Latin America

The primary focus of our Latin America mission team is Academia Cristo. Academia Cristo is a multi-faceted effort which seeks to 1) make disciples in Latin America by sharing the message of God’s grace with as many people as possible, 2) identify and train potential leaders, and 3) encourage those leaders to make disciples who plant churches. The Latin America mission team uses social media to promote the Academia Cristo throughout Latin America.

The Academia Cristo training program is divided into three tiers:

  1. Self-study through WhatsApp: Academia Cristo offers four self-led courses at the Bible information class level of study. The last course in this tier focuses on training students to share what they’ve learned with others. Students must complete all four courses before they are able to sign up for live classes.
  2. Discipleship 1: Students work through 13 Bible institute level classes that are taught live online by a WELS missionary or national partner. At this level, a large emphasis is placed on gathering a group of people to share the gospel message. The goal is that students who finish Discipleship 1 are in doctrinal agreement with WELS.
  3. Discipleship 2: Students who complete the Discipleship 1 tier then move onto Discipleship 2, where they take advanced Bible institute level classes, still taught live online by a WELS missionary or national partner. Students at this level are actively sharing the gospel message with a group of people and are in doctrinal agreement with WELS. They are also matched with a WELS missionary or national partner mission counselor and receive face-to-face visits.

Fast Facts

  • 2 million followers on social media
  • Academia Cristo manages over 30 million engagements every month through their various communication platforms
  • 2,400+ people have completed the self-led courses on the mobile app or through WhatsApp since March 2020 and are signed up for live courses
  • 690+ people have completed one live course since March 2020 with a WELS missionary or national partner
  • 85 students in the Academia Cristo program have gone through a doctrinal agreement process designed for leaders and church planters
  • There are 30 Academia Cristo leaders who have taken a group through at least seven lessons of a two-year program of worship and study

Meet the Missionaries

Missionary Luis Acosta was born in Colombia and lived there for nine years before his family moved to Venezuela. He lived in Venezuela for 32 years and met his wife Carolina at high school in Venezuela. They were married in December 2008 and moved to Miami, Fla., in January 2009. Missionary Acosta used to work in the advertising/marketing industry as a market manager for Jack Daniel’s across several countries in Latin America. In Miami he was connected with WELS through Pastor Carl Leyrer as he was starting the mission that would become Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Doral, Fla.

In 2003, Missionary Acosta completed the Congregational Assistant program studies and began his pastoral training trough Cristo Palabra de Vida, a program through the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). He served at Divine Savior from 2003 to 2007 as Staff Minister and in 2007 moved with his family to Milwaukee, Wis., to enroll at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

From 2007-2011, he served as Deacon at Christ Lutheran Church in Milwaukee and served as Vicar at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Milwaukee from 2011-2012. He graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2013 and was assigned to Risen Savior Lutheran Church to lead their Hispanic ministry. Missionary Acosta served at Risen Savior, a multicultural congregation, for nine years. He took the call to serve the northern portion of Latin America as a Multiplication Missionary for the Latin America mission team in 2022. In his current call he provides theological training and support to people that are connected to WELS through Academia Cristo and want to establish house churches.

His wife Carolina has a degree in medicine from Venezuela and a PhD in psychiatry. She currently works for Christian Family Solutions as a Mental Health Counselor. They have been blessed with two children. Andrea is enrolled in Wisconsin Lutheran College’s pre-med program. She loves to dance and share her faith. Caleb is at Luther Preparatory School and loves to play basketball and football.

Download and read more biographies at wels.net/missionarybios.

Missionary Matt Behmer teaches classes and visits Academia Cristo students as a member of the Latin America mission team. He works especially with the team’s multiplication efforts, identifying students who love the gospel and want to share it with others and meeting one-on-one with those students to help them gather a group around God’s Word. The long-term goal is that these group multiply so that many more throughout Latin America can hear the good news of eternal life through Christ.

Prior to serving on the Latin America mission team, Missionary Behmer served as a pastor in Los Angeles, Calif., in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). He has a Master of Divinity from Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, a Master of Science in Global Technology and Development from the University of Arizona, and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry in Mission, Leadership, and Development in the Global Context.

Missionary Behmer is married to Elizabeth. They have been blessed with four children: Emma, Nora, Raymond, and James Emanuel. The Behmer family lives in Quito, Ecuador. They are grateful to God and to WELS for the opportunity to live and serve in Latin America!

Download and read more biographies at wels.net/missionarybios.

Missionary Beilke serves as Dean of Students for Academia Cristo, an online academy that teaches God’s Word to adult students throughout Latin America. As the students learn more about God’s Word, they are encouraged to start their own Bible studies and share God’s Word with family and friends. Missionary Beilke teaches Bible classes online, mentors leaders throughout Latin America and encourages them as they start their own Bible study groups, and takes care of the Academia Cristo student body by building connections with the students and making sure students have mentors and are progressing through classes.

Missionary Luke Beilke has been married to Rachel (Steinbrenner) for 12 years. They have two children, Mabel and Otis. The Beilke family arrived in Quito, Ecuador, after serving in various locations over the last 11 years. They spent their first year of marriage teaching English at a WELS-affiliated school in Bogotá, Colombia. He was then assigned to teach at St. Marcus in Milwaukee, Wis., and served there for 3 ½ years. While there, Rachel subbed at Luther Preparatory School, served as a teacher’s assistant at Risen Savior, and then was the English as a Second Language (ESL) Director at Christ-St. Peter. From Milwaukee, Missionary Beilke took a call to be principal and teacher at Ascension in Sarasota, Fla., and were blessed to spend seven years serving there. Rachel served in various capacities at Ascension over the years including teacher, school music coordinator, and in church music.

Download and read more biographies at wels.net/missionarybios.

Missionary Abe Degner is a member of the Latin America mission team stationed in Asunción, Paraguay. Before joining the team, Missionary Degner served as a tutor at Martin Luther College from 2010-2012, where he taught Old Testament classes. He was then called to serve as pastor of Christ the Lord/Cristo el Señor, a bilingual church in Houston, Tex., where he served for seven years. He accepted the call to serve as Latin American missionary in 2019 and has been living in Asunción ever since.

Missionary Degner serves as a multiplication missionary. He teaches online classes in Academia Cristo, but focuses especially on counseling students who are trying to plant churches. He travels a lot to meet with those students and their groups, especially students in southern South America (Perú, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay).

Missionary Degner is the son of Charles and Linda Degner and has five siblings. He is single but loves being a good uncle to his seven nieces and nephews. In his free time, Abe enjoys outdoor sports like hiking, hunting, and fishing. He also likes to experiment with cooking and is a regular runner.

Download and read more biographies at wels.net/missionarybios.

Missionary Elise Gross serves on the Latin America mission team as the Director of Women’s Ministries for Academia Cristo, an online training program that equips people throughout Latin America to reach others in their own communities with the gospel. Elise teaches online courses, advises women Christian leaders, and is overseeing the development of a Women’s Ministry in Latin America together with the Academia Cristo multiplication team.

Missionary Gross joined the Latin America mission team in 2021. Previously she served with Kingdom Workers in Linares, Chile, from 2015-2021. Prior to that, she taught at St. Marcus Lutheran School and Hope High School in Milwaukee, Wis., for a combined four years after graduating from Wisconsin Lutheran College with degrees in Secondary Education, History, and Social Sciences.

Missionary Gross has been married to her husband, Jon, since 2012. Jon currently serves as the Multi-Language Productions Producer with the Latin America mission team. The Gross’ have one child, Moses, and reside in Quito, Ecuador.

Download and read more biographies at wels.net/missionarybios.

Missionary Luis Herrera was born in Colombia in 1968, moved to the U.S. in 2002, and has been living in Miami metro area since 2004. Missionary Herrera has been in the steel industry since 1998 and has run his own business since 2018. His wife, Adriana Moreno, owns an accounting practice in Doral, Fla., and is also Colombian. Their son Sebastian is a student at Divine Savior Academy in Doral. The Herrera family have been members at Divine Savior since 2013, where Missionary Herrera has served on the church council since 2018.

In October 2022, Missionary Herrera was called by the Latin America mission team to be a part-time missionary with emphasis in Productions. Currently, he oversees the promotions and production function on the team and his main focus is to be the liaison with Multi-Language Productions (MLP) to share Academia Cristo in Latin America. He will also be starting his studies at Martin Luther College to obtain a Teaching Ministry Certification.

Download and read more biographies at wels.net/missionarybios.

Missionary Andrew Johnston is currently called as a missionary on the Latin American mission team. The team’s primary work is Academia Cristo, an online training program that trains many people in every country in Latin America so that they can reach many more with the gospel. Missionary Johnston teaches online courses and follows up with those who have advanced in their courses and are planting churches. He is also the team leader, which means he guides the team to make sure that, with God’s help, the team takes advantage of the many opportunities God is providing.

Missionary Johnston has been on the Latin America mission team since 2016. He began this work based in the city of Leon, Mexico, for three years before moving to Doral, Fla. Prior to this, Missionary Johnston served for ten years on the island of Antigua as pastor/missionary as well as principal and administrator of the school. Before graduating Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2006, he was a vicar in Torreon, Mexico, for a year and served for eight months as an English teacher in the Dominican Republic.

Missionary Johnston has been married to his wife, Cindy, since 2002. They have five children: three girls and two boys. The oldest four were born while they lived and served on the island of Antigua. The last one was born during their time in Mexico. The Johnston family currently lives in Doral, Fla., just outside of Miami.

Download and read more biographies at wels.net/missionarybios.

Missionary Nathan Schulte has lived in Quito, Ecuador, since 2018. He graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2017 and was assigned to serve the Latin American mission team. He spent his first year of ministry in Mexico as the team prepared to open the mission in South America. He previously served as a vicar at Grace Lutheran Church in Falls Church, Va.

Missionary Schulte’s work is divided into three categories. He teaches classes online to students who are learning and preparing to start groups and congregations where they live, mentors advanced students who have taken steps to start groups, and also serves as the Academic Dean of Academia Cristo to make sure students are getting the classes they need and are signing up regularly for them.

He married Alyssa in 2023, and they are excited to continue being part of mission team and making Quito, Ecuador their home.

Download and read more biographies at wels.net/missionarybios.

Missionary Joel Sutton has worked with the Latin America mission team since December 2015, and he now also serves as Theological Director of Academia Cristo. Previously, Missionary Sutton served for over seven years on the Native American mission field in Arizona.

Missionary Sutton and his wife, Priscila, have three boys: Mateo, Moises and Abram. After four years in central Mexico, the Suttons moved to Asunción, Paraguay, in December 2019.

Download and read more biographies at wels.net/missionarybios.

Nixon Gregorio Vivar Gomez was born in San Antonio, Cañar, Ecuador. He was confirmed in the Christian faith at St. Peter’s in Milwaukee, Wis., in 2001. Upon confirmation, Missionary Vivar wanted to continue his theological studies, but there weren’t materials available in Spanish to become a pastor. Due to Nixon’s interest and other prospects, the Pastoral Studies Institute started a Hispanic branch. Missionary Vivar immediately started his studies with teachers who knew Spanish, and materials were created along the way. It took him 15 years to become a WELS pastor. During those years he served as a pastoral assistant at all Milwaukee churches that were part of the Palabra de Vida Ministries at the time, including Gethsemane, St. Peter’s, Christ, and Risen Savior.

Missionary Vivar graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) in 2017. He served at Christ in Milwaukee, Wis., from 2017 until December 2021, when he was installed as a Latin America missionary for a one-year call. He accepted a permanent call that included a move to Quito, Ecuador, in December 2022. He teaches online classes and follows up and mentors Academia Cristo students throughout Latin America who want to plant churches.

He and his wife Carla, née Falkner, were married in 2008 at St. James in Milwaukee, Wis. God has blessed them with two children, Lucas and Samuel.

Download and read more biographies at wels.net/missionarybios.

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Academia Cristo students

This map shows current Academia Cristo students who are currently taking Bible Institute level classes with a WELS missionary or national partner.

1-2 courses = Gray
3-4 courses = Blue
5-6 courses = Green
7-8 courses = Yellow

9-10 courses= Orange
11-12 courses = Red
13+ courses = Violet

WELS Missions also partners with sister synods and independent churches throughout Peru and Chile. Synods in both of these countries are directly supported by our mission partners in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) and are thereby in fellowship with WELS through the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), a worldwide fellowship of confessional Lutherans. Visit ELS world outreach page to learn more about work in Peru and Chile. To learn more about the CELC and other mission partners, visit celc.info.

Get the latest resources and materials from Latin America at missions.welsrc.net.

Mission Partners

Praying for Latin America

Please pray for the efforts of Academia Cristo, that students continue to download the app, enroll in live classes, and take steps to plant groups. Pray for missionaries and national partners as they work one-on-one with group leaders. Pray for group leaders as they share God’s Word with others.  

PICTURES OF LATIN AMERICA

Browse through and share pictures of Latin America, taken by WELS missionaries and national workers.