A cross-cultural camping trip to remember

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

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

Peace in Jesus 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All about telling people about Jesus

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

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

Children’s message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seeds are small. But they grow.

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

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

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

Home mission church in Dickinson, N.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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Faces of Faith – Sherry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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True Community

One of the challenges of serving in an eastern Canadian context is the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Ontario is full of folks who have a “Catholic background,” but have not gone to church in years. This is a challenge for us because many people believe that they know “The Church” already and know that they don’t like it because of their experience with a Roman Catholic Church.

Ambyr and Nicholas

However, we have found that one thing that breaks that barrier is true community. That’s what happened with Ambyr. Ambyr grew up Catholic but was not attending church when she was invited to come to Cross of Life by her boyfriend, Nicholas (a life-long member of Cross of Life). And though she would say that not everything made sense to her right away and that she was nervous to be in a Lutheran church when she grew up Catholic, she kept coming back because she found a community. She found people who actually cared about her and wanted to see her at church.

She requested to take Faith Builders (our Bible Information Class) with me every week at a Tim Horton’s. Sometimes we just drank coffee and chatted about life, sometimes we studied Scripture, but all the time I got to be part of her life and show her that church is more than a big scary institution. It’s people who love Jesus and love people. During the class, she learned how free the grace of God actually is, and she was hooked. “Cross of Life has changed my life,” she has said to me multiple times.

But that’s not all. We confirmed Ambyr into our fellowship in January, and since then, she has joined a Bible study group, volunteered to help with A/V at worship, has brought a couple friends to Cross of Life, and all of this without even owning a car. She has to bus or taxi everywhere she goes. In fact, she has been so committed, that one time she even paid for a $40 taxi ride to get to church because she was volunteering for worship. Would you still come to church if it cost you $40 just to get there?

Oh, and one other thing: Ambyr is 19. She’s part of the generation that the church is struggling to reach. If Ambyr is any indication, maybe the best strategy for reaching young people is to just take time to love them enough to buy them coffee, listen to their story, and share Jesus with them for a couple weeks. No one is saying it’s efficient, but it’s certainly what builds true community.

God has truly worked a good thing in Ambyr’s heart, and our congregation is blessed to have her. And it all happened because someone invited someone they cared about, a congregation shared the love of Christian community, and a pastor shared the gospel.

I am reminded of Philip’s sharing of the gospel with the Ethiopian in Acts 8. Philip didn’t have to do any “pre-evangelism” or make a special program to get the man in the door. No, God set him up for success. All he had to do was share Jesus. Of course not all mission work is like that, and in a country like Canada that is even more post-Christian that the United States, frankly, it rarely is. But it’s stories like Ambyr’s that remind you that God knows his sheep, and his sheep know his voice. We just simply open our mouths to let his voice be heard.

Written by Rev. Caleb Schultz, home missionary at Cross of Life Lutheran Church in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Many languages, one family

Families who transition languages in their own home are common today. As immigrants continue to come to the United States, their families will experience language transition. The overwhelming presence of the English language in school and public media leads the youth in those families to learn and use English as soon as they can. That is happening as we speak! Often, homes are bilingual, but the languages used are simple phrases remembered or learned, so that children can communicate with parents.

But what do you do when the family wants to worship together? How do you foster the family atmosphere in the church when the older generation loves to hear the gospel in their heart language, but their children desire to hear it also in their heart language, and that language is different?

The confirmands

Congregations throughout WELS are wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas Lutheran Church, in Phoenix, Ariz., is also wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas was established as St. Thomas in 1964. In 1997, the congregation realized that to reach its community, it needed to work in the Latino culture and use Spanish. Men have been called and have served that family of God faithfully, sharing God’s Word from house to house in Spanish. God has blessed those efforts, and over 120 Hispanics worship weekly at Santo Tomas.

Over 10 years ago, the pastor realized that as he was teaching his catechism class to the adolescents in the congregation, more and more of them didn’t understand his Spanish. He was using terms and vocabulary that were foreign to his students. The students overwhelmingly wanted to hear and learn God’s Word in English. Yet, the ministry at Santo Tomas is in Spanish. Worship, counseling, outreach and fellowship all enjoy the frolicking tones of Spanish. How do you keep the family together?

Santo Tomas determined that God’s Word needs to be clearly understood–so they teach the catechism class in English. One of the current pastors, a native from Cuba whose English is not fluent, has the assistance of his wife, who is fluent. When it is his turn to teach Catechism, he prepares the lesson and his wife teaches and translates into English those words, phrases, and concepts that are not understood in Spanish.

The children learn in their heart language. But what about Confirmation Day? Imagine this: you have a church full of families who speak Spanish and wrestles with their English fluency watching and listening to a group of adolescents who are fluent in English and struggle with their Spanish fluency. Talk about an intercultural nightmare!

But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Their confirmation examination doesn’t have the back-and-forth series of questions that many of us experienced in our confirmation. They elected to have the adolescents prepare short essays that answer the questions pertaining to the chief parts of the Catechism. The adolescents take time to prepare those essays. The pastors use the technical means available to them–projectors and screens–to put up outlines in Spanish of what the children are saying in English. They also hand select a few children, whose Spanish is more fluent, and then work with them so that they can deliver those essays in Spanish.

By the grace of God, on Palm Sunday this year, Santo Tomas had 16 adolescent confirmands. The congregation experienced both languages in worship. Everyone was enriched by the essays on God’s Word. Faces beamed with confidence in their heart language. Above all, God was praised–and God’s family grew in faith.

May God continue to bless the congregations who work with many languages under one roof!

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

To learn more about Hispanic ministry, visit wels.net/hispanic.

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Where we are. Who we are.

The blank look. The slight frown. The searching, mystified expression. If the person’s face had a digital readout, it would say, “no results found.” Then the question: “So… where is that?”

It would be nice if we never had to hear that question ever again. “So… where is your church?” It’s like hearing someone say, “Nope, never heard of it. I’ve lived here for 30 years. I drive by it every day. Doesn’t register. Your congregation’s ministry has made zero impact on me. Your efforts to identify yourself to our community, build relational bridges, and communicate your message has failed.”

Great. Thanks a lot. Not an encouraging question. “So, where is your church?”

Our church building is set back from the main road. It’s tucked away behind a hedgerow of city-owned, required-by-zoning lilac bushes. It has a low profile in the view of a driver or passerby. So signage is important. Announcing our presence and proclaiming our identity in visual form is a must.

With help from an outreach grant, we installed a new roadside sign. It’s simple. It’s professionally and durably constructed. It’s clean and neat. It’s visible from the main road and the traffic light.

It’s only been a few months since we installed the sign, but we can’t keep up with all the people pounding down our door! Our attendance doubled, then tripled, since the new sign went up.

Really?!

No, not really. If only it were that simple: to post a public placard and wait for the people to notice and respond.

Easter Brunch at Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church – Red Deer, Alberta, Canada

It turns out that we do want to keep hearing that question, “So, where is your church?” In fact, we actually want to take the initiative and ask the question ourselves, “So, do you know where we are?” Maybe we will get the frown. . . and the blank stare. . . and the response in the negative. Maybe we will get a deflating sense of how many still don’t know about us. But we’re happy to tell them. And give them directions. And invite them. And show the way. We’re delighted to describe in detail how to locate our church.

And then. . . we get to ask the next question. “Alright, now that we’re clear on that… you know where we are. Do you know who we are?”

It would be really surprising if anyone from the community nodded and said, “Oh, sure. I know who you are!” No one would be expected to have any kind of answer for that. That means we get to tell them. “Mighty Fortress is a group of people who have found rock-solid truth in the Bible, and appreciate the rock-solid comfort that Jesus provides.” Or something like that.

Short. Simple. Hopefully, not too canned or rehearsed-sounding. Just a quick introduction to who is inside the walls of that unfamiliar building and to why they might want to enter it themselves.

We don’t expect our attendance to double or triple anytime soon. And we don’t expect that we have eliminated the need for that, “So, where’s your church?” question. But we pray that we have a better shot at getting a glimmer of recognition when we tell people. We pray that we have a better shot at awakening a glimmer of Spirit-planted faith when we introduce ourselves and our message. We pray that we have a better shot at sharing with our community where we are and who we are.

Written by Rev. Dave Boettcher, home missionary at Mighty Fortress in Red Deer and St. John’s Lutheran Church in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Planting the seed of the gospel in sunny Southern California

Crown of Life is a multi-site church in the Inland Empire in Southern California. It has three congregations in the growing cities of Corona, Riverside, Yucaipa, and Victorville. Corona is a city of commuters. Many people come through this area for various reasons: going to work, heading to the beach, etc. Riverside is a developing area. Many young families are moving into the older neighborhoods and are making these areas a more desirable place to live as the neighborhoods are revitalized. Along with this, new restaurants and stores are moving in. Yucaipa is a growing city with many young families. There is a strong desire here for community and a place they can feel safe raising their children. Each location has a unique set of opportunities to connect with the community to proclaim the gospel.

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students canvassing

This past January we were blessed to have a group of seminary students come to help canvas in our communities. This group was comprised of juniors, middlers and seniors and was led by Professor Allen Sorum. For many of these men, it was their first time going door-to-door. Many started out with trepidation and doubts as to how effective door-to-door ministry would be. At the end of the trip there was a sense of excitement, having met many of our neighbors. The group interviewed people to find out about their beliefs and what they are looking for in a church. The goal of these seminary students winterim trip was to answer the question, “What is the most effective way to start a church in these communities.”

In order to prepare the community for this canvassing event, we prepared flyers to invite our community to Financial Peace University and a Marriage Enrichment seminar. This pre-canvassing flyer resulted in not only great conversations, but a few enrollments in our Bible information class. Only a short while after the seminary students were here, Praise and Proclaim Ministries came out. They also carried out canvassing in three communities and found the people in these areas generally friendly and approachable. Many were open to talking about Jesus and expressing their needs and desires.

This is a ripe mission field as Southern California continues to grow and, along with it, the number of people looking for somewhere to belong. People want to learn about the Bible. Many expressed concerns that they were not learning enough about the Bible in the churches they are currently attending. There are two Evangelical mega-churches in the city of Riverside. Please pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to water the seed of the gospel our church is planting in Southern California!

Written by Rev. Dean Ellis, missionary at Crown of Life Lutheran Church in Inland Empire, Calif. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Lessons for a Home Missionary

Third Thirsty Thursday. I looked forward to it every month. Being able to sit around with a dozen brothers in the ministry on a social level was a highlight, but it wasn’t only the colleagues I looked forward to seeing. Each month I counted how many members or community acquaintances I could walk by on my way to the usual corner tables reserved for our party. “Hey Coppersmiths! Hey, Todd & Patti! Hey Keith!” It wasn’t too tough. With a congregation of 2,500 in a town of just over 10,000, chances were pretty good there’d be at least one familiar face who’d say hi.

Pastor Heckendorf’s installation at Light of the Valleys Lutheran Church – Reno, Nev.

Then I moved. I soon realized how thirsty I was for that interaction with a familiar face. Will I ever be recognized? Will I ever recognize someone else? Funny how lonely one can be in a city that has forty times more people. Then it happened. After being somewhat down that there were no new faces in worship that morning, my wife and I went out to breakfast. As I walked by a booth, I heard it. “Hey!”  It was “Ray”, somebody I just umpired with the day before.

There was no “God’s Great Exchange” drawn out on the napkins at Peg’s Glorified Ham N Eggs that day. (Although after seeing me in a suit, Ray did ask, “You comin’ from church?”) But more than one missionary lesson was learned:

1.) The value of being part of the community to reach the community. I could sit in my office all day and write the best sermons, craft the best blogs, and design the most eye-catching postcards. But nothing beats meeting guys like “Ray” where they are at. To be able to walk into an umpire-training session and hear, “Preacher, you need a crash course on this?” is a tremendous blessing. Who cares that the instructor can’t remember my name – he just let everyone else know I was a preacher. (Coincidentally, the day after our breakfast encounter, Ray and I met at an umpire-training session. He didn’t know I was the preacher when we met at breakfast. Now he wants to ask some questions.

2.) People thirst to be recognized. It’s not just me. Unless you’re running from the law, people long to be known by people. God created us to be relational. I’m not the only one who moved to Reno this last quarter. Hundreds have moved in, so how can we position ourselves to say “hey” to them? (I’m thankful we have a realtor lady as a core member who’s going to help us reach the new movers.)

3.) God’s timing is always right. As mentioned above, it was a little bit of a downer day. We were on a good streak of having visitors in worship, but not that day. What tremendous timing on God’s part to pick me up when I needed it. In all things, but especially in home missions, what a reminder that God’s time isn’t always our time. But God’s time is always better.

4.) Peg’s eggs really are glorified.

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

To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church built on The Rock

Mr. Noel Ledermann is a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Citrus Heights, Calif., and a member of the core group exploring mission work in Folsom, Calif. He is also a lay member on the Arizona/California District Mission Board and represents the AZ/CA District on the Board for Home Missions.


Sacramento is the capital of California, and the greater Sacramento area has a population of just over two million people. WELS has three congregations in this area. Over ten years ago, members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church—a church of about 500 members and a school of about 100—-began to talk about establishing a daughter congregation 15 miles away toward the growing community of Folsom. Those talks died due to other congregational concerns at the time; but, as the local economy and population grew, the opportunity began to be discussed again in 2017. After encouragement from the Arizona-California District Mission Board (DMB) and with the leadership of Pastor Kolander, the lead pastor at St. Mark’s, a newly formed Sacramento Area Mission team met in December 2017. Pastor Kruschel, our Home Missions Counselor at the time, and Pastor Vogt, the Chairman of the Arizona/California District Mission Board, were in attendance and helped guide our discussions.

We got started by exploring the potential of a home mission congregation in the Folsom community. Local drive-arounds were completed by interested members of St. Mark’s, our Home Missions counselor, and Pastor Kolander. Initial demographic research was also completed using Mission Insites, a program provided through WELS that helps us understand the community make-up. Some canvassing of the area was also completed by two Martin Luther College students in the summer of 2018. We also had conversations with other mission pastors and laypersons in our mission district.

We made the decision to move forward after several small core group meetings. Our core group was made up of over 20 members from St. Mark’s that had shown a dedicated interest to move forward with this mission effort, and—with at least a two-year commitment to this mission—to work on a mission request to synod to establish a new mission church. We decided on a name late in 2018. In the short term we will be The Rock Lutheran Church, but we also want the new pastor to have some input.

Then, late in 2018, a local WELS member came forward and wanted to make a gift of $500,000 toward this new mission effort. What a blessing! That financial commitment was not only a blessing in terms of monetary value, but it was additional encouragement to our core group as we continued to move forward with our outreach plans.

Over a dozen meetings took place over the next 18 months with our core group members and smaller sub-committees. During that time, Pastor Kolander and I worked on putting together a new mission start request to be submitted to synod by early March 2019. That information required detailed financial estimates, demographics of the area, the names of members committed to this mission effort, and a planning timeline covering the first 18 months of operation. That included plans on what needed to be done and how the group would be involved in the community through events, canvassing, and Bible studies. Early in 2019, we found a Hampton Inn where we could begin a monthly Bible study. The first Bible study was held in March 2019, even without formal synod approval to open a new mission. This was all accompanied by excitement and some healthy anxiety. Within weeks of that first Bible study, the new mission start request was submitted to the WELS.

Looking back, it has been a whirlwind being part of this exciting new mission effort! At the same time, it has been filled with both highs and lows, some hic-ups and speed bumps, and a whole lot of trust in the Lord. We’re anxious to know what the future will bring, but our faith and hope in God makes it a lot easier knowing that everything is in His almighty hands!


This is the first article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for additional blogs from a District Mission Board chairman, Home Missions Counselor, the Board for Home Missions Chairman, and the Administrator for Home Missions.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church: You’re never alone

Rev. Steven Hillmer is the pastor of The Springs Lutheran Church in Sparks, Nev., and also serves as the Chairman of the Arizona/California District Mission Board (DMB). The Arizona-California DMB has been working closely with the core group who are starting the new mission church in Folsom, Calif.


In last week’s article from the four-part series about WELS Home Missions, you heard about the front-line, boots-on-the-ground work that is helping establish a mission near Sacramento, Calif.— specifically The Rock Lutheran Church in Folsom. Starting new home missions is no easy or small task, but you’re never alone. In WELS, this holds especially true in the area of home missions.

Now bear with me, WELS really loves our acronyms.

At the synod level is the WELS Board for Home Missions (BHM). The BHM looks for and financially supports mission opportunities across the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. At present, there are over 80 WELS home mission congregations receiving financial assistance. We call these subsidized missions. This funding comes from your Congregational Mission Offerings (CMO) sent to synod from your church, as well as through individual special gifts. There are also over 30 unsubsidized missions, which means they do not receive direct funding from Home Missions, but receive assistance through their district mission board, mission counselors, and synodical support staff.

Pastor Steve Hillmer – AZ/CA District Mission Board Chairman

The Board for Home Missions (BHM) is made up of the pastor chairman and lay member from each District Mission Board (DMB). There are 14 District Mission Boards—which includes WELS Canada. These DMB’s are comprised of both pastors and laymen. The two main tasks of the DMB’s include supporting existing mission congregations and identifying potential mission fields. Members of the DMB’s are assigned to the existing missions as “shepherds” to offer encouragement and guidance to the new mission pastor and members. They do this through face-to-face meetings and other personal contacts throughout the year.

When it comes to identifying new opportunities, the DMB works with a core group or a local congregation—like St. Mark’s in Citrus Heights, Calif.—to bring forward a mission request. What happens next is perhaps unknown to many WELS members. Usually in February of each year, all fourteen DMB’s work through the requests for new mission starts, enhancements to current ministries, and any other special requests (including Vicar in a Mission Setting requests) from their district. Each of the mission requests include a 3-year budget and 12-year subsidy projection form that incorporates estimates on buying land and building a facility. With demographic forms and more, each request can have 30-50 pages to work through. At the end of some pretty intensive meetings, these requests are prioritized locally by the DMB and submitted to the BHM by March 1.

These forms and budgets not only provide a tool for each mission to complete very thorough and due-diligence work, but they also give the Executive Committee of the Board for Home Missions a good picture of the ministry potential and anticipated costs. In any given year, there are between 15 and 25 new requests! For three to four weeks, all requests—along with all renewal requests for continued mission support—are reviewed by the Executive Committee members who call up the local missions and DMB’s for any clarification.

At the beginning of April, all the requests are prioritized; and that’s when it really gets tough because of limited funding. Next week’s article will talk about what happens at the Board for Home Missions level and how they make their decisions.

What is most certainly true is that the work of reading and reviewing all these new requests demonstrates so clearly that the harvest is ripe. The Lord is opening doors for the gospel to be proclaimed across our country every day. We are thankful that he gives us a dedicated team of pastors and laymen who are actively looking for ways to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. We are thankful to gifts you give to support this work. We are also bold to encourage all WELS members to see that the harvest is ripe and to support mission work at home and abroad with our financial blessings.


This is the second article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for additional blogs from the Board for Home Missions Chairman and the Administrator for Home Missions.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church: What’s next?

Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn is the pastor of Beautiful Saviour Lutheran Church in Carlsbad, Calif., and also serves as the Chairman of the WELS Board for Home Missions (BHM). The BHM counsels, directs, and supports all the districts in their home mission activities, including campus and multi-cultural ministries. The BHM Chairman is elected at Synod Convention to serve a four-year term. 


In last week’s article from the four-part series about WELS Home Missions, you read more about a core group that is beginning to form a new mission church near Sacramento. You learned what a core group is, how often they meet, and what they do when they meet. You’ve also read about how the area District Mission Board, along with the Mission Counselor, helped that fledgling group bring a request for a new mission start to the Board for Home Missions (BHM).

Now what happens once that request is brought before the WELS Board for Home Missions?

BHM Chairman Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn reading the recognition of retirement for Home Missions Counselor Rev. Ed Schuppe earlier this month

Since the WELS Board for Home Missions is 29 men strong, we elect from within our Board two pastors and two laymen who work with the chairman of the BHM in carrying out funding decisions with all of our Home Missions.

This five-man Board for Home Missions Executive Committee is charged with two important tasks: 1) spreading the gospel through starting new mission churches and 2) being wise stewards of the resources God has made available through his people. And so we delve into the mission requests and look for the following things:

  • How strong is the core group of a mission? What spiritual gifts do they possess? How many are committed to being active in the new mission?
  • What are the demographics of the community where the new mission will try to locate? Is the population growing? Is industry thriving?
  • What percentage of unchurched are in the community? Are there a number of people there who are not connected to a church and/or do not know Jesus as their Savior?
  • What do the projected finances of the mission look like? How long until this mission might be able to become self-supporting, under God’s blessing?
  • What does the ministry plan look like for the new mission? Have they given some serious consideration to how they plan to bring the Good News of Jesus into the hearts and lives of the people in their community?

Each spring, the BHM Executive Committee looks at anywhere from 15 to 25 new start requests. We evaluate each request based on the criteria listed above. We interview the District Mission Board chairman and Mission Counselors prior to meeting to get a better feel for the mission. We discuss among ourselves each new mission start. Most importantly, we pray for God’s wisdom to make best decision for the good of his Kingdom.

There are three things that can happen to a new mission request.

  • Deferred: We may feel that the new mission is perhaps a year away from being started. The core mission group needs to do a little bit more work to build itself up and determine its ministry plan.
  • Denied: A mission request may be denied if we feel it doesn’t fit the criteria of what WELS Home Missions is commissioned to do.
  • Prioritized: The new mission start requests that we feel are ready get prioritized (or ranked) from top to bottom. Depending on how much funding is available, the missions prioritized at the top are able to be authorized and may begin calling a mission pastor and working their ministry plan. Some years its as many as 6-8 new missions, maybe more! Other years it may only be 2-3.

Sadly, this spring we were only able to authorize three new missions–and only because they were able to come up with their own local funding for the first year or more. Two more were prioritized, but we have to wait to see if we have the funds later on in the fiscal year to give them the green light to call a mission pastor and move forward. Declining congregational mission offerings (CMO) subscriptions affect WELS Home Missions and that’s why it’s looking like we can’t approve as many as previous years. Let’s join in praying that God not only send workers into his harvest field, but that he also sends gifts to support starting new missions. The harvest is ready in many fields across North America!


This is the third article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for an additional blog from the Administrator for Home Missions.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church: Why we do it

Rev. Keith Free, Administrator for WELS Home Missions, serves full-time out of the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. The Home Missions Administrator is an advisory, non-voting member of the Board for Home Missions (BHM) and is responsible for executing the decisions of the BHM. 


Perhaps you know a family that drives many miles to worship at the nearest WELS church. Growing up, there was a family who drove over 75 miles one way to worship at the church where my father was pastor. Think about an unchurched family or an unbeliever. . . To my knowledge, when growing up or during the many years serving as a parish pastor, I can’t recall any unchurched person making a specific effort to travel any great distance to worship with us.

Why do we plant mission churches? We do so in order to have another outreach center; another location from which God’s Word can go out to people who need the message of sin and grace and law and gospel. We do so in order that folks blessed with faith in Christ Jesus can invite their neighbors, co-workers, or friends to join them in worship at a convenient spot.

If you’re skeptical of church planting or believe the widespread myth that new church plants just “steal sheep” from other flocks, that simply is not the case. Yes, there are going to be people who start attending a new church who were part of a different church. There is no denying that it does happen. Generally speaking though, when a new church plant is engaging its community, is persistent in inviting the folks in their vicinity to worship, and encourages its members to invite their unchurched friends, typically there are going to be people reached who either have no church background or haven’t been in a Christian church in years. They’re lost in their sins! They need to hear about Jesus Christ; his perfect life, his Good Friday death, and that incredible resurrection on Easter Sunday that was done to save all those lost in their sins.

Yes, established WELS churches engage the unchurched and lost just like mission churches do. Yet, by their very nature, established churches do a lot to serve the already reached—which is vital! There are more hospital visits, more counseling sessions, more meetings. There can be more worship services and Bible classes. A lot of time is spent feeding God’s people with the Means of Grace, just like it should be.

By its very nature, a mission church focuses most of its time and energy to reach the unchurched. A mission church looks to share God’s truths in Holy Scripture with the lost. The reality is that planting new churches is most often the single greatest way to reach any culture far from God: that is the intent and purpose of the mission church.

When someone tells you, “We already have a lot of churches. . . we don’t need to plant another”, remind them that we need thriving bodies of gospel-motivated people hearing Jesus’ directive who gather and then scatter to very intentionally and assertively fulfill the Great Commission. You can never go wrong supporting and praying for the people who are a part of a church plant. You can never go wrong in giving to WELS Home Missions so that church planting can continue in WELS. New churches make a difference—an everlasting difference. God bless our synod as we keep on planting mission churches.


This is the fourth article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

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A rare and precious gospel

There were already a lot of churches in Morristown. In this medium-sized manufacturing town in the hills of East Tennessee, it seemed like there was a different church on every corner.

When I arrived at Living Promise almost eight years ago, there were 153 churches already in Morristown. With a population of less than 30,000 this meant that there was more than one church for every 200 people. I had to wonder what sort of future lay in store for us at Living Promise and would there be any need or room for us in Morristown. . . How would the community take to another church, this time started and pastored by outsiders? Would anyone care what our church had to say when there were already so many churches saying so much?

There was a lot that I found that didn’t seem all that remarkable as we began to introduce ourselves to the community. Morristown was a lot like most of Appalachia—most people grew up pretty familiar with a church. Most people believed that Christianity was a good thing. Most people, at least at some level, believed in God.

Community event at Living Promise

What still amazes me, however, is the impact that the truth and the gospel would have in our little community. As we continued to preach and teach the Word of God, people showed up. Even in a town where most people had never heard of a Lutheran, people walked through the doors of a Lutheran church. As we knocked on doors, followed up with people, and planned kids camps and events to meet our community, God blessed our efforts. While during our first year most of our worship services had attendance in the single digits, this last year we have crept over 100 more often than not—all of this by the grace and power of God.

God sent souls to us who had been hurt by other churches. He sent souls to us looking for an answer to quiet a guilty conscience. He sent souls to us looking for Biblical answers to some hard questions. As God sent us these people, we realized how rare and precious the gospel truth that God had given us to proclaim is. While there were already a lot of churches in Morristown, the true gospel in many ways was still rare. People in our community were still crying out for the gospel we had to share.

All of this has encouraged us all the more in our gospel proclamation. We still know that there are a lot of churches in Morristown. Even more, we know that the gospel we have is rare and precious and that God will use it to gather his people.

Written by Rev. Matthew Westra, missionary at Living Promise Lutheran Church in Morristown, Tenn. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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People take their time

I was practicing my sermon on a recent Sunday morning, preaching to the empty chairs, when I got a phone call from an unknown number. Doris wanted to confirm what time the service was. “I can’t come to church today, Pastor. I’ve got a family commitment. But I’ll be there next Sunday for sure.” I vaguely recalled a conversation with Doris from when Ron and I were out canvassing. She and I had talked in her driveway for so long, Ron was wondering what had happened to me. But how long ago had that one previous conversation with Doris taken place? I had to scroll back a bit through my calendar. . . ten weeks!

It takes a while.

Keith and his wife Shawn brought their eight-year-old to our soccer camp in June. Each sweltering afternoon they would find refuge under a shade tree, keeping an eye on Bryce and chatting with the church members who were prepping snacks and handing out water. The three of them came to our worship service at the end of the week. We never saw them again. Not until the first Sunday in January, when they came to worship a second time. Six and a half months later!

Few folks seem to be in a hurry to get connected to a church.

I stopped at Jane’s front door three days after she attended a worship service with her niece. The conversation was pleasant and brief. I gave her a “welcome gift” and was on my way. That seemingly was the end of Jane’s interest in what we have to offer. Until there she was, sitting next to her niece and worshiping with us on Christmas Eve. Ten months later!

What is it that keeps individuals from responding more quickly to our invitations? I suppose I could spin all sorts of theories in response to that question. I realize the experts have offered their own, well-researched explanations as well. But it’s hard to get beyond the unholy trinity so often referenced by Luther. People are slow to respond to our visits and encouragements because they are constantly being delayed by the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh.

Worship at Living Savior in Hendersonville, N.C.

I don’t want respond to this phenomenon with cynicism, or become callous to it, or even accept it as inevitable. I would rather commit myself and our members to a more aggressive follow-up schedule. In addition, Jesus invites me to frequent prayer on behalf these blood-bought souls. Mostly, however, I want to be mindful that even the Son of God himself found his most frequent listeners to be “slow to believe” (Luke 24:25). If Jesus’ ministry is the model for outreach, then why should I ever be discouraged when people take their time responding to my church’s outreach ministry?

I’m pleased to announce that after her ten-week delay, Doris actually did worship with us the following Sunday. And starting that first Sunday in January, Keith, Shawn, and Bryce haven’t missed a Sunday. They’re already signed up for our next “Foundations” class. And Jane just wrote me a heartwarming note about how much she loves the class she’s been taking and the services she’s been attending. Now she says she “can’t wait” to become a communicant member of her new church.

What do you think? Someday should I ask each of them why it took them so long? Nah! I’d rather keep telling them how grateful I am that our church can serve them with the gospel of our merciful, patient, long-suffering Savior and of the timeless life he’s won for them and for me.

Written by Rev. Paul Zell, missionary at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Hendersonville, N.C. 

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Gospel Seeds Continue to Multiply

Ger Yang was one of the first Hmong men home missionary Rev. Loren Steele met in St. Paul, Minn. in 1988. Ger Yang and Loren Steele worked together to share the message of salvation with the Hmong in the Twin Cities area.

Ger Yang (left) at Village 9 in Thailand

After Ger Yang was trained to be a pastor, he went to Thailand for mission a trip in village 9, Tak, Thailand, where he unexpectedly passed away. After Ger Yang died in December 1995, the Lord brought me to study in the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program. I was ordained on October 16, 1999, and was called by the Minnesota district to serve Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn.

The seed of the gospel is still working at Immanuel Hmong today! Immanuel Hmong was started by two strong missionaries: Ger Yang and Loren Steele (both of whom are now in heaven). After I was ordained two decades ago, Immanuel Hmong started off with only a few orphans and widows. From then on, the Lord has continued to bless his church to grow to over two hundred members. The Lord is kind and he took care of his church. Today, Immanuel Hmong’s worship attendance every week is around 110 with 200 souls in our membership. Our congregation is working hard to reach out to one of the largest Hmong populations in the United States. More than 70,000 Hmong people live in the Twin Cities area.

Although Immanuel Hmong is a mission church itself, we have a heart for mission work even outside of our own community. Immanuel Hmong continues to reach out to Thailand, following the footsteps of Ger Yang, to Village 9 and many other villages throughout Thailand where Hmong people can be found. Village 9 now has Hmong men serving as evangelists and pastors. Pastor Vang Toua Moua (Joe Saema) now serves as the main pastor for Village 9. The seed of the gospel didn’t die with Ger Yang. Once the gospel seed was planted in St. Paul, Minn., it spreads to the different parts of the United States and Southeast Asia. I was even asked to baptize ten people during my recent visit in December 2018!

Pastor Vang Toua Moua baptizes a newborn in Village 9

The seed of the gospel continues to spread to different villages. There are many nearby villages by Pastor Vang Toua who need the seed of the gospel. Pastor Vang Toua Moua and his congregation are equipped to bridge the gospel seed for those villages. We trust that the Holy Spirit will turn more hearts to faith in Jesus Christ.

Only the Lord can water the planted gospel seed to grow and multiply. I ask that you remember the Hmong ministries in the Minnesota district and around the world in your prayers. Together, the Lord will accomplish his purpose when he sends his gospel seed to the lost world. As Isaiah said, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” May the seed of the gospel continue to grow!

Written by: Pastor Pheng Moua, Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn. and member of Joint Mission’s Global Hmong Committee

To learn more about Hmong ministry in the United States and around the world, visit wels.net/hmong.

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An Unexpected Missionary

During their fall 2018 meeting, the Board for Home Missions approved funding for three new missions starts. One of the new home mission starts is in Richland Center, Wis., which is part of a multi-site effort being supported by St. John, Hillpoint, and Trinity, Lime Ridge, both in Wisconsin. St. John and Trinity share one pastor, who has been exploring the viability of a mission in Richland Center. On January 1, retired Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Professor James Korthals began serving this new mission site as a part-time, second pastor.

To learn more about new home mission starts and enhancements that were approved in 2018, visit wels.net/newstarts.


Aveline

The best missionaries, more often than not, are not the ones you see in the pulpit.  This past fall, I—with the help of core group members in Richland Center, Wis.—started a new Mornings with Mommy program. Meeting once a month in the story time room of the local library, this program has provided a wonderful opportunity to meet and foster relationships with young families in the community. Many hands helped to make this new opportunity possible. Members of our multi-site congregations, nearby congregations, and pastoral support all have had a hand in reaching out with the gospel. But the best missionary for Mornings with Mommy has much smaller hands.

Meet Aveline. She is 2 ½ years old. Aveline first came to Mornings with Mommy in November, along with her mom, Shannon, and her 1 year old brother Emerson. Aveline is many things, but shy isn’t one of them. She jumped right into all of the activities and had a lot of fun! She was unable to make it to our December session, but we learned that she was the reason they returned in January.

Shannon and Emerson

Shannon grew up in the church but had drifted away over a number of years. But it was Aveline that reminded her of her need for her Savior. One of the circle time songs that is sung at each session is “Jesus Loves Me.” Shannon mentioned to one of the Mornings with Mommy helpers that at the November session, it was Aveline’s first time hearing “Jesus Loves Me.” But it wasn’t her last time singing it. Despite only hearing it once, over the next several weeks she was singing it in car rides, at home, and even remembering most of the sign language signs they were taught. Aveline’s enthusiasm reminded Shannon of what has been missing in their life and expressed a desire to return to church and join Sunday School and Bible classes. Not because of a dynamic pastor or welcoming member . . . but because of the joy of a two-year-old singing a simple song of our Savior’s love.

Aveline not only served as a missionary in her family, but a reminder to our volunteers and core group. She is the example of why we started this program, so that children and families may be connected to the love of Jesus and what he has done for them. It has made our volunteers want to reflect that child-like joy with whomever God brings to us each month.

Sometimes the best missionaries are not the ones you see in the pulpit. Sometimes it is a two year old sharing the love of Jesus with her family!

Written by: Pastor Dan Lewig, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Hillpoint, Wis. and Trinity Lutheran Church, Lime Ridge, Wis. 

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Thanksgiving Evangelism

What is thanksgiving? Why does this country celebrate Thanksgiving in November each year? Many Hmong in the Kansas City community celebrate Thanksgiving each year, but do they really understand the meaning of Thanksgiving?

The answer is no!

Each year during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Hmong people celebrate Thanksgiving by preparing a big meal to enjoy with family members and friends like other American people do. In the non-Christian Hmong community, Thanksgiving is just a holiday for eating and drinking. They only enjoy the abundant foods and drinks on their table, but they don’t know the true meaning of Thanksgiving – the appreciation and thanks for the saving grace and blessings God provides to mankind.

Thanksgiving is one of the most effective events Grace Hmong uses to attract Hmong people in the community to hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a huge piece of our evangelism calendar. Each year during the Thanksgiving holiday, Grace spends a lot of time, effort, and money to be able to host a successful event. Grace prays and hopes to bring the Hmong community to attend the event and to hear the message of God.

Grace Hmong Lutheran Church – Kansas City, Kans.

At our 2018 Thanksgiving service, the members of Grace again had the opportunity to share with our guests why we say thank you for the blessings and love we receive from God. We shared the message of why we find ourselves having a reason to celebrate. There’s never a time NOT to express our gratitude to God for what he has done for mankind! Psalm 140:13 declares, “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name.” Giving thanks is what Christians do. We were so happy to share that message with our community during the service and meal time.

I was blessed and amazed to see all of the attendees enjoying their time eating up God’s Word during the service. And again during meal time, everyone enjoyed the tasty foods Grace provided. As I looked at their smiling faces, nothing was more enjoyable than spiritual feeding with God’s word and physical feeding with well-prepared Thanksgiving food.

All of the effort, time, and money Grace Hmong put into the event was well worth it. All of our guests enjoyed the message and food. The overall turnout of the event was around 102 people, many of whom were visitors from the community and nearby neighborhood.  From this event, there were two families who were interested in joining the church. The sweetness of the gospel warms their hearts and compels them to join us and come back next time.

The congregation’s outreach efforts are focused on our evangelism program, a Facebook advertising campaign for the weekly sermon series, and events such as thanksgiving with a potluck meal to follow.

Grace’s outreach to the Hmong community is not easy, and we have been experiencing many challenges. However, God continues to remind us that the mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel for the Holy Spirit to win the lost souls.

We are very excited about the gospel outreach opportunities within our community and we hope to share that excitement with the Lord’s people who are supporting that work with their prayers and with their offerings. Let’s keep on sharing the message of saving grace in Jesus!

Written by: Rev. Ger Lor, Pastor at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Kans. 

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Ashley’s persistent witness

Jeremy (pictured far left) with Ashley standing right behind him

This story begins with Ashley. Ashley will be the first to tell you that she did not have an easy childhood. So when she heard about Jesus for the first time, about his love for sinners like her, she was all in. She went to church, witnessed in the streets, and memorized Scripture. She would scrap and scrounge to get to church — even in the cold Detroit winters!

However, Ashley eventually lost that spark and entered what she calls her “slip and slide” period with God. She started dating, eventually had a child, and when her second was about to be born, she decided it was time to get them baptized. That’s when she came to Palabra de Vida. She got married, and by God’s grace, her husband, son, and daughter were all baptized. Then, Ashley started her mission.

Jeffry

In January of 2017, she got me access to her sister’s house where her nephew and two nieces were living. I got to teach them all about how baptism is God’s way of adopting us into his family. Jeremy (pictured above)— whose parents are both dead and who has bounced around from home to home — perked up, and asked with tears in his eyes, “So, I get to be in God’s family?” The three were baptized that month.

Then in December of 2017, Ashley and her husband Andrew’s friend, Jeffry (upon insistence from Ashley), approached me about getting baptized. After pouring over the Catechism, Jeffry couldn’t believe how good God was, and finally blurted out in excitement, “Wait, so God saves me through baptism? Wow! I gotta get baptized!” He was baptized in January of 2018.

Hollie holding her daughter Kaelie

Jeffry and Ashley both started encouraging their friend and cousin Hollie to baptize her little daughter, Kaelie. Kaelie was baptized in April of 2018.

The lesson? Don’t underestimate the power of your gospel persistence! God worked through Ashley to bring eight people into his family, with more to come! Many people have heard the gospel in worship or Bible study or their own homes because of Ashley’s witness. Just look at this group of people (pictured in the cover photo) so affected by her gospel witness — nearly half of them have come to faith through her persistent gospel witness!

“To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”

Romans 2:7

Written by: Pastor Ryan Kolander, Palabra De Vida Lutheran Church – Detroit, MI

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Every member a missionary

At Spirit of Life, our mission statement is “Every member a missionary reaching out across generations with Jesus.” It’s a statement designed to say that all of our members will reach out with Jesus to everyone. God has blessed Spirit of Life over the last few months to live that mission statement to the full.

When we hear the word “missionary,” we often think of a pastor in some far distant land. We might even think of a pastor inviting people to worship right here in the United States. But for Spirit of Life, God used a pastor AND a ladies group to bring about two amazing adult baptisms.

It was a normal office day for me. I spent my day preparing for my sermon that week as well as confirmation class. And then I heard the phone ring. On the phone was a grandmother named Pat. Pat was calling Spirit of Life hoping to find a church that might serve her grandson who has learning disabilities.

It was a large burden for Pat to carry . . . taking care of her husband who has Parkinson’s, her middle-aged daughter, and her 15-year-old grandson Kenny while she herself is in her 70’s. I agreed to meet the young man and speak to him once a week. He had never set foot in a church before, and for Pat it had been many years.

Kenny on his baptism day

Through my many conversations with Kenny, I had the opportunity to teach him about Jesus through the new stained glass windows in the church. I talked about sin and grace and saw some amazing changes in Kenny. Kenny and I talked about baptism, and I had the awesome opportunity to baptize this young man at worship.

But the blessings didn’t stop there. I would regularly talk with Pat and say, “Pat, you carry so many people, but who is going to carry Pat?” And that is where our church’s ladies group went to work.

At Spirit of Life, we have a small group called Wise Women’s Coffee group. It’s a group of about eight ladies that get together once a month for prayer and fellowship. It’s different than our Sisters in Service group. It’s a group where ladies rely on each other and talk about things they share in common. Pat attended those coffee sessions for months.

During my visits with Kenny, I discovered that Grandma Pat wasn’t baptized. Though I spoke to Pat about baptism, she was hesitant to join the church. She would worship. She would come to groups – but baptism and membership was still seemingly far off. Until I approached the leader of this small group, Judy Clifton. I asked her, “Would you talk to Pat about baptism for me?” That connection the ladies developed, by God’s grace, accomplished something that I was struggling to find.

Pat agreed to be baptized and join the church – so long as her baptism could happen during the small group coffee hour. A group of these wise women assembled the next month ready to celebrate this special day for Pat. It’s not every day that I get to baptize a 76-year-old woman. What an experience! Tears were shed along with many smiles. God worked through a very difficult situation to bring about two adult baptisms and two of Spirit of Life’s most excited new members.

Spirit of Life is a growing home mission congregation that could write a bunch of blog posts about God’s exciting work in Michigan. We do Easter for Kids. We have young professionals. We do awesome community work, all by God’s hand actively working through us. However, the most amazing things in our home mission church is when our members carry out the Great Commission all by themselves. A pastor and one of his small groups of ladies receiving this privilege together: this might not be the first thing someone thinks of when we think of  “missions.” But taking an unchurched family through the means of grace is the reason we are all here – no matter which group does it, or for what age. Every member a missionary reaching out across generations with Jesus. Now Spirit of Life has a new member of its youth group and a new wise woman that share Jesus everywhere they go.

Written by: Pastor Allen Kirschbaum, Spirit of Life Lutheran Church – Caledonia, MI

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Open Doors

“…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you … Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:7

Ascension Lutheran Church is the newest polling place in Macomb Township. On November 6, 2018, we had the wonderful opportunity to serve our community, to get to know our closest neighbors better, and to share information about our mission and ministry! A chocolate chip cookie is always more well received than that little “I Voted” sticker… Our sanctuary was open for those who wished to take a moment to pray before or after voting, and we even supplied a suggested “Prayer for the Nation.” We had so many nice conversations as our preschool director, Rachel Frost, and I greeted people as they arrived and left.

Pastor Simons and Early Childhood Director Rachel Frost greet voters

We’ve also gotten very favorable comments from the poll workers about how hospitable Ascension has been. Election officials have stopped by, found everything running smoothly, and have enjoyed some of our cookies. One of the poll workers who served in April’s primary election told us that she’s been pitching Ascension to all the unchurched people she knows – even though she is life-long Roman Catholic. On election day she took one of our informational packets with her to share with someone who’s looking for a church.

To think that Macomb Township approached us with the request that we be a polling place, in effect asking if they might be allowed to send several hundred of our neighbors to our campus at each election. That was a very easy “Yes!” Team Ascension has embraced this as a community service effort that has huge potential to help our neighbors see Ascension as a vital part of the community.

When we open our doors to the community, God can use that to open doors for the gospel, too!

Written by: Pastor Dan Simons, Ascension Lutheran Church – Macomb, MI


Pastor Dan Simons also reports: 

New members at Ascension

Jesus did not call his church to be big; he called us to be faithful. He will decide how big it is. It is ours to faithfully proclaim the Word and be thankful for his blessings on it. And those blessings do come! What a remarkable day at Ascension as we received into membership the 15 souls who came to us over the past quarter on October 28. We had five new first-time visitors too: Tara and her two children and Jacky & Vince. What an awesome way to wrap up our October sermon series: Four Really Important Reformation Treasures That Changed Our Lives!

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I’m really glad to be here

“I got baptized on Friday… and I’m really glad to be here.”

Those were the words Ed spoke after his confirmation in August. I wasn’t sure I would ever hear them.

I met Ed, his wife Lis, and their daughter Michelle on Christmas Eve. They had received our Christmas postcard invitation that we sent to every home in our community, and they came to worship with us.

Over the following weeks, Lis and Michelle came back on Sunday mornings – but Ed wasn’t with them. After a couple of months, Lis and Michelle started our FaithBuilders (Bible Basics) class. Lis had grown up in the Lutheran faith in Germany and Michelle had been confirmed in another Lutheran church body after they moved to the U.S. But Ed had never joined.

I began meeting with Lis and Michelle. The first week we met, Ed hung around the table where we were sitting. The second week, I brought an extra copy of the class and invited him to follow along.

He did.

After a few more weeks, he slowly started to chime in with answers and some questions. The one that was the most difficult for him had to do with worship, “I know lots of people who go to church on Sunday. They don’t act any different than anyone else the rest of the week. Why should I give up my day off?” He asked that several times. We continued to study how God works through his Word to create and strengthen faith. And as we studied God’s Word, he did just that for Ed.

Michelle, Lis, and Ed on their confirmation day

When we got to the lesson on baptism, I asked Ed if he had been baptized. He said that he didn’t think so because his parents didn’t go to church when he was a kid. And while he had attended a church with Lis and Michelle when they moved to the States, he had never actually been part of a church. I asked if he wanted to be baptized, and he said he needed some time to study it a little more.

In the following weeks, we completed the class and Ed expressed interest in being confirmed, but again, he wanted to think it over. Lis and Michelle chose to temporarily wait so that they could encourage Ed and, hopefully, be confirmed and join our church with him.

Six weeks later, Ed walked through the doors on Sunday morning. “I want to be baptized,” he said. He requested a private baptism, so we set a date for the following Friday afternoon. Friday came and God worked through the water connected to his Word in the sacrament of Holy Baptism for Ed.

Two days later, Ed, Lis, Michelle and several others were confirmed and became members of Foundation Lutheran Church. And Ed said with a smile, “I was baptized on Friday… and I’m really glad to be here.” Since then, Ed has been in worship with his family every Sunday (except when his job takes him across the globe). He often has a thoughtful comment or question after worship. And he doesn’t even miss his day off.

Instead, he’s “really glad to be here.”

Written by: Rev. Steve Prahl, Foundation Lutheran Church, Falcon, Colo. 

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Changing community, unchanging grace

Change.

There is a large billboard on Interstate 15 that says, “Change is good. Especially when it’s in your pocket.” In the midst of one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, I suppose they would know a bit about change.

Good News was blessed with 64 people in grand opening worship

In the short time we have lived in Lehi, Utah, very little has remained the same. City planners can barely keep up with the booming needs and extreme growing pains of Lehi. New construction is so common, nobody bothers to wonder what the new buildings are anymore. And in the midst of all the change and chaos, God has called a few of his faithful servants to start Good News Lutheran Church.

We are a small group that occupies a small space in the middle of a predominately LDS (Latter-Day Saints) community. In many ways we are praying for our quickly-changing community to be a vehicle through which God grows this new mission. Each day we are reminded of constant change, all of which is completely out of our control. In the midst of all the change around us, we change and try new ways to let people know about us and the good news of peace and forgiveness. There are the sidewalk signs, Internet advertising, door-hangers, and activities with the nearby schools. And yes, there are days when we wonder, “How will our church ever thrive in such an area?”

The sun over the mountains on the morning of our first service

Less than a month ago we had our first official worship service. We now meet every Sunday for regular worship services and Bible study. Every week at 9 a.m., we are reminded not of change, but of our Constant. Our Eternal. We offer our thanks and praise to the One who is steadfast and unchanging. We are given Jesus and his unwavering plan for each of us: eternal life through Him. While everything else around us rages with the questions and doubts that come with worldly shifts and plans, we know Jesus remains the same. This is the message we all need.

Yes, we are most certainly a small group, in a small space, in a big, fast-changing city. It seems at times like we will never be noticed in our community, and we will surely get lost in the crowd. However, our constant prayer is the Light who shines brighter than any mountain sun, the one who is our Rock, will soon be the constant, solid foundation our community needs.

Please join us in prayer as we give thanks to our gracious God for the group of faithful saints he has given us at Good News Lutheran, Lehi. Thank our loving Savior along with us for His patience, love, and unchanging grace!

Written by: Rev. Dan Heiderich, Good News Lutheran Church, Lehi, Utah. 

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God used the church to save Grandma

Grandma Barb started worshiping with us at Epiphany in Racine about two years ago. When Barb came for Wednesday night worship, she brought her son, Keith; her daughter-in-law, Chrissy; and their three children, Michael, Matthew, and Katelynn. The three children had been baptized in 2014. That’s when Chrissy took our adult instruction classes to join Epiphany. Her husband, Keith, had no interest in church, though.

Then, God in his grace and providence got Grandma involved.

Barb was ecstatic that her grandchildren had been brought into God’s family through Holy Baptism. She was very disheartened, though, that her son did not want to be a part of that same family of God.

So, Barb started worshiping at Epiphany. She picked her family up on the way to church, to ensure they would all be there. Then, she sent Chrissy and the kids home in her car, while she and Keith stayed for adult instruction classes. Chrissy came to pick them up when class was over. Barb and Keith stood before the Lord’s altar in January 2017 to profess their faith in and their faithfulness to the Lord of the Church.

Then, God in his grace and providence called Barb home to himself this past May.

Michael, the oldest grandchild, was very close to his grandmother. Yet he found comfort in God’s timing. As he told his mom, “I’m so grateful that God used the church to save Grandma Barb.” He then added, “And I’m also grateful that God used Grandma Barb to save Dad.”

Pastor Zarling installs staff minister Mark Blauert

God also used the Racine Parental Choice Program to bring Michael, Matthew, and Katelynn to our Wisconsin Lutheran School, which is jointly operated by Epiphany and First Evangelical Lutheran Church. God used the Choice Program to bring this family into our school, and then into our church, and then to bring their grandma into the Church Triumphant. Forty percent of the 171 students at Wisconsin Lutheran School are unchurched. The mission of our churches and school is to reach the lost and teach the found with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

This spring, Epiphany, First Evangelical, and Wisconsin Lutheran School were granted funding from the WELS Board for Home Missions to call a school chaplain to reach these unchurched families within our school. Staff Minister Mark Blauert was installed on Aug. 19, to serve as that school chaplain.

We pray for God’s grace and providence to bless our school chaplain’s ministry in our school and churches so that more of our children can be grateful that God used the church to save Grandma, and then God used Grandma to save more of their family members.

Written by: Rev. Michael Zarling, Epiphany Lutheran Church, Racine, Wis. 

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The Fields are Ripe for Harvest

“I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” – John 4:35

Maybe you’ve experienced it before: sometimes God graciously brings the harvest field right to us. Through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, we are blessed with a harvest field to share the Gospel with every single day. This school year, 129 of our 246 students do not have a church home. 110 of our students have not yet been baptized. You add up those students plus their parents and siblings, and we have a harvest field of 500-600 souls that God brings to us to labor in every day!

And, only by God’s grace and the power of his Gospel, he is building his Kingdom through our efforts. Over the last several years, 160 of our students and their family members have received the gift of rebirth and renewal through Baptism. In the last three years, 19 of our current students became members as their parents were confirmed. And one of these students who has been baptized and became a member is 5th grader, Miracle Stewart, along with her father Vincent, and her older sister, Ashley.

Miracle and Vincent

Miracle started school at Mt Lebanon in 2nd grade. Her father, Vincent, was looking for a new school for his daughter. A family member recommended Mt Lebanon because of our academics, but more importantly, because we are a Lutheran school. Miracle immediately was drawn to God’s Word and loved ChristLight lessons, devotions, and chapels. Miracle, Vincent, and Ashley quickly started attending church. Vincent says it was the family atmosphere and the preaching and teaching of the pure truths of God’s Word that connected them, and kept them coming back.  Vincent and Ashley soon began Confirmation class.

On February 29, 2016, Miracle and Ashley were baptized and on March 6, 2016, Vincent and Ashley were confirmed into the Lutheran faith. The family is regular in worship and Sunday School classes, and Vincent serves on our School Board, as an usher, and helps with lawn care.

Even though God might sometimes bring the harvest field right to us and allow us to see the fruits of our labors, like the work his Word did with Miracle, Vincent, and Ashley, sometimes it’s not so visible.  Sometimes “success” is hard to see and it’s easy to get discouraged and wonder if it’s worth all the effort. But in the end, it’s God who knows and works, and he desires for us to have an eternal perspective on our work. We are not called to fill our churches, we are called to do everything we can to fill heaven, as we share the saving Gospel faithfully, boldly, tirelessly, and with great urgency.

And, as God’s tools, when we do get to witness some visible fruit of our labors, we have to simply stand back in awe at the power of his Word that works in hearts and homes. We have reason to thank God that the results do not depend on us, but we simply get to share the good news of hope, peace, joy, and purpose we have in Christ. We work hard, we desire to be faithful, and we strive to do our best to God’s glory.

Please remember Miracle, Ashley, and Vincent in your prayers as they continue to grow in their faith and live their faith. Please also pray for the many students and families whom we have the opportunity to serve every day with the Gospel. And please pray for the many churches and schools throughout our church body that God is using to share his Gospel faithfully, boldly, tirelessly, and with great urgency!

Written By: School Pastor Aaron Bublitz, Mt. Lebanon Lutheran Church & School

In 2017, Mt. Lebanon was blessed to receive support from the Board for Home Missions to call a second pastor, Pastor Nate Bourman, so that Pastor Bublitz could focus full-time on ministering to the unchurched families of their school.

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“Go Into All the World”… More Efficiently

Trinity Lutheran Church in the town of Liberty, on the outskirts of Manitowoc, Wis., recently held an event called Summer Spectacular. The Home Missions Hispanic Outreach Consultant, Pastor Timothy Flunker, was a great help to us in the planning. This event was to reach out to the unchurched, including Hispanics, so we could promote our upcoming English classes. The Northern Wisconsin Home Mission District gave us a generous grant. Pastor Samuel Degner kindly served as our interpreter, as I am still trying to learn Spanish little by little on a computer program. In an answer to our prayers, God blessed our Summer Spectacular! Two Hispanic families plan to take our English classes, and one spouse wants to take membership classes. A big feat for a small, rural congregation like ours.

The pinata was a “hit” at our Summer Spectacular

Technology was such a blessing to our efforts. Throughout the process, we found out that the most successful event advertising we did was on Facebook. Several guest families who attended said they learned of the event from our Facebook advertisement. We also tried some other advertising methods… weeks before Summer Spectacular, I visited local farms and asked them to share some of our posters. Many local farms employ Hispanic workers. But out of the all the outreach activities that our congregation does, door-to-door visits have been the most impactful. No other method has led to guests visiting our church or an outreach event the way that a face-to-face invitation has. Our church is surrounded by farm fields, so in many cases the local unchurched do not learn of our church unless we seek them out. Even in our face-to-face visits, technology has made “Going Into All the World” (aka the town of Liberty) more effective and efficient.

Let me assure you, I am not a Salesforce or Geopointe salesman, but the rest of this blog might make you think that I am.

Salesforce is a prospect management system that is free to non-profits (a very generous offer by the company). Geopointe is a geo-mapping application that integrates with Salesforce. It is greatly discounted for non-profits, and serves as a great tool for tracking church prospects and visits. I went into the Manitowoc County Real Estate website and was able to import all of the addresses and property owner names in our outreach area into Salesforce.

Through this useful tool, I was able to create labels for “Unvisited Residents,” “Already Churched or Uninterested,” and “Prospects.”

Not just marks on a map… but people who need to hear the gospel

Geopointe helped me create a route to visit residents and invite them to our event. I was able to Check In, Check Out, and write notes about my visit. Later on, on my computer, I would run a report to see the notes I made on prospect visits. From there I was able to label all of of the households I visited. The “Prospects” account has a great tool that lets me print address labels for sending WELS outreach newsletters to these households.

Salesforce and Goepointe have been extremely helpful in organizing our outreach efforts. It also makes creating a new route for outreach visits much easier. I have just begun using this program, and I’m not that computer savvy, but the Salesforce and Geopointe tech people were very responsive in helping me tailor the program to my preferences. The next step is to equip more church members to make visits so that a discovered prospect is not neglected but, rather, a relationship in the Lord is cultivated. Pray for blessings on our efforts, and thank the Lord for providing the technology to make “Going Into All the World” more efficient!

Written By: Pastor Greg Pope, Trinity Lutheran Church – Manitowoc, WI

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Merging for the Mission

“We would love to start a new program, but there’s no room in the budget.”

“We would love to double the size of this event, but our volunteers are tired and unmotivated.”

“We would love to inject some life into the leadership, but finding willing men for the council is proving more difficult every year, so the same few leaders just swap chairs again.”

There are many things a mission-minded congregation would love to do, but find a number of roadblocks in the way. The desire to carry out the mission is obvious, but the path forward isn’t always clear.

That was the case for two churches in suburban St. Louis. Only 5.6 miles from each other, the congregations had many things in common. Both had roughly 100-150 members. Both had 50-75 souls in worship each week. Both were served by young pastors. Both churches could have gotten by.

But getting by would mean that seemingly every dollar was going to debt repayment, rather than ministry opportunities. It would mean that volunteers had the energy to do the bare minimum, and not much more. So both churches began to ask questions like: Does getting by satisfy the mission? Is institutional survival the mission of the church? Would we be better off combining our efforts in some way?

What if we merged entirely – like two lanes on the highway becoming one?

The plan was simple. Double the pastoral staff. Double the leaders. Double the volunteers. Double the talents. Double the offerings – all while cutting the debt in half.

For two congregations in which debt was mounting, volunteers were losing zeal, and leaders were burning out, the path forward was clear. A “Merger Exploration Committee” was formed, comprised of six representatives from each congregation. These twelve Christians met almost every week for an entire summer planning, organizing, and prayerfully dreaming up what a new church would look like and how it could better carry out the mission. At the end of that summer, each congregation voted to approve the recommendations, which included:

  • Forming one, new congregation with a new name and identity
  • Moving into one building and selling the other property
  • Keeping both pastors

Faith & Fitness Camp – Kids from the community learned about the importance of physical strength and the spiritual strength that we find in Christ

Thus, Christ Alone Lutheran Church in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri was born. Neither church closed. Neither was absorbed. Both made a conscious, strategic decision to do more than just get by – more than survive – but to merge for the mission.

As we approach our one-year anniversary, most things have gone according to our simple plan. But of course there have been speed bumps and detours along the way. We are currently served by only one pastor. We have not yet sold the other property (although there is reason for optimism there). Not everyone has agreed on the best direction forward.

But the Lord has proven his plans to be even greater than ours. We are not in survival mode anymore. We have seen more baptisms in the past 12 months than in any year in either congregation’s history. The same is true for confirmations, general offerings, Sunday School enrollment, Bible study attendance, and first-time contacts with prospects. We are proactive, rather than reactive.

There’s room in the budget for new programs. Volunteers are energized and motivated. Leadership has found new life. We are not just getting by, but by God’s grace we are thriving.

Written by: Rev. Steve Waldschmidt, Christ Alone Lutheran Church – Dardenne Prairie, Missouri

Want to learn more about Multi-Site Ministry and how it can help your congregation and community thrive? Consider attending the WELS National Multi-Site Conference in Pewaukee, Wis. in November. Learn more at wels.net/multi-site-2018.

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Needing to Share Jesus

When it became about sharing Jesus with another broken heart, God’s Word worked.

Canvassing Team ready to share Jesus with the Rockwall community

We met at a church carnival and got to talking in the line to get a gyro. He hadn’t been with a group of people who loved Jesus and were kind to him like us in his life, so he was willing to have me come over to his house and visit. Before long, we were going through a Bible Study about who Jesus is, who we really are in God’s eyes, and what God has done for us through Jesus. Each time we met, there were more questions and old stories about things he’d seen or done that he didn’t understand. As we talked about God’s Word, the Spirit answered his questions and healed his heart. Before long, he was gathering with us to worship and taking every devotional book or magazine he could get as his desire to remain connected to Jesus grew.

We pray together that our eyes stay open to see the opportunities all around us – like meeting someone in line at a church carnival waiting to get a gyro. When we realize our calling is to tell someone else about something that changed our own lives, the conversations turns from wanting to share Jesus, to needing to share Jesus.

When we want to share Jesus, it seems that the conversations take place too soon or are disconnected from the situation. When we realize what God has done to repair our own broken hearts, it becomes easier to recognize what the brokenness looks like in others. And when we see the needs of others, we are able to help because our shared need is only met with the Word of God.

Sharing Jesus became real when I had a real conversation with someone. I pray God continues to keep my eyes open to see broken hearts and to share Jesus with them. I also pray that God reminds you of your broken heart and his power alone to heal you – and I pray you see the brokenness in others to share with them the only Words that work:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.

Isaiah 61:1

Written By: Pastor Gunnar Ledermann, Divine Peace Lutheran Church – Rockwall, Tex. Campus

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“I Knew I Needed Peace”

Redeemer Lutheran Church in Edna, Texas began worshiping at its second site in Victoria on December 3, 2017. As is typical with a new mission start, we flooded our area with fliers, billboards, and door-hanger invitations. We had a few new people respond, but by Christmas, most had decided that Redeemer was not for them. We followed the grand opening invitation with a Christmas invitation just a few weeks later with nearly the same results…

Easter Sunday at Redeemer

Or so we thought.

About 2 weeks after Christmas, Magdalena and her high school aged granddaughter, Nikandra, attended worship with us. As part of our guest follow-up, I took a welcome gift to their house. Although we don’t usually like to enter the house for a visit on this first contact, Magdalena insisted. It was the first time a pastor had sat at her table to visit with her and to address her spiritual concerns and questions.

I asked how she had found out about Redeemer, and she pulled out the Christmas invitation that offered “Peace for the Broken” (the Christmas 2017 invite cards prepared by Pastor Jonathan Schroeder and ECHT Printing) from her Bible and said, “I saw this and knew I needed peace. So I came.”

Redeemer’s Easter Celebration

Over the next several weeks, Magdalena and Nikandra studied with me nearly every week in their home and seldom missed worship or Sunday Bible study. As they neared the completion of the Bible 101 course, I invited them to consider baptism, confirmation, and church membership. They enthusiastically accepted and, for many reasons, chose Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018, as the date for Nikandra’s baptism and for their confirmations as well. It was a wonderful celebration of the power of Jesus’ resurrection. On a day our nation celebrates pranks and fools, these two became confirmed “fools” for Christ, who are wise unto salvation through faith in him.

Nikandra used the opportunity of her baptism and confirmation to invite a friend and her mother to worship. These ladies have also started attending worship, and we have invited them to consider the Bible 101 course as well. We pray that in this way our congregation and the Savior’s church will continue to grow.

Written By: Pastor Aaron Glaeske, Redeemer Lutheran Church – Victoria, TX

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God Doesn’t Call the Prepared

Wendy Wright is a member of the Core Group that is starting a home mission congregation in Joplin, Mo. Below is the speech she gave at the 55th annual LWMS Convention in Green Bay, Wis., as part of Rev. Keith Free’s Home Missions Update presentation. 

My name is Wendy Wright, and I’m from Joplin, Mo.

To be honest, I’m a little nervous… As a past member of the LWMS Communication Committee, I am usually the one sitting out there… taking notes on the people speaking up here!

But, it’s interesting how sometimes God has other plans for us. My husband picked up a saying somewhere that states,

God doesn’t call the prepared; but He prepares the called.

So, let me share with you the preparation he did for home mission work in Joplin.

We’ll start back in 2011. I had just been selected as a member of the LWMS Communications Committee as a writer and editor. For those who remember, the 2011 LWMS Convention was held in Milwaukee, Wis. I was excited about my first convention to officially “work”… Unfortunately, that was not God’s plan.

The JoMo Core Group (Wendy is pictured center left in the blue)

On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado ripped through the middle of Joplin, Mo. Not only did it destroy numerous homes, businesses, schools, and a hospital, it also claimed the lives of 161 people. Needless to say, I skipped the convention to help in my community.

Let me give you a little idea about Joplin, Mo. – or as we call it, JoMo

Not only is it located in tornado alley, it is geographically in the crossroads of America – about in the center, north and south, east and west. The people of Southwest Missouri are a hardy, “boot-strappin” kind. We don’t wait for someone to come in and tell us what to do, or how to do it. We put on our boots… and hats, and gloves, and we get to work. We dig in. We help our neighbors. We help strangers. We even had the privilege of hosting a group of volunteers from WELS Christian Aid and Relief who stayed for a week to help with tornado clean-up efforts. And I had the privilege of helping to organize their efforts.

God was preparing…

The next year (2012) and each year through 2017, I had the opportunity to attend the LWMS Conventions as a part of the Communications Committee. We wrote up summaries on the workshops and speakers for the website. Basically, it was a way to share home and world mission work with those who could not attend.

At last year’s convention in Orlando, Pastor Jonathan Bourman from Aiken, S.C., presented a workshop on “Gospel Planting in South Carolina.” His focus was on how WELS starts home missions, saying, “We go to where the people are at.” I was dutifully taking notes on his workshop, when he charged those in attendance to “Look within your OWN community to see if there is an opportunity to plant a church within a church with a new outreach or ministry focus, OR look into your own backyard to see if there is a growing community that needs the true gospel message. If so, contact your district mission board.”

I paused… MY own backyard… hmmm…

I scribbled it down in my notebook, “Contact DMB [District Mission Board] about growing community, Joplin: Pastor Shane Krause.”

God prepares.

As many of you know, you leave the LWMS Convention with tons of excitement and mission zeal – ready to save the world by Tuesday. And then you go home and promptly fall back into your regular routine. Well, I was no different. Except about a month later, God had other plans.

I happened to run into Pastor Krause at our LWMS Circuit Board meeting that just happened to be held at his church in Overland Park, Kan. He was our Circuit Pastoral Advisor for several years until he was named Chairman of the Nebraska District Mission Board. Frankly, he was the only one I knew on a mission board.

I did end up e-mailing him about how Joplin just MAY be a good place to look into for mission work… listing features and opportunities of this growing community.

Then, I promptly didn’t hear from him. For 3 weeks! I was just about to dismiss the whole thing, when Pastor Krause e-mailed. He apologized – something about being on vacation, and he needed to check on some information and community statistics, etc. And then he said the most remarkable thing:

“Wendy, I think there’s real potential in Joplin… Let’s do this!”

God was preparing.

It was a whirlwind after that point. Several local group meetings, and then in October, Mission Counselor Rev. Mark Birkholz came down to do some exploratory research into the community and to share his findings with the local interest group.

An interesting (or should I say startling) statistic he found – even though Joplin is located in the “buckle” of the Bible Belt, more than 40 percent of our population profess to have NO church affiliation. And there are many more who SAY they go to church, but really, there is no regular church attendance.

Additionally, even though there is a WELS church within 30 miles of Joplin, it is west over the border in Pittsburg, Kan. There is also an ELS church about 25 miles east, located in a small town called Carthage. But neither of these congregation were actively doing outreach in the larger Joplin metro area.

Armed with all of this information and the positive support of Pastor Birkholz, the Nebraska District Mission Board, local WELS Pastor Aaron Schumann, and a group of 11 laypeople (plus 8 children) agreed to be the Core Group.

At this point, I want to take a moment to point out two members of our core group who are here at the convention… One is my mother, Emilie Keeton, and the other is Janet Scheer.

We. Were. Called.

So, then what? We write a proposal… How? I’d been doing grant writing for local nonprofits for the last seven years, and I knew a proposal was similar to writing grants. You simply break it down and answer the questions. With the mission proposal due in March of 2018, that left us six months to put it together. Our core group met six times from October 2017 through March 2018 to discuss, deliberate, and answer the eight questions that the mission proposal requires. Everyone pitched in and everyone shared ideas. In March of this year we held our last working session, took our photo for the proposal, and sent it to Pastor Krause to submit on our behalf.

On April 12, we heard that we were selected as a new WELS home mission start!

Only 10 months after God provided the seed at the last Convention, he prepared the soil and watered it… and we are now rejoicing in seeing a home mission sprout up in Joplin, Mo.!

Where do we go from here?

We trust that God has a plan for us. We were unable to call a seminary graduate as we had hoped (the workers are just too few), so the Nebraska District Mission Board assisted us in calling a pastor earlier this month. And we are patiently awaiting word on whether he will accept it.

Please pray for us – and ALL home missions and missionaries – that God will bless our outreach and our ministry efforts.

Pray also that the Lord may speak to YOU. May you have ears to hear His call.. because He may be preparing you for home mission work in your own backyard.

By: Wendy Wright, member of the core group from the new mission in Joplin, Mo. 

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