Same mission, new methods

One hundred twenty-five years ago WELS sent its first world missionary to the Apache reservation in Arizona to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

Following that first mission initiative, WELS World Missions has sought to reach many corners of the globe. Recently new opportunities have arisen to support confessional Lutheran church bodies and other groups of Christians who have reached out to WELS for help. Now WELS Missions has a presence in 50 countries, with 14 prospective new fields and 44 missionaries.

Larry Schlomer, administrator for World Missions, says, “After 125 years of work in Apacheland and 60-plus years in other countries, our mission partners have achieved a great level of maturity. That allows us to approach our mission work as partners, not as owners, and this is what makes just about any partner church a ‘world mission.’ ”

One way WELS Missions is teaming up with sister churches and new mission partners is through helping train fellow confessional Lutherans around the world through the Pastoral Studies Institute, a ministry of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. More efficient transportation and communication vehicles make this work possible.

“One of the biggest changes is how we’re immediately training the people groups and locals to be their own proclaimers of the gospel,” says Sean Young, director of Joint Missions Operations. “It eliminates anywhere between three and seven years of a WELS missionary landing in a foreign field getting to know the people, getting to know the culture, and finding the best way to approach them with sharing the gospel. To train someone at that level to share the gospel is far more cost-effective and far more expedient than it is for one of our missionaries to get to know the culture and the area and the language.”

How WELS comes to work with these different fields is varied. One common avenue is immigrant people groups in the United States who learn about what the Bible teaches and want to share it with their family and friends in their home country. Sometimes, these national church leaders find WELS through the Internet. In 2018, the WELS website,, has had visitors from more than 100 countries.

One recent example of this is the Philippines. A church leader there contacted WELS Missions after discovering what WELS teaches through its website. Schlomer explains, “He never needed our help to do the work but rather craved the Bible fellowship we could offer. The partnership has been noticed by other leaders who are now being trained in two additional church sites. Our role is to offer the training tools and supplemental teachers to aid the church leader in training these new men to be leaders.”

WELS World Missions also offers support through humanitarian aid, which can lead to opportunities to spread the gospel. In Puerto Rico, an opportunity to help came following Hurricane Maria. While WELS has historical mission roots in Puerto Rico, the Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Church (ELCC) has been operating independently for years. But after the hurricane hit, WELS, through World Missions and Christian Aid and Relief, is providing a missionary to assist with relief planning support as well as to help train the next generation of young men as public ministers. While the missionary’s stay in Puerto Rico is meant to be temporary, the training work will be continued online, supplemented by short visits for seminars.

“There may still be times and places where missionaries are on the ground preaching, teaching, baptizing, and serving the Lord’s Supper,” says Schlomer. “However, when we have a national leader in place, we have always been eager to allow that national to step into those roles and our missionaries serve much more as teachers and mentors.”

Learn more about WELS Missions at


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Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

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