Bright Promise

Bam, bam, bam!

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

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

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

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

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Poppies and prayers for the Apache reservations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clouds and Sunshine

Which side of the clouds are you looking at?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Back Home to Africa

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

Heather (left) and two friends after observing a surgery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heaven is my home.

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

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A Little Child Shall Lead Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by a mission counselor to an Asian country

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New Hope in Uganda

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


“Come over and help us!”

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

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

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

New Hope.

Come over and help us!

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

New Hope.

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

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

Come over and help us!

Translator Lydia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come over and help us!

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

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

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Sharing the Precious Message in Albania

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

“You have palm trees!”

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

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

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

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

Downtown Durres

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

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

Mikel (left) and Niko (right) leading worship

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

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

Written by: Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, Missionary in Russia

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Faces of Faith – Simon the Translator

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

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

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

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

Simon preaching

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

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

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

Simon (on the right) plays his drum for worship

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Swords and Selfies

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

Coat of Arms in Riobamba

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

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

And we took selfies.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 12:3

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

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

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

Written by: A missionary in East Asia

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Pastor Ham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pastor Vue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pastor Vang

Pastor Vang is 36 years old. He serves in Lao Cai province as pastor of Shan Zhou Fu congregation. He travels an hour by motorcycle and 4-5 hours by bus to get to the training in Hanoi. 

When I was 8 years old, my parents became Christian. That was in 1990. I became a Christian when my parents shared the Good News with me. In the early years, some of my brothers came to Hanoi and received training from the Christian Mission Alliance (CMA) church – our congregation was established by the CMA and was under them at that time. That was around 1991-1993. In 1998-1999, I served as the secretary for the congregation and began to serve in the church.

In 2001 and 2002, the persecution from the local government became intense against the churches in our area. As a result, we divided our church into smaller congregations and worshiped inside houses. At that time, we reached out to the CMA for assistance, but they did nothing to help. From then on, we didn’t have any connection with the CMA. In 2003, our pastor contacted the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC), and in 2004 we registered our congregation under the VFC.

I received training from the VFC from 2004 to 2006. Then in 2006, I was called by the church to be a pastor. At that time, I was still unclear about so many things in the Bible. Looking back, I see that while we talked about Jesus as our Savior, we didn’t understand law and gospel and we promoted a lot of work righteousness. That was the church that I had grown up with – if you don’t do good, or live according to the rules, you don’t count as a Christian. We always had a lot of legalism in the church. The pastors promoted many traditions to control the members.

There are currently 140 members in my local congregation. I also oversee 12 additional congregations in three different districts of Lao Cai. Those churches have a total of 1400 members. Those 12 congregations are led by elders – I am the only pastor. In our whole province, there are only 12 pastors, but we have a total of 65 congregations and more than 9,000 members.

All of us pastors are so very thankful for the training – and for WELS opening the door for us to receive this training. Every time I go back home, I conduct a training session for the elders that I oversee. Every time we focus on law and gospel and how to interpret the Bible. Even though I have received much training ever since 2003, I was always really confused by the training. I didn’t understand the scripture well. Since 2015, I started to receive training from the pastors here – Lutheran training. This opened my eyes. The first year, I was still trying to understand it all, but since 2016, I see the message is really clear. This made me really happy and now I enjoy my studies. I really enjoy our training here. We see Christ at the center of the Bible and the center of everything that is taught. We truly believe that salvation comes through faith alone, through Christ alone, through Scripture alone. This foundation has made me confident as a Christian and confident in my salvation.

This training has changed me a lot as a pastor as well. Before the training I just preached the law – I treated people with contempt. If I saw a member committing sin, I hated them. If they had addictions, I hated them. Now, as I look back, I see that I was a Pharisee at that time. Now, I hate that time of my life. But since I received the training from Pastor Lor and Professor Bare and the other pastors, I have learned to show compassion to the sinner. I have learned to show Christ to the sinner.

Thanks be to God – thanks to all the professors and teachers who have come to teach. One thing I am certain of – the students coming are now certain of their salvation in Jesus Christ. They are confident that Jesus did everything for them. This is a special thing. And this is something they didn’t have before. Before the training, so many others were just like me. My members were also just like me. But now we have compassion and love. And now we have joy.

The Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) is a very big church body. We have more than 340 pastors and more than 100,000 members. It is my dream that WELS and the HFC can hold hands together to do the ministry for the people in this country. I want to see the training continue – not only for myself – but for many people, for the younger generation. We will need much more training in the future. In my local congregations, we need more evangelists so we can send them to the villages around us and other places where people have not heard or believed in Jesus.

I pray for the training – that through this training our pastors can be united in the same faith and the same doctrine. And I pray that this training will continue into the future. That’s what I pray for. I also pray that in the future we will have our own facility for us to go and receive full-time training.

I also ask for you to pray for me and my family. I pray one day that I will be able to reduce my farming work so that I can have more time to do the ministry of leading the church.

Finally, I want to thank the Lutheran church for supporting the training. We don’t actually deserve to receive anything from the WELS – but they just give and support the training by sending professors and providing the financial ability for the training to take place. For that – I thank you.

Thank you so much. I will never forget you. You helped us to see the Word of God clearly. You have brought us the truth – and that has changed our lives.

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… 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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The Gates of Hell Cannot Prevail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gates of hell cannot prevail against that.

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

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Picking Up The Cloak and Going On

When Elijah went up, Elisha went on.

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

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

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

The cloak?

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

Let’s not overlook it anymore.

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

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

 And just like that, Elijah was gone.

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

And goes on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So are the nine students who have graduated.

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

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

It really wasn’t about them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picking up the cloak…and going on.

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

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

2.) 2 Kings 2:13

3.) Kings 2:8

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

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

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Evangelism in Malawi

The answer was surprising.

At first… only at first.

I had asked a rather straightforward question of some of the pastors in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) in Malawi. I had been requested to teach a course on Evangelism so I figured that it would be good to first find out what evangelism was currently being done in our geographically small, but extremely populated country. So my question?

“What evangelism program do you currently carry out?”

That word: “program.” Do you like it? Mind it? Or cringe a bit when you hear it? I don’t know, maybe it’s not the best word to use. I suppose it can sound like we are talking about something merely mechanical or canned. Maybe it sounds too much like a staged performance or show, a theatrical technique.

I don’t mean it in that way at all.  Would another word be better?

Approach?
Effort?
Method?

We know that the Lord Himself gave us the “Great Commission” at the end of the Gospel of Matthew.We see Jesus himself engaged in evangelism throughout his life. As Luke wraps up the story about Jesus bringing salvation to tree-climbing, branch-clinging Zacchaeus, he includes Jesus’ own words to that short man: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” 2

Jesus reached out with the gospel message to needy people, but he wasn’t the only one. So did his disciples. We find them on various occasions talking, sharing, telling, and inviting.

“Come and see!”3

It wasn’t so much about a program but a person. And that person is Jesus.

When you think about your own congregation, how would YOU answer that same question? Whatever word you prefer to use, how are you personally and and as a congregation reaching out to the lost?

Knocking on doors?
Hanging flyers?
Mass mailings?
Telephone surveys?
Travel canvass witness teams?
Friendship Sundays?
TV? Radio? Websites?
Personal invitations?
Chats over Coffee and doughnuts?
Breakfast meetings? Luncheons?

The answer every Malawian pastor gave me was none of the above, but each said the same thing. Their answer?

Funerals.

Funerals? Yep, funerals.

Was that even one of your top answers for your congregational gospel outreach? Had funerals even crossed your mind?

A surprising answer, but only at first.

Attend just one funeral in Malawi and you will understand. You see, everyone attends the funeral. EVERYONE.

It’s not just family and friends and congregation members who come to the funeral. So do people in the work place. The neighborhood. The whole village. The entire community. Even those who didn’t even know the person well, or even at all, will come to the funeral to show respect. It’s just an unwritten rule inscribed in every Malawian heart: you just don’t NOT attend.

Recently I did attend a funeral in May. The dear wife of retired Pastor Akim Daile was called to eternal glory. Jean had had a long and fierce battle with cancer and finally, the Lord said, “enough.” To say there was a “crowd” at Mrs. Daile’s funeral is an understatement. Pockets of people were everywhere. The funeral house was jam packed. Hundreds gathered around the coffin, viewed the body, followed in procession and sat at the gravesite.

Choir sang.
Women danced.
Men shoveled.
Wreathes were laid.
Speeches made.

My, oh my, were there people! Everyone was there – including our pastors. Each one knew what it meant… among the hundreds and hundreds of people, there in the crooks of the trees are perched the Zacchaeus’ of our world. They are people with a great need, and that great need is Jesus – the One who walked out of his own tomb. The pastor takes his place in the center of the crowd. He stands near the coffin and offers a silent prayer; he opens his Bible and reads the text. He begins to share the Word of Life.

That’s what evangelism looks like in Malawi.

By: Missionary John Holtz, Malawi, Africa 

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Put your heads down

This month’s article is written by Rachel Holtz, daughter of Missionary John and Mindy Holtz

“Put your heads down! Put your heads down!”

This is what the crew shouted at the passengers aboard the South African Airways aircraft, flight SAA 204, going from New York, USA to Johannesburg, South Africa. Sophia Weisensel, my roommate and good friend, and I were among those passengers.

We were on our way to my home in Lilongwe, Malawi. I was SO excited. Indescribably excited. I hadn’t seen my family for the whole of my first full school year at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota.

But just as the plane was about to takeoff, we were told to put our heads down and assume the brace position. At first we didn’t know what was going on. There were lots of questions running through my mind.

What happened? Why are we stopping? Will we make our connection flight? How will I let my parents know what’s going on?

 It turned out there was a malfunction in one of the engines and we had to abort the takeoff. We sat on the plane for an extra two hours waiting for the problem to be solved. It was eventually, but the delay caused us to miss our connecting flight from Johannesburg to Lilongwe. Sophia and I spent two nights at the airport hotel in Johannesburg, waiting for the next SAA flight to Lilongwe.

I was so close, yet so far away.

Fast forward the two days of wandering around the airport, watching movies in the hotel room, and eating at the same restaurant with food coupons. My indescribable excitement had been put on pause because of the two day delay, but during the flight to Lilongwe it continued to grow.

Finally, FINALLY, we landed and got through customs and sorted out the luggage.

What was it like to finally be home? When I saw my dad, mom, and sister, Heather, the anticipation and happiness that built up inside of me let itself out through a burst of tears. I hugged them all as I cried.

My initial excitement lessened to a more normal level during my first few days at home. I was happy to be back. It felt SO good. Yet…

…something also felt weird.

Something was different and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I felt a slight sadness after coming home that I didn’t expect. Talking to another good friend about it helped me understand what was troubling me. It was a certain undefinable change.

I had been apart from my family for about nine months. I changed during that time. They changed during that time. But we didn’t change together as a family unit. There was no specific big change that I could point out, but it was there. And it made me sad. I longed for how it used to be. More questions were running through my mind. God, what do I do? How do I make it feel like it used to? Before I left?

 Thankfully, it only troubled me for a little while. All I had to do was remember to be grateful and remind myself of God’s promises.

I need to be grateful for God’s presence in my past and be assured of His presence in my future. There’s no point in wishing for what once was. God gives us what we need at the proper time and everything that happens to us is for our eternal good. God also promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us. Though I’m still comparably young, I can see how God has always been with me.

And looking back on my freshman year at Bethany, I don’t understand how I managed it. How did I make it through all those changes? Being away from my family, adjusting to an American culture, a different school system, and a Minnesota winter, to name a few.

Well, obviously it was my plenteous determination, cultural adaptability skills, and superior intellect.

Not so much.

God was with me, and He gave me strength when I needed it. Sometimes I didn’t even ask for it. Sometimes I didn’t even realize He was giving it to me.

Pretty soon my family and I will be experiencing more big changes: I’m going to leave Malawi again to start my sophomore year of college, my sister will be going to Wisconsin Lutheran College for her freshman year, my parents will be alone at home for the first time. Now our family will be separated and stuck in three different directions of change. When we reunite, it might feel more different than ever.

I KNOW I don’t have to worry about tomorrow, next week, or next year, but I’m sinful and I worry anyway. I KNOW that God will carry me through anything, but I’m sinful and I rely on my own abilities. I KNOW that God has plans and purposes for me, but I’m sinful and I think I know what’s best for me.

The only thing I can do is continuously run back to God and his promises.

Going back to one of my dad’s favorite hymns always gives me comfort.

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;

Leave to your God to order and provide;

In every change he faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul; your best, your heav’nly friend Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end. (CW 415)

When the crew aboard flight SAA 204 told us to put our heads down, I only grasped the physical meaning at the time. I only thought to put my head down to assume the brace position, but I should have also put my head down in prayer.

Of course, we shouldn’t only pray in the case of airplane emergencies. But always. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, pray continually. And we can pray with the assurance that God will answer us with what we need. With what He knows is best.

Change can be especially hard, but God has a plan. Pray for strength, patience, courage, and guidance. God will give you what you need, even if you forget to ask for it.

So tiyeni. Let’s go.

Let’s follow the SAA 204 crew’s advice. Let’s put our heads down…

…in prayer.

Your Mission Partner’s Daughter,

Rachel Holtz

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Pure Water for Nigeria

Pure drinking water is a paramount need in Nigeria and so many other places in the world which lack sufficient water treatment infrastructure. A woman wrote of her immigrant family homesteading in North Dakota in the early 1900s. She wrote of frequent sickness because her family drew drinking water from a meager stream. That’s how it is in rural Nigeria today – and in some cities too.

I visited the village of one of our churches. The congregation leader was my eager guide. “Show me where you get your water.” He took me to a stream. It was low due to the dry season. In the exposed stream bed, my host pulled a palm-leaf cover from a hole in the mud. Two feet down was the surface of the murky water. “This is what we drink,” he said matter-of-factly. Even without public health training, I could imagine all sorts of micro-organisms that the villagers were ingesting every day. It is any wonder our Nigerian friends are so often sick, especially in rural areas?

Pastor Ted Lambert and I were teaching Seminary in 2002. I assumed that the students had a good source of water. One day we crossed the sand street visit young men making cement blocks. For water they had dug a square hole alongside the road. Road run-off collected there for mixing cement. How shocked we were when our students came to draw water from the pit. “What’s that water for?” we asked. “For bathing .” Thank God they could get better drinking water elsewhere.

Nigerians will tell you that our discoveries are common knowledge. So Lambert asked WELS Christian Aid and Relief to help. We dedicated our first borehole (drilled well) in 2002 at Ikot Osom, where villagers had been walking to a distant stream for water. The local head chief thanked us, “You think you have given us water. You have actually given us life.” That first deep borehole is still at work for hundreds of Ikot Osom people, managed and maintained all this time by the Lutheran congregation just 20 yards away.

In November 2015, we dedicated a new borehole in the front yard of our sister Lutheran church at Ikot Ntan Nsit. With the start of the new generator, flip of a switch or two, drinks of cool water and a short prayer, we asked our Triune God to bless this water for the surrounding community.

Our boreholes in Nigeria are dilled deep enough to draw water from clean gravel layers 130 feet down or deeper. Our drillers go deep enough for the water to test pure. Each unit has a gas-powered generator, submersible pump, two or three 1500 liter storage tanks, and a cement block house to elevate them for water pressure. The local congregation is in charge of their borehole, distributing the water and charging a water fee just large enough to fuel their generator and service their pump. This is a total “hand-over” package manage. WELS will not return to repair their precious boreholes. So far, this seems to work in most places.

We’ve had some failures. One could not be drilled when the workers hit a thick rock layer. Another tapped a vein of water contaminated by salt and iron and was abandoned. Yet another congregation did such poor drilling work that water would not flow. But they linked up with a United Nations group to get their borehole productive for the community. The only two hand pump wells we did failed after short use. For this reason, we stick to the more costly mechanized borehole version.

In all, we’ve done 30 borehole projects in Christ the King Lutheran Church (synod) and All Saints Lutheran Church (synod) in Nigeria. 26 were sponsored by WELS Christian Aid and Relief and its predecessors, one by a foundation grant, and three by WELS congregations and donors. 26 boreholes remain successful, thanks to careful management by our sister Lutheran congregations.

Pure drinking water remains a daily concern in Nigeria. Thanks be to our Lord of abundant love for the many WELS donors who sponsor boreholes for Nigeria. May our fellow Lutherans in Nigeria providing pure water for their communities also attract many souls to drink of the water of life which only Jesus supplies!

Written by Rev. Douglas Weiser, part time missionary to Nigeria

To view a video highlighting bore hole activity, visit this link.

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Don’t let go until He blesses

I never have fully understood Genesis 32:24. “…a man wrestled with Jacob till daybreak.” Read the whole context1 and you come to find out that the “man” was God!

God in a wrestling match?

I can’t help but picture an angelic announcer with a microphone and a note card: “Ladies and Gentlemen…welcome to the Jabbok Arena for the match of the century. In this corner, contending for the crown, weighing in at 178 pounds, Jaaaaaaaacob! (Applause); And in this corner, weighing in at…well, I don’t know how much He weighs…the undefeated and undisputed reigning Champion of the universe…God! (Applause)

What is this? The Old Testament version of World Wrestling Federation? Not Hulk Hogan verses Da’ Crusher, but the Deceiver vs the Destroyer.

No four-sided ring and no leather bound turnbuckles; no folding chairs to slam or ropes from which to jump, but an under-the-stars night time match of grappling, rumbling and tumbling. Jacob putting God in a “half nelson?” I still can’t entirely understand how it all took place but maybe I grasp it a bit more now than I did before.

Like Jacob, I too, have been in a strenuous wrestling match. Not a physical bout but a spiritual one. Not just for one night but for one month. A Call put me in the ring.

John Holtz, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Bylas Arizona, together with the Administrative Committee for the Native American Mission is extending this Call to you to be their shepherding pastor on the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Like a ring-side bell, that announcement began the match. I wasn’t wrestling with the Calling body but with the real CALLER Himself: God. Clay Jar vs The Blesser. Four weeks of grappling in prayer. Agonizing, arduous, exhausting prayer.

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”2

He did.

God blessed me immeasurably through time in the Word. The LORD has blessed me through talks with Christ centered, mature-in-the-faith people. He’s given me a new look at the gospel work He’s calling to be done. He’s has called to mind once again that we are to walk by faith and not by sight. Christ has reminded me again and again through His Word what He displays through my jar-of-clay weakness: His victory-of-the-cross strength! To be sure, in both Malawi and the San Carlos Reservation, the needs are so great, the work is so important, the people so precious and the message so valuable. Consequently, the wrestling match was so strenuous. But through all the straining and struggling, He led me to a decision. I returned the Call that I had received to Our Savior’s Church on the Apache Reservation. I believe the Lord led me to continue to serve in Malawi. The BLESSER blessed me with assurance that He will be with me and not forsake me.3

Dear Mission Partners, I write to you these thoughts to thank you for your prayers, emails and phone calls. Perhaps not everyone who reads these communiques knew about the Call, but many of you did. And when you found out, you prayed for me and my family, for Our Savior’s congregation and for the Malawi mission field. In your own way, you stood outside the ring and offered prayers for the one in it.

As far as I know, there is always some Called Worker in WELS some place in the country or in the world who is wrestling with a Call that has been laid upon his/her heart. Might be a teacher or pastor, a missionary or lay minister. If ever you do hear about such Calls that are extended, even if you don’t know the person well, and especially if you do, might I ask that you also say a prayer for that person? I’m sure he or she would appreciate that kind of support. “Mission Partner” in the true sense of the words.

Though Call decisions may come easier for some than others, there is still is an important decision to make. Because a Call is from God, the wrestling is with God.

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Jacob didn’t until God did. Through the strenuous process, like Jacob, we are blessed to see God “face to face.” We do so by faith through His Word. We see God as Jesus has made Him known.4

We know Him. He is both Destroyer and Blesser. By His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave He destroyed the power of sin, death and the devil and blesses us with life and eternal salvation. Though, like Jacob, we all have been deceivers, we too have all been justified.

Clay jars have overcome.

Unlike He did for Jacob, God didn’t change my name after the match.5 But sometimes I think I’m limping a bit more. Did he touch my hip? Not sure, (maybe it’s just arthritis) but He did touch my heart. He once again touched it with His grace and love and mercy.

He’s given me a wife worth far more than rubies,6 two children who love me far more than I deserve and family members who accept God’s will even when it doesn’t match theirs. He’s already blessed me with a cloud of witnesses that has gone on before me7, a mission family presently surrounding me and leaders currently guiding and encouraging me.

Whoever He Calls, He blesses. Wherever He Calls, He equips.

Dear Mission Partner, you too have a calling, a vocation to serve and glorify the Lord who has called you to the position and place in which you find yourself today. And if today the one in the ring wrestling with God is YOU, you may very likely discover that the match is long and strenuous. But…

“Don’t let go until He blesses.”

Tiredly but sincerely,

Your Mission Partner,

John Holtz

_____________________________________________

  1. Genesis 32:22-32
  2. Genesis 32:26
  3. Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20
  4. John 1:18
  5. Genesis 32:28
  6. Proverbs 31:10
  7. Hebrews 11
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“Knows Little” Becomes “Knows the Gospel”

I recently had a chance to teach an East Asian man named Xiao-Dong. His name means “knows the East.” The same sounds in the native language can also mean “knows little.” That was certainly true for him. He hadn’t had much formal Christian training. What he had learned was from books and the internet.

“Knows Little” and his fellow students were East Asian grass roots church workers who were part of four weeks of training spread out over a year. They weren’t yet affiliated with us but were willing to study. Church workers from our daughter church SALEM in Hong Kong and I were doing the teaching.

BWM-ALSblog-012816-350We didn’t hit it off well in our first meeting. I was responsible for going through the teaching about the end times. I diagrammed on a white board our Lutheran understanding. I could see “Knows Little” was becoming agitated. In fact, he suddenly got up and went to the white board. Without asking for permission, he sketched out his understanding which was much different. Then he sat down. It was a bit embarrassing for the others in the class.

“Xiao-Dong was zealous, but he was being true to his alternate-name “Knows Little.” Fellow students talked with him later asking him to be patient and respectful. I also encouraged him to make good use of this time and let the Holy Spirit guide him. We kept teaching. He didn’t speak up much in the next classes. Nevertheless, in other classes he still didn’t look too comfortable with some of our teachings such as infant baptism. We were getting worried this could be a difficult situation.

The gospel, however, is the power of God. Our teaching centered around the grace of God in Jesus. We patiently taught the Biblical truth of law and gospel. Over the course of several months we saw a marked change in “Knows Little.” The frown on his face became a smile. The hardness we had seen was melted by the good news of a Savior who loved, forgave, and accepts him. His initial doubts about us were removed as he heard sound teaching that was followed by genuine care for him.

At the end of our training, he got up and shared what he had learned. “I want to thank you. I never knew the difference between law and gospel before. I was living in the law. I never really saw or shared the love of Jesus. Now I know. Thank you for teaching me the gospel. Thank you for showing me in your teaching and in your lives what it means to love one another. I have so enjoyed the brotherly love. I want to share this love with my church and with my neighbors.”

The gospel is powerful and changes people.

All of us start out as “know nothings.”  Thank the Lord for pastors, missionaries, and brothers and sisters who can correctly teach the gospel. Thank the Lord for power to demonstrate the effects of the gospel in our lives. Even though we get to know something, there is always much more to learn. God’s will is that all of us who “know little” become people who “know the gospel.” People who get to know Jesus know all they really need to know.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Outside the Comfort Zone

Amanda Oswalt is getting what she prayed for: an experience outside of her comfort zone. It certainly is all that…and much more. Amanda stepped out of the sparkling and sanitized hallways of St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin one day and into the handmade brick and mortar, dark and dusty clinics in rural Malawi the next. Could there be a more stark contrast in health care and facilities? Not from Amanda’s perspective: “It was such juxtaposition from where I came from and into what the medical reality is here.”

BWM-Malawi-AmandaOswaltJust what are the medical realities in Malawi?

Well, to name a few…

• Limited medications
• Long queues
• Little/no electricity
• Outdated equipment
• Insufficient funds
• Staffing shortages
• Cramped quarters
• Overcrowded rooms
• Minimal/no pain management

With such circumstances just what is Amanda, the Nurse-in-Charge, to do? Lots, actually. Though she is seldom called upon for direct patient care, Amanda has a full
plate. As the Nurse-in-Charge, she makes sure that everything with the staff and clinic management medically runs smoothly. She purchases the majority of the clinic’s medications and works with the Malawian Government to procure others. She also reports back pertinent statistical data of the Lutheran Clinics to both the Malawian Government (which gets the lion’s share of the data) and the Central Africa Medical Mission Committee (CAMMC) in the States. Because the national staff can adeptly do the hands-on care of the patients, Amanda isn’t really needed for that work. Instead, she is needed and responsible for a lot of the behind the scenes work. In her terms, she is “almost exclusively a manager.” Amanda, however, recalls one unique situation where she was literally hands-on with patient care:

“I had to hand-ventilate a child that was intubated for over an hour. I then had to teach the child’s mother how to do it; then her and her family would then be responsible for breathing for that child.”

As recent as December 2013, when Amanda interviewed for the job, she would not have guessed – or even dreamt – of finding herself in such situations in a developing country! Even after interviewing for the position, she actually thought that – for one reason or another she wouldn’t get the job.
But she did. She got the job and we got the blessing!

The Lord had plans of His own. The Lord knew we needed Amanda “for such a time as this.” (I stole those words from the book of Esther1). Amanda is bringing to our Lutheran Mobile Clinic (LMC) what Esther brought to the palace: her God-given personality, strengths and unique set of skills. A wonderful combination that the LMC in Malawi needs at this time. Isn’t it grand that the Lord determines not only our times but also the exact places for us to live?2 For Amanda, it’s in Area 10, Lilongwe, Malawi. As the crow flies (if it dares over the ocean) a mere 8,490 miles3 from home!

Though sad that Amanda is so far away from her Wisconsin home, her parents are also both proud and supportive of their daughter. They realize that Amanda hasn’t just moved clear across the globe to pursue a dream, but more-so to follow the Lord’s calling in her life for these 3 years that she’s signed up with the CAMMC. (2015 – 2018).

“Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this…I appreciate you and your support so much! Thank you!” – Amanda

Amanda admits that living and working in a country such as Malawi does not come without its tough and challenging days. Even BWM-Malawi-AmandaOswalt1though it is called the Warm Heart of Africa, it doesn’t always give a person the warm fuzzies. Amanda treasures her “go-to” Bible verse that she’s kept close to her heart and mind since she was young:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5,6.

Amanda shares this comment:

“These verses were my confirmation passages and whenever I’m having a rough day or moment I tend to meditate on this passage. It always reminds me that He has the plan and I need to let go of my attempt of control and just trust.”

Ah, yes….trust. Blessed is the one who trusts, not in faith itself but in the object of our faith, our Lord Jesus Christ! We are weak but HE is strong. Strong enough to lean on. As you lean on Him, Amanda, know that we (your “family” in Malawi) are tightly wrapping you up in prayer. May I assume that there are many people in the States praying for you as well? Word has it that WELS has a lot of prayer warriors in LWMS and supporters of the Central Africa Medical Mission! I’m sure that many of them, like your parents, are impressed with your courageous spirit and very proud of what you are doing. Yes, what you are doing is indeed admirable. Thank you for working hard to make the clinic a blessing for thousands of patients as well as an opportunity for others to follow in your footsteps.
Thank you for humbly yet boldly serving the Lord and His people with dedication, commitment and love. But every now and again, Amanda, take a break from your work. Do what you enjoy in a country not your own:

Play a little rugby (have you told your Dad and Mom?) Hit the volleyball around. Watch a local soccer game or two. Taste the local cuisine. Hang out with newly made friends. Take time for tea time. Travel a bit. Oh, and do all these things – as well as your work – while leaning on the Lord! And while you’re leaning on the Lord and talking with Him, be careful for what you pray. You might just get again what you got when you came to Malawi: an experience …outside the comfort zone.

Your Mission Partner,

John Holtz
Malawi


1. Esther 4:14
2. Acts 17: 26
3. Calculated as great circle distance on the surface of the spherical Earth.

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