Native American Missions History

1892: Two WELS pastors explored the great southwest looking for an “unreached tribe” of Indians.

1893: First two missionaries, Adascheck and Plocher, began work at Peridot, San Carlos reservation, east of Globe, Arizona Territory.

1894: Plocher, along with two Apache leaders, went on an exploration trip to the Fort Apache reservation. This first step later led to congregations at East Fork, Canyon Day, Fort Apache, McNary, and Maverick.

1911: A mission station was set up at Lower Cibecue in the western sector of the Fort Apache reservation. Its first missionary is O. P. Schoenberg.

1918: Open Bible Lutheran Church of Whiteriver, the tribal “capital,” was established, by missionary Edgar Guenther. A church also began at Cedar Creek, west of Canyon Day.

1920: Other denominations began to appear on the reservations and did some “proselytizing.”

1921: Gethsemane at Upper Cibecue opened its doors, although work had begun much earlier in the valley of the Cibecue.

1922: The East Fork orphanage was started to care for orphaned children.

1951: East Fork Lutheran Academy, a boarding school for Apache children from both reservations, was founded.

1957: With support from many ladies’ groups and individuals, East Fork Lutheran Nursery was created.

1986: East Fork Lutheran School is destroyed by a propane explosion. In the following year WELS members from across the synod came to build a new school at East Fork.

1997: To train Apaches to serve in various kinds of ministry, a second career worker training program was begun, working closely with the WELS cross-cultural pre-seminary program. This school is later named the Apache Christian Training School.

1998: The Apache Lutheran Council, consisting of representatives of our eight reservation congregations, was formed as a first step toward the organization of a “national church.”

2002: East Fork Lutheran School closes its dormitories. Dorms are used for East Fork Lutheran Church’s fellowship hall and for the youth and family center. East Fork Lutheran Nursery is closed. Building is converted into guest apartments and the Apache Christian Training School building.

2007: East Fork Lutheran School is reduced down to a kindergarten through eighth-grade program. Some high school students continue on at Michigan Lutheran Seminary and at local high schools.

2008: Shepherd in the Pines Lutheran Church in McNary, Ariz., reopens its doors as a preaching station on the Northern Reservation.

2009: Pastor Dan Rautenberg takes over as administrator and head professor at the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS).

2008-2009: Congregations in Bylas, East Fork, Canyon Day, and Whiteriver all receive missionaries from assignment committee of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. The three missionaries all come from the same class.

2011: Gary Lupe graduates from the ACTS program and is ordained as a pastor. He is the first Apache pastor to be completely trained at ACTS in cooperation with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

2012: A substance abuse and recovery ministry is started at Open Bible Lutheran Church with small group leaders trained in the ACTS program. The program continues to thrive today.

2014: Arizona passes tuition choice legislation enabling more people to attend private schools using vouchers. Enrollment at the two Lutheran elementary schools begins to steadily climb each year in lieu of the program.

2015: Kirk Massey, Jr. graduates from the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and is called to serve the Apache congregations in Whiteriver and McNary as a full-time pastor.

2016: Missionary Daniel Rautenberg is called to be the Field Coordinator for WELS Native American Missions.

2017: Pastors Joseph Dietrich (Bylas), David Bostedt (East Fork and Canyon Day), and Howard Mohlke (ACTS Director at East Fork) accept calls to join the Native American Mission Team.

2018: The Native American Mission celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings as the first World Mission of WELS. Rev. Timothy Leistekow is assigned from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to serve Grace Lutheran Church in San Carlos and Peridot Lutheran Church in Peridot, Ariz. The Native Christians Network, a ministry to reach out to other native tribes across the United States, is formed.

2019: Peridot-Our Savior Lutheran School’s enrollment doubles and four new classrooms are added. The school is now served by six teachers.

2021: A new duplex is built at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School to expand faculty housing.

2022: Pastor John Holtz accepts call to serve as Native Christian Counselor. Open Bible Lutheran Church in Whiteriver celebrates the 100-year anniversary of their church building. The Native Christians Network plans to expand outreach with a missionary presence in the four corners area (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona).