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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God Can Turn Setbacks into Blessings

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

Acts 8:4

The book of Acts shows us that the Lord used even the persecution of his church to further the spread of his Word. What seemed a setback actually resulted in added blessing to the church as the scattered believers brought the message of salvation to those whom they might not have otherwise encountered.

South Asian Fellowship at Christ in Pewaukee, WI

When our World Missions contacts in Pakistan, Dr. and Mrs. Jordan, were forced to leave their country and come to the United States for safety reasons, it seemed a significant setback to the efforts to share the gospel in that country. A small but growing Lutheran church had been established. Christian literature had been provided in the Urdu language for tens of thousands of Christian school children, for adults who desired instruction, and for hundreds of low income Christian households that wanted Bible materials for the spiritual instruction of their families.

Yet as happens so often in mission work, our Lord used these unforeseen developments to further his work rather than hinder it. Through the miracle of modern technology in communications, the departed leaders were able to continue to advise, encourage, and train those left behind in their church in Pakistan. Plans for in depth Bible training of the next generation are being carried out and a new wave of leadership has begun to emerge. In fact, outreach through household churches is being done on a scale greater than thought possible.

The Lord’s blessings are not confined to Pakistan alone, but are also evident in the United States. Extended time in America enabled the Pakistani couple to accelerate and complete courses with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), a partnership between WELS Joint Missions and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. After graduating from the PSI program, the Jordans began to use the advantage of their Asian background and language to establish a network of Asian immigrant friends who were living in the Pewaukee, Wis. area, where they reside. Their membership at Christ Lutheran Church in Pewaukee prompted the congregation to work with the Jordans to establish an International Friendship Center (IFC) to reach out to these immigrants with Christian love and the message of salvation.

Activities of the IFC over the past months have included meals, gatherings at church, and numerous visits to homes that have involved over 60 immigrants. In all of these activities, the gospel has been shared and relationships between American mid-westerners and people from India, Pakistan, and Nepal have begun to form. This summer, Christ Lutheran volunteers are providing activities for Asian children in a nearby park leading up to the church’s Vacation Bible School in July. Joint trips to farms, businesses, and places of interest in the community are being planned; and classes helping these immigrants to adjust to U.S. culture and life are being developed.

We don’t know where all of this comparatively new outreach effort will lead, but the Jordans and the volunteers at Christ Lutheran do know that God has provided an unexpected opportunity to be his people in a unique way, perhaps showing again in the 21st century that setbacks in man’s perception often become blessings that are part of God’s master plan.

Written by: A volunteer with the Christ Lutheran South Asian Task Force

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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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The one thing we can’t do is nothing

What do you get when you combine a spread-out church membership, multiple communities, mission zeal, and the eternal gospel?

Answer: mission opportunity.

That’s what the members of Living Savior kept at the forefront of our minds before there was a storefront in a mission field.

A brief history – Living Savior started in Hendersonville, long before “Living Savior” was its name. From a few in a living room to a few more in the local YMCA, to a small church building, to a mission restart and relocation south of Asheville, to a healthy membership of hundreds of souls gathered by God… Living Savior was primed to reach more. In fact, over 40 members still live in and around Hendersonville. Seeing opportunity leads to seizing opportunity.

In February of 2017, Living Savior started a second site in Hendersonville. We are one church with two locations in Asheville and Hendersonville, 25 minutes apart. Since the start, God has blessed us with reaching people we otherwise couldn’t – like Lois, “I was searching and searching. And here I found what I was looking for – grace.” Over 80 people were in attendance for our first Christmas Eve service in Hendersonville. We’ve been blessed to serve homeless people, some neighboring schools, and to get to know the surrounding community through events and canvassing. And as is often the case, small opportunities lead to more opportunities.

Pastor Paul Zell

With the support of WELS Board for Home Missions, Pastor Paul Zell – who previously served as a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for the past 15 years – accepted the call to serve as pastor and missionary in Hendersonville. He was installed on January 21st, and he and his wife Cathy have hit the ground running. (Not without their contagious smiles and encouraging spirit, of course)

With just a “little teaching experience” (sarcasm intended), he has started classes which are drawing several new faces and equipping others to invite more people. He has hit the fast-forward button in getting to know the community, which will serve him and our overall ministry well. Going from former student to teammate in parish ministry and mission work is a blessing to say the least.

It boils down to three simple things: believers, multiple communities, and the eternal gospel. Those three things highlight what Scripture says the eternal gospel is for, “to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Revelation 14:6). That presents a great opportunity here and everywhere. Furthermore, since those three things (believers, communities, the gospel) exist wherever you are reading this, isn’t it safe to say that you have such opportunities too?

And when we see opportunities, God give us the zeal to seize them. After all, one thing we can’t do is nothing.

Written By: Pastor Caleb Kurbis, Living Savior Lutheran Church – Asheville & Hendersonville, N.C.

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How to Reach Out… When You Can’t Get In

The mission was clear. We want to be a church that reaches OUT to our community. We want to be a church that is OUTward focused. However, there was a problem. We couldn’t get IN. The community of Lakewood Ranch, FL, is a heavily gated-community. That means that some of our more traditional styles of outreach – i.e. canvassing, door-hanging, etc. – won’t work here because we can’t get IN. We can’t get past the gates. But through prayer and Scriptural encouragement, the members of Risen Savior were not going to allow gates to stop them from reaching out. We brainstormed how we might reach out to our community with the good news of Jesus, and came up with different outreach strategies.

Grand Opening Festival

One strategy we use is our New Mover Outreach Team. Each month, we have approximately 100-150 new families who move into Lakewood Ranch within a 3 mile radius of Risen Savior. As a way to welcome in these new families, we send them 2 different postcards. The first postcard is a professionally developed postcard, welcoming them into the community, and giving them some helpful information about Lakewood Ranch. A couple of weeks later, the ten ladies of our New Mover Outreach Team will send a handwritten note to these families, with a church brochure and a personal invite to join us on a Sunday morning for worship.

After about 6 months and no visible results, I began to wonder if this outreach strategy was the best use of our resources. But receiving encouragement from members at Risen Savior to remain faithful, we decided to continue reaching out to these new movers…and I thank God we did! For the past 4-5 months, God has richly blessed us. I’ve received phone calls from new movers thanking us for being so welcoming. I’ve been asked out to lunch by a new mover wanting to show his appreciation for our kindness. We’ve been blessed with worship guests who have come as a direct result of this reaching out.

Grand Opening Weekend at Risen Savior

And if those blessings weren’t enough, one Sunday morning, in walked an unchurched Grandpa and Grandma with their 7 year old grand-daughter. They stayed for worship and Sunday School, and as they were about to leave, I was able to schedule a follow up visit with them later that week. I didn’t know it at the time, but they found our church through our New Mover outreach. Yet, they weren’t the ones who recently had moved – their son and his family had. Long story short, after being told about the postcards that their son’s family received from Risen Savior, Grandpa and Grandma and their grand-daughter decided to give Risen Savior a shot. In the past 4 months since they’ve been attending, they’ve gone through our Bible Information Class, have become members, and are about to have their grand-daughter baptized. On top of all that, they’ve also brought two of their sons and family to Risen Savior, who have recently joined the church as well. Praise God!

We aren’t sure how God will bless our New Mover Outreach Team in the future, but we are certainly thankful for the blessings he’s given us in the past. And no matter what, one thing we’ve learned is that we can continue to reach out, even if we can’t always get in.

Written By: Pastor Caleb Free, Risen Savior Lutheran Church – Lakewood Ranch, FL

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The Lord knows there will be days like this

For many, the end of August is an enchanting time. Like a fireworks grand finale, summer often saves the best for last. Parents and children prize these last summer days – the campfires, the fireflies, and long weekends at the lake – because they know the end is coming. Summer is a season to be savored.

Summer in the desert

But not here. In the Sonoran Desert, summer is a season to survive.

People from Phoenix know the drill. Keep in the shade. Stay where it’s cool. Find places with free air-conditioning.

All that can drive a mission-planter stir crazy. At least, that’s how I was feeling late last August. So I packed up a backpack full of flyers and hit the streets shortly after sun-up. I wanted to get a couple hundred flyers hung before the temperature reached 100 degrees.

Near the end of my route, a man stormed up to me with a scowl on his face. He had a handful of my flyers and a mouthful of unkind words for me. He shoved the flyers into my chest. I tried to muster up a smile, but I’m sure it didn’t fool him.

The Lord knows there will be days like this.

Later that afternoon, a message popped up on our church’s Facebook. I was excited. Until I read it. Someone had taken great offense to our flyer: Rude!!! Even though my family is looking for a church, this will ensure that I won’t be coming. Clearly there is no respect.” In my haste to hang as many flyers as possible, I had missed her sign about not wanting religious pamphlets. I sent her an apology message.

The Lord knows there will be days like this.

The next day, there was another Facebook message. Part of me didn’t want to click it at all. Ignorance can be a kind of temporary bliss… But I did anyway.

This time, it was someone new. Something entirely different: “I found one of your flyers on my front step… I looked up your website and started listening to your podcast this morning. I feel like it’s water to my thirsty, parched soul.”

The Lord knew there would be a day like this.

He prepared this moment. For her. For me. For the advancement of his kingdom. The Lord watches over you. The Lord is your shade. (Psalm 121:5)

So many people living in the growing outskirts of Phoenix are just trying to survive. They hope and dream of better days. They’re looking for relief, but they don’t know where to find it. They have no idea. No idea what they’re looking for. No idea how lost they really are.

But the Lord knows there are people like this.

His Word proclaims what no human mind could conceive. He loves the lost, the weary, and the thirsty. God loves survival-mode people so much that he sent his Son to save them. God offers the relief we all crave in Christ crucified.

That’s why River of Life is nestled here in the Sonoran Desert on the west side of Phoenix. This past year or so, the Lord has watched over us. We moved into an expanded worship facility, but he has been our shade. He blessed us with more than 100 first time worship visitors. Membership has grown. On Easter Sunday, we had 94 thirsty souls hear about the hope they have in the Risen Lord. The following Friday, we began a new program for young, stay-at-home parents and their kids.

The Lord knew there would be days like these. He watches over our coming and going. He is our shade. That’s something special. That’s something to savor. Especially during summertime in the Sonoran Desert.

Written By: Pastor Lincoln Albrecht, River of Life Lutheran Church – Goodyear, Ariz.

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A Recipe for Intercultural Outreach

As the horizon of cultures expands in the United States, we ponder a simple question: How do we share God’s Word with everyone? Now that culture, language, and social-economic status are barriers used by the opponents of the gospel to limit contact and connection with other people groups, a congregation that surveys its community and desire to reach out interculturally needs to find the right recipe.

Fellowship event at Immanuel

Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waukegan, Ill., is a congregation that has followed a recipe for Intercultural Outreach. Over four years ago, the leaders at Immanuel observed that their Christian day school reflected the community, with over 55% of their student body from other people’s groups. They also noticed that their congregation didn’t reflect that same percentage. A simple demographic study revealed what most already knew – over 57% of the 84,000+ community members identified themselves as Hispanic. Many of them still spoke Spanish at home, even though the children are fluent in English.

How could Immanuel reach them?

The recipe uses several ingredients. You need a strong spiritual leader who can help identify and lead the congregation through the cultural barrier. You would like to have a couple of members who can navigate the language barrier. It would be a blessing to have everyone understand that membership in the visible church isn’t just to increase local offerings, but to answer God’s call of making disciples for now and eternity.

God has blessed Immanuel with those ingredients. So, they went to work on the recipe. They marinated an EIO (English Improvement Opportunity) class, to which the non-English speakers could be invited, thereby creating contact. They set the oven for three years – during which they mixed the ingredients of the plan to call a bilingual man now, so that after three years the English-speaking pastor will retire (his choice!) and the bilingual man would take over the entire ministry. They added the toppings of a relationship with WELS’ Board for Home Missions, which helped them call that bilingual man right away.

Home Bible study

The recipe is proving to be a good one! God has blessed this location with a bilingual pastor, Rev. Seth Haakenson, who started reaching out to the community in September of 2017. He has made contact with hundreds of people, held Bible classes in prospects homes, invited them to his own home, instructed for baptism, and has begun to introduce Biblical culture to their own.

That is why we call it “Intercultural” outreach: we introduce the culture of the Bible to their own culture and allow the two to mix, so that which pleases God will become everyone’s culture. Lord willing, in a few months, worship will be held at church at which the current members, alongside of the new prospects, will together praise God.

The recipe is not difficult to follow, and as most packages will tell you, it requires some changes from place to place. You may have to adjust for altitude or strength of the oven, but the ingredients remain the same: Identify the barriers, use God’s Word to overcome them, and bring peoples together under one roof to praise God.

Now that is a recipe we all can follow.

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

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It’s About Saving Souls

Terri lives right across the street from our church… Literally. She can look out her front door and see our towering steeples. God knew what he was doing when he put Terri right next to our church.

Terri works with one of our members at the hospital in town, and her ex-husband worked for many years with another one of our members. God purposely brought our church members into Terri’s life. For a couple of years, Terri was thinking, “I should check out that church sometime.” One Sunday, invited by her co-worker from the hospital, Terri came to worship. She heard God’s word and was welcomed by our members. Terri started Bible 101 and came to see, “I can be sure I’m going to heaven because Jesus lived. Jesus died. Jesus rose.” Terri confessed, “I didn’t have peace before. Now I have peace because of Jesus.” She has new purpose in life. “I have a renewed joy in my work as a nurse. I know I’m working for God.”

How cool is that!

This is why we have a church. It’s about saving souls.

Terri’s House – Right across the street from church

There is even more backstory to what God has been doing in Monroe, working to save Terri’s soul. The church across the street from Terri’s house almost closed. It was for sale for over a year, membership was dwindling, and the pastor was set to retire. It didn’t look like the church would remain open, but another congregation was aware of the situation. There were discussions about working together. The two churches decided to go all in on working together and become one congregation, with one name and one pastor. Not only did the church across the street from Terri’s house stay open, the church across the street is growing. Members are inviting family and friends. Former members of the church have returned. Best of all, souls like Terri are hearing God’s Word, finding peace for eternal life and purpose in life right now.

This concept of being one church in multiple locations is relatively new in our church body. There are many advantages to multi-site congregations. Multi-site ministry can save money as one church can often times operate more efficiently than two. Multi-site ministry can save sacred spaces, like the beautiful, ornate church across the street from Terri. Multi-site ministry can save people time going to a church in their community, rather than driving to a church farther away. But most of all, and greatest of all, multi-site ministry is about saving souls. It’s about saving souls like Terri’s.

Pastor Nathan Strutz serves a multi-site congregation, Resurrection in Verona and Monroe, WI. This multi-site church was formed by a merger of Resurrection, Verona and Mt. Olive, Monroe.

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Midwest Island Missions

My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.

Isaiah 51:5

In 2010, a Bible class in the Adams-Friendship area, offered by pastors from St. Paul’s in Mauston, led to worship services with a core group of about twenty members or so. Today this second site of St. Paul’s has grown, by God’s grace, into a thriving mission of about 130 souls. We lease an old day care building that is too small to meet all our needs, and yet people keep coming back, and the Word continues to be proclaimed. St. Paul’s in Mauston, which pioneered this mission and still partners with it as one congregation in two locations, has been working hard with the members in Adams-Friendship to fund ministry, a full time mission pastor, and even a new church building. Many congregations throughout the state have also contributed to a building fund so that work can continue to move forward, and God-willing expand as we move into a larger and more versatile facility in the near future.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church – Mauston, WI

When I received the call to serve as mission pastor to St. Paul’s in Adams-Friendship, I was curious to know what a relatively new mission startup was doing smack dab in the middle of what I had always assumed was a very churched (and very WELSy) part of our country. I was surprised to learn that in Adams County, in the heart of Wisconsin, only about 15-20 percent of the population claimed any connection to a church. On top of this, St. Paul’s was the only WELS congregation located in Adams County. St. Paul’s in Mauston saw the chance to share Jesus with this “island” of unchurched people in the heart of the Midwest, and as I considered the call I began to see what a wonderful opportunity this was to reach the lost.

Two months have passed since I arrived, and the opportunities I was told about were not exaggerations. I’ve shared the freedom of the gospel with people battling drug and alcohol dependency. I’ve spoken with jail inmates and former inmates about the cycle of sin and God’s solution in Christ. I’ve witnessed baptisms in a garage, heard testimony from men and women recovering from abuse and broken families, and I’ve seen kids discover a very different message than what they hear all around them. There are people in Adams County struggling with broken families, addiction, financial hardship, depression, anger, and loss. And amidst this sea of grief and pain, St. Paul’s stands ready to share eternal hope and a temporal change in perspective through the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Jasper Sellnow and his family

This rural mission is a reminder that God’s Word still has much work to do in the heartland, even in places we might normally overlook. Congregations can identify the needs of the communities around them and perhaps discover untapped mission fields right in their backyard (or neighboring county). And as St. Paul’s in Mauston discovered, you can sacrifice a little so that even without full Synod mission funding, new churches can be planted and God’s Word can be shared. The lost and hurting are all around us, even on the “islands” in the Midwest. God grant us wisdom and love as we share the hope we have in Jesus.

Rev. Jasper Sellnow lives in Friendship, WI with his wife, Sarah, and their five children. He serves St. Paul’s Mauston & Adams-Friendship, working primarily as the mission pastor in Adams County.

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Unless Someone Explains It

“Go south to the road – the desert road – that leads down from Jerusalem,” he was told. When Philip went, he met the Ethiopian man who was reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

“Go to that chariot and stay near it,” the angel directed. When Philip did so, he asked a very important question – “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The Ethiopian’s answer was straightforward: “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” Philip used the very passage the Ethiopian was reading, from Isaiah 53 (“he was led like a sheep to the slaughter”) to tell the good news about Jesus. Ultimately, the Ethiopian was baptized on that desert road.

At Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel in Madison, WI, our doors are open to all students on the Madison campuses. There are many occasions that remind us of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. Students enter our building not knowing exactly what they are seeking, and the Lord gives us the privilege of being the ones who explain the good news about Jesus to them.

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel

Last fall, one such student arrived at the Chapel, seeking answers about God’s Word. Through several contacts with the Word, the seed of gospel truth was planted and watered, and God made it grow.

In late October, Manaporn “Mint” Phaosricharoen was baptized – but not in our Chapel. She requested the opportunity to be immersed because that picture of washing away sins was important to her. So we braved the wind and chilly temperatures and entered the brisk waters of Lake Mendota for Mint to receive the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

The power of God’s Word is truly amazing. The opportunities God presents to share the power of that Word are equally amazing. Mint came to us seeking answers, needing someone to explain to her the truth of the gospel. God placed the Chapel in the right place and at the right time to offer her the answers for which she was searching.

Campus Ministry opportunities aren’t limited to the Madison area. At colleges throughout the country, our campus pastors delight in the opportunities God gives them to witness to young adults who are searching for what is truly important. “Unless someone explains it” could be said by many of them. Campus pastors continue to plant and water seeds with the Word of God, trusting that God, who works powerfully through his Word, will make those seeds grow.

Sometimes, God gives the special privilege of wading into an icy lake to baptize one of them!

Written By: Campus Pastor Jon Bilitz, Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel – Madison, WI 

Thank you for your prayers and support for Campus Ministry. If you know a college student that seeks to be connected to the nearest ministry to his or her campus, please visit campusministry.welsrc.net. 

 

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God’s Harvest Strategy

Does your congregation have a harvest strategy to connect with the unchurched families of your school?

It’s an exciting topic, but sometimes it can also intimidate congregations and their leaders. Perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve honestly evaluated your efforts in reaching the unchurched families in your school. Maybe you’ve implemented a plan, but you’ve been discouraged by the results or you know of several areas which need attention and improvement.

Developing a harvest strategy for our schools and implementing it is tough work – which is made even tougher by the devil’s constant temptations. Our foe pushes us toward pride (“Look what our school has accomplished!”) or despair (“What are we doing wrong?”). May we never lose sight of our Savior’s cross and empty tomb. There God forgives our pride and despair. There we find the very message we desire to share with more families in our schools. There we are renewed with motivation to continue to do the harvest work regardless of the results.

Preschool Sunday at Light of Life

Sometimes God blesses directly through our planning, and we thank him for those blessings. And sometimes God reminds us his plans to gather the elect are far greater than ours – and we thank him for this too.

Rich was a preschool dad who didn’t come to drop-off or pick-up. He didn’t come to preschool orientations or the first day of school. He didn’t come to our preschool singing events. Rich had successfully avoided all of our attempts to make contact with him for a year and a half.

One day the phone rang. It was Rich, “Pastor, my wife has double pneumonia. The doctors say it is bad and I’m worried. I know we aren’t members, but I thought since our son went to your school…” Rich’s wife regained her health, and six months later Rich was baptized and confirmed. Rich has brought more family and friends with him to church, including his friend Brian whom he is standing next to in the top photo. He has joined in gathering the harvest!

Such a story does not excuse us from the faithful planning and work of a harvest strategy, but it is a comforting reminder: God has a harvest strategy too!

Written By: Pastor Daniel Lange, Light of Life Lutheran Church – Covington, WA

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You Never Know What to Expect

Planting seeds, divine appointments, and caribou. A person may never know what to expect when canvassing and proclaiming God’s Word.

Evangelism is far more about God and his promises than about ourselves. One of the greatest promises Christians can trust when proclaiming the gospel is that his Word works. Due to our human nature and the sinful world around us, personal evangelism is often scary and intimidating. Praise and Proclaim Ministries, a WELS-based gospel ministry, partners with WELS Board of Home Missions and established WELS/ELS congregations throughout the U.S. to provide training for members to verbally proclaim the gospel to lost souls.

To help conquer fears and provide a meaningful opportunity to put their training into action, members participating in an outreach initiative go out door-to-door to apply a simple methodology to verbally proclaim the gospel. When believers step out in faith to share their faith with others, God provides interesting stories.

At The Vine Lutheran Church, a new mission in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a group of members from St. Matthew in Spokane, WA received training and utilized canvassing as a method to introduce their new church in the community. The Lord provided “divine appointments” at the door when people expressed a sincere desire to learn more. One man told a participant, “Just this morning, I was praying that the Lord would send a WELS church to Coeur d’Alene. You are an answer to my prayer!” He and his wife were WELS members from Arizona who recently moved into the area. Now they are active participants in reaching the lost.

Portland Praise Canvassing Group

Three WELS congregations in Portland, Oregon meet every three months to go out and verbally plant the seeds of the gospel. After training, members were so excited and privileged to be God’s messengers that they decided to come together as one to hit the streets surrounding one congregation and bring as many people as possible to heaven through the power of the gospel. The growing group calls themselves “Portland Praise” and includes two established WELS congregations (Gethsemane/Tigard, Amazing Grace/Portland) and one mission congregation (Beautiful Savior/Hillsboro).

Members at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenai, Alaska gathered to received training and immediately put it into action. While going door-to-door, a group encountered several caribou feeding on the summer grass. One caribou followed members for a few doors which made them a little nervous. Grace Lutheran regularly goes out canvassing to hand out little packets of coffee and batteries to replace smoke alarms during daylight savings time. They use these tools to engage people and provide a short gospel message.

Verbally proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is scary; yet one of the greatest exercises of our faith is sharing our faith. When church members regularly gather together to verbally proclaim the gospel, it can have a transforming effect. God’s kingdom is advanced. Trust in God’s promises is strengthened. And there is profound joy in knowing they are being used by God in a powerful way. With training, WELS members are breaking the thin ice of fear and boldly proclaiming the gospel with their friends and neighbors, plus assisting their pastor in making follow-up visits.

To learn more about Praise & Proclaim Ministries, visit their website at praiseandproclaim.com.

Written By: Dave Malnes, Praise & Proclaim Ministries

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Reaching the Vietnamese

Have you heard about Friends of Vietnam?

Friends of Vietnam, Inc. (FOV) is the international outreach arm of Peace In Jesus Lutheran Church (a predominantly Vietnamese congregation) in Boise, Idaho. FOV endeavors to reach out through educational opportunities by supplying English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers to Vietnam in order to witness about Jesus in private settings. FOV also strives to bring students into the United States to study at WELS schools. FOV is building bridges for the gospel between Vietnam and the U.S. through education. The FOV Board was established in August 2016 and has an aggressive plan to bring the gospel to Vietnamese souls. There are some exciting things happening in Vietnam! What follows is an interview with Mr. Hưu Trung Lê, President of the Friends Of Vietnam Board:

Q: What are the goals of FOV?

Friends of Vietnam is an exciting and new ministry striving to accomplish two main goals: 1) prepare and send individuals to Vietnam to teach English and also share the Good News in private settings, and 2) assist students in Vietnam to come study in schools of our fellowship in the United States. The vision includes bringing students from Vietnam to study at WELS elementary schools, high schools, and colleges. In pursuit of fostering friendships and understanding between Vietnamese and American cultures, Friends of Vietnam endeavors to connect more Vietnamese souls to the gospel.

Q: Why is FOV important, in your view?

FOV is really important because we are striving to share the gospel with some areas still in the dark. We would like to share the correct teaching about Jesus with Vietnamese people. The bridge of the gospel is important, so FOV is trying to build many such bridges.

Q: What FOV success stories might you be able to share?

Our first FOV teacher is in Vietnam right now! He had a very difficult time at first in Vietnam due to the challenges of living in a new country, the language barrier, etc., but now he is settled in and has a good job teaching English at ILA English center in Saigon. He continues teaching four classes a week, on Saturday and Sunday. Our teacher’s manager at the school did an evening classroom observation and he was really impressed with the class, and he thought our teacher was doing a good job. Our teacher plans on continuing his contract with this school through October 2018.*

*name withheld due to security concerns

FOV President Hưu Trung on a survey visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Q: What is your dream for FOV?

My dream is that we bring more students to our WELS schools so the young generation of Vietnamese people can know more about the gospel, and to place more teachers in Vietnam. Maybe someday we will have our own Lutheran high school in Vietnam! And more importantly, I dream one day we will have a Vietnamese Lutheran Church in fellowship with WELS in Vietnam, so we could have regular worship. My dream is that more people in Vietnam will hear the gospel and believe in God. We try our best to follow what Jesus taught us in Matthew 4:19: “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’” That is what FOV is trying to do.

To learn more about Friends of Vietnam, visit their website at www.friendsofvietnam.net or check out their Facebook page.

If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved with Friends of Vietnam, please call the general line at (208) 912-8283, or Hưu Trung Lê at (208) 891-5344.

Interview conducted by Rev. Daniel Kramer: Peace in Jesus Lutheran Church – Boise, ID

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Building Up the Body of Christ

While it is rewarding to write about victory stories of a new member’s confirmation or a prospect’s baptism, I would like to share with you a recent little moment in our mission that gives me even greater joy seeing God’s people at work.

For the last few months, a Chinese woman named Tina has been coming to a conversational English class we have every Friday morning. And every Friday at this class we invite Tina, and all who come, to study the Bible further with us or come to Sunday worship.

Tina and her daughter Crystal

Tina finally came.

And when she walked into our church door on Sunday afternoon, something remarkable happened. Tina isn’t a Christian, and neither is her daughter, Crystal – they came mostly out of curiosity. And they were instantly welcomed by a small horde of eager Chinese members at our church. At first I thought somehow they all knew each other already, which is normally the case when we have Chinese visitors. A few ladies sat down next to Tina and her daughter. They helped explain our English worship and whispered what is going on. They invited Tina and Crystal to our Chinese language Bible class after worship.

Towards the end of our Bible class time one Sunday in January, I snuck into our Chinese language Bible class to find Qiang Wang, our Chinese evangelist, and five of our Chinese members actively witnessing to Tina and Crystal. I admit my Chinese is only good enough to follow the topic, but my heart swelled with joy listening to them sharing the good news of Jesus with Tina and Crystal in Chinese. These Christians were not long ago playing the role of the Ethiopian and asking Philip, “What does this mean?” Now they were sharing the message and explaining God’s Word in their own language to Tina. I saw in all their faces how deeply their love for Jesus was driving them to share with Tina and her daughter the news that so changed their lives also.

Tina helping out at the Chinese New Year event (Pictured holding the baby)

In Ephesians, Paul says that God gave pastors, teachers and missionaries to his church, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:12) In other words, if our mission is training our Chinese members to be missionaries themselves, we are going to be reaching people that I myself cannot reach. It has now been a month since that brief moment in Chinese Bible study, and Tina and Crystal are still coming to church – every Sunday. In fact when we celebrated Chinese New Year two weeks ago, Tina was in the kitchen with the other ladies preparing food for the meal. She still won’t say “I am a Christian”, but she wants to know more. She wants to hear the stories of Jesus. God is working in her heart.

And thanks to our other Chinese members, Tina is experiencing the love and joy of the body of Christ that welcomes her and importantly, reinforces the truths of Scripture in her own language and culture. Perhaps most importantly, God is giving more Christians their own moment to play the role of Philip and grow his kingdom in new ways.

Written by: Rev. Geoff Cortright, Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church – Vancouver, Canada

To learn more about this home mission, visit their Facebook page.

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It Will Take 7 Years…

It will take 7 years.

These were the words of Mission Counselor Mark Birkholz when Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto, Canada, began planning its first summer Music Camp back in 2010. Why a Music Camp? Our congregation is located in an area of Toronto where we are surrounded by homes and high rises, with people from many different countries and religious backgrounds. The question was asked, “How can we get to know our neighborhood better? And more than that, how can we help our neighbors to know who Jesus is?”

Music Camp Volunteers

Because Hope is blessed with a variety of musical talent, including a full steel pan orchestra, it was decided that we would try a summer Music Camp. This one week, full-day camp would include instruction in steel pans, keyboard, guitar, djembe drum and singing. Most importantly, every day would also include Bible study.

Our first Music Camp was offered in 2010 and what a blessing it has been. For the past several years, we have reached our capacity of 140 children every summer and have had to start a waiting list because of the high interest. Over 60 volunteers from our church and other congregations give of their time to help run an exhausting and exhilarating camp.

It will take 7 years.

What was Pastor Birkholz referring to? Yes, every year we had opportunity to share the Word with the children of our neighborhood, so many of whom did not know Jesus. But Pastor Birkholz mentioned that 7 years was how long it would most likely take for children and families from Music Camp to become a part of the Hope church family.

Hope Toronto Confirmands

What began in 2010 bore fruit in a special way in 2017. Five of our seven youth confirmands first came to Hope through the Music Camp! They kept coming back, and in time found a home at Hope. Of those five youth, all three of their mothers also joined Hope and we all continue to grow in Jesus together. To God be the glory!

Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto has 151 communicant members and 202 souls from 20 different countries, and is served by Pastor Mark Henrich and Vicar Ben Berger. To learn more about Hope, visit their website at www.hopetoronto.com or check out their Facebook page

Written by: Pastor Mark Henrich – Hope Lutheran Church, Toronto, Canada

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What It’s All About

What exactly do you do as a mission pastor?

You’d be surprised how many times I’ve been asked that question. My answers have varied greatly over the past six months. Sometimes I’ll talk about the detailed planning that has been completed in preparation for our September launch. At other times, I’ll talk about exploring Huntersville, the new community my wife and I call home. And sometimes, I’ll talk about our launch team meetings or the newest church planting book I’m reading. Depends on the day, I guess.

But there are days as a church planter when I wonder: “What am I doing here?” It can’t just be for long hours of planning and meetings, or finding a rental space for worship and studying books on church planting, can it? Is this really what it’s all about?

It’s easy to get caught up in the details and lose sight of the big picture. But a week ago, I was reminded that being a mission pastor is about more than planning and community exploration. On Saturday afternoon, I received a phone call from a member of my launch team, “Pastor, I wanted to let you know my step-daughter passed away in her sleep last night” (We’ll call the step-daughter, “Jo.”).

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believe in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” – John 11:25-26

Even though Jo was my member’s step-daughter, she wasn’t a member herself. In fact, I met Jo for the first time three months after moving to Huntersville. At the beginning of November 2017, she started to come to our launch team meetings with her mom and step-dad. During the next two months, I had the privilege of sharing the message of God’s “arrow-pointing-down” love for her. As a mission pastor, I had the blessing of conveying the message of the Gospel that says, “No matter your past, no matter your sins, Jesus died on the cross for you. Because of his sacrifice for you, your sins all forgiven and God remembers them no more.”

I firmly believe that over the past few months, God planted faith in Jo’s heart – a faith that clung to Jesus as her Savior. And this past Saturday, Jo experienced her own Easter and is now at her Savior’s side in heaven. This is the comfort I had the opportunity to share with my members on Saturday afternoon.

On my drive home from their house, as I reflected on the events that transpired, it suddenly dawned on me. Being a mission pastor is about far more than detailed planning, community exploration, and website design. It’s about personally connecting to people and connecting these people to Jesus. It’s about sharing with them who Jesus is and the love he has for them. It’s about planting the seeds of certain hope in a heart assailed by doubt. It’s about offering people true peace amid the storms of life. It’s about pointing people, like Jo, to the promise of the empty tomb and explaining,

This means that on the last day, you, too, will rise.

It’s astounding that God gives cracked clay jars – mission pastors, like me – the privilege of sharing with people the changeless message that will change their eternity. What a blessing to share Jesus’ love with people like Jo, and point them to their heavenly home. At the end of the day, that’s what being a mission pastor is all about.

Written by: Pastor Doug Van Sice – Huntersville Lutheran Church

P.S. – Want to learn more about this new mission start in Huntersville, NC? Visit their website at www.huntersvillelc.com

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Immediate Blessings in Atlanta, GA

On August 29th, my family and I moved to a neighborhood near the center of Atlanta. We were excited to reach out to this diverse mission field, and we couldn’t wait to see what the Holy Spirit might accomplish here through the power of the gospel.

As it turned out, we didn’t have long to wait! On the weekend of my installation, our core group of lay members set up a booth at a local festival, where they gathered information from nearly 700 people via a short survey. Over 100 people asked to be included on our email list, and several dozen indicated interest in a Bible Basics class. One of them was a woman we’ll call “Rachel.”
What made Rachel particularly intriguing was that in the “church background” box on her survey, she had written atheist. Why would an atheist be interested in a Bible class? I was about to find out…

I soon met Rachel in a local coffee shop for our first Bible Basics lesson. As we discussed the topic of sin, Rachel expressed a great deal of anger. Anger at God for setting an unreachable standard of perfection. Anger at Christians for insisting that their way to heaven was the only way. Anger at her childhood church, which had bombarded her with rules and crushed her with guilt. However, as we moved on to the topic of God’s unconditional love for sinners, Rachel’s anger began to soften. She confessed, “I’ve never heard God described that way before. I understand what you’re saying… but I don’t know that I can believe it.”

The next few lessons took over a month, as Rachel bombarded me with one tough question after another: evolution, the origin of evil, non-Christian religions, the canonicity of Scripture, the end of the world, etc. I didn’t have the answers to all her questions, but I did have the gospel. I explained, “Many Bible teachings are tough to understand, but we have to take this whole book seriously because it’s the only place in the world where we get the gospel.” This made sense to Rachel. She was beginning to see that Christians were not the narrow-minded, arrogant zealots she had once thought them to be – they were simply people who had found the gospel and wanted more of it.

We’ve now made it through Lesson 4 (“The Old Testament”) and Lesson 5 (“The Life of Christ,”), and this walk through Scripture has radically changed Rachel’s view of God. She no longer thinks of God as a cruel dictator, but rather as a patient, loving father. She no longer bombards me with skeptical questions, but rather expresses the gospel in her own words, and talks of sharing it with friends and family. She looks forward to upcoming Bible Study lessons, to our worship launch next summer, and to attending church for the first time in years.

I don’t know what Rachel’s future holds, or if she will end up joining our congregation. But I do know this: after only a few short weeks in the city, God has already used our ministry to add a new member to his invisible Church. He has called a self-professed atheist out of the darkness and into his wonderful light.

Praise God for his powerful Word, and pray that he sends many more “Rachels” our way!

Written by: Pastor Lucas Bitter – Intown Lutheran Church

P.S. – Want to learn more about this new mission start in Atlanta? Visit their website at intownlutheran.com.

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