Faces of faith on the Apache reservations in Arizona

I love the inspiring Faces of Faith articles that are done by WELS Mission Promotions. The trouble these days is that faces are all I get to see. I don’t know how it is for all of you in the rest of the world, but the COVID-19 virus has locked our Apache reservations up tightly.

Some of our reservation communities have high rates of infection, and in other communities, there is fear that the virus will spread quickly because the average home is crowded and multi-generational. There have been no church services or Bible Classes since March. Gatherings of more than 10 and now 5 are prohibited. Stay at home orders have taken away the ability to go fishing or walk along the road for exercise. Checkpoints are set up at community entrance points to keep visitors out and restrict residents from leaving except on certain days of the week. So, we’re left with faces. Faces on Zoom meetings or video calls from home, and halves of faces behind a mask from six feet away at the grocery store.

Devastation from the wildfires

But those faces still show us faith. Or at least the evidence of it. Several weeks ago, there was a wildfire in one of our reservation communities. Several families lost everything. Houses, vehicles, personal possessions, and irreplaceable family mementos went up in smoke on one terrible afternoon. And guess what happened? Before the smoke even cleared, our church members were offering to help. Over the next days, truckloads of clothes, personal hygiene supplies, blankets, and food came from Native Christians expressing their faith through their actions. Others brought money to help the families. Their generosity was astounding! They gave freely and willingly from what they had without holding back. They couldn’t hug, couldn’t gather at the same time, and couldn’t even get closer than six feet. Their faces were masked, but their faith was visible.

It could be a while on our Apache reservations before we can see more than faces on a video screen. But the faith of our Native Christian people remains very visible in new ways.

As Native Christians we have donated more than 1,900 masks to local hospitals, and our members are working hard sewing hundreds more. While our pastors and teachers work hard to share Jesus without church services or classrooms full of students, our members are also being bold in sharing God’s Word and showing Christian concern with words and actions. May God bless you too as you find new and creative ways to share the ancient and unchanging story of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!

Written by Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator on the Apache reservations in Arizona

 

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I have been a sojourner in a foreign land

Ndine Mlendo M’dziko Lachildendo – “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22)

In 1968, a young graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary joined his father and a small team of missionaries in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, to lend a hand teaching students in the Lutheran Bible Institute. That young man’s name was Ernst Richard Wendland, and 52 years later he is still serving WELS as a missionary in Africa.

In 1955 WELS missionaries first arrived in what was then called Northern Rhodesia. The next decade saw slow, painstaking gains for the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA), as the missionaries preached sermons, performed baptisms, and instructed new members, often with the help of African evangelists. By the mid-1960s, the LCCA had established its worker training program in a Lusaka suburb under the direction of Missionary Ernst H. Wendland. This development coincided with the expansion of WELS mission work to the neighboring country of Malawi. The 1960s also saw the construction of a Lutheran health clinic in the rural district of Mwembezhi, staffed by nurses from the United States. One of them (in 1969) was a young nurse named Margaret Westendorf, who became Ernst’s wife in 1971.

The LCCA is now an independent church body of over 10,000 souls. Zambian national pastors and lay leaders serve all 113 of the congregations situated in many different areas of the country. As for the Wendlands, God blessed them with four children–Rob, Joel, Stephen, and Naomi.

Missionary Wendland has had a front row seat to all of these changes and many more. “The aims of the early WELS missionaries have been achieved and valued by most nationals—namely, to establish a confessional, evangelical, Lutheran church body in an area of Africa where none existed before, and to partner with national leaders and trained pastors so that they would progressively take over the work that missionaries had done before.” The backbone of that mission strategy was, and still is, the training of men who will serve as pastors. Candidates for the program first receive training through a program called Theological Education by Extension, then enter a two-tiered school of the Lutheran Bible Institute in Malawi and Lutheran Seminary in Zambia. Missionary Wendland has taught various classes at both the Bible Institute and Seminary level.

Upon graduation and ordination, pastors continue to benefit from ongoing educational programs. Missionary Wendland helped originate and facilitate the original Greater Africa Theological Studies Institute (GRATSI), a program of post-graduate studies offering both Bachelors of Divinity and Masters of Theology degrees. These post-seminary programs have now been incorporated into the Confessional Lutheran Institute (CLI), which will help coordinate all of the pastoral enrichment programs that WELS has to offer its partners in Africa. What is truly exciting is that some of the Zambian nationals are now co-teachers with their former instructors at the Lutheran Seminary. God deserves the glory for development of the LCCA into a mature church body, and we thank God for using Missionary Wendland and many other faithful missionaries to realize this goal.

Wendland says, “This has always been a mutually educative and supportive relationship with the LCCA. There are certain things that I could teach my fellow pastors and teachers, while there are many things that they have taught me over the years—right up to the present day, especially in the area of language, culture, and a different world-view perspective on the Scriptures. I could not have carried out, let alone prospered, in my various mission-related endeavors without the essential guidance, correction, and encouragement provided by my national brothers in Christ.”

Missionary Wendland’s linguistic talents have served him well in his duties as the Language Coordinator for LCCA Publications, a post he has held since 1972. In addition, he has served the United Bible Societies as a language consultant for 40 years working in Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Wendland’s goal has always been “to identify and train national pastors who have the double gift of understanding English well coupled with the ability of translating our publications competently in the natural style of a local Bantu language.” In addition to teaching students at the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Missionary Wendland has shared his extensive experience in translation work with students in South Africa, Israel, and Hong Kong.

The Wendlands have followed a very different path through life than their fellow WELS members, as God has blessed them with the opportunity to spend two-thirds of their lifetime in Africa. Missionary Wendland expresses his gratitude to WELS for their generous support for so many years. He also underscores his admiration for “the friendly, helpful nature of the various African peoples in this part of the world—their desire to learn more about God’s Word and how to apply it in their lives, including certain social settings that present many challenges and tests of faith like warfare, disease, droughts, and economic downturns.” As we continue to be tested by the COVID-19 outbreak, may God also help us to cling to his promises and apply his Word to our lives.

Written by John Roebke, Communications Coordinator for the WELS One Africa Team

 

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I’ll miss the mission, but will she miss me?

I’ll miss the mission. . . but I am so thankful to God that I didn’t miss the mission. Almost 37 years ago, I was given a chance to do something that most Christians can only dream of doing. God called me to leave my fork and spoon behind so I could learn to use chopsticks. God asked me to lay aside English to learn one of the most complicated languages Babel ever produced.

I’ll miss the mission. When my wife and I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan, we were met by a family with whom I have now served 36 years. No one could have prepared me for the exhilaration of being able to sing “Jesus loves me” in another tongue. No one could have gotten me ready for the deep thankfulness to God I would feel over the first convert in my work that he allowed me to see. God used me to help nurture a national church that is now a sister church with WELS.

Seventeen years ago God called us to Hong Kong. I have had the chance to live in a Chinese culture which was stir fried with British colonialism. I followed up on work done by great men who had gone before. The part of the city where we live and work is called Kowloon—literally “nine dragons”. These dragons may be a symbol of power, but one Lord is greater in power than them all—and filled with a grace found only in him. South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), your sister church in Hong Kong, stands with us in proclaiming this truth.

I’ll miss the mission. I’ve had the chance to help nurture church leaders in East Asia. They’ve endured much pressure from the outside, and challenges from within. Like most of the world these past few months, they have had to temporarily suspend their face-to-face gatherings. Yet online worship and classes continue. While Christianity is gradually on the wane in much of the world, seeds planted by many faithful workers continue to expand.

When COVID-19 was starting to ravage the U.S., these churches got together and sent thousands of face masks to their brothers and sisters in the states. I won’t miss SARS or COVID-19, but I will miss seeing up close the worldwide body of Christ at work.

But will the mission miss me? We’re getting ready to retire soon. Retiring makes me wonder, will they miss me? Will the work go on without a hitch? Deep down my  human nature wants to believe things will slow down without me. I want to believe in my importance. But God doesn’t see things that way. And thankfully he doesn’t see me that way.

It has been so humbling to realize how little you can actually accomplish in several decades. It’s also awe-inspiring how much God can do through the people he has chosen to use. To whichever continent God leads them, your missionaries share in this kind of experience. This is the shared experience of all who follow God wherever he leads them.

God makes sure that the mission won’t be lacking when one man retires. When God raises up a leader, he already has in mind the servant who will follow. We sow the seed. We water the new life that sprouts. We harvest as God pleases. And then another follows. Moses and Joshua. Paul and Timothy. Your retired missionaries are followed by new men with new gifts for a new age. And we all serve one Lord.

I’ll miss the mission, but she will go with me wherever I go. And God’s Kingdom will come.

Written by Rob Siirila, missionary in Hong Kong

 

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The sleeping shrimp

“Camarón que se duerme…” I said. Immediately a chorus of 20 voices responded, unprompted and unscripted, “Se lo lleva la corriente.”

Many had broad smiles—either joy at a shared knowledge of the common saying or, maybe, they were laughing at a familiar Spanish phrase spoken with a gringo accent. (I, personally, prefer to think of them as “knowing smiles.”)

“The shrimp that falls asleep gets carried away by the current” is the meaning of the common Spanish phrase. It turns out that the phrase is so well known that students in my online class from Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Puerto Rico all instinctively finished my sentence.

People are swept up in the coronavirus current right now. If you think it’s bad where you live, you should see Latin America. In Paraguay, our missionaries are allowed to go out of their homes only to buy groceries. In Ecuador, you need to elect one member from your household who is the only one allowed to go out for food. In Colombia, many members of a sister congregation have red flags outside their home as a signal that their household has no food and no way to get it.

The coronavirus current has swept the globe. Many are carried away, consumed with fear for their physical and financial well-being.

It was into this current that our WELS Latin America Missions team, together with Multi-Language Productions (the artists formally known as Multi-Language Publications), launched a new app. The purpose of the app was to deliver basic law-gospel, biblical instruction in Spanish to the masses. The plan was that those who finish the classes offered in the app proceed to live, online classes from members of our team. At that second level, then, we would further instruct in sound doctrine and train people to share what they learn while also identifying those who want to plant churches and welcoming those who stand with us to confess a oneness of faith.

The app originally was to be released in September of 2019. It was the first of its kind, so production didn’t go as quickly as we had hoped. September turned to December and then to February of this year. After a soft start, finally, in March, a half year after we originally had hoped, we were ready to go full tilt.

About the same time the app was set to release, the coronavirus and associated shut-downs made their way around the globe.

It turns out, at least for our work, the timing hasn’t been bad at all. We were prepared to do online instruction, so we were ready to handle the “shelter in place” aspect of the pandemic. Also, it seems that people whose way of life was tumbling in the fast-flowing waters of quarantines and shut-downs were looking for something to hold onto.

Since the launch of the app, through the end of April 124,000 people from every Spanish-speaking country have downloaded the app. They have begun to flow through the courses presented on that platform—38 videos, each about 7 minutes long, followed by a short quiz. To date, 248 people have watched every single video and taken a corresponding quiz and, after finishing, have signed up for live classes with our missionaries. We hope to see that trickle of app course finishers change to a flood in the weeks and months to come.

It is hard to say how much, if any, of these numbers are due to a release that coincided with a global pandemic. This much we can say for sure: the one who blesses beyond all that we can ask or imagine worked things out precisely the way HE had planned.

It was with a group of those students who had “graduated” from the app that I met live and online, and with whom I talked about the shrimp. From across the Americas we shared a laugh about a common phrase. More importantly, we marveled together at a seemingly common Galilean who lived and died and then rose again and whose resurrection guarantees peace, forgiveness, and life eternal to all who believe in every place, time and circumstance. That’s something for “any shrimp” to hold onto no matter how fast the current flows.

Written by Andrew Johnston, world missionary on the Latin America missions team

 

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Bad things with good purposes

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

In January 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak in China was terrible news for Hong Kong citizens. When we read the news of a new, deadly virus, we all recalled the memories of SARs in 2003.

The Spring Festival in China has been called the largest annual human migration in the world. People travel back to their hometown to celebrate the Spring Festival. In early 2020, it was expected that three billion Chinese citizens would take trips home during the Spring Festival. We were afraid that the Spring Festival traveling would make the COVID-19 pandemic worse. Hong Kong citizens have almost daily interactions with China. Students and the working class travel across borders every day. We all remembered that the SARs virus in 2003 was brought across the border, and the outbreak in Hong Kong caused huge loss of life. But due to that experience, we took immediate action and started wearing face masks in public areas. God uses our painful experience to prepare us for today.

Learning Greek online!

When we read the headlines, the number of cases increased every day. People ran to supermarket bought toilet papers, rice, canned food, etc. Schools, libraries, parks, and government offices were closed. Our city became so quiet! The busy downtown area had very few pedestrians, restaurants had a lot of empty tables, and you could even get a seat in buses and trains. That is very abnormal in Hong Kong! No classes, no social gatherings! We were encouraged to stay home to save lives. Our busy life was slowed down. Was it bad?

God turns bad things to good! We had plenty of time at home with quality time to read books and devotions. Parents had time to talk to their children. We had time to think about our friends, relatives, and neighbors. I wrote emails and messages to friends in Hong Kong and overseas. We live far away, but God connects us together with His good news.

The COVID-19 virus is teaching us to be humble! The headlines reported even celebrities tested positive. Despite their wealth and fame, no one was safe from this virus. People are busy running businesses, earning money, hoping to buy a big house, and find different ways to climb up the social hierarchy. All those things can’t help us: only God helps! Only God is more powerful than the COVID-19! Seek God’s mercy!

Bible classes and worships are stopped physically, but we put classes and worship online. We realize that people need to keep the physical distance, but God gives technology to draw us close to him. We need to be thankful to have social media and technology to broadcast God’s messages. Can you imagine if we didn’t have Facebook, Zoom, Instagram, and WeChat in our daily life? God teaches us gratitude.

We can’t stop the pandemic, but God controls it! No matter how fast the high-speed trains and air jets are, we are all stuck at home and can’t travel. We’re thankful to medical professionals that save many lives through their innovations, but we don’t have a method to cure COVID-19.

We are mortal, but God gives us eternal life. God uses the bad things for good purposes! Even in your worst-case scenario, God is still with you. We have time to have come close to God and to have quality spiritual life with family and friends. Don’t wait! Tell your friends about God’s good news: God is greater than COVID-19!

Written by Yvonne Yeung, senior editor for Multi-Language Productions in Hong Kong

 

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Filled to overflowing in Barcelona

In February 2017, 24 missionary wives met together in Athens, Greece, for the first ever World Missionary Wives Conference. What an amazing experience! I arrived in Athens barely knowing only four other missionary wives. I left the conference just a few short days later with two dozen sisters! Sisters with whom I share my joys and sorrows, blessings and challenges, laughter and tears. Our first World Missionary Wives Conference set the stage for more contact through a WhatsApp group, summer gatherings, Missionary Family Reunions, phone calls – more opportunities for encouragement.

On March 5-9, 2020, the long-awaited and much anticipated second World Missionary Wives Conference was held in Barcelona, Spain. Picture a room of 25 women who have been waiting three years to see each other face-to-face. Add in a heaping portion of hugs, a healthy dose of sharing, and a pinch of silliness (from jet lag, of course), and there you have the second World Missionary Wives Conference.

We based our conference on the theme “Filled to Overflowing”, taken from Psalm 23:5 “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” In Barcelona we filled our cups with encouragement, peace and joy for service around the world. God’s word served as our primary source of encouragement. We spent time together worshiping our Savior and studying what God says about various topics. One of our own missionary wives shared a keynote address, “Filling up throughout Life’s Transitions,” and facilitated a panel discussion entitled “Filling Your Cup.” World Missions Administrator Larry Schlomer led us in worship. Other ladies led us in small group Bible studies and devotions.

Fellowship provided more encouragement. Missionary wives so very rarely see each other face-to-face! The conference gave us a number of opportunities for fellowship. We enjoyed tours and tapas, churros and chocolate, Gaudí and games. Each activity laid a platform for sharing and encouraging, for cultivating friendships old and new.

The timing for the conference was providential. Just a few days later, and we would have had significant difficulties in Spain because of the coronavirus. But God kept us safe. After our delightful conference, everyone made it home safely and just about everyone sat in self-quarantine for 14 days, but no one got sick. We thank God for His mercy in getting us all to Barcelona and back safely and for keeping us healthy.

We’re back home with our families on our mission fields. Our cups have been filled with blessings of encouragement, peace and joy. Now what? Now comes the next stage–sharing those blessings with others. First of all, we share our blessings with our husbands. An extra dose of encouragement for a missionary is never misplaced. Next, we pour out blessings on our children, both those with us and those far from us. And then we turn to our mission fields.

For me, that means the Russian ladies I love so dearly. They are quite a group–old and young, scientists and gardeners, grandmothers and young women, feisty and meek, confident and insecure. But they all need encouragement. They hunger for God’s peace, especially in these uncertain times. They crave the joy that comes from God’s forgiveness. I have all those qualities to share, because my cup was filled to overflowing in Barcelona. How can I serve you? It’s my turn to pour! Funny thing. . . the more I pour, the more I want to bask in God’s precious word myself, and my cup just stays brimming.

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, missionary wife in Russia

 

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April cancelled

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive future updates directly in your inbox, visit oneafricateam.com. “Like” the One Africa Team on Facebook at fb.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS

 

There’s an unusual quiet on the campus.

The Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi, is normally in session; there’s usually a beehive of activity that makes the campus hum: Classes, homework, study hours, work detail, classroom learning and break out group discussions.

But now?

No power point presentations, no lectures nor recitations, no storytelling, no professor jokes nor student laughter. No opening day devotions or communicative Greek dialogue. No break-time chatting, checkers, or chess. Student houses stand menacingly vacant. The campus church building stands eerily quiet. No one is kicking up dust on the football pitch. No one tending to the maize in the fields. No students or their families to be seen. Gone without a trace. It’s as if they all vanished. Disappeared.

Well, in a way they have. In fact, I might add, rather quickly. Due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the Lutheran Bible Institute has also been affected. Just like every other school in Malawi, and most in the world. On March 20, Malawian President Mutharika declared Malawi a State of Disaster and ordered that all schools be closed as of March 23.

That mandate turned into a mad scramble for the faculty to quickly get the students back to their home villages. It wasn’t an easy doing, especially for the Zambian students. It first meant countless hours in the immigration office to sort out remaining issues with passports, student permits, and for some, birth certificates for kids recently born in Malawi.

And to think…

This was the final year for the Lutheran Bible Institute students. The three-year program was coming to a close at June’s end. The fourteen students and their families and the Lutheran Bible Institute faculty had anticipated a joyful–and eventful–graduation service. How things can change and change quickly! There was just no time for a special “cap and gown” service; there was no class speaker, no class song, no diplomas received, no gifts given. It wasn’t that there were COVID-19 cases in Lilongwe. In fact, at that time, there were no officially confirmed cases even in all of Malawi! This comparatively tiny country stood with few others as having zero infected people. So why cancel the classes if the virus wasn’t evident?

Because the fear was.

Maybe you’re seeing–or experiencing–something similar. Panic buying. Anxious thoughts. Worrisome nights and troublesome days. Some are struggling with lost jobs and new-found questions: Do I wear a mask or not? Quarantine or not? Do I have it? Did I give it to someone else? Do I get tested? Can I get tested?

The fear and the questions spread as quickly as the virus itself. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Price hikes, long queues, and empty shelves. And it’s not just schools that have been cancelled. Flights? Cancelled. Hotel bookings? Cancelled. Long-awaited vacations? Cancelled. Cruise? Rally? Convention? Even an election? Cancelled with a CAPITAL C.

A red-letter disappointment.

But despite the cancelled classes and graduation service, this class will still proceed onto the Lutheran Seminary in Zambia in September 2020. Each of the 14 students have met the qualifications and the faculty recommends them. And so there were still hopeful smiles on the campus. Before the 14 students parted ways, with a hoe they parted the earth and made time to do one last class activity:

They planted a tree.

With a lighthearted touch they hung a sign on the tree. More than a sign, it was the name that they gave the tree; a name that you could probably guess considering these times:

Corona.

Did you know that corona means “crown”? The virus, presumably so named, because in a way it resembles one. The coronavirus has brought a lot of sickness and death to our world. But it looks like we are adjusting to the situation: masks, social distancing, hand washing, working from home, and studying at home.

What a golden opportunity we also have been given: to fix our eyes on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Stop and pause this week. What a week it is!

Whom do we see?

  • A Palm Sunday donkey-riding servant king making triumphal entries, not just into cities like Jerusalem, but into hearts like ours.
  • A Maundy Thursday Passover lamb that offers, not just bread and wine, but body and blood.
  • A Good Friday center-cross “criminal” who, even as people taunted and mocked, still was breathing out forgiveness.
  • A Devil Destroyer who went to hell to proclaim his victory.
  • An Easter morning Death Defeater who came out of the tomb fully alive and victorious, guaranteeing our own resurrection and life. And victory!
  • A Powerful Ruler sitting at the right hand of God controlling all things.

And by faith, what Paul the Apostle knows is also what we know: “in ALL those things (even in a State of Disaster) God is working for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

THAT you know. What you maybe didn’t know was where on the campus the Lutheran Bible Institute students planted the tree. They dug the hole and placed the tree right next to the campus church where they worshiped most every morning and every evening. The place where law and the gospel was preached. The house of God in which name of Jesus was held high. The location where forgiveness was proclaimed and where the sacraments were administered. Where they learned to preach devotions and lead the service with liturgy.

Perhaps what you also didn’t know was the name of the church: Crown of Life.

What a paradox! A tree of death. A Crown of Life. Or is it a Crown of Death and a Tree of Life? As you’re thinking about that, think about this: There is another tree that comes with the same paradox. The tree on Golgotha. A tree of life or a tree of death? A crown of life or a crown of death?

Actually, both. It’s the place where law and gospel meet. The epicenter of God’s full wrath and full love. A converging torrent of anger over sin and love for the sinner. So, when God gives you the opportunities this Holy Week and beyond, sing your hosannas! Feast at the Lord’s table! Answer the hymn writer’s question: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” (CW #119)

Remind yourself that Satan has been defeated. Peer into the tomb and find it for what it is: empty.

And the next time your sins trouble you and you wonder if God has forgiven you, remember that the written code was nailed to the cross. (Colossians 2:14)

And the debt you owe because of your sins?

Cancelled.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, One Africa Team missionary

 

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Partnership in a new reality

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1: 3-6

How do we bring the gospel message to a billion people living in East Asia? This a question on the hearts of many in our synod as we look beyond our American borders.

God heard our prayers and for over a decade allowed WELS pastors and their families to live and serve in East Asia. This approach, however, has been adjusted as our WELS missionaries and families have been relocated out of East Asia for security reasons. But a change in a home address does not mean we change our mission.

Christian churches around the world are developing and enhancing their online approach to sharing Jesus. Our East Asia team is no different. We are revamping how we train, disciple, and mentor the national leaders who can take the gospel to places where we cannot go. By God’s grace our WELS seminary in Hong Kong has adapted to adversity and continues to serve their students and support national congregations.

The security risks that WELS missionaries faced also caused local East Asian leadership to reevaluate their approach for worship and Bible study. God has not been surprised by any of the issues facing our mission field and is blessing these new and innovative efforts. Each week our brothers and sisters in the faith are meeting in small groups or joining together online to hear the same message of God’s truth and God’s love for his beloved creation.

Baptism at Reformation in San Diego, Calif.

Our East Asia team is making every effort to build up the church leadership in East Asia. But with certain doors closed, we are exploring how God might use us to build up the church in East Asia from within our American borders. Every year a large number of students from East Asia attend our WELS high schools or are involved in our campus ministries. As God blesses their hearing and study of the Word, how might we equip them for sharing the gospel when they return to their home country?

As our WELS congregations continue being God’s salt and light in their local neighborhoods, visitors from East Asia come into our churches, admire the quality of our schools, and are looking for community and relationships. The WELS Joint Missions is very eager to offer support to any school or congregation that have these opportunities. How can we meet the spiritual needs of these visitors where they are at right now in their walk with God? And if they do call on Jesus as Lord, how can we support and equip them to reach others in East Asia?

These are not just theories and hopeful planning. God is blessing our WELS churches right now in these areas. WELS members are making contact with people from East Asia and inviting them to study God’s Word in our homes and churches. God is revealing new partnerships for us, both locally and worldwide, to carry out our gospel mission to East Asia.

Written by a missionary from East Asia

 

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When are you going to visit us?

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. – Romans 1: 8-10

How many people do you know have been born in their native country, but war forced them to escape their homeland? More than a decade ago, a member of Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn., reached out to a congregation in the far east of Thailand. The leader of this Hmong congregation contacted me, and we became friends. Soon after that, a couple of young men came to study at our training center in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Once I met them, a question was often raised, “When are you going to visit us?” I reassured them that when the right time comes, the Lord will lead me to visit. However, that vivid picture was long gone and a decade passed. Almost two years ago, this congregation approached us for financial support. We didn’t know what to expect because none of our Christian brothers in Thailand, whom we have fellowship with, have been into this new country. We also understood that there were security reasons and restrictions that prohibited us from visiting.

For us to have a better handle on this situation, we knew we needed to make a visit. In reality, you shouldn’t listen to stories or words without boots on the ground. Ears are for hearing, and eyes are for seeing towards better evaluations. And so we went.

My heart was always yearning to see and walk the dusty roads my parents once lived. I wondered how the fresh air of the village smelled, what the green mountains looked like, and what an organic banana tasted like. I questioned how lifestyles and living standards had changed since I left more than four decades ago.

I heard all the good and horrible stories as I grew up. I vividly remember when my family ran from jungle to jungle for survival during the Vietnam War. It grieves me to think of all the defenseless people when I think of this war-torn country. Deep inside of me, no words can describe the pain many of my people once faced. I’m disappointed that I was born during the war; this country robbed me of my childhood and education. Toys and school never once crossed my mind as a child. Only fear, hunger, and endurance provided me with experiences and stories to tell my children.

I was sitting in a plane flying from Bangkok, Thailand, crossing into my destination country, when the flight attendant announced that we would be landing soon. The plane started descending lower and lower to the ground I longed to see. I felt a chill down my spine amidst my mixed emotions. How was I going to get through this trip?

When I arrived, the congregation I was visiting still required a whole day’s journey by land. In this country, freedom of speech and the use of the Bible, or as some people called it “The New Way,” is not allowed in public. I realized how much we must treasure the gospel. When a group of people does not have the privilege to speak or share what they firmly believe, it is like having eyes but no vision. As a visiting missionary, I observed everything from start to finish without saying anything. It created a different yet pleasant experience. When I speak, I only return what I already know. When I listened, I discovered something new. I will never take the gospel for granted and the liberty of the United States, which I live.

Although the country I visited restricts Christianity, there is always hope. Some people have the opportunity to worship and conduct Bible study privately. We pray that as the country is beginning to develop along with chasing after economic prosperity, that the Lord opens doors for the gospel. One thing we can be sure this country needs most is the promise of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

As Isaiah said, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40: 31

Written by a visiting missionary from St. Paul, Minn. 

 

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Mission work in Venezuela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A journalist converts

We were providing relief to landslide victims in one of the most remote areas of this country. A journalist came to report on the relief effort. He stayed with our contact in a small hut for four days. They slept in the same room and ate meals together. They had many opportunities to talk about Christianity.

Then news came that our contact’s three-year old daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly. He was torn over what to do. Should he go back to be with his wife and comfort her? Or should he stay to help with the relief effort the next day and tell tomorrow’s gathering of 350 people about Jesus? I advised him to go back and be with his wife, though the journey to his home required 2-3 days of travel and he would miss the funeral. He appreciated my advice, but he decided to stay.

People were surprised when they saw him the next day. One man told him to his face, “You are a bad father.” The question on everyone’s mind was: “Why are you here?” “Because of Christ,” he said. “I know where my daughter is. She is in heaven. And I want you to have the comfort I have when you or your loved one dies.” He then told them the gospel—how Christ died and rose again to forgive our sins and to give us an eternal home in heaven. The people listened with unusual attentiveness. Two days later he shared the same message with a group of 300 people who had gathered for another relief effort.

He and his wife grieved deeply over the sudden death of their daughter—a grief only other parents who have lost children know. But he says, “The greatest peace I have known in the year after my daughter’s death is when I told the people at the two relief projects about Jesus.” For 8 months he had trouble sleeping through the night, always getting up to check on his daughter, as he did when she was alive. But they have great comfort in their loss and God is slowly bringing peace to their hearts.

The reporter was surprised when our contact stayed with the crowds of people and did not return home for nearly a week. As they rode in the car together, he asked him why he did not go back. Again he shared the gospel. Then the reporter told him about his sister who was sick. They prayed for her. By the grace of God and according to his will, his sister is now feeling better.

The reporter still goes with our contact to various relief projects. At Christmastime the reporter called and said, “I am a Christian! I don’t want to do any idol-worshipping.” So now he is a believer. Our contact warned him about the many who call themselves Christians in this country and teach doctrines contrary to the Bible. He joined our fellowship and last Saturday he began a house church in his home. He invited his relatives. He told them, “I am a Christian.”

Written by the WELS Friendly Counselor to South Asia

 

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A flight with Jesus

A few weeks ago during family worship we read and discussed Matthew 2 and the flight to Egypt. As we began, one of the kids remembered that Annibale Carracci had painted The Flight to Egypt in 1604. She ran and located a print among our piles of books which were being sorted and packed for our imminent relocation to Thailand. Like a lot of art from this period, it looks very European (that’s all the artists knew), but still evokes so much thought and emotion by pulling you into the scene.

As we looked at the painting and read the account from Matthew, our children pointed out the range of feelings at having to leave so suddenly. Joseph looks grumpy in the picture. Maybe he’s thinking, “I can’t believe we have to move. . . again!” Mary looks sad, but she also seems concerned for her husband as she looks back at him. And Jesus, he just looks like a content baby as he clings to mom—but maybe there is a hint of distress as well. Our 8-year-old wondered if the expression on Mary’s face in the painting was disappointment at all the things they had to leave behind. After all, they left in such a hurry. Our youngest pointed out, “Babies are too little to be sad about moving.” But then he added that Jesus could be sad if he had to leave his Transformers behind. The older kids were more aware of the reason they had to leave. . . a bad leader didn’t like Jesus, and he didn’t want anyone to take away his power.

But the Lord provided a way to keep the holy family (and the Magi) safe. All the kids pointed out that even though there were a lot of difficult, surprising, and stressful things happening, everything was okay because God was with them. No one missed the divine irony that God was literally with them as Mary carried him in her arms (or in an ancient baby stroller as one child imagined). God was literally and physically with them, but at the same time watching over them from on high.

No one missed the similarities between the flight to Egypt and our flight out of one Asian country to Thailand (even if one flight was much more intense than the other). One big difference, however, is that although God is still with us, this time Jesus is the one carrying us in his arms. Of course, we still hold Christ in our own way—in worship, adoration, thanks, and praise. But how much greater is the peace in our journey knowing who holds who with an everlasting love.

Even though we don’t always know the way in which our Shepherd leads us, what a comfort it is to know that our guide and protector is Christ Jesus. And while we groan with the burdens of major transition, what a comfort too that when we pour out our feelings and concerns to Jesus, he can look back at us with understanding eyes and say, “I know what you mean. I’ve been there too. My Father got me through it though. And he and I will get you through this.”

As missionaries take flights (literally) to new countries, or perhaps wait a little longer in some in-between-land, or stay put in Herod’s land for a while longer—the Prince of Peace will be with us. Whatever transition, trial, or trauma you face, Jesus will still be Immanuel, God with us, no matter what.

Amen.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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The Confessional Lutheran Institute

We rightly expect that our pastors are well-prepared servants of God, because we are entrusting our eternal souls to their care. Accordingly, we have the highest expectations for our worker training programs and seminaries, that graduates may present themselves for service in God’s kingdom as “workmen approved” (2 Timothy 2:15). We do not cut corners or take shortcuts or make exceptions. This is as true in Asia and Africa as it is in North America.

In 1964, the WELS mission in Lusaka founded the Lutheran Bible Institute, the first formal worker training program in Central Africa. One American missionary began training half a dozen Zambian students to serve as Evangelists. Since then, 119 men have graduated from the worker training program held jointly in Malawi and Zambia–a blessing from God!

In addition to the six African national professors and four American missionaries who teach in Central Africa, our partner synods in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Kenya are all actively involved in training pastors for service in their respective church bodies. Some of the programs are still being fine-tuned, others are operating in spite of local political conflicts. Professors from the United States make periodic short-term visits to teach in some of the programs.

WELS has also worked hard to serve our sister church bodies in Africa by helping active pastors retain vital skills and motivation for ministry. 112 national pastors are actively serving our partner church bodies in Africa. Over the years national pastors have benefited greatly from continuing education programs offered by WELS missionaries and visiting professors from the United States. The Greater Africa Theological Studies Institute has been offering pastors advanced graduate studies since 2010.

Recently, One Africa Team has brought all of these various aspects of worker training and enrichment together under one umbrella, in order to better coordinate our efforts across the continent of Africa. The Confessional Lutheran Institute (CLI) consists of three main branches: formal continuing education, professional development, and seminary consultation.

We remain committed to offering quality theological education to and with our gospel partners in Africa. We recognize that one size does not fit all, and what works in one country may not work elsewhere. We are not unaware of the devil’s schemes to turn the blessings of advanced education into a source of sinful pride. We seek to equip local African leaders and teachers as they prepare pastors. In all of this, we are committed to a lasting partnership.

CLI has partnered with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in partnership with WELS Joint Missions, to provide three levels of for-credit certification and degree programs: Pre-Bachelor of Divinity Certification, Bachelor of Divinity Program, and Master of Theology Program for qualified pastors throughout Africa.

CLI will coordinate the work of One Africa Team missionaries to offer informal professional development courses to groups of local pastors throughout the continent at various times throughout the year, depending on the needs and requests of pastors and church bodies. So far such courses have been offered to pastors in Malawi, but in the future we hope to bring these workshops to other countries.

The third branch of CLI will be seminary consultation. Since the Lord has blessed our sister church bodies with national instructors and boards of control, in many cases the CLI can best serve our partners by offering consultation services in the running, development, and enhancement of their programs. In Kenya, the CLI will assist our partners design a program to train eight Evangelists who will serve the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ – Kenya, as well as further training for South Sudanese refugees who currently serve congregations in refugee camps. In Ethiopia, the CLI will continue to support the worker training efforts of the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia, which runs Maor Theological College through visiting instructors. Although the current political situation in West Africa does not allow WELS missionaries to make personal visits, CLI will continue to consult on curriculum, provide training for instructors, and offer materials for courses. In central Africa, CLI will periodically evaluate the need for resident American professors in local worker training programs and also offer ongoing training for local faculty members.

WELS’ role in Africa has changed significantly over the last 65 years, as God has raised up local leaders who are capable of and excited about training future workers in their church bodies. Nevertheless, our commitment to prepare men who are “approved workmen” for service in the church remains firm. It is our prayer that the CLI will serve this role for many years to come.

Written by Missionary John Roebke, Communications Director for the One Africa Team

 

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Christmas outreach in the Philippines

In a predominantly Roman Catholic country like the Philippines, is there a “better time” for a community gospel outreach? By “better time,” I mean that time of the year when people are generally more receptive to gospel conversations and church invitations. While Filipinos are generally receptive to gospel conversations, we find that a “better time” to do community gospel outreach is the Christmas season. How did we make use of this opportunity?

Christmas Day worship at Law and Gospel Lutheran Church

One of the Filipino Roman Catholic traditions associated with the Christmas season is holding a nine-day “Simbang Gabi” (evening mass) which begins on December 16 and ends on Christmas Eve. These evening masses (some conduct them on early dawn) are one of the few times when some nominal Roman Catholics would be in attendance. Since most of our current prospects are Roman Catholics (at least by association) we found it a golden opportunity to make use of this tradition to share with them the true meaning and purpose of Christ’s birth. For the very first time since our mission congregation’s inception, we held our own nine-day Simbang Gabi or “evening services.” A few evangelical churches in the country have also been holding their own Simbang Gabi, but only for selected nights–we did it for nine straight nights!

Edmar’s baptism

One of the incorrect thoughts Filipino Roman Catholics attribute to Simbang Gabi is that some form of “novena” needs to be completed so that their personal petitions would be granted. That is to say, their attendance in these nine-day evening masses are works that they must do in order to get something from God. What a contradiction of the Bible’s message that we cannot offer anything to God in exchange of anything! Millions of souls in our country are living with the yoke of the law still on their shoulders. These people need to know the real meaning and purpose of the tradition they have been religiously observing. They need to understand what St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

I would say the highlight of our observance of the Christmas season was bringing four young souls to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism at our Christmas Day worship. These four young souls are children of our active prospects in what is known here as Villareal area, an area which is not very close to our base in de Jesus Compound. Nine evening services plus one morning service (Christmas Day) equals ten straight days of preaching! It was physically exhausting, but spiritually refreshing. I wouldn’t mind doing it again next Christmas season. After all, the baby who was born on the first Christmas Day came in order “to seek and to save that which was lost”.

Written by Alvien de Guzman, Pastor at Law & Gospel Lutheran Church in the Philippines

To learn more about mission work in the Philippines, visit wels.net/philippines.

 

 

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Spiritual unity in South Asia

The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in partnership with WELS Joint Missions, guides and assists spiritual leaders around the globe through their pre-seminary and seminary training. The PSI connects with these spiritual leaders through WELS world mission work and through outreach to immigrants and refugees in the United States and Canada. They are able to evaluate and serve these international groups and synods that want support, training, and a connection to a church body that shares the gospel message in its truth and purity.

E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, traveled to a country in South Asia in December to teach Ephesians and 1 Peter. Read more about his experience: 


For two and a half weeks, I had skated over icy sidewalks in Novosibirsk, Russia. I was looking forward to my next teaching assignment in a country in South Asia. Average temperature? 85 degrees! As we drove from the airport to the seminary facilities, I was second-guessing my choice of wool socks for this day of travel between Siberia and South Asia.

Seminary in South Asia

Later that first day, I got to sit in on a staff meeting with the WELS friendly counselor and the three spiritual leaders that serve with our friendly counselor to administer the seminary training program. The meeting began with a wonderful reflection on a passage from Scripture that featured deep insights and highlights from the Greek text. This was not a hasty “let’s-open-with-a-religious-thought” devotion! Everyone sitting around that table was clearly enjoying time in God’s Word, mutual encouragement, and a partnership in the gospel. The meeting that followed displayed an excellent partnership between local leaders and our friendly counselor. These men impressed me!

It will be challenging to describe the South Asian leaders who work with our friendly counselor in this place; security realities won’t allow familiarity. But here are three men who obviously hail from the same continent. After that, commonalities are more difficult to see. These guys have strong and independent personalities. Their differences were clearly evident to me when they took their turn translating my lessons for the 25 students before us.

One of these guys didn’t just translate. He ran the class. I mean he allowed only one speaker at a time. Side conversations was strictly forbidden. And the amount of time he took to convey my sentences in his language was about the same length of time it took me to say my sentences in English.

WELS Friendly Counselor (left) with the three South Asian leaders and E. Allen Sorum (right)

The second chap relished in the kind of class mayhem that I rather prefer myself. When I placed a question before the men, it seemed their natural style was to all answer at exactly the same time at an above average volume. Somehow, this translator was able to synthesize a group answer and share it with me in a way that was both entertaining and helpful. This leader/translator used my English sentence as a launching point for additional points that he wanted to add to my original point. At least that’s what I think was going on when my one sentence in English became his one paragraph in Telegu. He was greatly enhancing the learning that was going on in that room, I am sure.

The third man took my wimpy, timid English sentences and turned them into powerful oratory. He wasn’t content to merely instruct. He wanted to encourage, rally, and motivate his co-workers. All of my translators were themselves pastors. They know the challenges these men face back home in their young congregations. Most of the students were already pastors. They were, in general, just getting started at ministry, trying to establish a Christian movement in a hostile environment.

These three spiritual leaders who were also pastors, partners with our friendly counselor, seminary administrators, and translators share another attribute: they care deeply for their students. Spiritual unity is a hard thing to establish and maintain in any place. But when there is a bond of peace and love in Christ, and a good dose of humility, unity has a chance. We talked a lot about this unity: unity of faith, unity of love, and unity of purpose.

The friendly counselor who is blessed with the task of overseeing this ministry asked me to teach Ephesians and 1 Peter; fitting texts for these men and their ministry settings. When we got to the spiritual warfare portion of Ephesians 6, I asked the men to raise their hand if they dealt with demon possession. Almost every man raised their hand. We enjoyed, therefore, a spirited discussion on a Lutheran approach to exorcisms; Lutheran as opposed to Pentecostal. The students agreed that the Pentecostal approach common among them seemed more interested in ascribing glory to the exorcist than to serving the (possibly) possessed individual.

The Lutheran approach acknowledges the obvious. It is Jesus who has power and authority over the universe including the spirit world. So we ask Jesus to remove demons, we see ourselves as his agent carrying out his mission to rescue people, and we give him all the glory.

I was impressed by these men who must carry out their mission in these circumstances. I was impressed by their thirst for truth and their gratitude for partnership with their fellow Christians of WELS. They articulated their appreciation for WELS Christians many times. I assured them that their WELS brothers and sisters appreciated our partnership with them. I articulated that many times. May God strengthen our unity through the bond of peace and love in Christ. May we be a blessing to each other.

Written by Rev. E. Allen Sorum, Director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI)

To learn more about the Pastoral Studies Institute, visit wels.net/psi.

 

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Christmas Presence

Many people in our world think of Christmas as a time for presents. In fact, not only has “Black Friday” become an accepted holiday in the vocabulary of most Americans, but this year it also graduated from a singular to a plural. It seemed like every Friday from October until December became “Black Friday” so we could buy even more presents at a discount.

Here in Native America in our missions to the Apache people in Arizona, we used Christmas as an opportunity to focus on presence instead of presents. After all, Immanuel arrived–God himself came into our world to live like one of us! And we had no shortage of excited volunteers eager to announce his presence to our communities!

Children from East Fork Lutheran School share the story of our Savior’s birth

In the month of December, more than 325 children in Apacheland put on their fanciest Christmas dresses and best clip-on ties and were proud to announce loudly and clearly that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. The students at East Fork Lutheran School were able to tell the Christmas story to several hundred people in the school gymnasium under the theme, “Did you Know?”  Meanwhile, the students of Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School rented a community hall to fit everyone in to hear their program focused on sharing the story of Christmas, using the theme of “Savior of the Nations.”

It was a memorable night on both the Fort Apache and San Carlos reservations, as each school was able to use its ever-growing presence in the community to share the glorious presence of Jesus. These Christmas programs are well attended by our local communities, including many who would not normally walk into one of our churches. And our students were ready! All of the students had been practicing for more than a month under the direction of dedicated teachers, and it showed. They certainly made their parents and teachers proud as they spoke clearly and sang loudly about this miraculous and glorious event.

With approximately half of the population on both of these Apache reservations under the age of 18, our schools continue to have real opportunities to share Jesus. Our pastors and teachers have the chance each day to continue training hundreds of eager evangelists who share Jesus with the youthful exuberance and blunt simplicity of childhood. Pray that they will continue witnessing as they grow up and that they will become leaders in service to their newborn King!

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Native American mission field coordinator

Learn more about world mission work on the Apache reservations in Arizona at wels.net/apache.

 

 

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A lot to love and a lot to work on

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

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

Missionary Degner with Pablo, an Academia Cristo contact in Paraguay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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From decision to grace

My name is Agus Prasetyo. I am a dosen (lecturer or professor) at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL) which is the seminary of Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI).

Before learning true doctrine, I very strongly held the position of “decision theology” and saw the sacraments as symbols rather than as means of grace.

I falsely thought that I:

  • decided to believe in the Lord Jesus when I was 12 years old;
  • decided to accept baptism at the age of 13 years old;
  • decided to study at a heterodox seminary where I received a Bachelors and Masters degree of Theology;
  • decided to serve in a place where I wanted to live and work;
  • decided to reach out to people with the gospel in order to make them decide to believe in Jesus;
  • decided to teach people to make decisions to believe in Jesus and also make the decision to accept baptism.

I was (falsely) taught that baptism:

  • is a symbol or confession of faith and that anyone who has been baptized is considered to have been legally accepted as a Christian;
  • requires the ability to make faith decisions in Christ before it is administered, so baptism is for adults only;
  • is a proof of the growth of the church quantitatively;
  • is a way to make people legal members of Christianity so that they can support the work of the church. That is why I used to only baptize teenagers and adults who were able to make a decision.

NOW I AM VERY GRATEFUL, because I know that those statements are false theology.

First, I am grateful because God gave me the opportunity to learn the right doctrine through Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). GLI is a sister synod of WELS and a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). After I finished my Master’s program, I had the opportunity to study Christian doctrine with Professor Gregory Bey who has served as an STTL dosen and WELS Friendly Counselor in Indonesia. Together, we began our studies of basic Christian doctrine using “New Life In Christ” and “Luther’s Catechism” – both of which are produced by Northwestern Publishing House and translated into Bahasa Indonesia with funding from WELS Multi-Language Publications. I needed about two years to complete our initial studies because my mind was still influenced by the theology that I had previously learned. After continuing to study doctrine at a deeper level by auditing classes in exegesis and Christian dogmatics at STTL, and with much prayer, I finally understood the true biblical doctrine, even though it could not always satisfy my human reason and logic—something I had relied on heavily in the past rather than faith alone.

Secondly, I am grateful because I received a great blessing, namely, an understanding of baptism in the true sense: A means of grace, given by God, for all people, without the need of man’s ability to make a decision for faith. “A sacred act in which Christ offers, gives, and seals to us the forgiveness of sins and thus also life and salvation.” (Luther’s Catechism) My children were also baptized as soon as I became a Lutheran. I am grateful to have received that great blessing.

Thirdly, I am grateful to have been ordained as a pastor by GLI and called to serve as a dosen at STTL. I know there are many mistakes in the Indonesian Bible translation. Accordingly, I feel that it is very important to teach the original biblical languages to our seminary students. Therefore, I continue to study and teach Greek and Hebrew to our students at STTL so that they can become workers in GLI “who rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and teach the Bible correctly.

I am grateful for my calling which permits me to help guide the seminary students of GLI and prepare them to be workers who have the right doctrine from the Bible. My former training and experiences outside of confessional Lutheranism have given me some unique insights which allow me to anticipate things which our young pastors will face that are not in accordance with the orthodox teachings of the Bible. My personal walk of faith has helped me to discern errors. This has been an aid in helping to formulate a curriculum for STTL that can meet the needs of GLI both now and, God-willing, for many more years to come.

As we move into the future, please keep us in your prayers!

From someone who was lost but now is found,

Professor Agus Prasetyo, dosen at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL) in Indonesia

 

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African music by African composers for African worship

One of the exciting highlights of this year’s WELS synod convention was the welcoming of the LC-MC Kenya into full fellowship. The relatively new Kenya synod is currently producing its own hymnal and worship music accompaniment recordings for use in Sunday services. One of the goals of the hymnal committee is “to encourage the creation of African music by African composers for African worship.” The hymnal project has set a target of having 90% of the worship songs composed by Africans.

At the request of LC-MC Kenya leader Pastor Mark Onunda, Multi-Language Publications (MLP) of WELS World Missions hosted a music workshop in Nairobi from November 4- 15 to assist in moving the hymnal project forward. Fifteen individuals from throughout Kenya participated in the workshop.

The music workshop took on a formidable number of tasks. Consider the following factors regarding the current worship music situation in the Kenyan church:

  1. Many of the churches do not have musicians or instruments for Sunday services.
  2. A Kenyan Lutheran hymnal does not exist. A few of the congregations make use of songs from a Lutheran hymnal from Tanzania, produced several decades ago.
  3. There is no organized system for recording, sharing, and storing worship songs and liturgies among Kenyan congregations.
  4. There are many church year events and many biblical doctrines for which the LC-MC has no worship music resources.
  5. The LC-MC does not have a musical setting for a common service or communion service based on the historic Lutheran liturgy that they find attractive for use in Sunday services.
  6. There are virtually no worship music resources in a contemporary Kenyan music style for use in evangelism campaigns among the unchurched youth.
  7. There is a desire among the LC-MC members to have a particular contemporary music style that would be identified as “Lutheran church music.” In Kenya, most church denominations have specifically identifiable music styles.
  8. There is a desire to make greater use of technology in recording, distributing, and implementing professional recordings of accompaniment music for Sunday worship. Some congregations are already using accompaniment files during worship.

At the same time, the LC-MC Kenya has the following extraordinary musical assets at their disposal as they address their worship music needs:

  1. There is an astounding availability of composers for the LC-MC. I counted at least seven composers at the workshop. The compositions of the seven were so well received that every composer will have one or more songs included in the first group of recorded accompaniment files.
  2. Among the workshop participants, two had completed three-year music degree programs at a prestigious church music school in Tanzania. Two of the young women had completed vocal studies at a premier music conservatory in Nairobi. Having such trained musicians available is a huge asset in producing quality accompaniment tracks for use in Sunday worship at churches that do not have musicians.
  3. Steve Onunda (son of Pastor Mark) is a brilliant professional musician (guitar, bass) with arranging and studio recording experience. His professionalism has created confidence and excitement in the entire group that quality recordings will be produced.
  4. Steve has contacts with many professional musicians (vocalists and instrumentalists) in Nairobi, several of whom are assisting us with these recordings. Four of the workshop participants are pursuing careers as professional musicians.
  5. We are able to make professional recordings in Nairobi at very reasonable rates at a studio staffed by Christians who specialize in contemporary African worship music.

Among our workshop participants there is an extraordinary level of energy, excitement, and commitment to this worship music project. There is a deep awareness that the Lord is blessing the LC-MC with an historic opportunity to create African music for African worship. May our Lord Jesus Christ continue to bless our efforts to create worship music to his glory and for the furthering of his Kingdom throughout Africa!

Written by Rev. Dr. Terry Schultz, Artistic Development Missionary for WELS Multi-Language Publications

 

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Pursuing a Kingdom culture

As my friend Bo and I watched our kids play together on the playground, Bo turned to me and said, “I’m not afraid to lose my culture.”

Bo is an important member of a successful business, owns his home, is blessed with a wonderful wife and 2 kids, is well-liked by his neighbors, and finds many joys in the life he has been given. Bo and his family have invited us to celebrate their cultural holidays and festivals with them. Bo has been a quality language partner who genuinely wants me to learn his native language. His hope is that we can continue to be neighbors for a long time.

What would cause a man like Bo to be at peace with losing his culture? Especially considering this man has many visible blessings and opportunities from growing up in his culture. He has not been turned away or forgotten by his own people. Instead he is respected and enjoyed by many.

Bo spent a few seconds smiling at the surprised look on my face before explaining the joy he has in his heart from his family pursuing a new culture: a Christ-centered culture.

My friend has no plans to stop speaking his native language or befriending his fellow countrymen. He will continue to celebrate local holidays and enjoy the unique foods that accompany the festivities. But Bo simply has bigger things on his mind and in his heart. He is pursuing a Kingdom culture. His family reads the Bible together, prays together, worships together, and enjoys living life with their Christian friends.

Many of our contacts in East Asia initially pause when presented with the teachings of Christianity, because to them Christianity is a cultural way of life in the West. Bo would say you could count him as one of those skeptics in the past. In the present, Bo is quick to speak on how Christianity isn’t pursuing a Western culture at the expense of losing an Eastern culture, but instead it’s a new culture altogether. In a Kingdom culture, God reigns supreme in the hearts of God’s people, the followers of the Way speak truth from Scripture and build each other up in love, and we all walk together with our Good Shepherd on the narrow path to eternal life.

Bo’s way of thinking has moved away from being set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19) and is now pursuing his citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

Only the Good News of our Savior Jesus can change a human’s heart to pursue God and want to follow His Word. My prayer is that we keep our eyes fixed on our Savior as he desires to lead us to our true home and citizenship in heaven.

How might that affect our own cultural practices? Does our way of thinking in our earthly culture ever cause us to lose focus on the life God calls us to lead?

Ask God in prayer to help you know the way in which you should go. Listen to him as he speaks to you through your Bible reading. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters in the faith who are willing to walk with you home to heaven. Invite others to join you and enjoy the warmth of a Christian community.

Jesus calls us to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). May God bless you with his peace and joy as you pursue a Kingdom culture.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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Faces of Faith – Matthew Cephus

“We have not received the true gospel. Will you oversee us?” begged the caller from Liberia, Africa to Matthew Cephus in Champlin, Minn.

Matthew Cephus sharing the gospel in Liberia

“I couldn’t say ‘No.’” reports Pastor Cephus, who at the time was newly enrolled in the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program. He saw this as an opportunity from God to share the teachings he was receiving in the United States with the leaders of 27 congregations in Liberia. “They are faithful to what they know,” says Pastor Cephus, “but, they have received little to no training.” Since that time, Pastor Cephus, Pastor Dennis Klatt (Matthew’s Anglo partner), the Pastoral Studies Institute, and One Africa Team missionaries have made three teaching visits to build up and encourage this group of pastors who are eager to grow in the knowledge of God’s word and become better equipped to shepherd the souls under their care. Pastor Cephus, himself a Liberian immigrant, shepherds a flock consisting primarily of African immigrant families that gathers at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, in New Hope, Minn.

Training visits to Liberia to have been taking place since 2016 involving our missionaries, stateside pastors, and the Pastoral Studies Institute to two groups in Liberia. In 2019, one trip has already been made and one more will be made in November 2019. Three more trips are being planned for 2020. To learn more about African outreach in Liberia and 5 other African countries, visit wels.net/africa.

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Faces of Faith – Pastor Marinagaba, Rwanda

God used Google to bring WELS missionaries to Rwanda, a tiny country in the heart of Africa with a dark past and a bright future. Rev. Jean Claude Marinagaba, the leader of the Reformed Lutheran Church of Rwanda (RLCR) had learned about Martin Luther while he was a student at Westminster Presbyterian Seminary in Uganda, and he wanted to connect with Luther’s true spiritual heirs. Most church bodies that still use the name “Lutheran” have unfastened their teachings from the Reformation’s moorings of sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura and the Lutheran Confessions, the historical documents that established the Biblical teachings of the Lutheran Church. A Google search of “confessional Lutherans” led Rev. Marinagaba to the website of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, a mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) located 8,000 miles away in Brisbane, Australia.

So what did ELS Missionary Daniel Finn think when he received an email from a stranger living halfway around the world?

“Jean Claude seemed sincere in his desire to learn how to be more Lutheran,” writes Missionary Finn. In justifying his own expenditure of time and effort working in a mission field so far away, Missionary Finn says, “I began to think of ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ in terms of having Jesus’ permission to go to Rwanda. That is, Rwanda is a nation. So, it’s included in ‘all nations.’  Our Lord told us that we canand shouldgo to all nations. I knew was that there was this guy (Jean Claude) asking that somebody from our fellowship would visit him and help him. Nobody else was going. So…  I figured ‘Why not me?’ I knew that I wasn’t the most qualified man to make this trip, but I figured that I had to be better qualified than nobody.”

From left to right: Rev. Bernard, Rev. Birner (WELS missionary to Zambia), Rev. Maniragaba, Rev. Shamachona (LCCA-Zambia pastor), Rev. Finn (ELS Missionary in Australia), and Rev. Felicien.

And so the Fond du Lac, Wis., native turned missionary to “Down Under” struck up a long-distance correspondence with Rev. Marinagaba in 2016. Their relationship blossomed, and one year later on a trip back to the United States, Missionary Finn made a side trip to Rwanda. He also reached out to his like-minded confessional Lutherans, WELS missionaries stationed in Africa, and offered to introduce them to Rev. Marinagaba and the RLCR. Missionary Phil Birner and Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Zambia (LCCA-Z) Rev. Forward Shamachona met up with Missionary Finn in Kigali, Rwanda, in September of 2017. The three of them traveled to the city of Nygatare, Rwanda, and spent a week visiting various congregations of the RLCR and teaching Rev. Marinagaba and his fellow church leaders about the history of the Lutheran church and Confessions. Since Rwanda is a French-speaking country, and only Rev. Marinagaba speaks English, an interpreter had to translate all of the lessons for the rest of those present.

Missionary Birner made a second trip to Rwanda in August of 2018. Joining him were LCCA-Z Rev. Chibi Simweeleba and WELS Pastor James Krause, who speaks French. The three of them gave presentations on the Sacraments and the worker training program of the LCCA. Observing that more intensive training would be useful, the One Africa Team formally invited Rev. Marinagaba to attend the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia, for one year, but he declined to leave his family and his congregations for such a long time. Rev. Marinagaba agreed to attend a Multi-Language Publications conference in Lusaka last August, but was involved in a traffic accident just before the conference began and was unable to travel. Please pray for his swift recovery, and the ability for WELS to strengthen its connection with RLCR, where an altar to the Lord is being built in the heart of Africa.

To learn more about African outreach in Rwanda and 5 other African countries, visit wels.net/africa.

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The gospel produces fruits… upon fruits

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

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

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

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

The gospel produces fruits . . . upon fruits. 🙂

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, missionary in Latin America

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

 

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25 years of autumn blessings

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever!”

Decorating church for the Harvest Festival

Autumn is a beautiful time in Siberia! Graceful birches are dressed in gold. Rugged apple trees are weighed down with their small, red fruit. Markets overflow with sturdy pumpkins, plump tomatoes, and mounds upon mounds of potatoes and cabbages. Delicate mushrooms pop up in the forests. Once again, our gracious Father has filled our vegetable cellars and pantry shelves with the fruits of a bountiful crop. Our Russian congregations have the tradition of thanking God for his good gifts with a Harvest Festival the beginning of October.

But our thankfulness doesn’t end with vegetables! This fall marks the 25th Anniversary of our Russian Lutheran Church. In 1994, the very first members were confirmed. Now, 25 years later, we have much for which to be thankful:

  • Four national pastors faithfully preach and teach God’s Word to any who will listen.
  • One talented seminary student serves as an apprentice to Missionary Wolfgramm, studying in the classroom and practicing his skills in the Iskitim and Tomsk congregations.
  • Active men lead the congregations, taking care of practical matters like building maintenance, finances, and fire codes, all the while insisting on sticking to the truth of God’s Word.
  • Gifted women show their love for the Savior by teaching Sunday School, bringing vegetables and flowers from their gardens, playing and singing for worship, encouraging each other, and helping their neighbors. When their eyes are weak and their bones are feeble, they continue to show their love for Jesus with their encouraging words and faithful prayers.
  • Energetic children learn Bible stories, sing for worship, listen to children’s sermons and grow in their understanding and appreciation of Jesus’ love.

On November 3, our congregation in Akademgorodok will host a joint service celebrating the Reformation and commemorating our church body’s 25th Anniversary. We will give thanks for these blessings and look to the future. How can we best use the time, talents and treasures our Heavenly Father has entrusted us with to serve our congregations and those around us? How can we share the Good News with others in our community and throughout Russia?

Autumn blessings are readily apparent to all of our senses. See the vivid colors at the market. Smell the pumpkin baking. Feel the horseradish burning in your eyes. Let’s make time this fall to remember these blessings, both physical and spiritual. Please join your Russian brothers and sisters in thanking God:

  • for his providence. Thank him for nourishing food, warm clothing and homes, sunshine, and even snow.
  • for spiritual blessings: for forgiving our sins, hearing our prayers, and giving us eternal life for Jesus’ sake.
  • for pastors and leaders who remain faithful to the Bible.
  • for places where we can worship God and encourage each other.
  • for the blessings he has given the Russian Lutheran church these past 25 years.

Please pray that God would continue to bless the Russian Lutheran Church with strong, spiritual leaders and faithful members who work together to share Jesus’ love.

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, missionary wife in Russia

To learn more about world mission work in Russia, visit wels.net/russia.

 

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Try, try again

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive future updates directly in your inbox, visit oneafricateam.com. “Like” the One Africa Team on Facebook at fb.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS


Cameroon has had its ups and downs the past few years – which always gives more opportunity for the gospel message to take priority. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Our partners in Cameroon have the message of hope in Jesus and they’re taking every opportunity to share it.

Cameroon Seminary Professor Rev. Israel Mesue

We need more people to do the work! Last March, we hoped that classes would be able to resume at our campus at Barombi Kang. But those plans had to be scrapped when the only Cameroonian Seminary teacher, Rev. Israel Mesue, was informed by armed thugs that “if you open that school, you yourself will be kidnapped and taken for ransom.”

But as the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again.” Just a few months later, Pastor Isreal proposed to continue teaching his students in Cameroon via “satellite seminary” in order to reinvigorate students about preparing for the full-time ministry. Pastor Isreal spends six weeks on the road, spending up to two weeks in each of the three districts of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC). He is currently teaching lessons on the three Ecumenical Creeds, Homiletics (Preaching), and the large Catechism (Part 1 – Commandments); together with worksheets, discussion topics, and even tests for those courses.

James and Rev. Israel

Rev. Isreal began his first tour in the Western Bakossi District (Nyadong Village) with students Thomas and Vincent. The teaching went well and the students were happy to be back into the books. One of the LCC’s members sat in on the classes at Nyandong and decided that he might be interested in pursuing studies for the ministry in the future. If the satellite seminary program runs smoothly, James will be able to start his studies in September of 2022! We see the Lord of the harvest answering our prayers to provide men who are eager to serve him.

It can be bumpy at times teaching seminary students on the road. On his trip to the Northwest District, Pastor Israel’s bus broke down close to where some of fighting has been taking place between pro-government and separatist forces. When the military showed up, Pastor Isreal found himself less ten feet away from a shoot-out! Thankfully nobody was injured. Pastor Isreal looks to the Lord for protection and praises him for the many things that went well on his first trip.

Two weeks ago Rev. Israel was at the Northwestern District (Mbemi Village) with the chairman of the Board for Worker Training, Rev. Fon George, along with students Crispos and David. He was a bit delayed in starting his visit there because of another “project” in his home town of Kumba where he is teaching students Ferdinand and Solo.

Seminary student Solo

A French-speaking student, Jean-Jacque, did not join his fellow students in the English-speaking region of Cameroon because of the political climate. Nico, another student, was not able to join the program either because of his work. Both Jean-Jacque and Nico will have some catching up to do. While at Kumba there were a few interruptions, but Rev. Isreal adjusted the schedule as necessary to ensure that the students learned the material well.

It was a great blessing for both the students and their teacher to spend time together in God’s Word during this “Seminary road trip.” The next step will be to “try, try again” and bring all the students together on the campus of the LCC Seminary at Barombi Kang in Kumba. Please pray for the peace and safety of the people of Cameroon, and that God continues to bless the work of our partners in the LCC.

Written by Rev. Dan Kroll, missionary to West Africa

 

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3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia

In 2003 my family and I left Africa after 21 years to serve a congregation in the United States. At that time I wrote an article for the WELS Board for World Mission’s newsletter entitled, 10 Things I Learned In 20 Years In Africa.

Flash ahead 16 years. . . and my wife and I are unexpectedly having to leave our work in South Asia to come back to the United States. To mark this occasion, please allow me to tell you briefly about 3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia.

1) The caste system really hinders the spread of the gospel. In Zambia and Malawi, I saw how people from different tribes often didn’t get along well together. But the walls that tribalism erects in Central Africa pale in comparison to the barriers that the caste system builds to repel the gospel in places like South Asia. It’s rare for a Hindu of any caste to speak to a Christian. It’s practically unheard of for an upper caste individual to do so. God’s Word, of course, can accomplish great things. But it faces an enormous challenge among well over a billion people who live in South Asia. Something to keep praying about.

2) It isn’t easy to train a pastor in another culture. When you think of training a pastor, you first think of some sort of school where students study the Bible and its teachings; where they learn ways to share those teachings with other through sermons, classes, and conversations. Certainly, that is the foundation of a pastoral training program. But in WELS, future pastors also benefit greatly from having a host of role models; other, often older, pastors who know how to touch people’s hearts with a sermon, men who display the love of Christ in word and action.  But such role models often aren’t available in many of our mission fields. In classes you can describe practical situations and ask students, “What would you do?” But it’s not the same. Something more to pray about.

3) The Lutheran liturgy is really, really important. In our world mission fields, many congregations do not have their own pastor. These congregations are served by dedicated laymen. And for this reason, many of our world mission fields also prepare a “sermon book.” A sermon book contains a simple sermon translated into the local language for every Sunday of the year. In spite of the sermon book, I often wondered if they were adding a smattering of false teaching to their sermons. But there is one thing that can’t be “messed up”: the liturgy. And because all of our congregations use a simplified Lutheran liturgy, translated into the local language, I can be sure that each and every Sunday the Christians at that congregation are confessing their sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. I can be certain that they are hearing a summary of the gospel in the Apostles or Nicene Creed. I know that they are worshiping in the name of, and receiving the blessing of, the Triune God. Something to be grateful for.

And the ½ thing. . . it’s never easy to leave a world mission field. When we left Africa in 2003, our family mourned our loss for a long time. I suspect it will be the same now. We will miss the work, the people, and the life. But my wife and I will carry on, grateful for the blessings that we had and certain that the Lord will continue to bless the people and the work in South Asia, even as he will bless us in our new call in the United States.

Written by Rev. Mark Rieke, former Friendly Counselor to South Asia

Friendly Counselor Mark Rieke and his wife Sue are moving to La Crescent, Minn., where Pastor Rieke has accepted a call to serve First Lutheran Church after unforeseen circumstances made it impossible for them to return to their home and his call in South Asia. Please keep Mark and Sue in your prayers during this transition!

 

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We need Africa

Africa needs us! How many times have you heard that on TV or in your church? Most often people think of Africa as grassy savannas filled with wildlife, poor villages, and sickness and disease running rampant through the continent. In some aspects that is very true, however there are many stereotypes about Africa that are equally false, just like stereotypes about Americans and the United States. Africa does need us; but, did you ever think that we as Christians may need Africa?

Sunset at Mvuu Camp inside Liwonde National Game Park

In July 2019, the Central African Medical Mission (CAMM) brought a group of ten people from the U.S. together to tour Malawi and see firsthand the work of our Lutheran Mobile Clinic which CAMM oversees. CAMM, established in 1961, serves the people living in the central region of Malawi in conjunction with local Lutheran churches. The Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Malawi brings medical care and supplies to the villages of Suzi, Msambo, Thunga and Mwalaulomwe every week. CAMM is entirely funded outside of the WELS budget by grants from charitable organizations and individual donors. Our hope in bringing such a large group of visitors to Malawi was to increase awareness among stateside WELS congregations and donors about our Mobile Clinic’s mission of mercy.

Inside the newly refurbished clinic room at Mwalaulome Lutheran Church

The twelve-day trip allowed us to take in the people, the villages, and the varied landscapes of Malawi. We were able to enjoy the beaches of Lake Malawi and walk through a nearby village. We saw many of God’s created animals at Camp Mvuu while on safari, and we saw the physical needs of the Malawian people treated at the CAMM mobile clinic in the village of Thunga. It is hard to describe the atmosphere and the number of people waiting to be seen by our nurses on a clinic day. The staff works diligently to make sure all the waiting people are seen.

The beauty of Malawi is breathtaking and filled our hearts with joy. Seeing children run alongside our bus waving and jumping excitedly brought smiles to our faces. Seeing the medical assistance provided to so many villagers on clinic day was eye-opening. I feel slightly ashamed that in the past I have been impatient because my doctor was 20 minutes late for an appointment, while visitors to the Mobile Clinic walk miles and wait hours to be seen in a room filled with about thirty other people.

Children show off their new toothbrushes they received at Thunga clinic

I feel guilty for wanting a really nice sweater or newer car when I think about Malawian children who only want an empty used water bottle to carry to school, or the Malawian mothers who just wanted medication to make their baby well again. In spite of Malawians’ lack of material possessions, they are grateful for their family, their faith, and access to medical care through our Mobile Clinic. So, yes, Africa may need us but we also need Africa to get perspective on our lives. We need to see the joy of children running to us barefooted. We need to witness the gratefulness of those receiving the next immunization for their child so they don’t become sick. We need to tell others about the blessings of our mobile clinic’s ministry that, from our perspective, is occurring in the middle of nowhere. We need to be reminded that we have Christian brothers and sisters halfway around the world that shares our love for Jesus and His blessings. We need the opportunity to put Christ’s words into practice: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” – Matthew 25:40

As we recall our CAMM trip and the blessings of a safe and inspirational journey, this bible verse comes to mind, “Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and let them enjoy abundant peace and security.” – Jeremiah 33:6

Written by Angela Sievert, Public Relations Coordinator for the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) 

 

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Faces of Faith – Fang

I met Pastor Fang for the first time in 2012. He and a few other leaders from the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC)  gathered with me in a small hotel room in Hanoi, Vietnam. We spent a few days together studying the Word of God, quietly, so as not to attract attention. Then the men left to their villages.

Fang was a very polite and humble student in my class, but he challenged me with all kinds of questions about Scripture and leadership. At that time I seemed like a baby pastor to them, compared to many other Hmong pastors who preached their philosophies, ideologies and traditions. For almost two years, Fang and I confronted each other in the classroom on a regular basis. He thought that my teaching—that sinners are saved by grace alone—was not based on the Bible. His reasoning was that if sinners are saved by grace alone, it is too simple and can’t be trusted. It’s like giving a math test of 1+1 = ? to university students. He said, “Sinners need to cooperate in their salvation by doing good and living a holy life.” He added, “None of the other Hmong pastors teach like you. They all teach that if we are good, God will love us, and we earn our salvation through our own merits.” Even so, he kept coming to my training – thanks to God.

In June 2014, Fang came to me and said, “Pastor Lor, I apologize for being angry with you and even labeling you as a cult preacher. Now, I totally admit that sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Throughout my ministry, I’ve tried so hard to please God with good works. I thought that I could be saved through them. But the harder I tried, the more distant from God I felt. The more guilty I felt. I also gave many rules to my members. After two years of studying with you, I have been moved by the Holy Spirit to believe that I am saved through faith in Christ alone.”

Salvation by grace alone means a lot to Fang. He told me that since his members understood grace, they are more active in the church’s activities and more confident in their outreach to their community. Now they can say that they are saved and that they are children of God. Before that, they were hesitant to witness that they were saved because they weren’t sure that they were good enough to be saved.

Pastor Fang’s funeral

Last October, I was invited to preach for the Hmong National Conference in Lai Cau. More than 1,000 people attended the conference. Fang and his wife, Yong, came to me. She said, “Pastor, I appreciate your hard work and how you trained my husband in the word of God. He is now a better husband and is a more caring pastor to his members.” I asked his wife, “How so?” She said, “The love of God motivates my husband to love us more. He was a man of traditions, but now he has a gentle and humble heart.” I told her, “Praise God for his love and mercy! And continue to support your husband’s ministry.”

Sadly, on July 18, 2019, Fang was taken home to his Lord. He was on a trip to assist another family who had lost a loved one just two days earlier. He preached for several hours under a hot sun, and then he was invited to stay with a family for the night. Early in the morning when the lady was done cooking, she called out for everyone to come to breakfast. Fang didn’t answer the call. The man of the family went to wake him up. We still don’t know the cause of his death.

He will be missed by many, especially his fellow workers in Vietnam. His associate called me hours after his death, “Pastor Lor, Pastor Fang passed away this morning. It was a tremendous lost to the congregations in this area because he served his Lord and members from his heart. We all miss him a lot. We know that you will miss him too.” Through his ministry, the Holy Spirit brought many to believe in Jesus. He was a model of faith not only to his members, but also to the community near and far in Northern Vietnam. Both he and his wife worked so hard in their rice field to make sure that they could serve their family and members. He told me, “Pastor, I am not rich but I thank God that he gives me the strength to work in my rice field so that I can support my family and do the work that my Lord has entrusted to me.” I remember one day, after a break from long hours of training, he brought me a well-cooked whole chicken and said, “Pastor, my wife and I thank you for sharing the word of God with us. We have nothing to pay you, so we brought you this chicken.” I didn’t know what to say, so I split the chicken and ate it with him and the other students. That was one of the most enjoyable moments in my life. I ate the chicken with tears in my heart.

More than 600 people, both the Christian and non-Christian community, attended Fang’s funeral. I thank God that he knew the truth that he was saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. No doubt he could have accomplished much more if he had lived longer, but God knows what is best for him and his family. Now, he is united with the saints in heaven, safely in the arms of our Heavenly Father. He is protected by our Lord Jesus Christ. He has no more tears, and he suffers no more persecution due to his faith in Christ. No more worries about his rice field so that he can take good care of his family and members. Peace is his in Christ forever!

Brothers and sisters, let’s remind ourselves daily that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Grace may not mean much to some of us, but for Fang, it was his only hope: his only hope in Jesus. He was willing to endure hardships for the sake of the gospel so that he could bring it to lost souls—sinners saved by grace through faith alone in Christ. God gives us the best treasure, so let’s share our best treasure to all nations, tribes, and languages through our prayers and stewardship.

Thank you for supporting the training in Hanoi, and please continue to pray for your brothers and sisters in Vietnam.

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

 

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Faces of Faith – Sebastian

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

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

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

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

Sebastian presenting at his new church in Ibagué

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sebastian at his new church in Ibagué

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

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

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

 

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Pastor Chaplai

Pastor Chaplai is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

Pastor Chaplai shared his story with PSI Professor Rev. Brad Wordell, with Bounkeo Lor serving as translator:

On coming to faith: In 1997 one of my children was sick. No remedies were helping. I decided that I wanted to visit a Christian church in our area, to see if they could pray for my child. Before I went, other people warned me about the dangers: “The church will make you give them all your money”, “If you decide to stop going to their church, they will persecute you.” We decided to go anyway. I brought my whole family. They kindly welcomed us and told us about the Bible. They prayed for us. We told others what happened. Later that year, my family and five other families were baptized. But as the church grew, the persecution against us also grew. We were fined by local authorities. We were arrested and threatened. One night the locals captured several families, put them all in a truck, drove 160 kilometers to a very remote place and dropped them off in the middle of the jungle to die. But they survived. One time many of the Christian men in our village were captured and taken to a house, where we were interrogated separately. They told me to denounce my faith like all the other men had done. I told them, “I don’t know about the other men, but I still believe in Jesus.” They locked my legs in stocks. They would threaten me, pretend like they were going to hit me, and demand that I sign a piece of paper renouncing my faith. When I refused, they would lock me up again until the next day, when the process would begin again. Finally, after many days, they gave up. They told me I was stubborn and let me go. I went back to my church and told everyone, “Don’t be afraid of them.” The community trusted me. Many families came to me to learn about the Bible. One time, in four days, 60 families became Christian!

I didn’t know much about the Bible. We did not have Bibles to give to people. As the church grew, the local government put more pressure on us. They would arrest us and slap us repeatedly in the face and then release us. But there were too many of us. Some officials came to our church pretending that they wanted to become Christian. They wanted to check us out and see what we were really doing. For two years we were being watched closely by soldiers. Finally they gave up and left our village. A few years later, I moved to Sa Pa to start a new church there. The persecution there was severe. In spite of brutal beatings, the Christians did not renounce their faith. One night, everyone in the village was baptized secretly in the freezing cold water of a nearby river (We didn’t know that immersion is not a requirement). For three years, I had to travel by night and teach the Bible to people between midnight and 5 am. We would sleep during the day. In 2003, I was chosen to be the leader of the whole area. In that same year, the persecution began to decline.

On ministry: My ministry has been very blessed. I might be the only pastor here who is able to say that every one of my relatives is a Christian – every one! I now oversee eleven congregations. I serve 1,934 members in 324 families. I still travel to new areas to tell people about Jesus. I have to be careful in some of those areas because of resistance and possible persecution. Because I was one of the first ones to believe in my region and because all the Christians think of me as their leader, so many people are coming to me all the time for all kinds of help. I must admit to you that ministry is very difficult. Many times I have wanted to give up. But I keep serving because I love God.

On learning: If it were not for these classes, I most certainly would have quit before now. I want to say thank you to WELS because you have given me peace. I did not have peace until I learned the gospel in these classes. All of us here are learning so many things. We take the things we learn here and teach them to our people. The printed materials, translated into our language, are very useful to us. All of us are baptized now, including our babies. We have peace and joy from the true teaching of God’s Word.

What WELS members can pray for: I ask the members of WELS to pray for me and the members of my churches. They are immature in their faith and do not understand “the priesthood of all believers.” They have not learned how to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God and to serve together in the body of Christ. I want to motivate them with the gospel, not the law.

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.

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