Nepal: Earthquake update

On Saturday, Nepal suffered a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, centered in Kathmandu and the Gorkha district, which is about 400 miles of where our World Mission contact is located in Dhangadhi. He has reported that he is safe, though he did feel the quake, even from that distance. Various news sources are reporting that nearly 4,000 people have been killed by the earthquake and its aftermath and thousands more are in the hospital.

Our World Mission contact reports, “There are numbers of rural areas where the government has no access. Most of the relief agencies starting to pour in at capital city. We want to reach areas in the Dhading, Gorkha, Chitwan and Rasuwa districts with some supplies. Medicine, food items, and clothes.”

He continued to explain that because the earthquake occurred during worship time and the church buildings are small, many of our members were saved. He plans to travel to the rural villages that aid agencies can’t reach to bring medicine, tents, blankets, and food.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief is assessing the situation and is prepared to provide relief. May God use this event to lead many to the true and living God. To help support relief efforts, you can donate online or send checks to WELS, Re: Christian Aid and Relief, earthquake disaster relief fund, N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive, Waukesha, WI 53188-1108.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

This is a special article because Missionary Holtz was in Nigeria for teaching, graduation and ordination.

If God is for us, who can be against us?1

Excellent question, Paul, just excellent.

Paul’s query is much more than simply thought-provoking and much greater than merely discussion raising.  It’s heart-touching and faith building.

Sermon worthy.

Of all the Scripture that could have been used very fittingly for the sermon text on Graduation Day at Christ The King Lutheran Seminary in Nigeria, the nine students chose this one from Romans 8:31b:  If God is for us, who can be against us?

Why this particular text?  Why this specific question?  The nine graduates had one answer:

“Because  this very Word of God speaks personally and powerfully in our circumstances here in Nigeria.”

During the years of their Seminary training, it seemed to them that so many – too many – things were indeed against them:

  • Ebola
  • Boko Haram
  • The death of 3 classmates
  • The death of 3 local lecturers
  • The death of two student wives
  • A serious internal church issue

It’s not that any of the students or lecturers were killed by – or even infected with the Ebola Virus; it’s not that any of them were kidnapped or even personally threatened by a terrorist group; but these two weighty Nigerian issues were serious enough concerns for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) that the Board for World Missions (BWM) temporarily suspended all travel to Nigeria by WELS Called Workers who would teach at the seminary in Uruk Uso, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.

Cancelled travel meant postponed classes.

Postponed classes pushed Graduation Day further down the road.  Graduation became a tantalizing mirage that the students could never reach.  The closer they came, the further it went.

But the nine students didn’t quit the program.  They pressed on.  They persevered.  They rode out the storm.  Then one day two lights of hope shone over the troubled waters in the distance:

Nigeria declared itself “Ebola Free” on 20th October 2014 and her president, Goodluck Jonathan joined Nigeria with neighboring nations2 for a stepped up military campaign against Boko Haram.  Though both were still menacing issues for Nigeria, neither one was hovering anywhere near the Lutheran Seminary.  The WELS Board for Missions was satisfactorily assured and gave the green light to Missionary Doug Weiser3 to engage the traveling professors.

Classes could resume!

The professors came in three week waves.4 The students were elated.  Graduation Day would happen!

It did.

Though the normal six year seminary time had stretched over seven years, graduation finally took place on 14 March 2015.

WELS Pastor Joel Jaeger5 preached the text the students chose:  “If God is for us who can be against us?”

Even though this sounds like a searching question, it’s really one of a half dozen powerful answers to his first probing question.6 Like an ammunition clip for an AK47, Paul’s six questions are lined up one right after another and ready for action.  Paul rapid fires these six rounds.  He not only hits the target but he tightly groups them centering on the bulls-eye truth:

Through Jesus Christ we are more than conquerors!7

The Seminary Students needed to hear that message on Graduation Day.

They did.

Who can be against the class and ultimately succeed?

What can be against the graduates and victoriously triumph over them?

  • A deadly disease with plenty of victims but no cure?8
  • A terrorist group with plenty of machetes but no conscience?
  • A dwindling class?
  • A growing anxiety?

Paul’s question is really his answer!  It’s the answer the graduates rejoiced to hear:

NO ONE and NOTHING can go up against our great God and be victorious! 

A cross and a grave couldn’t stop Jesus, how could anything or anyone else?

Graduation Day was a good day.

Gowns were donned.

Gifts were received.

Congratulations were given.

But more importantly,

Sin was exposed.

Grace was announced.

Christ was praised.

Then on the 15th and 21st of March 20159 God supplied nine more gifts10 to His Church in Nigeria.

Just in case you ever wonder if Satan, the world or a relentless bombardment of life’s challenges have gotten the upper hand, ask yourself an important answer:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Your Malawi Missionary Partner,

John Holtz

____________________

John Holtz, Doug Weiser, Joel Jaeger

Christ the King Lutheran Seminary

Graduation Day 14 March 2015

___________________________

  1. Romans 8:31b
  2. Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
  3. Pastor Doug Weiser retired from the pastoral ministry (serving in Bellevue, Washington at the time) in June of 2014 and was commissioned as the Missionary to Nigeria the same day. He jokes that he has the record for the shortest retirement:  three hours!  With WELS budget funding, Pastor Weiser can travel to Nigeria at least four times per year, teaching at the Seminary and coordinating the WELS work there.  He organizes WELS pastors, professors and missionaries to teach at the seminary while he works with the two synods.
  4. Missionary Holtz was in Nigeria teaching the Seminary class a course on Evangelism, 23 February 2015 – 13 March 2015.
  5. Pastor Joel Jaeger presently serves Christ Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Previously he has also served in Nebraska, Germany and St. Lucia. Pastor Jaeger has traveled to Nigeria four times to teach in the seminary.  This time he taught the book of Titus.
  6. Paul begins Romans 8:31a with his question: “What shall we say in response to this?”  In response to what?  Paul had just assured the Romans that God works for our eternal good and assures them that God has predestined, called, justified and glorified them.
  7. Romans 8:37
  8. To date and to my knowledge, no known cure for Ebola has been officially announced or recognized. However, there has been a lot of progress made in this particular medical arena.  Some people who had been infected with Ebola are still alive.
  9. 15th March 2015 was Ordination and Call day for two students who will serve in Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria. Missionary John Holtz preached for the Ordination service.  He used John 10:11-18 as the text.  The theme of the sermon:  “Lord, you are the Good Shepherd, help me to be a shepherd under Christ!”  The 21st of March 2015 was Ordination and Call Day for the other seven students.  They are serving in their sister synod called All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria. These synods formed years ago when certain groups of dissatisfied people broke away from the Lutheran Church of Nigeria.
  10. Ephesians 4:11. Pictured from left to right on page 1, student’s names are in bold type: Pastor Doug Weiser, Joseph Odama Ogar, Vincent Onah Odey, Pastor John Holtz, Wonah Johnson Egbe, Samuel John Udoh, Egar Michael Nleng, Eshua Sylvester Odok, Idorenyin Joshua Udo, Agwu Johnson Ogar and Orji Stephen Odey, Pastor Joel Jaeger.

We are not afraid

We were not in class on that Friday morning. We were walking to the mortuary before the morning dew had cleared. Shocking news had punched our hearts as we woke. “Pastor Umoessien is dead.” Even those in charge said, “We don’t know what to do.” Should the seminary continue with classes and pay our respects later? No, word came that the morticians wanted to begin their work. So we cancelled class for the day. Students, Director, and WELS instructors started their sad procession together. Leaving our lane, turning left on the sand road. Our oldest student came for chapel a few minutes late. He caught up with our sad walk. “Pastor Umoessien is dead.” Student Samuel’s mouth dropped open, his lips quivered, his eyes frantically searched ours, “What?” We explained that Umoessien had been killed the previous night, January 15, 2015, in a car-motorbike collision. “No, he was just here that same morning talking to us!”

Pastor Umoessien

Pastor Umoessien

But yes, Umoessien was dead. A ‘keke’ (motorbike tricycle taxi) pulled up to park at the entrance path to the mortuary. Emem, Mrs. Umoessien, had come with one of her sons. We all crowded into the first room of the mortuary. Our friend’s body was laid out on a mat on the floor, covered in a dignified way. We lined the north wall and clogged the doorway. There was no plan for who should speak. The two WELS pastors were silent, giving way to whatever the Nigerians needed to say or do. The Director was also silent. Unbidden, student Egar offered the prayer.He praised the Lord our God and thanked him for this opportunity for us to honor a man we loved and to declare to the world that we are not afraid. We are not afraid because our God is in charge. The same one who gave us Jesus as our Savior has now taken Umoessien away. And we trust our Lord in all he decides for us.

When Egar concluded, we all said, “Amen,” including the new overnight widow of Rev. Eme George Umoessien.

In fact, Pastor Umoessien was one of five men connected with the seminary who died within the last year and a half. Evangelist Happiness Uko, Ev. Samuel Eyo, retired professor Rev. Edet Akpakpan, and Ev. Saviour Udo had all preceded Umoessien, leaving this earth for heaven. Of them, only Akpakpan had achieved old age. But many student and instructor devotions, a student sermon at the dead pastor’s congregation, and the general population of both our synods in Nigeria kept making the point, “We are not afraid.”

Pastor Umoessien

Pastor Umoessien

Why would people keep asserting our faith in such words? Because adversity and death, so easy to suffer in Nigeria, are feared. People fear death because it tempts them to believe that God is not in charge. They fear death when they revert to the old ways, fearing that someone has cursed our seminary or the living spirit of a dead person has decided to plague our seminary. In defiance of the old and default animistic views of cause and effect, our fellow Christians tell themselves and the whole world, “We are not afraid.” Nor should we fear death or any other adversity. For if God has so freely given his own Son to take away the guilt of our sins, how would he not take care of us in all the lesser issues of life – issues of both life and death (Rom.8:32)?The family of Christ the King Lutheran Seminary and both synods in Nigeria have suffered a string of deaths. But they assure you and one another, “We are not afraid. We will continue our studies. We will go into the field with the gospel of our Savior.” So take heart in your own lives! Receive whatever God sends you with both hands!

Rev. Doug Weiser, missionary to Nigeria, recounts National Pastor Umoessien’s death and how we have no need to fear death because of our faith in Jesus.

At home in Mexico

My husband Jorge is from Huamantla, a city of 50,000 at the foot of a volcano called La Malinche, where every year two dozen bulls thunder through the streets, and artisans cover six miles of local thoroughfares with elaborate carpets made of flowers and colored sawdust.

I am from pleasant small-town Wisconsin, that beautiful green country of cows and cornfields and cold winters, where bratwurst has been elevated to an art form and Friday night fish fries and the Packer games are considered sacred traditions.

The story of how we met is something only God could have arranged.

Our paths crossed for the first time in the arid industrial city of Torreón in northern Mexico. Little did we know that this was the beginning of a sojourn from urban metropolises to dusty rural roads and back again.

Jorge grew up in a Catholic family but came into contact with the Lutheran church as a teen, and eventually became a member. At the urging of his pastor, he decided to begin pastoral studies. This choice led him to Torreón, where the seminary was then located. In the meantime, I was studying to become a Spanish teacher at Martin Luther College. Word came that there was an opportunity to teach English in Mexico through WELS Kingdom Workers. Very interested to be immersed in a Latin American country and at the same time use my gifts to help the local church, I applied and shortly after, was accepted. Where in Mexico was I headed? You guessed it: Torreón.

Jorge and I were friends right off the bat. We visited all the museums and parks Torreón had to offer. He introduced me to some strange new foods. I may have asked him one too many questions about Spanish. Before a year had gone by, we were engaged. After finishing college (me) and seminary (Jorge) we got married in the beautiful colonial city of Puebla. Jorge was assigned to serve in Mahahual, a remote beach town six hours south of Cancun. It was a charming and tranquil place to live, sandwiched between the jungle and the sea. God blessed us with a little girl while we served there. Several years later, Jorge accepted a call to serve in city of León, Guanajuato, where we currently live. The changes were drastic; we traveled 1126 miles to our new home, from sea-level to nearly 6000 feet above sea-level, from a tropical to a semiarid climate, from the Caribbean coastline to the Sierra Madre mountain chain.

Folks often wonder what is like for me to live in Mexico, after having grown up elsewhere. Though perhaps cliché, life is slower here. You can spend a morning meandering through the town plaza, listening to organ grinders and feeding the pigeon flocks. At the same time, you can spend months trying to get one piece of paperwork registered by the local government.

As newlyweds, we traveled with only three suitcases and a few boxes of books to our name. Though we still live with very little by American standards, we daily witness people with much less. This is humbling; the abundance in the United States is a blessing I can no longer take for granted. To all of us, on both sides of the border, our Father sends us the manna of food, of friends and opportunities. He gives us so many gifts, Himself above all.

We live very deeply in the culture, as a typical Mexican family would. Most of my day is spent talking and working in Spanish. The experiences God has given me are beyond what my younger self could have imagined, from making chileatole (a savory corn and chili pepper soup) and tortillas with my mother-in-law, to giving birth in a rustic cabin because there were no hospitals nearby. I didn’t realize when we married the magnitude of the change I was embracing. I find the differences to be even more striking as I watch our daughter grow up. She chatters away in Spanish, eats tamales and thinks every party has a piñata. Mexico runs through her veins.

This life can, at times, be lonely. There are cultural moments in which I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. Years pass without seeing any family members face to face. I miss births and deaths, weddings and graduations, often communicating from a cramped internet café. I mourn the milestones missed, and yet this serves to remind me that I am really homesick for heaven, that far-off Country. All of these places we have lived – Torreon, Mahahual, León – these are all temporary cities as we continue our sojourn home. One day we will be together again at His feet.

As we lay down our roots here and yet keep our eyes heavenward, we have confidence that Christ will keep us. Whether He shields us from heartache or permits sorrows to enter our lives, we shall not fear, for our God is good and He is in control. I confess with the Psalmist, ¨The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.¨

Kerry Pamperin de Briones, Mexico

The tree of life: Malawi flood update

The rains were no surprise.

The floods were.

River banks can hold only so much.  Land can soak in only so much.  Sand bags can stop only so much.

Then the inevitable happens.

When floods come, fields go.  When a cyclone hits, everything is hit.  Soil erodes.   Roofs cave.  Houses collapse.  Bridges break.  Pit latrines become unusable.  Dirt roads become impassable.

In November and December Malawians were praying for rain.   Now they are praying for help.

Sabina certainly was.

One minute she was taking inventory of her fish, the next she was taking refuge in a tree.

Perched like a bird on a branch she helplessly watched anything and everything imaginable flow past in a muddy, churning torrent:  household items, livestock, clothing, baskets, garbage, crops, grass and logs.

Even bodies.  Human bodies.

Oh, she has an amazing story to tell.  And tell she did.  In a face–to-face interview with Missionary Paul Nitz of Lilongwe, Malawi, she told it. You can find her story at  WELS Missions Blog Both Sabina and Paul can tell it better than I ever could.

But one thing I can say: She survived.  Hundreds didn’t. Could she ever forget that tree?

When the elders of our Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) congregations took me on a trek through their lands in Malawi’s Central Region, to my shame, at first I didn’t see it.

What I saw was only the destruction left in the wake of the floods.

I saw collapsed houses and piles of broken bricks and useless rubble.  I saw the obliterated fields and newly cut river channels.

I saw the bent over corn stalks.  Each flattened one was like the needle of a compass, pointing out the direction that the flow of water had taken.

I saw clumps of grasses, sticks, branches and uprooted trees trapped and wrapped against clusters of banana trees.

As I saw incalculable devastation I could only imagine incredible loss.  I witnessed so much ruin that had come with so much rain.

But the elders of the congregations saw more than I did.

Even when the rains first began to fall, they knew exactly where to go.  As they helplessly watched the waters rise and the floods sweep away so much of what they had or owned, they sought refuge and safety in the one thing strong enough, the one thing big enough and the one thing close enough: the tree.

Yes, that tree.

The Cross of Christ.  And, by faith, they climbed up into it.

The Tree of Hope.

At some point along our trek through the devastated land, the conversation turned.  We stopped talking about what was lost and instead talked about what was found: Opportunities to serve!  Moments to share God’s comfort and blessings in the middle of a flood of problems.

The elders shared with me how people were coming weekly and faithfully to the church to hear the Word.  One elder informed me that he was now the elected lay preacher.  He was full of joy that he had the privilege of leading the worship and giving the sermons.

I had thought all along that what I was going to come back with was but a report and an assessment of the flood damage.  More than that, however, I came back with sharper eyes and a stronger message:

Though the destruction was great, God’s love in Christ Jesus is greater still!

Thousands of Malawians are displaced and struggling to put back together the life they once had.  Among them are many Lutheran church members.  Some are grieving the loss of family and friends or both.  Others are trying to scrape together the means to rebuild a house or prepare a meal.   Most fear the hunger that will hit even harder when there is little or nothing to harvest in a couple of months.

But they are not without hope.  In Christ, hope is as certain as it is comforting.

There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off    — Proverbs 23:18

Mpemba-Beni-02032015-350The WELS Board for World Missions (BWM) and Kingdom Workers (KW) are working hard at addressing the immediate needs of those in our Lutheran congregations who are greatly affected by the floods.  Through funds made available through Christian Aid and Relief, we are handing out much needed practical items that our LCCA members need now: buckets for clean water, blankets for warmth, plastic sheeting for temporary roofing and nails to fasten bamboo together for framing temporary shelters.

May I take this opportunity to thank you for your gospel and prayer partnership.  It’s a partnership, not only with me, but with them: our brothers and sisters in Malawi who share the same faith in our wonderful Lord Jesus.

As partners, please stay and linger with us for a while at the tree.  That tree.

The Tree of Hope.

Missionary John Holtz, Malawi