Tag Archive for: Academia Cristo

From information to experience

There’s a difference between knowing something and truly experiencing it. During my time at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, we learned the Greek terms “oida” (possessing information) and “ginosko” (understanding through experience). As the saying goes, “hearing is not the same as living it.” This truth struck me during a recent visit to Nicaragua.

Julio Vargas, one of our church planters, arranged a visit with Amy, a woman he ministers to in the village of San Benito, 40 miles from Managua. I had met Amy and her family seven months prior. She was a hardworking mother of five and had recently taken in a five-year-old boy abandoned by his mother as she was seeking work abroad. Despite her limited income and heavy responsibilities, Amy said, “I couldn’t say no. I knew this child was brought to me so he could learn about Jesus.” Her heart reminded me of the widow of Zarephath, who had almost nothing but offered what she had to God first.

L to R: Missionary Luis Acosta and Mr. Julio Vargas

Amy seemed more subdued than before. When I asked if something was wrong, she tearfully said, “Thank you for visiting. You’re the answer to my prayers. I’ve been battling depression, questioning if God has abandoned me. Only my responsibility to God’s children keeps me going. I’ve been praying for a sign, a reminder that he’s with me.”

This was a powerful and emotive moment. I went from having “oida” knowledge of Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,” to experiencing its truth firsthand. Amy’s gratitude for my visit, the timing of it, solidified my understanding. When I said to her this is what the Lord says, “Never will I leave you, never will forsake you,” I knew I was not just repeating a Bible verse, the Lord was talking to her.

To comfort Amy, I pointed to the ultimate symbol of God’s love: Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and resurrection. I assured her this promise guaranteed God will never abandon her.

I told Amy that sharing the gospel with her was a true privilege, but it wasn’t a solo act. Our ministry at Academia Cristo thrives and is possible thanks to the prayers and support of countless believers who share our same faith and pray and care about her and her family.

Thanks for walking alongside us; your feet are quite beautiful. Please keep Amy, her family, and our ministry at Academia Cristo in your prayers.

Written by Rev. Luis Acosta, world missionary on the Latin America mission team based in Doral, Fla. 

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Latin America Mission – Winter 2024 Quarterly Update

During the last months of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, our Lord of the Harvest continued to bless the work of the One Latin America Team and Academia Cristo. The team focused on the transition from using a mobile app to WhatsApp for its first tier of study. New groups were started in the United States and Latin America. Steps were taken to further reshape Grupo Sembrador en la Ruta Cristo, Academia Cristo’s church planting program and materials. A podcast on a Christ-centered life was implemented. The instruction function took steps to ensure the Academia Cristo curriculum is aligned around the team’s church planting goals. Missionaries continued to make visits to key students, leaders, and groups.

A Few Quick Stats:

  • 2.2 million average weekly social media reach (user looks at the material for over 3 seconds)
  • 2,767 finished the four self-study courses either through the mobile app or WhatsApp
  • 764 completed one Discipulado Uno course
  • 95 completed Discipulado Uno
  • 35 completed Discipulado Dos
  • 32 Grupos Sembrador

A snapshot of blessings during the past quarter:

1. Self-study through WhatsApp
Learning from TELL and taking MLP’s recommendation, Academia Cristo transitioned from the use of a mobile app to WhatsApp for its self-study courses. By delivering the four self-study courses through WhatsApp instead of a mobile app, Academia Cristo was able to reach more people for less money. At the end of January 2023, there were over 9,500 people in the self-study workflow (taking one of the four self-study courses). Approximately 50 people are finishing the self-study courses each week. Upon completion of the four self-study courses, students are invited to enroll in live courses with Academia Cristo professors.

For more information on the switch from the mobile app to WhatsApp, please reference this video available in Spanish.

2. New Grupos Sembrador
Three new groups became Grupos Sembrador. Grupos Sembrador are led by an Academia Cristo student. They meet weekly, have studied Los cuatro conceptos (a course on sin, grace, faith, and works), and have studied at least three lessons of Aprendan de mí (a course similar to a Bible Information Course). These groups are in Deltona, Fla., United States; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Lima, Peru.

3. Ministry Certification
Elise Gross completed her ministry certification, and her call was made permanent. Luis Herrera took a course towards his ministry certification.

4. Meeting with 1LA, BWM, BHM, CICR, WLS, PSI, and COP
A meeting was held with representatives from the One Latin America team, the Board for World Missions (BWM), the Board for Home Missions (BHM), the Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR), Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), and the Conference of Presidents (COP) on Oct. 25, 2023, at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. The group discussed a paper written by Professor emeritus Paul Wendland on mission and ministry in Latin America. The One Latin America Team visionary and leader, Andrew Johnston, wrote a follow-up paper on the missiology of Academia Cristo.

5. Grupo Sembarador en la Ruta Cristo
Plans to overhaul the Grupo Sembrador en la Ruta Cristo program continued. A temporary plan for providing sermons to groups was developed and an outline for a Bible study program was drafted. This program will include Bible history lessons, doctrine lessons, and practical lessons. Plans are in place to write these lessons during the next quarter.

6. El Sembrador de Hoy es el Consejero de Mañana
The team began preliminary work on creating a plan for today’s group gatherer to become tomorrow’s mission counselor. This is in anticipation of exponential growth of students and church planters in the Academia Cristo program.




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Technology changes but the gospel message remains

486 million people speak Spanish. Could it be possible to reach all of them with an invitation to hear the gospel?

Technology allows us to do just that. From the jungle of Ecuador to the bustling city of Buenos Aires in Argentina, we can reach almost anyone right where they are with a simple click of a button.

Academia Cristo reached over a million people through an app that brought many blessings. Currently ten missionaries in Latin America travel to guide and encourage over 30 church plants. Missionaries and church planters teach Bible instruction courses almost every day of the week to hundreds of people eager to learn more about God’s Word.

The app was great, but we have now found an even better way to reach 486 million people.

Technology is all about ease of use. The platforms we use must be easy and user friendly. In Latin America and many other places around the world, the way to talk with people is through something called WhatsApp. WhatsApp is a messenger service that is completely free and easy to use. 92 percent of Spanish speaking people already use WhatsApp so why not build our Academia Cristo app on WhatsApp?

Six months ago, our team ensured that the entire Academia Cristo app was re-built for WhatsApp. Now, anyone can simply send a message to Academia Cristo and with a simple click get started studying the Word of God with us. Through an automated messenger system, anyone throughout the world can complete the four self-study courses. There is no need to download an app, just send us a message and complete 40 lessons to start a live class.

Working through WhatsApp is changing Academia Cristo in a good way. The previous application would have an average of 12 new live students every week. With our new messenger system, we expect 50 new live students every week. The quality of student is the same and the chances of finding more people who want to bring the gospel to their community increases exponentially.

Technology changes but the gospel message remains the same. Reaching four million people every week through social media and with an expectation of filling online live classrooms with 60 new students every week, Academia Cristo seeks to reach millions and to start churches throughout Latin America beginning with a simple messenger system that almost everyone already has.

May God bless this new way of reaching more people starving to hear the gospel.

Written by Mr. Jon Gross, Multi-Language Productions Producer for the Latin America Mission Team

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Faces of Faith – Angel and Maribel

Hispanic ministry in Deltona, Fla., seems like a natural fit. Over 40% of the population speaks Spanish at home. But, how does a WELS congregation in Deltona without any Spanish speaking leaders get started? Well, as is always the case, what human eyes couldn’t see, God had already figured out.

In 2017, Angel Otero and his wife, Maribel, moved to Deltona. Angel was born and grew up in Puerto Rico and like many U.S. citizens there he joined the U.S. military. After serving, he was able to retire at 55 and settled in near Good Shepherd , a WELS church in the Deltona area, where they became members.

That was not all that the Lord had planned for Angel and Maribel. The Good Shepherd School reflected the community. Over 40% of the children in the school came from Hispanic homes. The church leadership and Angel began to explore how they might find a way to share the good news. They were introduced to our WELS Latin American mission efforts and the use of a Spanish training program called Academia Cristo. This program has been designed to train up interested Bible students using online materials. It had been designed to train people where there were no other Lutherans around. Of course, Academia Cristo was never intended to just be an online platform. The program has a focus on training and providing materials in such a way that those who have studied can begin to share what they have learned with others near them. It did not take long for the leadership in Deltona to realize that it would also work at Good Shepherd where there were no trained Hispanics to carry out ministry. Angel enrolled in Academia Cristo. He couldn’t get enough. The more he studied the more he wanted to share with others. Now, Good Shepherd in Deltona has a Spanish speaking outreach leader. Angel and Maribel are very active in reaching out to the school families and the community. Angel leads weekly Bible studies in Spanish at the church using the Academia Cristo program.

And, that’s not all. Angel was still connected to his family back in Puerto Rico. He heard that WELS World Missions was working with a church that had been planted there. The next time Angel visited Puerto Rico he made contact with the local church. The church in Puerto Rico had pastors who had been trained by WELS missionaries, but there was a growing concern that new candidates for pastoral ministry on the island were not being identified. Angel knew that the Academia Cristo program could serve them well in Puerto Rico as well. This connection has also been blessed. Recently the church in Deltona hosted a Puerto Rican pig roast and invited members from the church in Puerto Rico to attend. Thirteen members bought plane tickets and joined them for a delightful weekend of food, fellowship, and planning for the future. All reported a delightful time full of hope for the future. There are now four Academia Cristo students beginning studies in Puerto Rico.

It still may not be clear to our human eyes exactly what the Lord has planned for his saints in Deltona and Puerto Rico before they get to heaven. Even so, what we can see is a reason to rejoice. Economic distress in Puerto Rico, made worse by recent hurricanes, has led many from Puerto Rico to move to Florida. This Puerto Rican diaspora is well networked and keeps the family ties strong to the island and around the US. As the gospel is proclaimed in their midst, we know God has promised to go to work. Please, join us to ask our Lord to bless the work of his gospel through Angel and Maribel. May he raise up the next generation of Puerto Rican gospel proclaimers to build his church.

If you are interested in learning more about how Academia Cristo can help you in your community share the good news in Spanish, please, contact WELS Missions at [email protected].

Written by Rev. Larry Schlomer, Hispanic diaspora ministry facilitator and WELS World Missions administrator.

Hear more from Angel and Maribel about how you could reach out to Hispanics in your community in this special Faces of Faith video.

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Latin America Mission – Fall 2023 Update

As of October 2023, Academia Cristo has two million followers on social media. The social media platforms used by Academia Cristo include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. Through these platforms, Academia Cristo manages over 30 million engagements every month. Over a million people have downloaded the Academia Cristo mobile app that launched in February 2020. 2,400 people have completed the self-led courses offered in the mobile app or through WhatsApp since March 2020 and are signed up for live courses. 696 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 29 groups that Academia Cristo leaders have taken through at least seven lessons of a two-year program of worship and study. One congregation formed through the program has joined Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional and several others will soon be reaching the criteria required to apply for membership.

A snapshot of blessings from August through October 2023:

  1. An alternative to the mobile app was identified and tested.
    • Through a platform called respond.io, those interested in studying with Academia Cristo are guided in WhatsApp through the same four self-study courses that have been offered in the app.
    • This alternative, self-study through WhatsApp, produced more students with less spending on advertising. It also offered several other positive features, such as the opportunity to engage with students while they are in the self-study process and collect their contact information.
    • Because of the success of the app alternative, it was decided at the 2023 annual meeting to use this alternative instead of the app.
    • Going forward, the “Self-Study Level” through WhatsApp will be the way for students to move from social media to participating in live courses.
  2. A music summit was held in Quito, Ecuador, with representatives from the Latin America mission team and Multi-Language Productions (MLP). Plans were adopted to produce more hymns and liturgical music for use by church planting groups.
  3. The instruction function of the Latin America team focused on incorporating course and lesson objectives into the Academia Cristo curriculum.
  4. An admissions coordinator was hired to help enhance the student onboarding experience.
  5. A program was started to identify and recruit volunteers and match them with needs within Academia Cristo and church planting groups.
  6. Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional held their first convention in Moca, Dominican Republic.
  7. The Latin America seminary program (Seminario Cristo) is wrapping up year two of test courses and has plans in place for 2024. Artemio Garcia from Mexico is currently teaching Old Testament Isagogics.
  8. Plans are set for Rev. Larry Schlomer to lead the Diaspora Ministry Program, continuing the foundation that was laid by Rev. Carl Leyrer through Hispanic Outreach Project in the United States.

 

 




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Latin America Mission – Quarterly Update

As of July, 2023, Academia Cristo has 1.9 million followers on Facebook, 138,000 followers on Instagram, 18,400 followers on YouTube, and 2,121 followers on TikTok. Academia Cristo manages over 30 million engagements every month through their various communication platforms. Over a million people have downloaded the Academia Cristo mobile app that launched in February 2020. 2,090 people have completed the self-led courses on the mobile app since March 2020 and are signed up for live courses. 667 people have completed one live course since March 2020 with a WELS missionary or national partner. 79 students in the Academia Cristo program have gone through a doctrinal agreement process designed for leaders and church planters. There are 25 groups that Academia Cristo leaders have taken through at least seven lessons of a two-year program of worship and study. There is one official congregation from the program.

A snapshot of blessings from May through July 2023:

  1. Academia Cristo follows an hourglass church multiplication strategy. They try to meet as many people as possible on social media, guide them through an intentional training program, and equip them to plant groups to reach more people. Implementation has begun on changes to the bottom part of our hourglass strategy. These changes focus on revisions to their church planter (Grupo Sembrador) program, where groups gather regularly around God’s Word using a two-year packet of worship and Bible study materials provided by Academia Cristo.
  2. Missionaries guided 39 church planters (sembradores) and four adjunct professors through the divine call process. This was done one-on-one. It included a review of the doctrine of the call, best practices for considering a call, and how to accept or decline a call.
    • All four of those called to serve as adjunct professors accepted their calls (three from Mexico and one from Ecuador).
    • 33 of the 39 who were called to be church planters have accepted (two declined, four are still deliberating). The 33 church planters who accepted are in 11 different Latin American countries.
  3. A plan is in place to start a student services team. It will focus on welcoming students into the Academia Cristo program, setting up live courses, and maintaining student records.
  4. On June 18, 2023, eight students graduated from the Discipleship Two portion of the program. These graduates successfully completed 21 live courses, each with a final project. Several of these graduates will be invited to study in Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional seminary test courses.
  5. The new version of Aprendan de mí, our Bible information course, is almost ready to be sent to Multi-Language Productions (MLP) for production. A specific plan is in place to have the course (videos, teacher’s guides, and student handouts) published by October 2023.




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Faces of Faith – Argentina

Come along with Latin America Missionary Joel Sutton to meet two Academia Cristo students from Argentina: Fabian Gabriel Mandracchia from Rosario, and Luis Bello from Baradero. Hear how the gospel message is changing their lives, and how they’re working with the Latin America mission team to share what they’re learning with those around them.

Learn more about how the Latin America mission team is using Academia Cristo to share the gospel message and make disciples in Latin America at wels.net/latinamerica.

Unexpected blessings in Paraguay

The Unexpected
It wasn’t a part of the plan. We weren’t supposed to be there. We were on our third move to another new country, with two kids under two years old in less than a year . . . this was certainly not on our radar.

When my wife and I were sitting in the Seminary auditorium for the vicar call service and we heard that we were assigned to Medellín, Colombia for vicar year, we could not have imagined what lay before us. We could not have imagined ourselves living with a wonderful family in Ecuador for two months and going from asking them what “dinner” is called to a tearful and prolonged goodbye as we left them to go to Colombia. We could not have imagined that in only the first two months of our time there, we’d get to know Pastor Herrera, and his wife, Eliana, well enough to leave our daughter with them so we could go to the hospital and welcome our son into the world on Christmas Day. And we could not have imagined getting to meet the mission team in Paraguay to close out the year.

With the help of missionaries, synod workers, lawyers, friends, and family, the plan was made to start us out in Ecuador for two months to learn Spanish full-time and get to know the Academia Cristo Mission Team based there. From there we would go to Medellín, Colombia for the rest of our time to work with Pastor Herrera and the wonderful congregation there. As we neared the end of our time in Medellín, we had some visa issues and so an impromptu plan was made to send us to Asunción, Paraguay, where another Academia Cristo Mission Team is based.

The Blessings
It wasn’t a part of the plan, and it certainly wasn’t on our radar. But it was a part of God’s plan for us. God put us there and we could not have imagined the additional blessings he had planned for us in Paraguay.

As we went from the city of eternal spring – Medellín, Colombia – to a city in the southern hemisphere in the dead of winter (it was still 50s and 60s Fahrenheit so not too cold) – Asunción, Paraguay – we were blessed with the opportunity to learn about another culture and people. We were blessed to learn some Guaraní words as we met with some local Paraguayans and blessed to worship together at the mission house run by a WELS church in Florida. We were able to see God’s wonderful creation at Iguazu Falls in Brazil right across the border from Paraguay. We were fortunate to travel with missionary Abe Degner to Bolivia and meet with church leaders there, in addition to preaching for the new church formed by an Academia Cristo student in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We were blessed to celebrate our daughter’s second birthday with the mission team and have a Paraguayan-style grill-out after church. I also was blessed to visit Academia Cristo students in Argentina, with missionary Joel Sutton, as they considered starting Bible Study Groups that will God-willing turn into churches someday.

Our experience in South America was filled with unexpected challenges and blessings start to finish. But it’s amazing to see how God turns those unexpected plans and challenges into unexpected blessings.

Written by Caleb Koelpin, vicar for World Missions in Medellín, Colombia during 2022-2023.

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Faces of Faith – Sandra

Several years ago, Sandra Luz was searching for a way to study the Word of God. Her husband took it upon himself to help her to find a great program. He stumbled upon Academia Cristo online, dug into their resources, and said to his wife, “This one; this is it.” Sandra quickly began working her way through the self-study lessons on Academia Cristo’s mobile app. She was then welcomed into live classes via Zoom led by WELS missionaries. She completed 13 live Zoom courses and officially became a Confessional Lutheran. When asked if she desired to share the gospel message in her community, Sandra responded with, “How can I not?! People must know.”

Now Sandra informally gathers a group of five in her home every Saturday, including the children of these adult students. Guided by a WELS missionary advisor and by her continued courses in Academia Cristo, Sandra is currently leading her group through Bible information classes. Her husband has been regularly attending her gatherings and is now also showing interest in the Confessional Lutheran faith. She prays for a Lutheran church to develop in her border town of Mexico, where there currently is none. She still rejoices in the growth of the members of her group and in those who may soon join her in the Lutheran faith and be able to lead. “Luz” means light, and Sandra Luz certainly is a gospel light in her family and in her community.

From Elise Gross, Dean of Women’s Ministry in Ecuador

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Faces of Faith – Alejandro

Rolling through the highway in Villa Maria, Argentina, one sees Nebraska-like cornfields. My fellow missionary said the view was bucolic. (Yeah, I had to look the word up too.) Grandpas and grandmas proudly tell what part of Italy they or their parents came from. Most are barely practicing Catholics.

Just like Alejandro the Butcher. I know, it sounds scary. But you’d like him. Alejandro’s only church experience was a Catholic confirmation class as a teen. The death of their firstborn son as a toddler left Alejandro and his wife, Viviana, devastated. Alejandro’s drug use left his family with financial problems.

He started searching for help just as the pandemic sent families into lockdown with lots of time on their hands. First, he saw an Academia Cristo announcement on his Facebook feed (thanks Multi-Language Productions!) After 38 self-study lessons on Academia Cristo’s mobile app, he joined the Lutheran faith while taking 15 short training courses via Zoom.

I asked, “Would you like to start a Bible-study group to disciple others? We’ll show you how.” He responded, “Well, yeah but I’m a new Christian and don’t really know how to teach.” He invited them to study the Bible for a few weeks and then stopped. He got discouraged. I encouraged him to with one disciple: his 11-year-old son, Eliel. They have started reading through the Bible together in one year.

Men on motorcycles shout Alejandro’s name and wave as they zoom by. Will they be his next disciples? Someone at the butcher shop where he’s the manager?

He laughs when he’s told he’d make a good Old Testament priest, reading about all the bloody animal sacrifices. How he knows it’s all about the blood of Christ which cleans our conscience from sin. Now Alejandro the Butcher serves the living God!

From Rev. Joel Sutton, missionary in Paraguay

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The seven provinces of Costa Rica

This past March I visited a number of our Academia Cristo students in Costa Rica. The last time WELS missionaries had been in the country was in March 2018, and even then, only briefly. We traveled there mainly to get to Nicaragua. A short stop. We didn’t have very much online student activity yet in Costa Rica.

But, four years later, the focus was Costa Rica. A lot more students and a lot more activity!

Pedro and María

For example, I’d like to introduce you to Pedro and María, who live in the capital of San José.

María and Pedro downloaded our Academia Cristo app in late 2020. They watched all 38 self-study videos in the App. When they finished those foundation lessons, they were invited to sign up for live, online classes. They successfully finished all 13 live classes in 2021 and loved what they had learned. After a thorough review of the doctrinal points with me, we welcomed María and Pedro as our new brother and sister in the faith.

Pedro and María were ready for the next level of Academia Cristo classes. They were now Lutherans and they wanted to share that message with others. For these students, we start training them to start what we are calling “planting groups,” which, if the Lord blesses their efforts, will eventually become more established congregations.

One of the tools we use to help these new leaders make plans and takes steps toward their goals are monthly goal setting meetings, usually online. We study a portion of the Bible together and then we talk about their dreams for their ministry efforts and we discuss what small steps they can take before our next meeting.

It’s nice to talk about their dreams during an in-person visit because you get to spend much more time together. Pedro, María, and I did just that. They invited me into their house. We studied the Bible. We walked around their neighborhood. We met up with other Academia Cristo students. We visited their family and another family who would like to start a congregation one day. Lots of time together.

As I listened, I heard a theme that I could tell was Pedro and María’s dream for the ministry in Costa Rica. They kept saying, “We want Academia Cristo to be in all seven provinces of Costa Rica.” There it was! The big dream. The hope and prayer of a couple excited about the gospel.

So we wrote it down on the document that has their goals and next steps on it.

“THE SEVEN PROVINCES OF COSTA RICA”

We review this goal every month and pray about it together. Then we discuss the next steps they can take to help achieve it. Step by step. Aiming for that goal.

May the Lord bless Pedro and María and other Costa Ricans as they start their groups and work to reach all those seven provinces of Costa Rica.

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, world missionary on the Latin America mission team.

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Faces of Faith – Diosnel

Diosnel Castro Perez is from Curuguaty, a small town in rural Paraguay. He works as a security guard in a ceramic factory just outside of the capital, Asunción. Like many Paraguayans, he can speak Spanish, but his first language is Guaraní. In 2019, Diosnel was searching online to learn more about God. He tried four different Bible training programs, but he didn’t like that their teaching wasn’t based on the Bible. Then he found an Academia Cristo video on YouTube. He signed up for live classes in October 2019. Over the next year, Diosnel finished all 13 courses of the first level of the training program. At times, he was enrolled in three courses at once, “They taught in a way I could understand. It was like a light went on”.

Diosnel was also sharing what he was learning with others: family, friends, coworkers. It even got him in trouble: “My boss told me not to talk religion at work,” he said, “but that didn’t stop me.”

Now, Diosnel is receiving training to plant a church. “What I like about Academia Cristo is they don’t just teach you the Word. They teach you how to teach others.” He already has a group of about ten people that regularly study with him, but he wants it to grow. And he has more plans: “I want to be a missionary one day, to teach God’s Word in other countries.”

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God’s work across the globe

Things are slowly starting to get back to normal. There are less restrictions on social gatherings. There are more opportunities to return to usual activities. This is also true in our world mission fields. In June, Missionary Andrew Johnston got to spend ten days meeting face-to-face with believers throughout central Mexico. The goal of this trip was to encourage Academia Cristo students who are currently gathering groups of people around God’s Word. Check out the timeline below to see what Missionary Johnston did during his trip.

Bible study group with Javier (second from left)

Saturday, June 12. After arriving in Mexico City in the early afternoon, I journeyed to the far southern edge of Mexico City to visit Javier. Javier is a furniture salesman who gathers four different groups of people to study God’s Word. After meeting one group at his home, I was asked to lead a Bible study. This group has already finished an Academia Cristo course called “The Four Concepts.” This course provides an overview of sin, grace, faith, and works.

Sunday, June 13. I traveled to a factory in the northeastern edge of Mexico City where Artemio, an Academia Cristo student and now confirmed Lutheran, gathers a group of about eighty people. I was asked to preach and participate in the confirmation of nine members. In the afternoon, I joined Javier at Ricardo’s house where I got to meet Ricardo’s family and friends. Ricardo owns a small pharmacy. He and his wife had questions about the validity of their baptisms (they were baptized as infants in Catholic churches). We took the opportunity to study baptism as a group and reaffirmed their baptisms by repeating the promises of God. Afterwards, we returned to Javier’s house where we met with another one of his groups who are studying online.

Monday, June 14. Meeting early at the bus station,and I took the five-hour bus ride to Zacapoaxtla, Puebla, a small city in the mountains. At the bus station in Zacapoaxla we were met by Pastor Samuel. He drove us to Huitzitlan, a small town about two hours from Zacapoaxtla. It turns out that Samuel is also a taxi driver. At a church with a big Luther seal outside, Artemio and I met with Samuel and church president Pedro, and we heard their story. Samuel’s father-in-law had been the pastor. When he died, Samuel was named pastor, but had received very little training of any kind. Samuel was interested to hear about Academia Cristo and wants to give it a try. After being invited to eat at Samuel’s house and meeting his wife Rebeka, we headed back to Zacapoaxtla. On the way, we stopped in Huahuastla to visit a man named Floriberto, the pastor of the Lutheran church in that village. Floriberto seemed interested in Lutheran training with Academia Cristo.

Tuesday, June 15. Artemio and I spent the morning with Pablo Tamanis, the pastor at the Lutheran church in Zacapoaxtla. Pablo and his wife kindly received us in their house and made us breakfast. Saying good-bye to Pablo, Artemio and I retraced our steps back to Mexico City having a good conversation on the way.

Arturo, Maricruz, with their daughter, Romina, holding her baptism certificate

Wednesday, June 16. After using some free time in the morning for two online meetings, I visited Arturo (vice principal of a school) and his wife Maricruz (a teacher). We talked late into the night, working through several doctrinal questions. When the discussion of baptism came up, they shared that their 13-year-old daughter Romina hadn’t been baptized. They asked what would stop us from baptizing her. I almost felt like Philip with the Ethiopian Eunuch. . . So, we studied baptism with Romina and baptized her that night. We are praying that, God-willing, we will recognize doctrinal agreement with them in September and talk about steps to gather a group.

Thursday, June 17. Today, I headed to visit Javier again. We walked through a goal setting process that we use with advanced students to help them grow in their faith and start a Lutheran group. I also officially presented Javier with a doctrinal agreement certificate.

Friday, June 18. I boarded a bus to San Martin Texmeluchan, Puebla, in the morning. There I met Gabino Sanchez Sanchez (yes, that is a double Sanchez). We enjoyed a couple hours of conversation over coffee and parted ways agreeing that we would spend more time together during my next visit. On this visit, we plan to work through our doctrinal agreement process.

Marli holding her doctrinal certificate

Saturday, June 19. On Saturday, we got to gather several Academia Cristo students together. Pastor Carl Leyer was also present to help with these meetings. It was very encouraging to get to meet with students from different backgrounds and with different stories all in one day. In the evening, Pastor Leyer and I traveled to Cuernavaca to meet with Marli, her husband Luiz, Edna, and Maricela (and their driver Roberto). Marli is a very active Academia Cristo student. We were graciously received by Luiz and Marli in their home.

Sunday, June 20. After breakfast, we went to work on setting goals with Marli. She is working on sharing Jesus with lots of people. She has two children’s groups, she meets with groups of police to share the Word, and other things. Marli is now committed to starting a women’s group.

Monday, June 21. We had an early appointment at a police station near Cuernavaca. The department psychologist has asked Marli to share the Gospel. We met with a group of 16 people, including at-risk kids, moms, and police officers. We led a Bible study on the story of Zacchaeus, It was a great opportunity to share the Gospel with a very engaged audience. After a meal at one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to, Carl and I prepared to fly out the next day.

What do a pharmacy owner from Mexico City, a taxicab driver in a rural mountain village of Huitzilan, and a woman from Cuernavaca have in common? They, along with many others throughout Mexico and Latin America, are receiving training through Academia Cristo to gather a group and teach that group the truths of God’s Word. They are being equipped to share the gospel. They are being encouraged to share the peace that only comes from Jesus. We thank God for these students, and we thank God for the opportunity to visit them.

Written by Matt Behmer, world missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador.

 

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Perfect timing

The timing seemed awful. Missionary Joel Sutton and his family and I had only been in our new mission field in Paraguay for a few months. We had just found housing, but it certainly didn’t feel like “home” yet. We were really looking forward to changing that: getting to know our neighbors, traveling a bit in the country, making connections in the community.

Then the pandemic hit. Paraguay´s government issued a “total isolation” policy. We could leave our houses to get food or medicine, but that was about it. So much for our plans of getting established in a new mission field! From our perspective, the timing of the pandemic couldn’t have been much worse.

But God’s timing is always perfect. We were locked in our homes, but so were people all across the world. Many were scared and searching for answers. The Latin America missions team had just rolled out a new, Academia Cristo Bible study app for smartphones. . . and downloads surged. Sign-ups for our online Bible training courses surged too. Zoom classes with 10-20 students before the pandemic were now filled with 40-50. God was reaching more souls with the gospel all over Latin America!

One of those souls was Lester Soto from Managua, Nicaragua (pictured above). He had downloaded our app just after the pandemic hit and signed up for our live classes in April. When I met with him after class one day via Zoom, he admitted that he had been putting off his relationship with God for a long time. But God had used events in his life to lead him to search for the truth, and he found us online. More importantly, his Savior found him. “I was lost,” Lester said. “But now I know Jesus did everything for me. I have a spiritual peace I’ve never had before.” He told me he wanted to join one of our churches. When I said we didn’t have a church in Managua yet, he said he wanted to help start one.

Over the course of the pandemic, Lester was able to take 11 online Bible courses with us. He’s now gathering a group in his home to share with them what he is learning. And he’s not the only one: I could tell you about Eduardo from Bolivia (pictured), José from Ecuador, Benjamín from Colombia, and others—all of whom found us during the pandemic and are now working to plant churches where they live.

It might not always seem like it to us, but God’s timing is always perfect. The Christmas story reminds us of this. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, miles from home, with a barn for their hotel room. That doesn’t seem like the best moment for the Savior to be born! But there in Bethlehem was precisely where and when God had promised it would happen (Micah 5:2). In God’s eyes, the timing was perfect: “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” (Galatians 4:4)

In our case, having just arrived in a new mission field did not seem like the best moment for God to allow the pandemic to happen. But just ask Lester, Eduardo, José, Benjamín, or any of the countless others across the globe that God has used the pandemic to reach or grow with the gospel. I’m sure they’ll all tell you. . . God’s timing couldn’t have been better.

Written by Rev. Abe Degner, world missionary on the Latin America missions team who resides in Asunción, Paraguay. 

Want to learn more about world mission work in Latin America? Visit wels.net/latin-america to learn how Academia Cristo, an online training tool used by the Latin America missions team, is reaching millions of Spanish-speaking people with the gospel.


 

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Faces of Faith – Zoilo

Zoilo Vidal lives in Quevedo, a city about 5 hours away from Quito, Ecuador. He has a small farm with about 9 acres of different fruit trees. In May 2019, Zoilo signed up for online Bible courses on the Academia Cristo website. He connected to the classes twice a week and absolutely loved them. “I knew I was in the right spot from the very first session, when the teacher kept repeating, ‘Let’s go to the Bible for the answer.’” He was so overjoyed about the classes that he sent our missionaries in Quito a gift: two boxes filled with 66 pounds of oranges, watermelon, and papaya. The gospel produces. . . fruits!

By God’s grace, Zoilo continues in the classes. He has downloaded our new Academia Cristo app and excitedly calls the local missionary every time he finishes a new self-study level. He finished the first two levels in 10 days—An Introduction to the Bible and Forgiveness. We pray that all the resources be a great benefit for him, his family, and his neighbors.

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The sleeping shrimp

“Camarón que se duerme…” I said. Immediately a chorus of 20 voices responded, unprompted and unscripted, “Se lo lleva la corriente.”

Many had broad smiles—either joy at a shared knowledge of the common saying or, maybe, they were laughing at a familiar Spanish phrase spoken with a gringo accent. (I, personally, prefer to think of them as “knowing smiles.”)

“The shrimp that falls asleep gets carried away by the current” is the meaning of the common Spanish phrase. It turns out that the phrase is so well known that students in my online class from Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Puerto Rico all instinctively finished my sentence.

People are swept up in the coronavirus current right now. If you think it’s bad where you live, you should see Latin America. In Paraguay, our missionaries are allowed to go out of their homes only to buy groceries. In Ecuador, you need to elect one member from your household who is the only one allowed to go out for food. In Colombia, many members of a sister congregation have red flags outside their home as a signal that their household has no food and no way to get it.

The coronavirus current has swept the globe. Many are carried away, consumed with fear for their physical and financial well-being.

It was into this current that our WELS Latin America Missions team, together with Multi-Language Productions (the artists formally known as Multi-Language Publications), launched a new app. The purpose of the app was to deliver basic law-gospel, biblical instruction in Spanish to the masses. The plan was that those who finish the classes offered in the app proceed to live, online classes from members of our team. At that second level, then, we would further instruct in sound doctrine and train people to share what they learn while also identifying those who want to plant churches and welcoming those who stand with us to confess a oneness of faith.

The app originally was to be released in September of 2019. It was the first of its kind, so production didn’t go as quickly as we had hoped. September turned to December and then to February of this year. After a soft start, finally, in March, a half year after we originally had hoped, we were ready to go full tilt.

About the same time the app was set to release, the coronavirus and associated shut-downs made their way around the globe.

It turns out, at least for our work, the timing hasn’t been bad at all. We were prepared to do online instruction, so we were ready to handle the “shelter in place” aspect of the pandemic. Also, it seems that people whose way of life was tumbling in the fast-flowing waters of quarantines and shut-downs were looking for something to hold onto.

Since the launch of the app, through the end of April 124,000 people from every Spanish-speaking country have downloaded the app. They have begun to flow through the courses presented on that platform—38 videos, each about 7 minutes long, followed by a short quiz. To date, 248 people have watched every single video and taken a corresponding quiz and, after finishing, have signed up for live classes with our missionaries. We hope to see that trickle of app course finishers change to a flood in the weeks and months to come.

It is hard to say how much, if any, of these numbers are due to a release that coincided with a global pandemic. This much we can say for sure: the one who blesses beyond all that we can ask or imagine worked things out precisely the way HE had planned.

It was with a group of those students who had “graduated” from the app that I met live and online, and with whom I talked about the shrimp. From across the Americas we shared a laugh about a common phrase. More importantly, we marveled together at a seemingly common Galilean who lived and died and then rose again and whose resurrection guarantees peace, forgiveness, and life eternal to all who believe in every place, time and circumstance. That’s something for “any shrimp” to hold onto no matter how fast the current flows.

Written by Andrew Johnston, world missionary on the Latin America missions team

 

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Mission work in Venezuela

Henry and Tony, pastors of Most Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Medellín, Colombia, made a second visit to Venezuela last month. The primary purpose for their visit was to carry out face-to-face training and encouragement with four Venezuelan Academia Cristo students working to plant churches in two Venezuelan cities.

Rafael, Luis, Egar, and Jackson are Academia Cristo students working to plant confessional Lutheran churches in Venezuela

The crisis in Venezuela has been in the news quite a bit in recent years. A Washington Post article published during Henry and Tony’s visit states that “Some five million Venezuelans have left the country. [This] has refugees in an exodus that mirrors the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria.” The same article states that one-third of the remaining nine million people in Venezuela are struggling to feed themselves.

The realities in neighboring Venezuela are very real to the members a Most Holy Trinity. Venezuelan immigrants are a common sight on the streets of their Colombian city. Some come to stay. Others are just passing through as they look for work and a new life. Most Holy Trinity members gather and give away clothing to Venezuelan refugees passing through. “The Venezuelan immigrants are traveling by foot. Many times their belongings are robbed. We provide them with food and help them obtain free medical attention from a number of nurses,” explains Pastor Henry.

It is encouraging to see how WELS and the Colombian church have been able to partner in this new and growing ministry to Venezuelans. WELS offerings have enabled travel to Venezuela and provided humanitarian relief to people inside the country of Venezuela. The Colombian church sends their leaders on trips to Venezuela (a country currently closed to U.S. citizens) and also completely funds the Medellín ministry to local Venezuelan immigrants.

Pastor Tony of Colombia studying the Bible with Academia Cristo student Rafael in Venezuela

There are real needs in Venezuela and WELS World Missions is working with our Colombian brothers to show Christian love to those who need it. The biggest need we see, however, is the spiritual one. We know that God often uses earthly crisis to draw us to him. Nearly a quarter million Venezuelans follow Academia Cristo on Facebook. This is more than any other country. In the past few weeks, 500 Venezuelans have downloaded the new Academia Cristo mobile app and begun studying in Academia Cristo’s Bible institute training program. Another trip to Venezuela is planned for this summer.

Written by Rev. Mike Hartman, missionary and field coordinator for the Latin America missions team

 

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