“The Lord is opening some pretty big doors around the world,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of Home Missions.
Why is the home mission administrator talking about world mission opportunities? Because the two areas are coming together in an exciting way. “When leaders in the late 1980s and 1990s began working with cross-cultural ministries, little did they know that what we would do in the United States would have impact and ramifications around the world,” says Free.
When men like Rev. Peter Bur, a South Sudanese refugee who settled in Omaha, Neb.; student Matthew Cephas, a Liberian in St. Paul, Minn.; and Rev. Bounkeo Lor, a Hmong pastor in Kansas City, Kan., hear and learn confessional Lutheran teachings, they want to share it—and not just with their neighbors next door. “What drives us so much overseas are Pastoral Studies Institute graduates who want to go back home,” says Prof. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI).
This fall, PSI team members, who work to train, mentor, and equip confessional Lutherans around the world, visited Africa and Asia to further explore new mission opportunities and how best to serve the people in these areas.
Bur and Sorum have made multiple trips to Ethiopia and Kenya to train South Sudanese pastors and spiritual leaders who are serving South Sudanese refugees. “We are training trainers to train trainers,” says Sorum. In 2015, they distributed copies of Bur’s translation of a simplified version of the Small Catechism, complete with artwork by Rev. Terry Schultz, a member of the WELS Multi-Language Publications team.
This fall, Sorum, Bur, and Schultz spent three weeks in Nairobi, Kenya, furthering the training of men living in refugee camps in Kakuma, Kenya.
But are these men really taking what they learned to heart? As Sorum puts it, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
Or in the worn-out catechism.
On this trip, Sorum asked the group how they used the catechisms they received in 2015. James Machar, who leads a flourishing church in what Sorum calls “one of the most rugged spots to try to even survive let alone start a church,” said, “I handed out 150 certificates of completion to the people who completed every lesson in the catechism course.”
Then Sorum saw the catechism of Evangelist Michael, one of the men who had been trained by Machar. He had traveled three days to continue his training in Nairobi. His catechism was worn out.
“I asked him, ‘Do you have it memorized?’” says Sorum. “He said, ‘Almost.’”
Sorum continues, “These people are starving not only literally but also spiritually for a lack of resources. They come to us for materials and training and then they go home and do incredible things with them in the most difficult of circumstances.”
Sorum also traveled to Liberia with Rev. Robert Wendland, a missionary in Malawi, to see what the opportunities were for ongoing training and for working with the Confessional Lutheran Church of Liberia. Connections had been made through PSI Bible Institute graduate Isaac David and Rev. Matthew Vogt of Las Vegas, Nev., and WELS pastors had already traveled to Liberia to start training congregational leaders.
“We talked to many congregations and met stunning leaders and committed men,” says Sorum. “In one village they said I was the first American to set foot in their church. It was one of the most intensely foreign feelings I ever had. But they are a warm and friendly people, who are anxious and eager to become more Lutheran.”
In November, Rev. Jon Bare, international recruitment director, and Sorum traveled to Vietnam with Rev. Bounkeo Lor and Evangelist Vicar Hue Thao to meet with 60 leaders of the Hmong Christian Fellowship, a church body with 600 pastors and more than 70,000 members. These men were contacts made through Lor, who has been traveling to Vietnam for the past three years to lead similar workshops.
Besides conducting training classes in Hanoi, they traveled to several village churches in the mountains. Bare, who has visited Vietnam on vacation, says, “You look at it in a completely different way than just seeing it as a tourist. They want our training, and their lives have been changed by the gospel message of Jesus. It’s just a beautiful thing to be able to experience that.”
Sorum says the church has grown since the leaders have been teaching the law and gospel lessons they learned from Lor, adding 2,400 members and 40 churches in the last six months. “It was one of the most inspiring, uplifting trips I’ve ever made,” he says.
Says Free, “Who would have thought a step Home Missions took many years ago to reach more cultures in the U.S. would lead to the opportunities we have today? These blessings are just another encouragement that we need to remain faithful in sowing the seed and then watch in amazement as God blesses the sharing of the gospel where and when he wills.”
Learn more about these opportunities at wels.net/missions.
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WELS churches and schools featured in their local media.