Technology changes but the gospel message remains

486 million people speak Spanish. Could it be possible to reach all of them with an invitation to hear the gospel?

Technology allows us to do just that. From the jungle of Ecuador to the bustling city of Buenos Aires in Argentina, we can reach almost anyone right where they are with a simple click of a button.

Academia Cristo reached over a million people through an app that brought many blessings. Currently ten missionaries in Latin America travel to guide and encourage over 30 church plants. Missionaries and church planters teach Bible instruction courses almost every day of the week to hundreds of people eager to learn more about God’s Word.

The app was great, but we have now found an even better way to reach 486 million people.

Technology is all about ease of use. The platforms we use must be easy and user friendly. In Latin America and many other places around the world, the way to talk with people is through something called WhatsApp. WhatsApp is a messenger service that is completely free and easy to use. 92 percent of Spanish speaking people already use WhatsApp so why not build our Academia Cristo app on WhatsApp?

Six months ago, our team ensured that the entire Academia Cristo app was re-built for WhatsApp. Now, anyone can simply send a message to Academia Cristo and with a simple click get started studying the Word of God with us. Through an automated messenger system, anyone throughout the world can complete the four self-study courses. There is no need to download an app, just send us a message and complete 40 lessons to start a live class.

Working through WhatsApp is changing Academia Cristo in a good way. The previous application would have an average of 12 new live students every week. With our new messenger system, we expect 50 new live students every week. The quality of student is the same and the chances of finding more people who want to bring the gospel to their community increases exponentially.

Technology changes but the gospel message remains the same. Reaching four million people every week through social media and with an expectation of filling online live classrooms with 60 new students every week, Academia Cristo seeks to reach millions and to start churches throughout Latin America beginning with a simple messenger system that almost everyone already has.

May God bless this new way of reaching more people starving to hear the gospel.

Written by Mr. Jon Gross, Multi-Language Productions Producer for the Latin America Mission Team

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latin America Mission – Fall 2023 Update

As of October 2023, Academia Cristo has two million followers on social media. The social media platforms used by Academia Cristo include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. Through these platforms, Academia Cristo manages over 30 million engagements every month. Over a million people have downloaded the Academia Cristo mobile app that launched in February 2020. 2,400 people have completed the self-led courses offered in the mobile app or through WhatsApp since March 2020 and are signed up for live courses. 696 people have completed one live course since March 2020 with a WELS missionary or national partner. 85 students in the Academia Cristo program have gone through a doctrinal agreement process designed for leaders and church planters. There are 29 groups that Academia Cristo leaders have taken through at least seven lessons of a two-year program of worship and study. One congregation formed through the program has joined Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional and several others will soon be reaching the criteria required to apply for membership.

A snapshot of blessings from August through October 2023:

  1. An alternative to the mobile app was identified and tested.
    • Through a platform called respond.io, those interested in studying with Academia Cristo are guided in WhatsApp through the same four self-study courses that have been offered in the app.
    • This alternative, self-study through WhatsApp, produced more students with less spending on advertising. It also offered several other positive features, such as the opportunity to engage with students while they are in the self-study process and collect their contact information.
    • Because of the success of the app alternative, it was decided at the 2023 annual meeting to use this alternative instead of the app.
    • Going forward, the “Self-Study Level” through WhatsApp will be the way for students to move from social media to participating in live courses.
  2. A music summit was held in Quito, Ecuador, with representatives from the Latin America mission team and Multi-Language Productions (MLP). Plans were adopted to produce more hymns and liturgical music for use by church planting groups.
  3. The instruction function of the Latin America team focused on incorporating course and lesson objectives into the Academia Cristo curriculum.
  4. An admissions coordinator was hired to help enhance the student onboarding experience.
  5. A program was started to identify and recruit volunteers and match them with needs within Academia Cristo and church planting groups.
  6. Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional held their first convention in Moca, Dominican Republic.
  7. The Latin America seminary program (Seminario Cristo) is wrapping up year two of test courses and has plans in place for 2024. Artemio Garcia from Mexico is currently teaching Old Testament Isagogics.
  8. Plans are set for Rev. Larry Schlomer to lead the Diaspora Ministry Program, continuing the foundation that was laid by Rev. Carl Leyrer through Hispanic Outreach Project in the United States.

 

 




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What’s the deal with the name?

On Aug. 2 of this year, following a rousing address to convention delegates by Rev. Tonny Quintero of Medellin, Colombia, the hundreds of delegates assembled in the Michigan Lutheran Seminary gymnasium to officially recognize fellowship between WELS and Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional.

I had the privilege of attending the convention with Rev. Quintero (being by his side for what some have called the most energetic 20 minutes in synod convention memory) and was able to hear the warm response both from the convention as a whole and from countless individuals who approached the Colombian visitor with a warmth that transcended the language barrier. One question, though, that did come up multiple times was something to the effect of, “So what’s the deal with the name?” And, “Why wouldn’t the word “Lutheran” appear in the name of a Lutheran church body?”

It’s a fair question. First of all, it is not because the church body is ashamed of its “Lutheran-ness.” Quite the contrary. When I meet with the founders of this synod, the words “luterano confesional” constantly find their way into conversation and the first article of the synod’s constitution proudly proclaims, “El nombre de este Sínodo Luterano Confesional es: Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional.” – The name of this confessional Lutheran Synod is . . .

The founders of this synod chose the name it did not because they have a low regard for being Lutheran, but rather because they have such a high regard for the Lutheran-ness they have received. They love that WELS had such a love for the truth that they brought them a Lutheran-ness that was not degraded by compromising what the Bible says, but that stands on scripture alone. They love that WELS had such a love for the lost that they offered their treasures and talents to send missionaries south to share the precious truths of grace alone and faith alone with them. So, these church leaders brought to faith and to Lutheranism by “us” adopted the name “WELS” in a hope to also emulate the confessional stance and mission zeal of their sister synod to the north.

Additionally, there is one other parallel worth mentioning. The WELS was founded by a tiny group of church leaders who met in equally tiny Granville, Wis., many years ago. When the synod met at convention this past August, there were hundreds of delegates present who represented hundreds of thousands of WELS members from across the country.

The month after I was with Rev. Tonny Quintero in that packed gym in Saginaw, Mich., the two of us traveled to the first annual convention of the Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional in the rural outskirts of Moca, Dominican Republic. The convention there had just 12 attendees. Although the gathering was small, they look forward to the possibility of welcoming many more into their fellowship. As they made their plans Isaiah 55:10-11 came up many times. That group, now so small, made bold plans built on the confidence that the Word will not return empty; plans made with the prayer that their small synod will soon swell with churches formed through the training provided by Academia Cristo.

Written by Rev. Andrew Johnston, world missionary on the Latin America mission team, in Doral, Fla.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latin America Mission – Quarterly Update

As of July, 2023, Academia Cristo has 1.9 million followers on Facebook, 138,000 followers on Instagram, 18,400 followers on YouTube, and 2,121 followers on TikTok. Academia Cristo manages over 30 million engagements every month through their various communication platforms. Over a million people have downloaded the Academia Cristo mobile app that launched in February 2020. 2,090 people have completed the self-led courses on the mobile app since March 2020 and are signed up for live courses. 667 people have completed one live course since March 2020 with a WELS missionary or national partner. 79 students in the Academia Cristo program have gone through a doctrinal agreement process designed for leaders and church planters. There are 25 groups that Academia Cristo leaders have taken through at least seven lessons of a two-year program of worship and study. There is one official congregation from the program.

A snapshot of blessings from May through July 2023:

  1. Academia Cristo follows an hourglass church multiplication strategy. They try to meet as many people as possible on social media, guide them through an intentional training program, and equip them to plant groups to reach more people. Implementation has begun on changes to the bottom part of our hourglass strategy. These changes focus on revisions to their church planter (Grupo Sembrador) program, where groups gather regularly around God’s Word using a two-year packet of worship and Bible study materials provided by Academia Cristo.
  2. Missionaries guided 39 church planters (sembradores) and four adjunct professors through the divine call process. This was done one-on-one. It included a review of the doctrine of the call, best practices for considering a call, and how to accept or decline a call.
    • All four of those called to serve as adjunct professors accepted their calls (three from Mexico and one from Ecuador).
    • 33 of the 39 who were called to be church planters have accepted (two declined, four are still deliberating). The 33 church planters who accepted are in 11 different Latin American countries.
  3. A plan is in place to start a student services team. It will focus on welcoming students into the Academia Cristo program, setting up live courses, and maintaining student records.
  4. On June 18, 2023, eight students graduated from the Discipleship Two portion of the program. These graduates successfully completed 21 live courses, each with a final project. Several of these graduates will be invited to study in Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional seminary test courses.
  5. The new version of Aprendan de mí, our Bible information course, is almost ready to be sent to Multi-Language Productions (MLP) for production. A specific plan is in place to have the course (videos, teacher’s guides, and student handouts) published by October 2023.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Faces of Faith – Argentina

Come along with Latin America Missionary Joel Sutton to meet two Academia Cristo students from Argentina: Fabian Gabriel Mandracchia from Rosario, and Luis Bello from Baradero. Hear how the gospel message is changing their lives, and how they’re working with the Latin America mission team to share what they’re learning with those around them.

Learn more about how the Latin America mission team is using Academia Cristo to share the gospel message and make disciples in Latin America at wels.net/latinamerica.

Unexpected blessings in Paraguay

The Unexpected
It wasn’t a part of the plan. We weren’t supposed to be there. We were on our third move to another new country, with two kids under two years old in less than a year . . . this was certainly not on our radar.

When my wife and I were sitting in the Seminary auditorium for the vicar call service and we heard that we were assigned to Medellín, Colombia for vicar year, we could not have imagined what lay before us. We could not have imagined ourselves living with a wonderful family in Ecuador for two months and going from asking them what “dinner” is called to a tearful and prolonged goodbye as we left them to go to Colombia. We could not have imagined that in only the first two months of our time there, we’d get to know Pastor Herrera, and his wife, Eliana, well enough to leave our daughter with them so we could go to the hospital and welcome our son into the world on Christmas Day. And we could not have imagined getting to meet the mission team in Paraguay to close out the year.

With the help of missionaries, synod workers, lawyers, friends, and family, the plan was made to start us out in Ecuador for two months to learn Spanish full-time and get to know the Academia Cristo Mission Team based there. From there we would go to Medellín, Colombia for the rest of our time to work with Pastor Herrera and the wonderful congregation there. As we neared the end of our time in Medellín, we had some visa issues and so an impromptu plan was made to send us to Asunción, Paraguay, where another Academia Cristo Mission Team is based.

The Blessings
It wasn’t a part of the plan, and it certainly wasn’t on our radar. But it was a part of God’s plan for us. God put us there and we could not have imagined the additional blessings he had planned for us in Paraguay.

As we went from the city of eternal spring – Medellín, Colombia – to a city in the southern hemisphere in the dead of winter (it was still 50s and 60s Fahrenheit so not too cold) – Asunción, Paraguay – we were blessed with the opportunity to learn about another culture and people. We were blessed to learn some Guaraní words as we met with some local Paraguayans and blessed to worship together at the mission house run by a WELS church in Florida. We were able to see God’s wonderful creation at Iguazu Falls in Brazil right across the border from Paraguay. We were fortunate to travel with missionary Abe Degner to Bolivia and meet with church leaders there, in addition to preaching for the new church formed by an Academia Cristo student in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We were blessed to celebrate our daughter’s second birthday with the mission team and have a Paraguayan-style grill-out after church. I also was blessed to visit Academia Cristo students in Argentina, with missionary Joel Sutton, as they considered starting Bible Study Groups that will God-willing turn into churches someday.

Our experience in South America was filled with unexpected challenges and blessings start to finish. But it’s amazing to see how God turns those unexpected plans and challenges into unexpected blessings.

Written by Caleb Koelpin, vicar for World Missions in Medellín, Colombia during 2022-2023.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A celebration in Cochabamba

The streets were packed with tourists, vendors, and colorfully dressed dancers. It was carnival weekend in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and thousands had flocked to the city to celebrate. We were there to celebrate, too – but not because of carnival. We had something so much better to celebrate: the planting of a new church.

This is the goal of Academia Cristo. We give free online Bible studies to students all over Latin America, but the end goal is not online Bible study. Those studies help us identify and train people to plant biblical, Lutheran churches where they live.

That’s how a new church was born in Cochabamba. In April of 2020, a maxillofacial surgeon there named Eduardo Milanesi saw an Academia Cristo ad online and began studying with us. The Holy Spirit used the gospel he was learning to bring newfound peace and purpose to his life. He wanted to share what he was learning with others. He started bringing his Bible with him into check-ups and surgeries and telling his patients about Jesus. In less than a year, Eduardo finished the 13 courses in our discipleship program, confessed doctrinal agreement with us, and started gathering a group in his medical office to study God’s Word. We call groups like these “grupos sembrador” – planter groups.

It wasn’t easy. Eduardo was still working full time as a surgeon while leading his group in worship and Bible study. His group wrestled with COVID restrictions, addiction problems, and marital struggles. Academia Cristo provides study and worship materials for our church planters like Eduardo to use with their groups to help ease their workload, as well as a “consejero” – a missionary who counsels them as they navigate tough situations.

For the next two years, Eduardo’s group met every week, and by God’s grace, they began to grow – not just in numbers, but in faith and knowledge of the Scriptures. In January, they completed the studies we’ve prepared for planter groups and were received by WELS’ newly formed sister synod in Latin America – Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional – as a congregation.

That’s what brought us to Cochabamba on carnival weekend. Representatives of WELS, Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional, and our sister church in La Paz all traveled to celebrate. It wasn’t a celebration of our work or Eduardo’s work at all. It was a celebration of God’s saving work in the hearts of all present – especially in the hearts and lives of the new believers in Cochabamba. As Eduardo likes to say: “A Dios sea toda la gloria.” To God be all the glory.

The new church in Cochabamba is the first one planted through Academia Cristo. But over the past three years, God has blessed us with 51 other church planters and 21 planter groups – all on the same path Eduardo and his church took. God-willing, there will be many more celebrations like the one in Cochabamba in the future.

Written by Rev. Abe Degner, missionary on the Latin America mission team stationed in Asunción, Paraguay. 

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What does starting a Lutheran seminary look like?

Walking through the central streets of Medellín, Colombia, is sensory overload. Smell the oil from the fried empanadas. Traffic everywhere. Whiny motorcycles. Carts selling some of the most beautiful fruit you’ve ever seen. Hey, is that WELS vicar Zach Satorius with a guitar case slung over his shoulder? Hard-working people scurrying off to their jobs. Others we see are obviously struggling in life. I wonder if people even noticed us. . . A tall professor from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and three short men: a Bolivian, a Colombian, and an American missionary, walking the streets for an hour or two every day, talking as we went. Is this what the start of a seminary looks like?

Followers of Jesus in places as far as Bolivia, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic have banded together to form a new international confessional Lutheran synod in Latin America: Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional. God-willing there will be a representative from this new synod at the 2023 WELS Synod Convention, so you’ll be hearing more about this.

WELS mission efforts in Spanish-speaking Latin America are focused on Academia Cristo. We find people through social media. A mobile app walks people through the basics of the Christian faith. It’s up to each person if they want to continue learning. Those who finish the app are invited to participate in the first level of online discipleship training courses. By the end of level one, some of those who finish will join the Lutheran faith. They’ll also have the desire to teach others and start a core group. In level two we provide training for leading such a group through its early stages, with the goal of forming a church. (By the way, you can share our app with Spanish speakers in the U.S.)

As God blesses the work of the new Latin American synod and WELS mission efforts, groups become churches of the new synod. So how do people get further ministry training? It’s okay to start simple. WELS has been training pastors for almost 160 years. Know how it started? My understanding is that theological training happened inside the school building of St. Mark’s in Watertown, Wis. Humble beginnings. Not so different from the test classes that leaders of the new seminary, Seminario Cristo (Christ Seminary), have already started for more than a dozen group leaders to build on their Academia Cristo training. Participants learn to apply law and gospel, counseling, and biblical interpretation. They get to apply some of what they’re learning with the group they’re teaching right away that same week. Preaching, advanced doctrine, and other topics are coming. The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) and WELS missionaries advise and consult. The new synod leads the seminary in training people for different forms of ministry.

We did work in Medellín. Seminary leaders made philosophical and curriculum decisions. It was clear that we all shared the same faith and values. Everything needs to be Biblical, Christ-centered, and practical. We all knew it.

We preached to each other and prayed together. We played dominos. Shared life stories. We drank tinto (Colombian coffee) several times a day. We walked the streets of Medellín for hours. We laughed and prayed and bonded in Christ. Starting a confessional Lutheran seminary. . . there’s real work to be done. But it’s easy to forget that the love of Christ, walking together and loving one another. . . that’s part of starting a seminary too.

Written by Rev. Joel Sutton, world missionary on the Latin America mission team

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Blessings of Academia Cristo in Colombia

Latin America Missionary Matt Behmer made a trip to Colombia in early July 2022 to connect with Academia Cristo students in the country. Here are a few updates:

 

1) On Wednesday, July 6, Academia Cristo student Álvaro Moreno (pictured far left) and Missionary Behmer (far right) shared a law and gospel message with approximately 15 workers from the estate where Álvaro lives in Armenia, Colombia. That night, one of the workers died in his sleep. We praise God he got to hear the gospel in his final hours. On Thursday, July 7, Missionary Behmer and Álvaro made five in-person visits to potential members of Álvaro’s soon-to-be-formed Grupo Sembrador (A group that gathers regularly around God’s Word using a two-year packet of worship and Bible study materials provided by Academia Cristo).

 


2) On Saturday, July 9, Academia Cristo student Yeison Lozano from Bogotá, Colombia, conducted a two hour interview with Missionary Behmer about our ministry on his radio program. He made several pleas to his listeners to download our app and enroll in live classes. Yeison gathers an independent group in a rented space in Bogotá and shows serious potential to become a church planter.

 


3) On Sunday, July 10, they held an in-person workshop in Bogotá. There were 27 in attendance. Among the participants were Academia Cristo student Verny (pediatric physician) and his family from Costa Rica. They were in Bogotá on vacation. Lucho Herrera from Doral, Fla., was in Bogotá and served as the keynote speaker. Academia Cristo student Camilo Herrera hosted at his restaurant and led the final worship service. Missionary Behmer had the privilege of baptizing the son of an Academia Cristo student! (Pictured)

 

 

Please join us in giving thanks to God for the work of the Holy Spirit in Colombia! View more photos from Missionary Behmer’s trip in our Flickr album.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

The seven provinces of Costa Rica

This past March I visited a number of our Academia Cristo students in Costa Rica. The last time WELS missionaries had been in the country was in March 2018, and even then, only briefly. We traveled there mainly to get to Nicaragua. A short stop. We didn’t have very much online student activity yet in Costa Rica.

But, four years later, the focus was Costa Rica. A lot more students and a lot more activity!

Pedro and María

For example, I’d like to introduce you to Pedro and María, who live in the capital of San José.

María and Pedro downloaded our Academia Cristo app in late 2020. They watched all 38 self-study videos in the App. When they finished those foundation lessons, they were invited to sign up for live, online classes. They successfully finished all 13 live classes in 2021 and loved what they had learned. After a thorough review of the doctrinal points with me, we welcomed María and Pedro as our new brother and sister in the faith.

Pedro and María were ready for the next level of Academia Cristo classes. They were now Lutherans and they wanted to share that message with others. For these students, we start training them to start what we are calling “planting groups,” which, if the Lord blesses their efforts, will eventually become more established congregations.

One of the tools we use to help these new leaders make plans and takes steps toward their goals are monthly goal setting meetings, usually online. We study a portion of the Bible together and then we talk about their dreams for their ministry efforts and we discuss what small steps they can take before our next meeting.

It’s nice to talk about their dreams during an in-person visit because you get to spend much more time together. Pedro, María, and I did just that. They invited me into their house. We studied the Bible. We walked around their neighborhood. We met up with other Academia Cristo students. We visited their family and another family who would like to start a congregation one day. Lots of time together.

As I listened, I heard a theme that I could tell was Pedro and María’s dream for the ministry in Costa Rica. They kept saying, “We want Academia Cristo to be in all seven provinces of Costa Rica.” There it was! The big dream. The hope and prayer of a couple excited about the gospel.

So we wrote it down on the document that has their goals and next steps on it.

“THE SEVEN PROVINCES OF COSTA RICA”

We review this goal every month and pray about it together. Then we discuss the next steps they can take to help achieve it. Step by step. Aiming for that goal.

May the Lord bless Pedro and María and other Costa Ricans as they start their groups and work to reach all those seven provinces of Costa Rica.

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, world missionary on the Latin America mission team.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

Opportunities for women’s ministry in Latin America

We praise God for blessing the work of Academia Cristo! Currently, more than a million people have liked the Academia Cristo Facebook page, more than 500,000 people have downloaded the app for biblical instruction, more than a thousand people have signed up for live biblical classes, and there is potential for church planting in every country in Latin America. The fields are ripe, and technology is allowing Academia Cristo to take uncut grace to grace-starved Latin America where many still rely on works to earn their salvation and do not know their Savior.

As Academia Cristo has grown, the mission team quickly realized that many of those studying God’s Word with them were women. Seeing this need, a call was issued for a new position, a Dean of Women, to encourage these women to carry out the Great Commission in their homes and respective communities while embracing biblical principles and Christian freedom.

The primary focus of the Dean of Women is the same focus of the Academia Cristo mission team:

  1. Make disciples in Latin America by sharing the message of God’s grace with as many people as possible.
  2. Identify and train potential leaders.
  3. Encourage those leaders to make disciples who plant churches.

There are many women in the Academia Cristo Program who support the mission, desire to reach others with the gospel, and who are capable of sharing the Word. They have distinct roles and unique opportunities, and the Dean of Women position was created to help them to take advantage of these opportunities.

Meet Marli (in blue) in Cuernavaca, Mexico. After intensive study with Academia Cristo, Marli now participates in the advanced classes of the program and is personally guided by a missionary as she shares the Word of God with her Grupo Sembrador or small group in her community. Her group meets regularly, digging into the Word of God, sharing Sunday school lessons with youth, and even doing periodic humanitarian services in the area.

Amelia is a teacher who lives in Pucallpa in the river-jungle region of Perú. Like Marli, Amelia is also in the advanced courses of Academia Cristo and is being guided by a missionary to share Jesus with others in her hometown. With much prayer, Amelia is slowly transforming her home into a place for others to come and to gather in the Word. She is especially passionate about the children in her community and is currently using her summer vacation time to teach about 30 children how to read using the Bible – a special project that she began once she realized that some of the children could not read in her Bible studies with them.

Join us in praying for the ministry of Academia Cristo and specifically for the newly developing Women’s Ministry that will prayerfully support and guide many more women like Marli and Amelia to use their God-given gifts to share Jesus with others.

Written by Elise Gross, Director of Women’s Ministries for Academia Cristo, on the Latin America mission team.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

The wonders of God in their own tongue

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit worked a miracle to make sure people heard the good news about Jesus. In an instant, he enabled the disciples to speak in languages they hadn’t previously known. Parthians, Medes, Cretans, Arabs and others in the crowd that day were all amazed: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! (Acts 2:11)”

We might wish the Holy Spirit would work this miracle for us! Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of years of language study, our missionaries could instantly share the gospel in the language of anyone they met?

But the Holy Spirit is still making sure the wonders of God are being declared in foreign tongues.

Last month, I visited Bolivia and met with Erasmo Condori (pictured above). Erasmo has been studying with Academia Cristo for the past year. He speaks Spanish, but his first language is Aymara, an indigenous language spoken by 1.7 million Bolivians. He lives in El Alto, a city where many people only speak Aymara – including his wife, Benita (Also pictured above).

Diosnel Castro Lopez

When we met, Erasmo shared with me that if it weren’t for Academia Cristo, he wouldn’t know who the true God is. The church he and his wife attended never taught them that God is triune: one God in three persons. The Holy Spirit used an Academia Cristo course called “The True God” to open his eyes to that truth. He loved learning how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were all actively involved in saving him.

And now the Holy Spirit is using Erasmo to proclaim this wonder of God in his own tongue, Aymara. First, he taught his wife what he learned. Then, he taught “The True God” to members of his church. Now he’s sharing other Academia Cristo courses with them.

José Cormachi

Erasmo isn’t the only one. Other students who are learning the gospel in Spanish through Academia Cristo are sharing it in their native languages too. Diosnel Castro Lopez in Paraguay shares what he learns with others in Guaraní. José Cormachi, Carlos Minagua, and José Chafla in Ecuador are teaching the truth in Quechua.

It might not seem as miraculous as what he did on the day of Pentecost. But when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the spiritually blind to see the truth, it is a miracle. When he opens a believer’s mouth to share the truth, it is a miracle. And the result is the same: more and more people are hearing the wonders of God in their own tongue.

Written by Rev. Abe Degner, world missionary on the Latin America mission team

Read Diosnel’s Faces of Faith story at wels.net/faces-of-faith-diosnel.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

God’s work across the globe

Things are slowly starting to get back to normal. There are less restrictions on social gatherings. There are more opportunities to return to usual activities. This is also true in our world mission fields. In June, Missionary Andrew Johnston got to spend ten days meeting face-to-face with believers throughout central Mexico. The goal of this trip was to encourage Academia Cristo students who are currently gathering groups of people around God’s Word. Check out the timeline below to see what Missionary Johnston did during his trip.

Bible study group with Javier (second from left)

Saturday, June 12. After arriving in Mexico City in the early afternoon, I journeyed to the far southern edge of Mexico City to visit Javier. Javier is a furniture salesman who gathers four different groups of people to study God’s Word. After meeting one group at his home, I was asked to lead a Bible study. This group has already finished an Academia Cristo course called “The Four Concepts.” This course provides an overview of sin, grace, faith, and works.

Sunday, June 13. I traveled to a factory in the northeastern edge of Mexico City where Artemio, an Academia Cristo student and now confirmed Lutheran, gathers a group of about eighty people. I was asked to preach and participate in the confirmation of nine members. In the afternoon, I joined Javier at Ricardo’s house where I got to meet Ricardo’s family and friends. Ricardo owns a small pharmacy. He and his wife had questions about the validity of their baptisms (they were baptized as infants in Catholic churches). We took the opportunity to study baptism as a group and reaffirmed their baptisms by repeating the promises of God. Afterwards, we returned to Javier’s house where we met with another one of his groups who are studying online.

Monday, June 14. Meeting early at the bus station,and I took the five-hour bus ride to Zacapoaxtla, Puebla, a small city in the mountains. At the bus station in Zacapoaxla we were met by Pastor Samuel. He drove us to Huitzitlan, a small town about two hours from Zacapoaxtla. It turns out that Samuel is also a taxi driver. At a church with a big Luther seal outside, Artemio and I met with Samuel and church president Pedro, and we heard their story. Samuel’s father-in-law had been the pastor. When he died, Samuel was named pastor, but had received very little training of any kind. Samuel was interested to hear about Academia Cristo and wants to give it a try. After being invited to eat at Samuel’s house and meeting his wife Rebeka, we headed back to Zacapoaxtla. On the way, we stopped in Huahuastla to visit a man named Floriberto, the pastor of the Lutheran church in that village. Floriberto seemed interested in Lutheran training with Academia Cristo.

Tuesday, June 15. Artemio and I spent the morning with Pablo Tamanis, the pastor at the Lutheran church in Zacapoaxtla. Pablo and his wife kindly received us in their house and made us breakfast. Saying good-bye to Pablo, Artemio and I retraced our steps back to Mexico City having a good conversation on the way.

Arturo, Maricruz, with their daughter, Romina, holding her baptism certificate

Wednesday, June 16. After using some free time in the morning for two online meetings, I visited Arturo (vice principal of a school) and his wife Maricruz (a teacher). We talked late into the night, working through several doctrinal questions. When the discussion of baptism came up, they shared that their 13-year-old daughter Romina hadn’t been baptized. They asked what would stop us from baptizing her. I almost felt like Philip with the Ethiopian Eunuch. . . So, we studied baptism with Romina and baptized her that night. We are praying that, God-willing, we will recognize doctrinal agreement with them in September and talk about steps to gather a group.

Thursday, June 17. Today, I headed to visit Javier again. We walked through a goal setting process that we use with advanced students to help them grow in their faith and start a Lutheran group. I also officially presented Javier with a doctrinal agreement certificate.

Friday, June 18. I boarded a bus to San Martin Texmeluchan, Puebla, in the morning. There I met Gabino Sanchez Sanchez (yes, that is a double Sanchez). We enjoyed a couple hours of conversation over coffee and parted ways agreeing that we would spend more time together during my next visit. On this visit, we plan to work through our doctrinal agreement process.

Marli holding her doctrinal certificate

Saturday, June 19. On Saturday, we got to gather several Academia Cristo students together. Pastor Carl Leyer was also present to help with these meetings. It was very encouraging to get to meet with students from different backgrounds and with different stories all in one day. In the evening, Pastor Leyer and I traveled to Cuernavaca to meet with Marli, her husband Luiz, Edna, and Maricela (and their driver Roberto). Marli is a very active Academia Cristo student. We were graciously received by Luiz and Marli in their home.

Sunday, June 20. After breakfast, we went to work on setting goals with Marli. She is working on sharing Jesus with lots of people. She has two children’s groups, she meets with groups of police to share the Word, and other things. Marli is now committed to starting a women’s group.

Monday, June 21. We had an early appointment at a police station near Cuernavaca. The department psychologist has asked Marli to share the Gospel. We met with a group of 16 people, including at-risk kids, moms, and police officers. We led a Bible study on the story of Zacchaeus, It was a great opportunity to share the Gospel with a very engaged audience. After a meal at one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to, Carl and I prepared to fly out the next day.

What do a pharmacy owner from Mexico City, a taxicab driver in a rural mountain village of Huitzilan, and a woman from Cuernavaca have in common? They, along with many others throughout Mexico and Latin America, are receiving training through Academia Cristo to gather a group and teach that group the truths of God’s Word. They are being equipped to share the gospel. They are being encouraged to share the peace that only comes from Jesus. We thank God for these students, and we thank God for the opportunity to visit them.

Written by Matt Behmer, world missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

Arriving somewhere new

When was the last time you were in a new situation? Was it attending a new school? Starting a new job? Moving into a new neighborhood?

After accepting the call to serve on the Latin America missions team, my family and I arrived somewhere new. In fact, we arrived sooner than expected! Our original flight from Los Angeles to Quito was cancelled. We had two options: we could wait a few days for a similar flight, or we could head to the airport to catch a redeye that had a few seats left. We were eager to start this new adventure. We scrambled to complete some last-minute errands, went to the airport, and made it to gate as our new flight was boarding.

Beth Behmer and kids Nora, Emma, and Baby Ray

This worked out better than we could have expected. The redeye landed during the day. As the plane made its final descent, our girls gazed out the window. “I see mountains!” “I see a park!” “I see a soccer field!” Those were just a few of the comments. The level of excitement was high.

After landing, we went from seeing to experiencing new things. Our girls visited their new school. They met their new teachers. They started learning a new language. We found our way around a new city. We enjoyed new foods. We started to make new friends.

I also started new work. Previously, I served as a parish pastor. Now I am part of a team that trains and equips people throughout Latin America to share their faith and start churches. This means learning a new style of ministry. I’m learning how to teach classes through Zoom. I’m learning how to conduct one-on-one bible studies with church leaders. I’m learning the best ways to encourage church planters as they work to spread the Good News.

In the first few days, I saw how this new style has had an impact. I met the Guaman family from northern Quito. They learned the truths of the Bible through Academia Cristo classes. Now, they are gathering a group in their home using Academia Cristo resources. I met Jose Cormachi from southern Quito. He, along with other men, gather a group together. They lean on Academia Cristo resources for training. Being in this new environment has given me the opportunity to see new ways that the Holy Spirit is working throughout Latin America.

Guaman family confirmation with Missionary Nathan Schulte

When we find ourselves in new situations, we rely on others. We are thankful for the help of Missionary Nathan Schulte, our teammate on the ground in Quito. We are thankful for insights from friendly Uber drivers and advice from new neighbors. We are thankful for the prayers and support of our brothers and sisters in WELS.

Above all, we are thankful for Jesus, our Savior. One thing that is not new is his presence, protection, love, and grace in our lives. Someday, he will bring us and all believers somewhere new.

What will it be like when we arrive? What will we see? Who will we meet? What conversations will we have? How will we feel? What will be the first songs we sing? Because Jesus lived, died, and rose again for us, we can look forward to learning the answers to these questions together!

Written by Matthew Behmer, missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador 

Want to hear how the Behmer family “landed” in their new mission field? Read more in the Behmer missionary family landing report.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

Behmer missionary family landing report

Have you ever wondered what happens during the first couple of weeks after a missionary family arrives in their new field of service? Read more about how the Behmer family (Missionary Matt, his wife Beth, and kids Nora, Emma, and Baby Ray) landed in their new mission field of Quito, Ecuador, this past January: 

Monday, January 4: On Monday morning in San Diego, we found out our original flights to Quito, Ecuador, were canceled. We drove up to Los Angeles and found a flight that left that evening. We had a smooth departure and had a good redeye flight to Panama City. Our daughter Emma thought the breakfast provided on the flight was perfect – a turkey sandwich, yogurt, and juice box.

Missionary Schulte meeting Behmers at the airport

Tuesday, January 5: The connection in Panama City went well. When we arrived in Quito around noon, we were picked up by Missionary Nathan Schulte, who had lined up a small school bus to take us and our many suitcases to the Airbnb. We were very thankful for the space. He also had some groceries waiting for us. In evening, we explored Cumbayá, bought some extra essentials, and got dinner.

Wednesday, January 6: We met Missionary Schulte for lunch. From there, we went to set up our phones to get cell service in Quito. In the afternoon and evening we started an online search for houses.

Thursday, January 7: We met up with Missionary Schulte in Quito and walked to Guaman family restaurant for lunch. They’re contacts made through Academia Cristo, the Latin America mission team’s online outreach program. We took a walking tour of the area and visited a park. In the early evening, we met with the first realtor.

Friday, January 8: We visited the school in Tumbaco where our girls would begin virtual school. We then met Missionary Schulte for our first house showing. We also looked at more houses online and started to line up other showings. We decided that a rental vehicle would make the house and furniture search more efficient. After some headaches at the airport, we were finally able to get a small SUV. In the evening, I returned to the airport to pick up Missionary Andrew Johnston, his wife Cindy, and a few of their kids who were going to help in the landing process.

Saturday, January 9: We toured a total of five homes. One home in Tumbaco checked most of our boxes: It had three bedrooms, a separated area that could serve as an office, a great backyard, and seemed to be move-in ready. There were a couple of concerns with security, but nothing that couldn’t be addressed. It was in a small neighborhood with only three other homes.

Sunday, January 10: Missionary Schulte led us in a wonderful church service. He led the liturgy, lessons, and hymns, and we listened to an edifying sermon by Pastor Jon Schroeder from Sharpsburg, Georgia. After church, we went to see five more homes. That night we grilled out at the Airbnb. We’re thankful to Missionary Schulte and Caleb, a Martin Luther College graduate and volunteer in Quito, for watching the kids all day.

Missionaries Behmer and Schulte meeting to discuss their ministry

Monday, January 11: Beth and I discussed it some more, and we decided that we wanted to pursue the Tumbaco home. It was close to the kid’s school, had the space we felt was needed, and we decided we could find solutions for additional security. We began looking for family vehicles that afternoon. While Missionary Johnston attended some meetings, I began looking at options for furniture and home items.

Tuesday, January 12: We revisited the Tumbaco home with Missionary Johnston and our girls, Emma and Nora. We found out our offer was accepted, and we finalized some of the details. Emma and Nora loved the backyard, and it seemed like a home. That afternoon we attended some meetings, and then began looking for a family vehicle. We found a Toyota Fortuner that fit the bill and began the process of buying it.

Wednesday, January 13: Missionary Johnston took sole responsibility for making sure three kids participated in their respective online classes. That takes some special talent – we are appreciative! My wife Beth and Cindy Johnston went furniture shopping and got all the major things we need for our home. I went with Missionary Schulte and some of our other contacts to officially transfer ownership of the vehicle.

Thursday, January 14: Despite now owning a vehicle, we couldn’t drive it today due to the picos y placas. That stands for peak [hour] and [license] plate, a driving restriction policy aimed to reduce traffic congestion. It can only be driven on certain days. However, this works out great as Missionary Schulte’s car can be driven on the opposite days! The rest of the day was filled with meetings.

Friday, January 15: With a home lined up, a vehicle purchased, and some meetings out of the way, we were able to catch our breath on Friday morning. While the Johnstons watched our kids, Beth and I got lunch and went shopping for some home supplies. In the evening, Missionary Schulte and Caleb came over for some fellowship time. Missionary Schulte treated everyone to pizza and ice cream. It was delicious!

Saturday, January 16: We went to find authentic home furnishings at a good price and didn’t return until 5 p.m. The Johnston’s picked up some delicious empanadas for all.

Sunday, January 17: Cindy Johnston and I did some brief filming of an introduction video for Academia Cristo. Then, we all headed to the Guaman family confirmation. It was a special service, using liturgy and music provided by Academia Cristo. Missionary Schulte led a Bible Study using the Academia Cristo model and performed the rite of confirmation. We celebrated Holy Communion together. Then, the Guaman family provided a delicious lunch. We also enjoyed a cake brought by the Johnston family. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to get to know the Guaman family a little better.

The Johnstons, Behmers, and Missionary Schulte with the newly confirmed Guaman family

Monday, January 18: The Johnstons headed to the airport to return home, and I returned the rental car. After some meetings, we spent the rest of the day packing up to leave the Airbnb the next day.

Tuesday, January 19 and onward: 

We moved out of AirBnb, managing to fit all our suitcases and recent purchases in and on top of our new SUV. After moving into the home in Tumbaco, a few maintenance issues with the house popped up that we’re currently addressing. On Friday, January 22, we met our neighbors. All of them have children, and one also sends their kids to the school in Tumbaco our kids will attend.

Next steps: Beth and I will be digging into language training. Our girls have started their virtual classes and very much enjoy them, and they’re enrolled in Spanish classes.

We are very thankful for the opportunity to live and work in Ecuador! We are also thankful for all the support of WELS. This includes the budget for our housing, the purchase of our vehicle, and funding for the Johnston family to help with the transition. We feel that WELS and the Latin America missions team has helped us have the best landing as possible. We are looking forward to using this strong landing to launch into work and our new life in Ecuador!

Report by Matthew Behmer, missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

Perfect timing

The timing seemed awful. Missionary Joel Sutton and his family and I had only been in our new mission field in Paraguay for a few months. We had just found housing, but it certainly didn’t feel like “home” yet. We were really looking forward to changing that: getting to know our neighbors, traveling a bit in the country, making connections in the community.

Then the pandemic hit. Paraguay´s government issued a “total isolation” policy. We could leave our houses to get food or medicine, but that was about it. So much for our plans of getting established in a new mission field! From our perspective, the timing of the pandemic couldn’t have been much worse.

But God’s timing is always perfect. We were locked in our homes, but so were people all across the world. Many were scared and searching for answers. The Latin America missions team had just rolled out a new, Academia Cristo Bible study app for smartphones. . . and downloads surged. Sign-ups for our online Bible training courses surged too. Zoom classes with 10-20 students before the pandemic were now filled with 40-50. God was reaching more souls with the gospel all over Latin America!

One of those souls was Lester Soto from Managua, Nicaragua (pictured above). He had downloaded our app just after the pandemic hit and signed up for our live classes in April. When I met with him after class one day via Zoom, he admitted that he had been putting off his relationship with God for a long time. But God had used events in his life to lead him to search for the truth, and he found us online. More importantly, his Savior found him. “I was lost,” Lester said. “But now I know Jesus did everything for me. I have a spiritual peace I’ve never had before.” He told me he wanted to join one of our churches. When I said we didn’t have a church in Managua yet, he said he wanted to help start one.

Over the course of the pandemic, Lester was able to take 11 online Bible courses with us. He’s now gathering a group in his home to share with them what he is learning. And he’s not the only one: I could tell you about Eduardo from Bolivia (pictured), José from Ecuador, Benjamín from Colombia, and others—all of whom found us during the pandemic and are now working to plant churches where they live.

It might not always seem like it to us, but God’s timing is always perfect. The Christmas story reminds us of this. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, miles from home, with a barn for their hotel room. That doesn’t seem like the best moment for the Savior to be born! But there in Bethlehem was precisely where and when God had promised it would happen (Micah 5:2). In God’s eyes, the timing was perfect: “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” (Galatians 4:4)

In our case, having just arrived in a new mission field did not seem like the best moment for God to allow the pandemic to happen. But just ask Lester, Eduardo, José, Benjamín, or any of the countless others across the globe that God has used the pandemic to reach or grow with the gospel. I’m sure they’ll all tell you. . . God’s timing couldn’t have been better.

Written by Rev. Abe Degner, world missionary on the Latin America missions team who resides in Asunción, Paraguay. 

Want to learn more about world mission work in Latin America? Visit wels.net/latin-america to learn how Academia Cristo, an online training tool used by the Latin America missions team, is reaching millions of Spanish-speaking people with the gospel.


 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

Mission work in Venezuela

Henry and Tony, pastors of Most Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Medellín, Colombia, made a second visit to Venezuela last month. The primary purpose for their visit was to carry out face-to-face training and encouragement with four Venezuelan Academia Cristo students working to plant churches in two Venezuelan cities.

Rafael, Luis, Egar, and Jackson are Academia Cristo students working to plant confessional Lutheran churches in Venezuela

The crisis in Venezuela has been in the news quite a bit in recent years. A Washington Post article published during Henry and Tony’s visit states that “Some five million Venezuelans have left the country. [This] has refugees in an exodus that mirrors the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria.” The same article states that one-third of the remaining nine million people in Venezuela are struggling to feed themselves.

The realities in neighboring Venezuela are very real to the members a Most Holy Trinity. Venezuelan immigrants are a common sight on the streets of their Colombian city. Some come to stay. Others are just passing through as they look for work and a new life. Most Holy Trinity members gather and give away clothing to Venezuelan refugees passing through. “The Venezuelan immigrants are traveling by foot. Many times their belongings are robbed. We provide them with food and help them obtain free medical attention from a number of nurses,” explains Pastor Henry.

It is encouraging to see how WELS and the Colombian church have been able to partner in this new and growing ministry to Venezuelans. WELS offerings have enabled travel to Venezuela and provided humanitarian relief to people inside the country of Venezuela. The Colombian church sends their leaders on trips to Venezuela (a country currently closed to U.S. citizens) and also completely funds the Medellín ministry to local Venezuelan immigrants.

Pastor Tony of Colombia studying the Bible with Academia Cristo student Rafael in Venezuela

There are real needs in Venezuela and WELS World Missions is working with our Colombian brothers to show Christian love to those who need it. The biggest need we see, however, is the spiritual one. We know that God often uses earthly crisis to draw us to him. Nearly a quarter million Venezuelans follow Academia Cristo on Facebook. This is more than any other country. In the past few weeks, 500 Venezuelans have downloaded the new Academia Cristo mobile app and begun studying in Academia Cristo’s Bible institute training program. Another trip to Venezuela is planned for this summer.

Written by Rev. Mike Hartman, missionary and field coordinator for the Latin America missions team

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

A lot to love and a lot to work on

As we walked out of the shopping mall, Missionary Abe Degner looked at me and said, “There’s a lot to love. . . There’s a lot to work on.”

That pretty much summed up not just the visit we had just made with a potential church planting partner in that mall, but visit after visit we made in Missionary Degner’s first couple weeks on the ground as a missionary in South America.

Missionary Degner with Pablo, an Academia Cristo contact in Paraguay

There was a lot to love. Visit after visit turned up people who had come to us through our Academia Cristo online classes in Paraguay and northern Argentina and had already gathered groups around the Word that they heard in their classes. Humberto’s group in Capiibury had already investigated a church building. Pablo’s group just east of Asuncion had taken a stand for the truth and separated from a group that taught falsely. Carlos in Machagai, Argentina, had a group that had studied the “Key’s and Confession” from the Catechism, and he had a number of other former pastors who had come out of other churches who were searching with him for the truth. In addition to these students who found us online, we visited a group of new Christians in rural Paraguay who were meeting in a mission house built by a WELS congregation in Sarasota, Florida. There was a lot to love.

There was a lot to work on. There were economic struggles threatening to distract from gospel work. There were some major gaps in biblical understanding. Missionary Degner and I constantly discussed how to tip-toe through the minefield that is planting and building churches that are dependent neither on the missionary nor a constant flow of foreign funds.

There is a lot to love. . . There is a lot to work on.

Missionary Degner (left) and Missionary Johnston (right) studying with Carlos, an Academia Cristo contact in Argentina

I think this likely describes not just our work in Paraguay and Argentina, but throughout Latin America. As 2019 comes to a close there is a lot to love, so much to thank God for. Our more than a million Academia Cristo Facebook followers have translated into thousands of opportunities to make disciples who make disciples of others. We have had students in live, online classes from every country in Latin America. In addition to groups we were already working with, this year we saw new, on-the-ground gospel opportunities in Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. By the end of the year and by God’s grace, we will have three teams of two Latin American missionaries established in strategic locations—north (Miami, Florida), center (Quito, Ecuador) and south (Asuncion, Paraguay)—so that we can take advantage of all the opportunities which are being placed before us throughout the region.

There is a lot to love. . . There is a lot to work on.

Although we see things trending in the right direction, not just in the amount of new contacts but also in the growth of groups we have been working with for decades, will we realize our plans to see gospel-focused, biblically-sound churches planting churches throughout Latin America? Will those who have that incomplete understanding of biblical doctrine cast aside false teaching and embrace the truth? Will our new app allow us, as we hope, to better respond to the thousands who are coming to us for biblical instruction? Will our team in Paraguay be able to figure out life in a place where no WELS missionary has gone before?

Our Latin American mission team moves forward, ready to work to answer these questions in 2020 comforted by the fact that we are loved (a lot) by our gracious Lord. Please thank God for all he has given us to love. Please ask that the Lord of the harvest blesses that which we have to work on.

Written by Rev. Andrew Johnston, Missionary for the Latin America missions team

Learn more about mission work in Latin America at wels.net/latin-america.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

The gospel produces fruits… upon fruits

Koilo Vidal lives about a 5 hour drive from Quito, Ecuador, in the city of Quevedo. He has a small farm—about 9 acres of different fruit trees.

I’ve never been to Quevedo, and I’ve not met Koilo face-to-face yet. A few months ago, Koilo signed up for our online courses through Academia Cristo. He connected to the classes twice a week and absolutely loved them. He was so overjoyed about the classes that he said he wanted to send me a gift of fruit. I didn’t think he was serious. . .  but he was! He sent the packages and I picked them up at a distribution center in Quito . . . two boxes filled with 66 lbs of oranges, watermelon, and papaya (pictured above)! What a tasty gift! And from someone I have never met. The gospel produces. . . fruits!

The gospel is producing other fruits in Koilo too. I sent him a digital copy of the Catechism, and he stayed up until the middle of the night studying it. “I just love these classes I’m taking,” he told me, “and I knew from the very first sessions when the teacher kept repeating, ‘Let’s go to the Bible for the answer.’ I knew I was in the right spot.” He told me how the classes were already helping him in his conversations with neighbors. “When my neighbors press me on issues such as tithing, fasting, and other issues, I can defend myself more and more with the Bible. I never knew that before. I also love how the teachers always pray ‘in Jesus’ name’. That way of praying was completely new to me, and I loved the explanation.”

By God’s grace, Koilo continues in the classes. We pray that they be a great benefit for him, his family, and his neighbors.

The gospel produces fruits . . . upon fruits. :)

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, missionary in Latin America

To learn more about world mission work in Latin America, visit wels.net/latin-america.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

Faces of Faith – Sebastian

It was a moment parents dread: an early morning phone call from the hospital.

“Your son has been in an accident. It’s critical. The doctors don’t think he’ll make it. Come right away.”

Sebastian had always struck me as a responsible teen. Respectful, polite, hard-working, active in the church – the kind of child that makes parents proud. One night he and a friend were riding Sebastian’s motorcycle home from a party. A different motorcycle blew through an intersection and struck the vehicle Sebastian was driving. He and the friend riding behind him went flying. Sebastian’s body cushioned his friend’s fall, but the pavement cracked Sebastian’s helmet and caused severe head trauma.

Sebastian’s parents, Henry and Eliana, are good friends of mine. Pastor Henry is a missionary in our sister synod in Medellín, Colombia. He is called to help others start churches in Colombian and Venezuelan cities. I heard of the accident from Henry and immediately left for the hospital. What do you say when a brother in the faith and his family are going through a severe test? We lived in different cities. I was unsure whether Sebastian would be alive when I arrived.

Sebastian presenting at his new church in Ibagué

After hours of travel, I got to see the family and shared my favorite Psalm with them: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord…” – Psalm 121. I assured them, “The Lord is with you. He is watching over you.”

“The first three days were critical,” recalls Pastor Henry. When he arrived at the hospital, Sebastian’s skull was cracked and his brain was visible. “After a few days they disconnected him from the machine to see what would happen.” He began to breathe on his own.

After a week, with a bandaged head, the medical team sent Sebastian home. He spent another month in bed, with his mom serving as his primary care provider. The next months his parents retaught him how to dress, eat, speak, and carry out basic skills.

Prior to the accident, Sebastian was studying to be a motorcycle mechanic. However, the trauma his brain suffered made school impossible. His mind found it hard to focus. Nearly three years passed. No longer a teenager, Sebastian grew more and more frustrated. He felt like a burden to his family. He began to struggle with depression.

Then one week, Pastor Henry was making his regular rounds and dropped in on a mission congregation in Ibagué, Colombia, which is about seven hours away from where he lives. Worship there is held in a hotel. Victor and Paulina work at the hotel and are leaders in the new church. Chatting after church, they mentioned to Pastor Henry that they were looking for someone to help them manage the hotel. “As a joke,” Henry recalls, “I told them, ‘You should hire my son.’” What a surprise when Victor and Paulina made the trip the next week to interview Sebastian for the position!

Arrangements were made, and in March of this year Sebastian moved away from home to live and work at the hotel with Victor and Paulina. “It’s been a huge blessing for everyone,” Pastor Henry says. “Sebastian is able to help start a church and stay close to God.”

Sebastian at his new church in Ibagué

I asked my friend, Henry, if a particular Bible passage brought them comfort during these past three years. “Yes brother, it was the one you read to us during the most difficult moments, Psalm 121.”

When David wrote those words some three thousand years ago, he had no idea how they would comfort a Colombian called worker family during their most difficult challenge. But God knew. Sebastian may never fully recover from the injuries he suffered during that early morning accident, but he can know God is watching over him, just as he watches over all his children.

Written by Missionary Mike Hartman, field coordinator for the Latin America missions team

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

How great is the need?

No, you are not looking at people wearing purple Ku Klux Klan robes.

It’s Good Friday in the center of Quito, Ecuador. Two thousand people line up for a procession that winds through the streets from noon to 3pm. Almost all of them wear purple. Some carry huge wooden crosses with beams the size of telephone poles. Some carry statues. Some strap cactus crosses to their bare backs. Others whip themselves or have others whip them. Others clamp chains to their feet and drag them along.

Why are they doing this? I asked a lady who had participated in 11 of these events. She eagerly told me that there are many reasons someone might choose to participate. You may have some big sins to pay for or you might want to ask God a really big favor. In that case, you would need to participate 7 years in a row.

I was sad.

Good Friday in Quito, Ecuador

She actually said “pay for your sins.” All days are bad days to try to pay for your sins, but the irony of trying to do so on Good Friday was hard to hear. Equally disturbing was the attempt to convince God to answer prayers on the day when Jesus won for us complete access to our loving Father who always is eager to hear us. If one thing was certain from my observation of this Good Friday procession, it is this: many hurting people who are desperate for relief live here.

About halfway through the procession I saw a young woman who had been carrying a cross. She had collapsed by the side of the road. A team of Red Cross paramedics was attending her.

I was sad.

I thought about all the reasons the girl may have chosen to carry that cross. I thought about the guilt and the deep desire she had. She wanted something so badly. She was hurting. Even worse, I imagine her failed attempt will probably heap even more guilt and shame on her.

I was sad.

I wish that I could have been able to talk to her. I wish I could sit down at a coffee shop and just listen. To her and to all of them. I wish I could have had the opportunity to talk about Jesus. But at that moment, I couldn’t. Not with her and not with many others. I didn’t have the opportunity.

But maybe I’ll have the opportunity someday.

Traveling around Quito (not to mention all the rest of Latin America), I pass many apartment buildings. “How can I get in them? How can I talk to those people?” I ask myself. In most instances, I can’t.

I might not be entering, but the Word is. Through social media, thousands upon thousands of people learn about Jesus and have opportunity to sign up for online classes (or on-the-ground classes in some cases like Quito). Then I get to talk to them. Then I get to tell them about Jesus.

I am happy. The Holy Spirit is working.

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador 

To learn more about mission work in Latin America, visit wels.net/latin-america.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

Swords and Selfies

Less than thirty years after Martin Luther’s death, in the town of Riobamba in the Spanish territory known as the viceroyalty of Peru, and at the foot of what was then considered the world’s highest mountain, a man simply known as “the Lutheran” arrived. The story goes that he was suspected of being Lutheran because he talked about being saved by Jesus without a word about the Virgin Mary or any of the saints.

Coat of Arms in Riobamba

“The Lutheran” didn’t last long in Riobamba. The townspeople’s suspicions quickly turned into hate, and then into action. With the fervor that accompanied the festival of Saint Peter, the man who represented salvation by grace alone was dragged into the town square in front of the cathedral and hacked to death with swords. When word of the action reached Philip the IV of Spain, the king he was so impressed with the enthusiastic execution carried out by the people of Riobamba that he granted them the great honor of a royal coat of arms for their town. The year was 1575.

443 years later, fellow Lutheran missionary Nathan Schulte and I walked into the town square of the same village (now in the country of Ecuador). We saw the same facade of the church in front of which “the Lutheran” had been executed (the rest of the building was destroyed in an earthquake, but the ornately carved stone facade that presided over the martyrdom in 1575 still stands today). High on the municipal building at the center of the town’s coat of arms, a Lutheran face looks out over the square with two swords pointed towards it.

And we took selfies.

But I didn’t go all the way to Ecuador for a selfie. I made the trip (I live with my family in Mexico) to take part in a little of the work there in Ecuador and join Nathan and Phil Strackbein (the other missionary who lives in Ecuador) in a full day of planning of how the precious message of salvation by grace alone would be taken to the people of Ecuador. Our missionaries have only been in Ecuador for six months, but, so far, they are being met with more open doors than swords.

Carlos Fernandez and his wife Graciela study the catechism with Missionary Johnston in Argentina

My trip last month not only took me to Ecuador, but also to Paraguay, Argentina, and southern Mexico. At those stops I met people who, as they take classes online or in-person, were sharing it with others. I spent two entire days studying with a man in northern Argentina who, at the end of my last day, showed me the lot he owns where he plans to build a church and where the pure gospel will be shared. I visited the humble home of a man in southern Mexico who filled his small living room with family and friends so that we could talk about Jesus.

As I had the privilege to move freely and study the Bible with people in Latin America, I couldn’t help but think of “the Lutheran” of Riobamba, perhaps the first Lutheran in this part of the world. How could I complain about staying in an accurately-priced $13-a-night hotel room or spending half a day in a Paraguayan bus station when I compared what I had to go through to those who have gone before? By God’s grace, 501 years after the Reformation, we have an open door for the gospel in places where once we did not. Through online classes, on-the-ground missionaries, occasional visits and, above all else, by the power of the life-changing gospel, people are telling people, disciples are making disciples who make disciples, and the name of Jesus is being shared in Latin America.

Written by: Rev. Andrew Johnston, Missionary in Latin America

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

Gospel Networking in Latin America

Sorry, I know “networking” went from being a trendy word to cliché a while ago… but we’re not talking social networking or business networking. We’re talking about GOSPEL networkingIt’s connecting people to the gospel and to each other as much as possible. These partnerships mean we can get more done together than we could as isolated, separate ministries.

Yes, it’s true that many of the connections start online here in Latin America. Academia Cristo has 1.1 million Facebook followers. 1,800 people have asked to receive Bible-based training to share Jesus in the past three months (June-August 2018)… but the end goal is not a virtual, online church. The goal is to see more people trained to share Jesus wherever they’re living. This social and digital networking leads to on-the-ground ministry – aka local gospel networking.

Gospel networking in Venezuela

Ideally, that eventually means new churches are planted with Seminary-trained pastors in worship buildings that serve as tremendous blessings. We pray that gospel networking leads to that.

But in many cases, it doesn’t start like that. A guy finds himself the de facto spiritual leader of a few families. He works a full-time job. They meet wherever they can to study the Bible, pray, praise, and enjoy a meal together as Christian brothers and sisters. No budget, no church building, no ordained pastor. Is that a church? Trained by Academia Cristo, he then passes this gospel message and training on to his group. They take that message of Jesus’ sweet love out to their ‘colonias’ (neighborhoods). The gospel is being proclaimed, taught, and connections are being made for the kingdom. Is it okay if gospel networking leads to that?

From L to R – Jackson, Henry, and Tonny

In August, two Lutheran missionaries traveled to Venezuela for ten days to assist and advise Venezuelan pastor Jackson on the mission opportunities there. Only this time the missionaries are not American WELS missionaries – they’re Colombian: Tonny and Henry. Venezuela is a complicated place right now… There are stores with no food. Want a taxi ride?  You need a suitcase full of cash, since the money there is almost worthless (if you can find money at all). Most ATM’s in Venezuela are empty right now. Transporting ten pounds of food or more is considered “drug-trafficking.” Missionaries saw state police rob people of basic necessities – flour, food, etc… The three-man mission team went almost two days without eating. Pastor Jackson tries to break up a dispute and a guy draws a pistol. Why would Jackson, Henry, and Tonny get in the middle of that hot mess?

Gospel networking. The gospel of Jesus Christ.

People are hungry for something solid. When they meet Bible-based, Confessional Lutheran teaching, they want to connect their own network of people to that treasure. The chain of disciples continues. Pastor Jackson has a gospel network now, consisting of several groups that he is training and influencing via the internet and visiting in-person whenever possible.

This week in Academia Cristo ¡En Vivo! (Christ Academy Live), our online leadership training program, we have over 200 people participating in live online courses from 21 different countries.  With many of them, we say, “Who knows where this will lead?” But we trust that God’s Word will not return to him empty.

Gospel networking in Venezuela

In Guanajuato, a small city in central Mexico, Academia Cristo Facebook publicity grabs people’s attention to find those who want to be part of a church plant that only studies the Bible. Two families turns into seven families pretty quickly in Mexico. Why? People hear the gospel of eternal life in Jesus and want their family and friends to know about it – gospel networking on a local level.

In Quito, Ecuador, missionaries partnered with WELS members through short-term mission groups (WELS Mission Journeys) to launch a Christian Training Center and make initial on-the-ground gospel connections in the area.

Latino leaders meet to talk international Seminary-training. Can we do this work better together across borders in Latin America?

Gospel networking.

Gospel networking, both digital and local, leads to more people to heaven and the eternal network where we will be forever connected to our Savior and to each other. That’s what we’re doing in Latin America. Thank you for your prayers and support, brothers and sisters in WELS.

So just a thought for you… It’s pretty great, the clear gospel message we have as Christians and as Lutherans. Wouldn’t it be awesome to try something like Academia Cristo to reach the almost two billion English-speakers on the planet, most of whom live outside the U.S.?

Jesus said he would be lifted up, and he would draw people in to himself. It’s fun to see Jesus keep his promises.

Written by: Rev. Joel Sutton, Missionary for the Latin America missions team

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

Academia Cristo

Academia Cristo (Christ Academy) is a multi-faceted effort of the Latin America missions team which seeks to 1) make disciples in Latin America by sharing the message of God’s grace with as many people as possible, 2) identify and train potential leaders, and 3) encourage those leaders to make disciples who plant churches. The Latin America missions team uses social media to promote the Academia Cristo mobile app and website throughout Latin America.

The Academia Cristo training program is divided into three tiers:

  1. The mobile app: The Academia Cristo app offers four self-led courses at the Bible Information Class level of study. The last course in this tier focuses on training students to share what they’ve learned with others. Students must complete all four courses before they are able to sign up for live classes.
  2. Discipleship 1: Students work through 13 Bible Institute level classes that are taught live online by a WELS missionary or national partner. At this level, a large emphasis is placed on gathering a group of people to share the gospel message.
  3. Discipleship 2: Students who complete the Discipleship 1 tier then move onto Discipleship 2 where they take advanced Bible institute level classes, still taught live online by a WELS missionary or national partner. Students at this level are actively sharing the gospel message with a group of people and are in doctrinal agreement with WELS. They are also matched with a WELS missionary or national partner mission counselor and receive face-to-face visits.

Learn more at academiacristo.com.

At home in Mexico

My husband Jorge is from Huamantla, a city of 50,000 at the foot of a volcano called La Malinche, where every year two dozen bulls thunder through the streets, and artisans cover six miles of local thoroughfares with elaborate carpets made of flowers and colored sawdust.

I am from pleasant small-town Wisconsin, that beautiful green country of cows and cornfields and cold winters, where bratwurst has been elevated to an art form and Friday night fish fries and the Packer games are considered sacred traditions.

The story of how we met is something only God could have arranged.

Our paths crossed for the first time in the arid industrial city of Torreón in northern Mexico. Little did we know that this was the beginning of a sojourn from urban metropolises to dusty rural roads and back again.

Jorge grew up in a Catholic family but came into contact with the Lutheran church as a teen, and eventually became a member. At the urging of his pastor, he decided to begin pastoral studies. This choice led him to Torreón, where the seminary was then located. In the meantime, I was studying to become a Spanish teacher at Martin Luther College. Word came that there was an opportunity to teach English in Mexico through WELS Kingdom Workers. Very interested to be immersed in a Latin American country and at the same time use my gifts to help the local church, I applied and shortly after, was accepted. Where in Mexico was I headed? You guessed it: Torreón.

Jorge and I were friends right off the bat. We visited all the museums and parks Torreón had to offer. He introduced me to some strange new foods. I may have asked him one too many questions about Spanish. Before a year had gone by, we were engaged. After finishing college (me) and seminary (Jorge) we got married in the beautiful colonial city of Puebla. Jorge was assigned to serve in Mahahual, a remote beach town six hours south of Cancun. It was a charming and tranquil place to live, sandwiched between the jungle and the sea. God blessed us with a little girl while we served there. Several years later, Jorge accepted a call to serve in city of León, Guanajuato, where we currently live. The changes were drastic; we traveled 1126 miles to our new home, from sea-level to nearly 6000 feet above sea-level, from a tropical to a semiarid climate, from the Caribbean coastline to the Sierra Madre mountain chain.

Folks often wonder what is like for me to live in Mexico, after having grown up elsewhere. Though perhaps cliché, life is slower here. You can spend a morning meandering through the town plaza, listening to organ grinders and feeding the pigeon flocks. At the same time, you can spend months trying to get one piece of paperwork registered by the local government.

As newlyweds, we traveled with only three suitcases and a few boxes of books to our name. Though we still live with very little by American standards, we daily witness people with much less. This is humbling; the abundance in the United States is a blessing I can no longer take for granted. To all of us, on both sides of the border, our Father sends us the manna of food, of friends and opportunities. He gives us so many gifts, Himself above all.

We live very deeply in the culture, as a typical Mexican family would. Most of my day is spent talking and working in Spanish. The experiences God has given me are beyond what my younger self could have imagined, from making chileatole (a savory corn and chili pepper soup) and tortillas with my mother-in-law, to giving birth in a rustic cabin because there were no hospitals nearby. I didn’t realize when we married the magnitude of the change I was embracing. I find the differences to be even more striking as I watch our daughter grow up. She chatters away in Spanish, eats tamales and thinks every party has a piñata. Mexico runs through her veins.

This life can, at times, be lonely. There are cultural moments in which I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. Years pass without seeing any family members face to face. I miss births and deaths, weddings and graduations, often communicating from a cramped internet café. I mourn the milestones missed, and yet this serves to remind me that I am really homesick for heaven, that far-off Country. All of these places we have lived – Torreon, Mahahual, León – these are all temporary cities as we continue our sojourn home. One day we will be together again at His feet.

As we lay down our roots here and yet keep our eyes heavenward, we have confidence that Christ will keep us. Whether He shields us from heartache or permits sorrows to enter our lives, we shall not fear, for our God is good and He is in control. I confess with the Psalmist, ¨The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.¨

Kerry Pamperin de Briones, Mexico