African outreach trips – Fall 2021

During 2021, missionaries from the One Africa Team were able to make several trips to visit various church groups throughout Africa. Many of these trips were originally delayed due to COVID travel restrictions. Missionaries and other national church partners traveled to Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, and Ethiopia. Here’s a recap of each visit:

Tanzania

The One Africa Team looks to partner with various churches in Africa to ensure unity in doctrine and practice, and to combine resources to continue reaching the lost.

The African Mission Evangelical Church (AMEC) formed in 1993 after they split with the main group of Tanzanian Lutherans. In April 2021, Missionary John Hartmann made a preliminary visit to Tanzania to meet with a dozen AMEC pastors to learn more about their history and introduce them to WELS doctrine and beliefs. In November, Missionary John Roebke and Missionary Hartmann returned with Kenyan national pastor Mark Anariko Onunda to continue potential fellowship discussion. It is the prayer of AMEC to partner with WELS to provide solid confessional Lutheran training for their pastors. The One Africa Team will return in 2022 to continue their discussions. We thank God for this opportunity for a potential ministry partnership in Tanzania! Read more about their visit in this article from the One Africa Team blog.


Kenya

Missionary Dan Witte and three LCMC – Kenya pastors

In 2019, the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) – Kenya joined in fellowship with WELS. Because of the pandemic, no One Africa Team members were able to visit. Finally, after months of video conferencing and e-mails, Missionaries Howard Mohlke and John Roebke were able to travel to Kenya in August 2021 and meet with the members and leadership of the LCMC – Kenya. On this trip, the two missionaries traveled to various LCMC – Kenya congregations to see some of the buildings WELS helped build and share messages and encouragement from the Bible.

The attendees listening to the Bible and watching the Jesus film

They held leaders’ workshops where they gave presentations on the Bible, principles of stewardship, and Church and Ministry. The attendees also received microSD cards with audio Bibles and a Jesus film in both English and Swahili; immediately the SD cards were put to use. Read more about their trip in this article from the One Africa Team blog.

Then, in October 2021, One Africa Team Missionary Dan Witte traveled to Kenya to teach a course on African Church History to three pastors of the LCMC – Kenya. He was also able to participate in the dedication of St. Peter’s Kindu Church in Eastern Kenya. Read Missionary Witte’s reflections from his trip.


Uganda

Missionaries John Holtz and Dan Kroll visited Obadiah Lutheran Synod in Uganda in early October 2021 . They were evaluating and preparing the last steps needed before recommending that Obadiah Lutheran Synod be brought into fellowship with WELS and visited some of their churches. Missionary Holtz was also able to meet with seven students who gathered online to study Luther’s Small Catechism during the pandemic. Read more about their trip from Missionary John Holtz.


Cameroon

One Africa Team missionaries Howard Mohlke, Dan Kroll, John Holtz, and Africa Business Manager Stefan Felgenhauer traveled to Cameroon in October to meet with a group of pastors and laymen of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC). After not meeting in-person for two years, this gathering was appreciated. The group discussed the partnership in the ministry that these groups share, the future of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon seminary, ministry training opportunities, and other ministry topics.


Ethiopia

In October 2021, One Africa Team missionaries Mark Panning, John Holtz, Howard Mohlke, and Africa Business Manager Stefan Felgenhauer traveled to Ethiopia to visit WELS’ sister church, the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). God greatly blessed mission work in Ethiopia through a Lutheran elementary school. The original plan was for the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE) to start a nursery school in Bishoftu, but God had other plans. Read how God’s bigger plan ultimately brought more blessings than they could ever imagine in this One Africa Team blog article.


God is truly blessing mission work in Africa! Please keep the One Africa Team missionaries and the family of believers in Africa in your prayers. We thank God for all the blessings poured out on mission work in Africa, and we pray he continues to bless this work in the years to come.

 

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Open windows, open doors

One night, a few of us were playing board games with some new Bible study friends. It was a beautiful spring night in East Asia, and we had all the windows of the eighth floor, one bedroom apartment open. At the time some of us were probably getting a little too into our game of “Dutch Blitz,” shouting and laughing. We were loud (much to our chagrin, we later realized our voices were echoing off the building across from us . . . ).

Around 10 P.M. or so, we heard an indignant knock on the door. I peered through the peephole and glimpsed a large man with a large frown. In half decent English, he politely asked us to keep it down as his two year-old was asleep in an apartment across from us. I apologized profusely from behind the door. Appeased, the large man thanked us and left. Thus our party ended.

Then on Sunday about a dozen of us were praising and praying to God. Again, with the windows open. After worship, we got ready to head downstairs for lunch. I was first out of the apartment. As I turned my head down the long hallway, again I saw a large man. This time he was stomping towards me. He didn’t look happy. “Oh, no.” I thought, “That’s the guy from the other night. We’re probably singing too loudly!” He stopped in front of me panting and asked if we were the ones singing the “Christian songs.” I said yes. Then his face lit up.

He told me he’d been searching for us for the past two months. Every Sunday morning, he heard our hymns and wanted to join us, but because of the echo off the buildings, he could never tell which apartment we were in. Every Sunday he’d walk up and down the stairwell searching for which floor we were on. But it turns out, if we hadn’t been so loud a few nights before, he never would have found us!

Leo joined us for lunch and later joined our local Lutheran church. Now he helps lead his own confessional Lutheran church in his city.

We sometimes cannot even imagine how God is going to use us and the preaching of his Word to bless the kingdom, but he reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-11, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Please take 30 seconds to pray that windows and doors will stay open for us as we continue sharing the gospel here in East Asia.

Written by a missionary in East Asia.

 

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Evolving styles of ministry in Africa

Do you like looking at old photographs? Probably you do. And probably you don’t. On the one hand, how heartwarming it can be to see those happy photos of your children when they were five years old. And imagine . . . now those kids of yours have children of their own! But on the other hand, oh my! That hairstyle! That cheesy mustache! Those silly bell-bottom jeans! Did I really look like that? Is it possible that the ‘me’ of yesterday was not as groovy as I thought I was?

A few days ago, I stumbled upon some old photographs. I thought they were fascinating. The year of the photos was 1981, and the place was Lilongwe, Malawi. One picture showed workers laying the foundation for the classroom of the Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI). Another picture showed the construction of Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) student houses. The plan was to build a brand-new boarding school for the training of national pastors. All those buildings are still here, but things look very different today.

It got me thinking about our mission work in Africa. More specifically, it made me think how times have changed. Years ago, the measure of a missionary in Africa was how quickly he could change a tire. In the early days, almost all Africa missionaries drove out to the isolated village churches. They preached the gospel to the people, sometimes in a grass roofed church, sometimes underneath the mango tree. You would get a lot of flats driving those dirt roads, but an experienced missionary could pull off the old tire and pop on a new one faster than a pit crew at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1981, the very idea of building a fancy brick and mortar classroom for the training of national pastors – wow, that was groundbreaking stuff!

I still teach young Zambian and Malawian pre-seminary students in the very same classroom. And if you want my honest opinion, I still think it’s pretty ‘groovy.’ But things look different today. More and more, the missionaries of today are teaching in a Google Classroom, not a brick-and-mortar classroom. More and more, the measure of a missionary is not how quickly he can change a tire, but how quickly he can reboot his laptop to get the Zoom meeting up and running. Boarding schools? Today it’s ‘keyboarding’ schools. Today, missionaries are not just driving cars to the isolated villages of Zambia and Malawi. They’re flying on commercial airlines to train pastoral students in places like Cameroon and Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

So what should we say? Are old ways bad? Certainly not. You carefully groomed that cheesy mustache because that was the best thing for the time and place. That mustache and that hairstyle and the bell-bottom jeans are the things that got you noticed. Maybe they even caught the eye of that pretty, young lady who later became your wife. Certainly, it’s true that styles of ministry in Africa are constantly evolving, but our sister-churches in Africa number more than 60,000 baptized souls. God has blessed our efforts.

The old pictures remind us how quickly this world changes. But one thing never changes: Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus will be saved. As we enter into the year 2022, let’s double our efforts to preach the unchanging word of God, by whatever methods possible, because time is marching on, and “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).

Written by Rev. Mark Panning, world missionary on the One Africa Team.

 

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New Latin America mission team member

Elise Gross, the newest member of the Latin America mission team, was commissioned as the new Dean of Women for Academia Cristo at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. In this newly created role, she will be teaching and mentoring women enrolled in Academia Cristo classes who are also looking for ways to share the pure gospel message with others. Her husband, Jon, recently accepted a position as a Video Producer with WELS Multi-Language Productions. He will also be assisting with Latin America outreach efforts as he produces video content used in Academia Cristo training courses and beyond.

The Gross family currently resides in Linares, Chile. Please keep them in your prayers as they share Christ’s love in Latin America!

Learn more about mission work in Latin America at wels.net/latinamerica.

Elise’s brother, Rev. Scott Henrich from Shepherd of the Hills in Knoxville, TN, led worship

Rev. Larry Schlomer, World Missions administrator, and Rev. Nate Seiltz, Multi-Language Productions director, share some words of encouragement from the Bible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Merry Christmas from WELS Missions!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 ).

Can you hear the excited children’s voices? Can you see the expectation and joy-filled faces of God’s littlest believers as they recite these familiar words? We learn in Isaiah about God’s priceless treasure given in perfect love to his children. In a world that is often filled with pain, confusion, anger, and sadness we, as believers, can hold strong to the promises of God. He sent his Son to be perfection for us and to suffer for our sins, and we thank him for this priceless gift.

Our WELS home and world missionaries and those in their mission fields wanted to share a message of thanks for your prayers, encouragement, and financial support in this special video. It is because of God working through people like YOU that we are able to share this priceless gift in 64 different countries and 132 home mission congregations across North America. We are so grateful.

Let’s raise our voices together in song as we worship the Christ child this Christmas season and thank our Heavenly Father for fulfilling the promises of old.

Together with you, we sing with joy and gratitude celebrating our Prince of Peace!

WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions


 

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Where there is no boom

“There is no boom,” said a Lutheran pastor recently in East Asia. We were talking about the challenges of mission work in East Asia. Between culture, religions, hostile governments, pestilence, warfare, and centuries of tradition that are all deeply ingrained and intertwined into the lives and minds of the people, there are no quick and easy approaches to teaching God’s word and making new disciples. There are no flashy shortcuts that lead to “booms” or surges in new believers. If you are looking for “the boom” in Asia, you will probably be disappointed. The Word doesn’t return empty. That is still true. But in Asia it takes so much time, so much effort, so much pouring into relationships. It takes so much patient teaching, teaching, and more teaching. Seeds are scattered abundantly, but by the time the birds, weeds, and scorching sun have had their way, not many remain to take root. And sometimes years of faithful labor and precious harvest can be scattered to the winds in an instant.

The town after shelling

In Myanmar, for example, a Lutheran pastor and his congregation have faithfully taught God’s word, shared the gospel, and discipled believers for years. Over the course of about three decades, they have gathered and shepherded about 300 souls. Longing for fellowship with other confessional Lutheran’s and hungering for God’s word, they reached out to a WELS pastor in the U.S. and have been greatly encouraged through his teaching and encouragement. They managed to stay in touch and continue to be in the word together through the pandemic, and the Myanmar church leaders still found ways to connect with their people and strengthen them with gospel (even though they could not gather in person). And then came the boom – the boom of war. Civil war erupted in Myanmar earlier this year. As battles spread across the country, the army shelled the town where many of the church’s members lived. As the town burned, the army shot civilians as they fled. Many of the church’s members fled across the border to India, to other towns in Myanmar, and even into the jungle to hide. The town went up in smoke. The flock was scattered and was mostly unaccounted for. In terms of numbers and an organized church, it looked like their harvest went up in smoke too.

The baptism of two people

In this environment, there is simply no “boom” of flashy programs and fast numbers. There is only the faithful plowing and re-plowing, sowing and re-sowing of God’s word, seeking and re-seeking the lost. Within a few weeks of the shelling, church leaders and the WELS pastor started connecting again online. God’s word continued to be taught, and the gospel (and this pastor’s encouragement) continued to strengthen their weary souls. And soon after that, these Burmese shepherds of souls in this shell-shocked area of Myanmar began to seek out and find what members they could. They managed to find and reconnect with a few families, worship with them in their homes, comfort them with the gospel, share the means of grace, and even baptize. In our correspondence, there was no complaining about lost ground, only rejoicing over souls saved and sins forgiven. There is no flashy evangelism “boom” here. But there is another kind of power at work. It’s the gospel, God’s power of salvation. This power is often a still small voice amongst the cacophony of the world’s booming and bellowing, but it is still God’s power to save. The only program in town right now (in Myanmar) is simply being with people in the worst of times and bringing the good news of Jesus into their lives. These tireless shepherds know this is the only thing that can cut through darkness and gloom and truly refresh downtrodden souls. And it is this same gospel that motivates, strengthens, and refreshes the souls of these weary shepherds of souls. Remaining in the word has kept them strong. But God also helped them through a WELS pastor on the other side of the world who found the time to be with them in their worst of times and bring the good news of Jesus into their lives. No boom. Just the gospel, God’s power, in a still small voice and in an unassuming way – yet still a mighty power to save and strengthen.

In this article, I’m not criticizing the big efforts that sometimes do lead to big harvests or “booms.” We pray for and long for those too. But I am thankful for the quiet and unflashy ways the gospel is having big impacts in ways that are easy to miss. I am also thankful for the army of unassuming shepherds (on both sides of the ocean) as they quietly walk together to equip, encourage, and minister through myriad difficulties and disappointments.

Written by Stephen Wiesenauer, Asia One Team leader.

 

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Growing in faith

Autumn is a time to be thankful for the plentiful harvest and the journey of growth in our faith throughout the year.

At the beginning of the year with the slow re-opening of the reservation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, members of our Apache Lutheran churches were happy to get back to church to worship and and meet at the church garden with fellow Christians. Cheryl Pailzote took the initiative to revitalize the garden at Open Bible Lutheran Church in Whiteriver, Ariz., and shared her knowledge with others to build a healthier community, physically and spiritually.

Plentiful harvest from the garden

Bernard Dale, from the Hondah community on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, shares his experience of planting from the seed to harvesting and tasting the abundance of hard work and dedication.

Bernard compared his experience of growing food, to also growing in faith. He was feeling the repercussions of the pandemic with faith the size of a seed. Throughout the year while they tended to the garden, they were also able to tend to their faith with the support of others from the group who shared devotions and God’s Word with one another. By the time harvest time came around, Bernard recalled the feeling of revitalization.

We are thankful for the blessings from the harvest from the garden, and the growth of our faith in God’s Word.

Written by Kasheena Miles, WELS Native American missions and assistant with Native Christians.

 

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The wonders of God in their own tongue

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit worked a miracle to make sure people heard the good news about Jesus. In an instant, he enabled the disciples to speak in languages they hadn’t previously known. Parthians, Medes, Cretans, Arabs and others in the crowd that day were all amazed: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! (Acts 2:11)”

We might wish the Holy Spirit would work this miracle for us! Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of years of language study, our missionaries could instantly share the gospel in the language of anyone they met?

But the Holy Spirit is still making sure the wonders of God are being declared in foreign tongues.

Last month, I visited Bolivia and met with Erasmo Condori (pictured above). Erasmo has been studying with Academia Cristo for the past year. He speaks Spanish, but his first language is Aymara, an indigenous language spoken by 1.7 million Bolivians. He lives in El Alto, a city where many people only speak Aymara – including his wife, Benita (Also pictured above).

Diosnel Castro Lopez

When we met, Erasmo shared with me that if it weren’t for Academia Cristo, he wouldn’t know who the true God is. The church he and his wife attended never taught them that God is triune: one God in three persons. The Holy Spirit used an Academia Cristo course called “The True God” to open his eyes to that truth. He loved learning how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were all actively involved in saving him.

And now the Holy Spirit is using Erasmo to proclaim this wonder of God in his own tongue, Aymara. First, he taught his wife what he learned. Then, he taught “The True God” to members of his church. Now he’s sharing other Academia Cristo courses with them.

José Cormachi

Erasmo isn’t the only one. Other students who are learning the gospel in Spanish through Academia Cristo are sharing it in their native languages too. Diosnel Castro Lopez in Paraguay shares what he learns with others in Guaraní. José Cormachi, Carlos Minagua, and José Chafla in Ecuador are teaching the truth in Quechua.

It might not seem as miraculous as what he did on the day of Pentecost. But when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the spiritually blind to see the truth, it is a miracle. When he opens a believer’s mouth to share the truth, it is a miracle. And the result is the same: more and more people are hearing the wonders of God in their own tongue.

Written by Rev. Abe Degner, world missionary on the Latin America mission team

Read Diosnel’s Faces of Faith story at wels.net/faces-of-faith-diosnel.

 

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You made a difference for the WELS Central Africa Medical Mission

“As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Galatians 6:10

The WELS Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has been blessed over the past 60 years with the generous support of WELS members. We thank God for these gifts and pray for his continued blessings!

Below is a brief update on how your gifts are being used to support gospel ministry through CAMM’s Christ-centered healthcare:

  • We are transitioning our Malawi Mobile Clinic operations over to a fully Malawian staff so we can free up our resources to explore expansion into other African countries and potentially throughout the world.
  • We have repaired and renovated all of our clinic buildings, including adding private exam and consultation rooms so more patients are comfortable coming to our clinic.
  • We are supporting disabled children in Malawi by providing transportation to physical therapy services. These children were introduced to us through the local Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Malawi pastor who uses the service our clinic provides to connect with non-members.
  • We now have the capability to hire more staff as needed. Many of our staff are members of one of our sister churches in Malawi and Zambia, which strengthens our relationship with the local churches and the synods overall.

Thank you for helping us get to this point! There is more work to be done in Africa and throughout the world. The Lord calls us to help the “least of these.” (Matthew 25:40) Pray for his continued blessing of staff members who can share their faith with the patients by offering Christ-centered healthcare. Share the work that the Central Africa Medical Mission does throughout Zambia, Malawi, and potentially more of Africa. Ask God to allow CAMM to expand to other countries where we can offer basic healthcare in support of gospel ministry. Thank you for your continued support of the Central Africa Medical Mission!

Learn more at wels.net/camm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by a lay evangelist in East Asia.

 

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Different mission field, same mission

Joey’s last day in the office

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

Joey and her husband in the countryside of England after quarantine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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Finding a way to gather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary in Europe

 

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Pakuwa Pakhawa (Hope Realized)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masaai Land

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

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

Masaai members of Elkimasek LCMC Kenya

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

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

Western Kenya

God Miaha LCMC Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preaching in Luo

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

Othoro LCMC Kenya

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

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

Leaders’ Workshop

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

Richard Ombuyi serves Erandi LCMC Kenya

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

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

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

Nairobi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Growing God’s children

I blame Adam and Eve.

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

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

From growing plants to growing children

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

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

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

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

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

 

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With great joy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Chipembere presenting his Bible study

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

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

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

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

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

Chisomo LCCA Church in Thyolo

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

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

Jesus was the Answer and the Comfort!

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57). “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

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

Pastor Chipembere on Mount Mulanje on June 3, 2021

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

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

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

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

 

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While we were waiting

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

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

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

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

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

A Confirmation class in Asia

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

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

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

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

 

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God’s work across the globe

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

Bible study group with Javier (second from left)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marli holding her doctrinal certificate

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A time to celebrate and a time to pray

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

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

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

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

When interviewed, Holger Weiss, said:

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

Student at the ELFK seminary in Leipzig.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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From one background to another

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Looking forward and back

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

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

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

Many Changes

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

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

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

Missionary Mohlke in Africa in the 1990s

Nothing New

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

Something New

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

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

Always

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

The Lord be with you all.

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

 

 

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Another day to serve

My alarm rings: another day to serve.

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

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

Building site at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Faith and healing for 60 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devotion at a clinic in Malawi

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Arriving somewhere new

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

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

Beth Behmer and kids Nora, Emma, and Baby Ray

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

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

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

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

Guaman family confirmation with Missionary Nathan Schulte

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Behmer missionary family landing report

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

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

Missionary Schulte meeting Behmers at the airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missionaries Behmer and Schulte meeting to discuss their ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 19 and onward: 

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

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

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

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

 

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Linger with me before God’s throne

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

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

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

“No. Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Mission partners in Finland

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

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

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

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

Pastor David and Marika in the home they are building

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

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

A couple of prayer requests:

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

Interview conducted by Pastor Luke Wolfgramm, Russia

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

 

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My students are my teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These students are my teachers.

Written by a WELS missionary

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

 

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Christian Noblewomen

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

Their faith was evident through the fruit that it bore.

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

Ester

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

Ribka

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

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

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

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


 

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So much more than a burial

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

Evangelist and Mrs. Mapulanga – December 2016

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

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

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

That is exactly what Pastor Khwima Msiska did.

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

Pastors Msowoya and Msiska

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missionary Holtz with Evangelist Mapulanga

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

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

A gift of grace.

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

But not without hope.

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

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


 

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2020 blessings in Vietnam

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

Matthew 28:20b

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

Pastor Fong burns a pagan altar

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

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

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

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

Zoom training

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

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

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

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

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator


 

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