Mission work in Continental Africa is changing. Missionaries working with WELS’ established missions – Cameroon, Malawi, Nigeria, and Zambia – focus on assisting the national synods and their churches as they mature, while also helping with their pre-seminary and seminary programs. Three synods in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda reached out for assistance and are now in full fellowship with WELS and partner in new outreach initiatives. The new work before WELS missionaries is outreach, as individuals and church groups in six additional African countries have reached out to WELS and the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) for fellowship and theological training. Visits have been made to Liberia, Mozambique, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. The TELL program by Multi-Language Productions (MLP) has also identified promising individuals from three additional countries. A new MLP missionary is being called to follow up on these TELL contacts from a home base in Zambia.  

In response to this new gospel call, the One Africa Team was organized to coordinate WELS missionaries and resources. The One Africa Team is accountable for visiting the groups and synods seeking partnerships, teaching confessional Lutheran doctrine, and encouraging mission expansion. Currently, nine called missionaries serve on the One Africa Team. 

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Meet the Missionaries

Missionary Philip Birner is a professor at the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia. He teaches doctrine, church confessions, sermon writing, education, and practical theology and serves as principal. He also serves as the liaison between the One Africa Team and the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA)-Zambia synod. They have been living in Lusaka since 1996.

Prior to teaching at the Lutheran Seminary, Missionary Birner and his wife lived approximately 50 miles west of Lusaka at the Mwembezhi Rural Health Clinic. There he was missionary-in-charge at the clinic, and also oversaw between 15-35 congregations at various times and places. They served at Mwembezhi for five years before moving to Lusaka. All told, the Birners and have been serving in Zambia now for 30 years.

Missionary Birner and his wife Susan have four children and one grandchild. Benjamin, married to Julie, is a WELS pastor in Liverpool, New York.  They have one child, Isabel. Zachary is completing his final year of medical school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He will be assigned to his residency in March 2022. Sophia is a WELS teacher at Zion in Morrison, Wis. Sophia just became engaged in October 2021 to Eric Dorn, a WELS teacher at Lakeside Lutheran High School. Peggy is 9-years-old and attends the Lusaka International Community School.

Susan is mostly a stay-at-home mom for Peggy, whom they fully adopted in 2020. Sue is currently working a full-time job as a grade four teacher at the American International School of Lusaka while the regular teacher is on maternity leave. She has taught at the American International School on and off for the past 25 years and now only occasionally substitute teaches.

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Keegan J. Dowling was born August 3, 1979. He graduated from Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minn., in 2002 and from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis., in 2013. Pastor Dowling has held a multitude of jobs, from teaching in California and China all the way to flying aircraft and being an ordinary seaman on Great Lakes freighter ships. After eight years as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, he received his Honorable Discharge in October 2010, with the rank of Lieutenant (O-3). He has lived in seven states and three different countries.

He and his wife, Kathryn, have four kids: Maximilian (Max) born in 2010, Augustine (Gus) born in 2013, Scheherazade (Zade) born in 2014, and Jael (Ellie) born in 2017. All six are dual citizens of the United States and Canada.

Pastor Dowling served as parish pastor of Abiding Word, Orléans, Ontario, Canada, from his graduation from seminary in 2013 until the spring of 2022, when he accepted a call to serve as a member of the outreach committee of the One Africa Team. He has wanted to be a missionary since the age of eight and is excited to connect with individuals and groups throughout the continent of Africa to explore possible fellowship connections with WELS. He and his family are moving to Lusaka, Zambia, in the summer of 2022.

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Benjamin Foxen was born November 22, 1982. He graduated from Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minn., in 2005 and from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis., in 2010. Pastor Foxen served as a missionary to Russia from 2010-2016, and as pastor of Cross of Glory Lutheran Church in Peoria, Ariz., from 2016-present.

He and his wife Rebekah, née Laitinen, were married in New Ulm, Minn., on July 2, 2006. God has blessed them with four children: Levi (14), Kirsi (11), Katya (6), and Leia (3).

Shortly, Pastor Foxen and his family will head to Lusaka, Zambia. He will serve on the outreach committee of the One Africa Team as it seeks to engage the whole continent of Africa with the gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Rev. Joel Hoff joined the TELL Network team in September 2022 when he accepted the call to serve as the TELL Missionary in Africa. He served in Cameroon from 2010-2011 and then again in 2012-2013 with his wife, Kate. They look forward to this opportunity to serve, once again, in Africa.

Missionary Hoff has been blessed to serve in our WELS mission fields in Cameroon, Albania, and Ukraine. Stateside, he has served as pastor at Divine Peace in Renton, Wash., and most recently at Trinity Lutheran Church in Neenah, Wis.

Missionary Hoff is eager to partner with the One Africa Team and serve as an instructor and mentor for TELL students throughout Africa. He looks forward to the opportunity to meet the men and women who have studied God’s ord with other TELL instructors. He will assist in their training, walk beside them through their courses, and encourage them as they work toward becoming TELL Bible leaders themselves.

His wife Kate enjoys singing with the church choir and has been very involved as a volunteer at Neenah Lutheran School. Her medical background as a registered nurse has come in handy (perhaps more than she’d ) thanks to their very active and adventurous boys. Missionary Hoff and Kate were married in 2012 and have been blessed with three children: Micah, Caleb, and Josiah. The Hoff’s and their two cats, Bones and Zira, are looking forward to their new lives and ministry based in Lusaka, Zambia.

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Missionary Dan Kroll serves as part of the One Africa Team. He and his wife Karen live in Lilongwe, Malawi, as empty nesters. They moved from Cameroon to Malawi in 2018 when a civil war broke out that prevented the Krolls from continuing to live there. Missionary Kroll is on the One Africa Team outreach team, currently serving groups in Nigeria, Liberia, Cameroon, and Uganda.

Missionary Kroll graduated from Martin Luther College in 1983 and spent three years working on an evangelism program for WELS and Reformation in San Diego, Calif., before starting at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. In May 1992, Dan was assigned to Zambia and arrived there in October with his wife and their 4-month-old son Ezekiel. Missionary Kroll served in congregational oversight and general church development through teaching small groups. Dan and Karen added four more children to the family: Josiah, Elijah, Jonah, and Gideon. The Krolls were brought back to the U.S. in 2009 due to budget cutbacks. Missionary Kroll then received a call to serve at St. John’s in Lake City, Minn. In 2014, Missionary Kroll received a call to re-start the seminary program in Kumba, Cameroon, after it had been inactive for 15 years.

Africa mission work was reorganized as the One Africa Team in 2016, while Missionary Kroll continued to focus on the maturing church body in Cameroon and supporting some well-established programs in Nigeria.

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Missionary Howard Mohlke and his wife Leslie are empty nesters, currently living in Lusaka, Zambia. The Mohlkes have five grown children, four of whom are married, and six grandchildren. All their kids live in the United States.

Missionary Mohlke is the leader of the One Africa Team. He represents WELS in Africa, specifically maintaining and developing good working relationships with partner churches throughout the continent. He is also responsible for leading, managing, and holding accountable the team of missionaries who are tasked with developing and carrying out various aspects of WELS mission work in Africa.

From 1991-2000, Missionary Mohlke’s first call was to be a missionary in Zambia, followed by being called as a pastor back in the United States from 2000-2017. In 2007, he became part of the Board for World Missions and continued in his pastoral and board positions until 2017, when he became Director of the Apache Christian Training School at the Native American mission in Arizona. In 2020, he accepted the call to become the One Africa Team leader.

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Missionary Mark Panning has served the WELS One Africa Team since August 2006. He teaches religion at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi. The Bible Institute prepares men to serve as pastors in the Lutheran churches of Malawi and Zambia. He also serves as the One Africa Team’s primary liaison to the Lutheran Church of Central Africa – Malawi and the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia. Prior to his time in Africa, he served for 13 years as a pastor in central Wisconsin.

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John and Nancy Roebke served in Eastern Europe from 1994-2004. After a year of language study, Missionary Roebke planted a church in the Sofia suburb of Mladost, where he and Nancy taught courses on English and the Bible. Three years later the couple moved to the northwestern city of Vidin, where Missionary Roebke and a Bulgarian national vicar began work with Bulgarians in urban and rural areas.

In 2004 the Roebkes returned to the United States where Missionary Roebke served Peace Lutheran Church in Wautoma, Wis. from 2004-2008. In 2008, Missionary Roebke accepted a call to serve Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Madison, Ala. In 2017, Missionary Roebke and Nancy left their daughters in the United States and moved to Lilongwe, Malawi, to begin serving with the WELS One Africa Team. As the integrator of the One Africa Team, Missionary Roebke helps OAT Leader Rev. Howard Mohlke administer the work of the mission team. In addition, he oversees consultancy work with African national worker training programs, serves as liaison with WELS’ sister church in Kenya, and coordinates promotions for the One Africa Team through their blog and Facebook page.

John and Nancy Roebke were married in September 1993. They have two daughters, who were both born in Bulgaria. Their oldest daughter, Liliana, lives in Madison, Wis., and works as a Human Relations specialist at Dungarvin Disability services. Their second daughter, Christiana, graduated in February 2022 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and is now employed at Carlisle Interconnect Technologies in Milwaukee, Wis.

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Rev. Dan Witte is a theological educator for the One Africa Team. He helps seminary instructors and boards that oversee them in WELS’ sister synods in Africa. He serves as the One Africa Team’s Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) adjunct instructor; Missionary Witte works with three professors at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to help pastors in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia advance theologically and practically for sound ministry. Eighteen of those pastors are in a Bachelor of Divinity program through WLS’s Pastoral Studies Institute. Three others are enrolled in Master of Theology courses. Missionary Witte leads learning in some of the courses, coordinates visiting instructors, encourages pastors, and so forth.

From 1992 to 2019, Missionary Witte was a pastor in Downers Grove, Ill.; Lakewood Ranch, Fla.; and Nicollet, Minn. He also taught Hebrew classes as an adjunct at Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, and was the secretary for the Psalm Committee for the Christian Worship 2021 hymnal. He and his wife Debbie have been blessed with 6 children: Deanna, Danae, David, Daria, Donovan, and Drew. Missionary Witte and his wife reside in Lusaka, Zambia.

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New African Outreach

Lutheran Church of Central Africa—Malawi: Outreach in Mozambique

Over the decades, the work of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa—Malawi has spilled over the border to the east into the neighboring country of Mozambique. Churches have developed, but now the government requires that they be registered. The work of registration is a slow process, which includes writing letters, filling forms, preparing a constitution, having everything translated into the official language of Portuguese, and making repeated trips into the country.

All papers have now been submitted. We are now waiting for their consideration of our church to be an officially registered church. Please join in praying for a favorable outcome!

  • Baptized members: 900
  • Congregations: 8

Connect with the One Africa Team. Stay up to date on mission work happening throughout Africa through their website.

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