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Rejoice in the lost sheep

One of the features that can be found in our Philippine flag is an eight-rayed sun. These eight rays represent the first eight Philippine provinces that revolted against the Spanish colonial government in the 19th century. One of these eight provinces is Cavite. You might ask, “What does Cavite have to do with Law & Gospel Lutheran Church?”

Pastor De Guzman teaches the Catechism in Cavite

Cavite is the site of Law & Gospel congregation’s first-ever teaching station outside its base in Novaliches, a suburb in the metropolitan Manila area. The work in this area started in September 2018, when a couple who are members of a WELS congregation in Appleton, Wis., reached out to me, asking if I would consider doing mission work in the said area. Our contacts in Cavite, a family of five, are relatives of the couple (specifically of the wife who is a Filipina).

For more than a year now, my wife and I would travel a total of about 5 hours, back and forth, every Saturday to teach Bible study and a kid’s Bible class. Not an easy one, though, as we have to contend with the infamous Manila traffic.

Considering the amount of time, energy, and money we’re spending each week for this small teaching station, some might question whether it’s worth all the efforts and resources. A better question to ask is, what value does God place on one lost soul? Jesus says in one of his parables:

Kid’s Bible Class in Cavite

“Which one of you, if you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls together his friends and his neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:4-7

By God’s grace, our contacts–a couple and their two teenage children–have already finished studying Luther’s Small Catechism. There are a lot more lost souls in the community that we need to reach. As each lost soul is valuable to God, traveling long hours to Cavite every Saturday is definitely worth it.

Written by Rev. Alvien De Guzman, pastor at Law & Gospel Lutheran Church in Novaliches, Philippines 

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

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Bright Promise

Bam, bam, bam!

We heard pounding on the front door at 1 A.M early on a Sunday morning. I stumbled around in the dim light and answered it only to discover a very drunk man who wanted to talk. I was half-asleep, and he was. . .  well, you know. The conversation was almost comical. Finally, it became clear to me that he was asking if he could sit down. Given several factors, that was not a good idea, so I asked him if we could talk another time. He tried to show me where he lived but pointed in all four directions and mumbled something about building three. I asked him for his contact information, but he had lost his phone. As I escorted him out, I noticed that he had gotten sick all over the floor of the entryway. I watched him go to the elevator and get in. In the morning, I noticed that he must have come back out of the elevator, took off his jacket, and gotten sick some more.

“That’s disgusting,” you say, “Do you really have to share this in a Missions Blog?” Yes, I do. Because some great things happened through this rather unfortunate and disgusting situation. First of all, I learned even more about the beautiful heart of my beautiful wife. Our entryway is public. People walk through there. In fact, our landlord lives just across the hall from us. Without a single complaint, my wife put on her rubber boots and dish gloves and cleaned up the whole mess on her hands and knees. She never said one negative thing about this bozo who scared us half-to-death (imagine getting a knock on the door at 1 A.M. in a country where missionaries are being expelled every day. . .) and then made a disgusting mess all over our hallway.

Second, the next day (or I guess I should say that is was much later that same day), the young man returned to apologize. He happened to show up when a Christian brother was also arriving. The young man said he was embarrassed. I told him that we are Christians and that we forgive people. We gave him a Bible. We told him to read the gospel of Mark and send us any questions that he had. He was shocked. We exchanged contact information, and I have had further opportunities to shower him with grace.

In the local language, his name could be translated “bright promise.” The night he banged on our door, there wasn’t much “bright promise” to be seen—just a young man making a fool of himself and possibly throwing his life away. But God used it to introduce him to the life-changing gospel of our living God. It turns out that he actually lives 3 floors above us—the exact same door. For some reason, the elevator doors opened on our floor and brought us together. I’d like to think it is for his eternal good, the “bright promise” of heaven.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Clouds and Sunshine

Which side of the clouds are you looking at?

As I was flying into a city in East Asia, I spotted this scene out of my seat, 42A. We had been flying above the clouds in bright blue skies with puffy white clouds. But as we descended it got darker and darker. Black clouds cast a pall over the city. . . but then a break in the clouds revealed my destination. There was even a little sun out on parts of the city.

Doesn’t this pretty much sum up what it means to see the world as a follower of Jesus? The group of people I was going to visit had been under a dark cloud. Local authorities told them they could not meet in the location they have used for a year and a half. They would be watched. Their lives would be touched by moments of fear and doubt.

But when I met to encourage them, I found that the Son was still shining. Brothers and sisters didn’t want to let the fear of persecution split up their group. They did want everyone to be doubly united in faith and hope to carry on. With God’s help, they will! They see the One who is both over the clouds and walks with them under the clouds.

It’s not an easy situation, but the early Christian church faced much worse. Persecution in the 21st century has grown to the point where many say Christians worldwide are the most persecuted of any group. Governments that want to control Christianity have more tools than ever such as surveillance cameras and other technology. But God’s eye is always on those who trust in him.

His Kingdom will not be brought down. Some brothers and sisters may be getting a small bruise as they stumble on a stone of persecution right now, but no one and no thing can ultimately oppose the Rock of Ages. As Jesus said, “Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” – Matthew 21:44.

So let us fear God! May God bless governments with wisdom. May he strengthen his people whose lives are momentarily disrupted by fear. May he help all of us to keep seeking his Kingdom and his righteousness. We can trust his promise that the gates of hell shall not overcome it.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest

When you work with people of another culture and another language, those people handle your linguistic shortcomings in a few different ways. First, you have “the Simplifier,” who slows the conversation with you way down and only uses simple words, immediately rephrasing sentences that may be too complex. Next, you have the “the Louder.” This is the person who speaks extra slow to make sure you understand, making big gestures as sign language to help you along. And, for some reason, they think it will help if they speak louder and louder until they are nearly shouting at you . . . but in a very eager and friendly way. Finally, you have the “the Firehoser.” That’s the person who forgets almost immediately that they are speaking with someone who is just learning their language. They are so excited to speak with a foreigner who understands their language that you are soon swimming in complex vocabulary and grammar you’ve never studied, at speeds faster than a 747.

My friend YuTong is definitely a “Firehoser.” I invited him to a local restaurant to eat lunch with me. Since his father is a chef, Yutong knows a lot about food preparation. He began to explain to me in his language why many local restaurants fail to make foreign food correctly. Within seconds, he was using all sorts of jargon I didn’t understand. I smiled and nodded in agreement. I really wish I had understood what he was talking about. It sounded so interesting, and he was so excited about it.

Most of our conversations go that way: him excitedly telling me things, me straining my little brain to understand while looking up words in the dictionary as fast as I can. Thankfully, Yutong is also a “Simplifier” when he remembers to be, so he slows down and makes sure that he doesn’t lose me.

It was during one of these “Simplifier” moments that he told me about his imminent divorce. He and his wife have not been communicating. In fact, it got so bad that she became pregnant twice and had an abortion both times without even informing him of the situation. Since he wants to have children, he was devastated when he found out. Tears require little language to communicate volumes. So, when his eyes watered up in a way that is very rare for men in that culture, I knew he was hurting badly.

When I told him that I would pray for him, he asked how God could help him. What an opening for the gospel!

Whenever I have these sorts of opportunities, I am immediately reminded how my grasp of the local language falls short. How can I communicate law and gospel effectively in another, very difficult language? Even if I am a “Simplifier” in my communication and use exaggerated gestures like the “Louder,” how do I express the wonders of our God is a way that the local people will really understand? It is difficult enough for people to believe in Christ when the gospel presentation is clearly spoken. How will they believe when I am stumbling over every other word? But I am also reminded of this passage from the Scriptures:

Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3

I am reminded that, even when I am using my own heart language to share the gospel, my ability to argue eloquently, turn a phrase, or expound on the Greek of a certain Bible passage will never, ever bring someone to faith in Jesus aside from the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

Our job is to expose them regularly to the marvelous grace of Jesus. He will take care of the rest.

Maybe you are frightened to share your faith with that neighbor or coworker—not because they have no interest, but because you are afraid of messing up the message. Hey, at least you are not trying to share in another language (At least, not usually)! But the real comfort is that the Holy Spirit puts his power and authority behind those simple, stumbling words to change hearts—forever! Praise God!

Written by: A missionary in East Asia

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Heavenly Connections

One of the greatest joys my husband and I have when back in the USA on furlough is connections with WELS members who support mission work, especially our work in India. One particular connection culminated at a special Vacation Bible School program at Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in Waukesha, WI.

Early this summer, my husband and I were on furlough in the States. One pastor on our South Asian Administrative Committee mentioned that a friend of his had reached out. This friend wanted to connect with the Indian friendly counselors to discuss supporting our work in some way. To make a long story short, we met this friend – Amie Klemp-Saar – very soon after and the rest is history.

“Jesus” of Jesus Loves Me

Amie was passionate to make real connections with missions, this time through the Mt. Calvary VBS in Waukesha. First, my husband and I excitedly shared our work about the children we care for with Amie and the VBS team she was a part of. Amie said many times, “I want to make real connections with the VBS kids here and with the kids you care for in India. I want the VBS kids to see how we can show our love of Jesus in a very real way to others.” Then, over our conversations, many ideas were thrown out on how we can make those real connections. This was one, “Let’s have them all eat KitKat bars! Can you get them there?” “Yes!” was my reply. “Let’s do it!” Thanks to my co-worker and husband (who returned to India earlier then I), KitKat bars were bought in India and eaten at one of our children’s homes. KitKats were also eaten by the VBS children in Waukesha as a snack. Pictures were taken on both sides of the world and shared. We were also able to share our presentation about the children’s ministry in India, so the VBS children learned more about India and our mission. One couldn’t help but be drawn into the excitement of the whole venture. The sharing still continues with all our Children’s Homes and Grade school in India.

Yet the most inspirational thing happened on the last day of Mt. Calvary’s VBS. I had the opportunity to attend and witness an outpouring of love for the Savior. The connection this time was singing Jesus Loves Me. Thankfully, Dan Saar (Amie’s husband) recorded it:

View the video of Mt. Calvary’s VBS in Waukesha, WI singing Jesus Loves Me with the Indian Children’s Home.

I joined in singing and signing Jesus Loves Me with 140 VBS children at Mt. Calvary, while the children of the Indian Mercy Children’s Home sang on the screens behind us.

Signing “belong” of Jesus Loves Me

For me, to make a connection with that song was amazing, as I have been personally teaching it to the children in our homes and school. It was hard to hold back the tears of joy. The outpouring of love was humbling. Some parents and visitors were so moved and came up to me personally, “I want to help.” The Sunday after VBS, the children sang this again and more were moved. What was the most humbling was witnessing the Holy Spirit’s power, not ours, to turn people’s hearts on fire.

This connection was just the beginning of the bigger picture. It will be very, very encouraging to the children, caregivers, and teachers here in India to see this outpouring of love and encouragement from fellow Christians in the United States. It will show them that they are not so isolated after all and how deep and wide their connection with fellow believers is. And with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can look forward to the biggest connection of all in heaven. May his Word continue to change and move hearts all over the world.

Written by: Wife of a WELS Friendly Counselor to India 

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The Sun Came Out at Midnight

On Monday, August 13, 2018 the crescent moon – thin and red – hung low in the night sky as I drove up to the church. It reminded me of the same crescent moon I saw the first night I was in Pakistan in March 2009. That day my hosts arranged a visit to a Sunday School upon my arrival. The children threw petals of flowers, sang hymns, recited Bible verses and put on a play. As I walked back to the car, there in the western sky (now dark) was a white crescent moon. In my first hours of being in the country I was surprised to see this well-known symbol on the flag of Pakistan displayed so marvelously. And tonight, there it was again.

I was nervous. We had been preparing for this event for more than a year. I took a nap at 7 p.m., woke up at 8 p.m., and shaved and put on a suit and tie. My translator told me to wear a suit since in the Pakistani mind this shows greater respect to the students and to the event itself.

As I drove up to the church an hour early, my nervousness gave way to excitement. I was going to see men whom I had come to know during my visits to Pakistan, men whom I had not been able to converse with except through written reports – men who were my dear brothers in Jesus.

Then the moment came. Our contact and I stood before the camera. We saw the eleven men and four wives gathered in the classroom. All of the students introduced themselves. We exchanged pleasantries and then we began our study of Luke’s Gospel. The men will teach what they learn from Luke’s Gospel to the 58 house churches in Pakistan. Each man will visit 4-5 house churches a week. The ladies will minister to women and teach children in our Sunday Schools.

Our 10-day Bible Institute ran from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Central Standard Time, which is the same as 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Pakistan. The “day” was broken up into four, two hour sessions with breaks in between.

Our contact and I have found that standing while teaching keeps us alert… The first two nights we stayed up the entire night. Now we take a nap while the students have lunch. We wake up half an hour before the third session to make sure our brains are in gear. We also eat snacks to keep our energy level up – granola bars, honey on bread, apples, peanuts, and decaf coffee. We sleep as best as we can during the day.

I was not used to so many filters in teaching – the filter of culture (the Pakistani mindset, the American mindset), the filter of language (translation from English to Urdu and back again), and then the filter of technology (cameras, microphones, picture quality, sound quality, being unable to move around while teaching). I wish I could be physically present, but that was not possible due to security concerns. In spite of these filters, and because of them, God in his great mercy supplied what I was lacking and enabled us to connect head-to-head and heart-to-heart.

There have been four surprises:

  1. The amount of interaction. It was our goal to have a lot of interaction, but we didn’t know if we would be able to achieve it. We wanted to avoid “the sage on the stage” where everyone sits quietly and listens to a man talk for a long time. Every day we taught there was more interaction.
  2. How much the students know. Their knowledge of the Bible is deeper than we had expected.
  3. The camaraderie and good will. There is a joy and a closeness among us. Many times the students spontaneously wanted to sing a hymn after learning a Bible lesson. With the accompaniment of drums, they stood and sang an Easter hymn after learning about Jesus raising to life the only son of the Widow of Nain.
  4. The formation of a team. We spent several sessions talking honestly about the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats in our churches in Pakistan. Talking back and forth – listening to the students thoughts and concerns – makes them feel they are respected. This shows them that we consider them to be valuable members of our team.

The first three days we were without the use of a live video transmission for only 45 minutes during 15 total hours of teaching. We had high hopes, but we did not expect the video signal to work so well. This was a great gift from God. When the video transmission stopped, we used the phone. We, of course, have plans to repeat and enlarge our Bible Institute; but we will not mention them here for security reasons. I thank everyone who worked so hard – in Pakistan and in America – to make this happen.

The Old Testament prophet Zechariah said, “When evening comes, there will be light” (14:7). On the evening of August 13, 2018, a crescent moon was setting in the western sky and the sun came out at midnight.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

Written by: WELS Friendly Counselor to Pakistan

 

To learn more about WELS mission work in Pakistan, visit wels.net/Pakistan.

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Faces of Faith – Ching

His name is Ching. He was born 28 or 29 years ago in the jungles of western Thailand. He technically has two birthdays – the date that his parents told him he was born and the one the government assigned to him when his family was assimilated into Thailand’s population. The two birthdays are a year apart.

His family was moved to Village 9, one of the settlements established by the government for refugees. He attended school through the third grade, but had to leave due to family difficulties and the need to work in the fields in order to help support the family. No one in his family was Christian including his four siblings.

A strange dream caused his mother to seek out the local Christian leaders of our fledgling mission in Village 9. Through her contact with our young Bible Institute student (now one of our national pastors), the Holy Spirit led her to faith and she was baptized along with three of her children.

Children in Thailand listen to a Bible message

By the time Ching was 15, his interest in the Christian faith led him to the city of Chiang Mai, about a seven hour drive from his home in Village 9. He attended classes at our Bible Institute until its closure in 2009. He then transferred his studies to our seminary in Chiang Rai. At the same time he continued his secular education and earned his GED. When he completed our four year seminary program, he was graduated with a BTh degree and was ordained into the pastoral ministry.

He married in March of 2016. A year later he was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and he underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments. Though the doctors told him he would never be able to have children after the chemotherapy, the Lord has blessed him and his wife with the joy and expectation of a child this November.

I asked him once why he decided to become a pastor. Music has always been among his interests. In his youth, he once heard a Christian song that led him to seek out more information about the words and music. His friends in turn invited him to become more involved in worship where he was drawn to the music of the church as well as the message. From there, a thirst and desire to learn more led him on the path to service in the church. Pastor Ching and his wife currently are serving as officers on the Board of Directors of our new Thailand Evangelical Lutheran Synod Foundation in Chiang Rai.

Please continue to remember Pastor Ching and his wife in your prayers.  Pray that the Lord grants him a complete recovery from his cancer, and that he and his wife are blessed with the birth of a healthy child.

Written by: Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

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A Man of Many Hats

Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions teach that the public ministry may assume various forms. For example, public ministers of the gospel may serve as a parish pastor, a world missionary, a seminary professor, a mission counselor, a synod president or as the editor of a theological publication. Theoretically, a WELS pastor could serve in all of these forms of public ministry at different times. But typically no man would serve in all these roles at the same time… unless your name is Alvien De Guzman.

Pastor Alvien De Guzman and wife Marieta

Now, please don’t misunderstand. Pastor De Guzman is not a Lutheran “Superman”. He is as flawed as every other minister of the gospel. Rather, what he is (as the only confessional Lutheran in fellowship with the WELS in the country of the Philippines) is a man who is serving in a lot of roles at the same time. You might say that these days, Alvien De Guzman is “wearing a lot of different hats.”

Actually, it’s been that way since the beginning of his relationship with WELS. In 2014, Pastor De Guzman’s first hat was as a tent minister, devoting his weekends and evenings to conducting Bible classes in his home, while also working a secular job. Shortly thereafter, Pastor De Guzman began working with WELS Multi-Language Publications to develop confessional Lutheran materials in his native language of Tagalog. He put on the hat of a religious publications editor.

About that same time, through the financial support offered to him by WELS Board for World Missions, Pastor De Guzman became a full-time mission explorer. In consultation with our Asia-Pacific Rim Administrative Committee, he developed an outreach plan for several barangays (neighborhoods) in Novaliches, a suburb of Manila. He planted a congregation which bears the name Law and Gospel Lutheran Church. He looked for ways to connect with his community. Over the course of time, the Lord brought through his doors a growing number of children – Pastor De Guzman then put on the hat of a youth minister. He taught Sunday school and trained others to do the same.

More recently, Pastor De Guzman has donned the hat of a multi-parish pastor. Preaching stations have opened in neighboring suburbs of Navotas City and Cavite. The opportunities to bring the gospel to new locations have begun to stretch Pastor De Guzman to the limit. Who would provide the workers for these fields the Lord was opening to him?

Law and Gospel Lutheran Church – Manilla, Philippines

In a very short period of time, three different men who recently left the Lutheran Church of the Philippines for confessional reasons have requested further theological training from WELS. They are eager to serve alongside Pastor De Guzman. But first Pastor De Guzman will need to don the hat of a seminary professor – teaching classes and monitoring the field experiences of these men, under the direction of WELS Pastoral Studies Institute.

God willing, all of these men will one day shepherd congregations of their own, united with Law and Gospel Lutheran Church as an independent church body, in fellowship with WELS. It will be a new synod in the Philippines, with a new synod president – and another hat for someone to wear.

God knows what the future holds for our mission work in the Philippines. But from my human perspective, I expect that for the foreseeable future, one man will continue to wear a lot of hats. May God grant this man the grace to wear each of his hats well, for his sake and for the sake of those he shepherds, in Jesus’ name.

Written By: Rev. Robb Raasch – Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Rim Administrative Committee

Want to see more photos from the WELS World Missions and Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) visit to the Philippines? Check out the WELS Missions Flickr album.

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Inner Peace! Inner Peace!

In the movie Kung Fu Panda, poor Master Shifu cannot find any peace. He tries to meditate; he chants the words, “inner peace, inner peace” over and over again, but nothing changes. There is no peace for him. He just has too much on his mind… there are too many troubles, nothing is going the way that it is supposed to go. Worst of all, his enemy is coming, and his student (fat panda Po) is much better at eating noodles than he is at learning Kung Fu.

Maybe your life feels like that sometimes. It’s difficult to live with inner peace. There is so much to do. There is so much that could be done better. There is stress and uncertainty. There are unmet expectations that you put on yourself and others put on you. There are setbacks and disappointments. There are often mental and physical roadblocks to important things you are trying to get done. Life rarely ever goes the way you planned it.

In the midst of that storm, you try to have inner peace, but it just will not come to you.

Here’s the problem: When we cannot find inner peace, it is usually because we are trying to do God’s work. I do not mean the ministries we have been assigned – I mean the work that only God can do. Charles Spurgeon once wrote: “You are meddling with Christ’s business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances.” It is not our business to run the world and to make all things work out for the good of the Church. Our business is to trust and to live out our vocations in that trust. God will take care of the rest.

Christ’s birth, death and resurrection is the guarantee that we do not need to worry about God’s business. In fact, we do not need to worry about anything. The angels sung about it: “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” I like the Chinese translation there (from the CSB): 平安临到他所喜悦 的人. “Peace comes to those who delight him.” God delights in you!

As Zephaniah wrote,“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (3:17)

God delights in you because He delights in Jesus who lived a perfect life in your place, died as punishment for your guilt, and rose to guarantee that you are now innocent in God’s sight. When God looks at you, He sees Jesus. He sees perfection. He sees a billion reasons to rejoice and sing. And in that moment – in every moment – He commits himself to working out all things for your good.

So, be at peace. Tomorrow may bring trouble of every kind, but peace is yours through Christ!

Written by: A Missionary in East Asia

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Time to Tell the Story

One of the many differences about living and working in East Asia is this time of year, Christmas-time. Instead of reminding everyone about the “real meaning” of Christmas or reading about how we need to stop the materialism and stress to enjoy Christmas, I’ve found that over here I more often get to share the answer to this most basic question: “What is Christmas?” Each time I’m asked the question, I’m given another chance to sling my well-rehearsed What-Is-Christmas story. And, “well-rehearsed” is the right word. I probably told the Christmas story individually over 30 times last year. That’s a lot of telling and retelling. Last year, as Christmas drew closer I thought, “I’ll be glad when this is over because I’ve been telling the same story so many times”. I was getting flashbacks of practicing for Christmas pageants as a child, mechanically shout-speaking the words of Luke 2, “IN THOSE DAYS CAESAR AUGUSTUS…” But as Christmas arrived, my attitude was refocused as I got to thinking…

First, I appreciate the opportunity to focus the Christmas story. Sometimes we pack the nativity scene with extra characters, metaphorically and literally, finding every possible story that relates to Christmas to give it a fresh look. However, I’ve found that retelling the simple story of Luke 2 helps me cut it down to the basics. The conditions tell us Jesus’ beginning was a humble one, yet the angels tell us this was a massive event. After telling it so many times, I find myself ending the story by saying something like, “Basically God loved us so much he sent his own son to save us.”

It’s after telling people this focused message over and over that I see just how important this event is. This is God’s love put into action. Here is where I consider myself blessed to have heard other aspects of the Christmas story – of all those who waited for a Savior, or of those who scoured the writings for news about his coming, or about how so many promises of God were completed in this birth. It’s such an important point that I have to add it to my retelling. Unfortunately, I can’t share every detail every time without drawing a blank stare, but I’ll keep working on it. Nonetheless, all those facts tell me that Jesus’ birth is a massively important event – for me and for the person I’m telling it to.

Be like the Bethlehem shepherds, sharing the news of Christ’s birth

That leads me to these thoughts: How can I feel worn out from telling this amazing and important story?! And, how could it feel old when these people are hearing this news for the first time ever?! At Christmas, I’m excited to play the role of a shepherd of Bethlehem who goes throughout the city telling people “about this child.” I’m able to do this because our synod loves these people so much that they support and allow me to live over here to tell them. It’s even more exciting to see the people that have learned the Christmas story and are now becoming “Bethlehem shepherds” themselves, telling this story to others clearly and more naturally in their native language – sharing it better than I ever could.

This isn’t just a phenomenon on this side of the globe. There are people where you live that need to hear the Christmas story too, whether it’s for the first time or retold for the who-knows-how-many-time. This story is worth telling and retelling.

After thinking it through, I was excited for Christmas, and I’m excited for the new year. Let’s go tell the story of Jesus and his love.

By: A Missionary in East Asia

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Thankful to Be Let Go

“I’m sorry, but I can’t be your teacher anymore …”

It is rarely enjoyable to be let go. It’s challenging when your boss tells you that he or she can no longer keep you on staff – the pain and the sadness are real. Oftentimes, it leads to us to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” and, “Where do I go from here?”

If you have ever spent significant time learning another language, more than likely you have invested in a teacher or tutor. After 3 years of serving on the East Asia mission field, I have not met a better tutor than Linda. Linda, a professional teacher in our local preschool, is encouraging to all of the skill levels that enter her classroom, and she also knows how to push each student to give their best effort (my 5-year-old son thrives in her class as one of the few foreign children). She and her husband both serve as teachers in our school system while also raising their young son without full-time daycare assistance from the grandparents, which is very uncommon where we live. On top of all of this, Linda has been my regular language tutor along with tutoring several other missionaries on our field. When the missionaries gather, the conversation often turns to the blessings of studying with Linda.

While it seems somewhat trivial to be sad over being “let go” as a student, the truth is many of us on this mission field know that Linda is one of the best. We genuinely enjoy her company! We had always told Linda that if she ever needed to step away from teaching us, we would not be upset but instead be supportive and understanding. As I considered this possibility, I never figured I would feel “thanksgiving” for Linda letting me go as a student, but that is exactly how I feel and how our mission team feels right now.

Linda and her husband Adam have a strong desire to share their Savior with the lost souls living around them. They saw potential for a new church plant in our area, and this past summer they moved to our neighborhood. For years they have been growing under the guidance of our missionaries, Friend of China teachers, and national Lutheran pastors (graduates from our seminary in Hong Kong). Part of the reason Linda was eager to tutor us was to enable us to serve the people in the local language. Now she is a part of the core group that is launching a sister church in our neighborhood this upcoming Thanksgiving weekend. Adam and Linda are answering the call to prepare this location for worship, which includes taking the time to meet with local prospects that are interested in learning about Jesus and what it means to go to church. In summary, Linda has stopped training the missionaries so that she herself could go and serve the people – her people – by sharing the Gospel in her native tongue. This is something she can do far better than any of the foreign missionaries could ever even dream of doing.

The Apostle Paul gave thanks for the work God did in the hearts of his brothers and sisters:

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 1:2

This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for our partners in ministry and their excitement to share their faith, love, and hope in Jesus. So, yes, it actually feels good to be let go because we get to watch our God accomplish great things through servants like Adam and Linda. Please keep this young church in your prayers.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving (and eat some extra turkey for the missionaries who can’t get any)!

By: A Missionary in East Asia

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Grace in Indonesia

For the past 14 years, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI) has been working together with WELS as a sister church body. It has been a blessing and an honor for us to be involved together in spreading the gospel to the many people who are lost and thirsty for the truth in my country. Only the Gospel, through which the Holy Spirit works, can bring more people to know God’s plan of salvation through Tuhan Yesus Kristus – The Lord Jesus Christ.

Reformation is observed every year in Indonesia at every congregation and preaching station of GLI. As we celebrate the 500th Reformation anniversary this year, we are especially thankful for the ordination of new pastors in 2017, which brings the total of ordained ministers in GLI to 20. Also related to this year’s Reformation celebration was a church music seminar for teens and young adults, with a focus on equipping them with a better understanding of biblical music and song. Another special event was a theological conference in October for our called workers and seminary students in Indonesia that elicited specific discussions about liturgy and preaching methods.

Looking ahead, we are currently planning Vacation Bible School 2018, an exciting four day event which will include around 130 young men and women from all regions of Indonesia where GLI is doing the work of Gospel ministry. These younger members will have the opportunity to learn more about their church, their Savior, God’s Outreach Plan of Salvation, being “the next generation” of our church, and the importance of biblical knowledge in daily life. Through this special event we hope to engage more of our young people and encourage them to be involved in GLI’s ministry both now and in the future.

The expression “one size doesn’t fit all” explains the unique challenges and struggles in Indonesia since the geographic areas of ministry are many and so diverse. Some of us struggle with regulatory controls, extremism, and political tension. Others struggle with practical challenges such as the lack of electricity and even clean water in remote areas. These challenges mean that outreach is never the same from one area to another, or from one day to the next.

However, Jesus IS the one size that fits all! We must always remember these words of the Apostle Paul:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” – Romans 1:16

The Apostle Paul encourages us to be confident in the Gospel and love the truth. When we love the truth, God will be there to guide us, to encourage us, to open our mind to a variety of ways to proclaim the gospel. We are moved and motivated by the Gospel to spread the good news to people who are lost and thirsty. The One, Jesus Christ whom we proclaim, DOES fit all. His active and passive obedience is a fit for our sinful condition. We have the definite hope that lays in the Father’s hand: salvation through Jesus Christ.

Cultural challenges will always be there to draw people away from Christ. Satan will use these to manipulate us. We in the church must work very hard so that local belief systems, customs, and traditions do not affect the beliefs of our newborn Christians. The Bible reminds us:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” – 2 Timothy 3:16

It always works well when a good portion of our church strategy in overcoming cultural challenges includes increases in attendance at Bible information classes, such as New Life in Christ and Luther’s Catechism, Bible group studies for families, and a strong focus on our youth group, because in our country the youth impacts us significantly. The church should be a place for our Christian people that feels like home. In all of this, we ask the Holy Spirit to let God’s Word create the biblical pattern in our lives.

We see only opportunities to spread the Gospel when we see every place as a green pasture. God be with us. Please keep us in your prayers, that God’s grace in Indonesia becomes a powerful message for everyone who puts their hope in our Savior Jesus Christ.

By: Pastor Mikael Simanjuntak – Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI)

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A New School Year at Asia Lutheran Seminary

Asia Lutheran Seminary has been blessed to start our 13th year of operation in Hong Kong!

This August, the school year began with about 15 students taking part in a 3-week introductory immersion course in Hebrew. This year we welcome 4 full-time students in Hong Kong, 1 in India, and 10 other Chinese-speaking students outside Hong Kong. In addition, we still have almost 50 other students taking classes part time in Hong Kong, and another 60 taking courses via our online program. Thus, we are running four separate programs — a Bible Institute level program and an upper level Bachelor of Theology and Master of Divinity program both in Hong Kong and as extension degrees.

A fifth program to train translators had its first graduation class in June. Students from almost a dozen countries in South and East Asia participated in that program.

For the Bible Institute level courses, we now have native Hong Kong pastors teaching or co-teaching almost all of our courses in Cantonese. Our online Bible Institute courses are all being taught in Mandarin Chinese, mostly by native pastors. All of these local teachers are graduates of Asia Lutheran Seminary or our online programs.

Professor Angus Cheung

What’s even MORE exciting, this past school year one of our Chinese graduates was called and installed as the first full-time Chinese professor at Asia Lutheran Seminary. Angus Cheung is a member of our sister church, South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), here in Hong Kong. He is currently teaching Bible Institute level courses for us while pursuing his Ph.D. in Theology. With the Lord’s blessing, he will be ready to take over my position when I retire, and join President Steve Witte, and Professor Aaron West on our faculty.

My wife Beth and I had a wonderful and restful furlough this summer, spending several weeks with each of our 2 children and their families. Because of these summer visits (and regular Skype chats), our daughter’s five- and three-year-old in Milwaukee, and our son’s five- and two-year-old in Ottawa, Canada all know who their grandpa and nanita are. This was a blessing my parents didn’t have when our two children were born in Zambia while we were missionaries there 1977-1983. We thank the Lord often for this blessing!

We are also blessed to have our son, Pastor Luke Thompson, come for a visit. He gave 2 presentations to the local church here on apologetics, and he preached at our Sunday English service on September 24th. That service will thank the Lord for blessing me with 40 years of ministry, as well as thanking Him for the 15 years that Rob Siirila spent with our mission field.

We are also excited because Beth and I will have our first chance to return to Zambia 35 years after we left. I have been asked to teach an advanced course at the seminary in Lusaka next April, and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing our old stomping grounds and hopefully some of our old colleagues and parishioners.

Please continue to pray for us and our work. The government in the mainland has just passed a new and much more stringent set of laws intended to discourage religious activity of any kind. But we know our Lord has all in control, so we will allow him to show us the way forward.

God’s richest blessings to all of you.

Dr. Glen Thompson, Academic Dean of Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong

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The Gates of Hell Cannot Prevail

Looking out of our 36th floor apartment in Hong Kong gives us a good view of everyday life in our corner of Asia. In early September, the soccer field in Sycamore Park was re-purposed for use in a Hungry Ghost Festival – a traditional festival also held in other Asian countries. An ornate temple was set up on one end of the park, and a theatre graced the other end. A large furnace sat looming on the side. This bustling activity was accompanied by many other sights and smells happening around the city.

The smell of burning joss paper in small red cans filled the air in some areas – providing money for dead relatives to use in the afterlife.

Rice, pork, fruit, wine and other foods were put out on sidewalks and tables in front of buildings for the ravenous spirits wandering the earth.

People believe that during this lunar month, the gates of hell open and the restless spirits of their ancestors come out. They believe that supplying food, paper images of money, and clothes for the spirits of dead relatives will not only take care of them in the afterlife, but will also bring blessing to them in this life. Neglecting them can bring misfortune. All other hungry ghosts are released – as if on parole from prison. They too roam around unseen and need to be appeased.

In the Sycamore playground seen from our balcony, people were burning incense and waving it before the shrine set up to appease their gods. In one ceremony, Daoist priests led people from station to station. Operas were put on to entertain these visitors from the dead as well as to celebrate the deeds of those considered gods. To end the festival, a 15-foot long paper image of a spirit god was paraded to the entrance of the furnace, stuffed in, and swallowed by the flames.

In part, you come to respect a culture which honors commitment to family, shows respect and obedience to elders, and keeps alive the memory of ancestors. With this festival, it’s hard to know how many believe in the interaction with the dead and how many simply see this rite as part of their duty to honor relatives in their traditional ways. It poses a challenge for the Christian who wants to respect a cultural heritage, while also making sure people know the beautiful comfort and hope that is in Christ.

There is a spiritual world out there. People feel it and fear it. The Bible talks about it.

Yet, what cultural religions do and what the Bible reveals often don’t match. The Bible talks about the angels and demons that affect our lives by fighting for our souls – the angels as messengers of God that protect us, and the devil and dark forces of the heavenly realms that draw us away from God. Unlike the hungry ghosts, Scripture helps us understand that those who have died are not the ones troubling or blessing us. Their existence is not in limbo, nor are they ones who bring us luck or trouble.

Multi-Language Publications continues to provide resources to all people in East Asia – helping them realize that in Christ, we find the peace and comfort for life after death. Those who die in him have found rest. Only in the risen Christ do we understand that our own resurrection brings us to the presence of God himself – where blessings are lavished on us because of Christ’s sacrifice for us, not because we have caring relatives who remember us. In Christ, we are convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God. That is our daily peace.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against that.

By: David Kehl, Multi-Language Publications – Asia Coordinator

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God Willing, No Waiting in India

One-third listening; two-thirds waiting.  Imagine you’re teaching in a classroom and for every 10 seconds that you talk you have to pause for 20 seconds as your students sit there and wait for more.  That means you’re only teaching for one-third of the time you have with your students.  And if you’re a student that means you have to fight the temptation to drift off and zone out for two-thirds of the time you’re sitting in class!

This is just a taste of the challenge we friendly counselors in India face with our students for each seminary class we teach.  There are 22 official languages in India.  The students at the CELM Seminary primarily come from the regions of Andhra Pradesh (and Telangana) and Madhya Pradesh, where the primary languages are Telugu and Hindi, respectively.  Since our students come from the lower, Christian castes their English level is often not very high.  This means that, if we want to teach them about being shepherds for God’s flock, the English sentences we speak have to be translated into both Telugu and Hindi for each class.  One-third listening; two-thirds waiting.

Two-thirds listening, or even one-hundred percent listening in a second language?  The friendly counselors and their wives try to overcome this great challenge in a few ways.  One way is by offering English classes.  Teaching English to the students slowly increases that 1:2 listening to waiting ratio over their time at the seminary.  And God willing, by the last few years of classes they’ll be able to learn in English-only classes.  While it would still be using their second and not native language, it does give our counselors more class time to teach them God’s Word.  This also allows the students to use the numerous English resources available for Bible study and to converse more with the counselors on a deeper personal level.

One-hundred percent listening to a non-native speaker?  Conversing with the students both on a personal level and in class without a translator is the ideal situation for the friendly counselors.  Because of this, the counselors are also in the process of learning the Indian languages.  While this presents its own immense challenges, it provides another opportunity to improve that one-third listening amount.  It also equips the counselors to respond better to questions asked in class and during study periods.

One-hundred percent listening to a native speaker?  That’s the goal.  In order to get there the seminary is using a method that has already been mentioned: providing in-class translators.  How does that overcome the current listening-to-waiting ratio?  If members of our national faculty do the translating then it allows the seminary to transition better to national-led classes in the future.  The faculty members doing the translating are then, in essence, auditing the classes and preparing themselves to teach the class in the future.  This naturally leads to the ultimate goal: seminary classes in India being led and taught by Indians.  One-hundred percent listening; no time waiting.

With God’s help, the friendly counselors in India are overcoming the three-language challenge more each year.  Once one-third listening becomes one-hundred percent listening, the Lutheran pastors in India will become more effective pastors and evangelists.  That means not only will there be more listening and learning in the CELM seminary, but someday there will be even more voices singing and praising God in heaven whatever their language on earth may have been.

Brock Groth, Friendly Counselor to India

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New Partnership To Broaden Outreach Efforts: Asia

MINISTRY TRAINING IN ASIA

Linda R. Buxa

Each year, pastors originally from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Korea meet at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to discuss their plans for reaching out and expanding their ministry. These men are the spiritual leaders and drivers of outreach to Asian peoples in North America and overseas.

One of these pastors (name withheld for safety reasons) is from a country that is in the top 30 countries that persecute Christians. Those who reject ancestor worship, animism, or Buddhism are either removed from their villages or beaten.

This graduate of the Pastoral Studies Institute could safely stay in the United States and pastor the people he serves. Instead, he and his wife choose to spend their own money to travel back to their country of origin. There they risk their lives to tell people about the one true God.

“As I go into the country, they ask if I am going to talk about God,” he says. (They hold his passport and threaten not to give it back if he does.) “I said, ‘No,’ but in my head I said ‘Yes.’ ”

On his first trip, he spoke to a group about marriage. “The women were crying. I was teaching the husbands that God says to love their wives,” he says. They had never heard that before, and it brought them to tears. They begged him to bring Bibles the next time he came.

So he did, even though it could put him in grave danger.

As he walked through security, he had Bibles in his backpack. “At the gate they searched all my luggage. Except my backpack. I went through and gave away all the Bibles,” he says.


OFFERING PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL HELP

Meet a medical assistant in Southeast Asia who travels from village to village on his motorbike to share his medical skills with his patients. He also shares the gospel.

This man, who became a Christian when he was a child, wants to learn more about his faith so he can share more with others. To do that, he takes classes through the seminary’s Pastoral Studies Institute via Skype. Twice a year, he travels to the United States to take classes.

He isn’t quite sure where his studies might lead. “For now, his focus is on studying and reaching others,” his translator shares. The people he reaches are hungry for the gospel and are looking to WELS for even more support. “They are excited to hear from the national church body.”


Linda Buxa is the communications coordinator at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin.   

MISSION STORIES

Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.

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Author: Linda R. Buxa
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

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