Faces of Faith – Tsavxue Ham

Brothers and sisters in Christ – I’d like you to meet my friend Tsavxue Ham, a pastor and chairman of the the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam. The HFC is a church body of more than 100,000 members seeking training from WELS and requesting fellowship.

Tsavxue Ham on the left, Pastor Lor on the right, examining a patient

This past March I had the chance to visit Ham’s village near the border of Laos and Vietnam. He runs a micro-hospital there. Ham is skilled in both herbal medicine and modern medicine. Since the age of 7, he’s been learning about herbal medicine from his elders. When we arrived at his village, there were more than 30 patients waiting for Ham because he had spent the last three weeks attending WELS pastoral training in Hanoi. People seek Ham’s help first because it takes more than two days to travel to the big city to receive medical treatment. Because so many patients were waiting for Ham, who is also busy supporting his family as a farmer, I offered to help examine some of his patients – I too have a background in medicine. But for me, the most miraculous thing was the opportunity to share the Word of God and to pray for the sick. We spent two days at Ham’s village. We had many opportunities to share the Word with his members and the community.

Ham’s medical knowledge has opened a door for the mission work in his area. Through his micro-hospital, he has the opportunity to share the Word of God with many people who come from far and near. Many patients travel for days to receive treatment from him. Some prominent people in the city and country have received treatment from him. Most of his patients first sought help from shamans, but the shamans couldn’t cure their sickness. Once they arrive at Ham’s micro-hospital, he gives them treatment, prays for them, and shares the Word with them. After a few days or weeks, they leave his place with joy and happiness in Christ, not only because they were cured from their diseases but also because they’ve learned that their sins are forgiven in our Lord Jesus Christ. As soon as they return home, they share their joy and happiness in Christ with many others, just like the Samaritan woman who had received forgiveness from Christ at the well of Jacob (John 4:1-42).

Tsavxue Ham (far left) with other leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church

Even though Ham lives in a region with a lot of religious persecution, the Holy Spirit has worked through the Word preached by Ham to add more than 25 congregations to the HFC in the last two years. He is a strong leader not only in the church but also in the community as well. Many prominent doctors in Vietnam admire his medical knowledge.

Currently Ham’s hospital only has room for 15 patients. He has to send many patients home after their visit due to the limited space. Ham does not charge his patients for their services. Instead, he and his wife work very hard on their farm to provide food and medicine to the sick. Ham said, “We are poor, but there is nothing more precious than sharing Jesus with others. My wife and I work hard on our farm to make sure we can provide three meals per day and shelter for our patients because we want to seize the opportunity to share Jesus to our poor patients during their stay with us.” Ham’s wife, Ntxawm Muas, said, “My daughters and sons-in-law are also willing to work hard on their farm to support their father’s work, to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” Being poor is not an obstacle for Ham and his family to serve Christ and his patients.

Ham and his wife have three daughters and three sons. All of them are married except the youngest son. Two of his sons are studying medicine in Hanoi, Vietnam. They plan to return to the village to help in their father’s micro-hospital so that their father may have more time for the church. Not only do Ham and his wife work hard for the work of the Lord, but the entire family is working hard on their farm to make sure that they can provide meals, medicine, and shelter for the sick. Ham’s daughters help his wife prepare three meals per day for his patients. Sometimes Ham has to go up to the mountains for days or weeks just to collect herbs to help his patients.

In my entire life, with the exception of my grand-uncle, I have never seen a person as dedicated to the work of the Lord as Ham in the Hmong community. He has been a Christian since 1997 and has been serving the church and his patients for 20 years. Ham heard the gospel through my grand-uncle, Pastor Ntsuabvas Lor, who was murdered in 1999 because of his faith in Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, please keep Ham and his family in your prayers!

Written by: Pastor Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

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The Good News does not stop with you!

Mexico City – 8.9 million people.

Bogotá, Colombia – 7.8 million people.

Buenos Aires, Argentina – 3 million people.

Quito, Ecuador – 2.6 million people.

These are just four of the many cities in Latin America. Many, many more are scattered around the two continents. Many, many, many people live in them. How do you reach them all?

I pray the answer lies in men like Rolando Mena.

Missionary Nathan Schulte

At the end of May, Rolando came to Quito, Ecuador, as our guest presenter in our first on-the-ground event to begin mission work in the country. The workshops highlighted the movie, My Son My Savior, the Samaritan woman in John 4, and included a detailed presentation of the law and gospel. Rolando’s passion shone through as he explained the hope we have guaranteed in Christ.

Interestingly enough, that weekend in Quito was also the first time I had met Rolando face-to-face.

Rolando Mena is a leader at our church in La Paz, Bolivia. Before joining the Lutheran church about seven years ago, Rolando had been growing increasingly bothered by Pentecostal and Calvinist congregations and teachings. He had also been warned about the Lutheran church, “The Reformation only reestablished a bit of the main teachings of the Bible. There is a lot more,” his friends had told him. In addition, he was wary of Lutheranism because of the influence of its most liberal branches. Not a good start.

However, Rolando is a classical musician who plays viola and God decided to use that talent to get him through the doors of the church. Through his years at the university, Rolando really appreciated studying Bach. He also knew that Bach was a Lutheran. So, one day he visited a Lutheran church and met Missionary Phil Strackbein and Pastor Julio Ascarrunz.

The rest is history, as they say… but not really.

Just as Barnabas worked with Paul and Paul worked with Timothy and Timothy worked with many others (2 Timothy 2:2), the Latin American missionary team focuses on “chains of disciples.” The good news must not end with us! From the very start, just like the Samaritan woman in John 4, we can tell others about Jesus. Each and every one of us.

Dan and Joyce invite people to the outreach event

That’s the message we focus on and that is one of the reasons we invited Rolando to present in Ecuador. We want to involve others. We have to involve and train others. Unless more people tell more people about Jesus, Latin America won’t hear about her Savior. We need people like Rolando…

… and Dan, Joyce, Peg, Matt, Greta, and Steve. Rolando wasn’t the only foreigner in Ecuador that weekend. Mission Journeys, the new WELS short-term mission program, also sent a group from St. Matthew’s in Oconomowoc, Wis., to help prepare, promote, and host the event. This new initiative is meant to let congregations visit and help mission fields, both home and abroad, and to bring a little piece of mission zeal back to their lives and congregations.

The good news does not stop with you!

Written by: Missionary Nathan Schulte, Latin American Missions

Want to learn more about WELS Mission Journeys and how you can get involved? Visit wels.net/missionjourneys.

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Bearing Much Fruit

I want to tell you about a friend. We’ll say her name is “Lydia”. We started working in this city in East Asia because of her and her husband. When I first got to town, I thought they’d be critical factors in the work here. But as the year went on I saw their life being filled up with, well, life. Both husband and wife worked; and they have a son who is very smart and also very strong willed, which can make for a lot of work at two years old. On top of that, they bought a home and are renovating it. That’s a full life. So in my mind I said “goodbye for a while” and hoped they could continue to study with us. I couldn’t really see them helping lead or being a main contributor to our ministry while their lives were so busy.

That’s how it went until after this last winter break. I saw them a bit (if they could make it), or I’d sporadically go over to their place if they had time. After winter break she called me up and said she wanted to give a presentation. When we got to her home, she had copies and a projector set up.

Her presentation was about mothers.

She wanted to help. In her own life she saw the difficulty of raising a child, and she also saw it in others: the loneliness, the huge change in social life, the work, and many mixed feelings of guilt, anger, and even child abuse. She wanted to do something about it. So she told me of her plan to create a support program for moms. They would find a time to meet together to learn how to parent, to give them a break to develop friendships with other women, and to provide a time to hear about forgiveness and the gospel comfort as they raise their children. A ‘support for moms’ program to take on the challenges of raising a child in this culture.

To put it mildly, I was blown away. I had resigned to the fact that they would be occasional “receivers” of the work here. Maybe they’d come once or twice a month, but we wouldn’t see too much of them. But instead, God was working in her something massive. In fact, this is so big that she quit her job to focus on the program. Can you imagine quitting your job to dedicate yourself to serving others and sharing the gospel? She wanted to do just that, especially to this specific group.

There’s so much here that I would love to talk more about, but I’ll just mention one more thing. Last week at our Bible study we focused on John 15, the vine and branches. Jesus promises, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Those who remain in Jesus will bear much fruit. That verse made me think about our expectation of Jesus’ promise. Maybe I had been looking for some consistent fruit from her – like a good ole’ reliable apple, or some other plant like wheat or corn – i.e. faithful attendance to studies and consistent outreach work. But maybe God was growing in her some other fruit that takes a bit longer to develop. Maybe like a sweet cherry tree. The sweet cherry tree can take from four to seven years to see fruit; but once it blooms, it produces a large quantity of sweet, much sought after cherries. Maybe God was slowly building in Lydia something that would produce a little later, but something much sweeter and richer in taste.

We can wonder about that same promise of Jesus in our lives, especially when we can’t see the fruit right away. Does that mean we can reverse the logic and say, “I must not be connected to Jesus because I can’t see the fruit?” While that could be the case sometimes, I think we can also rest in God’s promise. He says you will bear much fruit. Maybe you can’t see it right now, or it’s not the kind you are thinking of, but Jesus is connected to you and in you – and you will bear fruit.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Adversity Turned to Blessing

God can turn any adversity into unexpected blessing! We need think no further than Joseph in Egypt… or Iliyan Itsov in Bulgaria. As many of the Roma people (aka gypsies), Iliyan was working away from home in Italy when adversity struck. Injuries from a serious car accident cost him his job and forced him to return to his village in Bulgaria. While he was recovering, his pastor asked him to consider becoming a pastor in the Bulgarian Lutheran Church. Iliyan eagerly signed on for the three-year seminary program sponsored by WELS, which required him to make many trips to St. Sophia Seminary in Ukraine.

Missionary Iliyan Itsov

His time for graduation came in the fall of 2015, and adversity of a different sort struck. The Bulgarian Lutheran Church, which already had five pastors for its four congregations, had no place for him to serve. This time it was the WELS Board for World Mission’s Europe Committee which turned adversity into blessing. It called Iliyan to begin a new mission effort, called Outreach to Roma. As a Roma himself, Pastor Itsov can relate to the rather closed gypsy society; plus, he has numerous relatives and friends scattered around Europe with whom he can share the good news of Jesus.

There are about 13,000,000 Roma in Europe, of which 750,000 live in Bulgaria. Today, only a very few of them travel from place to place in small caravans of horse-drawn wagons (primarily in Slovakia and Hungary). Most live in small villages, separated from and unwelcome in mainstream society. The poverty in these villages is the reason that nearly all Roma families have one or two members working in Western Europe – and sending money home for the rest of the family to survive on. For example, for 10 years Itsov’s mother has supported her extended family by working as a cleaning lady in Italy.

Itsov’s call gives him the freedom to gather groups wherever the Lord provides opportunity. Following the example of St. Paul in Acts, Itsov gathers interested people in a village, asks them to select a leader, and then provides that leader with training and materials to use. Itsov may visit two or three times a month, but in his absence the leader conducts worship, reading sermons Itsov provides. As of this writing, five groups, scattered across Bulgaria, are worshiping regularly. In addition, the Outreach to Roma van regularly hauls seven or eight people to the Bulgarian Lutheran Church service in Dunavtsi.

Outreach to Roma – Vacation Bible School

The work hasn’t always been easy – and hasn’t always borne visible fruit. At the invitation of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Germany, Itsov spent several months trying, unsuccessfully, to gather groups in Germany. In one village, the tires on the Outreach to Roma van were slashed, and Itsov was threatened with a beating if he showed his face there again.

Now another adversity has struck. Itsov is battling serious health issues. But, once again, adversity has also led to blessing. It has given WELS the opportunity to show love and care as brothers and sisters in Christ. We, through WELS Christian Aid and Relief, have sent $13,000 to help with the costs of his surgery and treatments.

The Lord is using Itsov’s ministry. In a service in the village of Zlataritsa during the month of November, 15 adults and 6 children were baptized. Last month, 20 people were confirmed there. These are just a few examples of how God is blessing his outreach. Join me in praying that Outreach to Roma will see a growing number brought to the Gospel, as God turns the adversity of their difficult lives into eternal blessings.

Written by: Rev. John F. Vogt, WELS Regional Coordinator for Eastern Europe

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Now I Believe

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

I didn’t know what he meant.

I heard his words, but I didn’t grasp his message. I wondered what he was really saying. What was the meaning behind the words? Was he even talking to me? Or to someone else? Or was he just talking to himself? Three times he repeated the same thing:

“Now I believe.”

I was a bit uncertain about his words because I had just walked up to him. His name is Bright Pembeleka. He is the pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Blantyre, Malawi. He’s been serving in the public ministry for 13 years.

Bright Pembeleka graduated from the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia in 2005

We both had come to the same place: the mortuary. We were collecting the body of a Lutheran Church member. Pastor Pembeleka has been there before. Many times.

As a pastor he knows the routine all too well when someone dies: visiting the family, preparing the sermon, leading the worship, saying the prayers, conducting the burial service. But this time was different. Powerfully different. Life-changingly different.

This time he would not wear the robe of a preacher but the cloak of grief. The Lutheran member who passed away wasn’t just a church member, the person was his own daughter. Edina was 21 years old. Just 21!

It’s not supposed to happen this way! But it did.

Watching one coffin after another being carried out of the mortuary and being placed into waiting vehicles reminded me once again: The old must die. The young can.

We waited while the embalmers did their job. Sensing an opening in the conversation, I risked asking Pastor Pembeleka what he meant by what he said, “Now I believe.” His explanation came freely, though heavily – it didn’t just land in my ears, it settled in my heart.

“I have officiated at a lot of funerals. I did so because it was my job. It was part of my work. But now it is happening to me… now is really the first time I know what it means to grieve. Now I am the one experiencing the pain. Now I know the heart-ache that others have talked about.

Now. I. FEEL.”

His eyes were reddening with tears. His voice was cracking with sorrow. His heart was breaking with pain. The cloak he wore was both dark and heavy.

Now I believe.

Grief seized him and gripped him. He and his wife and children would now be the ones to weakly stand, then kneel beside the pile of fresh dirt. Even fall upon it.

Maybe you’ve been there – waiting at the mortuary. Visiting at the funeral home. Walking the path to the grave. Placing a wreath of flowers. If so, you understand. If not, you likely will. Because sooner or later death touches the ones we love.

Malawi National Pastors at the Funeral

The cloak is dark and heavy.

Pastor Pembeleka would be at the funeral, but this time he wouldn’t be leading the service. His brothers in Christ would. Fellow servants and seasoned preachers. A band of disciples who gathered, supported, encouraged, prayed and rallied around their grieving brother and family.

Some of whom have buried their own children. They know. They have experienced. They understand. They FEEL. They believe.

They gave what they had, and what they had was what was needed most: the Word of God. After all, it had something to say to Pastor Pembeleka, his wife, his children and everyone there. It has something to say to you who weren’t. At a Christian funeral, GRIEF isn’t the only cloak worn on such days! So is the robe righteousness. The mantle of God’s grace. God has draped his people with a love that seizes and grips and doesn’t let go.

In death there is life! (John 11: 25, 26)

Most fittingly, Pastor Eliya Petro chose and preached on the assuring words found in John’s first letter, ”God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life…” (1 John 5: 11, 12). Edina has life because the Son has her!

A chorus of Lutheran women, uniformed in purple and white, confidently sang that truth again and again as they walked in a long double line to the funeral house, “She’s in the hands of God, yes, she’s in the hands of God.”

She is… because Jesus has conquered death!

She is… because Jesus lives!

She is… because Jesus has taken away her sin!

Pastor Pembeleka, you and your brothers have taught your congregations well. The people, whether sitting in the pew at church or sitting on the ground in a graveyard or kneeling close to the pile of dirt, have heard the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ from you. Week after week, sermon after sermon, service after service, funeral after funeral. Look around, dear brother. The gospel has done miraculous and marvelous things!

The people are expressing the very faith that God has given them. They are sharing the good and comforting news of Jesus with you and your family when you are the one grieving, the one paining, the one sorrowing, the one experiencing. They are serving you, standing with you when you are the one feeling.

Thank you, Pastor, for showing your humanness. Your frailty. Your need. Thank you for sharing your pain and your sorrow and your tears. When we are weak, then we are strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 10)

Now I believe.

In my weakness and God’s strength,

Missionary John Holtz, Malawi

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Wait! How Do I Pray?

“Let’s close our bible story and pray.”

Pastor Joe asked this simple request, and panic broke out from two neighborhood boys who were attending the “Garden, Baking and Bible” event. This is a weekly, after school activity built around the Bylas Community Garden located on the Our Savior’s Lutheran Church property. It serves as a member-run outreach tool for the Bylas community to use to introduce families to the forgotten practice of gardening, healthy eating, and the Bible as the only hope for salvation.

“WAIT, how do we pray? We’ve never prayed before.”

Pastor Joe with Garden, Baking and Bible visitors

They said it innocently and in honest confusion. It was their first time attending the Garden, Baking and Bible class… but they had heard that if you came, helped weed and water and listened to the Bible story, then there would be food to make and eat at the end.

The other children told them to fold their hands – and rightly so, but this caused more confusion as they asked, “Why does that matter?” The other kids couldn’t easily answer. And so we had a little lesson on talking to God. The boys and all the children learned how God wants us to talk to Him and how, as Pastor Joe says the words, they can think about them more if they are folding their hands and not playing with the stones and their shoelaces etc. They learned that folding your hands isn’t necessary, but it helps us think about the words we’re saying to God. They learned that God – who made the storm calm down immediately, who created the entire world, who loves them and forgives all their naughtiness (aka “sins”) – can truly hear the prayers they pray when they think them to God or say them aloud.

The Bylas members want to share God’s saving messages of hope, the peace of knowing forgiveness, the healing that comes from the only one with power (not the medicine man), and the joy that comes from knowing how much God loves us. After exploring several “fun ideas” that might attract kids and families from the community, gardening was chosen. An initial grant from the First Things First organization while also partnering with the University of Arizona allowed the church grounds to have a section of their land rota-tilled and set up with fertilizer and a simple irrigation system. The church simply had to provide a fenced in area (so the feral horses don’t eat all the crops – which has happened, but that’s for another blog). Weeding, watering and planting all happened in order to harvest:

  • “The Three Sisters” (corn, beans, and squash planted together)
  • Sugar cane
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Peppers
  • Popcorn

Kids walk from near and far to help, to taste the “unique” good-for-you food, and to hear the Bible stories. Teenagers have come and often ask to read stories to the kids. The kids are so disappointed when we have to end, and they so badly want to know MORE:

“What happens when Joseph’s brothers find out that it’s HIM?’, ‘But what will happen if Pharaoh NEVER lets the people go?’; ‘Please, read more. Please, one more story.”

This month the garden program will be visited by Tribal chairmen and dignitaries, First Things First program leaders, and University of Arizona dignitaries as it won “Most Active” garden and also encouraged healthy food choices. BUT, the Our Savior’s members know the real win is that at least 6 of these children now come to church and Sunday school regularly because they know the church people and want to hear more about how much they are loved. Those who don’t yet come to church are winning too, as they hear God’s Words of hope and get to PRAY every week at Garden, Baking and Bible.

Written by: Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn how your church can host an Apache Mission Festival Sunday, visit nativechristians.org.

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Reaching the Vietnamese

Have you heard about Friends of Vietnam?

Friends of Vietnam, Inc. (FOV) is the international outreach arm of Peace In Jesus Lutheran Church (a predominantly Vietnamese congregation) in Boise, Idaho. FOV endeavors to reach out through educational opportunities by supplying English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers to Vietnam in order to witness about Jesus in private settings. FOV also strives to bring students into the United States to study at WELS schools. FOV is building bridges for the gospel between Vietnam and the U.S. through education. The FOV Board was established in August 2016 and has an aggressive plan to bring the gospel to Vietnamese souls. There are some exciting things happening in Vietnam! What follows is an interview with Mr. Hưu Trung Lê, President of the Friends Of Vietnam Board:

Q: What are the goals of FOV?

Friends of Vietnam is an exciting and new ministry striving to accomplish two main goals: 1) prepare and send individuals to Vietnam to teach English and also share the Good News in private settings, and 2) assist students in Vietnam to come study in schools of our fellowship in the United States. The vision includes bringing students from Vietnam to study at WELS elementary schools, high schools, and colleges. In pursuit of fostering friendships and understanding between Vietnamese and American cultures, Friends of Vietnam endeavors to connect more Vietnamese souls to the gospel.

Q: Why is FOV important, in your view?

FOV is really important because we are striving to share the gospel with some areas still in the dark. We would like to share the correct teaching about Jesus with Vietnamese people. The bridge of the gospel is important, so FOV is trying to build many such bridges.

Q: What FOV success stories might you be able to share?

Our first FOV teacher is in Vietnam right now! He had a very difficult time at first in Vietnam due to the challenges of living in a new country, the language barrier, etc., but now he is settled in and has a good job teaching English at ILA English center in Saigon. He continues teaching four classes a week, on Saturday and Sunday. Our teacher’s manager at the school did an evening classroom observation and he was really impressed with the class, and he thought our teacher was doing a good job. Our teacher plans on continuing his contract with this school through October 2018.*

*name withheld due to security concerns

FOV President Hưu Trung on a survey visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Q: What is your dream for FOV?

My dream is that we bring more students to our WELS schools so the young generation of Vietnamese people can know more about the gospel, and to place more teachers in Vietnam. Maybe someday we will have our own Lutheran high school in Vietnam! And more importantly, I dream one day we will have a Vietnamese Lutheran Church in fellowship with WELS in Vietnam, so we could have regular worship. My dream is that more people in Vietnam will hear the gospel and believe in God. We try our best to follow what Jesus taught us in Matthew 4:19: “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’” That is what FOV is trying to do.

To learn more about Friends of Vietnam, visit their website at www.friendsofvietnam.net or check out their Facebook page.

If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved with Friends of Vietnam, please call the general line at (208) 912-8283, or Hưu Trung Lê at (208) 891-5344.

Interview conducted by Rev. Daniel Kramer: Peace in Jesus Lutheran Church – Boise, ID

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A Man of Many Hats

Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions teach that the public ministry may assume various forms. For example, public ministers of the gospel may serve as a parish pastor, a world missionary, a seminary professor, a mission counselor, a synod president or as the editor of a theological publication. Theoretically, a WELS pastor could serve in all of these forms of public ministry at different times. But typically no man would serve in all these roles at the same time… unless your name is Alvien De Guzman.

Pastor Alvien De Guzman and wife Marieta

Now, please don’t misunderstand. Pastor De Guzman is not a Lutheran “Superman”. He is as flawed as every other minister of the gospel. Rather, what he is (as the only confessional Lutheran in fellowship with the WELS in the country of the Philippines) is a man who is serving in a lot of roles at the same time. You might say that these days, Alvien De Guzman is “wearing a lot of different hats.”

Actually, it’s been that way since the beginning of his relationship with WELS. In 2014, Pastor De Guzman’s first hat was as a tent minister, devoting his weekends and evenings to conducting Bible classes in his home, while also working a secular job. Shortly thereafter, Pastor De Guzman began working with WELS Multi-Language Publications to develop confessional Lutheran materials in his native language of Tagalog. He put on the hat of a religious publications editor.

About that same time, through the financial support offered to him by WELS Board for World Missions, Pastor De Guzman became a full-time mission explorer. In consultation with our Asia-Pacific Rim Administrative Committee, he developed an outreach plan for several barangays (neighborhoods) in Novaliches, a suburb of Manila. He planted a congregation which bears the name Law and Gospel Lutheran Church. He looked for ways to connect with his community. Over the course of time, the Lord brought through his doors a growing number of children – Pastor De Guzman then put on the hat of a youth minister. He taught Sunday school and trained others to do the same.

More recently, Pastor De Guzman has donned the hat of a multi-parish pastor. Preaching stations have opened in neighboring suburbs of Navotas City and Cavite. The opportunities to bring the gospel to new locations have begun to stretch Pastor De Guzman to the limit. Who would provide the workers for these fields the Lord was opening to him?

Law and Gospel Lutheran Church – Manilla, Philippines

In a very short period of time, three different men who recently left the Lutheran Church of the Philippines for confessional reasons have requested further theological training from WELS. They are eager to serve alongside Pastor De Guzman. But first Pastor De Guzman will need to don the hat of a seminary professor – teaching classes and monitoring the field experiences of these men, under the direction of WELS Pastoral Studies Institute.

God willing, all of these men will one day shepherd congregations of their own, united with Law and Gospel Lutheran Church as an independent church body, in fellowship with WELS. It will be a new synod in the Philippines, with a new synod president – and another hat for someone to wear.

God knows what the future holds for our mission work in the Philippines. But from my human perspective, I expect that for the foreseeable future, one man will continue to wear a lot of hats. May God grant this man the grace to wear each of his hats well, for his sake and for the sake of those he shepherds, in Jesus’ name.

Written By: Rev. Robb Raasch – Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Rim Administrative Committee

Want to see more photos from the WELS World Missions and Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) visit to the Philippines? Check out the WELS Missions Flickr album.

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Inner Peace! Inner Peace!

In the movie Kung Fu Panda, poor Master Shifu cannot find any peace. He tries to meditate; he chants the words, “inner peace, inner peace” over and over again, but nothing changes. There is no peace for him. He just has too much on his mind… there are too many troubles, nothing is going the way that it is supposed to go. Worst of all, his enemy is coming, and his student (fat panda Po) is much better at eating noodles than he is at learning Kung Fu.

Maybe your life feels like that sometimes. It’s difficult to live with inner peace. There is so much to do. There is so much that could be done better. There is stress and uncertainty. There are unmet expectations that you put on yourself and others put on you. There are setbacks and disappointments. There are often mental and physical roadblocks to important things you are trying to get done. Life rarely ever goes the way you planned it.

In the midst of that storm, you try to have inner peace, but it just will not come to you.

Here’s the problem: When we cannot find inner peace, it is usually because we are trying to do God’s work. I do not mean the ministries we have been assigned – I mean the work that only God can do. Charles Spurgeon once wrote: “You are meddling with Christ’s business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances.” It is not our business to run the world and to make all things work out for the good of the Church. Our business is to trust and to live out our vocations in that trust. God will take care of the rest.

Christ’s birth, death and resurrection is the guarantee that we do not need to worry about God’s business. In fact, we do not need to worry about anything. The angels sung about it: “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” I like the Chinese translation there (from the CSB): 平安临到他所喜悦 的人. “Peace comes to those who delight him.” God delights in you!

As Zephaniah wrote,“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (3:17)

God delights in you because He delights in Jesus who lived a perfect life in your place, died as punishment for your guilt, and rose to guarantee that you are now innocent in God’s sight. When God looks at you, He sees Jesus. He sees perfection. He sees a billion reasons to rejoice and sing. And in that moment – in every moment – He commits himself to working out all things for your good.

So, be at peace. Tomorrow may bring trouble of every kind, but peace is yours through Christ!

Written by: A Missionary in East Asia

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It’s Rally Day!

In 1918, Missionary Edgar Guenther established Open Bible Lutheran Church of Whiteriver, Ariz., one of 9 current WELS churches on the Apache reservation. In the past on Rev. Guenther’s birthday, we set aside time to rally the “troops”; or rather, the members! That was years and years and pastors and pastors ago. We all loved (and needed) that day. The members started asking present Apache Pastor, Kirk Massey, if they could have Rally Day again.

“We sure can. We should rally the members back to church.” said Pastor Massey. However, with a congregation of over 1,000 members, Pastor Massey had his hands full. Many members had stopped coming to church for one reason or the other, and Pastor Massey was making sure to follow up. Many came to church, but also needed their pastor daily. He needed some help and suggested to the ladies, “If you can find some people to organize a big Rally Day – we can have it, but I won’t be able to devote much ministry time to organizing it.”

Brenda Lee wanted to have Rally Day, but she needed help. After asking around, she found help in her Christian sisters at Open Bible Lutheran Church.

Rally Day organizer and Open Bible member, Brenda Lee

“The goal of Rally Day was to bring back straying and lost members into the church. To welcome them with awesome worship, joy-filled fellowship, games, and delicious food.” exclaims Brenda Lee. “And that is what happened – all to God’s glory!”

With a budget of $500, the ladies organized egg and balloon tosses, music, miniature horse rides, lots of games for kids, cream pie throwing at our pastors and teachers (that was a big hit), and a fry-bread making contest for the ladies. Pastor Massey built the fry bread fire, he and the church men were the judges, and the ladies went to work making the traditional fry bread. The fry bread winner received homemade banana bread! In the end, everyone won as they enjoyed traditional fry bread and beans, a potluck of side dishes, and fried chicken brought in from the local grocery store.

Now that Rally day has ended, the ladies can’t stop talking about what else they can do to aid in fellowship and encouragement:

  • Could our other Lutheran reservation churches hold more joint events?
  • Could we host more fellowship days where we could offer support and encouragement to visitors?
  • Is there a way we can gather to offer support for the recovery group attendees from the local neighborhoods and encourage more people to go into recovery from alcohol, drugs, anger and harmful habits?
  • The men said they’d like to teach the women to play horseshoes… can we make an event out of that?

“There are some awesome Christian fellowship opportunity there.” says Brenda Lee, whose head is spinning with all the possibilities.

Her question to other reservation churches and to YOU reading this is:

What can you be a part of organizing at your church that will offer support and encouragement to members who have strayed and to brand new visitors? How can you help strengthen those who are regulars by giving them an opportunity to serve?”

That’s a great question for all of us.

Brenda Lee is a member at Open Bible Lutheran Church in Whiteriver, Ariz. 

Written by: Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn how your church can host an Apache Mission Festival Sunday, contact Debbie at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 

To see more photos from the Apache Mission, visit the WELS Mission Flickr page.

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Faith and Love in Action – Africa

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Are you a planner? I am. At this time of year many people plan what they’d like to accomplish during the year and beyond. As I finish my term of service with the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM), I am starting to make some plans for what comes next. Though planning of some degree is wise and sensible, what happens when plans are upset? Do you feel frustrated or angry, wondering where you went wrong or questioning the wisdom of God?

Many people greet the New Year hoping for prosperity. But how do you define prosperity? Is it based solely on your net worth, or is it based on what you share, be that time, money, or skill? Your definition of prosperity could depend on your definition of “enough”. But what if you don’t have all you need? Does that mean God’s plans for you fizzled, or His promises don’t apply to you?

Some of the rural Malawians that the Lutheran Mobile Clinic serves are wrestling with very grim situations, just like many other people throughout the world. Grave illnesses, the death of the main breadwinner, flood, drought, the breakup of families and other consequences of living in a sinful world have snuffed out the survival and prosperity plans of some of these people. In these circumstances it is easy to forget that God is watching and intervening for their good. Hope is fleeting and future prosperity seems impossible. They may fear that God is guessing, rather than knowing His plans for their lives. They may wonder if God’s promises apply to them.

This is where organizations like CAMM and Christian Aid and Relief come in. We understand, by the grace of God, that His promise in Jeremiah is to us, just as it was to the Israelites who, being carried off into exile, were most certainly wondering about their future. However, as volunteers, donors, and those who pray for these “faith and love in action” organizations, we also understand this promise is not just to us; it is also about us.

Believing that God is the source of every blessing and that everything belongs to Him, we are free to use everything He has given to care for ourselves as we care for others. Because God places us and gives to or withholds from each of us as He sees fit, there is always something you can do for someone in need, whatever that need looks like. Perhaps you have nothing but time; be a full-time volunteer. Maybe God has given you money; give wisely and generously. Have you identified and developed the talents with which you were blessed? Use them in service, wherever you are. Are you enduring a season of life where time is limited, money is tight and you’re unsure of or unable to use your skills? Be a prayer warrior and expect the Lord’s guidance in His time.

Will this be a prosperous year for you? It might depend on your definition of prosperity. However, no matter what sort of year this turns out to be, we are confident in God’s providence, and privileged to share with others, because God is faithful and He never breaks His promises.

Written by: Amanda Artz, Clinic Administrator at the Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Lilongwe, Malawi

P.S. – Want to learn more about the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM)? Visit their website at www.camm.us or follow them on Facebook

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Our Chair Problem – With a Surprising Outcome

The Peridot-Our Savior’s Mission Elementary School has been growing each year. It’s a combined school serving Peridot Lutheran Church (on the school campus), Grace Lutheran in San Carlos (4 miles away) and Our Savior Lutheran in Bylas (25 miles to the East). There are three towns on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, and each one is blessed to have their own Lutheran Church.

Students from Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

In the past five years, the school has grown from 60 students to 70, 80, 110 and now 127 students!

This is an AWESOME blessing from God!
… but this was a HUGE problem for the Peridot-Our Savior’s Christmas Service!

  • None of our churches have enough space to put 127 children, 10 teachers and 300 parents, aunties, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, and community visitors
  • All together, our three churches do not even have 200 folding chairs
  • Renting chairs is $1 a chair, and the rental company wasn’t sure they had more than 100
  • Peridot-Our Savior’s had exhausted it’s budget by putting up a much needed addition in order to accommodate most of the people wanting to send their kids to our Lutheran school
  • It was Bylas’ (25 miles from the school) turn to host this service

And so the school board went to work solving this awesome problem. We needed seating for 127 children, 10 teachers and maybe close to 300 people.

The Apache Tribal office allows tribal members to reserve the Stanley Recreation Hall (a gym) for free! The men of the Bylas Church Council were on it and agreed, that even though we’ve never held a Christmas service outside of one of our churches, it was necessary. They secured the gym and prayed people would come. However, Stanley Hall only owns 75 folding chairs. We wanted 300 chairs – just in case that many came.

The School Board came together and contacted the Apache Gold Casino. They had 200 chairs.

That would help!

For a reimbursable down-payment – they were ours to use. We just had to find men, trucks to pick them up, and a crew to set them up approximately two hours before the service would start because the gym would be used till that time.

After lots of up and downs…

“I can haul chairs.” – “Now I can’t haul the chairs, neither can I, neither can I”.
“You can set up early.” – “You now have to wait three more hours to set up.”
“Some of our chairs are broken.”
“The alternative high school kids will set up the chairs.” – “The alternative high school kids can’t set up the chairs any more.”

… it actually came together and worked!

Robert Olivar, a Bylas church councilman, brought family to help set up chairs. Liza Stanley brought relatives to help decorate. Wilfred and Jayson Stanley hauled chairs. Loren Victor and Beverly Robertson came to sing solos with the kids, the teachers handled last minute signage, and the children came to proclaim the good news.

But the BIG story is, 300 people did NOT come…

Over 550 people came! The gym was filled with almost 700 people including the students… Standing, on bleachers, against the side walls.

The Savior the children proclaimed and the people worshiped was the Savior that took care of all the details. The Savior that has taken care of our biggest problem, sin, also took care of our littlest problem (that we incorrectly thought was big) – chairs!

The Service, Reformation 500 Christmas: Promise Foretold. Gospel Retold. To Scripture We Hold, rang out boldly to more people that any of us expected!

Ben Pagel is principal of Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School. He and Pastor Joe Dietrich of Bylas cannot thank the Apache men of the Peridot-Our Savior School Board and Bylas Church Council enough for all they did to make the school Christmas Service happen! These Apache Lutheran leaders are taking this 1st WELS world mission to new heights. Keep them and their work in your prayers.

To see more photos from the Apache Mission, visit the WELS Mission Flickr page.

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn how your church can host an Apache Mission Festival Sunday, contact Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator, at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Sean Young, Director of Missions Operations, and his wife Kirsten visited our WELS mission field in the area around Novosibirsk, Russia in October 2017. Kirsten documented their stay:

It really hit me at 12:30am when we were standing on the tarmac in rainy Moscow, all trying to get on the plane at once, that “we’re not in Kansas anymore”.

I have met and spoken with both Missionary Luke Wolfgramm and his wife Jennifer before, and I really enjoyed our conversations in the past. I knew we would be very comfortable as their guests during our stay. Our first day in Novosibirsk was spent adjusting to the time change in the fresh air of the Siberian countryside, while getting to know some of the national pastors and vicars. After some much needed recuperation, I could fully enjoy Sunday church services with our Russian brothers and sisters.

We attended two churches, one in Iskitim and the other in Akadem. I didn’t realize how lost I was going to feel during the services. I really wanted to follow along during the first service because I recognized the music, but I could not place where they were. I then realized that’s what it must be like for others to try and hear God’s Word in someone else’s language. Thankfully, we had a wonderful translator in Kate Wolfgramm. During the second service in Akadem I was able to find a Russian hymnal to follow along more and sing some of the hymns. The choir sang during the service and it was so wonderful to just listen and let the Holy Spirit work in my heart since I couldn’t understand the words.

Jennifer Wolfgramm prepares the Children’s Choir in Iskitim

While Sean met with the Russian pastors and took care of the mission operations business during the trip, Jennifer Wolfgramm showed me around Novosibirsk to take in the sights. We toured multiple art museums and cathedrals. From an artist point of view everything was fantastic! But from a Christian’s point of view (who knows the truths of scripture) it was sad to see people not only praying, but KISSING the frames of paintings and relics of either Mary or the Saints. I wanted to go around telling everyone they didn’t need to do that! One of the chapels we tried to visit was closed… but what was even more sad was the lady that spoke with us and conveyed that she was hoping the chapel was open so she could light a candle and say a prayer to a saint because her grandson was sick. Again, I wanted to explain to her that she can just pray to Jesus.

I’m sure I would be thrown in jail quickly if I lived in a foreign mission field.

Kirsten Young with a Russian Shut-In

The Sunday before we left, we were again blessed to attend church in Iskitim. I was prepared this time, making sure to grab a Bible and hymnal from the apartment we were staying in. We only needed Kate to translate the sermons. It was spiritually uplifting (and made me cry both times) to receive communion at both churches with people half way around the world – knowing that they believe in the same thing as me. After church, I got to help Jennifer teach Sunday school to the preschoolers. I helped a 4-year-old boy put together a craft, which was amazing that we could complete it since neither of us knew what the other was saying.

When I think about our visit, I still get chills thinking about prayers we said together – to think that even halfway around the world they’re still understood and applied the way we apply it and the way God intended. We can’t say enough how wonderful of hosts the Wolfgramms are! Thank you, God, for the experience of a lifetime!

Want to see more photos and videos from their trip? Visit the WELS Missions Flickr Album.

Cultural Insights:

  • The Greek Orthodox church is the only religion allowed to freely practice anywhere in the country by the Russian government
  • Russian meals usually start with 2-3 different kinds of cold salads
  • Russians don’t like to pass around food dishes at mealtime – there are always 2-3 different dishes of the same thing spread out around the table.
  • Russians don’t talk in public. They all have their pashminas (scarves) around their necks and usually a phone in hand.
  • Russians see an empty glass as one that NEEDS to be filled (this one we figured out on our own)

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Not a Bite Left, but a Hunger for More

We wanted all members to come together for fellowship. It didn’t work. We wanted everyone to hang out after church and visit. It didn’t work.

HOWEVER, something else worked! We didn’t see it at first…

Our Savior’s Lutheran in Bylas, Ariz. hosted their annual Christmas Dinner – a Mexican Fiesta on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Church was full that morning. The dinner was for all the members. As requested, after church and Bible class the members were given extra time to go home, get their dishes and bring them back for the potluck an hour later.

Only it didn’t work. Most of the congregation members didn’t come back. At first we hardly had anyone and not many dishes to pass at the Mexican Fiesta potluck. YIKES! “I was worried, even though I know I shouldn’t worry and God will work things out.” exclaimed Cecelia, the president of the Ladies Group.

And then enough dishes came. Several families came. Community members who hadn’t been to church in years and several interested neighborhood children came – children who invited their parents who wouldn’t come but said their kids could come. People who had heard about the “Mission Church” and had seen us at community events came.

And so, IT DID WORK. We served food to all of our guests, and some even took extra plates for relatives at home. The last person to eat found one piece of everything left! It was really quite miraculous. Several community members were able to get to know our members. Some even exchanged cell phone numbers so they could join in future events. Members brought friends and family who hadn’t met the pastor yet (who has been here for a full year now) and made solid connections with invites to visit.

There wasn’t a bite of food left at the end – but miraculously we had enough food for everyone and extra for them to take home to hungry relatives that live in their family trailers. And everyone left with a hunger for more Christian fellowship!

Cecelia was satisfied and happy. She had prayed God would use this opportunity to God’s Glory and accomplish whatever He wanted. And for her, she once again learned what we all often have to be shown over and over: that we don’t have to worry. God will always use our efforts to His good plans and for the people He loves!

Cecelia Dillon has served as Ladies Group leader at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Bylas, Ariz. for years – maybe decades. She, her husband and her young and grown children often organize and serve at fellowship gatherings, demonstrating the gift of hospitality that often opens the doors to sharing the Gospel with others.

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn more about this world mission field, contact Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator, at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 

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Time to Tell the Story

One of the many differences about living and working in East Asia is this time of year, Christmas-time. Instead of reminding everyone about the “real meaning” of Christmas or reading about how we need to stop the materialism and stress to enjoy Christmas, I’ve found that over here I more often get to share the answer to this most basic question: “What is Christmas?” Each time I’m asked the question, I’m given another chance to sling my well-rehearsed What-Is-Christmas story. And, “well-rehearsed” is the right word. I probably told the Christmas story individually over 30 times last year. That’s a lot of telling and retelling. Last year, as Christmas drew closer I thought, “I’ll be glad when this is over because I’ve been telling the same story so many times”. I was getting flashbacks of practicing for Christmas pageants as a child, mechanically shout-speaking the words of Luke 2, “IN THOSE DAYS CAESAR AUGUSTUS…” But as Christmas arrived, my attitude was refocused as I got to thinking…

First, I appreciate the opportunity to focus the Christmas story. Sometimes we pack the nativity scene with extra characters, metaphorically and literally, finding every possible story that relates to Christmas to give it a fresh look. However, I’ve found that retelling the simple story of Luke 2 helps me cut it down to the basics. The conditions tell us Jesus’ beginning was a humble one, yet the angels tell us this was a massive event. After telling it so many times, I find myself ending the story by saying something like, “Basically God loved us so much he sent his own son to save us.”

It’s after telling people this focused message over and over that I see just how important this event is. This is God’s love put into action. Here is where I consider myself blessed to have heard other aspects of the Christmas story – of all those who waited for a Savior, or of those who scoured the writings for news about his coming, or about how so many promises of God were completed in this birth. It’s such an important point that I have to add it to my retelling. Unfortunately, I can’t share every detail every time without drawing a blank stare, but I’ll keep working on it. Nonetheless, all those facts tell me that Jesus’ birth is a massively important event – for me and for the person I’m telling it to.

Be like the Bethlehem shepherds, sharing the news of Christ’s birth

That leads me to these thoughts: How can I feel worn out from telling this amazing and important story?! And, how could it feel old when these people are hearing this news for the first time ever?! At Christmas, I’m excited to play the role of a shepherd of Bethlehem who goes throughout the city telling people “about this child.” I’m able to do this because our synod loves these people so much that they support and allow me to live over here to tell them. It’s even more exciting to see the people that have learned the Christmas story and are now becoming “Bethlehem shepherds” themselves, telling this story to others clearly and more naturally in their native language – sharing it better than I ever could.

This isn’t just a phenomenon on this side of the globe. There are people where you live that need to hear the Christmas story too, whether it’s for the first time or retold for the who-knows-how-many-time. This story is worth telling and retelling.

After thinking it through, I was excited for Christmas, and I’m excited for the new year. Let’s go tell the story of Jesus and his love.

By: A Missionary in East Asia

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A Most Blessed, Christ-filled Christmas from Malawi

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

I just have to smile. After all, it’s Christmas time! It’s the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I just have to smile.

I just have to chuckle, too. Christmas is also a time that I do.

Here’s why: at Christmas time my family and I display some of our nativities in remembrance of our newborn King. When setting them up and seeing them displayed, my mind immediately recalls the time I once bought a Crèche in an open air market here in Lilongwe, Malawi.

What’s so funny about that?

Picture this: Mary and Joseph and Jesus, some shepherds, the Wise men, a star,1 a cow, a couple of sheep, a donkey or two…

and a hippo.

My Nativity Scene Hippo celebrating the season

Ok, granted, it is Malawi. It is Africa. And hippopotami are abundant here. And to top it all off, it is a very different culture from the USA. But a nativity scene hippo? Hmmm… maybe this explains a few things.

For years I always pictured that Joseph was wide-eyed in amazement because of the birth of the Baby. Now I’m wondering if his eyes were like saucers because he was a bit worried and astonished that the three-toed, barrel-shaped beast with the beady eyes, big mouth, and bad breath was meandering just a bit too close to the manger.

We all love to sing Silent Night and we seem to think that all was indeed calm, but now I doubt if it was really all that quiet. I mean if

the cattle were lowing,
the sheep were baaing,
the donkeys braying,
and now the hippo gets a bit edgy and chimes in with its snorting, grunting, bellowing and blowing, then maybe the Baby was crying after all with the noise!

And yet we faithfully and confidently proclaim “No crying He makes” when we sing Away in a Manger. Yikes! Strange thoughts run through my mind! I just have to chuckle. I guess it’s fun to have fun with it. Gives a lighter side to the very important and monumental fact of Christmas:

The INCARNATION!

The “ten dollar” word that means God became Man. The second Person of the Trinity, True God, became the “first-born among many brothers,” True Man! (Romans 8:29).

Born to die!
Died to live!
Descended to earth so that we might ascend to Heaven!

That means we can sing Joy to the World with gusto all year round if we want! We have untold, incalculable, immeasurable, even indescribable joy not just on the 25th of the last month of the year. That gives us reason to worship every day of the year!

And worship we do. All around the globe Lutherans are worshiping this Christmas season. Which brings up something to ponder again at this time: Lutherans worship in different cultures and different cultures worship in different ways. Lutherans in fellowship worship in different ways. Even at Christmas.

The instruments played in your church may not be the ones in ours. Dancing choirs may be common place here, but not there. Your congregation dresses one way, but they do so very differently on the other side of the world…or maybe even on the other side of town.

There really wasn’t a hippo in the stable on that first Christmas in Bethlehem, but it didn’t seem to bother the marketer much that he included one in the nativity set he sold me. I walked away with a good deal and a good deal to ponder each Christmas in Africa: there are many differences at Christmas time in Malawi compared to an American Christmas in Wisconsin. Here are some:

  • No snow! While you may be singing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” we are opening up our umbrellas because it’s the front end of the rainy season.
  • Decorations? There are a few but there are probably more in one Wisconsin Walmart than in the whole country of Malawi.
  • I’ve never seen a Christmas tree set up in a Malawian house.
  • Strings of lights framing houses? Are you kidding? Most houses don’t have electricity hooked up and the ones that do don’t have power most of the time anyway.
  • The most common and most favorite Christmas meal in Malawi seems to be chicken and rice.
  • I have never seen or heard of a Living Nativity in Malawi enacting the Christmas story. (Maybe it’s because it’s too difficult to get the hippo to cooperate).

Plenty of differences, but there are also similarities:

God’s people gather for worship.
Sins are confessed and songs are raised.
The Word of God is preached.
The Bethlehem Story is pondered.
Gospel news shared.
Fellowship enjoyed.

The Babe in the manger is honored with humble gifts and worshiped with happy voices. I just have to smile… at the absurdity of it all. There are many things more surprising than a hippo in a Nativity set! Imagine…

A God in love with us!
A night sky of angels exploding in song!
Shepherds who seek!
A virgin birth!
A believing husband-to-be!
God becoming Man!
A leading star!
Wise men who followed and those who still do!

And there still are missionaries who live in far off lands who, at Christmas time, still set up trees, decorate their houses and string lights even though there’s little power. Some still display nativity sets… with or without a hippo. On behalf of the Lutheran Mission in Malawi, have a most blessed Christ-filled Christmas!

By: Missionary John Holtz – Malawi

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Mexico – Not Quite Potlucks and Pipe Organs

I’m a pretty WELSie (WELSy?) guy. I could bore you with details, but suffice to say I feel pretty connected to a lot of people in our synod. And I don’t consider that to be a bad thing of course! I truly enjoy seeing how God has woven together people to do his work. I enjoy a good potluck with a long line of Midwest-made casseroles. I enjoy a pipe organ blasting out the old Lutheran favorites.

But I live in Mexico and I serve as missionary in Latin America. My background and what I enjoy might not matter all that much.

In this part of the world very, very few people share my commitment to potlucks and pipe organs. Much more troubling is this: very few people share my Spirit-given understanding of God’s commitment to mankind in his Son Jesus Christ.

While the souls of men are dying (to quote a favorite hymn), you’ve got to ask yourself again and again and again:

Is the most effective way to share the Gospel the way I/we are doing it? Maybe it doesn’t need to be said again (but probably should be stated anyways) that the message will not change. Pure grace is non-negotiable… as is every other stroke of the inspired Scriptural pen.

A fellow missionary on our Latin America Missionary team, Terry Schultz, recently came to Mexico. Terry is a Doctor of Ministry with coursework in Ethnomusicology. Until his recent visit, I wasn’t 100% what that was.

As we toured around Mexico, celebrating the Reformation with a few of the widely scattered Lutherans in this country, Terry shared his songs. Songs designed to share the unchangeable message in ways that make sense to the people who are hearing them.

The confession of sins is there. The song of praise after the absolution is there. The Song of Simeon. Even a Kyrie. Many of the hymns have lyrics ripped directly from the pages of the Bible. To a pretty WELSie (WELSy) guy like me, the music was unfamiliar. Prior to spending the last 11 ½ years in a couple different countries thousands of miles south of the “WELS heartland”, to be honest the beat pounded out on a conga drum probably would have made me at least a little bit nervous.

It did not make the people in Mexico nervous at all. Most of the people who attended the workshops were long-time and/or lifetime Lutherans. They love the message of pure grace in Jesus. It is not an exaggeration to say that they were overjoyed when they heard that precious message expressed with music that makes sense to them and makes sense to the people outside their small gatherings whom they have an overwhelming desire to reach.

At first, Terry tried to get me to play a drum so that I could provide a little supporting rhythm as he played his music on our short tour. Me. The very WELSie (WELSy?) guy with an affection for casseroles and pipe organs. Wrong guy. Putting me on the conga is like putting habanero pepper in your 7-layer salad. But it’s not about me, is it? And if putting the Gospel to a cumbia beat gives our brothers and sisters the opportunity to share Jesus with just one more person, then by all possible means.

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:22

By: Missionary Andrew Johnston – Leon, Mexico

P.S. – Want to learn more about how World Missions and Multi-Language Publications are using ethnomusicology? Check out this video.

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Thankful to Be Let Go

“I’m sorry, but I can’t be your teacher anymore …”

It is rarely enjoyable to be let go. It’s challenging when your boss tells you that he or she can no longer keep you on staff – the pain and the sadness are real. Oftentimes, it leads to us to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” and, “Where do I go from here?”

If you have ever spent significant time learning another language, more than likely you have invested in a teacher or tutor. After 3 years of serving on the East Asia mission field, I have not met a better tutor than Linda. Linda, a professional teacher in our local preschool, is encouraging to all of the skill levels that enter her classroom, and she also knows how to push each student to give their best effort (my 5-year-old son thrives in her class as one of the few foreign children). She and her husband both serve as teachers in our school system while also raising their young son without full-time daycare assistance from the grandparents, which is very uncommon where we live. On top of all of this, Linda has been my regular language tutor along with tutoring several other missionaries on our field. When the missionaries gather, the conversation often turns to the blessings of studying with Linda.

While it seems somewhat trivial to be sad over being “let go” as a student, the truth is many of us on this mission field know that Linda is one of the best. We genuinely enjoy her company! We had always told Linda that if she ever needed to step away from teaching us, we would not be upset but instead be supportive and understanding. As I considered this possibility, I never figured I would feel “thanksgiving” for Linda letting me go as a student, but that is exactly how I feel and how our mission team feels right now.

Linda and her husband Adam have a strong desire to share their Savior with the lost souls living around them. They saw potential for a new church plant in our area, and this past summer they moved to our neighborhood. For years they have been growing under the guidance of our missionaries, Friend of China teachers, and national Lutheran pastors (graduates from our seminary in Hong Kong). Part of the reason Linda was eager to tutor us was to enable us to serve the people in the local language. Now she is a part of the core group that is launching a sister church in our neighborhood this upcoming Thanksgiving weekend. Adam and Linda are answering the call to prepare this location for worship, which includes taking the time to meet with local prospects that are interested in learning about Jesus and what it means to go to church. In summary, Linda has stopped training the missionaries so that she herself could go and serve the people – her people – by sharing the Gospel in her native tongue. This is something she can do far better than any of the foreign missionaries could ever even dream of doing.

The Apostle Paul gave thanks for the work God did in the hearts of his brothers and sisters:

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 1:2

This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for our partners in ministry and their excitement to share their faith, love, and hope in Jesus. So, yes, it actually feels good to be let go because we get to watch our God accomplish great things through servants like Adam and Linda. Please keep this young church in your prayers.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving (and eat some extra turkey for the missionaries who can’t get any)!

By: A Missionary in East Asia

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Reformation Rain

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

It doesn’t rain in October in Malawi. October is an oven preheated to broil. The sun is intense. The heat blisters. The ground hardens. Rivers dry and the lakes recede. It never rains in October in Malawi.

But to everyone’s surprise, showers fell on the 29th of October. People are still talking about it. “Hey, did you hear…?” That was the very day that most churches in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa – Malawi Synod (LCCA-MS) were celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.

A Mother Nature mistake? A global warming mix-up? Climate change chaos?

Or…the gift of God?

I prefer the later. After all, if God controls ALL things, then doesn’t He also have command of the weather? Interestingly, as the rains pounded the roof and streaked the windows during the worship service at Our Good Shepherd in Mzimba, the liturgist Pastor Milton Nyirenda was reading the Scripture lesson:

“As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread from the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10.11)

Like lightning, it struck me: it was raining more on the inside of the church than on the outside! Not because there was a hole in the roof, but because the LORD was showering His people with His grace!

Women’s Choir from Madalitso, Malawi

A raining of the life-giving gospel message. An unending downpour of good news in Jesus. A surprising cloudburst of love and forgiveness. This rain had already started to fall in the Garden of Eden and has continued to this day. 500 years ago Martin Luther got soaked. On the 29th of October 2017, so did we. On that day in Mzimba, and throughout Malawi, God’s grace in Jesus was proclaimed, preached, taught, received, shown, sung and danced! Even drawn and colored!

The picture at the beginning of this post shows some of the northern region ladies coloring Luther’s Seal or Coat of Arms. We studied the meaning and Scripture truths behind each of the five components that make up the Seal:

  • The black cross
  • The red heart
  • The white rose
  • The blue sky
  • The gold ring

Luther’s “logo” proclaims his faith and theology and ours as well. Isn’t the cross not only the central message of Scripture, but also central to our lives? Aren’t our hearts alive in Christ and beating with His love? Aren’t we, saints dressed in the white robes of salvation, place delicately in a joyous white rose of hope? With a firm resolution, hasn’t Jesus promised His second coming? And don’t we, with eager expectation and with our spiritual eyes to the skies, look forward to it? Isn’t God’s love more precious than gold and as unending as a circle?

A resounding YES to each one! With Jesus being the Answer to each question, every one of them falls upon us like rain: cool, refreshing, invigorating, motivating.

No wonder the Lord included verse 10 in Ephesians chapter 2: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Apparently God must have been quite busy prior to the 29th of October because on that day His people were actively doing the good works He prepared for them:

Structures were erected.
Tarps were hung.
Food was prepared.
Guests served.
Dishes washed.
Hospitality was extended.
Offerings were given.
Shut-ins were visited.
Songs were sung.
Gifts were shared.
Children were taken care of.
Cups of cold water were given to thirsty people.

But there was not a greater work done that day than what God was doing for us by raining down His Grace in Word and Sacrament. Vicar Frank Mukhweya preached his sermon using the theme that was previously chosen and used by all the other LCCA-MS called workers who stood in the pulpit that day. It was the same text that is imprinted on the special Reformation chitenje (skirts) that the LCCA-MS had designed and made for this significant occasion: Chipulumutso chichokera kuchisomo (We are saved by grace).

The text was preached, the Lord’s Supper was received and God tipped the water jars. His people were doused. And if you ever wonder what the weather will be like the next time you go to your church, just open up your Bible to Ephesians 2:1-10. No matter the day or the month, there you can count on Reformation rain.

By: Missionary John Holtz – Malawi

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Grace in Indonesia

For the past 14 years, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI) has been working together with WELS as a sister church body. It has been a blessing and an honor for us to be involved together in spreading the gospel to the many people who are lost and thirsty for the truth in my country. Only the Gospel, through which the Holy Spirit works, can bring more people to know God’s plan of salvation through Tuhan Yesus Kristus – The Lord Jesus Christ.

Reformation is observed every year in Indonesia at every congregation and preaching station of GLI. As we celebrate the 500th Reformation anniversary this year, we are especially thankful for the ordination of new pastors in 2017, which brings the total of ordained ministers in GLI to 20. Also related to this year’s Reformation celebration was a church music seminar for teens and young adults, with a focus on equipping them with a better understanding of biblical music and song. Another special event was a theological conference in October for our called workers and seminary students in Indonesia that elicited specific discussions about liturgy and preaching methods.

Looking ahead, we are currently planning Vacation Bible School 2018, an exciting four day event which will include around 130 young men and women from all regions of Indonesia where GLI is doing the work of Gospel ministry. These younger members will have the opportunity to learn more about their church, their Savior, God’s Outreach Plan of Salvation, being “the next generation” of our church, and the importance of biblical knowledge in daily life. Through this special event we hope to engage more of our young people and encourage them to be involved in GLI’s ministry both now and in the future.

The expression “one size doesn’t fit all” explains the unique challenges and struggles in Indonesia since the geographic areas of ministry are many and so diverse. Some of us struggle with regulatory controls, extremism, and political tension. Others struggle with practical challenges such as the lack of electricity and even clean water in remote areas. These challenges mean that outreach is never the same from one area to another, or from one day to the next.

However, Jesus IS the one size that fits all! We must always remember these words of the Apostle Paul:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” – Romans 1:16

The Apostle Paul encourages us to be confident in the Gospel and love the truth. When we love the truth, God will be there to guide us, to encourage us, to open our mind to a variety of ways to proclaim the gospel. We are moved and motivated by the Gospel to spread the good news to people who are lost and thirsty. The One, Jesus Christ whom we proclaim, DOES fit all. His active and passive obedience is a fit for our sinful condition. We have the definite hope that lays in the Father’s hand: salvation through Jesus Christ.

Cultural challenges will always be there to draw people away from Christ. Satan will use these to manipulate us. We in the church must work very hard so that local belief systems, customs, and traditions do not affect the beliefs of our newborn Christians. The Bible reminds us:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” – 2 Timothy 3:16

It always works well when a good portion of our church strategy in overcoming cultural challenges includes increases in attendance at Bible information classes, such as New Life in Christ and Luther’s Catechism, Bible group studies for families, and a strong focus on our youth group, because in our country the youth impacts us significantly. The church should be a place for our Christian people that feels like home. In all of this, we ask the Holy Spirit to let God’s Word create the biblical pattern in our lives.

We see only opportunities to spread the Gospel when we see every place as a green pasture. God be with us. Please keep us in your prayers, that God’s grace in Indonesia becomes a powerful message for everyone who puts their hope in our Savior Jesus Christ.

By: Pastor Mikael Simanjuntak – Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI)

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Better Than Curry

I love curry. Indian and Nepalese cooking has a unique flavor that appeals to me… It’s close to the top of my list of favorite foods. We recently found out that some of the population around our Aganai Lutheran Church in Tokyo, Japan also share that same taste. Several curry restaurants have been popping up near the church with chefs and workers from Nepal.

When Aganai’s pastor, Pastor Nakamoto-sensei, went to pick up his curry take-out one day, he invited the Nepalese staff to come visit church. Coming to a Lutheran church is a big step for someone who grew up in a country where over 80% are Hindu. One of the Nepal workers stopped by Aganai Lutheran Church while a Kingdom Worker, Dave Reineman, was attending a Japanese language lesson taught by a local church member… That caught the interest of the man from Nepal. He wanted to learn Japanese too, so he could communicate better with his customers. He started coming to the classes, and he brought the curry restaurant owner too. Seeing this, Pastor Nakamoto decided to start classes with a prayer and then a devotion, which eventually moved into using the postcard sized ChristLight lessons developed by Multi-Language Publications (MLP) in Japan. It became an opportunity to tell the stories of the Bible in simple Japanese.

How would they be able to dig deeper into the Word if they only are just learning basic Japanese? How could these restaurant workers study the Bible on their own? Kaori-san, our MLP-Japan translator, inquired about what MLP might have to offer.

Transport yourself to the other end of the Asian world – to the country of Nepal. In Nepal, thousands are hearing God’s Word. We have translated most of the Bible Teaching Series booklets that are currently available from MLP. Those booklets in Nepali have been a key resource in reaching people throughout the Himalayas and Western Nepal. Some leaders travel for many days down the mountains, just to get to classes or pick up books to bring back to their groups.

Back to what is happening in Japan…

What a blessing that the resources developed for the difficult living conditions of Nepal are now able to have an impact in the advanced city of Tokyo! These Nepalese people that are now living in Tokyo, Japan can still read the Gospel message in their native Nepali language.

That scenario isn’t unique to Japan. Society today is much more mobile – with travel, work, and digital communication. We are finding many opportunities to reach global mission fields in a new way. Hmong people in Vietnam are now benefiting from the MLP-supported translations that began with the Hmong ministries in the USA. The same is true of the connections to the Nuer tribe in Sudan – their first contacts with us came through a church near them in America, and they are now developing material through MLP to reach out to people in their home country of Sudan.

What a great blessing it is to have resources in 53 languages available to share! Remember, even your neighbors can benefit from these resources. Think about any new, non-English families that have moved into your area – how will you share the gospel with them in a meaningful way to them? I encourage you to consider what resources MLP has in their native languages.

Let them taste and see that the Lord is good – it’s much better than curry.

By: David Kehl, Multi-Language Publications – Asia Coordinator

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A New School Year at Asia Lutheran Seminary

Asia Lutheran Seminary has been blessed to start our 13th year of operation in Hong Kong!

This August, the school year began with about 15 students taking part in a 3-week introductory immersion course in Hebrew. This year we welcome 4 full-time students in Hong Kong, 1 in India, and 10 other Chinese-speaking students outside Hong Kong. In addition, we still have almost 50 other students taking classes part time in Hong Kong, and another 60 taking courses via our online program. Thus, we are running four separate programs — a Bible Institute level program and an upper level Bachelor of Theology and Master of Divinity program both in Hong Kong and as extension degrees.

A fifth program to train translators had its first graduation class in June. Students from almost a dozen countries in South and East Asia participated in that program.

For the Bible Institute level courses, we now have native Hong Kong pastors teaching or co-teaching almost all of our courses in Cantonese. Our online Bible Institute courses are all being taught in Mandarin Chinese, mostly by native pastors. All of these local teachers are graduates of Asia Lutheran Seminary or our online programs.

Professor Angus Cheung

What’s even MORE exciting, this past school year one of our Chinese graduates was called and installed as the first full-time Chinese professor at Asia Lutheran Seminary. Angus Cheung is a member of our sister church, South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), here in Hong Kong. He is currently teaching Bible Institute level courses for us while pursuing his Ph.D. in Theology. With the Lord’s blessing, he will be ready to take over my position when I retire, and join President Steve Witte, and Professor Aaron West on our faculty.

My wife Beth and I had a wonderful and restful furlough this summer, spending several weeks with each of our 2 children and their families. Because of these summer visits (and regular Skype chats), our daughter’s five- and three-year-old in Milwaukee, and our son’s five- and two-year-old in Ottawa, Canada all know who their grandpa and nanita are. This was a blessing my parents didn’t have when our two children were born in Zambia while we were missionaries there 1977-1983. We thank the Lord often for this blessing!

We are also blessed to have our son, Pastor Luke Thompson, come for a visit. He gave 2 presentations to the local church here on apologetics, and he preached at our Sunday English service on September 24th. That service will thank the Lord for blessing me with 40 years of ministry, as well as thanking Him for the 15 years that Rob Siirila spent with our mission field.

We are also excited because Beth and I will have our first chance to return to Zambia 35 years after we left. I have been asked to teach an advanced course at the seminary in Lusaka next April, and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing our old stomping grounds and hopefully some of our old colleagues and parishioners.

Please continue to pray for us and our work. The government in the mainland has just passed a new and much more stringent set of laws intended to discourage religious activity of any kind. But we know our Lord has all in control, so we will allow him to show us the way forward.

God’s richest blessings to all of you.

Dr. Glen Thompson, Academic Dean of Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong

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The Light is Green – Go!

On a recent early morning taxi ride in East Asia, a fellow worker and I met one of the most carefree (for lack of a better word) taxi drivers we’ve ever had. Again and again, he found ways to make traffic signals simply “disappear.” He wasn’t content with just ignoring them… not one bit. One of his slick and slightly terrifying tricks was to make a sharp right turn when he got to a red light, do a quick u-turn in the middle of the road, and then turn right back onto our original road.

My co-worker and I nervously chuckled as we finally, and safely, arrived. He must have heard us because he too let out a laugh and admitted, “I didn’t stop for a single red light!” Then he explained, “Actually, red lights and I have an understanding. I don’t pay attention to them, and they don’t bother me!”

A good laugh helped dissolve the tension built up from our ride. Living in a culture where laws are taken so lightly can be aggravating. Yet, I always try to check my tendency to be self-righteous. Not all law breakers have had good parents. Some have gotten themselves into bad financial straits and red lights seem bad for business. Others are just having bad days. In any case, all of us are born law breakers. I may stop for red lights, but in my heart sometimes I wish I didn’t have to.

God called us to this country. We know many who don’t acknowledge their Maker or their responsibility to Him. They ignore the signals God has placed in their lives. Others act like our driver – they think they have an understanding with God. “I don’t bother Him, and he doesn’t bother me.” They keep him at a distance.

Yet the God we know sees all the red lights that we ignore. He knows all the times we have disregarded other red lights in our lives: unchecked anger, unbridled lust, unlimited selfishness. I am no different than my carefree driver, except that Jesus found me. Jesus gave me a new heart. And, along with that came a new set of eyes that are no longer color blind.

That day our driver was taking us to a meeting with our co-workers. We discussed plans on how to get this life-changing message out to more people in this part of the world. As we listened to each other, we rejoiced to see how the Holy Spirit is working. Small groups of people are gathering around the life-giving Word in more and more cities. The Holy Spirit is opening eyes once blind to the truth. People’s hearts are being sensitized. Jesus’ light is shining with good news of forgiveness and new life. With God’s help, red lights are becoming green lights which shout out “Go! Go with the good news!”

We’re not here to change driving habits. We weren’t sent to “civilize” the country. But, one by one, the Gospel is doing amazing things. It is changing lives. Jesus has given us the green light to serve others.

So, it’s time to get on the road.

The light is green! Go!

By: A missionary in East Asia

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The Gates of Hell Cannot Prevail

Looking out of our 36th floor apartment in Hong Kong gives us a good view of everyday life in our corner of Asia. In early September, the soccer field in Sycamore Park was re-purposed for use in a Hungry Ghost Festival – a traditional festival also held in other Asian countries. An ornate temple was set up on one end of the park, and a theatre graced the other end. A large furnace sat looming on the side. This bustling activity was accompanied by many other sights and smells happening around the city.

The smell of burning joss paper in small red cans filled the air in some areas – providing money for dead relatives to use in the afterlife.

Rice, pork, fruit, wine and other foods were put out on sidewalks and tables in front of buildings for the ravenous spirits wandering the earth.

People believe that during this lunar month, the gates of hell open and the restless spirits of their ancestors come out. They believe that supplying food, paper images of money, and clothes for the spirits of dead relatives will not only take care of them in the afterlife, but will also bring blessing to them in this life. Neglecting them can bring misfortune. All other hungry ghosts are released – as if on parole from prison. They too roam around unseen and need to be appeased.

In the Sycamore playground seen from our balcony, people were burning incense and waving it before the shrine set up to appease their gods. In one ceremony, Daoist priests led people from station to station. Operas were put on to entertain these visitors from the dead as well as to celebrate the deeds of those considered gods. To end the festival, a 15-foot long paper image of a spirit god was paraded to the entrance of the furnace, stuffed in, and swallowed by the flames.

In part, you come to respect a culture which honors commitment to family, shows respect and obedience to elders, and keeps alive the memory of ancestors. With this festival, it’s hard to know how many believe in the interaction with the dead and how many simply see this rite as part of their duty to honor relatives in their traditional ways. It poses a challenge for the Christian who wants to respect a cultural heritage, while also making sure people know the beautiful comfort and hope that is in Christ.

There is a spiritual world out there. People feel it and fear it. The Bible talks about it.

Yet, what cultural religions do and what the Bible reveals often don’t match. The Bible talks about the angels and demons that affect our lives by fighting for our souls – the angels as messengers of God that protect us, and the devil and dark forces of the heavenly realms that draw us away from God. Unlike the hungry ghosts, Scripture helps us understand that those who have died are not the ones troubling or blessing us. Their existence is not in limbo, nor are they ones who bring us luck or trouble.

Multi-Language Publications continues to provide resources to all people in East Asia – helping them realize that in Christ, we find the peace and comfort for life after death. Those who die in him have found rest. Only in the risen Christ do we understand that our own resurrection brings us to the presence of God himself – where blessings are lavished on us because of Christ’s sacrifice for us, not because we have caring relatives who remember us. In Christ, we are convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God. That is our daily peace.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against that.

By: David Kehl, Multi-Language Publications – Asia Coordinator

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Picking Up The Cloak and Going On

When Elijah went up, Elisha went on.

On the same day, God brought them both to a significant juncture: the Lord called Elijah homeward–his work was done. Elisha moved onward–because his wasn’t.

The sights and sounds were phenomenal; it must have been an amazing event to witness.

So was the June 2nd Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) graduation1 in Lilongwe, Malawi even though there was no whirlwind or chariot and horsemen of fire. That day was remarkably momentous. Not just because the students received a well-deserved diploma and congratulatory handshake, but because (in a sense) each one “picked up the cloak” and moved on.

The cloak?

Go back for a moment to 2 Kings 2:13. It’s there on the ground. But because of the attention-grabbing whirlwind and the “I can’t believe what I’m seeing” chariot and horsemen of fire, we sometimes miss the cloak.

Let’s not overlook it anymore.

The cloak had been Elijah’s. It had fallen when the old prophet ascended.2 It was the same cloak that Elijah had just previously rolled up and used to smack the waters.3 It wouldn’t be all that incredible had not the waters divided and dry ground appeared.

“My father!  My father!  The chariot and horsemen of Israel!”4

 And just like that, Elijah was gone.

Keep in mind, it’s not just any person who had left the scene. The person who is gone is Elisha’s spiritual father, his teacher and mentor! The one with whom he had spent time and built a relationship. This meant no more chats or discussions; no more opportunities to ask questions. No longer can Elisha sit at Elijah’s feet and learn from him. Might Elisha be feeling a bit alone? Inadequate? Intimidated? Elijah is gone. Gone! Ah, but look – his cloak isn’t! Elisha sees it and picks it up…

And goes on.

In a sense, the LBI students have done the same. They have gone on. But before they did so, they (like Elisha) picked up the cloak.

For three years they walked and talked with their “spiritual fathers.” But now the time is over with their teachers and mentors.  No longer will they study the Gospel of John with Pastor Panning or speak Greek with Pastor Nitz. They won’t learn any more biology with Professor Mwakatika or Pastoral Theology with Professor Kumchulesi.

Though a new class is coming to the LBI in September, the work of the professors is done for this particular group of “prophets’ sons.” Look, the cloak has fallen from the professor’s shoulders, and these nine students of the Word have picked it up.  They are off and running. A “passing of the baton” of sorts. Soon they will be found in Lusaka, Zambia in yet another classroom for three years.

God-willing, in 2020 these nine men will become full time called workers in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA). Academically speaking, these men have run a marathon already… but the road ahead of them is equally long. Won’t you take a moment to offer a prayer on their behalf?

If you’d like, you can simply use the one the hymnist wrote:5

God of the prophets, bless the prophet’s sons;
Elijah’s mantle o’er Elisha cast.
Each age its solemn task may claim but once;
Make each one better, nobler than the last.
Anoint them prophets, men who are intent
To be your witnesses in word and deed,
Their hearts aflame, their lips made eloquent,
Their eyes awake to ev’ry human need.

“The mantle has been cast.” Keep in mind this mantle is not so much a swath of cloth but a symbol of something far greater. Elisha had begged for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah’s spirit was nothing less than God’s power and strength. And got it! He simply wanted to go on in the same power that Elijah had been given. He wanted to be able to do the Lord’s work and do it well.

And he did. Because the power was not from Elijah, it was from God.

Just as the Lord had given Elijah what he needed to do his work, the same Lord would equip the new man who would follow. Elisha would go on in the strength of the Lord.  He was, well, cloaked in it! Wrapped up in the grace of God!

So are the nine students who have graduated.

Yes, they have picked up the mantle and gone on. The campus is now quiet. The students and their families are gone. The only things that linger are memories and pictures of that graduation day. Oh, and the tree that they planted.

All in all, it was indeed a special event. But even though those nine young men were all wearing brand new suits and received unanimous recommendation to go on to the Seminary, we realize…

It really wasn’t about them.

It wasn’t even about their professors. And most certainly it was not about the piece of paper they can now frame and hang on their wall.

It was about Jesus Christ, our living God and Savior! It was all about the Lord who gives the power and abilities to teach and to learn. It was our gracious God who called each man to be in the place where God wanted him to be. All along it was the Lord who was daily strengthening faith, forgiving sins, equipping and empowering these students and their teachers “in the spirit of Elijah.”

That’s good to know when you reach your own significant juncture in life. Maybe you’re there right now. Or, perhaps one is right around the corner. There may come a time when someone special in your life leaves you behind. Not necessarily through death, but that may be the case too. It may be that that someone special in your life is called by God to go in a different direction than you thought–or hoped. But chances are, you may at least for a while, feel alone. Lonely. Perhaps intimidated by the work that God has called you still to do. You may wonder how to move forward with the gifts you have–or don’t have.

The answer is there, but it’s easy to overlook.

Sometimes the things that are the most near to us are the things we don’t see. What has been with us all along, is “the mantle, the double portion of the spirit of Elijah.” Better put: the gospel in word and sacraments. The power of God for salvation!

 My father!  My father!  The chariot and horsemen of Israel!

What a joy it must be for our Lord Jesus to see us doing what Elisha did…

Picking up the cloak…and going on.

By: Missionary John Holtz
__________________________________________
1.) 2017 LBI Graduates:

  • Four LBI graduates from Malawi: Baloyi, Mr. Gomezgani Anthony, Kalima, Mr. Greshan David, Mpingiza, Mr. Joel, Namakhwa, Mr. Justin Lackson
  • Five LBI graduates from Zambia: Banda, Mr. Daniel Favour, Banda, Mr. Jatelo Lingililani, Mwanza, Mr. Elias, Nhliziyo, Mr. Dumisani James, Nyirongo, Mr. Chisale Doubt Jackson

2.) 2 Kings 2:13

3.) Kings 2:8

4.) “Elisha’s exclamation… refers to Elijah, his father in the faith. Just as mighty horses and chariots are emblems of a king’s strength, so Elijah had been a spiritual bulwark of God’s people.” Arno J. Wolfgramm, The People’s Bible, KINGS, page 169.

5.) CW 543 God of the Prophets, Verses 1 and 2

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