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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Right place, right time

“Missional Living” is a lifestyle in our mission church. It’s a constant reminder for the members of our congregation to live every day of their life as if it’s a mission trip and recognize where Jesus is already at work in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. Our goal is to just wake up each morning and say, “Lord, what kind of mission trip are you going to take me on today to reach one more person for Jesus?”

One example of missional living happened recently in my dentist’s chair. I know, that’s not the place where you would normally think of “missional living,” but it was on this day.

I went in for a regular teeth cleaning and check-up. While I was getting settled into the chair, I asked the dental hygienist how things had been going in her life lately. She told me that although she had just got engaged, she was struggling with some incompatibility issues with her fiancé. I listened attentively to her while she worked on my teeth.

When there was a “break in the action” (in between rinses), I asked her how compatible she and her fiancé were spiritually. That question opened the floodgates, and she began telling me all about her past religious experiences and struggles with God and the Bible. I listened to talk about her struggles while she continued to work on my teeth and tried my best to answer her questions (again, in between rinses). I didn’t want to say anything that might upset her, since she was holding a sharp object in her hand. So, I did much more listening than talking.

After she was finished cleaning my teeth, I said, “You know, I’m a pastor, and I would be happy to meet with you sometime for coffee and help you with some of these problems that you and your fiancé are struggling with.” She replied, “I would like that. In fact, I’ve got a lot of other questions about God and religion that I’d like to ask you too.” I smiled and agreed.

As I was leaving, she said, “Thank you for listening to me and answering my questions. I’d like to come and visit your church sometime. Would that be ok?” I joyfully replied, “Absolutely! I think you will be blessed by it.”

God was certainly up to something in this young woman’s life that day, and I was exactly where he wanted me to be to join him on his mission. What a privilege it is to be used by God to accomplish his purpose in the lives of others. On that day, at that time, his purpose for me was to be in that dentist chair and make a connection with that young woman at a time when she needed it most. Let us continue to make those connections and remain in a mindset of “missional living.”

Written by Pastor Kevin Schultz, Home Missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Hayden, Idaho

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True love, God’s love

As couples prepared to buy chocolate, candies, teddy bears, cards, and roses for each other on Valentine’s Day to express their love for each other, Faith Hmong in Alaska uses this time of the year to gather couples for an evening of food, relaxation, photos, and God’s Word on the message of true LOVE.

“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” – 1 John 4:10a

The message that evening focused on Genesis 2:17, “They become one flesh.” This reminded couples that marriage doesn’t stop after the wedding ceremony, having their first child, or being able to accomplish some of their goals. Couples must be intentional with their marriage. They can’t just show love or affection towards each other once a year on Valentine’s Day; they must show love for each other and serve each other every day to continue to strengthen a marriage, which is built on the foundation of Christ. It was great opportunity for couples to gather together and experience an evening filled with God’s Word, great conversations, and time to reflect on each other.

Faith Hmong in Alaska uses this kind of event as an outreach opportunity to invite friends, family, and neighbors to the Faith Hmong community. We also have events for kids and parents to spend time together, such as a family paint night, which is planned for next month. Coming to worship services can be a little intimidating for some, but with events like these, believers and friends can come and relax and hear about their Lord. It’s a fun way for the church members to do outreach in the community.

We have been serving the Hmong community of Anchorage since 2009 and have established a beautiful relationship with our Anglo brothers and sisters at Faith Lutheran Church. Every Sunday, our doors are open early in the morning for an English service, followed by a Hispanic service preached by Pastor Chris Ewings and Pastor Nathan Wagenknecht. Then, we end our Sunday with a Hmong service starting at 3:00 p.m., followed by Hmong Sunday School. We designate the first Sunday of each month as a fellowship Sunday for the opportunity to invite friends, families, and neighbors to attend and enjoy some snacks and conversations.

Faith Hmong continues to focus its ministry on the Hmong community in Anchorage, and God continues to bless us. We look for opportunities to share what so many people in the world are still seeking – LOVE. A love the world cannot give, but rather true love that comes only from our Savior, Jesus.

Learn more about our ministry at faithhmongalaska.org.

Written by Pastor Pao Moua, Home Missionary at at Faith Hmong Lutheran Church in Anchorage, Alaska

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Five years post-merger

Just over five years ago, the congregation I served in suburban St. Louis decided to close its Early Childhood Center, prompting a discussion about our future. We were exploring different options and along the way we brought another nearby church into the discussion. It became clear that we were headed for a merging of the two churches.

We sought the assistance of the Minnesota District Mission Board (DMB) to guide us in the right direction. After running a demographic study of our area and talking to our leaders, the district mission board agreed to take this merger on as a project. They helped us secure unsubsidized mission status, which, among other things, gained us access to a mission counselor who helped us through the process. He recommended books to read (Better Together by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird was the most helpful). After he made several visits to the area and sat in on some meetings, he gave our churches some advice as we finalized the plan.

One congregation. One site. Double the staff. Double the resources. Double the outreach effort. That was the plan.

This past fall we celebrated our fifth anniversary at our united church, Christ Alone.

Looking back, not everything went according to our plan. There were missteps and miscommunications, especially in the early going. Doubling the people led to disagreements, ranging anywhere from how the two church cultures would meld together to which of the two sets of paraments would adorn the one altar. Doubling the volunteer pool led many volunteers cutting their own involvement in half. New responsibilities were not clearly communicated, which led to the Great Paper Towel Shortage of Easter 2018. (Many casualties.)

Having the mission counselor as a sounding board was important. He kept reminding me that a church merger doesn’t work if it’s survival-driven. It must be mission-driven. Holding out the mission in front of members must remain the priority. It was our why. We did not only do this so that our institution would survive, but rather that Christ’s kingdom would thrive.

In the fall of 2017, Christ Alone consisted of roughly half the members coming from one church and half from the other church. Although we really think of ourselves as one congregation today, our members could be identified in thirds. One third from one church. One third from the other. And one third of the members are brand new to Christ Alone—some brand new to Christ—whom God brought to us over the past five years.

God knew what he was doing from the beginning. Though our hands were a little wet, we were still able to open our hymnal pages to Jesus Christ is Risen Today that first Easter together. Though there was a clash in cultures, Christ has brought about unity. Though it hasn’t all gone according to our plan, God is providing opportunities for us that were not previously possible.

While not every situation would be necessary for the district mission board to get involved, congregations who find themselves considering a merger may want to reach out to a member of their DMB. Doing so will certainly result in some sound wisdom, possibly a mission status designation, or, if the Lord wills, maybe even becoming one of those 75 mission enhancements that will accompany the 100 new mission churches over the course of the next ten years.

 

Written by Pastor Steve Waldschmidt, pastor at Christ Alone in Dardenne Prairie, MO, and Minnesota District Mission Board Chairman

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Perseverance in the mission field

How many times have you heard this story…

Our church, Spirit of Life, hosted a Christmas for Kids, Easter for Kids, or Vacation Bible School and had a bunch of children from the community show up. . .but nobody came to church after the events. We do all these events and sure, the kids learn about Jesus, but families aren’t joining our church and it doesn’t add to our membership numbers. For a new home mission church, it can be quite demoralizing to put in a ton of work, prayer, and volunteer hours and never see any fruits of labor.

In the early years at our mission in Caledonia, Mich., we experienced this same scenario and saw little progress. We went to parades and handed out 1000+ invites, but no one showed up. At our Easter for Kids event, right before COVID began, we had more than 200 kids in attendance. None of them would be able to attend a worship service.

Though this routine was disheartening at times, you keep planning and trying different things. You keep trying because you know that God tells us to, “Go and make disciples.” You find comfort in knowing that his Word will not return to him empty. You don’t know when the Spirit will allow faith to take root and grow.

Spirit of Life has grown over the years through personal evangelism efforts more than anything else, so I was never too excited for the bigger “outreach events.” But I know they present those opportunities for personal evangelism. So when we started working on a second site in Hastings, Mich., we thought, “Let’s try having a Christmas for Kids. There are a lot of kids near our venue.”

Sure enough, the event started as I had suspected. It was more work and less attendance than I would have hoped for. And I started to think. . . “You know, I can invite people personally with better results and less effort than this!”

One family, the Slagel’s and their three children, came to our event. They participated and had a lot of fun with their children. But what encouraged me the most was seeing the Slagel family the next Sunday morning. They had made the drive up to our Caledonia location and arrived for church an hour before the service started. They stayed and chatted with our members and are now going to be a part of our new church site in Hastings.

This story acts as a reminder to my missionary self that God works faith and does big things through his Word. Even when I think the hard work didn’t pay off.

Keep sharing the Word in season, out of season, at events, and individually. There’s no exact science to this mission work thing. In the end, it’s the Holy Spirit opening people’s hearts when and how he chooses. Stay humble, God works.

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

 

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Pray that I…

How would you complete this sentence: “Pray that I. . .”

If you knew of fellow believers in Jesus who were full of faith and love, and you asked them to pray for you, for what would you ask?

Pause and think about it. What’s going on in your life? What need do you have? What is something you want to do? Is there something you’d like to see happen? Anything important? Urgent?

There were some Christians in a city called Colossae. They were grace-saturated and God loving. They were faith full and faithful. They were bearing so much fruit and showed such a great love to their fellow brothers and sisters that it was becoming known even in far off places. News of their faith and love even seeped into places where you’d think it couldn’t or wouldn’t reach: a Roman prison 1300 miles away.

That’s where Paul was: under arrest and in chains. But he knew of their faith because he had heard of their faith. The word had spread. It reached even him.

But did it matter?

Yes, it did. Because by it, Paul was greatly encouraged. He was beaming with thankfulness and joy. Even though Paul didn’t personally know many of the people in Colossae, Paul was filled with the confidence that he could ask these Spirit-strong, firm-in-faith Christian brothers and sisters to do something important and urgent: to pray for him.

It was important, because, well, that’s what the gospel of Jesus is. It’s a matter of life and death. It was urgent because he had only so much time to share the Good News. So Paul makes the bold request:

Pray that I may proclaim the mystery of Christ and that I proclaim it clearly as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

This too is Pastor Gary Lupe’s request, to you. Even though he won’t know everyone who has read his message, he knows they are Colossae-like brothers and sisters. People who are Spirit-strong, firm-in-faith, and prayer ready.

Maybe you have heard of Gary Lupe, a Native American pastor living on an Apache reservation in Arizona’s White Mountains. Pastor Lupe was married in 2004 and blessed with six children and fourteen grandchildren. Then in 2011, Pastor Lupe became ordained. Since then, he’s attended WELS synod conventions, spoken at Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) rallies, and preached at mission festivals. He serves as the pastor for two congregations, Cibecue and Cedar Creek, and teaches classes in the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS).

Why this request and why now? Because it’s both important and urgent.

Important, well, because that’s what the gospel of Jesus is. (Have I mentioned that before?) Urgent, because he’s teaching a class in East Fork, Peridot, and Cibecue. The class? Apache Traditional Religion.

To put it mildly, Apache traditional religion is a controversial issue. It’s divisive. It splits families. It divides congregations. It pits one person against another.

It’s a battle ground, and it’s being waged in full force.

Pastor Lupe has taken up arms. Spiritual ones. He’s done what every Christian is urged to do:
“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil…” (Ephesians 6:11-12).

There we have it. God reminds us of where the real battle is and who the battle is really against. The lines are drawn.

So, with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:13-18), Pastor Lupe stands his ground and stands before anyone who will listen.

And some are.

He is teaching his Apache Traditional Religion class to the Apache in Apache.

Not many do this. Not many can. Pastor Lupe is gifted with the Apache language but so much more. He’s got the first-hand experience in Apache traditional religion; he has many years of first-hand experience in gospel ministry. He knows the people and the people know him. He’s got the knowledge to share and the reputation that makes him credible.

That doesn’t mean everyone will listen. In fact, some have walked out of his church and out of his life. It doesn’t mean everyone will attend the class. In fact, many do not.

What it does mean is that Pastor Lupe will be a target. He already is. People have already taken aim with sharp tongues, harsh words, and decent sounding arguments.

But even such arsenal as these can’t penetrate the armor of God. In fact, the flaming arrows of the evil one are easily extinguished. (Ephesians 6:16).

By teaching this class, Pastor Lupe knows that he’s setting himself up to be attacked. He knows because God said he would. Even you, when you witness your faith, don’t think you can be attacked or might be attacked, but know that you will be attacked.

It comes with the territory. But the territory is Jesus’. It’s a battleground. Remember who your enemy really is.

Satan doesn’t like Jesus’ forgiveness being clearly proclaimed. He hates the gospel being clearly shared. He despises it when Baptisms take place or when Communion is received. He cringes when the gospel truth is being clearly declared and fully believed. It angers him when someone takes a stand on the clear Word of God. Pastor Lupe is going against his own culture to speak on this issue.

Since this is the case, will not Satan, with his own clever schemes, deceptions, and decent sounding arguments, try his best to dishearten Gary and stop him from clearly proclaiming the mystery of Christ?

Hence the request comes humbly, but boldly, to you. Confident that you will pray. Trusting that God hears and answers your prayers. Believing that the power is not in the one saying the prayer but in the One listening to it and answering it.

Pray that I may proclaim the mystery of Christ and that I proclaim it clearly as I should. Pastor Lupe can proclaim the mystery of Christ but cannot change the hearts of the people. But God can. Didn’t he already change our hearts?

By the way, have you thought of something important and urgent that you’d like someone to pray about for you? Is there a need you have? A desire for something to happen?

I don’t know what it is and maybe you still need to think about it more, but know that there are brothers and sisters in faith in Christ who would find it an honor to pray for you. Ask them. You’ll have to tell them your request, but here’s a few words to start:

“Pray that I…”

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native Christians Counselor

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New and old brooms

The difference between new and old brooms is summarized in a proverb. “The new broom sweeps clean, but the old broom knows the corners.” The meaning is that while youth brings energy to a situation, people with experience bring more knowledge.

A fresh set of eyes helps you see things you’ve overlooked or grown accustomed to. The Africa Regional confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) gathering in Lusaka, Zambia this month brought together both new and old WELS mission partners. The former brought fresh perspective and energy. The latter brought experience and encouragement. The exchange was invaluable for all.

A Practical Conference
The agenda presented real-life ministry struggles before the delegates. The first presentation addressed the pros and cons of church-run businesses. One of the “new brooms” represented at the conference was the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ – Kenya (LCMC-Kenya). Its president, Rev. Mark Anariko Onunda, delivered a paper on this topic. He wrote, “Our churches are poor and the poverty of the church workers leads to a crisis of the spirit.” Generally speaking, African pastors are poorly compensated by their members, due to various factors. Many African pastors operate small business ventures to help support their families. Some are more skilled at managing their time and money than others.

The first community of believers chose seven deacons to manage the financial affairs of the church. They left the apostles free to give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Ac 6:4). Rev. Onunda noted that skilled laypeople can run church businesses well and pastors can concentrate on the spiritual needs of their flocks.

Training Shepherds

One Africa Team Leader Rev. Howard Mohlke led a Bible study on Christian service, both private and public. The number of organized African congregations is much higher than the number of ordained clergymen available to serve them. Many view the term “pastor” as a title of respect rather than as a calling to serve. Rev. Mohlke noted that the word “pastor” is a verb that means “to shepherd.” The shepherd’s job is to care for the needs of the sheep. All Christians have the gifts and responsibility to personally serve one another as members of Christ’s body. Some Christians have been called to serve in public ministry on behalf of the congregation. The essence of their work as public ministers is the same as that of all Christians. It is a humble, Spirit-filled service that focuses people’s attention on the gospel of Christ.

 

The Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Zambia (LCCA-Zambia) is one of the “old brooms.” One of the WELS’ oldest gospel partners in Africa has Rev. Davison Mutentami as its president. His presentation touched on the kind of training needed for a healthy church. In his words, “Africa has been invaded by prophets and preachers from all walks of life. Africans have been invaded by teachings that are likely to deny them a chance to receive the true message of salvation by grace.” Many churches are led by people with no formal or informal Biblical training. Several African governments are considering legislation to require that pastors obtain a degree from an accredited institution.

 

But training should not be limited to members of the clergy. One size does not fit all. There are many local church leaders who would benefit from training tailored to their needs and abilities. The curriculum of many Lutheran seminaries is a treasured heritage to be sure. However, there are other practical skills to learn that will benefit both pastors and their congregations. One of the delegates, a layperson, made the following insightful comment.

“Theological education’s purpose isn’t to turn a man into a gospel minister, but to help him do gospel ministry.” That kind of training will certainly result in a healthy church.

A Layperson’s Perspective
An accountant by trade and a former treasurer of the LCCA-Zambia, Mr. Zororai Shoko delivered the fourth presentation. He very effectively demonstrated the need for financial accountability and transparency in the church. Mr. Shoko made his case by citing examples from both the Bible and recent case studies. He wrote, “whenever a person in power – especially the power of handling finances – tries to avoid transparency and accountability, the Church is in danger.”

When Mr. Shoko served as the treasurer of a local congregation, members asked to borrow funds from the general offerings. He refused, even though this had been standard practice in the past. Some congregations did not have bank accounts, but offerings were handled single-handedly either by the treasurer or the pastor. This lack of checks and balances has damaging consequences for the pastor and the church. According to one study, in 2019 Christian organizations were estimated to have lost $68 billion due to fraud. In the same time frame, donors were expected to give $60 billion for worldwide mission work.

Part of the reason for low offerings is a spiritual problem, but another is the lack of accountability. Fiscal malfeasance is endemic in the government. Nevertheless, Mr. Shoko remarked that “people expect more from the church than from the government.” The solution to these problems is simple. The church must establish clear procedures for counting, depositing, and accounting for funds entrusted to them. In the absence of such procedures, sinful human beings will take advantage of the opportunity. Mr. Shoko shared this final anecdote: A thief was asked if he would give up stealing. His reply? “Not if they remain so careless.”

Prayer Requests
Delegates from each of the seven synods attending the CELC Africa Regional meeting presented a brief history of their church bodies. They also mentioned requests for prayers. May I ask you to join me in praying for our African brothers?

  • The Lutheran Church of Cameroon: pray that God end the current war that has led members from seven congregations to flee the region
  • The LCMC-Kenya: pray that God will relieve the current famine and grant peaceful relations between various ethnic groups in the country
  • The LCCA-Malawi Synod: pray that God will empower the leaders of the congregations and the synod as a whole to use offerings in a transparent and accountable way
  • Obadiah Lutheran Synod (Uganda): pray that God will help them train church leaders and build up their church body’s infrastructure
  • The LCCA-Zambia Synod: pray that God will grant pastors the courage to serve under extremely difficult circumstances and give the church body spiritual growth
  • All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria: pray that God grant church members spiritual maturity
  • The Lutheran Church of Ethiopia; pray that God grant more faithful leaders and financial stability for the church
  • Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria: pray that God bless the church body’s leadership to serve both God and the members faithfully

May God bless the efforts of both new and old brooms to sweep souls into His Kingdom everywhere!

Written by Rev. John Roebke, world missionary in Malawi, Africa.

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Equip believers to serve

Last month I finished teaching the course, “Equip the Believers to Serve” to a group of nine men and women. It’s a course that I love teaching for two reasons. First, in Asia there is some misunderstanding about serving God. Many students come into the class thinking it is going to be a course about how they will dedicate more of their lives to church work. I  suspect this is everywhere, even in my own heart. How often do we realize we do a poor job of balancing all the callings God gives us in our lives by over valuing some and undervaluing and abandoning others? And for the students, in the face of long hours at their jobs, busy family lives or relationships, assistance or leadership in small groups and house churches, and the classes they take in the evenings at Asia Lutheran Seminary; it sounds like another burden on an already strained set of shoulders.

But right from the first chapter, I get to see the students’ perspectives change and their hearts lighten as they see that serving God doesn’t mean dedicating yourself to long hours in the church sacrificing time with family and friends. Serving God is loving others through the opportunities and relationships God has given at the moment. That means showing love to your family is serving God, spending time with a friend is serving God, helping your neighbor is serving God, being a good citizen is serving God. . .  and yes, you can serve God in the church too. It’s a great way to love others! When the light turns on and students “get it,” I thank God I get to take part in teaching it. And there’s a second reason I love to teach the course. I get to see them passionately use what they learn right away. Each student shared with other brothers and sisters in their church or small group what it means to serve God. They equipped believers to serve! I could say more but why not let you hear it from the students in their own words:

Q: In your own words, define serving God.

Student: “My identity is as a child of God, a new creation of God. So, to serve God is to love the people God puts around me with a grateful heart, to serve the vocations God has given me at the moment, and to use the life of an ordinary person to show God’s love in family, friendships, work, and church. I shared this with three sisters, and I want to do it again with more!”

Q: What aspects of this course can you start to apply tomorrow?

Student: “There are many aspects that I can apply in this course: First, I will pass on the concept of “what is serving God” to more co-workers, brothers and sisters, and my family around me. Because when I understand what it means to truly serve God, I feel that my life is so meaningful, and I am willing to serve God with more dedication in the future. I hope more people understand this and change. Second, on a concrete level, I will apply how to serve God in my family, work, church, relationships with friends, and relationships with neighbors.”

Q: Name two of the most useful chapters in the course and explain why they were most useful to you.

Student: “Chapter 1, understanding the meaning of serving, let me understand that serving is not only in the church, family, workplace, but also in a wider field. Chapter 6, seeking God’s help while serving God, let me understand that in fact, everything I do needs God’s help. I need to be humble and rely on God.”

Q: How has this course affected your work as a church worker?

Student: “I used to be under a certain amount of pressure when doing church work, and it was easy to focus on the results. But after taking this course, I understand that as long as I do my best, God will be pleased. I don’t look at the results to receive rewards and praise from people, but to please God. This course made my ministry easier and more joyful.”

Student: “It made me see that I am not just serving as a certain position in the church, but that I am the first to realize that I am a child of God, a newly created person of God. My calling is to be a good spiritual Christian, to be a real new creation. Then do my duties in various aspects, such as in the family, in the country, in the work, in the neighborhood. . . these are the fields of service every day. When I do these identities well, I am also expressing God glory, as members of the church of God, shining as a light and being salt. If I fail to be a good Christian, a citizen, a child or a neighbor, then even if I do a lot in the church, I will be like a Pharisee, not living a real Christian life.”

Student: “My wife and I shared the course with a sister from our church and her husband. We talked together for a long time about how serving God doesn’t just mean serving in the church and that Jesus makes us a new creation. Finally, we were going to leave, but they stopped us several times and said, ‘Stay for a while, his daughter is happier, she has long wished that her father could be with her and her mother. We served and worshiped God together.’ We made an appointment for the next meeting, and I said, ‘Next week, take time to come to my house as guests and invite your family to my house for dinner, and they readily agreed.’ My wife and I bid farewell to them and returned to my home. We recalled the process together, we prayed, thanked God, and prepared for the next meeting.

Written by Peter Janke, a world missionary in East Asia. 

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Pressing the reset button

It was time to press the reset button.

A Lutheran church on the west side of Las Vegas in the area of Summerlin started back in 1990. After two building projects and quite a few years of numerical growth, the congregation fell on hard times. Families moved away, older members moved on to heaven, and the current pastor moved back East to serve another congregation. That’s when the local mission board stepped in.

Although there weren’t enough members left to support a full-time pastor any longer, the Arizona-California district mission board was convinced that the area was ripe for the harvest and the opportunities to share the gospel were too good to pass up. They worked with the congregation and submitted a request to the Board for Home Missions to “restart” the congregation.

The term “restart” simply means that the congregation needed to press the reset button. There was a small core group of Christians remaining from a well-established church, but the congregation could not go on functioning like it had in the past. It needed a facelift so to speak, a chance to start at the beginning and try it all over again.

The congregation in Summerlin went through a two-year vacancy from mid-2020 until mid-2022. During that time, the core group shrunk even smaller than it was before. In fact, the 20-25 members left began attending Shepherd of the Hills, a sister congregation in Las Vegas led by Pastor Tom Unke who was also the vacancy pastor at the time. The buildings in Summerlin sat empty and the future was questionable.

Now, as this near calendar year begins, there has already been plenty of progress in the right direction. A new pastor accepted the call to restart the church in late summer/early fall. The congregation’s name was changed to Foundation Lutheran Church. Already a website has been produced, social media pages have been constructed, and signs have been installed. The facilities are in the process of being updated, cleaned, fine-tuned, and painted. Most importantly though, contacts are being made, conversations are being had, and relationships are being formed with a number of individuals and families throughout the community, setting the stage for gospel opportunities to come.

For the time being, the core group of Christians is still attending Shepherd of the Hills. A grand reopening is planned for April 2023 when full-time worship services and Bible studies will resume in Summerlin. There is a lot of work still to be done leading up to that launch date, but it is an exciting time for Foundation. The reset button has been pushed. The congregation is financially backed by WELS Home Missions until it can stand on its own two feet again. And this small remnant of Christians is armed with the powerful Word of God as it looks to once again reach as many hearts and minds as possible with the gospel about our Savior.

Written by Rev. Matt Frey, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Summerlin, Nev.

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Building fellowship in Europe

Relationships don’t idle in neutral. Either they get stronger, or they grow weaker. With the blessing of God, our relationships with our sister churches in Europe are growing stronger.

Our oldest European relationship is with our sister church in Germany, the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK), which dates back to 1876. For years the Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR) has been representing WELS at the ELFK conventions. In addition, for over 40 years ELFK families have been sending children to one of our WELS prep schools. Some of their pastors have also studied at our seminary. Generous WELS members provided support as the ELFK established a grade school, and one of their first teachers was a WELS member. ELFK pastors read our Forward in Christ and Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly magazines, and sometimes translate articles into German for their church publications. One of their pastors also translates books by WELS authors into German. It’s a strong relationship that, as we’ll hear below, is now growing even stronger.

Pastor Martin Wilde (ELFK) and Professor James Danell

That’s not our only strong relationship in Europe though. Nearly every year, the Commission on Inter-Church Relations has visited sister congregations and brother pastors in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, often providing a doctrinal paper at one of their conventions. It has also maintained relationships with our sister churches in Ukraine and Latvia.

Recently the Commission on Inter-Church Relations shifted the work of maintaining these relationships to our World Mission One Teams. The result in Europe is strong relationships growing even stronger. The Europe mission team now has stateside representatives who support and encourage our other sister churches in Europe, too—Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Albania, and Russia.

In addition, the Europe mission team is moving Missionary Luke Wolfgramm and his wife Jennifer to Leipzig, Germany. From here, Missionary Wolfgramm will be able to support and encourage all of our sister churches in Europe.

One of the ways he will do that is by partnering with the ELFK and its 100-year old seminary in Leipzig to provide seminary training throughout Europe. Missionary Wolfgramm will also partner with Sweden’s seminary to provide pastors with continuing education.

Ukraine provides another example of strong relationships growing stronger. Since war broke out, our stateside Europe team representative has been in almost daily contact with the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC). In October, members of the ULC and ELFK came together to reach out to Ukrainian refugees.

Relationships have been growing stronger in other places as well. When the Wolfgramms were forced to leave Russia, they headed for Albania where Missionary Wolfgramm has been providing pastoral support and encouragement as well as seminary training. At the same time, he has been doing all he can to let our brothers and sisters in Russia know that we will support and encourage them in any way we can.

In Bulgaria, Pastoral Studies Institute professor Allen Sorum stays in regular contact with Pastor Iliyan Itsov as he reaches out to the Roma. He also joined Missionary Wolfgramm and ELFK seminary president Holger Weiss on a recent visit to our sister church in Latvia, where the three taught and encouraged the Latvian pastors and seminary students. Missionary Ben Foxen maintains contact with Pastor Petr Krakora in the Czech Republic, letting him know of our desire to support the Czech Ev. Lutheran Church and its Martin Luther School in their gospel work.

Then there is our brand-new London mission. We are excited to see how God will bless the gospel proclamation of Missionaries Michael Hartman and Conifer Berg as they bring the good news of Jesus Christ to this international city.

Working in partnership with our brothers and sisters in Christ across Europe, we pray for God’s blessing on each of our sister churches there and on our growing relationship with them.

Written by Rev. James Danell, Commission on Inter-Church Relations representative to the Europe mission team & Europe mission team representative to the ELFK

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Mother’s shelter renovations in Zambia

It is not uncommon to hear babies crying in the village of Mwembezhi, Zambia. In Psalm 127:3 it reads, “Children are a heritage from the Lord; offspring a reward from him.” The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has been helping protect the Lord’s gifts and their mothers for over 60 years. The Lutheran Rural Health Centre in Mwembezhi is located about 60 miles west of Lusaka, in Central Province of Zambia. The clinic provides Christ-centered healthcare services to people within its region. One of the primary functions of the clinic is pre and postnatal care: monitoring pregnant women throughout their pregnancies and then through labor and delivery. In 2021, 197 babies were born at the clinic. In fact, the Zambian government mandates that babies be born at health centers such as Mwembezhi, rather than at home.

Unlike the United States, people do not have cars or have easy access to ambulances or taxis to transport a mother to the clinic quickly when she goes into labor. To address the problem, the clinic created a mother’s shelter where expectant mothers can come two or three days before their due date then safely deliver the baby at the clinic. This is followed by proper postnatal care in the critical 48 hours after giving birth and resting before returning home. Before leaving, mothers are given gifts of baby blankets, onesies and baby hats, which are donated by our supporters in the United States.

Before renovations

The mother’s shelter, which consisted of two rooms—an open space and a storeroom (which the local police occasionally used as a jail cell)—had fallen into a state of disrepair. The roof leaked, windows were broken, masonry was cracked, doors were made from rusty iron roof sheets, the paint was peeling, woodwork was rotting in places, and there was no electricity or running water. It was clear that the building needed significant improvement and so a renovation project was proposed.

Additionally, because of an inspection of the clinic conducted by the Health Professional Council of Zambia in June 2022, it was decided that the clinic did not have proper and separate male and female observation rooms as required by Zambian health standards. Men and women were sharing the same observation room. So as part of the renovation project, it was decided that the old storeroom would be extended to create a larger mother’s room that could accommodate up to four mothers at a time, and the two previous mother’s rooms would be converted to male and female observation rooms.

CAMM was blessed to receive grants to fund the project from WELS Christian Aid and Relief and students from Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee, Wis. Construction began in September 2022 for the renovation and remodel of the building.

After renovations

The building received a new roof, windows were reglazed and repainted, rotting woodwork was replaced, cracked masonry was repaired, drainage around the building improved, walls and floors were replastered and repainted. A new concrete walkway was built between the mother’s shelter and the main clinic building. The shelter was connected to the clinic’s solar system and lights and electrical outlets were installed. Wash basins were also added. The building was re-opened in December 2022.

With the completion of the mother’s shelter, CAMM has now renovated all of the buildings associated with clinic operations. CAMM leadership wants to ensure that patients are treated with respect and quality in the facilities and staff who help them. The Lutheran Rural Health Centre is regarded as the best health center facility in the Shibuyunji health district. Most importantly, our patients hear the good news of the gospel and receive true Christian love from our staff during their care.

Written by Gary Evans, field director for the Central Africa Medical Mission

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The Evangelical Lutheran light at Christmas

“An evangelical? Lutheran? church? This I gotta check out…” Such was the thought process for Steve Yetter, when he received a new-mover mailer from the people of Mount Calvary in Redding, Calif. It was late 2020 when Steve moved from his home in Santa Cruz to be closer to family and that put him within Mount Calvary’s mailer radius. Steve had been part of evangelical churches before, but he wasn’t sure how evangelical and Lutheran went together. He stopped by our church on a Saturday, got a tour, and came back the next day for worship. Steve’s experience is a good example of how that “Evangelical Lutheran” comes shining through in Word and Sacrament. Steve continued to worship, took instruction classes, and joined the congregation. The Lord’s light was shining.

Steve Yetter and Pastor Schaefer

Now, Steve occasionally plays guitar for worship, sings in the adult choir, and attends Bible class regularly. After being in various churches throughout his life, the gospel-centered nature of Mount Calvary congregation is refreshing for Steve—that’s the true meaning of “evangelical.” It’s all about Jesus and his free salvation. “I got the love from the front and when I was in the pew, that love comes from the Light,” Steve said. The Lutheran emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s work through the means of grace has also been different from Steve’s past experience. “Other churches talk about being in the Word, but here we’re saturated with it.”

Christmas is commonly considered the season of light. Evangelical Lutherans get to share that light, so that sinners repent and believe the good news. This Christmas, that Evangelical Lutheran light was shining at two locations. Steve is part of a Core Group reaching out at a second campus in Anderson, Calif. Earlier this year Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church of Anderson voted to unite their ministry with Mount Calvary’s. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we now have two campuses and one joint congregation. Thankfully, we’re getting support and direction from our District Mission Board and working on growing together to share the light of Christ. It’s all new for us, and this Christmas we were able to experience the blessing of the Evangelical Lutheran light. The congregation at both locations welcomed over 40 visitors who came because of online advertising, personal invitations, and mailers—something Steve knows a little about. The adult choir sang on Christmas Day at both locations—something Steve got to be part of too. “It’s about getting the light out to more and more people,” Steve says. “I’m happy to be part of it.” We’re happy to be little lights, who know the one true Light. As Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

Written by Rev. Benjamin Schaefer, home missionary at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Redding, Calif.

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Counting the stars in Uganda

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

Uganda is a special place. “The Pearl of Africa,” they call it. It’s a beautiful country of rolling hills, mountains, and vegetation. The source of the Nile River is there, bubbling up from underneath Lake Victoria. During the day, my eyes couldn’t get enough of all that they were seeing.

It was when the sun went down, though, that I saw and was reminded of something even more beautiful.

My colleague, Missionary Keegan Dowling, and I had the privilege and honor of traveling to Uganda just before Christmas 2022 to teach about the life of Jesus to a group of pastors, evangelists, and lay leaders in the Obadiah Lutheran Synod (OLS). The OLS is a church body with whom WELS will be declaring formal fellowship during its 2023 synod convention. The workshop took place on the property of the church president, Pastor Musa (Moses), located in a village away from modern conveniences. The only electricity around was produced by a generator sparingly after night fell. This might not sound very pleasant, but it revealed something often hidden from our eyes.

The night sky. . .

Seeing that sky and the starlight that pierced its veil is something I will never forget. Thousands upon thousands of the great starry hosts twinkled above us, casting their soft light and dispersing the gloom. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the conversation God had with Abraham about the stars. . . “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them. . . So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5).

Pastor Dowling and I were blessed to be introduced to about 40 of those believing stars at this workshop. We taught many stories from the life of Jesus, from his birth to his ascension, and these stars soaked it up. Then they showed us their own capacity for light-bearing as they taught and retaught the same lessons in our practical sessions. Our goal was not only to teach them more about Jesus, but to teach them to teach their people more about Jesus.

Who could have guessed that we would meet some of Abraham’s descendants in this remote village in a country halfway around the world from the home we knew? Jesus can count the stars.

He knew he’d be introducing me to Tony, a persistent optimist and a man trained to be an educator. He sees many challenges facing their church body (lack of Bibles, for one), but he sees more opportunities for doing gospel ministry. He wants to give Bibles away, show films about Jesus to the community, start a Lutheran school for children, travel to Sudan to do missionary work there, and more.

Jesus knew about Jaka, a refugee from South Sudan due to the war going on there. He lives and serves in a refugee camp on the Ugandan side of the border. Jaka lives separated from his parents. In spite of his experiences, he praises and glorifies God. He also keeps his sense of humor and was often the one making everyone laugh.

Jesus introduced me to another star, Isaac, one of the few men there who has been seminary trained. He had been doing work with another church in Uganda, but eventually left for doctrinal reasons and has been in touch with WELS for some time. I was privileged to be part of the meeting where he and his two companions officially requested to become a part of the OLS in Uganda. Three others who weren’t able to make it to the workshop will also be joining. More stars. . .

Finally, Jesus knew about Pastor Musa, the current president of the OLS, shining brightly for all of them. He and two others started this church body back in 2008. They had neither congregations nor resources. Today, the OLS has nearly 30 congregations in spite of still having very few resources. Their motto has often been: “We will make use of whatever resources are available.” That goes for money and people as well. Many of the workshop participants were young, in their late teens or early twenties, and they had very little training. But Musa is determined to train them and have their gifts put to use to teach the people in their congregations. That way the light of Jesus may shine all the more brightly, and more and more stars of Abraham might make themselves known as they pierce that blanket of night.

As you look up at the night sky, wherever you are, count the stars you so often can’t see. Count these descendants of Abraham who shine with the light of Jesus. Pray that our Savior would cause them to burn ever more brightly, that the whole world may be bathed in the light of God’s fulfilled promise to Abraham.

Written by Rev. Ben Foxen, Outreach Missionary on the One Africa Team




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Merry Christmas from WELS Missions!

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55: 10-11

What gifts will you get this Christmas? What gifts will you give? This time of year, we tend to focus on so many earthly things, but we know these things do not last. The truth of forgiveness in Jesus IS what lasts. He came down from heaven and lived a perfect life to give us the only thing we need: eternal life in heaven with him. This gift is ours. For free. There is no greater gift.

We here in Home, World, and Joint Missions are humbled to serve God and his family of believers. It is truly a privilege to share the message of God’s greatest gift to all believers, Jesus Christ, with all people. It is through people like YOU that God enables this work to continue. Thank you! Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we see the miracle of faith sprouting up all over the United States and world. May we all strive to plant seeds of faith and share God’s Word, because he promises it will not return empty. The Word goes out and always achieves God’s purpose.

Merry Christmas from your brothers and sisters in Christ serving WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions!

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Chinese worship launches in Coquitlam

November was full of blessings for Abiding Love Lutheran Church, a Chinese ministry based in Coquitlam, BC, Canada. Since being assigned to serve this new mission full-time after graduating from the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program in 2020, Pastor Qiang Wang and his wife Susan have been faithfully witnessing to the Chinese community in and around Coquitlam.

After two years of waiting, God blessed their efforts and Abiding Love launched public worship on November 27, 2022 (pictured above). They will continue to offer Chinese worship twice a month in Vancouver, which is central to many members of Abiding Love.

In addition, Susan’s Chinese dance group hosted a dance show at a local community center on November 26. It was the first public event held by the Chinese group since the pandemic. Members and prospects volunteered at the event (pictured right) and had a chance to get know to many other people and tell them about the ministry.

The Wangs continue church potlucks, hosting prospects in their home, offering three online Bible studies per week, and facilitating online Sunday school. You can read more about the Wangs and how Chinese ministry in Coquitlam got started in this Forward in Christ article from May 2020.

View photos from their launch, the November dance show, and other ministry activities on Flickr.

 




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Lighting the way through holidays

Jesus boldly stated that “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Only through Jesus can we reach heaven and spend eternity with God. As Christians, we have God’s calling to walk together and invite others to join us on the way to paradise. The challenge, at times, is gathering a crowd to hear the Good News we have in Jesus. For Reformation Lutheran Church and School in San Diego, Calif., the hosting of traditional American holiday get-togethers has helped gather a crowd. The target audience for some of these gatherings has been Reformation’s neighbors who have come to the U.S. from other countries. The church and school have discovered that there is a strong interest in the local immigrant community to participate in American customs and holidays. Some of the Asian families living near Reformation saw the stores advertising for the Thanksgiving holiday and wondered what it would be like to participate in such a festival. When these families received Reformation’s invitation to a Thanksgiving meal, many were eager to join the gathering.

Mark Jiang leading the opening prayer

Mark Jiang is a Chinese man who connected with Reformation at a Thanksgiving celebration several years ago and reflected on the significance of such gatherings: “It’s so important for our church to host a Thanksgiving dinner. We have many Asian family in San Diego: some of these families have their children in our school, some families are new comers to the U.S. It is our duty to welcome and give God’s love to these families, not only for their daily life, but also help them to know God. God’s Word is the lamp to our path (Psalm 119:105), so we use this opportunity to connect with families around us, to help them, especially in this thanksgiving season to help our families to think of all the thanks we can give to God.”

Mark Jiang is now enrolled in the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) studying to be a WELS pastor. Mark counts his blessings as he remembers receiving an invitation to gather with American Christian friends for the holidays. Let us all consider how we can use opportunities like holidays to share with someone that our Savior is truly the way to their eternal life. May the Word of our God continue to be a lamp for your feet and a light for your path as you follow the Way to heaven.

Written by Rev. Neil Birkholz, North American Asian Ministry Consultant 

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Thinking creatively

Last month, Asia Lutheran Seminary attended the Hong Kong Christian book fair. Tony, the connections missionary attended the event and made for himself a personal goal: to get our materials into the hands of as many people as he could. At the end of the day he had handed out over 7,000 Time of Grace booklets, small devotionals ranging on a variety of topics. The Hong Kong Christian book fair is held every year, selling Asia Lutheran Seminary publications, including books from Dr. Thompson and other various Lutheran resources. Attending the annual book fair is just another way for Asia Lutheran Seminary to get its name out there. Tony said, “I just wanted to hand out resources, I never expected that many people would walk away with materials and learn about Asia Lutheran Seminary.”

Despite the fact that most of the world is living in a post-COVID world, the COVID policies are still in place in Hong Kong, which has led to many opportunities to think creatively about how to continue to search for students and connect to others, the book fair being one of them.

And it’s not just Tony who is thinking creatively. The resilience of the church in east Asia is also impressive. Tony said, “Historically and again now in the present we are seeing how resilient the church in East Asia is. And how, despite that fact, they have found creative ways to continue to grow and find lost sheep.”

Written by Peter Janke, missionary on the East Asia mission team

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More than we ask or imagine

“Pastor, we would like to meet with you to baptize our daughter.” That was the message that was left on our church answering machine 22 years ago. I was the first pastor of a brand-new mission church called Faith Lutheran Church in Radcliff, Ky., next to Ft. Knox army base.

Jared was the dad who left that message. He and his wife Cady brought their daughter, Madison, to church to be baptized. I took Jared and Cady through adult instruction classes. Jared had grown up Lutheran in another synod. Cady never really went to church growing up. In her words, I was her first real pastor.

Being in the military, Jared and Cady and their three daughters have moved 15 times around the United States in the past 22 years. Wherever they have moved, they have found the closest Wisconsin Synod church. There were times a church wasn’t close, and they had to drive an hour one way for worship. When they were stationed at West Point, where Jared was teaching as a Colonel, they invited cadets to their home where they set up a makeshift altar and worship space in their living room. They used materials provided by WELS Military Services for worship.

In May, I attended my first graduation service at Martin Luther College – our college for training for the public ministry. 22 years after I poured water over her head and spoke God’s Word into her ears and heart, I watched Madison walk the stage to receive her teaching degree.

Who could have imagined that all this could result from an answering machine message? A family that became a blessing to our mission church – and numerous other mission churches – a family committed to God’s Word, and another servant of the Lord trained at Martin Luther College. God will do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

The Lord of the Church has blessed me with the experience of a home missionary so that I am now serving as a District Mission Board chairman. Now I am working with the people, pastors, and churches of our southeastern Wisconsin district to start new mission congregations and support those that have already been started.

As people, pastors, and churches, let us continue to pray for our established churches, our fledgling churches, and those new churches we wish to start. Together we pray and trust that God will use our combined gifts to bring that family to church. That child to the baptismal font. To leave that message on the church answering machine. Then years and decades later, we will see that God has done and will continue to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

“Now to him, who is able, according to the power that is at work within us, to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20, 21).

Written by Rev. Michael Zarling, Southeastern Wisconsin District Mission Board Chairman.

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Still open, and open wide

If walls could talk, I’d be asking the walls of the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible a few questions.

Open Bible? It’s the name of a quaint, white painted wooden church in Whiteriver, Arizona, nestled on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. It was dedicated in April of 1922. That clocks the building at 100+ years old. Like any centenarian, these walls have heard a lot. Imagine all the meetings, discussions, services, studies, classes, and conversations that have taken place inside the church. If these walls could talk, I’m guessing they’d have a lot to say.

Celebrating 100 years of Open Bible

I went to Open Bible on October 15, 2022. It was no ordinary day. We enjoyed a meal and live music; we were blessed with guest speakers, historical videos, and a worship service. It was the 100th anniversary celebration. About 275 gathered that day. Looking around inside the building, some questions about the history of Open Bible came to mind. . . why then? Why there? And why are there holes in the stained-glass windows?

Oh, if walls could talk. But they didn’t. I’m being stonewalled, hey? Well, even though the walls didn’t say anything, some people did.

Why then? Bill Kessel did a masterful and engaging job of explaining the history of Open Bible. I wondered, why was Open Bible built when it was? Bill answered my question with an analogy; God answered it with a Scriptural truth. Picture two local rivers, twisting and turning through the White Mountains. At times, far apart, sometimes near, but always separated by a rocky landscape; but then eventually the two courses of water meet, flow together and form one river. Now picture two lives. Two men, one Apache and one German. Two individuals about as different as two could be. Geographically they were sometimes far apart and other times near, but their paths never crossed. Until one day they did. They found each other. Or, better said, God brought them together. With his own power and his own timing, the Lord set them on a common course. From then on, their lives, like two rivers converging, flowed as one. God had the heart of the Apache Chief Alchesay and the WELS Missionary Rev. Edgar Guenther in his hand. No one could have ever imagined that God used a flu pandemic to bring two “rivers” together to meet at just the right time (1918) to accomplish what he desired. Rev. Guenther did his work, the Holy Spirit did his. The gospel was shared. A faith was born. A friendship formed.

Chief Alchesay

Why there? God not only determined our times, but also the places. . . What was God carrying out in the rocky landscape of Whiteriver? His plans. Plans that no one ever could have imagined. With a newfound faith in Jesus, Chief Alchesay and other Apache desperately wanted a church in their Whiteriver community. Not just any church, mind you. A Lutheran one. One that would faithfully preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. They expressed their desire for a place of worship. God honored the yearning of their hearts. A petition was signed. Permission was granted. Land was given. A church was built. It was a memorable day on April 30, 1922. A key was presented. The door was opened. Open Bible was dedicated.

On that single day, 101 Apache were baptized! Chief Alchesay was the first, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Open Bible currently has a membership of about 900 souls. The message of the anniversary day reflected the promise of God: “Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.” (Exodus 20:24b) God is doing just that. Coming and blessing. Kirk Massey, pastor of Open Bible, is quick to thank the Lord that the members of Open Bible are taking ownership of the ministries there.

But I had one more question: Why are there holes in the stained-glass windows? The answer was honest and straightforward. . . bullets and a bottle. Someone fired a few rounds of a rifle and someone else threw a whiskey bottle. The results were the same. Broken windows. What prompted the shooting and the throwing, no one knows. Probably never will. Frustrating? Yes, because stained-glass windows are a challenge to repair. The cost is high, and repairmen are few. But instead of anger over what we can’t control (or even fix), how about looking at the window holes through a different lens? Broken panes can serve as a reminder of a broken life. Certainly, our own. Who hasn’t seen or experienced a broken relationship, promise, or body? But especially that of Jesus! Ironically, the windows in Open Bible that have been broken are the ones that create the 3-paned picture of Jesus hanging on the cross. If any life was broken, it was Jesus’! Not just his body, but his relationship with his Father. The significance is as astounding as it is life-changing. By way of Jesus’ brokenness, we are made whole! What we can’t restore, Jesus can.

Bill Kessel with members from Cibecue

And he will. If not in this life, then in the next. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10) Broken? Take heart, Jesus is the key to full restoration.

Speaking of a key, just prior to his death, Chief Alchesay had one request. (And it was honored). He humbly asked to be buried with something that was extremely special to him: A key to Open Bible. Why? He came to believe that Jesus Christ was the key that had opened the Scriptures to him and heaven for him. Alchesay was filled with humble joy that he–chief of sinners–was forgiven and chosen by God to be one of his children. He considered it a great honor to help build the church so that the Word could be preached, well, to help build the Church.

The Whiteriver church still stands to the glory of God to share with people that the Father’s heart, Jesus’ arms, Holy Scriptures, and heaven’s door are still open, and open wide.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native American mission counselor




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Happy Thanksgiving from WELS Missions!

Sometimes it takes a bad situation to bring out the best in us.

Medical advances are taken for granted until someone in your family desperately needs help. Peace and prosperity aren’t seen as gifts until a country is plunged into war. A roof over our heads is not given a second thought until a hurricane rips it off. Food on our plates is expected, but that expectation can melt away in an instant where drought or famine hit hard. When help arrives in a desperate situation, thanksgiving can shine. Doctors, soldiers, emergency crews, and aid workers can fill pages with accounts of people filled with gratitude when help arrives.

Help in a bad situation can bring out the best in us. This is why thanksgiving should never be far from our lips. We were all in the most desperate of circumstances. Born into a sinful world and determined from birth to rebel against our Creator, we were in the most horrible situation imaginable. We deserved to be separated from our Maker for eternity. But God intervened. He sent his Son and saved us. He redeemed the entire world from sin by his death on the cross. He proved his success, and ours, by his resurrection from the dead. It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul encourages all believers to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We in the WELS Missions office have the great honor of seeing God’s amazing grace reach the far corners of the world. Aid for families touched by diseases, wars, disasters, and famine are always welcomed with expressions of thanks and joy from our Christian family around the world. That thanksgiving is raised to the highest heights as we rejoice with them in the greatest gifts of all: the gifts of God’s eternal grace, mercy, and peace. Thank you for helping us bring the life-giving gospel to the world. Enjoy this short video that shares how God blessed that work in 2022.

Join with us this Thanksgiving to rejoice at what God has done for us all. Rejoice that many are helped when life in this vale of tears gets tough. Shout praises to God for the blessing of being able to share this good news with the world.

From all of us in WELS Missions, we thank God for you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions

 




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A rich welcome

Dear Heavenly Father,

The hymns have been sung, the Scripture has been read, and the sermon has been preached. The hands have been laid, the verses spoken, the blessing pronounced, and the promises made. Yes, even the cake and other treats have been eaten, the fellowship enjoyed, and the pictures taken. It’s officially done.

Lord, on Sunday, October 2, 2022, in Whiteriver, Ariz., at a historically significant WELS church called Open Bible, Pastor Kirk Massey installed me as the Native Christians Counselor on the Native American mission team. But I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know, Lord. I’m not informing you of something you didn’t already see. The comforting truth, Lord, is that you knew it all before it all even happened. Long before the Divine Call was extended, you saw that this day would arrive and you knew who would be there. You ordained what would happen and that it would happen.

It did.

Lord, thank you for all those brothers and sisters in Christ who were able to join us. The events of the day were humbling, and indeed were a rich welcome into the Native American mission. Thank you, Father, for each one with whom we will now do ministry and do life, both on and off the reservations. Thank you for the many people who stand beside and walk alongside us: our families, our friends, our synod, our co-workers. Thank you for those who have gone on before and for those who will come after. Whether near or far, in person or on Zoom, the family in Christ truly is a gift from you. And so is the work.

Ah, yes. The work.

When we stepped out of the installation service that day, we didn’t just step outside. We stepped into the mission field. One statistic in particular sticks in my mind, Lord. More than 90% of Native Americans aren’t Christian. They don’t believe in Jesus. They don’t know the true and only way of salvation.

As I stood in the open air, it was then that I once again realized: it’s not just the high altitude of the White Mountains that takes my breath away. So does the thought of the mountain of mission work looming before us. The ministry work appears, not just like a solitary mountain on the distant horizon, but more like a sprawling range surrounding us on all sides. Seemingly endless. As far as the eye can see.

Lord God, you were–and are–very much aware of all the ministry opportunities and challenges that lie before us. And around us. Bless our efforts according to your will.

Please hear me, Father. Not just my prayer here, but also the petitions, intercessions, and requests still to come. The ones that I’ll be saying later today, tomorrow, and the day after that. And the ones after that. Yes, Lord, I recognize not just the monumental task before us on the Native American mission field, but also the overwhelming sinfulness within me. It looms large. Mountain large. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” (I hear you, Paul. I feel your struggle).

But by your power, dear Father, I also hear your voice. Thank you for telling me of the rock-solid certainty of forgiveness through your Son Jesus. Because he shed his blood, I’m washed clean! You, a perfect God, in love with a sinner such as I? Yes, shocking, I know. But that’s just it. Your gospel is as surprising as it is real.

So when I step out my door, Lord, or look out my window or drive down the road, let the mountains be a daily and vivid reminder of the one Jesus climbed for me.

For there on that Calvary mountain, as he hung on the cross. He was paying a price too steep for our blood. But not for his. Paid in full. Was it worth it? For us, yes! We get a free gift, though at a high cost. He decided that he’d rather go to hell for us than to live in heaven without us.

Open Bible Ladies Choir

Salvation won.

How richly blessed we are to have a God like you. What a great reason and motivation for us to work while it is day in the Native American mission and beyond. You give us a reason to raise our voices in song! The ladies from Open Bible congregation did just that. How wonderful it was to hear them sing How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace. . . in the Apache language, no less. All glory to you, Lord!

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for inspiring the Apostle Peter to write the text, and thank you for leading Pastor Gary Lupe to preach it. Verse 11 is such a comfort. Thank you for including it in your Word:

“And you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Your Word, Lord, brings to our attention what lies ahead. (And we just got a taste of it). So when it is no longer day and when our faith turns to sight and our prayers to praise, we will be ushered into our eternal kingdom with a rich welcome.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native American mission counselor

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Blessings and answered prayers

431 days. That is the number of days between my first day living in Waco, Tex. (July 7, 2021) and our launch service at Christ Our Refuge (September 11, 2022). 431 days of planning led to a major milestone in the life of our local congregation. While we always viewed our launch service as a starting line and not a finish line, it is still good to reflect on blessings and answered prayers from God. I’d like to share three specific examples from our launch service with you.

Visitors
We had everything set up and ready to go on the morning of our launch service. We were just waiting for people to show up. One member said, “I just pray we have some visitors show up this morning.” God answered her prayer. I was standing outside greeting people when our first visitors arrived. It was a young couple with two little girls. One of the first things the mom said to me was that she had never been baptized, but she wanted to be. She went on to say that they wanted to have their two little girls baptized as well. It’s as if God was telling me, “Look, I’m going to bless the work that is being done here.” In all, we had 15 prospect visitors join us for our launch service.

Worship Facility
Our core group met in a number of different places during the 431 days that led up to our launch service. We met at on the outdoor patio of a pizza place, in member’s homes, and in a smoke-filled VFW Hall to name a few. We spent a lot of time searching for a space where we could hold worship services. The VFW Hall, a school gym, and an event space were a few of the options. Ultimately, God blessed us with a 6,000 square foot building which we were able to lease full-time and make our own. It is such a blessing to have a permanent location in the community and a place to come together and worship our God!

Music
Our initial core group (12 adults and 5 kids) did not contain a lot of musical ability. We prayed a lot for a solution to our lack of music. Enter Lilia. Lilia is a WELS member who just started her freshman year at Baylor. Our launch service had beautiful music thanks to Lilia using her gifts to glorify her God!

A launch service is something to celebrate, and we certainly thank God for all the ways he blessed us in the 431 days leading up to it. However, it is just the starting line. Please continue to pray for the ministry at Christ Our Refuge as we seek to share Jesus with the lost in our community.

Written by Rev. Andrew Westra, home missionary at Christ Our Refuge in Waco, Tex.

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The glory is God’s – New beginnings in San Antonio, Tex.

Our grand opening service began months before September with a planning meeting. Our core group (a small group of dedicated individuals that do the work of starting a church) met at pastor’s house to plan the details of a service that we planned the year before. With our goal for worship set, we were able to focus on our mission. The “West Campus” is the second site of Our Savior Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Tex. We are dedicated to finding family, serving our community, and growing in God’s Word. We wanted to make our grand opening service all three.

  • We want to be a place where anyone can find family. The core group had time before our grand opening to plan events and build relationships. We were finding family and giving personal invitations. We had time to plan a service that hosted guests and created conversation. Our approach was simple: food (breakfast tacos and local cookies) and children’s activities.
  • We want to be a church that serves community. Instead of guessing, we took our time before our grand opening to learn about our community. We held community events and engaged with the people we want to serve.
  • We are a church that grows in God’s Word. We held many “preview” services so that our grand opening would go smoothly. As a mobile church it takes a lot of practice to set up and take down an entire worship service. Our hospitality team worked hard to make sure we greeted all our guests in a professional and meaningful way. Our music group put in countless hours of practice so that we sounded great. Our children’s ministry established itself quickly to be ready for the big day.

As a multi-site church we not only invited our community, but we also invited the entire central campus. We wanted everyone to be a part of our first service.

Finally, on September 11, 2022, we held our grand opening service. Thanks to the planning, attention to detail, and by God’s grace, we were ready on time. But we were not ready for what came next. Our core group made it early. Guests from the central campus came pouring in; the support was overwhelming. Prospects and friends brought their families. Guests were coming for the first time because they got our community flier.

As the service was starting, our emergency chair volunteer was hard at work setting up more and more rows of chairs. God blessed us with a grand opening that was larger than the core group imagined. It was a humbling moment.

But the greatest thing that happened that day wasn’t anything that we did. The greatest thing was that we held a service that focused everyone’s attention on the promises of God in word and song. God used us to publicly proclaim his name to people, old and new. The glory is God’s.

I’m going to guess that not many home mission congregations write blogs about the second service they hold. It’s not planned out as much. But the truth is, the best part of any grand opening service happens the next Sunday too. And God willing, every Sunday after that.

Written by Rev. Micah Koelpin, home missionary at Our Savior Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Tex.

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Supporting the family of believers

Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Psalm 105:1-3

We have many reasons to thank our gracious Lord. Precisely in difficult times, we recognize his merciful love particularly clearly. The Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) has been part of the worldwide Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) from the beginning. Since then, there have been sometimes more, sometimes less close ties between the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany and the ULC. With the outbreak of the Russian war against Ukraine, the blessings God bestows on people from different cultures through spiritual fellowship became evident. Our history differs, but the unified faith in the common Savior, Jesus Christ unites us.

For members of the ELFK, it was not a question at all whether we will help people who had to leave their homeland because of the war. We were only moved by the question: How can we help? As Christians, we want to thank God for the grace and love he has shown us. Through the Apostle Paul, he let us know how we can show this gratitude in a special way: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galations 6:10) And so we were moved by the question: What possibilities will God open up for us, especially to help brothers and sisters in faith from the war zone in Ukraine? Since then, some refugees have also found refuge in the vicinity of our congregations. God has blessed us richly and prepared hearts to help those who often arrived here with only a suitcase or a few bags. They were warmly welcomed. Bishop Horpynchuk (ULC) and I were in communication to help brothers and sisters in faith and to find lodgings near congregations. God helped us to help. Glory be to him forever and ever!

An idea to say thank you to the helpers and at the same time to support ELFK in proclaiming the Good News among Ukrainian refugees was allowed to become a reality in October 2022 when the Baroque Plus ensemble from Kiev visited Germany. Let me take a little personal look back:

The Baroque Plus ensemble

I look back with gratitude and joyful emotion on a week in which we were able to get to know and love new friends. As president of the ELFK, I am grateful to God. I had the opportunity to experience fellowship with brothers and sisters in faith during these days. Already on the evening of the arrival of the ensemble, there was a joyful reunion for my wife and I. At the end of April this year, we had offered a guest room in our parsonage to an ill parishioner of the Resurrection Church in Kiev. When he went back home on May 11, tears flowed. We knew we would meet him again in our heavenly home, but the war was still a reality in Kiev and so we worried about him and his family. No one had told us that Petro would be one of the drivers who would take the ensemble from Kiev to Saxony. And so on October 11, exactly five months after his departure, we were happy and grateful to see and hug him once again.

Although we did not know the other members of the team beforehand, we became familiar with each other very quickly. Wherever Christians come together, they are united by the same faith. God brings them together and lets them enjoy the fellowship. We were able to experience this clearly. It was also good for us to see the smiling faces. We knew that one day after their departure from Kiev, the attacks with drones and missiles on the Ukrainian capital flared up again. Our guests also knew that. Whenever there was even the slightest thought of home, smiles changed to tears. As the group was on route to Germany, a rocket struck in close proximity to the house where the families of the bishop and a member of the ensemble live. Windows were broken, but God helped and preserved loved ones.

I would like to tell you another short incident. After the ensemble had rehearsed once again in Nerchau, there was an opportunity for a walk. We all enjoyed walking along the narrow river Mulde under the sunshine, blue sky, and colorful trees. Again and again, the conversation partners changed. During one of these conversations, a member of the ensemble told me, “It’s so nice and quiet here.” There was again, the thought of the situation at home: sirens wailing for air alerts, bullets whistling, and explosions thundering. At the same time, by God’s grace, we may live in peace, enjoy tranquility, and go about our work as usual.

Since February 24, 2022, it has been our daily prayer that God will soon give peace to Ukraine. The threatening gestures from Moscow have expanded those prayers. For a few weeks now we have been increasingly asking God to keep peace in our country and give it again in Europe. We know that God is in the regiment. He directs and guides everything. And he is also almighty in this. We can trust in him. As the Apostle Paul says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) It is perhaps not easy for us to see how a war with all its hardship should serve any human being for the best. But let me say this at the end of this unfortunately much too long article: If only one lost person has come to faith in the Savior through the journey of the Baroque Plus ensemble, through the fellowship in the church services, through the proclamation of the gospel and the love connected with it, then it was the best for this new sheep in the flock of our Lord Christ. And then there will also be joy about this sheep in heaven (Luke 15:7).

I would like to close with another thank you. Thanks to God, who made possible and blessed the journey of Baroque Plus. Thanks to the brothers and sisters in Ukraine, who had the idea and the willingness to travel almost 2,000 km by car to faraway Saxony, a part of Germany. But thanks also to all the brothers and sisters in faith in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) for all their support in praying, preparing, and carrying out this wonderful opportunity. We look forward to a healthy reunion – if not here on earth, then certainly in our eternal homeland.

Shared by Rev. Michael Herbst, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany




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Fellowship in Latvia

What does “fellowship” look like?

The Europe mission team is working to strengthen ties between WELS and a dozen confessional Lutheran churches of Europe. These churches believe the same things we do. Now what?

Have you ever heard of the Confessional Lutheran Church in Latvia? Luke and I visited Latvia once in 2002 to apply for fresh Russian visas. Two Latvian pastors (who are brothers) took extra good care of us. Ivo and Ugis Sildegs arranged a place for us to stay, showed off tourist sights, and helped us contact the Russian embassy. They also introduced us to the Latvian church. We met a team of pastors working on a weekly, professional-grade newspaper aimed at the public. We ate birthday cake with their synod president. We had a great time – even though the February weather was rough!

Then we went back to Novosibirsk. For the next 20 years WELS had only limited contact with our brothers and sisters in Latvia. In fact, it has been ten years since anyone from WELS visited them.

This past May 40 participants from CELC sister churches gathered in Albania where Luke and I are currently living. Three representatives from Latvia also attended the conference. One of them was Ivo, the pastor who had cared for us so many years ago. After the conference we kept in touch with Ivo and made plans for a fall visit.

We just finished our second trip to Riga a couple days ago. What did we find?

Rev. Luke and Jennifer Wolfgramm

We found people worried about surviving the winter. We stayed in an apartment in downtown Riga that was freezing cold inside. When we asked the neighbor if her apartment had heat, she said, “No, and we’ll be thankful if the heat ever turns on this winter!” One of the pastors kept busy chopping wood for the church’s wood-burning stove nearly every day of our visit. Another congregation is working to replace its natural gas heater with a geo-thermal system. Leaders repeatedly told us, “We can’t make plans too far in advance. We just need to get through this winter.”

We found people worried about war. A large statue of a woman in downtown Riga commemorates Latvian independence which they won only in 1918 – and promptly lost again during WWII. Latvia has a long history of being controlled by other neighboring countries. They worry that if Ukraine falls, they will be next. Fellowship means sharing each other’s burdens. We listened sympathetically, but we didn’t despair!

Best of all fellowship means studying God’s Word and praying together. The men studied Old Testament “Wisdom Literature.” There was an especially poignant moment when they read Song of Songs: “See how the young man in this book loves his wife? Jesus is our faithful husband who shed His blood for us, His bride. Will He now abandon us to face cold and violence alone? Never!” Those words meant something to those church leaders. What a joy to share God’s promises!

We found opportunities in the church. We met talented, experienced pastors and three gifted seminary students. (That’s huge! There are only 300 people in the Latvian church.) Fellowship means sharing resources, organizing online seminary classes during the year, and in-person courses in the summer. Fellowship means worshiping together on Sunday, drinking tea, and sharing news from Albania, Finland, Germany, and the U.S. Fellowship means rejoicing in our new-found friendships and marveling that this is just the beginning of eternity.

We found opportunities in the community. Everywhere we turned we heard people speaking Russian. Some were from Russia, but many have fled from Eastern Ukraine. They’ve left everything, maybe for a time, maybe forever. They miss home. They miss their families. Fellowship means working together to assist those in physical need. Fellowship means sharing Jesus’ peace with souls groaning for good news.

It was a week of strengthening fellowship. A week of studying, worshiping, and praying together. Visiting, eating, and laughing together. Celebrating our common faith, love, and purpose, and looking forward to the next time we can meet again!

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

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