Hope in Houston

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

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

Current worship space for Hope Lutheran Church

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

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

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

The original Church of Christ building in 1927

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

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

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All over the map

Ministry in Thailand is…all over the map.

In January, I became the Asia One Team champion for the ministry in Thailand.  Part of my role is to catch up on the history of ministry in Thailand.  One way to describe Thailand’s past ministry: three-tracked.

In the past 30 years, the WELS helped start three different ministries with three different focuses in Thailand.  One ministry focused on ethnic Thai people, another on Hmong people, another on various people groups around Northeastern Thailand.  As they focused on different people, they focused on different regions in Thailand.  Hence, the ministries were all over the map, literally and figuratively.

Unfortunately in those 30 years, some ministries fell off the map.  Support changed.  Circumstances changed.  Ministries changed.  Thailand also suffered from this change when some ministry fell off the map.  The devil worked hard to push the entire ministry in Thailand off the map.  But, God is good and he kept ministry on the map.  He kept it on the map through the dedication of many leaders, both local and missionary.  Therefore, ministry in Thailand continues today.

But ministry is not just about the past, but also the future!  In the past year, the leaders in Thailand officially decided to pool their knowledge and start working together.  All three-ministry tracks have connected and joined.  The three strands have woven together.  After two conferences of discussion, they started mapping out a plan for ministry going forward in Thailand.  Their main purpose: to strengthen each other in faith, build unity, and spread the gospel.  Their name (translated into English): the Lutheran Christian Confederation.

The Confederation asked the Asia One Team to help support their ministry.  So, the Asia One Team continues to find ways to support.  The Asia One Team supports conferences to encourage and build each other up in God’s Word.  It supports the growth of the local leaders in God’s Word.  It connects local ministry to other resources, such as Multi-Language Productions and Christian Aid and Relief.  Lord willing, the Asia One Team will help the Lutheran Christian Confederation build up local leaders to then add new leaders.

As the various groups in the Confederation use the same ministry road map, Lord willing, he will put more ministries all over the map.  As this happens, the more his Word can lighten the dark places off our map.  After all, that’s what a map is for, to see where we have been and to see where we can be going.  A map helps us see where the light is and where it needs to go.

May the Lord guide the ministry of the Lutheran Christian Confederation and the Asia One Team as they spread God’s Word all over the map.

Written by Missionary Mark Zondag, Asia One Team champion in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

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Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus

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

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

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

The worship facility at Our Savior Lutheran Church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Summer quarter in Sweden

“To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1).

That’s the way James begins his powerful little book. The apostle wrote to encourage God’s people and to spur them on to renewed service.

That’s exactly why European Summer Quarter is so important. WELS has a dozen sister synods in Europe. The brothers and sisters in these small church bodies are often scattered. Congregations tend to be small. It’s easy to feel isolated. Two weeks of Bible study and fellowship can lift spirits for healthy ministry.

Pastor Holger teaching

This year twelve pastors, seminary students, and church leaders gathered at St. Mark’s congregation in Ljungby, Sweden. These representatives from seven different countries came to dig deeper into God’s word, to grow in personal faith, and rededicate their hearts to service. During the first week, Pastor Holger Weiss, from Germany, led a course on Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. In these letters the Holy Spirit speaks especially to pastors:

  • Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2),
  • And the things you have heard me say … entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

Missionary Luke Wolfgramm teaches the class; included in the class in Missionary Conifer Berg

During the second week, Missionary Luke Wolfgramm led practical meditations on the life and ministry of Elijah. Participants came to appreciate James’ observation: “Elijah was a man just like us” (James 5:2). God’s great prophet faced temptations and struggles remarkably similar to contemporary pressures in post-Christian Europe. Nevertheless, the unchanging LORD equipped Elijah to serve his 7,000 elect. The same mighty God remains faithful to his people today.

Everyone enjoyed the studies, but nothing can compete with the fellowship participants enjoyed outside of class time. Evenings and weekends gave plenty of opportunity for discussions, collaboration, and mutual encouragement. Members of St. Mark’s congregation also enjoyed Sunday sermons from three guest preachers during Summer Quarter.

Hearty spiritual food and unhurried contact with brothers and sisters strengthens European fellowship and reinvigorates zeal to proclaim Christ. Please pray that God would continue to bless pastors and people through ongoing Bible study together.

Written by Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary on the Europe One Team, based in Leipzig, Germany.

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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.

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The gospel in Garden Grove…in three languages!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In three languages!

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

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Brats and building bridges for Jesus!

Sometimes you just need to be creative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fishing in French in Cameroon

Fresh fish! Look at these fellas and the catch of the day! For one week in the middle of June, two One Africa Team missionaries got to work by the sea in Cameroon with a group of church leaders, not only in English but also in French. As far as anyone can tell, this may have been the first time WELS World Missions has provided in-person training in Africa in French!

Sweating in Douala
Missionary Dan Kroll, who has many years of experience living in Cameroon, Africa, and I went to the port city of Douala, and the church leaders traveled from their inland homes to meet with us there. Douala is a dank, green city on the Gulf of Guinea—and basically on the Equator. Douala is Cameroon’s biggest city and a major port. Where we stayed was right next to where the huge freighter ships docked and there was plenty of fresh fish to eat—even huge, spicy prawns! We got so much fish on the street that the sellers got to know us. . . and rival sellers would tussle over us, trying to physically direct us toward their stalls.

Fish for Souls
But the real reason Missionary Kroll and I were there was not to eat, but to catch fish. More specifically, we were there to help train some local fishermen: a group of leaders from Holy Trinity Lutheran Synod, whose calling from Jesus—like each of us Christians—was to fish for people, not necessarily for fish.

Holy Trinity is not yet in church fellowship with WELS. They are just beginning their journey of exploring the road to church fellowship. This starts with an emphasis on doctrine—specifically, a comprehensive overview of doctrine like you would find in a Bible information course at a church in North America. I’ve known French since I was a teenager and would read Le Monde newspaper, listen to Radio France Internationale, and collect French films in college.

I am thankful that, back in 2013, the Lord called me at my Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduation to serve as a pastor for nine years in Orléans, Ontario, which is on the eastern side of Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. Ottawa is the largest bilingual city in the country. While I was there, seeing and hearing French every day, I soaked up a lot of detailed vocabulary, which is coming in handy serving in Africa, where 167 million people speak French.

Teaching God’s Word in French

When Missionary Kroll and I were out an about in Douala, we both got a lot of exposure to hearing French. French is the language of the city of Douala. Seeing the need, WELS Multi-Language Productions (MLP) gave us permission to create my favorite Bible information course—Basic Bible Christianity, by Pastor Jon Buchholz—in French, and use it in our training workshops. We spent time with our new friends in Cameroon focusing in on such aspects of doctrine, such as: communion, baptism, law and gospel, the history of the Bible, and confession, among others.

It is still a new and fresh experience for us to use French in our ministry. It was also a new and fresh experience for our friends from Holy Trinity Lutheran Synod to explore biblical doctrine systematically with a Bible information course presented both in French and in English. We plan to meet with these very same men at all our upcoming workshops so that we can forge personal relationships and make progress as we grow deeper in our studies and our planning together. Missionary Kroll and I hope we grow stronger in our use of French with each visit we make to Cameroon, and we hope the leaders from Holy Trinity will also grow stronger in their understanding and use of God’s Word—which sounds sweet in any language.

Written by Rev. Keegan Dowling, world missionary on the Africa One Team and living in Lusaka, Zambia

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Sometimes, It’s just clear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rivers of living water will flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peace like a River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Faces of Faith – Veronica

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

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

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

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

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

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Faces of Faith – Michaela

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

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

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

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

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

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Faces of Faith – David

David is a freshman at the University of Arizona who is majoring in Biomedical Engineering. He was born into a Lutheran family and has been part of the Lutheran church since he was very young. As he grew older, he reflected on his faith and investigated parts of it, finding that it was an integral part of his life.

When he started applying for college, he explored WELS Tucson Campus Ministry (TCM) because of its familiarity with his home church, Shepherd of the Hills, in Tucson, Ariz. He realized that in college there are a lot fewer people that share the same faith, some even outright deny it. Therefore, he wanted a place to share his faith and worship with others. He feels that TCM has allowed him to study God’s Word in an environment that is supportive and kind. He is also a student assistant at TCM and he helps plan events to bring people into the faith.

One personal experience he had that helped him as he grew older was attending the LYFE group (high school youth group) at his home church where Jonathan Rhodes, a LYFE group leader, was a role model for him and remained a role model even during David’s college years. He hopes to grow stronger in his faith and remain a member of TCM next year as well.

Written by Rev. Tim Patoka, campus pastor at WELS Tucson Campus Ministry.

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Breaking down barriers

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has treated over 70,000 patients a year and has been operating in Mwembezhi, Zambia, since 1961 and in Malawi since 1970. The goal of CAMM was to work side-by-side with the missionaries. CAMM would assist in the physical needs of the people and the missionaries would preach God’s love and nurture the spiritual needs. When the clinics opened, the idea of nationalizing the clinics seemed incomprehensible, but was still part of the charter when CAMM was originally created.

The missionaries, staff ,and the CAMM stateside board made nationalization a reality in 2007, when the Lutheran Mission Rural Health Center in Zambia was transitioned to being fully run by national staff under the direction of a chief clinical officer. Since that time, the clinic has run efficiently and even dedicated an additional clinic building in 2015. Patients continue to rely on the clinic in Zambia for wellness visits, immunization, and labor and delivery.

During the pandemic, our American clinic staff, living in Malawi, were sent home for their safety. It was during that time that the CAMM stateside board realized how reliable our Malawian staff were and that American staff were no longer needed in Malawi on a full-time basis. Careful planning and proper trainings were completed in the months that followed. In 2022, God blessed CAMM with a successful Malawian nationalization! The Malawian clinics are now fully run by national staff under the direction of a stateside field director. What an amazing blessing!

According to Violet Chikwatu, Lutheran Mobile nurse-in-charge, there have been many positives seen in the clinic since nationalization. First, communication is no longer a barrier between the people in the village and the nurse-in-charge. The patients are able to fully express their feelings and symptoms about their conditions since the language is the same between patient and provider. No longer does the patient have to explain the condition multiple times to different people. Another positive impact that continues to grow is the community is looking after and maintaining the clinic property. Through this, the community feels they have a sense of ownership to protect the clinic property and ensure the day-to-day clinic operations run smoothly.

Since the clinics operate fully on donations and grants, CAMM wants to ensure the nationalization of Malawi and Zambia clinics continues to maintain Christian values and operate at its fullest potential with good efficiency. To aid in operation, our stateside based field director, Gary Evans, provides ongoing leadership and financial management. He also travels to Malawi and Zambia regularly to meet with the staff and medical councils, address issues and confirm all medical and clinic equipment, and ensure that the overall properties are being taken care of and maintained.

It has been almost a year since the clinics have been run fully by Malawian staff and over 16 years since Zambia was nationalized. We continue to see God’s blessings through the clinic, staff, and the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) pastors at work. Many bodies and souls are being nourished through the work of CAMM. May God continue to bless CAMM and the possibility of future clinic sites in different areas of Africa.

Written by Angela Sievert, Public Relations for Central Africa Medical Mission.

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Faces of Faith – Harry

HoonSik, Harry Jo, graduated from Martin Luther College a few weeks ago with a degree in elementary education. He was fully qualified to serve anywhere, and he made himself available to serve anywhere.

His connection to WELS began in 2008 when Mr. Jay Wendland, the principal of Immanuel Lutheran School in Salem, Ore., came to Seoul, Korea, to tell people about the Christian education that his school offered. HoonSik’s mom decided her son should attend. He was in fifth grade at the time.

Harry at Martin Luther College graduation in May 2023.

At Immanuel Lutheran School, HoonSik, better known as Harry, learned about Jesus, was baptized, and eventually confirmed. His faith continued to grow at his time at Evergreen Lutheran High School in Tacoma, Wash. Then, in his senior year, Harry decided to pursue public ministry at Martin Luther College, a decision supported by his parents and his Oregon host family, the Wassers.

While in the United States, Harry embraced some of the American lifestyle and interests. He loves American sports and culture. He played on the MLC football team. He took a cross-country trek to further explore this place he calls home. “Montana took forever,” he always says.

But Harry still stayed in touch with his Korean roots. He cheered for the Korean soccer team in the World Cup. He remains fluent in both Korean and English. And his fiancé, who he is marrying this month, is also Korean.

With all of those interests and abilities, what would be the best place for Harry Jo to serve? His assignment, his very first call, is to serve as the 5th-6th grade teacher at Jerusalem Lutheran School in Morton Grove, Ill., where there are many Korean immigrant parents who have enrolled their children.

Jerusalem’s principal is Chiseon Kim, who came from Korea himself to train for service in WELS. “Our dream is to have a vibrant Korean ministry here at Jerusalem,” says Chiseon. And with the blessing of the Lord, Jerusalem is well on their way to seeing the fulfillment of that dream.

Written by Rev. Paul Prange, Administrator for Ministerial Education and Chairman of the Joint Mission Council. 

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God works through the big and the small

Big is good, but…bigger is not necessarily better.

Easter was about a month and a half ago, and maybe you saw advertisements that looked something like this.

“10,000 Easter eggs, packed with candy and fun!”
“40 thousand Easter eggs!”
“100,000 Easter eggs for your kids to pick up!”
“Thousands of eggs dropped out of a helicopter!”
“Easter bunny skydiving into egg hunt!”

Maybe you and your church reached out into your community via a massive Easter event, and you got to talk with people and love people who would never profess to be interested in learning more about Jesus, let alone open the door of your church’s sanctuary on Easter or any other day.

If so, wonderful! Praise God!

Or, maybe, seeing headlines like those put a pit in your stomach and made you and your church feel at least a little inadequate. Maybe like you’re not doing enough, like you’re less than.

First, there is no enough. We can never be enough. Our identity, as souls loved by Jesus, is and always will be enough. Secondly, comparing your church to other churches is not the name of the game, nor is it beneficial to anyone.

And lastly, a big event can be wonderful, but. . . bigger is not necessarily better.

Within a 10-mile radius of our ministry center, there were over a dozen other big Easter egg events advertised. But 16 months ago, a seemingly small thing happened, a family with three young girls attended worship for the first time. It seemed like a small thing, but following worship that day in January 2022, we had planned an open forum to talk through a ministry plan and brainstorm new ideas. It happened that the family, who was there for the first time, decided stay for the open forum, and they decided to speak at the open forum.

And it just so happened that their idea was a special needs Easter egg hunt. Their former church, of a different denomination in a different state, had held one previously. We looked —there wasn’t one anywhere near us!

Long story short, for two Easters now, we’ve hosted an Easter egg hunt for children with special needs—children with Down Syndrome, autism, and other needs. Children who would not be able to be at an event with hundreds or thousands of other people. But a few dozen? That’s just right.

This year 12 kids came, from five families, and it started unexpectedly down pouring five minutes before the event was supposed to start (one can never trust even the best weather apps). Regardless, we still got to have fantastic conversations, show love, and one of the unchurched families attended worship the very next day and became interested in taking our Foundations course to learn more about God’s grace.

100,000 eggs? A helicopter? No, not exactly, but God works through the big and the small. Whether your church is big or small, your events are large or small scale, God promises to work whatever he wills. And whatever he wills is always best.

So be confident and joyful in his promises, whether your ministry seems big or small. God always works in just the right way, and his grace is always good and always working.

Written by Rev. Nathan Loersch, home missionary at Illumine Lutheran Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

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What goes around, comes around

As a WELS pastor, I have been blessed with three overseas calls. In between stateside parishes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, I served in Indonesia, Bulgaria, and Indonesia again. The first two deployments included moves with our children. On those occasions, I vividly remember my wife, Connie, and I informing our parents that we were taking their grandchildren and moving around the world.

As “Third Culture Kids,” our three daughters have carried their overseas experiences as children into adulthood. The international travel and lifestyle bug especially bit our youngest, Grace. During her college years, she volunteered with Kingdom Workers, which landed her in Brazil and Mexico. Later, as a young wife, she and her husband, Jeremy Seeger, spent time with Friends Network in East Asia. While there, they also visited Connie and me in Indonesia. Their return to the U.S. was via Bulgaria, where they connected with friends from Grace’s childhood.

Fast-forward to early 2023, when Facebook Messenger chimed on my wife’s iPad. It was Grace and Jeremy. They informed us that Jeremy, a WELS teacher, had accepted a call to serve as a Tech Missionary on the Asia One Team. They soon will be moving with their daughters to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Although retired from the full-time ministry, I am still serving in a part-time capacity as the WELS friendly counselor to Indonesia. This means that my son-in-law and I will be serving on the Asia One Team at the same time! As the sun sets on my time with WELS World Missions, Connie and I feel truly blessed to see it rising on Jeremy, Grace, and their daughters as they prepare to join the Asia One Team in Thailand. Like all our WELS workers at home and abroad, they have answered the Lord’s call to serve by humbly saying, “Here am I. Send me!”

The Bey family in Indonesia in 1992

As we begin retreating into full retirement, we will be joining the ranks of those who also serve as they sit and wait prayerfully for the furlough visits of their children and grandchildren. As we do so, any number of clichés come to mind: “The shoe is on the other foot!” “Like mother, like daughter!” “It takes one to know one!” Or perhaps the most fitting, “What goes around, comes around!” Just as we took our children around the world so that we could live and serve in places initially foreign to us, our son-in-law and daughter will be taking their children around the world to Asia. Now, we are experiencing emotions that our parents must have felt so many years ago when we announced that we were taking their grandchildren around the world to live in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.

Together with so many other Christian parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, friends and loved ones, we give thanks to our gracious God and Savior for raising up a new generation of called workers who are willing to go wherever the good Lord calls them. We place them solely into his loving hands and under his watchful eye as we pray for their safety and health, and for their spiritual well-being.

To Jeremy, Grace, and their daughters, and to all our families in fields across the globe, allow me to say, “Thank you for your service, for your ministry!” As you travel around the world to do the work to which the Spirit has called you, we pray that these benedictory words of Solomon might always fill your hearts and minds: “May the Lord our God be with us, just as he was with our fathers” (1 Kings 8:57). You will be in our thoughts and prayers continually. But of far greater importance is the fact that you will always be held securely in the arms of Jesus. Soli Deo Gloria!

Written by Rev. Gregory Bey, WELS friendly counselor to Indonesia 

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It’s not about the jars

A pastor who is much smarter than I am once said that planting a mission church comes down to “the man, the mission, and the moment.” How are things looking for our new church in Canton, Ga.? The moment seems right. Our county has grown over 400 percent in the last 30 years and the population of Canton itself is projected to grow by 25 percent over the next 10 years. That’s a ton of people who will be looking for a new church home or who have never even heard the good news about Jesus.

Everything appears to be lining up for the mission, too. By the grace of God, Christ the Rock is blessed with a launch team of 25 people of all different ages from all different kinds of backgrounds, who are willing to share what it means to build on Christ the Rock with our growing community. And when 70 percent of the people in our area are unchurched or left churched, it’s a tremendous blessing to have mission-minded Christians ready to go with that mission in front of them!

It’s when we get to that last one, “the man”, that’s when things get a little sticky. Because who am I? What do I bring to the table? How can I accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished to get a new church off the ground? The moment and the mission might be right, but, man…a lot of times I feel ill-equipped. Like I’m the weak link in the “man, mission, moment” mantra.

Maybe that’s okay, though. What was it Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4? “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. . . we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Paul, the greatest missionary ever, his reminder was it’s not about the jars. . . it’s about Jesus. A clay pot is so fragile. It’s temporary, non-descript. It is so not the center of attention! It’s what’s inside the clay jar. . . that’s the real focus. That’s the treasure! If you make mission work all about the jar of clay instead of the treasure of Jesus inside, then you are going to wrestle with feeling fragile and inadequate.

But thanks be to our Savior, who transforms us into clay jars with the greatest treasure the world has ever seen inside of us. The treasures of forgiveness, life, and freedom through faith in what Jesus did for you and me. That good news comforts and strengthens us as we carry out our mission. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Now I am by no means an expert when it comes to pottery, but I do know that words like “pressed on all sides” “persecuted” and “struck down” don’t sound like good things when you’re talking about something fragile. Then you notice Paul says we are “not crushed” or “in despair” or “abandoned” or “ destroyed”. That can only be possible if someone is taking care of the jar. The glory of the gospel we carry is that Jesus loves us enough to fill us up with this good news and he holds us tight in his arms. He is our strength when things get tough.

The moment is right. The mission is clear. The man. . . is just a clay jar. But it was never about the jar. It’s all about Jesus.

Written by Rev. Cale Mead, a home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Canton, Ga.

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Back home in Asia

It was May 2008 – 15 years ago. I sat in the auditorium of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for assignment day. My name was read, “Jonathan Bare, Graduate Mission Associate – East Asia.” By the middle of the next month, I had been commissioned and was on a plane to Asia. Asia became my new home, the place my wife Kim and I would meet (she was serving there as a Friends Network missionary) and get married, where our son Josiah would be born, and where we’d serve until taking a call back to our new home in the U.S. in 2016.

Fast forward seven years. In January this year, my family moved “back home” to a new home in Asia. My current call is to serve as the president of Asia Lutheran Seminary and the Integrator of the Asia One Team. Before my arrival, Asia Lutheran Seminary was asked to transition from being a seminary for only East Asia to being a regional seminary for all of Asia. To facilitate that pivot, my family and I are stationed in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which serves as the hub of the Asia One Team.

So, what’s it like to be “back home” in Asia? First off, many things have changed.

There’s the obvious – my family situation has changed. When I moved to East Asia in 2008, I was single. An international move meant boxing up a few belongings that would stay in my parents’ basement, packing two suitcases, and getting on a plane. Now Josiah is ten and we have a six-year old daughter, Elina. Moving meant giving away trailer loads of stuff, packing up a few dozen boxes that would be stored, selling vehicles, and finding a way to get 12 suitcases to the airport (not including our carry-ons). Moving meant tearful goodbyes to family, friends, and coworkers and finding a new house, a new school, a new car. . . the list goes on and on. In the process, God taught us to be patient and flexible every step of the way. He still teaches us that a bit more every day, it seems. Moving “back home” with a family means a daily resetting of expectations, working through sadness over the loss of friends, and figuring out new lives in Thailand.

The team has changed. Missionaries have come and gone – some to new calls or retirement in the U.S., and a few, home to heaven. East Asia was its own field in 2008. Now all of Asia is served by one WELS team of missionaries. The Asia One Team serves over 16 different countries with a unified vision for reaching out and serving all of Asia. The work of the team is divided into three main branches: Explore, this includes following up on new opportunities and expansions. A second branch is Asia Lutheran Seminary, which coordinates the training and equipping of leaders throughout Asia. Finally, support, which provide the tools and expertise our missionaries and our sister churches can use to carry out their work. It’s a growing team too – this year alone, two new missionaries have already accepted calls to join us. God willing, by the end of this year we’ll welcome three more to their new home in Asia!

Asia Lutheran Seminary has changed. When I first arrived, Asia Lutheran Seminary was focused on training in Hong Kong. That expanded to East Asia and our first cohort of East Asia students graduated in 2016. Since that time, Asia Lutheran Seminary became a fully-accredited, Master of Divinity-granting seminary serving all of East Asia, and now Asia Lutheran Seminary is pivoting to serve all of Asia (all while continuing to focus on Hong Kong and East Asia). We have initial plans in place to establish a regional branch of Asia Lutheran Seminary in Chiang Mai. We’ve also created a Regional Theological Education Program within the seminary to assist with meeting the needs of our sister churches throughout Asia. And in addition to all those changes, I came in and am now the president of these efforts – humbling, to be sure.

But not everything has changed, this is still home – and it’s good to be “back home.” We know it’s home because it’s the place that God has called us to be. He has placed us here – and we know that he is with us each and every step of the way. It has not changed that his word is still going out to all the world – and we are still his witnesses. As his word goes out, he is accomplishing his purpose through it and strengthening us for the task in front of us. Because of that, it’s good to be “back home.”

Written by Rev. Jonathan Bare, president of Asia Lutheran Seminary

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It takes a village

“It takes a village to raise a child.” Many of us have heard this old proverb, and many of us who have been blessed with children understand how true it is. In the case of my wife and I, we clearly see the wisdom behind it. Our four children continue to be influenced and shaped by the people who make up our village. Close relatives, neighbors, friends, and church family have brought something unique to the table that further creates a safe and healthy environment for our kids and helps mold them into the adults they will become in the future.

As a new church planter in Windsor, Colo., I can’t help but conclude that this proverb also applies to mission starts. Indeed, it takes a village to plant a new mission. After accepting the call and moving from Southern California in January, I have seen the extensive village that is involved in influencing and shaping a new mission. Each part brings something unique and vital to planting and raising this mission. And each part is committed to creating an environment for this church to succeed. So, who makes up this village? Well first there is the District Mission Board (DMB), which I would consider to be the parents of this mission start since they identified Windsor as a place for another mission. The DMB consists of pastors and lay leaders within the district who have passion for reaching the lost and understand the logistics, finances, etc. of starting a new mission. But that was just the beginning. Within a few weeks of arriving, I took part in a Church Planter Intensive led by Pastor Jared Oldenburg in Castle Rock, Colo. This two-day seminar provided an opportunity to think about overall vision, mission statement, and the core values of our new mission. In addition, there was practical advice and countless tips that would further shape how we did outreach, evangelism, our church structure, and the timeline to launch.

Then there is the regional mission counselor(s). These pastors assist every mission in getting off the ground and provide valuable feedback through the process. With extensive experience in mission work and a detailed understanding of the “step-by-step” approach, they are able to assist them in a strong start. They give guidance and advice on what to do next when it comes to planting a church. In my case, mission counselor, Matt Vogt, facilitated a brainstorming session with our core group (pictured above) to help gain traction in moving us to the next level of church planting.

Windsor, Colo., core group meeting with Mission Counselor, Matt Vogt

But the village influence continues! Within 30 minutes of Windsor is our neighboring WELS churches in Fort Collins, Loveland, and Greeley, Colo. These established congregations and their seasoned pastors bring ministry experience, knowledge of the area, and additional minds to bounce ideas off of as we continue to grow.

Thus far, I can’t help but thank God for the village he has provided to influence and help shape his new mission in Windsor. It has been eye opening to see how God puts the right people at the right time in the right location to further his Kingdom. To that end, I would encourage you whether you’re an established congregation or new mission, a pastor or lay member to contemplate these questions, “Who has God put in my village?” Because the proverb applies well, it takes a village!

Written by Stephen Koelpin, home missionary in a new mission start in Windsor, Colo. 

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A gift for making gifts

Two years ago I received the call to serve Christ the Rock in Farmington, N.M. As I was deliberating, I received a phone call from one of the members. He told me that his name was Tully. His friends called him Tools. As a long time mechanic, the name fit him perfectly. Tully told me about the ministry at Christ the Rock and the different opportunities for serving in Farmington. He was excited to have a new pastor come and serve, and he, along with his wife, Terri, believed that I was the one.

They were right! In August 2021, we arrived in Farmington, N.M. At my installation, Tully presented me with a special gift – an amazing gift! It was a sand art name plate. The cross and Bible were a reminder of what I do and who I serve. On the other side was a painting of a mountain, Shiprock. In Navajo it is called Tsé Bitʼaʼí, “rock with wings” or “winged rock.” The mountain is sacred to the Navajo and is the most prominent landmark in northwestern New Mexico. Every time I look at his painting I am amazed at his talent!

Tully has done sand art for a long time. All of the colors come from natural sand and crushed rock. The blue, he is proud to share, is made from crushed turquoise. He used to make his name plates to sell at art shows. He still does, but he makes most of them to give away. New members at Christ the Rock receive one with their family name, along with some traditional Navajo art on either side. When we attended District Convention together last summer, he made name plates for our district officers. Tully loves to give, and he gives generously with his talent for art.

However, Tully has another gift. He has a gift for being one of our most active evangelists. He invites everyone, and I mean everyone, to come and visit Christ the Rock. He takes our information to the local Navajo station so it can be broadcast to the Navajo Nation. He invites his family members to come every week. Tully loves Jesus and wants everyone else to know Jesus’ love for them. I love to watch the way Tully uses the gifts God has given him to make gifts, spread the gospel, and further his kingdom. That’s what being a missionary is all about!

Written by Rev. Jon Brohn, home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Farmington, New Mexico. 

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Rural training program in Vietnam

Jesus taught, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40). WELS’ ministry to the Hmong in Vietnam trains leaders to train other leaders. Efforts have focused on small groups of leaders, one group of 55 students and a second group of 60 students. The Hmong Fellowship Church has almost 1,400 leaders serving their 145,000 members. How does WELS training reach other leaders and the church members?

When COVID-19 restrictions stopped training in 2020, the Vietnam ministry group—led by full-time professors Bounkeo Lor and Joel Nitz—decided to add new training. They shifted to online Zoom training and started a new program to reach more of the leaders and more of the members in the rural congregations of the Hmong Fellowship Church. Most congregations are in rural areas of northern Vietnam, where leaders and members operate small subsistence farms. Many of these leaders and the members have not enjoyed much formal Bible study or training.

The new rural training program consists of 30 courses for training over a three-year period. They began the program in the fall of 2020. Salvation History 1 and 2 covers the Old Testament. Salvation History 3 is based on the Gospel of Mark, and Salvation History 4 was added to cover the Book of Acts.

Professors Lor and Nitz taught the courses to 57 church leaders, who then taught the course to 700 other leaders, who then shared the course with all congregations of the Hmong Fellowship Church. The teachers and students have enjoyed the teaching so much that they continued the program by using other courses taught to them in previous training.

Leaders and students shared the blessings they have received through this training:

  1. The training for the 700 leaders helps them understand the law and gospel, and have comfort and confidence in their salvation.
  2. Members understand more about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are more confident in the Sacraments for the forgiveness of sins.
  3. The leaders can distinguish between the true and false teachings of other people.
  4. The program helps church leaders love the Word of God more, hold on to the true teaching of God, know Christ as the center for their teachings, and have less legalism in most churches.

Hmong Fellowship Church members thank WELS for training their church leaders in the rural areas. Now they understand more about the word of God. Praise God for the tremendous blessings of teaching God’s Word to the Hmong in Vietnam!

 

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A reason to give thanks

Name a safe city with an airport in a low-cost country with no visa requirements, no COVID restrictions, decent weather in March, and interesting Biblical sites nearby. Did you say Thessaloniki, Greece? If so, then you’re right!

For the past year, our planning committee had been preparing for the third triennial World Missionary Wives Conference. In 2017 we met in Athens, and in 2020 we met in Barcelona. After much discussion, we decided to hold the conference in Thessaloniki on March 16-20, 2023.

Twenty-seven excited missionary wives from five continents were packing their bags for three and a half days of Bible study, fellowship and fun. But wait! On March 15, Greek air traffic controllers declared a 24-hour strike for the next day – the conference arrival day.

“Seriously?” I thought. “This very day? All these months of planning for nothing?” We had a few tense hours waiting to hear if anyone would still be able to come. In the end, 23 out of 27 still came, but arrival was pushed back two days. Our conference was condensed into half the time. Despite the disappointment, our conference theme was still fitting: “BREATHE: Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Dr. Rhoda Wolle presented our keynote address entitled “Life to the FULL.” She gave us guidelines on how to thrive (not just survive), tips on how to make positive changes, and encouragement to start a gratitude journal.

Half of the attendees had never been to a Missionary Wives Conference. Some are grandmothers, some new mothers. Some have been in missions for two and a half decades, one for just two and a half weeks. Yet there was immediate camaraderie amongst all the ladies. New acquaintances were chatting like old friends, sharing joys and challenges of the mission field with people who know what it’s like. “What do you do for babysitting? How do you buy furlough tickets? Any insights into parenting high school kids from a distance?” I loved watching the Christian fellowship and the new friendships blossoming.

We followed Missionary Paul’s path to visit the ancient city of Philippi. We saw the ruins of the forum, the “prison of Paul,” and the theater, which is still used today. Missionary Luke Wolfgramm gathered us in the theater and encouraged us to “live like Lydia!” with a message from Acts. It was especially meaningful to reflect on the Apostle Paul’s preaching, Lydia’s baptism, the jailor’s conversion – all that took place right there 2,000 years ago.

Just a short walk from Philippi flowed the river where Lydia was baptized, with trees, flowers, grass and seating for many visitors. We were fortunate enough to be the only tourists there while we enjoyed a devotion by Dr. Rhoda Wolle on “Rejoice!” from the book of Philippians.

In addition, we played silly games, worshiped, communed, shared more devotions, sang, laughed a lot, tasted some wonderful Greek food, and shopped! On behalf of all the missionary wives, thank you! We are grateful for the opportunity to meet with each other face-to-face. Many thanks to WELS, our husbands, and our families for supporting this conference!

Written by Mindy Holtz, world missionary wife on the Native American mission team. 

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Joy in Dunavtsi

On the last weekend in March, believers from six countries gathered in Dunavtsi, Bulgaria, to dedicate a church building.
God gave us more than we expected.

Anticipated Joy
Six years earlier, a generous WELS donor provided funding to construct a chapel in the hometown of Pastor Iliyan Itsov in northern Bulgaria. Finally, after delays of every kind, the church stood ready to welcome the first worshipers.

I was looking forward to seeing Iliyan and the saints in Dunavtsi. It had been four years since I last visited them. I was also looking forward to meeting friends from Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Albania. These churches (and others) have taken special interest in supporting Iliyan and his outreach to Roma peoples scattered throughout central Bulgaria. I couldn’t wait to preach, to praise God for this new house, and call God’s people to keep building the Lord’s Church.

Experienced Joy
Guests began arriving Friday evening. As travelers greeted each other, I was struck by the sacrifices they and their churches had made to attend our celebration.

• A German transportation strike wreaked havoc on Pastor Holger Weiss’ itinerary. He would now have to leave Dunavtsi early Sunday morning before the worship service he had prepared. Yet he still made the trip to spend 36 precious hours with us.
• Pastor David Åkerlund, a tent minister, took time off from work, family, and church responsibilities to bring greetings from his congregation in Finland.
• Five representatives from Sweden flew first to Serbia, then drove the final leg in a little red car. They carried a special gift, a bronze altar crucifix, that a church member had purchased on an earlier business trip to Poland.

And there was a last-minute surprise. Missionary John and Nancy Roebke joined us from Malawi. The Roebke’s had served in Dunavtsi 20 years earlier. This was their first opportunity to revisit the people they had served.

Missionary Roebke, having not forgotten his Bulgarian, was able to facilitate a dual-language worship service where guests and local members joined together to glorify Christ. Worshipers – including Pastor Iliyan – were eager to reconnect with “their” pastor who first brought the Lord Jesus into their lives. We meditated on the account of Zacchaeus and worshiped the Savior who transformed the tax-collector’s house into a powerful base for proclaiming God’s good news.

Left to Right: Rev. Iliyan Itsov, Rev. John Roebke , Rev. Luke Wolfgramm

For a brief moment, God gave us a foretaste of heaven when believers from every nation will join in one tongue to praise our Savior forever.

Lasting Joy
The German transport strike delayed our travel back to Albania. So, Pastor Nikolla Bishka and I had an extra day to explore Bulgaria’s capital. As we walked and observed different houses of worship in downtown Sofia, we discussed the work the Lord Jesus has given us. “The most beautiful building in the most convenient location is not enough to build God’s house, but the Holy Spirit constructs God’s splendid temple wherever we proclaim Christ. Jesus is God’s great gift to fallen people. Niko, we have the best news, the news people need to hear!”

Niko thoughtfully took this statement in, and from there, we started making plans to proclaim our Savior’s suffering death and resurrection back home in Albania.

Written by Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary on the Europe mission team. 

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Exactly where God wants us

“The school doesn’t even teach us about Jesus. Why would anyone want to go there anyway?”

My boys had many questions. What would the weather be like? What kind of foods would they eat? What wildlife would they see? Would there be any playgrounds? How long would we live there?

Since accepting the call to serve as the TELL Missionary to Africa, the questions had been coming daily. We had answers for some of the questions. For others, we couldn’t say much more than, “I guess we’ll find out together.” But when one of my sons asked why we would ever want to go to a school that wouldn’t teach about Jesus every day, I had to pause before answering.

At the time, I was serving at Trinity in Neenah, Wis., and we were blessed to have a Christian elementary school right across the street from our church. Our boys had built close relationships with their classmates as well as their teachers. My wife was involved with the fundraising for the school and a significant portion of my ministry was focused on the school ministry. The school, faculty, staff, and the families connected with Neenah Lutheran had been a blessing and joy for our family for the past four years.

So why leave? Why move to a country so far away and so different? Why move to a place that didn’t have a school that won’t teach about Jesus every day? Why would anyone want to go there anyway?

We have been in Lusaka, Zambia, for two weeks now. My boys have experienced new things every day. To our shock, they’ve tried many new foods. To their delight, they’ve ridden on bumpy roads and discovered lots of new insects. Before the end of our first month, we hope to have them enrolled in a new school for the remainder of the school year.

Since we arrived, we’ve also been blessed to meet many new people. Elizabeth works at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka and helped us fill out the proper forms when three of our luggage pieces didn’t arrive when we did. George is studying medicine and happened to worship with us at the Lutheran Church of Central Africa at M’takwa. Clarise is a flight attendant with Qatar Airways and was looking for ways to grow in her faith and study of God’s Word. By God’s grace, these three will enroll in the TELL program and begin their journey of studying God’s Word and one day become trained TELL Bible leaders.

I honestly can’t tell you the exact words I shared in response to my son’s question. Yet every day we’ve met someone new, they have really been the answer. We are here – at this place and at this time – to tell others about Jesus. And that is how it’s always been. It doesn’t matter if you live in Wisconsin or Zambia, you are exactly where God wants you to share the love of Christ with others.

I don’t know what school will be like for my boys, but I do know that it will be one more thing that is different for them. I also know that they won’t hear about Jesus in the classroom. So, why would anyone want to go to a school that doesn’t teach about Jesus? Good question.

Perhaps, my son, because the Lord will provide opportunities for us to be His witnesses and to share with others the hope that you have through Jesus.

Written by Rev. Joel Hoff, new TELL Missionary on the Africa One Team.

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A warm welcome in Tanzania

Originally appears in the One Africa Team blog. Subscribe to future updates from Africa at oneafricateam.com.

Missionary John Roebke and I received a warm welcome to Tanzania last month, as part of One Africa Team’s Four-Stage Outreach process. We came to Tanzania to continue discussions with a local Lutheran church body, the Africa Mission Evangelism Church (AMEC). We wanted to discuss if our church bodies share the same Scriptural beliefs and practices. We hope that one day we will be able to work together united in faith.

AMEC’s leader, Bishop Baltazar Kaaya, met us at the airport late at night and showed us to our lodgings. The next day he gave us a tour of a couple congregations up in the foothills of Mt. Meru. As we drove, he explained how the lack of rain had been starting to affect their crops. “We’re praying for rain so that our people will have food to eat,” he said. Eventually, though, the dry areas began to give way to more green. Bishop Kaaya explained, “As we get higher on the mountain, we find areas that receive more rain.” It was quite a contrast.

Later in the day, we had the opportunity to witness an interesting piece of culture. The elders of a village were recognizing a man as the new leader of his family. This was a celebration somewhat reminiscent of a new pastor’s ordination or installation. All the other family heads gathered to speak their blessing upon this man in the presence of the entire clan. Many people were gathered. Though we felt a little out of place at this event, we were treated as honored guests. We were even asked to speak blessings of our own, as if we were part of the clan.

Throughout the week, the Tanzanian people continued to show us their warm welcome and hospitality. The church members gave us places of honor at their worship services. They made us feel at home with them, and that feeling increased. As the week progressed, we saw a familiarity in how the people approached the Word of God. In our daily workshop sessions, we explored that Word together. We used Luther’s Small Catechism as a guide to see whether we were on the same page. Ultimately, we found a group of people committed to the truth and zealous to put it into practice.

AMEC is made up of a group of almost 100 Lutheran congregations in northern Tanzania. Most of the congregations are concentrated near Mt. Meru, with a few more around Mt. Kilimanjaro to the east. These congregations are reaching out to other areas as well. AMEC’s newest effort is the coastal business center in Dar es Salaam. Islam is the dominant religion in this area, but the pastor there is working to bring the soothing peace of the gospel to the city’s people. It is living water for thirsty hearts!

At the end of our time together, the workshop participants surprised us with another warm gesture. They presented us with shukas, the traditional garment of the Masai people. Many of the people in this area of Tanzania belong to this ethnic group. It was a wonderful gift that expressed a deep truth: they wanted us to be part of their “tribe.” This is something that we want too! And what a blessing it was to see all the things on which our churches agree!

The weather isn’t the only thing keeping Tanzania warm; the faith of these people is a warm welcome in this cold world. It is a faith in the same God we serve and worship. We pray that our visits with the people of AMEC will continue to bear fruit of a common faith watered by God’s Word.

Written by Benjamin Foxen, a world missionary on the One Africa Team, serving in Zambia. 

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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. 

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From the very beginning

How do WELS churches get started? How do we decide where they should go? This is not a secret nor is it a simple process. Through Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s 2023 Winterim course, 14 seminary students were able to experience firsthand the earlier steps in exploring potential churches in three communities outside of Austin, Texas. The students began the week by meeting with WELS Mission Counselor, Matt Vogt and the core group of WELS members in each of the three cities. The 14 students were divided into three teams, one for each city, and asked to research thoroughly and report how much potential each community had for growth in the coming years.

The communities of Leander, Jarrell, and Kyle/Buda, seem to display potential for a new WELS church. Mission Counselor Vogt and Professor Allen Sorum worked alongside the South-Central district mission board, local area pastors and home missionaries, and their district president to prepare for the week. The students were trained and tasked with conducting community and church leader interviews, doing some door-to-door canvassing, and interviewing other potential core group members. When asked about their favorite part of the experience, students shared many examples of how the Holy Spirit opened hearts to conversations about the gospel.

Once their research was complete, the 14 students were able to present the information they gathered with their team (pictured). Students, local pastors, and Home Mission representatives listened, reacted, and asked questions about each location. With these insights from the seminary students, the South Central District Mission Board will prioritize which location(s) to pursue first.

As for the 14 seminary students, they were able to gain real experience exploring a potential mission field and sharing their faith before they receive their divine calls. Many students expressed greater interest in serving as a church planter after the trip was over. One student noted, “It was eye opening to see the grand scope of what WELS Home Missions does and the support we give to our home missionaries. It makes mission work less scary.” These men are going to be a part of the first few Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduating classes to potentially receive assignments to new home mission churches approved as part of the 100 Missions in 10 Years initiative. WELS Home Missions is thankful for partners at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary that are training the next generation of church planters.

Next week, the Board for Home Missions will meet to carefully consider and prioritize each request submitted for a new home mission or enhancement. Stay tuned to hear where those first new home mission starts and enhancements will be located as we work towards our goal of starting 100 missions and enhancing 75 ministries in the next in 10 years. 

Learn more about our 100 missions in 10 years initiative at wels100in10.net .




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Our dwelling place

The foundation is poured. The walls are up. The roof is on.

Dry wall is fastened. Doors and windows are in place.

The building? A side-by-side duplex.

The builders? A faith-bound band of brothers and sisters known as Builders For Christ.

The location? Peridot, Ariz. on the San Carlos Reservation.

Not everyone gets to enjoy living in a house that Builders For Christ has built, but some fortunate ones already have, and soon, two more families will be moving into the duplex in Peridot, Ariz. This side-by-side duplex is intended to house two teachers and their families. It’ll be a place for each of the families to call home.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

It’ll be their dwelling place.

A place to kick off their shoes and enjoy family life. The teachers who will be moving into this duplex will be teaching at Peridot-Our Savior’s school which stands just a literal stone’s throw away.

The foundation was poured in November 2022 and the building started taking shape in January 2023. And look at it now! The pictures tell the story much better than I can. The people working on projects are a wonderful crew of kind-hearted, hardworking volunteers who have a passion for building and a heart for Christ. Especially a heart for Christ. So if you don’t find them on the roof, a ladder, or in the house, you’ll likely find them in the nearby church. Singing. Praying. Studying. Enjoying fellowship. Hearing the word.

The Lord is building this house. These builders are not laboring in vain.

Yes, it’s the fingers, hands, arms, and backs of the Builders For Christ volunteers that are digging, lifting, measuring, framing, plumbing, and painting; but the Lord is the One behind it all. He not only gives the builders the strength to build, but the motivation to do so. What’s better than the gospel of Jesus Christ to do that? The building is going up and so is glory and praise to the chief cornerstone. The Builders For Christ people have reminded me by their own humble witness and their own servant attitude: it pays to pay attention to God’s blueprints.

After all, isn’t Jesus Christ, the Jewish carpenter, the ultimate and expert home builder? I’m not referring only to the home that he is preparing in heaven. That eternal home is magnificent, has many rooms, and one of those doors has your name on it. What a home to anticipate.

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23).

Quite something to think about, hey? We almost miss it. God making His home with us. We think of God as our Redeemer and our Savior, our father and our brother – which he is – and so much more – but he’s also our home. He desires to be the very one in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).

Our Dwelling Place.

Moses regarded him as such: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” (Psalm 90:1). This burning bush prophet believed that statement until his dying day and he wanted us to believe it, too. So just prior to his climb up the mountain and his impending death, Moses, from the inspired script, assured everyone who would read his words:

“The eternal God is your dwelling place…” (Deuteronomy 33:27a).

Yours.

Make God your dwelling place and you’ll discover that you truly lack nothing. You’ll find nourishment provided. You’ll find protection. You’ll find comfort in Him. Even if your own house now is not a place of safe refuge, his is. Even if you lack peace in your house, you’ll enjoy it in his. Even if your house does not feel like a home, his is the home you’ve always been hoping for.

Trust him. Enjoy the stay. His foundation doesn’t crack, His roof doesn’t leak, and his walls won’t buckle.

Now that’s a home and by only God’s grace, he’s…

Our Dwelling Place.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native Christians Counselor for the Native American Mission

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