From Theirs to Mine: A Friend’s Journey to Baptism

As a lay evangelist in East Asia, new believers often introduced us to their friends. That was how we met Tom. To get to know Tom, we invited him to basketball and afterwards our Tuesday night Bible study. He gladly joined both. Soon he regularly attended studies, even if there was no basketball. It wasn’t long before he became a good friend.

Tom was smart. When we met, he was getting his PhD in geophysics at a top university in the East Asia. During his doctrinal studies, he published papers in top geophysics journals, in English, his second language.

That said, Tom’s relationship to Christianity always seemed cerebral. As a trained scientist and raised in an atheist culture, Tom merely expressed interest in Christianity, especially in the meaning it gave to people’s lives. But it never seemed to be personal. For Tom, it wasn’t “we believe” but “they believe.” Jesus wasn’t his but theirs.

Fast forward three years. Tom got his PhD and landed a post-doc position in Europe with one of the top researchers in his field. It was time for us to part. I still remember the conversation after our last Bible study. I said something like, “Tom, you’ve come to church and Bible studies for years now. You know who Jesus is and what he’s done. Do you believe it? Do you want to get baptized?” To this, he replied, and I’ll never forget it, “I’m just not ready.” So, sadly, that’s how we parted.

With the distance and life changes, Tom and I drifted apart. Occasionally we’d send a message back and forth, but no real relationship building happened. I heard he’d came back to East Asia and landed a nice job in a big city. Life seemed to be well with him.

Then one day, out of the blue he asked me if I knew any churches in a certain, small coastal city. I asked him if he was visiting that city. He told me he was moving there to teach at a local university. What? It was as if a PhD from Yale, who went to Oxford for a post-doc, worked in Chicago for a time, suddenly decided to teach in rural Montana. I was a little shocked. But I was also profoundly in awe. We did have a local church in that small coastal city (in a country of hundreds of huge cities). Not only that, but it was just blocks from where Tom was going to live. Coincidence?

A few months later, after connecting Tom to the local church, Tom kept coming up in my prayers. Then my wife mentioned him. Then another friend mentioned him. And so, I reasoned, “I’ve got to get in touch with Tom.”

I called him. I called him with the intent of asking him about his baptism, was he any closer to getting baptized? Was he ready? He picked up the phone, we exchanged pleasantries. Then, without prompting, he shot to the point and asked, “Will you come down and baptize me?” Tom went on to tell me that earlier that year his young son nearly died due to a maldeveloped heart valve. Since COVID had just hit the country, Tom and his wife were not even allowed in the hospital during their son’s surgery. Tom told me that the only thing he could hold onto was the hope that Jesus was with him, that God cared for him. So, he said, he remembered the many Bible studies and prayed to God. Some local church members also came to pray with him. Through the experience, Jesus went from being theirs to his.

After talking on the phone, I contacted the local leader who apparently knew Tom wanted me to be there at his baptism. So, just few months ago I got to perform Tom’s baptism. As I look back on this, I can’t help but recall Jesus words, Mark 4:26-27 – He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”

When we scatter the seed, we don’t know how or when it will grow. But we trust the promise and pray to see the fruits of eternal life. Praise be to the God of the Harvest!

Written by a lay evangelist in East Asia.

 

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Different mission field, same mission

Joey’s last day in the office

Last year, my husband and I decided to emigrate from Hong Kong to England after much discussion and prayers. One of my struggles is that I must leave the Hong Kong office of Multi-Language Productions (MLP) and my lovely colleagues. I had been working for Multi-Language Productions (MLP) as a full-time staff in Hong Kong for around 10 years, mainly translating, editing, and proofreading the layout of various books and Bible resources in the Chinese language. I enjoy the work very much and I would like to continue to serve God in this way. After discussing with Yvonne, my supervisor, and Nate Seiltz, director of MLP, and getting MLP’s approval, I continue working for MLP in the form of Contract Service.

Joey and her husband in the countryside of England after quarantine

My husband and I finally boarded the plane at the end of June this year. Due to COVID-19, we had to spend 10 days in a home quarantine after arriving in the United Kingdom. This was my first time in a quarantine. Thank God, a local friend gave us great help and made it easy for us to get through the 10 days.

Although the Hong Kong people used to receive British education and are familiar with the British culture, there are big differences between the East and West. I have also experienced various cultural differences. The most significant is the language. Not only are Chinese and English different, but British English and American English are also different, including pronunciation, spelling and the meaning of certain words etc. Besides, some people here speak in strong accents and even the local people can hardly understand.

In terms of food and drink, the choice of food, cooking methods, and serving ways are different. Bread is the staple food of Westerners while rice is our staple food. The food we often eat in Hong Kong may not be found in the United Kingdom.

In terms of housing, residential houses in the United Kingdom are generally larger than those in Hong Kong. When the United Kingdom people want to rent or buy a house, they will check how many rooms in the house, whereas Hong Kong people will check the saleable size of the house.

In the United Kingdom, pedestrians can cross the road first (in the circumstance without a traffic light), but it is the opposite in Hong Kong. In the early days after we arrived at the United Kingdom, we would stay on the pavement waiting for the car to pass. We were surprised that the car stopped, and the driver would give us a signal to ask us to go first.

After a month for settling down in the United Kingdom, I started to work in August. My job duties are translation and editing, and since we experienced work from home last year, I was able to perform my work as long as I have a computer and internet access. I thank God, who lets me continue to serve Him.

I’m now working on updating the Chinese Catalog and editing the People’s Bible – John. One of our goals is to produce good materials for the Christians in East Asia to help them understand the Bible better. To produce the Chinese version of the People’s Bible Series is one of the projects we want to achieve. May God give me strength to continue contribute on this big project.

Written by Joey Chow, translator and editor for Multi-Language Productions (MLP)


More than 20% of members (including Joey Chow and her husband) and two pastors from WELS’ sister church in Hong Kong, South Asia Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), have moved to the United Kingdom. Read more about the plans WELS World Missions is pursuing to place a missionary in London in this article from the Together e-newsletter.

 

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Finding a way to gather

David works in a sausage factory in Finland. Ingvar delivers the mail in Sweden. Artur teaches history in the local university in Portugal. Not only are the European CELC (Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Synod) pastors scattered across a dozen countries, many serve as “tent ministers.” They preach and teach on weekends and support themselves with secular work during the week. (St. Paul was the original “tent minister.” See Acts 18:3.)

Tent ministry saps time and energy for serving souls. It also limits face-to-face meetings for professional growth and encouragement.

Early this past spring, Pastor Holger Weiss (Germany) and Pastor Ingvar Adriansson (Sweden) were struggling to organize logistics for study and fellowship. By tradition European pastors gather for a regional conference and/or Summer Quarter study. But this year borders were closed. Travel was nearly impossible. So, Holger and Ingvar proposed a workaround: “Let’s organize an online study with time to share news and pray for each other!”

Using the theme: “Worldwide Judgment and Deliverance: Then and Now,” local pastors supplied four Bible studies on the early chapters of Genesis. About twenty different participants prepared for online meetings by viewing videos ahead of time. Then we gathered to share observations and discuss practical application for life and ministry. The format was so interesting that small-group discussion time came to be known as “The Fastest Fifteen Minutes of the Week.”

After small group and plenary discussion, we shared news and prayed for each other. It seems Pastor Artur Villares from Portugal is dealing with the greatest blessings and challenges.

First the good news. After years of dialogue with an LC-MS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) trained pastor from Brazil, the Portuguese church finally colloquized Rev. Denício Márcio Godoy and received him into fellowship. Denício (pictured in photo above) lives in Belo Horizonte, population 6 million, the 18th largest city in the Americas. What an outreach center! The pastors in our Zoom meeting welcomed Denício and wished him well before our connection was cut. Please pray that God will soon reopen travel to Brazil!

Please keep Pastor Canoa in your prayers as he recovers from the stroke and God-willing continues to serve the flock in Lisbon

We have another reason to pray for our brothers and sisters in Portugal. Antonio Canoa, the only other pastor in the Portuguese church, recently suffered a crippling stroke. At this point Antonio is unable to serve his congregation in Lisbon. Artur, who lives four hours north in Porto, is doing his best to keep in touch with church members online. Please pray that God would care for Antonio and his people in Lisbon. Please pray also for the Portuguese speakers Antonio was befriending in Europe, Africa, and South America.

Travel restrictions might prevent us from seeing each other, but nothing can limit our Savior’s mighty gospel call! Help us, Lord! We trust in You.

Written by Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary in Europe

 

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Pakuwa Pakhawa (Hope Realized)

Originally appears in the One Africa Team blog, from September 7, 2021. 

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end so that what you hope for may be fully realized (Hebrews 6:11).

In November 2019 I was ready to pack my bags and move to Nairobi. Then COVID-19 ended all international travel. One Africa Team Missionaries canceled all their planned trips to Uganda, Liberia, and other parts of Africa – full stop. But the global pandemic didn’t stop God’s kingdom or the gospel ministry of the LCMC (The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) Kenya from moving forward.

The LCMC (The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) Kenya declared fellowship with the WELS in the summer of 2019. Due to the pandemic, no WELS representatives paid them a formal visit. Some LCMC Kenya members wondered if they truly enjoyed a relationship with other confessional Lutherans outside of Kenya. They had to hope that their leaders were telling them the truth.

For 21 months, I kept in touch with One Africa Team’s ministry partners in Kenya from a distance. I helped coordinate ministry support from 1,200 miles away in Malawi, using e-mail, instant messaging platforms, and online teleconferencing. I received regular updates and phone calls. I taught Biblical Greek to students I had never met in person. Since I’ve always believed that “the house going pastor makes a church-going people,” I questioned my own effectiveness. I had to hope that God was in charge.

There was evidence of activity: photos of church building projects, expense reports, and videos of joyful church dedications. There was evidence of progress. There was evidence of financial support. But can a long-distance relationship last without meeting face to face?

In August 2021, One Africa Team leader Howard Mohlke and I visited our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Kenya. We wanted to solidify our partnership. We also wanted to give the members of the LCMC Kenya a chance to say, “Thank you” in person. There is a phrase in the Luo language that captures the goal of our visit. “Pakuwa pakhawa” means, “Our hope has been realized.”

Masaai Land

The area around Nairobi is the homeland of the Masaai people, who traditionally were hunter-gatherers and raised livestock. Near the Masaai town of Ngong, Pastor Frank Koyo serves a Masaai congregation at Olissi Lutheran Church. The church building is located at the end of a dirt path on top of a mountain. It is a most beautiful, if not remote place from which you can see the surrounding countryside. A Finnish Lutheran missionary helped the congregation put up a simple tin shack. Built a decade ago, it is still in pretty good shape. Pastor Koyo works as a plumber and has to walk down a steep hill to catch a bus to town. During the rainy season, the road is so slippery that it is impassable even on foot.

About 45 minutes away by car is Kibiku, the location of another Masaai congregation that is currently inactive.

Masaai members of Elkimasek LCMC Kenya

Since there’s no road, we made our own path up a hilltop. We found a Pentecostal church put up next to the Lutheran chapel. Pastor Koyo was serving the church but eventually stopped since the congregation’s offerings didn’t cover the cost of his transportation. The harvest is great, but the workers are few.

We then drove about two hours to another Masasi congregation in Elkimasek. Before his death, a member of the LCMC Kenya donated his land for a church building. A dozen or so adult men and women greeted us under a shade tree. The arid land sits on a volcanic plain where sheep and goats graze on scrub grass. The closest elementary school is 6 km away. Students occasionally encounter elephants and hyenas on their morning walk to class.

Western Kenya

God Miaha LCMC Kenya

There is a large concentration of LCMC congregations in Western Kenya. We drove seven hours from Nairobi to the town of Sondu. We passed through mountain forests, deserts, and huge fields of wheat and corn. We saw lush tea plantations and hills covered with cultivated farm plots. Some parts of Kenya are in the rain shadow and receive little or no rain throughout the year. Other areas are perpetually dripping with rain.

God Miaha is a beautiful chapel in the woods. Patrice Omolo recovered from a near-fatal illness in 2014. He vowed to finish constructing a church building for the congregation that his parents founded. Such thankful giving is evidence that gospel hope produces real fruits of faith.

Mr. Mzee donated the land for St. Peter’s LCMC Kenya

The members of Ramba Lutheran Church worship in a metal shack they constructed by themselves on rented land. It’s located next to a noisy indigenous Africa Christian congregation. Their whose members were banging on drums and metal bars the whole time we were there. But the Kenyan Lutherans didn’t seem to notice their next-door neighbors. They hope someday to buy land and build their own permanent structure.

One of the churches that WELS funds helped to build is St. Peter’s in Kindu town. The congregation began meeting under a shade tree. They started building on land donated by Mr. Mzee, who was in attendance along with a dozen or so of his relatives when we visited. WELS helped the congregation put a roof on their sanctuary, just in time before the rainy season begins.

Former Zambia Missionary Dan Sargent wrote a blog post that featured Nyang’un Lutheran Church. The congregation has 120 members, half of which are widows. Many men age 25-45 died in the AIDS/HIV epidemic, leaving their wives and families behind. But the WELS has not abandoned LCMC Kenya. Our visit proves that LCMC Kenya has fellowship with Lutherans outside of their country.

WELS funds helped complete the construction of a chapel for the members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in the village of Ponge. The owner of the land where they were intending to build their church refused to join the LCMC Kenya. The majority of the members left and began building on another piece of land donated by an older woman. Samson Mambo, one of my Greek students, serves as their evangelist.

Preaching in Luo

I miss the privilege of preaching to a congregation every week. I was overjoyed and grateful that the members of St. Peter’s LCMC invited me to present a message from God’s word at their Sunday worship service. LCMC Kenya treasurer Paul Mboya picked me up from my bungalow in his Honda Odyssey. It’s not a vehicle built for dirt roads. He wound around in a corkscrew pattern to avoid the worst parts of the route. We left the minivan safely parked a quarter of a mile away from the sanctuary.

Othoro LCMC Kenya

The congregation conducts its worship services in the Luo language, so the pastor translated my English sermon sentence by sentence. I spoke on the gospel lesson from John 6. Jesus told his followers they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to live forever. The text goes on to say that most of the people abandoned Jesus after hearing this. So many people hope that God will perform miracles and shower financial blessings on them. This is a false theology of glory. True hope is found on the way of the cross, with real suffering and a real reward at the end. Jesus will remain with us forever.

After the service, we passed by the LCMC Kenya congregation in Othoro. These people started meeting on a rented piece of land. Then the owner forced them off of it when they joined the LCMC Kenya. They have made a down payment on a plot of land. It sits in the middle of a cornfield, where they have erected a simple chapel. They want to build a permanent structure after they finish paying for the land.

Leaders’ Workshop

We met with local LCMC Kenya leaders for a workshop at Kadie Lutheran Church. I presented a Bible study on Biblical principles of stewardship. Missionary Howard Mohlke gave a presentation on Church and Ministry. LCMC Leader Rev. Mark Onunda summarized what we said in Swahili because many of the older attendees did not speak any English at all.

Richard Ombuyi serves Erandi LCMC Kenya

The leaders’ workshop was a perfect opportunity to share God’s Word digitally. We gave each attendee a microSD memory card with audio Bibles and the JESUS film in both Swahili and English. Most of the people had either a phone or a tablet with a memory slot. Some of the card slots were under the phone battery. Other phones had a tray that ejects when a metal pin is inserted into a hole. I improvised with a staple that I straightened out with my pocket tool.

Immediately after we installed the cards the room was filled with the sounds of the Bible and the JESUS film. Each card came with an 8 GB memory capacity, of which half was taken up with the prerecorded content. That allowed users to download other digital content that I had brought with me on a separate device. It’s a local wifi hub that serves as a digital library with 160 GB of Bible commentaries, movies, and music. WELS Multi-Language Productions made these gifts possible.

On the way back to Nairobi we stopped at Nyamarimba church. The building is a simple brick structure with mud daubed walls and iron sheet roofs. It is located on the property of one of the members. We also swung by Erandi, Rev. Mark Onunda’s home village. He started a congregation because the local Lutheran pastor wouldn’t let them use the church for his son’s funeral.

Nairobi

Mwingi LCMC Kenya future sanctuary (left) and current chapel (right)

We held a second leaders’ workshop in Nairobi. The attendees knew English so Rev. Onunda didn’t have to translate into Swahili. Their spiritual maturity about the opportunities and challenges of raising support for church work made an impression on me. They understand that stewardship is a matter of the heart, not technique.

Mwingi village is located about 3.5 hours east of Nairobi. It is a dry and dusty place where water is precious. WELS is helping the local congregation of 80 families complete a permanent structure. By themselves, they had laid the foundation and built up the wall about 3 feet off the ground.

I finished my visit to Kenya the same way I finished my first visit in 2019. I preached at the LCMC congregation in the town of Kitengela. A lot has happened since then. Three church leaders, including the pastor, went home to heaven. Because of COVID, the Kenyan government stopped churches from meeting for seven months. Because the congregation in Kitengela did not meet, they were in arrears in their rent payments. The landlord placed a padlock on their front door. After two months, the members came up with the money they owed. They hope to purchase a plot of land and put up their own building.

The members of the LCMC Kenya have great hope for their church body’s future. They have taken advantage of their own members’ resources. They also enjoy the assistance of their ministry partners in the WELS. The members of the LCMC Kenya are working hard to turn hope into reality.

Written by Rev. John Roebke, world missionary on the One Africa Team.

To view more photos from the trip to Africa, you can visit the Flickr site.

 

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Growing God’s children

I blame Adam and Eve.

Among all the problems that sprung up when they just HAD to listen to Satan instead of God were thorns, literally. The ground was cursed. The thorns grow with no help from anyone, and they can make life miserable for everyone.

Here in Arizona, we are home to approximately 1.2 million different varieties of thorns. The worst are what my children and I not-so-affectionately call “goat heads.” When we go through months without rain, you can forget about them as you stare at the hard, bare ground. But at the slightest hint of rain, they come back with a vengeance. They are tricky, luring you in with little yellow and purple flowers, begging you to let them grow for a day. But they’re hiding a terrible secret. Those little flowers can seemingly overnight multiply by a thousand, filling every square inch of ground with devilish balls of thorns that look like a goat’s head. They go through bicycle tires, shoes, and pants, and then they sneak in your house to feed upon rich targets of bare feet. Worst of all, they’re nearly impossible to kill. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)

From growing plants to growing children

On the other hand, trying to grow something good here requires a great deal of the sweat God promised. Hours and hours can be devoted to preparing poor soil, shading plants from the burning sun, and watering every single day.

It’s just as hard to grow God’s children. Our Native American Mission Field is unique in that we operate schools. August marked the beginning of another school year where our teachers are going to battle and sweat and nurture and grow the children entrusted to their care. Covid restrictions make it harder than ever, and not being able to have in-person education over the last year has put many of our children far behind. The goat heads of frustration, anger, depression, social awkwardness, and lack of confidence spring up without any effort on our part. They stab and hurt and threaten to choke the joy and learning out of the lives of our students. Our teachers work tirelessly to weed, water, fertilize, and nurture those growing children with God’s Word, love, patience, and perseverance.

In a moment of levity before the start of the school year, staff members at one of our schools were all given capes so they could do the work of superheroes to help their children this year.

Their strength will come from the Lord! Pray for our teachers, parents, and students as they begin another year sharing Jesus!

Written by Pastor Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator for WELS Native American mission field

 

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With great joy!

“Come in, come in! I want to show you something!”

His pride and joy
Pastor Willard Chipembere emphatically invited us into the parsonage at Chisomo, Thyolo. He was excited. He couldn’t wait to show us something in the house. Because I had been there before, I had an inkling of what it was going to be. Walking down the hallway, we came to a room from which came a lot of chirping. Chickens! Not just one or two but 100! Pastor Chipembere picked up one tiny chick in his hand and presented it to us with great joy. He then continued to explain more about his chicken business, and with a wave of his hand he showed us all that were under his roof. Mind you, these were not just in an outbuilding, they were in his home. His face shone. Eyes glimmered. Voice, exuberant. He was filled with great joy.

I have known about his passion for chickens for years now. Though I didn’t get a picture of him that day with the little chick in his hand, I did some years ago with ones that were much bigger and more mature than chicks at the time.

After showing us his pride and joy, we then hit the road and were on our way to a four-day professional development class at the base of Mount Mulanje in the Southern Region of Malawi.

The Word and his work
Five of us got together to work on learning about and designing engaging Bible studies. Along with the other participants, Pastor Chipembere designed and presented his draft Bible study to our pastors’ group.

As eager and joyful as Pastor Chipembere had been to tell us about his chickens, he was even more excited to eventually present his newly crafted Bible study to the church councilmen of his three congregations. He had something especially important and relevant to share. And he took it seriously. In fact, at the class, he wrote on paper what was already inscribed on his heart: “It is my responsibility as a pastor to teach Bible studies!”

He took his work and responsibility seriously but also joyfully. As he was working on designing his Bible study, he dug into 1 Timothy 3:1-10 and Ezekiel 11:1-12. He wanted to highlight the godly qualities and lifestyle of a leader in the church.

Pastor Chipembere presenting his Bible study

Pastor Chipembere looked forward to reviewing our course material, reading deeper, and reworking his draft Bible study; he especially was excited to finally present it to the congregation elders. In his hands was not a chicken to eat—but a Bible study to digest and share. After the class was over, we drove to Pastor Chipembere’s house and dropped him off. No doubt his family—and his feathered friends—were excited to see him.

The news and the questions
Several days later, on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, the news was spreading as quickly as it came:

Pastor Chipembere was called home to heaven. On that day he had taken his motorcycle for a ride. He was suddenly killed in a terrible traffic accident. A head-on collision.

The funeral was the next day (June 10, 2021). This time when I saw him, I was actually viewing him, as were the other funeral attendees. This time his face was lifeless. Eyes, closed. Voice silenced. But the church? Deafening with the sounds of grief. I can only imagine the questions swirling around in the pained hearts of the family, friends, congregation members, and community:

Was this God’s will? (Did God will him to die this way?)
Why him? (He was a pastor, ordained in 2006, who devoted his life to the full-time gospel ministry!)
Why now? (He was only 51 years old and was supporting a family.)

Chisomo LCCA Church in Thyolo

I don’t know all the questions the family and others were asking, but don’t we too wonder how to answer all the questions that get asked by people who have endured similar grief and pain? How does one offer comfort?  The same way Pastor Chipembere would have: with the Scriptures and the sure promises of God.

JESUS CHRIST: The answer and the comfort
Though at times in the church and at the outside funeral gatherings there were sounds of mourning and pain, there were also words and hymns of hope and promises and Good News:

Jesus was the Answer and the Comfort!

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57). “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).

God’s pride and joy
During the funeral it hit me: While we were grieving the loss of an LCCA pastor and while the family was mourning the loss of a husband/father, heaven was celebrating a homecoming! Not a loss but a gain! I can just imagine Jesus enthusiastically ushering Willard Chipembere into his House with a wave of his scarred hand: “Come in! Come in! I want to show you something . . .” Or better yet, “someone.” Here’s Paul. And here’s Elijah. Meet Lydia. And, oh, let me introduce you to James and John. And here’s . . . “well, here’s . . . my Father!”

Pastor Chipembere on Mount Mulanje on June 3, 2021

Or maybe with every newcomer to heaven Jesus will begin with his Father! “To him who is able to . . . present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24)! Stunning. Jesus presenting us before the Father. “Father, here’s Willard Chipembere!” Look at Jesus. His face shining. Eyes glimmering. Voice exuberant! Jesus filled with great joy presenting yet another one of his blood-redeemed brothers. This time . . . Willard Chipembere.

Presented without fault. (Sins paid for by Jesus)
Presented with great joy. (What an introduction!)
Presented by God himself who knows what it’s like to die a terrible death. And did so willingly, taking our own faults upon himself.

What Jesus achingly uttered about Jerusalem years ago he still desires today:
“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). One day it will be your turn and your time to finally reach home. To join the ultimate gathering. A longing fulfilled. Ushered in by Jesus. And as Jude verse 24 assures, Jesus will . . . present you . . . with great joy.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, world missionary on the WELS One Africa Team

 

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While we were waiting

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7a

Missionaries are doers. We thrive on rolling up the proverbial sleeves and getting stuff done. We like to be “out there” in the field with people. We want to be active and interactive. But when COVID hit last year, borders closed, and travel ceased. Asia was closed for business, and that is still largely the case today. As the usual list of accomplishments (sometimes measured in flights logged, people met, or classes taught) was stripped away, it chipped away at our doer identities. We found ourselves sometimes pacing pensively and pondering, “What do we do now? What will we do if we can’t do mission work?” We found out doers don’t do waiting well.

Driven by necessity and lack of options (sadly, not always driven by expectant faith), we were reduced to waiting – waiting on God. I don’t mean reduced in a diminutive way, but in the way that Psalm 37 reduces all our objects of hope, help, confidence, comfort, and salvation to only the Lord. The drum beat of Psalm 37 is those “he will. . . ” phrases. He will grant. . . He will act. . . He does. We wait. We know this is true. But it still feels frustrating when we really can’t do what we want.

The missed flights, cancelled workshops, and tweaking plans (again) has sometimes been excruciating. But while we were waiting, we have seen God be faithful and active. He has answered prayers. He has helped a time of trouble. Let me tell you some of the things he has done for Asia.

  • While we were waiting, God built a strong, supportive, growing relationships between missionaries, partners old and new, an amazingly supportive Administrative Committee, and national church leaders, even though the Asia One Team has not yet met together in person (not even once). 15 months ago, we wondered how we would grow together as a team. I can point to Zoom and a few other tools, but I prefer to point to God answering daily prayers and doing it while we happened to be on Zoom.
  • While we were waiting, God did open some borders. Our friendly counselor to South Asia and national contact, Haris, have been able to travel to a predominantly Muslim country in South Asia. Asia One Team missionary family Guy and Linda Marquardt made it to Thailand, and newest missionary Mark Zondag and his family are on the way too.
  • While the Wiesenauer family sometimes bemoaned missing a furlough this year, being “stuck” in Thailand built strong local relationships and opened new doors. God worked through everyone else in all the places they were “stuck” too. Just ask any missionary about the doors God opened in their locations.
  • The Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam grew by 12,000 members and planted new churches. In Indonesia, our sister church forged stronger relationships, built a seminary, and strengthened worker training programs. In India, the brothers there plowed their way through challenge after challenge – growing together in the process. In a predominantly Hindu nation in South Asia, our national church partner got through travel restrictions to deliver relief items, gain the trust of local officials, and open new doors for the gospel. Go tell it on the mountain happened literally in South Asia, one mountain after another. And in one of the most restrictive parts of Asia, two dozen members were recently confirmed.

A Confirmation class in Asia

  • While we were waiting, the Holy Spirit was faithful to strengthen and work through national Christians – sometimes with and often without WELS missionaries. This is a poignant reminder that God delights in working in all his children.

I could go on. But the point. . . While we were waiting, the Lord did stuff. He was our stronghold in a troubling time. He helped. He acted. He is still on the move. God also continues to prepare good works for us to do and blesses the work of our hands, but how comforting and joyful it is to know that our identity and success is in his hands, no matter what happens to our plans.

Waiting on the Lord is hardly an endorsement for laziness or fatalism. Indeed, none of us ran out of work to do. But someday when we are in a post-covid world, borders are open, and missionaries are flying all over the world again, I hope we will not forget what we have learned. Waiting on the Lord is never a last resort or the thing we do when nothing else works. It is the first and best resort of missionaries and God’s children in any walk of life in every circumstance. It is based on the enduring promise that God will be faithful. We only need to behold the cross of Christ and the empty tomb to be reassured that this is true.

Written by Stephen Wiesenauer, world missionary on the Asia One Team.

 

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God’s work across the globe

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

Bible study group with Javier (second from left)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marli holding her doctrinal certificate

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A time to celebrate and a time to pray

Luke Wolfgramm, our WELS pastor in Russia, had a chance to talk with Holger Weiss, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany. The ELFK is WELS’ sister church and mission partner.

Let’s celebrate and give thanks with our brothers and sisters in Germany!

This is quite a year for the 1,300 members and 17 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK).

  • Steeden, the oldest congregation in the ELFK, is celebrating its 175th anniversary – that’s four years older than WELS.
  • Four other congregations (in Dresden, Zwickau-Planitz, Altengesees, and Saalfeld) are celebrating 150 or 100 years of God’s grace.
  • The ELFK seminary was founded in 1921, exactly 100 years ago.
  • And this year the Dr. Martin Luther School for elementary children is celebrating its 20th

When interviewed, Holger Weiss, said:

“God has performed miracles for our church. He preserved His truth among us despite two devastating world wars and decades of communist persecution. [Most ELFK congregations are located in former East Germany.]

Student at the ELFK seminary in Leipzig.

At first ELFK pastors were trained in the Missouri Synod seminary in St. Louis. [At that time both WELS and the ELFK enjoyed fellowship with the LC-MS.] But when WWI prevented men from traveling to the United States, the ELFK had to find a way to train their own pastors. The church decided to send men to the state seminary in Leipzig. But they also established their own auxiliary institute to battle false teaching presented in that liberal seminary. This was the beginning of the ELFK seminary.

We are so thankful for Dr. Martin Luther School in Zwickau. Every day 120 students attend grades 1-4 and hear about the Savior. Most of these students come from unchurched families. This has been an excellent way to reach out to our community with God’s word.

But I feel sad. I live in the land of Luther and the Reformation. But so many people here have no idea of what Christ did for them. Today we are still suffering from the pandemic. People have gotten sick and died. Businesses have been closed. Many are living in fear. They sought hope from medicine, science and politicians – only to be disappointed. People need to know that our real troubles are spiritual! We need a new awakening!

Please pray that God would move young men to study for ministry in Germany. Pray that we can open new congregations and preaching stations. Pray that we can send out missionaries. Pray that all of us can be lights welcoming souls into God’s happy family. And pray for our seminary. Right now, we are exploring ways that we can serve not only German students, but men from our sister churches. We want people all over Europe to hear about the Savior!

What a special year! We thank God for past blessings. Now it’s time to get busy praying and working to share the Savior – no matter where you live!”

 

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From one background to another

This is a world missions story that starts in the good ol’ U.S. of A. In fact, you could say that the mission work is mostly being done there. But at the same time, it’s reaching to people far across the ocean.

Back in the month of April, one of our Lutheran pastors in Arizona reached out to me here in Hong Kong. He said that he was getting to know a Filipina lady – one with a PhD, no less – who was living and teaching, not in the U.S., not in the Philippines, but in a city closer to us in Hong Kong. This lady works there at the overseas campus of an American public university, and she had started attending his online Bible instruction class in Arizona (even though they are separated by nine time zones). She was also bringing two of her local colleagues.

So, what could we do to help this lady and her colleagues? Of course, the pastor in Arizona would continue to teach them in the Bible instruction class. But would there be any chance that we could connect them with Lutheran Christians who live closer to them? By God’s grace and the work of his gospel through WELS World Missions, we do in fact happen to have a small group that worships less than an hour’s drive away from that campus.

This might sound like an amazing coincidence, but we know that nothing is purely happenstance in this world that our Savior holds in his nail-marked hands. It is also a blessing that comes as a direct result of the mission work that God has done through your gifts and offerings, your prayers and preaching. What grace from him that we are connected other Lutherans not only in North America but also around the world! What grace that we can work together to help acquaintances who might not reside in (or even visit) the United States! It takes a global village of Lutheran Christians to do this, and I thank God for all of you.

And that dear Filipina lady and her friends? They’ve finished the first part of the Bible instruction class and are continuing on to the second. Please pray for them that the Holy Spirit would grow them in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Pray that they would be encouraged by our Lutheran brothers and sisters. And pray that God would also use them to let his mission story continue on to others.

Written by Rev. Tim Matthies, Professor at Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong.

 

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Looking forward and back

On Saturday, April 17, 2021, my wife, Leslie, and I landed in Lilongwe, Malawi. As we landed and looked forward to our new life living and working in Africa, we also looked back to 1991 when we first landed in Zambia to serve as part of the mission team. Back then we arrived with two daughters ages four and two, and one son who was six months old. Now, it’s just the two of us, and those three (and two more) kids are all grown up. Back then we left behind our parents and “took their grandchildren away,” as they would remind us at times. Now, we are leaving behind our grandchildren.

Missionary Mohlke and his wife, Leslie, with their shipping container as they prepare for the move to Lilongwe, Malawi

Back then, we were a young family, and I had just been assigned from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to serve in Zambia. Now, Leslie and I have been together for over three decades and have been blessed in many ways as we lived in Zambia, Nebraska, Idaho, and Arizona. Now, we look forward to being blessed as we live again in Africa and wonder a bit what the Lord has in store for us. That said, we know for certain that just as the Lord saw us through in the past, he will be with us and bless us this time too.

Many Changes

It is said that you can never go home, meaning that our memories of home remain the same but time changes everything and things are never as we remember. As Leslie and I returned to Africa, we kept reminding ourselves that this would be true, and indeed it was.

Back in 1991, we arrived in a country that had suffered from years of socialism and one-party rule. The consequences were a ruined economy and infrastructure. It was a challenge to procure the most basic of needs. Now, even though there are differences in name brands and price, almost anything can be purchased at a local store. Back then it was big news when certain items were available at the store. Now, one can compare prices and quality of items that you want to buy.

Back in 1991, the only forms of communication with family in the U.S. were airmail and long-distance calls that cost $1.00 per minute, that is, if the phone was working at all. Now, with cellular data, there are multiple means of voice and video communication. That is, if the electricity is on. I guess some things do stay the same.

Missionary Mohlke in Africa in the 1990s

Nothing New

As with water and electricity outages, other things remain the same. The biggest constant is the need to share the Good News of Jesus. People continue to struggle with sin and guilt and need the comfort of Jesus. The work of sharing this comfort is still carried out through Christian congregations who gather to be blessed through Word and sacrament and are willing to share the truth with their neighbors. Nowadays, the congregations are served by locally trained pastors and elders, but the work remains the same.

Something New

Back in 1991, my work was to serve a dozen churches, visiting them every four to six weeks. In between my visits, the work of shepherding the congregations was in the hands of faithful men and women who read sermons on Sunday and taught basic instruction and Sunday school. They visited the sick and managed the affairs of their congregation. When I would visit, I conducted worship and offered encouragement and training to those who were serving so faithfully.

Nowadays, WELS missionaries in Africa are not serving as pastors or overseeing congregations, but are working with the pastors and leadership of church bodies throughout Africa. Back in 1991 there were missionaries doing what I was doing in Malawi and Zambia. Now, the mission team works with partner church bodies in Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, as well as Malawi and Zambia. We also are working with Multi-Language Productions, offering basic biblical and shepherding training to individuals anywhere in the continent. Our prayer is that all these relationships and partnerships would be blessed by the Lord so more people may hear the Good News of Jesus in Africa and beyond.

Always

As Leslie and I begin this new stage of mission life, we know that it is the Lord who has called us here and will bless us. For this we are thankful.

The Lord be with you all.

Written by Missionary Howie Mohlke, leader of the One Africa Team

 

 

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Another day to serve

My alarm rings: another day to serve.

“Dear Lord, give me the heart to share your grace today. Thank you for freeing me from the bondage of sin so that I am able to serve you and others.” It’s been 35 years since I was told by my doctor that I would not survive two years due to cancer. “Thank you Lord for calling me to yourself through what the world cannot see as grace and freedom.”

Time to go to the cafeteria here at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School and meet up with my fellow volunteer servants to prepare for the day’s work. We have a devotion and prayer, and we are ready for a day of building a staff housing unit that will be a place of rest for the additional teaching staff needed to serve the Apache community with the love of a grace of our Savior. Peridot is part of the WELS’ oldest world mission field to the Apache people on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. This mission is a unique place, and the Apache people are as unique as the region in which they live. What a privilege to be allowed to support this mission!

Building site at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

As a member of Builders for Christ, I have been given the opportunity to help in many church settings as a project manager. The chance to serve a world mission is a rare opportunity for lay volunteers and can be a challenge to work out logistics. Some of the challenges such as funding, timing, materials, and planning onsite are no less difficult in making the puzzle fit. The Lord continues to counter what we call “stumbling blocks”. Oh how small our vision is in comparison to what God’s vision is for us!

Since Arizona has allowed school choice, our Lutheran schools have had a lot of interest from parents that could previously not afford private education, or who would like a Christ-centered curriculum. “Thank you Lord for making our schools a respite from the world. You can have the world, but give me Jesus.” In a time when so many of our churches are shrinking, Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School and mission are expanding. What a challenge! What joy and exaltation! We are free in Christ to serve him in so many ways. “But Lord, all I have is a few old tools and old hands to use them. Here am I, send me, send me.” And God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The afternoon draws to a close. Let’s straighten that framing a little, install the sheathing, and call it a day.

Today brought some local volunteers, our Apache brothers and sisters, who share the desire to serve God and their community.

Thank you Lord, for allowing us to serve together to assist in raising these little ‘Poppies’.” The “Poppies” are the children served by the loving staff here at the school. They’re referred to as the “Poppies of the desert floor” that erupt in splendid color as spring rains water and nourish the dormant seeds. With the “Poppies” come the parents and families to hear God’s refreshing and freeing word. The peace that transcends human understanding, and the rest the world cannot emulate.

Okay, that’s a wrap. “Thank you for another day of grace and the sharing of your spirit, Oh Lord.” Our hosts thank us for another day of work. They don’t know how blessed we are to help in our small ways. It’s not fair we get more in return than what we came to give. I love God’s economy! “Thank you Lord for another day of grace. Thank you for these missionaries that leave lives of luxury to spread your love among the ‘Poppies’.”

Rest well dear friends. And as the builders say, “I will see you down the road.”

Written by Mr. Randy Baker, project manager of the Builders for Christ project at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School on the Apache reservations in Arizona

 

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Faith and healing for 60 years

When you hear the word “Africa,” what comes to your mind? For WELS Lutherans, perhaps a lot of history comes to your mind. History that is often rooted in the work of the Central Africa Medical Mission.

1963: Barbara Welch and Kay Stuh work at the Zambia Clinic

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) started doing Christ-centered medical work in 1961 for just a handful of people in Mwembezhi, Zambia, which is near Lusaka, the capitol of Zambia. Today, thousands of Zambians come to that same clinic site seeking medical health (healing) for their body as well as spiritual health (faith) for their soul.

In 1970, medical services began in the country of Malawi as a mobile clinic. According to one of our first resident nurses, Edie Schneider Hintz, “For several weeks at three regular clinic stops we saw over 1,900 adults and 700 children in our under-five clinics. Amazing for their first try in the bush with medicine.”

The Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Malawi currently serves four rural villages. Annual attendance varies between 47,000 to 58,000 patients. The people in these villages trust our Lutheran Mobile Clinic to provide them with preventative healthcare and good quality medical care.

This year, CAMM will celebrate its 60th anniversary of showing Christ’s love through our care of very poor and needy people in central Africa who come to our clinics. Every day at our clinics, we get to nourish the faith of patients by sharing God’s Word with them through devotions and praying with them. At the same time, we get to bring healthcare to children in our under-five program, to adults who are suffering from malaria and HIV, and to young mothers in our maternity program.

Devotion at a clinic in Malawi

We also have some exciting news happening in Malawi this year. We have reached the point where we are now able to nationalize our clinic and give more responsibility to the Malawian staff, so that they can run the clinic and make it their own. That’s always been our goal, and God has blessed us at this time to be able to achieve that goal.

There are so many blessings that CAMM has experienced by God’s grace, and there are even more opportunities waiting for us.

Because of the Lord’s great love over the past 60 years, hundreds of thousands of patients have been helped and countless lives have been saved through the work of CAMM. In addition, many adults and children have heard the good news of Jesus and have been baptized as a result. It’s been one blessing after another as we have provided Christ-centered medical and spiritual care for the past 60 years in Africa. “To God be the glory, great things he has done!” (CW 399).

Written by Rev. Kevin Schultz, Central Africa Medical Mission Spiritual advisor

We are featuring the Central Africa Medical Mission during the month of April as they celebrate 60 years of God’s grace in 2021. Visit wels.net/camm to learn more.

 

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Arriving somewhere new

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

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

Beth Behmer and kids Nora, Emma, and Baby Ray

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

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

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

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

Guaman family confirmation with Missionary Nathan Schulte

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Behmer missionary family landing report

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

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

Missionary Schulte meeting Behmers at the airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missionaries Behmer and Schulte meeting to discuss their ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 19 and onward: 

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

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

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

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

 

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Linger with me before God’s throne

It is true that our job is to teach students about the Bible. By God’s grace, we have a school through which to accomplish this work. We’ve asked for your prayers: that God continue to provide us students interested in serving people. You’ve walked with us and prayed with us as we’ve watched God pour out his blessing on this work by bringing Asia Lutheran Seminary many people who wish to study God’s Word.

Additionally, God has provided us with plenty of opportunities to share his love with those who aren’t sitting in our classrooms. Where we live, the vast majority of people still do not know their Redeemer. God recently gave me an opportunity to share. Andrew’s mom urgently waved me down as I was walking down the street to go eat. I had never met her. She needed help picking up her 27-year-old son who is wheelchair-bound as a result of cerebral palsy. There was no one else around to help. So, I awkwardly lifted up a grown man while she situated his wheelchair. I told him he was heavier than he looked. He laughed at me for being weak. The irony was not lost on either of us. At that moment, we became friends.

As we rode the subway one day, Andrew asked me, “Are you ashamed of me?”

“No. Why?”

“Because I am disabled. People can’t accept that.”

I asked him, “Are you ashamed of me?” Long pause….

“Dude…? No!” he said with a smile and a laugh. His question shook me though. I almost cried. I thought about shame, the suffering he’s endured, and the importance of face in this culture. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Andrew’s father is completely out of the picture.

God granted me the grace to realize that if my sin were a physical deformity, it would be far worse than the distorted body that sat before me in that wheelchair on the subway. And yet, I have a Father who has not abandoned me, but who has saved me and restored my relationship with him despite my dreadful condition. He is not ashamed of me, his son. This Father has not abandoned Andrew either. How could I not tell him? That his shame has been done away with and that the God of the cosmos has sacrificed everything to restore his soul and body so that they could live together in life everlasting. I imagined what Andrew would look like walking around in heaven untwisted and new. My moment of reflection was interrupted by Andrew who reminded me I was at my stop.

It would be deceptive to give you the impression that this work is all just one success story after another. There are those, but many situations involve an amount of painful growth and waiting. We linger while God does his amazing work in us and the people around us. It involves suffering, prayer, awkward conversations, and more waiting. This story is just one example of that lingering. However, instead of just asking you to rejoice with me when visible harvest comes, I want to invite you to linger with me before God’s throne while I pray for Andrew. If you would, please take 30 seconds to pray for him with me, and for those millions here who do not yet know Christ. The apostle Paul’s prayer request so many years ago is mine as well, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:19)

Written by Tony Barthels, instructor at Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong

 

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Mission partners in Finland

Did you know that WELS shares fellowship with a Swedish-speaking church in Finland? Get acquainted with Pastor David Akerlund, his wife, Marika, and their congregation.

The following is taken from a recent interview with Pastor David Akerlund:

I serve as one of three part-time pastors in St. Johannes Evangelical Lutheran Church. Our church began in 2008 with six members. Since then, God has blessed us. We have grown to 28 members who meet at two different sites, in Jakobstad and Vaasa on the west coast of Finland. I serve together with two other pastors, Pastor Ola Osterbacka and Pastor Oyvind Edvardsen, and one Bible teacher/organist, Hans Ahlskog.

I usually preach two Sundays a month. I visit the sick and share the gospel with people in my neighborhood. God gives me many opportunities to talk about the Savior with my extended family and workers at the meat-packing plant where I work. Sharing the gospel takes time. I’m thinking about one of our recent confirmands. . . I first shared the gospel with him (Rasmus) in 2008. He’s a cousin on my wife’s side of the family. At family gatherings, I would talk with him and my other relatives about our eternal needs. Our conversations continued over the course of nearly a decade before Rasmus was finally ready to take adult instruction classes and join our church.

Pastor David and Marika in the home they are building

I love sharing the Good News of Jesus. There are so many people in our neighborhood who are searching for answers to the most serious questions in life. Who is God? Why am I here? Where am I going? I want to share God’s truth with people who are hurting and looking for comfort.

I’m married to a wonderful woman named Marika. Together we are a support family for a little girl named Lena who is nearly three years old. We are building a house. [David and Marika are actually building their house with their own hands, brick by brick and board by board.] My dream is that God would allow us to adopt children so that our house will be full!

A couple of prayer requests:

  • Please pray that God would give our congregation many open doors for sharing His comfort with the people in our community.
  • Please pray that God would help us through the long, difficult process of adopting children.
  • Please pray for me and my service. I think it would be great if I could become a full-time pastor for the workers at our meat-packing plant! Many of them are interested to hear about the Savior. I would love to spend all my time preaching, teaching, meeting prospects and encouraging people with God’s Word.

Interview conducted by Pastor Luke Wolfgramm, Russia

St. Johannes is an Associate Member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), a group of 32 confessional Lutheran churches and synods from around the world. The CELC gathers at triennial meetings for encouragement, fellowship, study, cooperation in projects, and an internationally united voice. Learn more at celc.info.

 

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My students are my teachers

I teach seminary classes and Bible institute courses in three countries – two Muslim nations and one Hindu. The students are my teachers.

Tonight I go to the home of a man who has been head of a Bible school since 1996. He is distinguished and well-educated. I was invited for supper at his home two months ago. He lives where three of his four brothers also have families. Their tiny homes abut one another, and until recently had thatched roofs.

I take off my shoes at the door and my host leads me to the living space – a bedroom! There is a narrow walkway between the dresser and bed. My host, and some members of his family, sit on the bed cross-legged while I sit on the only chair. We visit like this for an hour and a half.

Then it’s time for the evening devotion. We leave the bedroom and go to the one “living room” for the four families. Hunched together–husbands, wives, and children sit in the dim light. The oldest daughter of my host is sitting on a cot. She pulls out a tiny, hand-held air-organ from under the cot and plays hymns. Everyone sings. Then a brother reads the Word of God. I was asked to share a devotion.

Now it is time to eat. They lead me back to the bedroom. A small narrow table is pushed up against the footboard of the bed. My coworker and I sit at the table while others sit on the bed. Course after course of food is brought in. We talk, laugh, and enjoy the delicious food. Then at 10:30 at night, after 3-4 hours of visiting, it is time to go back to where we are staying.

I think of this family, and families in America, and I ask myself, “Who is the most happy?” I realize that it’s not what’s in the house that makes a happy home. It’s what’s in the heart that makes a happy home.

My students have a passion to learn the Word of God. They will travel great distances to attend a workshop. One young lady walked two days to reach a bus, and then rode the bus for three days.  Five days of travel one-way. Then she will sit on the floor with a hundred other people for 5-10 days from 8 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. to learn and discuss the Scriptures in large and small groups.

My students have a passion to reach the lost. They love the people who persecute them. One man had his home vandalized several times for sharing the gospel. He was also beaten, cut with a knife, and threatened with death. I see his face light up and hear the excitement in his voice as he talks about new ways to reach the lost. I wonder, “How can this be? They hurt you. They left a 2-foot scar on your body. . .  and you love them?!” I gain new insight into the love of God which caused him to send his Son into this world.

My students have great faith. While Christians make up only 1% of the population, they trust God to do great things. The don’t focus on what they cannot do. They focus on what they can do under God. They don’t play defense–that is, they don’t hide from the world. They are always on the offense. Attack, attack, attack. . . not with weapons of violence, even though their enemies use these weapons, but with love and truth. They are peacemakers storming the gates of hell. It is an inspiration for me to work with men and women like these. They have a joyful spirit, a contagious faith.  “Forward, forward, forward” in Jesus we go.

These students are my teachers.

Written by a WELS missionary

Details have been intentionally left out due to the sensitive nature of the mission work occurring in these countries. Please privately email missionspromotions@wels.net if you’d like to learn more.

 

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Christian Noblewomen

Throughout my ministry, whether it was serving U.S. congregations or as a member of WELS World Missions, I saw many Christian noblewomen with a variety of spiritual gifts offering their time and talents to the Lord. These sisters in Christ possessed the characteristics of the many women who can be found in the Scriptures, such as Miriam, Ruth, Hannah, the Marys of the New Testament, Anna, Tabitha, and many more.

Their faith was evident through the fruit that it bore.

Two other biblical names come to mind when I think of my position as a WELS Friendly Counselor to Indonesia: Ester and Ribka (Hebrew for Rebekah). Both of these Christian noblewomen are members and current workers of our sister church, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). Both have a unique set of spiritual gifts and skills, distinct from one another, which they are using in the gospel ministry of GLI.

Ester

Ester (which probably means “star”) is an appropriate name for Gereja Lutheran Indonesia’s Publications Coordinator. Through her work, she is “letting her light shine before others so that they may glorify their Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). On a local level, she also is active in her congregation and as a member of the regional women’s group. She is also the wife of GLI’s seminary chairman, Pastor Mikael. She was able to accompany her husband when he came to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for extended studies and attend classes with her husband. Her studies helped her better understanding English theological words and phrases. Strengthened in faith and with a deeper understanding of doctrine and terminology, she is now better equipped to translate, print, and share materials. Her commitment to faithful translations will serve GLI for generations to come.

Ribka

Ribka is the administrative assistant at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran, the seminary of GLI. She also assists GLI’s leadership in various ways, including processing reports in English for WELS personnel, interpreting between Indonesian and English speakers during meetings, as well as helping with travel and housing arrangements for visiting guests. She is a faithful and accurate translator of God’s word. The assistance she offers synod and seminary leadership requires a high level of trustworthiness, and she faithfully carries out all of her tasks.

While God has gifted GLI with many such women who also use their time and talents to glorify their Savior and assist fellow believers, I was privileged to work personally with both Ester and Ribka in recent years. What a blessing that God gives his church faithful men AND Christian noblewomen who are equally equipped with the spiritual gifts needed to carry out his great commission of sharing the message of salvation. To God alone be the glory!

Written by Rev. Greg Bey, part-time friendly counselor to Indonesia

Learn more about Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI) at wels.net/indonesia.


 

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So much more than a burial

The body of late Evangelist Chitanzane Kantokoma Mapulanga was laid to rest on December 6, 2020. The coffin was lowered. The dirt was heaped. Wreaths were placed.

Evangelist and Mrs. Mapulanga – December 2016

But the funeral was so much more than a burial. It was a “witness to a stricken world.”

In Christ, who tasted death for us
We rise above our natural grief
And witness to a stricken world
The strength and splendor of belief. – CW #607

Some say that the best evangelism opportunities in Malawi are funerals. Why? Because the masses gather. Not just the fellow members of the deceased’s home church, but the entire community. Crowds of people. And as you can well imagine, a variety of faiths in need of a message whether they realize it or not. What better time to share the gospel of Jesus?

That is exactly what Pastor Khwima Msiska did.

He preached 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, “. . . the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Pastors Msowoya and Msiska

Pastor Msiska could have hijacked the sermon time and simply highlighted how much Evangelist Mapulanga had accomplished during his personal and ministry years. God had given the Evangelist a total eight decades spanning from 1940 to 2020. There would have been plenty to say. After all, just in his gospel ministry of serving the Lutheran Church of Central Africa, how many sermons did Evangelist Mapulanga preach? How many babies and adults did he baptize? How many member visits had he made? How many people of the Lutheran church had he comforted, corrected, rebuked, and trained in righteousness? Over decades of service, how many kilometers had he pedaled and miles had he walked to serve the Lord’s people?

But Pastor Msiska didn’t dwell on those things. For that matter, neither did the Liturgist Pastor Msowoya nor any other speaker. The funeral focus was not about the man Mapulanga but about the God man Jesus Christ. Both Lutheran Church of Central Africa pastors answered very clearly the questions that are most important: What had Jesus done for Evangelist Mapulanga? What had the Promised One accomplished? Why did Christ die on the cross? What does Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death mean for him, and me, when I die? 

Ah, now that’s something to talk about. And sing about.

And that is what the Lutheran women and men did. The preacher and the liturgist were not the only ones witnessing to the stricken world. So were the many people who attended the funeral and are longing for Christ’s coming. We arrived at the funeral home at 9 a.m. We departed at 4 p.m. And for the better part of seven hours, people were singing. Why?

Because there was something to sing about! The funeral was so much more than a burial. It was a witness to a stricken world that there is hope beyond the grave. There is life after death. There is a crown of righteousness in store. No wonder the family of God longs for their Brother’s appearing on the last day! We are not just waiting for Jesus Christ to come again, but desiring it, yearning for it. Looking forward to it, patiently but with anticipation.

One day our fight will be over. Our race will be finished. And we will live no longer by faith, but by sight.

Missionary Holtz with Evangelist Mapulanga

And so with the strength and splendor of belief, the men and women lifted up their voices. They sang at the funeral home, at the mortuary, walking to the cemetery, and huddled around the grave. The day was one of song, and the songs were ones of witness. And the witness was to Jesus Christ.

Because Jesus rose from the dead, so will Evangelist Mapulanga. Because Jesus paid the penalty of sin, we don’t have to. Because Jesus gave up his crown, we will wear one!

A gift of grace.

Until the Lord calls us home as he did Evangelist Mapulanga on December 4, we will still have graves to dig, funerals to attend, and loved ones to bid goodbye. We will mourn. Hearts will ache. Tears will flow.

But not without hope.

So we will also have sermons to preach and songs to sing and a witness to give. Because there is a world out there stricken with sin and in need of a Savior. No matter in which country our loved ones die, let the masses and the crowds come to our Christian funerals! It’s so much more than a burial.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, world missionary on the WELS One Africa Team


 

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2020 blessings in Vietnam

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:20b

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lord is always with his church. Our brothers and sisters in the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam are not stopping reaching out to lost souls. Pastor Zang said, “Most of the pastors in the Hmong Fellowship Church are farmers, and they know very little about germs. They have heard many scary things through television and radio about the impact of COVID-19, but they see it as less dangerous when compared to the lost souls that have no chance to hear the gospel before they die. The souls will be condemned eternally to hell without hearing the word of God.” In 2020, more than 12,000 have come to be believers in Jesus.

Pastor Fong burns a pagan altar

In 2020, Pastor Fong and his evangelism team reached out to many villages in his area. The Lord has blessed their outreach tremendously. They were able to establish nine new mission congregations in nearby villages. Fong said, “We proclaimed the Word and cast demons out of some people that were brought to us. The people had sought help from shamans in their community, but they couldn’t drive out the demons. In Christ’s name, we were able to drive out the demons and heal the sick.” Besides this, they also burned the pagan altars of the unbelievers to prove to the community that Christ has power to overcome Satan. In some cultures, you don’t dare to burn the altars in which sacrifices are offered to the devil because they think that they will bring curses to their family.

Despite the pandemic, the Lord has provided a way for the WELS to continue training the Hmong Fellowship Church church leaders. The last WELS trip to Vietnam was in January 2020. In November, the Vietnam mission team responded to the request of Hmong Fellowship Church and offered Zoom training to 57 students in Hanoi. Rev. Joel Nitz teaches the gospel of Mark and I teach Law and Gospel. The students are divided into two groups. Each group spends eight hours per week online. Due to poor Wi-Fi connections, some students have had to travel to the city to get a better connection. They have never utilized technology to assist in their ministry before. Instruction via Zoom is something new for them. It took me two days to guide the students in how to use the program. Praise be to God, they finally learned how to use it! Due to their excitement, some students have asked permission for their wives and parents to join our training as well. They are welcome in Christ’s name!

During the training. Rev. Nitz asked the students to recall the blessings in their lives given to them through Christ. Pastor Tsheej and Ntsuablooj said, “The biggest blessing in my life is the opportunity to be part of WELS training in Vietnam.” Pastor Nukhai said, “The more I learn from WELS, the more I feel like I know nothing about the Scriptures. There is so much to learn. If I look back to the last eight years, before I received WELS training, I saw a dark path in front of me. But now I see a clear path before and after me. I will dedicate my whole life to learning from WELS, God-willing.”

WELS’ teaching has helped the church leaders identify the false teaching in Vietnam. Thanks be to God for the well-trained pastors in WELS! The Hmong Fellowship Church has grown from 126,000 to 138,000 in 2020. To Christ alone be the glory!

Zoom training

The Hmong Fellowship Church has been tremendously blessed; however, there are also some big challenges ahead of them. More than 1,360 leaders are waiting for someone to train them in the Word of God. They are also waiting to build more churches for new believers to worship their Lord. Evangelism work is the priority for them. They are very skilled in doing evangelism in their community. With proper training and materials, these men will continue to share God’s word.

The building project in Vietnam is still active but has been delayed due to COVID-19. Once I visit Vietnam, I will arrange a Zoom or face-to-face meeting (God-willing) between WELS representatives and the representatives in Vietnam. The government also wants to make this project happen as quickly as possible.

Our brothers and sisters in Vietnam send their greetings and say, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” to all WELS members. They appreciate your help and support, especially to train their leaders in the word of God. They also ask for your continued support and prayers.

Finally, I would also like to thank our members in WELS for your continued support for the work in Vietnam. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. May the Lord of the Church send more workers to harvest his fields. May the Lord continue to bless our leaders, members, and the work in the U.S. and around the world so that the lost souls may be saved through faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator


 

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Perfect timing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Pandemic proclamation

In 1918, the United States experienced a pandemic. The Spanish Flu Pandemic was terrible. How bad was it? By many estimates, 1/3 of the world’s population was infected and 5% of the entire world’s population died. However, the Lord brought something good out of that terrible pandemic. As Missionary Guenther rode to various Apache camps, doing what he could do for the sick by applying the homemade remedies of skunk oil and tar paper, he came upon the ailing Chief Alchesay. The Holy Spirit worked in the conversations about Jesus that followed, and when he recovered, Alchesay founded and dedicated the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible on the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona.

Just over 100 years later, we are in the midst of another pandemic. If our missionaries today tried to ride around town on horseback applying skunk oil and wrapping the sick in tar paper, getting arrested may be the kindest reaction they would receive. But the Lord has opened other doors to share the same good news about Jesus.

Under the banner of Native Christians, our mission field has been working on new ways to share Jesus. And with all of our reservation churches still unable to worship as normal (and some not in person yet at all), sharing the gospel digitally has taken on fresh importance. The pandemic has given us a wonderful opportunity to work on ways to share without gathering in person.

Part of our plan to reach Native people inside and outside of our reservations in Arizona included completely overhauling our website and providing a platform for us to share our Bible study resources. Local member Kasheena Miles has been able to build the site from start to finish, and her filmmaker/entrepreneur husband Douglas Jr. (both pictured) supplied the excellent photos and videos. With their help, our pastors are now able to reach a much wider audience with the gospel.

The website is one piece of our effort to create a Native Christians Network. We are actively seeking Native people to reach them with the gospel and offering sound Bible training to anyone interested, no matter where they live. Through our website and social media, our gospel reach is expanding. Pray that our generous Lord continues to give us more Alchesays, and pray that our efforts continue to be successful.

If you’d like to see the website and get the latest updates on our field, please visit www.nativechristians.org

Written by Missionary Dan Rautenberg, field coordinator on the Apache reservations in Arizona


 

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Christ-centered wedding blessings

Greetings from East Asia! I want to share with you that God is still working powerfully here in East Asia even during these very trying and special times. COVID-19 has pretty much shut down international travel, yet I feel so blessed that I have been able to remain both safe and healthy here in East Asia during these unusual times.

While most may look back on 2020 as a challenging year, my new wife Christine and I will look back on all the blessings God has poured out on us during these past months. As my Asia Lutheran Seminary classes and opportunities to meet friends face-to-face became limited in February through April, opportunities to spend more time with Christine and lead online studies became greater. While most Bible study friends confined themselves to their homes and socialized mostly on social media in one of our four weekly online studies, Christine and I were excited to explore the empty parks and travel to see each other on the traffic-free roads. Even while large gatherings were banned, we fell deeper in love. We were soon engaged and were trying to figure out how to hold a wedding in such special times. One of our plans was to invite our friends to a secluded park and have an outdoor wedding, but the logistics of bringing chairs, tables, and a shelter seemed too much. Finally, in the middle of July, we were referred to a banquet hall that was just given permission to open their doors to group gatherings (as long as the virus situation in our city stayed under control). We booked our wedding for August 8 and invited our friends. We thought maybe 100 friends might be able to join. . .  within the couple weeks we used to finalize all the details, we had 260 friends asking to join our special day. Many friends were so excited to have this chance to see each other and celebrate something so joyful after months of isolation.

By God’s grace we were able to hold our wedding on August 8th, 2020. Throughout our planning, we made an effort to put God first and desired every detail to point to God and his glory. We knew that there would be many of our friends in attendance who were not believers and several who knew very little about Christ and his redemptive work for all mankind. Other friends in attendance had been studying God’s Word with us for some time, but had not yet come to place their faith in Jesus and call themselves a believer.

Our preparations were blessed. The Holy Spirit was working powerfully during our wedding service. One brother who held onto a quarrel with the pastor of our wedding was moved by his preaching and servant-like attitude and reconciled the difference in the days after the wedding. Another friend that had been attending Bible studies for over three years was moved to be baptized. When Christine and I were moving from table to table to greet and toast the guests, she told us about her desire to be baptized. Praise God for moving her, through our Christ-centered wedding service, to want to join the fellowship of believers! Christine and I made our way to the stage in front of the banquet hall, this time accompanied by our friend. Christine held the microphone as I had the privilege of pouring the water connected to our Triune God’s name over our friend’s head. We sang Amazing Grace for the second time that day, and this time my friend could personally relate to the words, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”

What a privilege to see the Holy Spirit working so powerfully here in East Asia and around the world. We give God all the glory and honor for changing our lives and those around us to follow him and praise his name.

May God continue to bless the work he is doing here in East Asia. Thank you for all of your support and prayers. It is our privilege to see the answers to your prayers.

Written by Mike, evangelist with Friends Network and partner of our work in East Asia 


 

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I could not find Jesus, but he found me

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is the name of an autobiography written by a Muslim who used to be an ardent defender of Islam. While we do not agree with all of the writer’s theology, the book describes how Nabeel Quereshi became a believer in Jesus and an evangelist to Muslims. The title of Nabeel’s book could be used for another Muslim man who has become my friend.

*Names changed for security reasons*

Habib attended a madrassah (a Muslim school of learning) for three years. He shared with me:

“I never stopped reading the Koran (the holy book of Islam). One day I read surah 19 (the word for chapter in the Koran) ayah 21 (the word for verse) called Maryam (the Muslim name for Mary). I learned that Issa (the Muslim name for Jesus) was born of a virgin and that he came to this world for the people. When I read this, I was overwhelmed. I wanted to learn more about Jesus. My teacher told me, ‘You don’t need to know about Jesus. Learn about Mohammed. Jesus came for the Israelites, not you.’ In spite of his warning, I read more and more.

The Imam at my mosque called me and asked, ‘Why don’t you come to the prayer times? You used to sing the verses of the Koran for everyone to hear. I heard you became a Christian.’ Shortly after that I went to the barbershop in my village and the barber told me, ‘Everyone is complaining about you. They say you do not pray (Muslims have five daily calls to prayer). You do not read the Koran.’ My barber was sympathetic and told me to go to the Catholic church. When I entered the Catholic church, a man confronted me and said, ‘What are you doing here? Muslims are not allowed inside our church. Go to the mosque.’ I told him, ‘I am a Christian.’ He said, ‘We do not share Jesus with Muslim people.’ I did not know what to do.

Soon I met a humble Christian brother who gave me a Bible. I read the Bible day and night. I felt it was written for me. I also became part of a small group of Christians and was baptized. Then I learned that the imam at my mosque—and the village elders—made a sharia (“law”) judgment against me. They summoned me to a meeting. They said, ‘If you do not renounce Christianity and return to Islam, we will kick you out of the village.’ I remembered Jesus’ words, ‘Whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 10:33). I told the imam and the village elders, ‘Yes, I am a Christian. I will never leave Jesus. I will never leave this truth.’

They isolated my family from the rest of the community. My father went to the mosque for the daily calls to prayer, but they would not let him enter the mosque. They told him, ‘You cannot enter the mosque, because your son is a Christian.’ This upset my father very much. He began to beat me and told me I must become a Muslim again. I could not live with my parents so I had to find a way to make a living. I started a study circle and became an academic coach. This was going well until people told the parents of my students that I was a Christian. The parents stopped sending their children. I had no job. Finally I found work at a fish market where I brought water in buckets to splash on the fish.

Only my mother would talk to me. I shared the gospel with her—and in time she became a Christian. My father became angry with her and deserted her. She was alone and the people in our village began to persecute her. Now I care for my mother. She cooks meals for me. We pray that one day my father will become a Christian too.

God opened the door for me to study at a Bible school. We are working with this Bible school to teach students and to prepare them to be evangelists. I never had such in-depth learning. It was profound. Now I am sharing the gospel in a new area. I am thankful for the bike I was given. I ride this bicycle to six villages where we tell the people about Jesus. We are starting churches in these communities.

Against impossible odds I became a Christian. I was in a madrassah and never stopped reading the Koran. I could not find Jesus, but he found me. Now I want the whole world to know about Jesus.”

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia


 

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A lifeless body, a life-giving opportunity

The gospel is like water. It will always find a way to break through boundaries that seem impossible. In an area where preaching the gospel is hard to do, the Holy Spirit will inspire and open the ways so that people can hear that good news.

Friends carrying the casket

In a country like Indonesia, it is not easy to find opportunities to preach the gospel. We can not leave tracts in some places, nor doing street evangelism. However, the opportunity is always there. Indonesian people like to socialize, are close to neighbors and friends, and have a high sense of commitment to communal work. When a friend or neighbor needs some help, they will come to help as much as they can. At least once a month, people in a neighborhood will gather to discuss things that happened or work together for the good of their community. People here like to connect and interact.

Some special moments of life—like birth, marriage, or death—are shared not only within the family, but also by neighbors and friends. In a moment of sorrow, like the death of a family member, people will especially show their sympathy. They will come to the deceased person’s house to offer their condolences to the bereaved family. Some of them will come to the funeral ceremony. However, there is something special in this moment, especially when a good Christian dies.

What do we see when a Christian dies? Basically, there is no difference in comparison to other people: sadness, tears, and a sense of loss. People will come and solemnly follow the funeral rites. Even the closest neighbors will join the family in accompanying the deceased to the grave. At the funeral service, songs of praise to God are uttered, words of comfort regarding faith will be preached, and the hope of eternal life in Christ is proclaimed. What makes a Christian funeral different is the hope we have that Jesus has redeemed the late believer by his death on the cross. The family left behind shows their belief that their loved one is already with Jesus in heaven, and that death is only a temporary separation. Sadness is certainly felt, but hope that springs from faith silently creeps into the heart and brings comfort. This is what distinguishes the funeral rites of believers from non-believers.

Friends and neighbors helping bury their friend

The funeral service is an opportunity for many people, whether Christians or not, to sit and listen to the hope of the Christian faith. But why would people want to come to a Christian funeral if they are not Christian? Why would they show us this kindness to their Christian neighbors? In a community that highly values solidarity and good relations, such friends simply want to show respect.

While we are still alive we can touch the lives of others by living a good Christian life, demonstrating our faith through good works, being an example of love, and bearing the fruits of the Spirit. But even our death can become a vehicle that impacts the lives of others in a spiritual way. After we breath our last, our lifeless bones most likely will never be used by God, like those of Elisha to give life to one who is dead (2 Kings 13:21). However, our funeral service provides an opportunity for our pastors to preach the gospel freely, without restriction, in a solemn moment, not only for the Christians but also for non-Christians. The result is that all the people who are present will hear Jesus’ name and the good news of forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is the gospel message used by the Spirit to call people to faith in Christ, to bring dead souls to life both here on earth and forever in eternity.

Written by Ester S.W., Multi-Language Productions (MLP) coordinator in Indonesia


 

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Update – Hmong outreach in Vietnam

But God’s word is not chained.

2 Timothy 2:9b

Since 2014, WELS Pastor Bounkeo Lor has made regular trips to Vietnam to train the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church. God blessed that work, and WELS adopted the ministry in 2015.  The true grace and peace of Jesus proclaimed to the Hmong leaders had a profound positive effect. They wanted more of our training. The government of Vietnam recognized the value of our training and gave us permission to build a training center in Hanoi. Learn more at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

The gospel training would have continued and the building construction would have progressed in 2020, but COVID-19 ground everything to a halt. Since early 2020, we have not made a single training visit to Vietnam and the building project could not move forward.

Because of these obstacles, the WELS Vietnam planning group explored the possibility of using online training for the Hmong Fellowship Church leaders. If we could not visit Vietnam in person, we could visit Vietnam on Zoom. The Vietnam planning group has decided to provide the technology and access to make this happen for the 60 leaders who are eager to continue their studies.

Soon all Hmong Fellowship Church leaders will be provided phones and internet connection to allow them to participate in online training classes. The men will remain at home or travel to nearby places with adequate internet. They will continue a planned course on law and gospel, and they will also participate in a study of the gospel of Mark to share with rural congregations. The free course of the gospel continues because God’s Word is not chained.

Written by Rev. Joel Nitz, Hmong Asia missionary


 

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Meet the Mohlkes

Twenty-nine years ago, my wife Leslie and I were preparing to go to Africa to serve as a newly assigned missionary. We had three children ages four, two, and four months. The other two children would be born a few years later while living in Zambia. We were young and excited. I was eager to start working as an African missionary, and my wife was wondering how best to care for our young family, knowing that her skills as a registered nurse would come in very handy.

The Mohlke family in Zambia in the late 1990s

Now, all the kids are grown, four of the five children are married, and five grandchildren have been added to the family; and Leslie and I are getting ready to move again to Africa. This time I am going to serve as the leader of WELS World Mission’s One Africa Team. The One Africa Team consists of all the missionaries serving in Africa who work with various sister synods to share the good news of Jesus throughout the continent. Now days, this work usually takes the form of offering training and encouragement to those who serve as ministers of the gospel in our sister synods.

This is quite different from what I was called to do 29 years ago. Back then, my main job was to preach, teach, baptize, and offer the Lord’s supper to village congregations which did not have their own pastors. This meant driving out to the village areas at least four days per week and visiting at least two congregations each day for worship and/or Bible study. Between my visits, the congregations were faithfully served by laymen who preached from a sermon book and taught Sunday school and confirmation classes using books prepared for them. Through these men congregations were started, grew, and became strong.

As I return to Africa, many of those men are fully trained pastors and leaders in the Lutheran Seminary and their synod. Now WELS missionaries are not needed to serve as pastors in local congregations, but they are used to train and encourage ministers of the gospel in church bodies throughout the continent.

Missionary Mohlke and his wife Leslie

I am eager and feel blessed to take on the work of leading this group. I thank God for the years I served in Zambia, and I thank God for the past 20 years I have served while living in the United States. I am thankful for the things I learned as I served St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School in Norfolk, Neb. I am thankful for the experiences I had serving Messiah Lutheran Church in Nampa, Ida., especially what I learned about well-planned and organized outreach. I also served ten years on the Board for World Missions, four of those years as chairman. It was so enlightening to understand WELS World Missions not only as a missionary on the field, but also at the administrative level. I also feel that I will put to good use what I experienced serving as director of the Apache Christian Training School. That experience reminded me of how important it is that missionaries aren’t sent to be pastors for people; but rather they are sent to work with people to develop strong forms of ministry that best serve the needs of that community.

I am thankful to the Lord for giving me this opportunity to serve as the One Africa Team leader. I am thankful that the Lord has given me a wife that is so supportive and willing to return to Africa. Without her support, understanding, and willingness to serve, none of this would be possible.

Written by Howard Mohlke, new leader of the One Africa Team

Missionary Mohlke and Leslie are currently living in Nebraska while their paperwork is being processed for their move to Malawi. He and his wife Leslie will reside in Lilongwe, Malawi, on the campus of the Lutheran Bible Institute.


 

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TELL: Truth brings peace

In 2018, WELS World Mission’s Multi-Language Productions had a vision to reach the world with the gospel in a new way. Their vision was to equip people with the truth of God’s word using digital resources in English. Like the Latin America mission field’s Academia Cristo in Spanish, TELL would use English to reach people through social media, self-led Bible lessons, and live video classrooms.

Live classes with TELL Missionary, Dan Laitinen

Three years later, God has blessed that vision. The TELL Network has 1.2 million followers and likes on its main Facebook page. Across the globe there are 7,000 active users working on self-led Bible lessons on the TELL app and website. Currently I am the only full-time TELL missionary. I meet several times a week with students from Africa, India, and Philippines.

One student, Samuel, is from Guinea, Africa. He is a school teacher with a wife and children. “My greatest desire is to be well-equipped for mission work,” says Samuel, “I won’t miss this opportunity by God’s grace.”

Samuel and his family

Like thousands of others, Samuel found TELL on Facebook. TELL’s Facebook team posts daily Bible passages and short devotional videos by national pastors from WELS world mission fields called #TELLtalks. The team answers questions online and invites people to start free Bible training on the TELL app or website.

Samuel downloaded the TELL app, and within seconds began the first self-learning course. He completed three self-learning courses: Spiritual Healing, Truth Brings Peace, and Introduction to the Bible. Each course has nine lessons that include a Bible reading, teaching video and quiz.

When Samuel completed the self-learning courses (TELL Tier 1), he received his first certificate. Then a TELL missionary contacted Samuel. He congratulated him and invited Samuel to join him in the live online classes (TELL Tier 2).

Today Samuel is meeting twice a week in a video classroom with a TELL instructor and other students. Students go in-depth learning about the work of Jesus, Old and New Testament history, and Law and Gospel. Each course takes about a month. There are eleven courses in TELL tier 2.

Samuel’s radio broadcast

TELL tier 3 are live courses too. They focus on how to share the gospel in your community: gathering, teaching and discipling. God-willing, some day the TELL instructor, along with a missionary in Africa, will visit Samuel to grow the relationship and support Samuel as he starts a small group.

When Samuel began TELL, he had been praying for just that: an opportunity to share the gospel. Since then, God opened a door! A friend gave Samuel air-time on the local radio station. Every Sunday evening Samuel takes the Bible lesson he has learned with TELL and reuses them on-air to an audience of up to half-a-million people. Many of whom haven’t heard the gospel before.

By God’s grace, Samuel has found a place where he receives real gospel training right from God’s word. “I used to believe in a gospel that was preaching prosperity and miracles mostly,” Samuel says, “But I discovered this misleads believers. It focuses on earthly things and makes us forget heavenly things. Now I’m mission-minded.”

Written by Dan Laitinen, Multi-Language Productions missionary for TELL (Think, Evaluate, Learn, Lead) 


 

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Pandemic blessings and challenges in Russia

So, how are you handling the pandemic? Let me share just a little bit about how God led us through the past six months in Russia.

Challenges

Stress and loneliness

My wife Jennifer had barely completed her 14-day quarantine after the World Missionary Wives Conference in Spain when the Novosibirsk governor declared strict self-isolation requirements for our region. People were allowed to leave their apartments only to go to the nearest grocery store or pharmacy, walk their dogs, and carry out trash. For six weeks people adopted stray dogs and fought for the privilege of taking out garbage!

On a more serious note, many worried about their health and the well-being of their extended families. People lost their jobs as normal routines ground to a halt. Worst of all, after March 29, we could not gather with our brothers and sisters at church. I’m guessing that many of our struggles in Russia were similar to challenges you faced in the United States.

8th grade distance learning

At first the quarantine seemed like good news for our youngest son, Peter. The governor’s declaration called for an extra week of spring vacation. So of course, Peter put off doing his homework. But then we got word that the order had changed and that distance learning would begin the next day! Peter had to scramble to get his homework done. Meanwhile, teachers and schools scrambled to teach online classes – a completely new experience for everyone. The next three weeks were chaotic because each teacher chose a different platform for teaching and collecting homework. Jennifer and Peter spent many hours figuring out computer logistics so they could get lectures, readings, and homework assignments. Our whole family celebrated May 27th when the school year finally came to an end.

Travel restrictions

Our Russian pastors wanted to comfort their people, especially older members. But the fear of spreading a dangerous disease prevented us from travelling. Instead they led devotions and prayers by telephone. Special legal documents allowed us to travel for work, but even these papers only permitted us to travel within city limits. Police cars sat at the edge of the city to enforce travel restrictions. I could not visit Iskitim or Tomsk. National borders were closed, so trips to Albania and Bulgaria to visit our sister churches were cancelled.

Tamara appreciates online worship services and devotions

Personal issues

Because of closed borders, we decided at first to postpone our furlough until next year. There was just one problem: Peter was planning to start high school in Wisconsin. We started searching for ways to send Peter to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor. We are grateful that WELS World Missions convinced us to find a way to travel back to the U.S. as a family. Jennifer and I spent many hours in June and July searching for a way to travel to the U.S. Most years planning the trip is half the fun, but this year all routes were closed.

I confess that our family struggled with stress and worry, fears and feelings of helplessness. But God was near! “Do you really trust me? Do you really believe I’m almighty and loving – that I haven’t forgotten you? You know who I am. Take another look at my Son’s cross. I am with you, even when you can’t feel my warm smile!” It’s true! Even now. Especially now. God is pouring out blessings.

Blessings

Sharing Jesus online

The Russian church had a website before COVID-19, but the quarantine pushed us to enhance the way we share the gospel online. We began streaming Sunday morning worship services with better audio/video. We posted mid-week devotions on Christ’s resurrection, David the Man of God, and Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Our members started sharing digital comfort with their isolated friends and relatives. WELS Christian Aid and Relief provided funding so we could purchase modest cell phones for shut-in members. Our Iskitim grandmas were delighted with the opportunity to see worship services and devotions from their own homes. Our most technologically savvy granny made sure that our members in Iskitim were able to connect online to each other and to the gospel.

Luke and Andre

Local seminary

Travel restrictions allowed me more time to work with our seminary student, Andre Gydkov. The two of us spent many hours studying Biblical doctrine. . . everything from the Trinity to the person of Christ, from God’s creation and the fall into sin to the High Priest who reconciled us with God. We also discussed a wide range of topics that fall outside of formal seminary curriculum, but which are vital for soul-ministry.

Peter’s Confirmation

My son Peter and I had ample opportunity to work our way through catechism classes. We discussed the chief parts of our faith and explored practical ways for Peter to dive into his adult life of faith. At the very end of July, we organized an at-home confirmation. We invited Andre and his daughter and set up a video call so that our stateside family could witness Peter’s vows and encourage him on his special day.

God provides an open door

Peter’s Confirmation

After weeks of struggle and prayer, we saw God’s answer. At just the right time, Russia opened her borders to Great Britain so that we could travel to the U.S. through London. We spent two weeks self-isolating near Jennifer’s side of the family in Nebraska. And now just this week we traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin, and met with Peter’s faculty advisor at Fox Valley Lutheran High School. We’re grateful that God allowed us to travel together so that we can help Peter get ready for a completely new and exciting chapter in his life. We’re also looking forward to spending time with our older daughters and offering them our love and encouragement.

God is in control

Without a doubt, the past six months have been a time of testing. God is asking, “What is most important to you? Do you really believe in my power, in my love? Will you trust me?” This season is providing us with special opportunity to remember God’s great promises and share his rock-solid comfort with others. We know Jesus is with us. We know he will give us joy and strength so that we can be his lights in a dark world longing for hope.

Please keep us in your prayers. Please pray that God would bless our time here in the States. We have much that needs to be done! Please pray that God finds a way for us to return to our mission field in his good time.

Written by Pastor Luke Wolfgramm, Russia


 

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