college, and now president of the WELS Campus Ministry Club at UW-River Falls. Here I am, a 20-year-old, on the committee working to merge two congregations in my hometown. These roles only happened because I followed my passion for the gospel when I saw a video about WELS Mission Journeys and went on a short-term mission trip. As I walk towards this dream job, I say with a full heart, “Here am I Lord, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).

Written by Miriam Zarling, campus ministry student leader at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls and alumna of Shoreland Lutheran High School in Somers, Wis. UW-River Falls is served through the campus ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in River Falls, Wis. 


 

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Campus ministry is in my blood

I wouldn’t trade the past 17-years of ministry for anything. Working with college students has gotten under my skin in a good way. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s in my blood. More about that later.

That’s not to say that campus ministry was what I always wanted to do. I was more like Moses than Isaiah on the day I was assigned to Beautiful Savior in College Station, Texas. When I heard I would be working with college students, my heart said, “Send someone else to the campus. Here am I. . . just a little more comfortable in the parish.”

Robinson family – Former campus ministry students Austin and Diane with their children, Flint and Olive

It wasn’t a good thing that I was intimidated by the public university, but it maybe wasn’t unexpected. I am a WELS boy through and through. I attended WELS school for 22 years—from my second year of preschool to my final year of grad school. My own college experience was at Martin Luther College (MLC) in the farm fields of New Ulm. Minn. I loved my time there. But, even though I was a kid who grew up in the big city of Seattle, I still had culture shock when I heard Texas A&M University had more students than half of the entire city of Green Bay. As if that were not enough, the entire MLC campus could fit inside the A&M football stadium and parking lot.

I was excited to return to the Lone Star State, but I was not excited about campus ministry. This is kind of embarrassing, but even though I lived in Austin for a year, I didn’t know where College Station was, and I hadn’t really heard of Texas A&M. I was intimidated and a little ignorant. So, what changed?

It turns out that sharing the good news of Jesus with college students just gets in your blood. Of course, when it comes to sharing the gospel, that is not really a surprise. The Apostle Paul said, “We were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Our hearts beat for one another not because we bleed the same school colors, but because we are forgiven and Christ’s own blood courses through our veins.

The first baptism at the Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota in 1950.

While I believe that campus ministry gets in your blood, for me it runs a little deeper. In the dark of winter in 1950, the collegiate romance of my grandparents gave birth to a baby girl. God not only blessed their marriage with a child, but one weekend in between classes at the University of Minnesota, they took hold of the blessings of baptism and my mother was baptized at the campus ministry.

I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of that until I began to see the years pass in College Station. My own children were baptized here in College Station (and our college students were often the first non-family members to hold them). But, even greater than that, the gospel has brought many college students to be baptized, and in the course of time their children too. This year is the 100th anniversary of WELS campus ministry. And, based on God’s promises connected to baptism, it is going to be in our WELS blood for generations to come.

Written by Caleb Schoeneck, home missionary and campus ministry pastor at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in College Station, Texas. Beautiful Savior ministers to college students at Texas A&M University—the second largest university in the United States with a total of 69,465 students (54,476 undergraduate).


 

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All creatures great and small

We are just like you. We know the mental load these past few months have had on everyone—especially you. We know you are hurting. We know you are sick of everything feeling so muted and bland with this pandemic nowhere close to being over. We are right there with you. We get it.

But you know who doesn’t? Korra. Who’s Korra? She’s my dog. Well, one of my dogs. I have 3 dogs, and 2 cats. (All thanks to my wife, Laura. . . more about her later.) Korra is the nicest, sweetest, wiggliest dog you could ever meet. It’s amazing how happy she gets when I walk in the door. It’s literally the best part of my day. Sometimes I just come home for a few minutes when I’m having a bad day to have Korra cheer me up.

Wouldn’t it be great if during this pandemic you could have your own little ray of sunshine to cheer you up when you’re feeling blue?

That’s why we at Good Shepherd decided to start a branch of the Living Creatures Ministry (LCM) Therapy Animal program at our church. LCM is a therapy animal training and placement program that supports compassionate outreach and encouragement at churches throughout the WELS/ELS. Laura (that wonderful wife of mine that I mentioned earlier) is a LCM’s lead trainer, so she spends her free time providing free training to therapy animals across the WELS (when there isn’t a pandemic going on).

Assisting in Midland, Mich.

We’re taking this time during the pandemic to train up a new therapy dog, Stella the Australian Shepherd. When it’s safe to start visiting people again, Stella and Korra can help us show Christian love and compassion to people in our community.

Korra had a unique opportunity to do that this May when she and Laura volunteered with Christian Aid and Relief in Midland, Mich., to help with flood relief efforts. Korra was able to comfort those that had lost their homes and belongings as well as bolster the spirits of the hard-working volunteers.

When it is safe to do so, Korra and Stella will be visiting the high school next door to our Cedar Rapids campus, volunteering with us at events at the North Liberty Community Center, visiting nursing homes and shut-ins, serving as Sunday morning greeters at church, helping at our annual Trunk-or-Treat, and whatever else we can find for them to do! Until then, they are still spreading love, happiness, and God’s Word through their Facebook pages: facebook.com/korratherapydog and facebook.com/StellaLCMTherapyDog.

The therapy dogs serve as an easy way to strike up a conversation with people in our community and give us a chance to explain why we want to show love to others around us—because Christ first loved us! While we might not see someone that interacts with one of the therapy dogs in church next Sunday, we know we are still fulfilling our calling to show love and compassion to our neighbors. We’re still laying the foundation in our community to foster love and trust between the members of Good Shepherd and the members of our community—and we’re doing that with two wiggly, happy dogs that are certain to put a smile on the face of anyone they greet. These days, that’s something we all need!

Written by Billy King, home missionary at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids and North Liberty, Iowa

 

 

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God opens another door

The proclamation of the gospel is a commission that applies to all of God’s churches. As a new mission start up, opportunities for evangelism are always on our mind. We trust that the Lord will produce occasions for the good news to be shared. We do everything that we can to build bridges for outreach opportunities. We pray for them and we excitedly wait for them day after day. When those opportunities arise, it’s hard to contain the excitement.

God has offered many moments for the gospel to be shared in Joplin. Some of those doors were opened as people literally opened their doors during group canvassing. This happened on one occasion during our November group canvass when one of our members came into contact with a woman who had been out of church for some time but looking to get back into the Word. When the member brought up the opportunity to join a Bible Basics class, the new contact was super excited. We planned to meet late Monday nights for class to accommodate her busy work schedule. Everything was going great! The excitement was overwhelming! But just as quickly as it began, it started to dwindle.

It wasn’t long before it became evident that this contact wasn’t planning to attend class. Calls went straight to voicemail. Texts were never answered. Her communication with myself and our member stopped. Things went completely silent the weekend before we were supposed to get class started on Monday. Instead of canceling class, we decided to invite as many people as we could and see if anyone would show up. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t expecting much.

On Monday night I got in the car and drove over to a member’s house who was hosting the Bible Basics class. When I arrived, I walked downstairs expecting an empty room. To my surprise, the room was completely full. There was excitement and conversation. The room was full of members and non-members that were eager and ready to grow together in God’s Word.

Kannika

One of the first non-members that I met that night was a woman named Kannika Killion. As we introduced ourselves, Kannika asked me two questions: “What’s your name, and what do you do for work?” I said, “My name is Jordan, and I’m actually a pastor. I’m going to attempt to teach this class.” We had a good laugh about it and we knew we were off to a good start.

Kannika approached Bible Basics with a unique perspective. Kannika was not born in Joplin. She is from Thailand. She met her husband, Dana, as he was traveling through. The two moved to the U.S. and now live right outside Joplin. But her uniqueness does not end there. When Kannika entered the class, the Bible and its message were totally foreign to her. She heard about Jesus but had no idea who he was or what he has done. But from the very start, Kannika had such a passion to learn more about the Bible. She never missed a class and was always the first one to show up. She now knows where all the books of the Bible are and can call out page numbers for the rest of class very quickly. She is one class away from completing Bible Basics. Once COVID cases begin to go down in our area, she wants to be baptized! I also sat down with Kannika to talk about Bible Basics in order to see what she liked, didn’t like, or what she would change. She immediately said, “The only thing that I would change is longer lessons and more lessons. I want to know more.” This is after Kannika has been meeting for six months of class. She can’t get enough of the beautiful gospel.

COVID has changed ministry for all churches in a number of ways. It has closed many doors and presented a number of challenges in regard to sharing the gospel. We know that long after COVID is gone, other challenges and obstacles will arise. So, what can we do? Trust. Trust that the Lord will overcome. Trust that God will continue to open doors that we didn’t know existed. Trust that the gospel will continue to spread to the ends of the earth.

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

 

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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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