… and because I love you.

125 years ago God said something to the people of the San Carlos and Fort Apache Reservations in eastern Arizona. He said to them what caused him to do for them what he did for these past 125 years, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you…” (Isaiah 43:4) He said those words first to his people Israel who were facing deep water crossings and hot blazing fire. But he also said those words most certainly to the people of the San Carlos and Fort Apache Reservations in eastern Arizona who faced floods of regret and hopelessness and fear, and who faced fires of bitterness, anger, and hate. Because these people were precious and honored in the Father’s sight, he sent them his Son Jesus. And it all came to be for that one reason: because he loved them.

Camp Dress Show

It was just like our God was saying the very words, “And because I love you… I am sending spokesmen to you from me who will tell you about my Son Jesus.” It was so and the first missionaries came in 1893 to the mountain shadows of the Triplets there by the Gila River. The people living there had been banned to live in that place that one of the officials of General George Crook called “stinking malarial flats.” A most remarkable and miraculous thing happened too because God loved these people: he caused them not only to be loved by those who spoke of Jesus to them, but to love those people back. It was love that saw past skin color. Right from the beginning it was so. Pastor Harders in Globe, Arizona, described the feeling he had for his people on these reservations as greater and stronger than the love a man has for a brother.

And the people realized it was true too. There were not many of the dominant culture in 1893 who loved those who lived on the Gila River flats, but Apache people quickly came to know that they were loved. They were loved by the One who made the sun go by the Triplet mountains every day, and by this same One who sent his Son to be with them there. They were also loved by those who came to serve them and live with them, and in many cases, be buried with them. The list that started with John Plocher and George Adascheck is long. Over 125 years, literally hundreds of men and women worked and lived there on the reservations of eastern Arizona.

Rev. Eric Hartzell’s presentation

So the day of celebration came after the clock had ticked for 125 years. It was Saturday, October 27, 2018. Busloads of connected and interested people came. There were presentations of historical interest and pictures and displays looking to the future. Under some friendly mesquite trees, ladies were making frybread in the way that only they can make it. Local artisans and workers displayed their talents and their wares. Choirs came. Cars came cautiously into the parking lot in front of the church (the same place where the foundation blocks of the first school are still visible), and then the cars were directed up the hill to the baseball field to park. That parking field was the same field where Pastor Henry Rosin and other missionaries played baseball on Sunday afternoons with worthy opponents.

And so many times during the day someone would say hesitantly to someone else, “Do you remember me? I used to teach school here at Peridot.” And probably as many times someone would say, “Do you remember me? I was your student in second grade when you taught school here.” Those who had given of their time and talent to upgrade buildings and church and had done so elsewhere on the mission stations came to see those who had helped them and benefited from their work.

There were back to back historical presentations. There were attempts made to encapsulate and explain what had happened and was still happening during the 125 years. Dr. William Kessel presented Apache Christian voices from the past. He did so from his grandfather Edgar Guenther’s missionary diary and recollections…and from his own. The presentations were made in the Peridot church, and it was full for close to five hours of presenting.

Peridot and East Fork Lutheran Schools sing at the Apache 125th Anniversary joint worship service

The crowning joy of the day came at 4:30 p.m. to see everyone packed into the big high school gymnasium that had been rented for the occasion. The choirs came to sing for the service, stationed at strategic positions in the bleachers. There were more Apache believers than white believers, and that was as it should have been. Pastor Gary Lupe spoke carefully and well to everyone about Jesus being his Savior, that he was proud and happy to say that he was a Christian, and that he believed in Jesus and followed Jesus and stood with Jesus. It was wonderful to hear! President Mark Schroeder was last to speak after two hours of service and many speakers. How is it possible for speakers to limit themselves to their recommended five minutes? (It wasn’t possible!)

And when it all came to an end in the early evening, there was one thing that stood as the reason why there were 125 years to celebrate and be thankful for. This one thing that occasioned and caused it all was what had happened 125 years earlier when God himself had spoken to his people on the San Carlos and Fort Apache Reservations, and said, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you…” (Isaiah 43:4)

Should this world continue on for another 125 years, this Lord of ours will be true and faithful. It is our prayer, and it is our hope that he will…. because he loves us!

Written by: Pastor Eric Hartzell, Globe, Arizona

Pastor Eric Hartzell grew up on the Fort Apache Reservation and graduated from East Fork Lutheran grade school and high school. He went on to become a pastor, and in 1982 he received a call to East Fork and Canyon Day Lutheran Churches. He served there for 14 years. 

To read or download Pastor Hartzell’s or Dr. William Kessel’s presentations from the 125th anniversary celebration, visit www.nativechristians.org/125th-historical-presentations.

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Back to Africa – The Felgenhauer’s in Zambia

Written by Kathy (nee Uhlhorn) Felgenhauer, whose husband Stefan is the new Director of Africa Missions Operations for the One Africa Team. 

My husband and I visited the continent of Africa for the very first time 20 years ago. Four years later, we moved here for our first tour of duty. Most of the missionary families currently living in Africa have lived here for more than two decades. They hardly consider their overseas service as “foreign” anymore. Their lives tell the story of WELS mission work in Africa.

Our family has a unique perspective. We have transitioned back and forth between North American culture and African culture several times. We have a well-rounded view of both developed countries and developing countries. The readjustments we’ve made have been a trial, but they have also give us valuable insight into both worlds.

The Felgenhauer family back in Africa (Zambia)

So now we’ve been here in Zambia for just over a week. What are we thinking? What are we feeling? And how is the adjustment going this time?

First impressions can be useful tools. Stefan and I find it interesting that in our time of moving between cultures, we have short-lived first impressions upon returning to a place we used to live. It’s fascinating to take note of those first impressions, before our previous experience takes over and we settle into our routine once again. I keenly remember my first impressions when we moved to Africa the second time. Even though we had lived six years in Africa and still had keen memories of that time stuck in our minds, we had forgotten about the challenges of day-to-day living in a developing country.

In general, the first impressions we have had this time are of moving to a somewhat familiar African country (Zambia) but also the added dimension of leaving our oldest child back “home” for schooling. Listen to what each member of our family has taken notice of thus far…

Anna (age 12 – born in Malawi): I was looking forward to seeing the Seminary campus because we never lived close to any of those before. It’s different than I thought, but I was amazed at how big it was and happy to see the kids there. I can’t wait to get my bike so I can ride it there. A lot of things seem the same, like the gates on doors and the geckos and skinks on the walls, but I forgot how hot it is. I’m looking forward to visiting Malawi and seeing some of my friends. It’s fun to order Fanta at restaurants again and hopefully soon we can go swimming somewhere.

Benjamin and Anna

Benjamin (age 14 – born in Malawi, will return to the USA for school in 10 months): Africa is like I remember it, but Zambia is a bit more modern (than Malawi) with a lot more shopping centers. I was looking forward to being outside and barefoot, and I am doing that again. It’s really dusty though. Being in Africa feels like being back home. It’s kinda hard getting used to slower Internet. I look forward to finding soft drinks in glass bottles like I remember and visiting game parks to see the animals. It seems weird to think that the next 10 months will be the longest amount of time I spend here.

Louisa (age 16 – born in Germany, attending high school stateside): I am loving all the photos they’ve sent mostly of foods I remember, such as Blackcat peanut butter and Parmalat yogurt and the mango juice. I was happy to see some jacaranda flowers. Finding time to facetime my family when it is still daylight so I can see outside has been tricky with a 7-hour time difference, and I can’t talk to them during my evening because they are sleeping. I can’t wait to visit at Christmas.

Kathy (not as young as I once was – born in the USA): As the plane was descending I saw purple jacaranda trees, and exiting the plane we saw bright flame trees. That alone put a smile on my face. Climbing into a car for the first time again was an odd feeling, sitting in the passenger seat on the left. It actually made me feel a bit dizzy, and I’m a bit nervous about driving again with the deep ditches on the sides of the roads. I had forgotten how dry and red the earth looks this time of year. The streets seemed less congested on our drive, but the style of the house we are currently staying in was so familiar. Tiled floors throughout, locked gates on doors, a limited water supply in the reserve tanks, and candles at the ready for the electricity outages. “I know how to do this”, I told myself. The trill and song of the birds that first morning was unbelievable. I knew I had been missing it. It is a new place with much that is familiar. I long to settle into our life, getting our own kitchen items, our own bed, and our own daily routine. That’s going to take quite some time yet. It’s already been 5 months of transition since Stefan was hired, and it could be several more. I am praying for patience. I keep checking the time to see what Louisa must be doing back in the US. I am so thankful for the technology that lets us keep in touch.

Stefan (a little more grey – born in East Germany): I’m so happy to be back in a warm climate again. I did forget how warm it is this time of year and how dusty everything gets. I knew I was back in Africa when we stepped off the plane, and I had to walk quite a ways on foot to get into the airport. The wait to get through immigration tested my German patience. The woodsmoke-filled air is strong too, but I do know the rains are coming and that will bring relief. I am enjoying the African scenery, and it makes me excited to explore and learn this new area. Visiting the other countries where One Africa Team is active is a priority for me and one I look forward to. In some ways Zambia is more modern than I would have thought, but the Internet is still slower than I got used to in the US. Overall, I am thankful for the opportunity to be here and to serve the Lord in this way. It’s the work I love to do. It’s good to be back.

The Felgenhauers lived in Malawi from 2002-2008 and from 2012-2015 and are currently based in Lusaka, Zambia.

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Never Forget

Never Forget.

A widely seen and regularly used slogan in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, those words are usually reserved now for the anniversary of the attacks.

The first WELS world mission – Peridot, AZ

Perhaps that is the nature of anniversaries: we set a date to remember the past, because we so easily forget the big events (bad or good) that changed the course of history and forever affected so many lives.

Our God knows his people so well. He knows our propensity to forget, and he knows the importance of taking time to remember the things that should not be forgotten. A quick overview of the Old Testament will reveal the Lord, time and time again, setting anniversary dates for his people to remember the important events of their past. Time and time again, he reminded them through his leaders of his love and providence. Time and time again, he reminded them to heed the warnings of tragedies in the past and celebrate their miraculous deliverance. Time and time again, he reminded them of his impeccable record of faithfulness in spite of their repeated unfaithfulness. Those anniversaries were set so they would never forget.

This month everyone in our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has a chance to mark an important anniversary. Our first world mission effort to the Apache people of the Arizona Territory began in October of 1893. 125 years ago our WELS ancestors would not be deterred or denied in their quest to share Jesus. They could not forget the great things God had done for them, and they could not forget about those who did not yet know. Thousands today give thanks that they do know!

But we do not remember the past simply to live in the past. We remember so we can learn. We remember so we can be inspired. We remember so we can move forward with new strength, new resolve, and new purpose.

Remembering the past to move forward with new strength, new resolve, and new purpose.

In WELS Native American Missions, we are resolved to recapture the missionary spirit which prompted brave men and women to come to the unknown and share Jesus. We are inspired by the Christian love that prompted so many to save, sacrifice, and give generously to support the work among the Apache people. And we know our purpose: the gospel has been given to us to hold, yes; but also to pass on! There are other Tribes and other reservations to reach. 125 year later we remember so we can share the unforgettable.

Will you join us in remembering? Never forget how grace changed your life and future forever. Never forget the sweetness of the word forgiven in your ears and on your tongue at the Lord’s Table.  And never forget that your mission field begins at your front door.

Written by: Pastor Dan Rautenberg, Native American Missions Field Coordinator

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25 Years of Grace Renewal

The public history of the Ukrainian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession was interrupted in 1939 when World War II had begun and the Red Army occupied western Ukrainian lands. Some pastors, like Rev. Theodor Yarchuk, became martyrs at the hands of communists. Other faithful men, like Deacon Stepan Chermkhivka, were persecuted and finished in GULAG concentration camps in Siberia. The sheep were scattered among the fields stained by the red blood of Ukrainian Christians, pastors, deacons, and teachers. Some Ukrainian Lutherans were able to escape to the west. The pure gospel voice of the Lutheran church has been silenced in Ukraine for almost 50 years and two generations of people. Other Protestant churches like Baptists and Pentecostals were allowed in the Soviet Ukraine. The Lutheran church, on the other hand, was under the strictest ban.

But “the Lord is gracious and compassionate” (Psalm 145:8). On Easter of 1993, two public Lutheran worship services took place in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Ternopil. Pastors from WELS  (Melvin Schwark, Roger Kovaciny) and ELS (John Shep, Jay Webber) were first preachers and teachers of theology of the newly organized Lutheran congregations in Ukraine. The Lord has promised, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not returns 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 of My mouth: it will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10, 11).

The Word of the Lord accomplished what the Lord has desired. The Lutheran Church in Ukraine has been raised by the gospel of Christ back to life. In two years the Lord has blessed his church with faithful seminary students and deacons who also became missionaries to other parts of Ukraine. Soon Lutheran congregations were founded in Kremenets, Sevastopol, Simferopol, Lviv, Zaporizhia, Radomyshl, and Kharkiv. Old Ukrainian Lutheran churches in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lazarivka in western Ukraine, as well as an old German Lutheran church in Ivanivka (former Johannestahl) in southern Ukraine were reborn.

The Ukrainian Lutheran Church has been blessed to be reborn as a confessional Lutheran church body. Fellowship with WELS and ELS has been very fruitful in establishing good, solid, pure Lutheran doctrine in Ukraine. Not all churches have this blessing. Even among those who call themselves Lutherans we find very little Lutheran doctrine and practice. Often we can find none! We are so privileged to be in fellowship with those Lutherans who are Lutherans not only by name, but also by their teaching, their confession, and their practice. We have still a lot to learn. And we are willing to share our knowledge of the Lutheran doctrine with others.

Luther’s Small Catechism has proven to be a true gem that has brought to light of the gospel a former Baptist congregation in Tokmak, a city in southeastern Ukraine. When a young deacon of the congregation had read Luther’s Small Catechism and then shared it members of the congregation, they realized the teaching was Biblical and they wanted to know more about Lutheran doctrine. Now the Grace of the Christ Church is a member of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church and shares the precious Gospel with people in that area of the country.

2018 marks the 25 anniversary of the renewal of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church.

The ULC has decided to give this year a special title – 25 Years of Grace Renewal. “Because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved… By grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”, writes St. Paul in his letter to Ephesians (2:4, 5, 8). With joy we proclaim this message to Ukrainians. It’s true – the history of Ukrainian Christianity is long and reaches back to the 10th century. But as in times prior to the Lutheran Reformation, the pure gospel doctrine of justification by grace through faith is darkened by many different false teachings. But now the light of grace is shining more brightly in the country of Ukraine.

It is a joy to see children and adults baptized. It is a joy to see both children and adults in our Catechism classes. It is a joy to hear the pure gospel preached at our congregations and see how Ukrainian Lutherans share the message about Christ crucified. It is so refreshing to commune with other brothers and sisters the true body and blood of our Savior in his Holy Supper. The ULC Vacation Bible School, in partnership with WELS pastors and members, attracts several hundred Ukrainian kids. Our annual Youth Forums unites our teenagers, young Christians around the word of God and the mission of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, to reach out to as many people with the gospel as possible.

We do have challenges. We are a small church body, and we live in a country engaged in war. Some of our churches were left in the occupied territories. Our economy is weak. So often it is difficult to make ends meet. We have only five church buildings throughout Ukraine. The majority of our congregations have to rent their worship facilities… and because of this they are limited in many of their activities. Yet we are optimistic because we have the Lord’s promise that he will always will be with us and he will take care of his church. He does take care of us through his means of grace. We are optimistic because we have faithful and supportive brothers and sisters from WELS. Most of all, we are optimistic because we have God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory in Christ. He himself will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:10, 11).

Written by: Bishop Slavik Horpynchuk, Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) 

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Gospel Networking in Latin America

Sorry, I know “networking” went from being a trendy word to cliché a while ago… but we’re not talking social networking or business networking. We’re talking about GOSPEL networkingIt’s connecting people to the gospel and to each other as much as possible. These partnerships mean we can get more done together than we could as isolated, separate ministries.

Yes, it’s true that many of the connections start online here in Latin America. Academia Cristo has 1.1 million Facebook followers. 1,800 people have asked to receive Bible-based training to share Jesus in the past three months (June-August 2018)… but the end goal is not a virtual, online church. The goal is to see more people trained to share Jesus wherever they’re living. This social and digital networking leads to on-the-ground ministry – aka local gospel networking.

Gospel networking in Venezuela

Ideally, that eventually means new churches are planted with Seminary-trained pastors in worship buildings that serve as tremendous blessings. We pray that gospel networking leads to that.

But in many cases, it doesn’t start like that. A guy finds himself the de facto spiritual leader of a few families. He works a full-time job. They meet wherever they can to study the Bible, pray, praise, and enjoy a meal together as Christian brothers and sisters. No budget, no church building, no ordained pastor. Is that a church? Trained by Academia Cristo, he then passes this gospel message and training on to his group. They take that message of Jesus’ sweet love out to their ‘colonias’ (neighborhoods). The gospel is being proclaimed, taught, and connections are being made for the kingdom. Is it okay if gospel networking leads to that?

From L to R – Jackson, Henry, and Tonny

In August, two Lutheran missionaries traveled to Venezuela for ten days to assist and advise Venezuelan pastor Jackson on the mission opportunities there. Only this time the missionaries are not American WELS missionaries – they’re Colombian: Tonny and Henry. Venezuela is a complicated place right now… There are stores with no food. Want a taxi ride?  You need a suitcase full of cash, since the money there is almost worthless (if you can find money at all). Most ATM’s in Venezuela are empty right now. Transporting ten pounds of food or more is considered “drug-trafficking.” Missionaries saw state police rob people of basic necessities – flour, food, etc… The three-man mission team went almost two days without eating. Pastor Jackson tries to break up a dispute and a guy draws a pistol. Why would Jackson, Henry, and Tonny get in the middle of that hot mess?

Gospel networking. The gospel of Jesus Christ.

People are hungry for something solid. When they meet Bible-based, Confessional Lutheran teaching, they want to connect their own network of people to that treasure. The chain of disciples continues. Pastor Jackson has a gospel network now, consisting of several groups that he is training and influencing via the internet and visiting in-person whenever possible.

This week in Academia Cristo ¡En Vivo! (Christ Academy Live), our online leadership training program, we have over 200 people participating in live online courses from 21 different countries.  With many of them, we say, “Who knows where this will lead?” But we trust that God’s Word will not return to him empty.

Gospel networking in Venezuela

In Guanajuato, a small city in central Mexico, Academia Cristo Facebook publicity grabs people’s attention to find those who want to be part of a church plant that only studies the Bible. Two families turns into seven families pretty quickly in Mexico. Why? People hear the gospel of eternal life in Jesus and want their family and friends to know about it – gospel networking on a local level.

In Quito, Ecuador, missionaries partnered with WELS members through short-term mission groups (WELS Mission Journeys) to launch a Christian Training Center and make initial on-the-ground gospel connections in the area.

Latino leaders meet to talk international Seminary-training. Can we do this work better together across borders in Latin America?

Gospel networking.

Gospel networking, both digital and local, leads to more people to heaven and the eternal network where we will be forever connected to our Savior and to each other. That’s what we’re doing in Latin America. Thank you for your prayers and support, brothers and sisters in WELS.

So just a thought for you… It’s pretty great, the clear gospel message we have as Christians and as Lutherans. Wouldn’t it be awesome to try something like Academia Cristo to reach the almost two billion English-speakers on the planet, most of whom live outside the U.S.?

Jesus said he would be lifted up, and he would draw people in to himself. It’s fun to see Jesus keep his promises.

Written by: Rev. Joel Sutton, Missionary for the Latin America missions team

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The Sun Came Out at Midnight

On Monday, August 13, 2018 the crescent moon – thin and red – hung low in the night sky as I drove up to the church. It reminded me of the same crescent moon I saw the first night I was in Pakistan in March 2009. That day my hosts arranged a visit to a Sunday School upon my arrival. The children threw petals of flowers, sang hymns, recited Bible verses and put on a play. As I walked back to the car, there in the western sky (now dark) was a white crescent moon. In my first hours of being in the country I was surprised to see this well-known symbol on the flag of Pakistan displayed so marvelously. And tonight, there it was again.

I was nervous. We had been preparing for this event for more than a year. I took a nap at 7 p.m., woke up at 8 p.m., and shaved and put on a suit and tie. My translator told me to wear a suit since in the Pakistani mind this shows greater respect to the students and to the event itself.

As I drove up to the church an hour early, my nervousness gave way to excitement. I was going to see men whom I had come to know during my visits to Pakistan, men whom I had not been able to converse with except through written reports – men who were my dear brothers in Jesus.

Then the moment came. Our contact and I stood before the camera. We saw the eleven men and four wives gathered in the classroom. All of the students introduced themselves. We exchanged pleasantries and then we began our study of Luke’s Gospel. The men will teach what they learn from Luke’s Gospel to the 58 house churches in Pakistan. Each man will visit 4-5 house churches a week. The ladies will minister to women and teach children in our Sunday Schools.

Our 10-day Bible Institute ran from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Central Standard Time, which is the same as 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Pakistan. The “day” was broken up into four, two hour sessions with breaks in between.

Our contact and I have found that standing while teaching keeps us alert… The first two nights we stayed up the entire night. Now we take a nap while the students have lunch. We wake up half an hour before the third session to make sure our brains are in gear. We also eat snacks to keep our energy level up – granola bars, honey on bread, apples, peanuts, and decaf coffee. We sleep as best as we can during the day.

I was not used to so many filters in teaching – the filter of culture (the Pakistani mindset, the American mindset), the filter of language (translation from English to Urdu and back again), and then the filter of technology (cameras, microphones, picture quality, sound quality, being unable to move around while teaching). I wish I could be physically present, but that was not possible due to security concerns. In spite of these filters, and because of them, God in his great mercy supplied what I was lacking and enabled us to connect head-to-head and heart-to-heart.

There have been four surprises:

  1. The amount of interaction. It was our goal to have a lot of interaction, but we didn’t know if we would be able to achieve it. We wanted to avoid “the sage on the stage” where everyone sits quietly and listens to a man talk for a long time. Every day we taught there was more interaction.
  2. How much the students know. Their knowledge of the Bible is deeper than we had expected.
  3. The camaraderie and good will. There is a joy and a closeness among us. Many times the students spontaneously wanted to sing a hymn after learning a Bible lesson. With the accompaniment of drums, they stood and sang an Easter hymn after learning about Jesus raising to life the only son of the Widow of Nain.
  4. The formation of a team. We spent several sessions talking honestly about the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats in our churches in Pakistan. Talking back and forth – listening to the students thoughts and concerns – makes them feel they are respected. This shows them that we consider them to be valuable members of our team.

The first three days we were without the use of a live video transmission for only 45 minutes during 15 total hours of teaching. We had high hopes, but we did not expect the video signal to work so well. This was a great gift from God. When the video transmission stopped, we used the phone. We, of course, have plans to repeat and enlarge our Bible Institute; but we will not mention them here for security reasons. I thank everyone who worked so hard – in Pakistan and in America – to make this happen.

The Old Testament prophet Zechariah said, “When evening comes, there will be light” (14:7). On the evening of August 13, 2018, a crescent moon was setting in the western sky and the sun came out at midnight.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

Written by: WELS Friendly Counselor to Pakistan

 

To learn more about WELS mission work in Pakistan, visit wels.net/Pakistan.

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Faces of Faith – Ching

His name is Ching. He was born 28 or 29 years ago in the jungles of western Thailand. He technically has two birthdays – the date that his parents told him he was born and the one the government assigned to him when his family was assimilated into Thailand’s population. The two birthdays are a year apart.

His family was moved to Village 9, one of the settlements established by the government for refugees. He attended school through the third grade, but had to leave due to family difficulties and the need to work in the fields in order to help support the family. No one in his family was Christian including his four siblings.

A strange dream caused his mother to seek out the local Christian leaders of our fledgling mission in Village 9. Through her contact with our young Bible Institute student (now one of our national pastors), the Holy Spirit led her to faith and she was baptized along with three of her children.

Children in Thailand listen to a Bible message

By the time Ching was 15, his interest in the Christian faith led him to the city of Chiang Mai, about a seven hour drive from his home in Village 9. He attended classes at our Bible Institute until its closure in 2009. He then transferred his studies to our seminary in Chiang Rai. At the same time he continued his secular education and earned his GED. When he completed our four year seminary program, he was graduated with a BTh degree and was ordained into the pastoral ministry.

He married in March of 2016. A year later he was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and he underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments. Though the doctors told him he would never be able to have children after the chemotherapy, the Lord has blessed him and his wife with the joy and expectation of a child this November.

I asked him once why he decided to become a pastor. Music has always been among his interests. In his youth, he once heard a Christian song that led him to seek out more information about the words and music. His friends in turn invited him to become more involved in worship where he was drawn to the music of the church as well as the message. From there, a thirst and desire to learn more led him on the path to service in the church. Pastor Ching and his wife currently are serving as officers on the Board of Directors of our new Thailand Evangelical Lutheran Synod Foundation in Chiang Rai.

Please continue to remember Pastor Ching and his wife in your prayers.  Pray that the Lord grants him a complete recovery from his cancer, and that he and his wife are blessed with the birth of a healthy child.

Written by: Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

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Walking Between Two Elephants

The current political situation in West Africa has created great difficulties for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Please pray for a swift resolution to the conflict between the English-speaking and French-speaking regions of the country, and we trust that God will use this situation for the good of his people. Missionary Dan and Karen Kroll have temporarily relocated to Lilongwe, Malawi, while the situation on the ground is being assessed.

As we sat with fellow workers from our mission field, we learned much about the situation there. They had come from the place we call home, a place which had now become unsafe for us to return to. They had traveled in a military convoy of about two hundred vehicles, not sure if or when some opposition leaders might attack. The government is strong, but so are those who oppose them in the name of independence. Everybody here was raised with a “might makes right” attitude, so violence becomes the order of the day.

Lutheran Church of Cameroon

There is a hopelessness in the air as the proverb rolls off his tongue, “We are walking between two elephants.” We learn the other half of the proverb about five minutes later as he continues, “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” We (ordinary people) are only spectators in this fight, and we don’t choose sides. ANYBODY with a gun makes us run into the bush to hide, makes us afraid to be home, but we are the ones who suffer in this fight. We are the grass.

As Isaiah begins his encouragement to the people of Israel who had been informed of God’s impending judgement, he acknowledges the same idea, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever”(40:7-8). “It isn’t easy” is a common phrase that comes up in our area – it usually refers to a tragic event or near impossible project that needs to be done. This is a classic situation, walking between two elephants, and it’s getting uglier every day.

When God decides that we need to walk between two elephants, or he finds it necessary to allow the elephants to fight, the best we can do is to prepare for any outcome. This is out of our hands. Almost any way we become involved, we will agitate somebody – we will most likely only make it worse.

Missionaries Dan and Karen Kroll

“…BUT the word of our God stands forever.” A pretty important “but” that turns our attention away from the terrible things that are happening in a different part of the world, a war zone, across town, or even in our own home. Whenever we look to people or expect anything of this world to bring peace and happiness, we will surely be disappointed. In fact, the devil will use that to get our attention away from our Savior Jesus. As soon as independence, peace, prosperity, or personal satisfaction rule our hearts and lives, we can be lost and trampled underfoot.

Is there a way for us to leave the elephants alone? In spite of the worldly suffering in this situation, might we rather focus on the good news that our ever-gracious and wise LORD is still in charge, even stronger than the elephants. We remember always that he plans only good things for us (Romans 8:28). The best example is the sacrifice of his own Son to keep us close to Him for eternity. Let us continue to read and study his word to remind us that even our biggest elephant (death) no longer has power over us. Together with Jesus we cannot lose. The whole world needs to know about this great victory in Jesus – even if it means we have walk between two elephants while we tell them!

Written by: Missionaries Dan and Karen Kroll 

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Worship Wrestling

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive updates, visit oneafricateam.com.

Written by Rev. James Aderman, a pastor who has served congregations in Florida and Wisconsin and is currently retired. Pastor Aderman recently went to Malawi to teach continuing education courses for pastors from Malawi and Zambia.

The topic was familiar. If I had closed my eyes I could easily have imagined myself in a group of WELS pastors in the United States.

But I was 8,500 miles from Wisconsin. I was south of the equator in Malawi, Africa.

The Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) hosts an annual continuing education week for its pastors at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi. I had the privilege of leading the 40 LCCA pastors who attended the 2018 conference in a discussion of Bible interpretation principles and of Christ-centered worship. It was the worship material that launched this discussion.

“My people think liturgy-based worship services are dull,” one pastor said. Others nodded in agreement. “That’s why some of my members slip off to Pentecostal churches on Sunday,” another said. “We Lutherans have so much to celebrate because of God’s grace,” said someone else. “Why can’t our worship be more lively?”

“But the liturgy reflects our teaching about grace,” another pastor countered. “Everything about it points us to Jesus. We dare not lose that.”

The discussion volleyed for some time. At the end there was consensus.

  • God’s grace in Jesus motivates us to worship him in the best ways possible.
  • Lutheran liturgy provides a solid structure on which to build our worship.
  • Liturgy doesn’t have to be dull or repetitive.
  • Our excellent hymn texts can be placed into music that is more familiar to African ears.
  • Pastors can do a better job teaching the Lutheran approach to worship.
  • The liturgy offers the freedom to help Christians of any culture fully rejoice in God’s grace.
  • We pastors can improve the way we lead God’s people in worship.

“I applaud you, my brothers,” I told them, “for your willingness to wrestle with developing worship services that bring praise to God and best benefits God’s people. You’ve given me new encouragement to keep my eyes open wide, so I do the same for fellow Christians in America.”

Written by: Rev. James Aderman, Retired pastor and volunteer professor in Malawi

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From the Far Side of the Sea

For my wife Connie and I, the words penned by ancient Israel’s King David take on a very personal meaning:

I settle on the far side of the sea. Even there your hand guides me, and your right hand holds on to me.

Psalm 139:9-10 EHV

As part of the WELS foreign service team, we have lived on the tropical island of Java in Indonesia since 2011. Indonesia is an archipelago, a geographic grouping of islands scattered about a region of water. The sandy shores of this nation of islands are bordered by the Pacific and Indian oceans, as well as being interconnected by several seas, straits, and gulfs.

Greg Bey and his wife Connie in Indonesia

One of the country’s many beautiful beaches on the southern coast of Central Java was the site of the 16th synodical convention of Gereja Lutheran Indonesia this past June. The modest hotel at which the convention was held was a mere 10-15 minute walk away from the water’s edge. Reflecting on the vastness of the Indian Ocean at the setting of the sun, the following words recorded by the Prophet Habakkuk seem most applicable: For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14 ESV)  All that we need to know about the glory of God our Savior, the God of free and faithful grace, the God of undeserved kindness and love, has been written down for us in the Holy Scriptures for our eternal benefit.

Pastor Ordination at GLI

To the great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9 EHV) God’s Word of Truth proclaims:  He will… have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19 ESV) In a sense, GLI is truly a microcosm of the “great multitude” from around the world who so desperately needs to hear the good news of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation which He freely offers to all through faith in Christ. It is estimated that there are more than 300 native languages and ethnic groups throughout the archipelago. Some sources state that the living languages in use exceed 700.

It is a privilege for GLI to be able to reach out to various tribes, people, and languages. This small fledgling confessional Lutheran denomination is able to do so only because the Lord of the Church has already blessed it with members and ministers in a number of major geographic regions including West, Central, & East Java, West Timor, Kalimantan (Borneo), and Irian Jaya (Papua).

GLI Delegates at their synod convention

This was evidenced at the GLI synodical convention as new leaders from among the clergy and laity were elected and new pastors and vicars were ordained and installed. While the baton was passed from the first generation to the middle-aged and younger men of the second and third generations, those added to the cadre of elected leaders and called workers consisted of individuals from various tribes including Javanese, Batak (Sumatra), Papuan, Dawan (Timorese), and Dayak (Kalimantan).

While GLI is small church body with a mere handful of far flung posts and congregations, the LORD has provided it with with big opportunities, the greatest message, and His promise of blessing. Please join in its ministry through your words of encouragement, by your offerings, and especially with your prayers.

Blessed is everyone who has the God of Jacob as his help. His hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything which is in them. He is the one who stays faithful forever.

Psalm 146:5-6 EHV

Written by: Greg Bey, Friendly Counselor to Indonesia

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God Can Turn Setbacks into Blessings

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

Acts 8:4

The book of Acts shows us that the Lord used even the persecution of his church to further the spread of his Word. What seemed a setback actually resulted in added blessing to the church as the scattered believers brought the message of salvation to those whom they might not have otherwise encountered.

South Asian Fellowship at Christ in Pewaukee, WI

When our World Missions contacts in Pakistan, Dr. and Mrs. Jordan, were forced to leave their country and come to the United States for safety reasons, it seemed a significant setback to the efforts to share the gospel in that country. A small but growing Lutheran church had been established. Christian literature had been provided in the Urdu language for tens of thousands of Christian school children, for adults who desired instruction, and for hundreds of low income Christian households that wanted Bible materials for the spiritual instruction of their families.

Yet as happens so often in mission work, our Lord used these unforeseen developments to further his work rather than hinder it. Through the miracle of modern technology in communications, the departed leaders were able to continue to advise, encourage, and train those left behind in their church in Pakistan. Plans for in depth Bible training of the next generation are being carried out and a new wave of leadership has begun to emerge. In fact, outreach through household churches is being done on a scale greater than thought possible.

The Lord’s blessings are not confined to Pakistan alone, but are also evident in the United States. Extended time in America enabled the Pakistani couple to accelerate and complete courses with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), a partnership between WELS Joint Missions and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. After graduating from the PSI program, the Jordans began to use the advantage of their Asian background and language to establish a network of Asian immigrant friends who were living in the Pewaukee, Wis. area, where they reside. Their membership at Christ Lutheran Church in Pewaukee prompted the congregation to work with the Jordans to establish an International Friendship Center (IFC) to reach out to these immigrants with Christian love and the message of salvation.

Activities of the IFC over the past months have included meals, gatherings at church, and numerous visits to homes that have involved over 60 immigrants. In all of these activities, the gospel has been shared and relationships between American mid-westerners and people from India, Pakistan, and Nepal have begun to form. This summer, Christ Lutheran volunteers are providing activities for Asian children in a nearby park leading up to the church’s Vacation Bible School in July. Joint trips to farms, businesses, and places of interest in the community are being planned; and classes helping these immigrants to adjust to U.S. culture and life are being developed.

We don’t know where all of this comparatively new outreach effort will lead, but the Jordans and the volunteers at Christ Lutheran do know that God has provided an unexpected opportunity to be his people in a unique way, perhaps showing again in the 21st century that setbacks in man’s perception often become blessings that are part of God’s master plan.

Written by: A volunteer with the Christ Lutheran South Asian Task Force

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Faces of Faith – Tsavxue Ham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Pastor Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

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The Good News does not stop with you!

Mexico City – 8.9 million people.

Bogotá, Colombia – 7.8 million people.

Buenos Aires, Argentina – 3 million people.

Quito, Ecuador – 2.6 million people.

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

I pray the answer lies in men like Rolando Mena.

Missionary Nathan Schulte

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan and Joyce invite people to the outreach event

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

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

The good news does not stop with you!

Written by: Missionary Nathan Schulte, Latin American Missions

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

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Bearing Much Fruit

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

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

Her presentation was about mothers.

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

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

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

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

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Adversity Turned to Blessing

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

Missionary Iliyan Itsov

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

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

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

Outreach to Roma – Vacation Bible School

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

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

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

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

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Now I Believe

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

I didn’t know what he meant.

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

“Now I believe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now. I. FEEL.”

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

Now I believe.

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

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

Malawi National Pastors at the Funeral

The cloak is dark and heavy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is… because Jesus has conquered death!

She is… because Jesus lives!

She is… because Jesus has taken away her sin!

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

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

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

Now I believe.

In my weakness and God’s strength,

Missionary John Holtz, Malawi

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Wait! How Do I Pray?

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

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

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

Pastor Joe with Garden, Baking and Bible visitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator

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

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Reaching the Vietnamese

Have you heard about Friends of Vietnam?

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

Q: What are the goals of FOV?

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

Q: Why is FOV important, in your view?

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

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

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

*name withheld due to security concerns

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

Q: What is your dream for FOV?

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

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

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

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

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A Man of Many Hats

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

Pastor Alvien De Guzman and wife Marieta

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

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

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

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

Law and Gospel Lutheran Church – Manilla, Philippines

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

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

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

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

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

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Inner Peace! Inner Peace!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: A Missionary in East Asia

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It’s Rally Day!

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

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

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

Rally Day organizer and Open Bible member, Brenda Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a great question for all of us.

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

Written by: Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator

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

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

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Faith and Love in Action – Africa

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

Jeremiah 29:11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Chair Problem – With a Surprising Outcome

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

Students from Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would help!

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

After lots of up and downs…

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

… it actually came together and worked!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Wolfgramm prepares the Children’s Choir in Iskitim

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

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

Kirsten Young with a Russian Shut-In

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

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

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

Cultural Insights:

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

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Not a Bite Left, but a Hunger for More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time to Tell the Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: A Missionary in East Asia

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A Most Blessed, Christ-filled Christmas from Malawi

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

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

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

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

What’s so funny about that?

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

and a hippo.

My Nativity Scene Hippo celebrating the season

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

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

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

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

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

The INCARNATION!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plenty of differences, but there are also similarities:

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

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

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

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

By: Missionary John Holtz – Malawi

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Mexico – Not Quite Potlucks and Pipe Organs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Missionary Andrew Johnston – Leon, Mexico

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

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Thankful to Be Let Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: A Missionary in East Asia

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Reformation Rain

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

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

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

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

Or…the gift of God?

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

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

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

Women’s Choir from Madalitso, Malawi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Missionary John Holtz – Malawi

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