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When are you going to visit us?

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. – Romans 1: 8-10

How many people do you know have been born in their native country, but war forced them to escape their homeland? More than a decade ago, a member of Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn., reached out to a congregation in the far east of Thailand. The leader of this Hmong congregation contacted me, and we became friends. Soon after that, a couple of young men came to study at our training center in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Once I met them, a question was often raised, “When are you going to visit us?” I reassured them that when the right time comes, the Lord will lead me to visit. However, that vivid picture was long gone and a decade passed. Almost two years ago, this congregation approached us for financial support. We didn’t know what to expect because none of our Christian brothers in Thailand, whom we have fellowship with, have been into this new country. We also understood that there were security reasons and restrictions that prohibited us from visiting.

For us to have a better handle on this situation, we knew we needed to make a visit. In reality, you shouldn’t listen to stories or words without boots on the ground. Ears are for hearing, and eyes are for seeing towards better evaluations. And so we went.

My heart was always yearning to see and walk the dusty roads my parents once lived. I wondered how the fresh air of the village smelled, what the green mountains looked like, and what an organic banana tasted like. I questioned how lifestyles and living standards had changed since I left more than four decades ago.

I heard all the good and horrible stories as I grew up. I vividly remember when my family ran from jungle to jungle for survival during the Vietnam War. It grieves me to think of all the defenseless people when I think of this war-torn country. Deep inside of me, no words can describe the pain many of my people once faced. I’m disappointed that I was born during the war; this country robbed me of my childhood and education. Toys and school never once crossed my mind as a child. Only fear, hunger, and endurance provided me with experiences and stories to tell my children.

I was sitting in a plane flying from Bangkok, Thailand, crossing into my destination country, when the flight attendant announced that we would be landing soon. The plane started descending lower and lower to the ground I longed to see. I felt a chill down my spine amidst my mixed emotions. How was I going to get through this trip?

When I arrived, the congregation I was visiting still required a whole day’s journey by land. In this country, freedom of speech and the use of the Bible, or as some people called it “The New Way,” is not allowed in public. I realized how much we must treasure the gospel. When a group of people does not have the privilege to speak or share what they firmly believe, it is like having eyes but no vision. As a visiting missionary, I observed everything from start to finish without saying anything. It created a different yet pleasant experience. When I speak, I only return what I already know. When I listened, I discovered something new. I will never take the gospel for granted and the liberty of the United States, which I live.

Although the country I visited restricts Christianity, there is always hope. Some people have the opportunity to worship and conduct Bible study privately. We pray that as the country is beginning to develop along with chasing after economic prosperity, that the Lord opens doors for the gospel. One thing we can be sure this country needs most is the promise of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

As Isaiah said, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40: 31

Written by a visiting missionary from St. Paul, Minn. 

 

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Christmas outreach in the Philippines

In a predominantly Roman Catholic country like the Philippines, is there a “better time” for a community gospel outreach? By “better time,” I mean that time of the year when people are generally more receptive to gospel conversations and church invitations. While Filipinos are generally receptive to gospel conversations, we find that a “better time” to do community gospel outreach is the Christmas season. How did we make use of this opportunity?

Christmas Day worship at Law and Gospel Lutheran Church

One of the Filipino Roman Catholic traditions associated with the Christmas season is holding a nine-day “Simbang Gabi” (evening mass) which begins on December 16 and ends on Christmas Eve. These evening masses (some conduct them on early dawn) are one of the few times when some nominal Roman Catholics would be in attendance. Since most of our current prospects are Roman Catholics (at least by association) we found it a golden opportunity to make use of this tradition to share with them the true meaning and purpose of Christ’s birth. For the very first time since our mission congregation’s inception, we held our own nine-day Simbang Gabi or “evening services.” A few evangelical churches in the country have also been holding their own Simbang Gabi, but only for selected nights–we did it for nine straight nights!

Edmar’s baptism

One of the incorrect thoughts Filipino Roman Catholics attribute to Simbang Gabi is that some form of “novena” needs to be completed so that their personal petitions would be granted. That is to say, their attendance in these nine-day evening masses are works that they must do in order to get something from God. What a contradiction of the Bible’s message that we cannot offer anything to God in exchange of anything! Millions of souls in our country are living with the yoke of the law still on their shoulders. These people need to know the real meaning and purpose of the tradition they have been religiously observing. They need to understand what St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

I would say the highlight of our observance of the Christmas season was bringing four young souls to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism at our Christmas Day worship. These four young souls are children of our active prospects in what is known here as Villareal area, an area which is not very close to our base in de Jesus Compound. Nine evening services plus one morning service (Christmas Day) equals ten straight days of preaching! It was physically exhausting, but spiritually refreshing. I wouldn’t mind doing it again next Christmas season. After all, the baby who was born on the first Christmas Day came in order “to seek and to save that which was lost”.

Written by Alvien de Guzman, Pastor at Law & Gospel Lutheran Church in the Philippines

To learn more about mission work in the Philippines, visit wels.net/philippines.

 

 

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From decision to grace

My name is Agus Prasetyo. I am a dosen (lecturer or professor) at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL) which is the seminary of Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI).

Before learning true doctrine, I very strongly held the position of “decision theology” and saw the sacraments as symbols rather than as means of grace.

I falsely thought that I:

  • decided to believe in the Lord Jesus when I was 12 years old;
  • decided to accept baptism at the age of 13 years old;
  • decided to study at a heterodox seminary where I received a Bachelors and Masters degree of Theology;
  • decided to serve in a place where I wanted to live and work;
  • decided to reach out to people with the gospel in order to make them decide to believe in Jesus;
  • decided to teach people to make decisions to believe in Jesus and also make the decision to accept baptism.

I was (falsely) taught that baptism:

  • is a symbol or confession of faith and that anyone who has been baptized is considered to have been legally accepted as a Christian;
  • requires the ability to make faith decisions in Christ before it is administered, so baptism is for adults only;
  • is a proof of the growth of the church quantitatively;
  • is a way to make people legal members of Christianity so that they can support the work of the church. That is why I used to only baptize teenagers and adults who were able to make a decision.

NOW I AM VERY GRATEFUL, because I know that those statements are false theology.

First, I am grateful because God gave me the opportunity to learn the right doctrine through Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). GLI is a sister synod of WELS and a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). After I finished my Master’s program, I had the opportunity to study Christian doctrine with Professor Gregory Bey who has served as an STTL dosen and WELS Friendly Counselor in Indonesia. Together, we began our studies of basic Christian doctrine using “New Life In Christ” and “Luther’s Catechism” – both of which are produced by Northwestern Publishing House and translated into Bahasa Indonesia with funding from WELS Multi-Language Publications. I needed about two years to complete our initial studies because my mind was still influenced by the theology that I had previously learned. After continuing to study doctrine at a deeper level by auditing classes in exegesis and Christian dogmatics at STTL, and with much prayer, I finally understood the true biblical doctrine, even though it could not always satisfy my human reason and logic—something I had relied on heavily in the past rather than faith alone.

Secondly, I am grateful because I received a great blessing, namely, an understanding of baptism in the true sense: A means of grace, given by God, for all people, without the need of man’s ability to make a decision for faith. “A sacred act in which Christ offers, gives, and seals to us the forgiveness of sins and thus also life and salvation.” (Luther’s Catechism) My children were also baptized as soon as I became a Lutheran. I am grateful to have received that great blessing.

Thirdly, I am grateful to have been ordained as a pastor by GLI and called to serve as a dosen at STTL. I know there are many mistakes in the Indonesian Bible translation. Accordingly, I feel that it is very important to teach the original biblical languages to our seminary students. Therefore, I continue to study and teach Greek and Hebrew to our students at STTL so that they can become workers in GLI “who rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and teach the Bible correctly.

I am grateful for my calling which permits me to help guide the seminary students of GLI and prepare them to be workers who have the right doctrine from the Bible. My former training and experiences outside of confessional Lutheranism have given me some unique insights which allow me to anticipate things which our young pastors will face that are not in accordance with the orthodox teachings of the Bible. My personal walk of faith has helped me to discern errors. This has been an aid in helping to formulate a curriculum for STTL that can meet the needs of GLI both now and, God-willing, for many more years to come.

As we move into the future, please keep us in your prayers!

From someone who was lost but now is found,

Professor Agus Prasetyo, dosen at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL) in Indonesia

 

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Faces of Faith – Pastor Chaleunsouk

The following is an interview I conducted with Pastor Tom Chaleunsouk. After you read this, say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for his grace and his gift to the church.

Tom Chaleunsouk was born in 1952 just outside Vientiane, the capital city of the country of Laos. In the early 1970s he worked as a night watchman on the American Air Base in Vientiane. Tom was married in 1973 to his wife Kaysone, who was from the same village. By 1980, they had been blessed with three children.

After the Vietnam war ended, the air base was abandoned by the United States government and regime changes were taking place in Laos. The Lao communist government actively sought to find all those who assisted or worked with the Americans during the conflict, which placed the lives of thousands in grave danger. Many were killed and many were sent to concentration (“re-education”) camps in the northern part of the country.

Pastor Tom (right) and his wife Kaysone (third from right) during a youth volleyball tournament at the church

In 1980, having been warned that his life was in danger, Tom took the bold step of fleeing across the Mekong River which runs along the border of Thailand and Laos. To avoid being seen by communist soldiers, he crossed the river in the middle of the night on an evening in October when the monsoons were nearing the end and the river was at flood stage. The crossing was about a quarter mile wide. He crossed alone to protect his family from possible capture or death in the event he was caught by the authorities. He could not swim, so he fashioned a triangle of three bamboo poles and plastic bags into a kind of life preserver. He tied them under his arms and jumped into the river. On the other side of the river, he was picked up by Thai soldiers and put into the United Nations refugee camp in Nong Khai.

Meanwhile, arrangements had been made for Tom’s wife, Kaysone, to secretly follow Tom across the Mekong River with their three small children. Kaysone’s father took them to the river where a boat was waiting for them. Their oldest child, Thephone (who was four years old at the time), began to cry. For fear of being caught by the communist soldiers, Kaysone’s father took the boy back to the village, leaving Kaysone and the two youngest children alone. They successfully crossed the river and were taken to the U.N. refugee camp. It would take another four years before Tom and Kaysone were reunited with their son.

Tom and his wife were raised in the Buddhist religion. In the refugee camp, Tom met a Thai Christian evangelist who held gatherings in the camp. He approached Tom one day and invited him to join them, where he shared God’s word and prayed for him and his family.

In 1981, Tom and his family were brought to the United States and sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church in Pease, Minnesota. They were welcomed by the community, which helped them acclimate to a new country and culture. Tom and his family were eventually baptized, and Tom’s desire to not only learn more about Christianity, but also to be able to teach his native people about Jesus, became a driving force for him.

The Nong Khai church (left) and sala (right) in Ban Houymakhat. A sala is a covered open structure. All of the house church mission groups gather with the congregation here on the first Sunday of the month for a joint communion service and fellowship.

The family moved to Lakeville, Minnesota, where they started attending Bethlehem Lutheran Church. After Tom made his interest in becoming a pastor known, two pastors who were part of a multi-cultural WELS outreach team in St. Paul came to visit. Tom began part time studies with the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute in 1998, and was enrolled full time in 2000. In 2005, he graduated and was commissioned as a missionary to the Issan (Thai-Lao) people in Thailand.

Over the course of his service to the Lord and his church, Tom has continued to offer pastoral instruction to interested students in Nong Khai, Thailand. Together with one national pastor and one national evangelist as well as some dedicated laymen, Tom oversees four “house churches” in different villages and a central church in Ban Houymakhat, Thailand.

Pastor Tom and his wife Kaysone have been and continue to play a vital role in our mission work among the Issan people in northeastern Thailand. Through their untiring dedication and service to the Lord, many have come to know their Savior. Pray that the Lord blesses them with health and a safe working environment!

Written by Rev. Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

 

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A Lutheran seminary for a Confessional Lutheran church body

On a recent trip to the Asia-Pacific Rim, I spent almost two weeks with the faculty and staff at a small Lutheran seminary.

The request of their team was this: “Be our consultant. Speak to us about ways that we can fulfill our calling as a Lutheran seminary.”

Our studies were grounded in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. We studied the Smalcald Articles which reminded us that the first and chief article of our faith is redemption and justification by faith. We were also reminded that no teaching of our seminary may come from any place other than the Bible. Those same Smalcald Articles reminded us that the goal of seminary training is pastors who know how to do pastoral care, preaching and teaching God’s law and gospel, equipping God’s people to live lives of repentance, and to use the keys with each other.

Building on that foundation, we talked about the WHAT, the HOW, and the WHY of theological education at a confessional Lutheran seminary.

WHAT is their mission? To train evangelical Lutheran pastors who want to and know how to serve Christ’s flock and to reach out to others. WHAT kind of institution do they want to be? They decided on the following:

  • An institution which is centered on Jesus Christ and the Bible principles of Scripture Alone, by Grace Alone, by Faith Alone.
  • A culture where faculty, staff, and students work hard and are always growing.
  • A place of learning where the growth of the students (knowledge, faith/character/attitude, and skill) is strongly pursued.
  • A place where God’s people can learn from their mistakes.
  • A place where God’s people love each other.

HOW are they going to accomplish this mission? The faculty and staff agreed that they need to be in the Word together and that they needed to be praying for God’s help. They agreed that solid teaching in every course is vital. They also agreed that that they need to have a functional system for communication and accountability regarding curriculum, goals, and students. Finally, they decided that they need be examples for each other, admonishing and encouraging each other in love and humility.

As for the WHY of their service, they agreed that their motivation is the Savior who died and rose again for them. In Jesus Christ, they want to give glory to God in all they do. In Jesus Christ, they want to serve as the best faculty and staff that they can be.

Please pray that the Lord continues to guide and bless the faculty and staff who serve at this worker training facility. Please pray that they can be a blessing to the students entrusted to their care, and that those students, in turn, will be a blessing to many people in their region.

Written by Rev. Brad Wordell, professor for the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI)

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