Try, try again

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


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

Cameroon Seminary Professor Rev. Israel Mesue

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

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

James and Rev. Israel

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

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

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

Seminary student Solo

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

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

Written by Rev. Dan Kroll, missionary to West Africa

 

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3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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We need Africa

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

Sunset at Mvuu Camp inside Liwonde National Game Park

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

Inside the newly refurbished clinic room at Mwalaulome Lutheran Church

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

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

Children show off their new toothbrushes they received at Thunga clinic

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

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

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

 

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Faces of Faith – Fang

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

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

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

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

Pastor Fang’s funeral

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

 

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Faces of Faith – Sebastian

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

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

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

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

Sebastian presenting at his new church in Ibagué

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sebastian at his new church in Ibagué

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

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

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

 

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Pastor Chaplai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Faces of Faith – Pastor Chaleunsouk

The following is an interview I conducted with Pastor Tom Chaleunsouk. After you read this, say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for his grace and his gift to the church.

Tom Chaleunsouk was born in 1952 just outside Vientiane, the capital city of the country of Laos. In the early 1970s he worked as a night watchman on the American Air Base in Vientiane. Tom was married in 1973 to his wife Kaysone, who was from the same village. By 1980, they had been blessed with three children.

After the Vietnam war ended, the air base was abandoned by the United States government and regime changes were taking place in Laos. The Lao communist government actively sought to find all those who assisted or worked with the Americans during the conflict, which placed the lives of thousands in grave danger. Many were killed and many were sent to concentration (“re-education”) camps in the northern part of the country.

Pastor Tom (right) and his wife Kaysone (third from right) during a youth volleyball tournament at the church

In 1980, having been warned that his life was in danger, Tom took the bold step of fleeing across the Mekong River which runs along the border of Thailand and Laos. To avoid being seen by communist soldiers, he crossed the river in the middle of the night on an evening in October when the monsoons were nearing the end and the river was at flood stage. The crossing was about a quarter mile wide. He crossed alone to protect his family from possible capture or death in the event he was caught by the authorities. He could not swim, so he fashioned a triangle of three bamboo poles and plastic bags into a kind of life preserver. He tied them under his arms and jumped into the river. On the other side of the river, he was picked up by Thai soldiers and put into the United Nations refugee camp in Nong Khai.

Meanwhile, arrangements had been made for Tom’s wife, Kaysone, to secretly follow Tom across the Mekong River with their three small children. Kaysone’s father took them to the river where a boat was waiting for them. Their oldest child, Thephone (who was four years old at the time), began to cry. For fear of being caught by the communist soldiers, Kaysone’s father took the boy back to the village, leaving Kaysone and the two youngest children alone. They successfully crossed the river and were taken to the U.N. refugee camp. It would take another four years before Tom and Kaysone were reunited with their son.

Tom and his wife were raised in the Buddhist religion. In the refugee camp, Tom met a Thai Christian evangelist who held gatherings in the camp. He approached Tom one day and invited him to join them, where he shared God’s word and prayed for him and his family.

In 1981, Tom and his family were brought to the United States and sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church in Pease, Minnesota. They were welcomed by the community, which helped them acclimate to a new country and culture. Tom and his family were eventually baptized, and Tom’s desire to not only learn more about Christianity, but also to be able to teach his native people about Jesus, became a driving force for him.

The Nong Khai church (left) and sala (right) in Ban Houymakhat. A sala is a covered open structure. All of the house church mission groups gather with the congregation here on the first Sunday of the month for a joint communion service and fellowship.

The family moved to Lakeville, Minnesota, where they started attending Bethlehem Lutheran Church. After Tom made his interest in becoming a pastor known, two pastors who were part of a multi-cultural WELS outreach team in St. Paul came to visit. Tom began part time studies with the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute in 1998, and was enrolled full time in 2000. In 2005, he graduated and was commissioned as a missionary to the Issan (Thai-Lao) people in Thailand.

Over the course of his service to the Lord and his church, Tom has continued to offer pastoral instruction to interested students in Nong Khai, Thailand. Together with one national pastor and one national evangelist as well as some dedicated laymen, Tom oversees four “house churches” in different villages and a central church in Ban Houymakhat, Thailand.

Pastor Tom and his wife Kaysone have been and continue to play a vital role in our mission work among the Issan people in northeastern Thailand. Through their untiring dedication and service to the Lord, many have come to know their Savior. Pray that the Lord blesses them with health and a safe working environment!

Written by Rev. Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

 

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A Lutheran seminary for a Confessional Lutheran church body

On a recent trip to the Asia-Pacific Rim, I spent almost two weeks with the faculty and staff at a small Lutheran seminary.

The request of their team was this: “Be our consultant. Speak to us about ways that we can fulfill our calling as a Lutheran seminary.”

Our studies were grounded in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. We studied the Smalcald Articles which reminded us that the first and chief article of our faith is redemption and justification by faith. We were also reminded that no teaching of our seminary may come from any place other than the Bible. Those same Smalcald Articles reminded us that the goal of seminary training is pastors who know how to do pastoral care, preaching and teaching God’s law and gospel, equipping God’s people to live lives of repentance, and to use the keys with each other.

Building on that foundation, we talked about the WHAT, the HOW, and the WHY of theological education at a confessional Lutheran seminary.

WHAT is their mission? To train evangelical Lutheran pastors who want to and know how to serve Christ’s flock and to reach out to others. WHAT kind of institution do they want to be? They decided on the following:

  • An institution which is centered on Jesus Christ and the Bible principles of Scripture Alone, by Grace Alone, by Faith Alone.
  • A culture where faculty, staff, and students work hard and are always growing.
  • A place of learning where the growth of the students (knowledge, faith/character/attitude, and skill) is strongly pursued.
  • A place where God’s people can learn from their mistakes.
  • A place where God’s people love each other.

HOW are they going to accomplish this mission? The faculty and staff agreed that they need to be in the Word together and that they needed to be praying for God’s help. They agreed that solid teaching in every course is vital. They also agreed that that they need to have a functional system for communication and accountability regarding curriculum, goals, and students. Finally, they decided that they need be examples for each other, admonishing and encouraging each other in love and humility.

As for the WHY of their service, they agreed that their motivation is the Savior who died and rose again for them. In Jesus Christ, they want to give glory to God in all they do. In Jesus Christ, they want to serve as the best faculty and staff that they can be.

Please pray that the Lord continues to guide and bless the faculty and staff who serve at this worker training facility. Please pray that they can be a blessing to the students entrusted to their care, and that those students, in turn, will be a blessing to many people in their region.

Written by Rev. Brad Wordell, professor for the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI)

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Online outreach in a restricted-access country

Imagine a country where it is illegal for churches to gather without special permission, to proclaim any gospel other than what the unbelieving government approves. A country where churches, obviously, cannot do any promotion, canvassing, or big outreach events, where all social media is controlled by the powers that be, and where most everything that is perceived as coming from the West is considered suspect by the authorities. How would you do large-scale outreach and evangelism in a setting like that, especially when you know that there are millions of people in that country who are looking for meaning and are open to spiritual direction?

Believe or not, one group has still launched an outreach website on the approved social media platform through the help of Multi-Language Publications (MLP). It is not overtly Christian, at least not at first glance. It talks about sports, common marriage problems, and movies that are popular. Each blog post offers simple life advice and insights on these topics to get people’s attention and then quotes a relevant Bible passage. Finally, at the bottom of the article there is a link to more information. From there, readers can access a page that tells them more about the Christian message through articles such as “Who is Jesus?” and “What is the Bible?”

Now, keep in mind that there is no way to promote this web page. There is no Facebook targeted advertising campaign; there are no flyers; there is no canvassing. There is only word of mouth. Praise God that several “Promoters” (outreach-minded brothers and sisters) have agreed to post the weekly articles on their local version of a “Facebook Wall.” Praise God that, in the first 12 hours of the first article being released, there were already 753 views! Within a few days, there were over 1,200 views! But, more importantly, 120 people (10%) had gone on to view the article “Who is Jesus?”

By Facebook, Twitter, and Google standards, these numbers are insignificant. But the impact in a restricted-access country filled with spiritually curious people is powerful, and it is growing. In fact, this site is the sister of two other sites launched earlier, also with the help of MLP. The one launched in March, a simple discipleship website, had 7,300 visits last month. The second, a leadership training site, had 15,600 visits last month. Remember, there is no promotion; just one person telling another, “Hey, check this out!”

Please pray that these sites continue to grow and reach tens of thousands of people every month. Our goal for the first year is 150,000 visitors, and our 3-year goal is 1,000,000. Please pray that these sites are not shut down by the government. Pray that the authors, website manager, and “Promoters” have the courage to continue boldly and clearly proclaiming the gospel. But most of all, pray that the Holy Spirit works through the gospel on these sites to create and strengthen the faith of many people.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

To learn more about WELS Multi-Language Publications, visit wels.net/mlp.

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Two Walking Miracles

“Two walking miracles.” That’s how Marlene Truax describes her twin grandsons, Thomas and Dakota.

Born at 26 weeks and weighing just 1 pound 13 ounces and 1 pound 11 ounces respectively, doctors gave them a 50% chance of survival at best. All the family could do was put them in the Lord’s hands and find peace in trusting him. As Marlene remembered thinking, “If they live; they live. If they don’t, it’s still the Lord’s plan.” The boys spent much of the next year in the hospital, and over those long months the prognosis was not always good. Even after their eventual release from the hospital, Marlene remembers that the first three years were an especially difficult struggle.

But even when survival was in doubt and the future very murky, one thing that was always certain was that the boys were loved. And as the boys grew, Grandma Marlene especially made sure that they knew not only about the love of family but the love of Jesus. Every Sunday they were in church at the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible in Whiteriver, and they were enrolled at East Fork Lutheran School.

This past May, these two walking miracles walked across the stage to receive diplomas as members of the first graduating class of the reopened East Fork Lutheran High School. It was a special moment and a testimony to the power of prayer, the goodness of our God, and the blessing of Christian family. As Marlene put it, it was also a time to be thankful. She was thankful for the people who have helped them along the way, and especially thankful to the Lord for taking care of them. She gives all credit to the Lord – that it was only through him that this special day was possible, only through him that these young Christian men can look forward to serving the Lord in their future, and only through him that we all have the promise to eventually live with him forever.

Her faith and thankful heart have been passed on to these two young men. Dakota’s advice and encouragement is to, “In everything, do it all for the Lord. Always thank God for waking you up every morning and for all he does. In everything be content and give thanks.” Dakota also had the opportunity this past year to take courses in the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) and use his training to do readings in church. After high school, he hopes to continue learning and helping people to look to the Lord for help when life is difficult.

Thomas is also thankful for being able to learn God’s Word every day at East Fork Lutheran School. In his words, the most important thing he learned was God’s Word and, “how we will be with him if we believe and trust in him because he is the one and only God.” He hopes to teach that to others after high school.

Please join all of us on the Apache reservations in thanking our God for the miracles we can see and the ones we can’t. Thank him for providing mature Christians who make a difference in the lives of their family, friends, and communities, and the called workers who assist in sharing the love of Jesus. Pray for Thomas and Dakota and young Christians everywhere that they may grow in faith and godly living and accomplish the work God will give them to do in the years ahead.

Love in Christ from your Native brothers and sisters,

Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator for WELS Native American Missions

To learn more about mission work on the Apache Reservations, visit wels.net/apache.

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Memories in Malawi

Recently I’ve been digging through old photos, looking over the 25 years I’ve lived in Malawi as a missionary wife. There are an amazing amount of memories that come to mind looking over those pictures. My husband, Paul, was assigned to Malawi when he graduated from the Seminary in 1993. In remembering those early years, and comparing them to our life here today, several things came to mind.

The early years – Malawi, Africa

We didn’t know much about Malawi when we arrived in 1993 with our one year old son. Paul was called to serve rural congregations in the North of Malawi. We knew he was called to teach God’s Word to the people there. We had something valuable to share and were willing to do it. What we didn’t know at the time was that Malawi, and the millions of people who live here, had something valuable to teach us. Reflecting back, I can clearly see how God provided for us in big and small ways.

Our second child was born in 1995 while living in the small town of Mzuzu. When the doctor who delivered my baby asked if I had packed a flashlight, I realized that I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. Power cuts and dim lights are common. I learned to be ready for scenarios I hadn’t had to think about living in the U.S.

After our daughter was born, we had planned to travel throughout Malawi. I learned that some items, like disposable diapers, were impossible to find in Mzuzu. I was resigned to traveling for 10 days with a toddler and a newborn with only cloth diapers. It was then that I learned that God is much better at planning ahead than I am. Weeks before I even knew I would need them, a group of Christian women in the U.S. had a baby shower for me and shipped an enormous box of disposable diapers to Malawi. The diapers arrived two days before our trip. God’s timing was the best.

Nitz Family – Christmas 2018

As Paul and I met the people of Malawi, we saw that many Malawians struggled with the effects of poverty. Shortages of food, water, medical care, and jobs impacted people’s daily lives. As the needs of Malawians were made known to us and we sought ways to help, Paul and I were learning a lesson about giving and hospitality that Malawians had to teach us.

From our early days of language learning and visiting people in their homes, to traveling to remote villages with Paul to greet people who had never seen a “European” woman and her  baby before, we were welcomed with clapping, singing, and smiles. Chairs appeared out of no where for us to sit on while our Malawian hosts sat on the ground. If possible, a bottle of Coca Cola or Fanta was procured for us. We never left empty handed. Mangoes, green maize, sweet potatoes, a live chicken – these people were happy to share with us. Not because we needed theses things, but because they wanted to show their love to us. Malawian’s have a phrase, Tikulandirani ndi manja awiri! We welcome you with both hands!They welcomed us not just with their hands, but with their hearts as well.

Yes, I’ve learned a lot during my years in Malawi. I’ve learned to drive on the left hand side of the road. I can navigate muddy, rutted roads that look impassable to the uninitiated. I’ve treated our neighbors’ dogs who had venom spat in their eyes from encountering a huge spitting cobra. I learned it’s not really a good idea to pick up a giant horned chameleon on the side of the road and try to to take it home in the car. These are all good things to know to live well in Malawi.

But most of all, I’ve learned that God’s people love each other no matter where they are in the world. God’s people in Malawi have shown their love to me and my family for 25 years, and by God’s grace we’ve been able to join with them in worship, Bible study, English classes, Sunday School, weddings, funerals, births, and graduations. While my own family is growing up and moving away, and I can’t physically be there for them in all the ways I wish I could, I am learning God provides for all our needs, big and small, in ways that I never even imagined He would.

Written by Susan Nitz, missionary wife in Malawi, Africa

To learn more about mission work in Malawi, visit wels.net/malawi.

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Pastor Long

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

On coming to faith: An evangelist came to my village in 1997, but there was persecution in my village. The church in my village had two leaders. One of them was killed. The other one had to flee. Because I was a part of the local government, I knew what was going on among the Christians. As I learned more about Jesus, I came to believe in him. I kept my faith secret for many years. Finally, in 2003 I resigned from my government position and became an active part of the church. In 2007 I was called to serve as a pastor.

On ministry: I serve as a pastor in Lang Moua village in Hasan Province. I serve 366 families, about 1980 members. There are elders who assist me in the congregations. I preach twice per month and the elders also preach. I also teach the Bible at many gatherings each week. Many of my members want to receive Christian counseling; most of that work is done by the elders. I enjoy ministry. Serving God in any way makes me happy. I support myself as a farmer; my fields are in the mountains, and it takes me a couple hours to travel there. Also, I am often traveling to visit congregations in surrounding areas.

On learning: I started coming to Pastor Lor’s classes in 2013. But then my wife became sick, and I was not able to attend for a couple years. My wife is better now. We have three sons and one daughter. I am very happy that I can come here to learn more about the Lord.

What WELS members can pray for: I would ask the people of WELS to pray that God continues to strengthen my faith and to give me more knowledge, so that I can preach and teach the Word faithfully. I appreciate those prayers. Please allow me this opportunity to say to the people of WELS, “Thank you for supporting these classes. When we look back on our past selves, we see that we were like the Pharisees. In our sermons we were telling people that they needed to be better in order to be right with God. But now we know the Gospel and are living with joy. The members are happy. The elders are happy. I am so happy. We have given the blessings of baptism to all our children and infants.”

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


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Pastor Tong Poa

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

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

On coming to faith: My parents and the children in my family were brought to faith through Christian radio broadcasts in our country. I was seven or eight years old at the time. Because the persecution against Christians was strong in our area, my family relocated to Houalenga village in Song La Province when I was about ten years old. There were other Christians there, but there were no leaders for the church. For that reason, I was asked to start leading liturgy at the age of 10.

On ministry: After I graduated from high school in 2008, I was also appointed a leader in the church. Now, 11 years later, I oversee 18 congregations in which there are 245 families with about 1,630 members. I work with one other pastor. We are in the city, and we serve the surrounding villages which can be reached from our city. I am married. My wife and I have 3 children ages 9, 6, and 2 years old. The congregations do not pay me a salary, but they do help pay for my transportation. There are many talented men in our villages, but the churches look to me as a leader. This is a special privilege from God. I wish I had more time for ministry. Some of the people I serve live in the mountains, and it takes me a long time to reach them. I travel by motorbike as far as I can, but then I must walk the rest of the way. To reach some of my people, I must walk 10 kilometers through mountainous terrain. Some of the places I serve do not have any cellular service.

On learning: I have been coming to these classes for 3 1/2 years now. I received training from others before, but these classes have helped me understand the Bible much better. I always return from here ready and eager to teach God’s Word to my people. Because I am the tallest pastor here, about a year ago the brothers gave me the nickname Saul.

What WELS members can pray for: Besides supporting my family and my ministry, I am also taking care of my parents, who are in their mid-60’s. In the past we struggled to survive, but the Lord has provided stability for us now. Please pray that the Lord continues to provide for our daily needs, so that I can continue to serve the spiritual needs of the members of my congregations. Please pray that God gives me health and strength and endurance, so that I can face any hardship.

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


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Pastor Zongchin

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

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

On coming to faith: I was a businessman, and my business took me to Laos in the 1990’s. There I met Pastor Lor’s grandfather, who shared the gospel with me. He read to me from Matthew 24, where Jesus is talking with his disciples about the end of the world. Those words stuck with me. After I returned to Vietnam, I realized that I believed in Jesus. I gathered with the few other Christians in my village. I told everyone openly, “I am a Christian.”

On ministry:  But then the persecution came. I was followed by people and persecuted for 3 years. As I told people about Jesus, 15 families were converted. Because the persecution grew stronger, many of those families fled. I also had to move to the province of Song La. I remember thinking to myself that I was like Abraham, traveling to a new place which was not my home, because of the Lord. While I was there, a pastor from Laos came and taught me more about the Bible and about being a pastor. We studied the parables of Jesus and the meaning of baptism. He gave me practical advice about how to lead a congregation. Because of persecution by local government leaders, all the other Christians left; only I and my family remained. I sent a letter to the government in Hanoi. They sent a representative out to investigate. Then the persecution ceased for the most part. During the next 11 years I told people in my village and other villages about Jesus. In some areas I had to talk to people in the jungle, secretly, at night. Now I oversee 1580 members from 310 families in 14 congregations. Many of those congregations are led by elders, whom I am trying to train. I am a full-time pastor and I oversee many congregations, but I do not get paid as a pastor. In many cases congregations do not even pay for my travel to go serve them. I support myself as a rice farmer. I also grow a kind of grass that is dried and used for making brooms.

On learning: My ministry involves preaching and teaching and the training of elders. I need training so that I can do these things well. I have been learning Lutheran doctrine for almost seven years now. The training I am receiving from WELS is much better than the training I received earlier. Now I know how to interpret and explain the Scriptures. Now I am confident that I am preaching and teaching God’s Word correctly.

What WELS members can pray for:  I would appreciate it if the members of WELS would pray about my use of time. I want to have a proper balance in my use of time and money. Pray that I continue to gain more knowledge for teaching God’s Word to others. Pray that the WELS can continue to train me and the next generation of leaders in our church. In my congregations there are four men who want to be pastors. Two of them are my sons. They keep asking me, “How soon can we begin our training?”

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


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How great is the need?

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

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

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

I was sad.

Good Friday in Quito, Ecuador

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

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

I was sad.

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

I was sad.

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

But maybe I’ll have the opportunity someday.

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

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

I am happy. The Holy Spirit is working.

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

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

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Memorandum of Understanding signed in Hanoi, Vietnam

On April 24, 2019, WELS President Mark Schroeder, World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer, and Director of Missions Operations Mr. Sean Young checked in after their first full day in Hanoi, Vietnam, with exciting news to report: After surveying the land chosen for the theological education center, a memorandum of understanding was signed by WELS and Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) representatives confirming we can move forward with all land purchase, construction, and training plans!

Praise be to God! This is a huge step forward as we continue to train the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church in the truths of the gospel. Please continue to pray for this amazing mission opportunity and support it with your financial gifts. Learn more at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

 

View additional photos from their trip in the WELS Missions Flickr album.

 


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Rejoice in the lost sheep

One of the features that can be found in our Philippine flag is an eight-rayed sun. These eight rays represent the first eight Philippine provinces that revolted against the Spanish colonial government in the 19th century. One of these eight provinces is Cavite. You might ask, “What does Cavite have to do with Law & Gospel Lutheran Church?”

Pastor De Guzman teaches the Catechism in Cavite

Cavite is the site of Law & Gospel congregation’s first-ever teaching station outside its base in Novaliches, a suburb in the metropolitan Manila area. The work in this area started in September 2018, when a couple who are members of a WELS congregation in Appleton, Wis., reached out to me, asking if I would consider doing mission work in the said area. Our contacts in Cavite, a family of five, are relatives of the couple (specifically of the wife who is a Filipina).

For more than a year now, my wife and I would travel a total of about 5 hours, back and forth, every Saturday to teach Bible study and a kid’s Bible class. Not an easy one, though, as we have to contend with the infamous Manila traffic.

Considering the amount of time, energy, and money we’re spending each week for this small teaching station, some might question whether it’s worth all the efforts and resources. A better question to ask is, what value does God place on one lost soul? Jesus says in one of his parables:

Kid’s Bible Class in Cavite

“Which one of you, if you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls together his friends and his neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:4-7

By God’s grace, our contacts–a couple and their two teenage children–have already finished studying Luther’s Small Catechism. There are a lot more lost souls in the community that we need to reach. As each lost soul is valuable to God, traveling long hours to Cavite every Saturday is definitely worth it.

Written by Rev. Alvien De Guzman, pastor at Law & Gospel Lutheran Church in Novaliches, Philippines 

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

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Proclaiming the Good News in Ukraine

The Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) is experiencing renewed focus and enthusiasm for evangelism. The ULC pastors brainstormed ideas for doing outreach in their respective communities.

Church in Kremenets

The program they developed is a three evening program that involves music (both instrumental and vocal), Bible study, prayers, a worship service at the conclusion, and time for mingling and fellowship. The first three of these programs have already taken place at congregations in Kiev, Krements, and Ternopil. Many visitors attended! Local church members and pastors are excited about the results and rejoice that new people are hearing the Good News of Jesus. The next step? Friendship evangelism workshops are being scheduled to help the churches become more welcoming, and for training the pastors and church leaders to carry on programs of evangelism. We pray for God’s continuing blessing on their outreach efforts.

Church in Kyiv

This June, WELS members will once again help five congregations conduct Vacation Bible Schools. The WELS Mission Journeys program is becoming more involved with planning and scheduling these mission trips. Both the Ukrainian churches and our volunteers have been blessed with this cooperative effort.

Please pray for the ULC pastors. They are faithful to their calling, preaching God’s Word and administering the sacraments. Pray for the members of the ULC churches as they support the mission of preaching and teaching Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Pray that the Lord will bring many more people in the Ukraine to know and follow the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ!

Written by Pastor Roger Neumann, Europe Administrative Committee Liaison to the Ukrainian Lutheran Church

To learn more about world mission work in Ukraine, visit wels.net/ukraine.

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Bright Promise

Bam, bam, bam!

We heard pounding on the front door at 1 A.M early on a Sunday morning. I stumbled around in the dim light and answered it only to discover a very drunk man who wanted to talk. I was half-asleep, and he was. . .  well, you know. The conversation was almost comical. Finally, it became clear to me that he was asking if he could sit down. Given several factors, that was not a good idea, so I asked him if we could talk another time. He tried to show me where he lived but pointed in all four directions and mumbled something about building three. I asked him for his contact information, but he had lost his phone. As I escorted him out, I noticed that he had gotten sick all over the floor of the entryway. I watched him go to the elevator and get in. In the morning, I noticed that he must have come back out of the elevator, took off his jacket, and gotten sick some more.

“That’s disgusting,” you say, “Do you really have to share this in a Missions Blog?” Yes, I do. Because some great things happened through this rather unfortunate and disgusting situation. First of all, I learned even more about the beautiful heart of my beautiful wife. Our entryway is public. People walk through there. In fact, our landlord lives just across the hall from us. Without a single complaint, my wife put on her rubber boots and dish gloves and cleaned up the whole mess on her hands and knees. She never said one negative thing about this bozo who scared us half-to-death (imagine getting a knock on the door at 1 A.M. in a country where missionaries are being expelled every day. . .) and then made a disgusting mess all over our hallway.

Second, the next day (or I guess I should say that is was much later that same day), the young man returned to apologize. He happened to show up when a Christian brother was also arriving. The young man said he was embarrassed. I told him that we are Christians and that we forgive people. We gave him a Bible. We told him to read the gospel of Mark and send us any questions that he had. He was shocked. We exchanged contact information, and I have had further opportunities to shower him with grace.

In the local language, his name could be translated “bright promise.” The night he banged on our door, there wasn’t much “bright promise” to be seen—just a young man making a fool of himself and possibly throwing his life away. But God used it to introduce him to the life-changing gospel of our living God. It turns out that he actually lives 3 floors above us—the exact same door. For some reason, the elevator doors opened on our floor and brought us together. I’d like to think it is for his eternal good, the “bright promise” of heaven.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Poppies and prayers for the Apache reservations

The poppies in Peridot, Ariz., are out in full force. They spring up on the barren hillsides seemingly out of nowhere while we sleep. When the sun rises the next day, the dull, drab colors of the rocky slopes are on fire, covered in brilliant yellows and oranges.

Indian Day at East Fork Lutheran School on the Fort Apache reservation

It’s an amazing display of God’s power and artistic touch. A person wouldn’t think that anything could grow on those rocky desert slopes without the rich soil that is the lifeblood of so much greenery. But those poppies don’t need much dirt. The tiniest cracks in the rocks are enough. All they need is a small drink of water and warm sunshine and they open up and reach for the sky.

The poppies remind me of the new opportunities that our Lord has given to our schools on our Apache mission field. You might not expect to find some of the fastest-growing schools in the WELS on Apache Indian reservations in the middle rural Arizona. And you certainly wouldn’t see the facilities or amenities of a typical school or the neighborhood filled with fine, well-kept homes in an affluent suburb. But like the poppies, our schools on the Fort Apache and San Carlos Apache Indian reservations don’t need much to bloom.

The focus of our mission field is to train Native Americans to lead and to serve in God’s kingdom. And this training starts already in elementary school with children learning the truths of Scripture and being in a safe environment where Christianity is modeled and practiced by faculty and students alike. And while our schools have been in existence for more than 100 years, recent developments have caused them to burst into brilliant bloom like the poppies.

Field trip for Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School on the San Carlos reservation

The state of Arizona now allows parents to choose private education instead of sending their children to the failing public schools on the reservation. In communities where 75% – 80% unemployment is the norm and paying even the smallest tuition amount is a challenge, our schools are now accessible to many more families. And with half of the population on our reservations under the age of 18, we rapidly attracted more students than we have facilities and teachers. Like the poppies, we’ve burst into life in an instant, increasing the number of students by 100% in the last 5 years.

Among the red rocks and desert hills, Christian schools are blooming. Dedicated teachers who are passionate about sharing Jesus are equipping children to serve our Lord and be leaders in their homes, churches, and communities. Pray for them, and for the continued opportunities to bloom on the Apache reservations where they’ve been planted.

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Native American Missions Field Coordinator

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Clouds and Sunshine

Which side of the clouds are you looking at?

As I was flying into a city in East Asia, I spotted this scene out of my seat, 42A. We had been flying above the clouds in bright blue skies with puffy white clouds. But as we descended it got darker and darker. Black clouds cast a pall over the city. . . but then a break in the clouds revealed my destination. There was even a little sun out on parts of the city.

Doesn’t this pretty much sum up what it means to see the world as a follower of Jesus? The group of people I was going to visit had been under a dark cloud. Local authorities told them they could not meet in the location they have used for a year and a half. They would be watched. Their lives would be touched by moments of fear and doubt.

But when I met to encourage them, I found that the Son was still shining. Brothers and sisters didn’t want to let the fear of persecution split up their group. They did want everyone to be doubly united in faith and hope to carry on. With God’s help, they will! They see the One who is both over the clouds and walks with them under the clouds.

It’s not an easy situation, but the early Christian church faced much worse. Persecution in the 21st century has grown to the point where many say Christians worldwide are the most persecuted of any group. Governments that want to control Christianity have more tools than ever such as surveillance cameras and other technology. But God’s eye is always on those who trust in him.

His Kingdom will not be brought down. Some brothers and sisters may be getting a small bruise as they stumble on a stone of persecution right now, but no one and no thing can ultimately oppose the Rock of Ages. As Jesus said, “Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” – Matthew 21:44.

So let us fear God! May God bless governments with wisdom. May he strengthen his people whose lives are momentarily disrupted by fear. May he help all of us to keep seeking his Kingdom and his righteousness. We can trust his promise that the gates of hell shall not overcome it.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Back Home to Africa

Who doesn’t love to be home? Especially when you have a wonderful family such as my parents and older sister. I was born in Malawi, Africa, though I spent the first ten years of my life in the small town of Chipata in Zambia. My father, Pastor John Holtz, worked as a missionary there until he received a call to move to Malawi in 2008. I spent the rest of my school years there all the way until I graduated secondary school at age 18. Since then, I have been attending Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) as a nursing student, currently in my third year. I have been extremely blessed to have been able to go back home to Malawi during the longer breaks to see my family and old friends.

Heather (left) and two friends after observing a surgery

As part of the nursing program at WLC, third year students go on an immersion trip to Lusaka, Zambia (the capital), where they stay on the seminary grounds. I did not live in Lusaka, but my family traveled there often for work and missionary gatherings. So there I was, surrounded by my classmates in a place so foreign to them yet so familiar to me. It felt odd, simply put. At the same time, it was a huge blessing to be able to share my life in such a unique way with the people who have accepted me into their lives in the United States.

The purpose of our trip was to experience the medical field in a Third World country. We visited the government-run hospital known as Chelstone, a private children’s clinic known as Beit Cure, an organization for disabled children known as Special Hope Network, and also some grade schools for teaching. We also traveled to a rural clinic in the town of Mwembezhi where WELS missionaries originally started their work. I thought that all of these organizations were impressive. With limited resources and endless patients, these facilities are doing a great job at providing inexpensive to no-cost care while still providing respectable patient outcomes.

First church (refurbished) built by the WELS mission in Mwembezhi, Zambia

You may be wondering if it is my desire to work there . . . that answer is difficult. In Zambia, only local residents are hired. The advanced health care systems in the United States have a much different focus, some of it good, and some of it I do not particularly like. On top of it being hard to “adult”, it is even harder to know where to start when you are pulled in so many different directions, as many missionary kids often experience.

But here’s the good news: God is in control. There may come a time when our parents move, and we feel like we have lost our home. Though we desire to go back, what is there for us to do? We need to remember that God leads us and knows what is best for us. When we worry about our future and transition into adulthood, it clouds our vision to the joy that is in Christ Jesus. Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all you ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Patio area is where devotions are held in the mornings. Pictured: women line up for their children to receive vaccinations

So what does it feel like to be back home as an adult missionary kid? Contrarily, going back to Malawi makes me feel like a kid again. Many of my childhood memories were experienced there and in Zambia, my friends are there, my pets, my house . . . but most of all what makes it home is my family. I know its cliché, but how can I deny it? Whenever I am home, I feel myself again, though it is bittersweet. I go back, knowing I’ll have to leave again in a few weeks. I always cherish my time there, though I remember that life on this earth is temporary. Any struggles here on earth are nothing in comparison to the glory that will be experienced in heaven. Something that I find both comforting and amazing is that those same people, that my dad and all the other missionaries and Lutherans in Africa impacted, are going to be with me in heaven someday. I thank God for my life in Africa, and I thank God for my life here too. But most of all, I thank God for saving me a place in his Kingdom.

Heaven is my home.

Written by Heather Holtz, current student at Wisconsin Lutheran College and daughter of Africa Missionary John Holtz and wife Mindy

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A Little Child Shall Lead Them

*Specific details have been left out and names changed due to security precautions

Sophia was born in March 2013. When her mother went in for an 8-month check-up, the doctor told her, “Unless you reach the capital city within 24 hours, you and your unborn child will die.” To get there meant an 14-hour drive over many dangerous roads. To make matters worse, the government had shut down all air and car travel between cities because of strikes and protests. No one could travel the roads.

The father went into the police station and asked for a special permit. The chief of police gave him a document showing he had permission to travel the roads, but only at night. They got into a car and began the 14-hour journey. There were road-blocks by the police and by the protesters. The father had to get out of the car and remove the obstacles–trees, tires, barrels, etc–that the now-sleeping protesters had set up. Some of the roads were along the sides of cliffs where the tires come so close to the edge that a passenger must hang out of the window and bang on the side of the car to let the driver know if they are too close or “just the right distance” from the edge.

It took two nights to reach the city. By the grace of God his wife and daughter survived. She was born into the world a month early and was born into God’s family in baptism.

But life would not be a smooth road for this little girl . . . there were more challenges to come. After one year of life the family learned their little girl could not hear. She was unable to speak. With the help of friends she received ear implants. How she smiled the first time she was able to hear. Every day her mother took her to speech therapy.

Sadly, there were other health complications: frequent illnesses, infections, fevers, and stomach discomfort. She had trouble walking. Her parents and siblings often held her hand to keep her from falling. In spite of all this she was cheerful and bright – and she filled her family’s home with happiness.

Then on April 11, 2018 she had trouble breathing. Her mother rushed her to the hospital in only 15 minutes; but it was too late. Her little heart stopped beating. God took her out of this world to himself.

The father was caring for suffering people in a far-away place. To return to where his wife and daughter were required two days of walking and three days of driving. He decided to wait so he could tell a group of 150 people about the love of Jesus. They knew his daughter had just died–and they were surprised he did not leave immediately. He explained, “I know that my daughter is in heaven and I will see her again one day. I want you to know about Jesus so that you will have comfort when you or your loved ones are dying.” The next day he spoke to another group. Then he began the long journey back.

The family is grieving, but they have peace and love in God in their home. The father says, “I find great comfort in the baptism of my daughter. It is critically important that others baptize their children and grandchildren.” In some countries it is illegal to baptize anyone under a certain age. Many refuse to do it for this reason. They are afraid of being arrested and put in prison. In one place those who convert to Christianity and are baptized are guilty of a capital crime. According to the constitution, they are to be executed. How the devil rages against baptism . . . but “a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Weak and stumbling though this little girl was, she has overcome Satan, the world, and death. She now lives as a powerful testimony of what it means to live and die–and live again–in Christ.

Written by a mission counselor to an Asian country

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New Hope in Uganda

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


“Come over and help us!”

This first century request came from a man in Macedonia (Acts 16:9). Convinced that this plea was an outreach opportunity from God, a four-man team (Luke, Paul, Silas, and Timothy) set out on a mission journey to answer the call and share the gospel of Jesus. They traveled to various locations, spoke to the local people, visited the places of prayer, “reasoned with the people from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead . . .” (Acts 17:2,3)

The gospel did amazing things. It gave the people . . .

Pastor Makisimu Musa, wife Mary, with children Grace and Mark

New Hope.

Come over and help us!

This twenty-first century request came from a man in Bugiri, Uganda. Convinced that this was an outreach opportunity from God, a three-man team was formed and set out on a mission journey to answer the call and share the gospel message of Jesus. What Paul and his team did in Macedonia and beyond, the three-man team did in Uganda: traveled to various places, spoke to the local people, visited the places of prayer and expounded the Scriptures. By God’s grace, the results were the same: the gospel worked wonders and it gave people in Uganda . . .

New Hope.

The first century mission opportunity came by way of a vision (Acts 16:9). Last month’s opportunity came via an email. The request for help came from a man named Makisimu Musa, a pastor leading a fledgling church body in Uganda. Back in 2008, he caught wind of a Lutheran church body in America called WELS as well as a synod in Zambia and Malawi called the LCCA. (Pastor Musa was attending a school in Kenya and was told about the Lutheran Church, specifically about WELS and the LCCA in Zambia & Malawi.) He heard about their sound doctrine and practice and wanted to know more. He consulted with his fellow pastors and evangelists and together they decided it was time for them to reach out for help.

Frustrated with church politics, confused with false teachings, discouraged with a lack of Biblically sound materials, and uncertain of a God-pleasing way forward, they sent the message:

Come over and help us!

Translator Lydia

Those weren’t the exact words nor the only words, but it was the bottom line message. It went first to Pastor David Bivens (Divine Savior Lutheran Church, Sienna Plantation, TX), the Chairman of the Administrative Committee for Africa. Pastor Bivens then passed it along, and eventually it landed on the desk of Missionary John Hartmann in Zambia, who is the One Africa Team Outreach Coordinator for Africa. He assembled a team, set the dates, and planned the trip. On December 1, 2018, Missionary Hartmann, Pastor Pembeleka (LCCA-Malawi), and I touched down in Entebbe, Uganda.

The mission journey began. The outreach mission trip dates were set for November 30, 2018 – December 13, 2018.

We stayed with Pastor Musa and his family in his rural home. He had put together an aggressive schedule for us: travel to eight congregations, meet six pastors and five evangelists, teach three days of lessons, and attend two days of meetings.

In it all, we witnessed the Body of Christ in action:

  • Church leaders attended 18 hours of  lessons and presentations (Justification, the Church, and Stewardship);
  • Pastors preached the Word and administered baptism;
  • The pastor’s dear wife and others cooked our meals, washed our clothes, and tidied our rooms;
  • A Lutheran member drove us safely to all of our destinations;
  • Congregations prepared meals and traditional entertainment of plays, dramas, dances, and songs;
  • Several people served as translators, turning our English words into Luganda and Lusoga.

Spending a dozen nights and covering over a thousand kilometers gave us a glimpse of the Ugandan people and their beautiful land. Uganda truly lives up to her name: the Pearl of Africa. So many natural wonders! Among the many, Uganda boasts the second largest lake in the world (Victoria) and the source of the longest river on earth (Nile). We were blessed to see them both.

Left to Right: Rev. John Holtz, Rev. Bright Pembeleka, Rev. John Hartmann

But for us, the real Pearl of Africa is the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45,46): the gospel of Jesus Christ! It’s what prompted the first email from Pastor Musa. It’s what motivated our mission outreach trip. It was the foundation of our lessons and the focus of our meetings.

And it will guide any future plans and discussions with these new found brothers and sisters in Uganda.

May I humbly send you a request, too? Our plea comes from Uganda:

Come over and help us!

You don’t need to go there to answer the call. We simply, yet resolutely, ask for your prayers. Will you put Uganda on your prayer list? Pray for this mission outreach effort. The Lord has given us this wonderful opportunity and the gospel is already doing amazing things. The Pearl of Great Price is the only True Pearl of Africa . . . and the world!

Oh, by the way . . . as these Christians in Uganda find their footing and forge ahead, it’s this “Pearl” that reminds them why they chose the name they did for their new church body:

New Hope

Written by: Rev. John Holtz, Missionary in Malawi and member of the One Africa Team

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Sharing the Precious Message in Albania

I have a feeling we’re not in Novosibirsk anymore . . .

“You have palm trees!”

It’s such a touristy thing to say, but I can’t help it. We don’t have palm trees in Novosibirsk, Russia. I’ve just landed at the airport in Tirana, Albania. (Albania lies on the Mediterranean Sea, directly east of Italy’s heel.) Seminarian Nikolla Bishka is picking me up in his Ford Focus for the thirty minute drive to his hometown of Durres.

Albanian Pastors (L to R) – Niko, Agron, and Mikel

For the next two weeks “Niko” and I will study Paul’s letter to the Galatians and talk about what it means to serve as a pastor. I’m excited for the new challenge. For the past twenty-one years I have served as a missionary in Siberia. Now I have been asked to do some traveling in order to mentor pastors and seminary students in Russia, Bulgaria, and Albania.

Niko is twenty-six years old, quiet, but friendly. He lives with his parents, Pastor Mikel and Pavlena, and his younger brother Viktor. As we drive along the country’s main highway, Niko tells me how things have changed. The old dictator is gone. Life is better . . . but wages are low and prices are high. Gasoline costs $6.25 a gallon! Students are protesting peacefully in the streets of Tirana demanding improved living conditions. Many people are leaving the country to search for work in Italy or Germany. Religion is allowed. There was a time when all religion was banned. In the 1960s, Christians were imprisoned and even executed for their faith. Now about seventy percent of the population claim to be Muslim, and the rest are nominally Christian. Most of Albanian’s three million souls live in spiritual darkness.

Downtown Durres

Niko drops me off at my hotel which he carefully chose for its low price and beautiful view overlooking the ruins of an ancient Roman theater. We agree to start our studies the next day at the congregation’s rented facilities. I’m grateful for the chance to rest! The trip from Novosibirsk to Tirana takes a full day – three flights, six time zones, and nine hours in the air.

The Durres church is a storefront located right on the city’s main road. Immediately upon entrance, neatly labeled photographs of church members greet me. Niko points out his picture. Then he points out a picture of the congregation’s first pastor, Missionary Richard Russow, with the church’s founding members (2006). The church is decorated for Advent and Christmas.

Mikel (left) and Niko (right) leading worship

With a prayer for God’s blessing, Niko and I dive into our study of Galatians. What a joy! No wonder Martin Luther called this little book his “Katherine von Bora.” Luther loved this letter for its clear comfort: God has saved us by His mercy. There is nothing, NOTHING, we need to add to Christ’s perfect work of rescuing us for life. This freedom lets us love God and people with all our hearts. The people of Albania need to hear this precious message! Something else strikes us as we read Paul’s letter: the apostle dearly loved the people he served. He writes with such emotion as he urges his people to believe God’s truth and to reject Satan’s lies.

May God give Niko and all of us that same love for God’s word and God’s people! Please pray that God would give Niko many years of gospel service. Pray that God will lead many Albanian people to freedom in Christ!

Written by: Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, Missionary in Russia

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Faces of Faith – Simon the Translator

An exciting ray of hope continues to shine among the growing number of Lutheran congregations of South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. As the camp has extremely limited internet access, Multi-Language Publications (MLP) has provided hundreds of pounds of printed materials, from catechisms to seminary resources, to serve these vibrant congregations.

PSI training in Kakuma Refugee Camp (Simon pictured in green)

Very few of our Nuer brothers and sisters speak English. Enter student pastor Simon, early 30s in age, who speaks fluent English and was my translator for a week of Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) sponsored classes for 17 men at Kakuma last October.

The relationship one builds with a translator over a short period of time is often amazing, but none have ever compared to working beside Simon, with his passion and exuberance for the message of Christ. Simon’s method of translating included walking closely beside me and mimicking my every hand gesture. It often felt like we were in some kind of choreographed dance together. I found myself motivated to be more demonstrative in my movements, with Simon immediately responding. At the same time, Simon began punctuating the points I made in class with an exuberant “Alleluia,” which was echoed back by the students. Seeing Simon get more excited got me more excited! It was an exhilarating experience as we fed off each other in a class on the life of Christ.

Simon preaching

On the last day of classes, Simon was asked to preach at our camp-wide, combined church service. Simon however, did not restrict himself to simply preaching. Grabbing a large, goat-skin covered drum in one hand and wielding a strip of rubber truck tire tread for a drumstick in the other, Simon just wailed on that drum from the opening song. Stalking the congregation to root out the timid, Simon urged the assembly on to greater and greater heights of joyous praise. The room became an ocean of music, rhythm, drums, and movement.

Needless to say, Simon preached with the exuberance he displayed in his music and his translating. I videotaped over an hour of Simon preaching. Rarely have I seen a man preach with such intensity and passion.

Two days later our visit to Kakuma was over, and we needed to say goodbye until next year. I couldn’t wait to work again with this amazingly gifted brother.

Simon (on the right) plays his drum for worship

Less than two weeks after we left Kakuma Refugee Camp, I got the news from Pastor Peter Bur, our U.S.-based South Sudanese pastor who serves as South Sudanese ministry coordinator. Peter told me that Simon and a few others were walking home late at night after an evening church gathering and decided to take a shortcut outside of the parameters of the camp. As they walked through a deep, unlit valley, they were attacked by robbers (not of the Nuer tribe) looking for a little cash or a cell phone. Simon was shot in the chest and died a short while later.

I miss Simon more than I can put into words. Although the only word I ever understood him say when he preached was “Alleluia,” that one word said it all. We both believed in the same Savior Jesus. We both knew we were on the road to Paradise. And during those classes, we both knew there was nothing more important and exciting we could be doing than preparing men to take the message of Jesus to the ends of that camp.

Simon got to Paradise way before anyone expected. Kakuma will never be quite the same. Neither I suspect will the heavenly choir, with Simon no doubt shouting his “Alleluias” the moment he arrived. I will see you again, Simon, when we will sing and play drums together to our Savior King forever!

Written by: Rev. Terry Schultz, Consultant for Multi-Language Publications 

To learn more about WELS Joint Missions outreach to the South Sudanese, visit wels.net/sudanese.

 

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Swords and Selfies

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

Coat of Arms in Riobamba

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

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

And we took selfies.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest

When you work with people of another culture and another language, those people handle your linguistic shortcomings in a few different ways. First, you have “the Simplifier,” who slows the conversation with you way down and only uses simple words, immediately rephrasing sentences that may be too complex. Next, you have the “the Louder.” This is the person who speaks extra slow to make sure you understand, making big gestures as sign language to help you along. And, for some reason, they think it will help if they speak louder and louder until they are nearly shouting at you . . . but in a very eager and friendly way. Finally, you have the “the Firehoser.” That’s the person who forgets almost immediately that they are speaking with someone who is just learning their language. They are so excited to speak with a foreigner who understands their language that you are soon swimming in complex vocabulary and grammar you’ve never studied, at speeds faster than a 747.

My friend YuTong is definitely a “Firehoser.” I invited him to a local restaurant to eat lunch with me. Since his father is a chef, Yutong knows a lot about food preparation. He began to explain to me in his language why many local restaurants fail to make foreign food correctly. Within seconds, he was using all sorts of jargon I didn’t understand. I smiled and nodded in agreement. I really wish I had understood what he was talking about. It sounded so interesting, and he was so excited about it.

Most of our conversations go that way: him excitedly telling me things, me straining my little brain to understand while looking up words in the dictionary as fast as I can. Thankfully, Yutong is also a “Simplifier” when he remembers to be, so he slows down and makes sure that he doesn’t lose me.

It was during one of these “Simplifier” moments that he told me about his imminent divorce. He and his wife have not been communicating. In fact, it got so bad that she became pregnant twice and had an abortion both times without even informing him of the situation. Since he wants to have children, he was devastated when he found out. Tears require little language to communicate volumes. So, when his eyes watered up in a way that is very rare for men in that culture, I knew he was hurting badly.

When I told him that I would pray for him, he asked how God could help him. What an opening for the gospel!

Whenever I have these sorts of opportunities, I am immediately reminded how my grasp of the local language falls short. How can I communicate law and gospel effectively in another, very difficult language? Even if I am a “Simplifier” in my communication and use exaggerated gestures like the “Louder,” how do I express the wonders of our God is a way that the local people will really understand? It is difficult enough for people to believe in Christ when the gospel presentation is clearly spoken. How will they believe when I am stumbling over every other word? But I am also reminded of this passage from the Scriptures:

Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3

I am reminded that, even when I am using my own heart language to share the gospel, my ability to argue eloquently, turn a phrase, or expound on the Greek of a certain Bible passage will never, ever bring someone to faith in Jesus aside from the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

Our job is to expose them regularly to the marvelous grace of Jesus. He will take care of the rest.

Maybe you are frightened to share your faith with that neighbor or coworker—not because they have no interest, but because you are afraid of messing up the message. Hey, at least you are not trying to share in another language (At least, not usually)! But the real comfort is that the Holy Spirit puts his power and authority behind those simple, stumbling words to change hearts—forever! Praise God!

Written by: A missionary in East Asia

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Pastor Ham

Pastor Tsavxwm Ham is 50 years old and serves in Son La province of Vietnam. He comes by motorcycle and bus (a 9-hour trip) to the training seminars in Hanoi. He is the chairman of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC). 

I’ve been a pastor in Kon Tong village since 2006. Before that, I served as an elder in the church from 1996 to 2003. In 2003, I began studying to be a pastor through the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC). I passed that program in 2006 and became a pastor. In 2007, I was appointed as Chairman of the Hmong Fellowship Church.

My story of how I became a Christian is important to me. Before I became a Christian, I was one of the men in my village who was educated in the Hmong traditions and customs. I was also the director for Hmong funerals and a funeral musician. During that time, I felt very sad. I wanted to help the people. They would always give me a lot of meat when I would do a funeral for them. They treated me very well – and I really wanted to help them. But I had nothing to help them with. The funeral could only leave them sad and empty. At that time, I also worked as a Shaman and a fortune teller for the people. In my heart, I knew that all of this was wrong and a lie, and I couldn’t keep on deceiving my people by acting as a fortune teller and a Shaman.

All of this time, instead of helping the poor families, I took money from them as the Shaman. I felt very bad about that. I thought about how I could change my life and do something to help the community. Around that same time, I heard a pastor preaching through a radio broadcast. A village near me had already become Christian, so I contacted the leaders from that village to get materials from them. Through the radio broadcast and the Christian materials, I also became a Christian and left my former life behind.

One year after I became a Christian, in 1997, I was arrested and tortured by the local government. The persecution of Christians was heavy at that time. Since I was appointed as the Chief of my village, I had some authority to be able to defend my faith and the new faith of my village against the persecution. But the attack against our faith was very harsh. In 1998, I was recommended by the local government to receive special training – ‘re-educating’ me because of my faith. The goal of this training was that I would renounce my Christian faith. But at the beginning of the training, they talked about what Christians believe about God and creation. It was meant to show me the foolishness of Christianity, but it motivated me to learn even more about God and the creation of the world. And when I came back from the training, I was even more motivated to serve my congregation.

After I returned from the seminar, the local government sent officers to follow me to my village. They ask me to renounce my faith. I said I would not. The officials told me that I must – and I told them, “you taught me to have more faith in God because your introduction of the seminar talked about God.” I confronted them because they were saying that I needed a license to have a church. But they hadn’t had a license to carry out the education seminar. So I told them that I didn’t need a license to serve a church in this area either. In the end, they couldn’t get me to renounce my faith and they went home.

But still, I received a lot of persecution and pressure. After the officers left, they sent 8 higher officers to arrest me. They arrested me and my wife and separated us. They questioned us both and threatened us. They wanted us to renounce our faith. But I asked them, “Why can the people in the city have a church, and the minority in the mountains cannot have a church?” They answered: “In the city, we don’t have laws to control this, but in the rural area we can’t allow there to be churches.” I asked, “who made these rules?” They wouldn’t answer. At that point, they said, “Why don’t we call a Hmong officer to talk to you in Hmong – we aren’t getting anywhere in Vietnamese.”

So they sent the Hmong officer to talk to me. I asked him the same question. He explained that this was not from the central government, but that these rules were added for the local government. I pushed on. “If it isn’t from the central government, how can you arrest me?” After a time, they delivered their response: We will not do anything to you, we will let you go home. Just don’t spread the news that we persecuted your family. They sent another three soldiers to watch me for three weeks. They wanted to make sure I don’t cause any problem for the government.

After this time, I met with the first believer in my area. I asked him to come to Hanoi with me. We would go to talk to the Christian Mission Alliance (CMA) church. We went and met with the president, but he didn’t help us. He just sent us back and said all sorts of bad things about the Hmong people. We were so disappointed. I was so angry. I resigned from my post as the chief of the village, and traveled by foot for three days through the jungle villages around my home to try to help out Christians who were being persecuted by the government and to try to get them released from prison. All the while, I tried to convince the local government officials that the persecution didn’t come from the central government, but from local government.

I took members from the churches into the jungle and we talked in secret about our faith. We talked about what the best way would be to avoid persecution. We wanted to make sure that we were able to have a good foundation for the Christians in the Hmong community. At one point, we went back to the CMA again, but they wouldn’t protect us – and they wouldn’t provide us with anything. They only gave us a few Bibles and sent us back home. The warned us not to say that we received the Bibles from the CMA. So, we went home, and I continued to meet with my members and the other Christians in our area. And we would pray together.

Another time when we were being persecuted and Christians were being arrested, I tried to debate with the officers. I told them, “Since I was 15, I was an officer in the government.” They sent a top general to come and talk to me. His goal was to convince me to recant my faith. He told me, “If any war comes to this country, it will come from the Christians.” But I said, ‘Christians won’t bring war. But if you will bring war against the church, that is your choice. We won’t deny our faith. If you want, I will call together all of the Christians in our province – and you can kill us all. But we won’t wage war.” I continued, “We have fought for this country. Their families have shed blood to protect this country.” The general sat silently. “I’ve never seen anyone speak as boldly as you,” he said.

Again, the general attacked: “Christians are bad people. Every Sunday they come to church and they are engaging in sexual immorality. The men and the leaders seduce the women.” I told the officers, “You come and stay with me for three days. I will feed you and you can stay at my house. We will go around and find Christian leaders who do this. If we catch any of them, I will be the first to hand them over to be executed. If not, you will need to apologize to this community.”

I continued, “You aren’t here to protect the people, but accuse them of wrongdoings – things that they aren’t doing.” I told them that if they didn’t stop persecuting us I would write down all of their names and would go directly to the United States Embassy and submit their names.

I remember – the general got so mad. He threw his documents in my face. But in the end, the general just left. They sent word: “We apologize, and we will leave you.” Since then, the persecution in my area has reduced. That was the local government at that time – but at this time the government has changed and there is very little persecution in our region.

Even though our region was one of the most persecuted in all of Vietnam, the Christians multiplied quickly. We worked hard to spread the gospel. I also ran a clinic in my house. Whenever we would admit sick people into our house, we would give them the gospel.

In 2004, I heard that the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) was welcoming churches into their fellowship. So I called the VFC to see if we could be part of that. At that time, I started to receive some theological training from them. In 2007 they appointed me to oversee 16 districts and the towns in them in my area. Then, in 2010, they appointed a few more pastors to help me oversee those congregations and then they called me to oversee all the congregations in the Songla province. In 2012, we were invited to the VFC’s annual meeting in Hochimin. There I was called to be the chairman of the HFC.

Currently, in the HFC, we have 240 senior pastors and 330 additional pastors. Many of our churches don’t have pastors and are served by local elders who have been appointed. In total, we have more than 100,000 members. In the congregation that I pastor, we have 58 families that are members. Some of the people who come to worship with us aren’t members yet. In total, we have an average of 380 in attendance every week.

In addition to serving the local congregation, I also personally oversee 30 pastors and around 18,000 members in my area. Our goal is to continue to share the gospel with the families and villages around our church and in our district who don’t yet know Christ. We have some goals for our congregation – our current church building and location is too small to provide for the growing church. We hope to build another church building on the hill in the village – a bigger church so we can have more people come to worship. We also hope to build a small park in the area around the church to attract tourists from other villages to our town and provide an opportunity for our members to do outreach to them.

The training we are receiving is key – the leaders and members in my church need more training in the word of God so that they are well equipped. We want to train leaders in our church to spread the gospel to the surrounding villages. When we receive the training from WELS in Hanoi, we take it back and train the local leaders with what we have received.

The pastors in my area have received training from a variety of churches in the past – the Vietnamese churches, Korean missionaries, and even Hmong pastors who have come from the United States. But each of these groups and individuals came and did the training based on what they wanted to accomplish. And all we learned were rules to follow, good works that must be done, and how to live good lives to please God. We would go to training from these churches, but among our churches, there was no stability, no peace, and no gospel. We had no unity among our churches because we all just interpreted the Bible based on our own ideas or the various things we had learned.

That all started to change in 2013 when Pastor Lor started doing training for us in Hanoi. Now we have both physical and spiritual unity. The Lutheran doctrine has brought peace and harmony to the people in the villages – and as a result, our members are sharing their faith and our churches are multiplying.

Personally, since I have been receiving training from the WELS, I see a change in myself as well. Before this, I taught and used my own authority in the church. At that time, I thought, “I’m the smart one – I’m the one with training, and I am the one with the authority. I can force my members to do the right thing.” But since I have been studying with the Lutheran Church, I have changed. I have reevaluated myself and how I taught in the past – and know that I have taught false teachings. The training made me value my members more – and know that they need the gospel. I used to use the law to motivate my members. That was how I showed my authority. But since receiving this training, I now understand that the law won’t help the members. I started to share the gospel and taught them to understand that the gospel will motivate you to love and show care for each other. What I have noticed is that now my members respect me even more than they ever did when I only used the law, rules, and traditions to lead them.

On May 29th, 2018, I gathered together 129 local church leaders at my congregation. I retrained them in Lutheran theology as we have learned it from WELS. I assured them and demonstrated to them that this teaching was the true Biblical teaching. After that training, they encouraged me to keep on receiving training so that in the future the local leaders can continue to receive training from me. It is their dream that they can all receive formal training as well. At that meeting, I also invited local government officers to attend. When I finished the training, they applauded my teaching. The head officer said that this was one of the best teachings that they had ever heard. They encouraged me to continue my training and bring it back to the villages so that the people can continue to learn the Bible and grow in their understanding.

We’re not done yet. We need more training – for this generation and the next generations of pastors. I’m 50 years old right now – I hope we can continue to partner in training until I am 60 or even 80 – until we can carry on this ministry by ourselves and be confident to train our own pastors and leaders. The HFC is scattered across 14 provinces of Vietnam.  It is our goal as HFC to be the ‘big brother’ and standard for solid Christian Hmong churches in all of Vietnam.

Finally, I don’t have anything to send to my WELS brothers and sisters in the U.S. to even begin to show our gratitude or appreciation. All we can send is our ‘empty’ words of Thank You to you.  But we are thankful. We trust that in the future the training will continue to equip leaders so that the gospel will spread to many more throughout Vietnam. Pray for us. Pray for our religious freedom in this country, especially for the Hmong in the rural areas. And pray that the many minority people will have the opportunity to hear the gospel and believe it.

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Pastor Vue

Pastor Vue is 44 years old. He serves the Zhoukao congregation in Galapa village of Munyue district in Dien Bien province, Vietnam. He travels one day by motorcycle to the closest large city and then one more day by bus to get to Hanoi for training. 

I’ve been serving in my current location since 2008. It is a relatively new village for us. I served in another city from 1999 to 2008 and then was called to serve in Galapa village in 2008.

I became a Christian in 1997 in the village of Kuangtao in the southern part of Song La province. At that time there weren’t any Christians in that entire village. I was the first one to become a Christian. I had heard the gospel from Pastor Ham, who is now the chairman of Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC), and from radio broadcasts.

I had known Pastor Ham from the past – from before he was a Christian. I was always a person who was really afraid of death. Passing away really frightened me. When Pastor Ham shared about a new hope for people in death, that changed me. That’s really how I became a Christian.

After I converted, I found that there were many people in my village who were also interested in the Good News. Many people became Christians and we started a small congregation and worshiped in a house. In 1998, we built a small church building and I was elected to be an elder in the church. Around that time, the persecution from the local government against Christians became very heavy. In 2001, I was arrested and put in prison, tortured, and persecuted.

In 2008, I relocated from Son La province and was made pastor of the Zhoukao congregation in Galapa village. My church is made up of 114 families and a total of 583 members. Three additional pastors were appointed by the church body to assist me. I was given an oversight role over all of the congregations in Dien Bien province. I have a total of 8 pastors under my oversight. In the southern part of the province there are 19 congregations and in the northern part of the provinces, there are 19 congregations. In total, I serve 2,640 members.

Before I became a pastor, I started to receive some training from the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) – very simple doctrine. We received training three times a year. They taught us the basics of Bible doctrine, but one of the largest challenges was that they did not teach us how to train our members. That training continued until 2014. During the final year of that training, I had already started to receive training from Pastor Lor in 2013.

After I began coming to this training, we all realized that we didn’t really understand law and gospel. The previous training we had just combined everything together. I know I used a lot of law with my members and I was very confused by what I was learning.

Today I thank and praise God that the Lutheran church sent Pastor Lor to train us. First, I see very clearly – the training has clearly shown us the Word of God. Each training session is divided into clear small portions we can understand. Second, the training is conducted in Hmong. Even when Anglo pastors come and teach us, it is translated into Hmong. And no matter who is teaching us, the message is always very clear.

Before, we used the law to force our members to do good works. As an example, we prohibited our members from drinking alcohol. At that time a group separated from our church because of this. Now I have gone back to them and apologized for our false teaching in the past and invited them back to our congregation.

Because we are teaching the Bible clearly and are properly using the gospel, and not just the law, we have more in attendance every Sunday. And our offerings have increased as well – ever since we removed the law that demanded offerings. There has been a tremendous increase in giving in our congregation.

Personally, I see now that I am living in Grace, and not under the law. This has meant a huge change for me and my understanding of God. I still am struggling to bring this same clarity to all of my members – but I see they are slowly growing as well. When I come back from training, they have seen a big difference in how I teach and preach. They see that the teaching that I bring back to them is the real Word of God. The Truth. That it is based on Biblical principles. And so they want me to continue to be trained so I can bring back more of God’s word.

As we continue to receive the training from WELS, I trust that we will continue to see our lives change for the better. I ask that WELS pray for the HFC. Pray that we will have a place to do the training – that we won’t have to continue to rent out another church and training space, but have our own space. This training is not just for our generation, but for many to come – until we are ready to handle the training for ministry by ourselves.

There are so many people who don’t believe in Jesus in my village and in my area. This is a big Hmong village – more than 400 families. Currently, our church building is small, we are already full when all the members come to worship. If we grow more in the future, we will have to expand – please pray for that as well. Also, there is currently some pressure on our congregation from the Hmong community – there are some in our community who want to cause problems for us. They accuse us of doing illegal things or create conflicts over our property. They accuse us of harboring illegal foreigners. None of this is true – they just want to cause us problems in the community. Please pray about this as well.

Personally, I also have a prayer request. I have already sacrificed my life for the Word of God. My family has been lacking so many things – I don’t get paid a salary from the congregation. I am happy to serve as I can. I support myself by farming. Please pray for me that I have the strength to carry the Word of God to the people. Pray that God would strengthen my life that I am giving to Him for service in His Kingdom. And pray that God would strengthen my family.

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