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Bringing Jesus to the brig

As I walked from jail cell to jail cell, speaking with young men who still consider themselves to be Marines, I pondered: How did I get here? Just months before, I had been leading a team against feared cartel leaders who had been indicted by our government. Now I found myself being escorted by a Marine MP in a special housing unit and chapel where I am expected to speak words of encouragement, bring the hope of the gospel, and provide spiritual guidance to incarcerated men who still quickly react to the words Semper Fidelis.

The process to become a lay worship and Bible study leader at a Marine brig started as I was nearing retirement from public service. I had spent 24 years as a criminal investigator with the U.S. Marshals Service, following eight years in the enlisted corps of the U.S. Air Force. A few years after entering the military at age 17, I came to faith in Jesus. During the ensuing years, my wife and I raised three of our own children, one of our nephews, homeschooled our children, attended college, and caravanned around the country to different posts of duty.

Now I sensed a tug on my heart to serve in full-time ministry. I shared that desire with my parish pastor and began to research how I could serve God as a lay person. A pastor friend encouraged me to look into WELS Chaplaincy. I applied and was accepted into the Chaplaincy Certification Program.

One of the courses required an internship in a chaplaincy setting. A Marine officer friend (and fellow communicant) introduced me to the Navy chaplain at the Camp Pendleton Brig. The chaplain needs to ensure that those approved as worship leaders are either ordained or can obtain proper licensure. WELS Military Services certified me as a Distinctive Religious Group Leader, approving me to conduct liturgical services at the base brig and lead Bible studies one night per week.

Although our warriors are well trained to defend our nation, many are broken, spiritually blind, and still need Jesus. Going to them where they are can be daunting, due to security training and awareness, background investigations, waiting to enter the brig, unfamiliar smells and sounds, high or low lighting, and tension that you can sense. One must also remember that proselytizing is neither approved by the military nor acceptable for civilian volunteers. But when all these obstacles are surmounted, I have the privilege of opening the Bible and speaking the wonderful words of God to agnostics, atheists, druids, Protestants, and even other Lutherans.

It is amazing to watch God work in our lives when we go and do his will. I have seen how God opens some doors and closes others to get us where he wants us. I have concluded that no matter where God puts us, he expects us to be faithful to him and his Word. The gospel is still the power of God for salvation—even in the brig.

Tom Nunley is a member at Christ the Vine, Temecula, Calif.

Learn more about the Chaplaincy Certification Program at wels.net/chaplains.


Chaplaincy Certification online classes in Fall 2020

The following online classes will be offered through Martin Luther College during the Fall semester, August 24 to December 18. Go to: mlc-wels.edu and click on “Academics,” then “Continuing Education.”

THE9521 – A Scriptural Approach to Addiction Counseling – 3 credits
A study of addictions, especially substance abuse and pornography, and the ways Christians try to help through law/gospel counseling and referral.

THE9525 – Geriatric and Care Facility Ministry – 3 credits
A team-oriented approach to serve the aging and residents in care facilities. Provides knowledge and skills for congregation members to offer spiritual care for the homebound and institutionalized.

THE9534 – Grounded in Scripture – 3 credits
An introduction to theology, focusing on scriptural teachings of special importance to chaplaincy ministry.

 

 

 

Spring 2020 chaplaincy courses offered at MLC

The Commission on Special Ministries offers a program for chaplain certification through Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn. This program offers credentials to meet the requirements of healthcare facilities, jails, prisons, and military bases for ministry in their facilities, especially if the pastor or layperson wants to reach out to non-members.

Rev. Jim Behringer, director of WELS Commission on Special Ministries, says, “I’m excited that any WELS member, whether a called worker or a member of the congregation, living anywhere in the U.S., can take these courses and gain this knowledge. The best recommendation is that past students have said that they gained much more than they expected from these courses. The courses are practical because they offer opportunities to learn more that you can use locally.”

The following online classes will be offered through MLC during the Spring 2020 semester, Jan. 8 to May 8, 2020.

Note that the Sign Language course is not part of the chaplain certification program but is promoted by the Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, part of WELS Special Ministries, to help WELS members reach out with God’s Word to those who are hard of hearing.

ASL8001 – American Sign Language and Introduction to Deaf Culture – 3 credits
The basic foundation of American Sign Language through an overview of deaf culture and an introduction to the signing of finger spelling, numbers, colors, vocabulary words, and beginning-level conversations.

THE9522 – Chaplaincy Issues and Fieldwork – 3 credits
An overview of chaplaincy, related issues, and fieldwork experience in a specific area of chaplain ministry.

THE9523 – Ministering to the Incarcerated and Their Families – 3 credits
Strategies to initiate and implement a gospel ministry to the incarcerated.

THE9524 – Frontline Chaplaincy – 3 credits
A study of the challenges faced by the protectors of society (military, law enforcement, fire service) and the information chaplains need to minister to them.

THE9534 – Grounded in Scripture – 3 credits
An introduction to theology that focuses upon the scriptural teachings of special importance to chaplaincy ministry.

Learn more and register at mlc-wels.edu. Click on “Academics,” then “Continuing Education.”

 

 

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Is there a TBI survivor in your church?

It shakes your faith for a more than just a moment. It makes you question why. The hurt runs so deep it takes your breath away and makes you wonder, “Could this really be part of God’s plan?”

As you sit in the ICU not knowing if your daughter will live or die, comfort comes in the form of a silent hug, and you know that God is there to give you hope and strength. As her mother, you walk beside your child who has suffered a brain injury. You lean on God in a way you never imagined, praying that his power and love will strengthen you to face the impossible.

Prayer is a powerful privilege. When my daughter sustained her severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), I prayed continually to God for her recovery and boldly asked him to make her life beautiful. God answers prayers, but I needed to be patient. Faith is more than just a word or a theory. Faith is God’s guide to living with, loving, and embracing someone with a brain injury.

If God had healed her suddenly, I would not have had the opportunity to walk this path with her. I would not have witnessed the miracles that God would perform in her life. I would have missed helping her face the challenges. I would not have fully understood the importance of her survival and the impact it would have on others and on me.

If there is a TBI survivor in your church, your life is one of those that will be impacted. Please take a little time to learn how to interact with them and how you can involve them in congregational life.

When such a person enters your life you may say, “She looks fine to me.” Our minds can accept a disability we can see, but we struggle to comprehend and accept the unseen.

Individuals with brain injuries live with cognitive challenges. They “look fine” until they speak, act, or interact with anyone who does not know them. Too often, fear and ignorance of their condition result in judgment and assumptions.

As survivors walk through life after brain injury, each moment brings change and challenge. Each interaction presents an instance of learning and retraining. The obstacles are too numerous to mention and too complicated to explain, and they last a lifetime.

It’s been 15 years since my daughter’s traumatic brain injury. She has been married for four years to another TBI survivor, and they are expecting their second child. They belong to a congregation that embraces them and the gifts they bring; they serve as greeters and as an usher.

If your flock includes a TBI survivor, know that each individual brings a unique relationship into your life. Talking with them, getting to know them, and accepting the nuances are each a small part of helping them find a new path in life. Praying with them and for them brings blessing both to you and them. Find ways to use their abilities in congregational life. You will play a key role in their ongoing healing!

Lois York-Lewis and her daughter Bari Rieth co-founded the Brain Injury Resource Center of Wisconsin, located in Waukesha. Read Bari’s story at bircofwi.org. Lois is a member at St. Paul, Muskego, Wis.

 

 

 

 

From a heart of stone to a heart of flesh

During my evening shift at our local hospital, I attempted to visit 66-year-old Richard. I introduced myself as the hospital’s volunteer chaplain and offered to visit. To my surprise he vigorously gestured for me to leave, saying: “I don’t want to see any chaplain.” Then he took a second look and asked, “Jude, is that you, the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) member that I knew from years ago?” He invited me back into his world but refused any prayer or Scripture. I visited him weekly until he was well enough to return home.

A month later the hospital’s director of chaplains called. The family wanted me to know that Richard was not likely to live beyond the week. I saw him that day and followed up each day that week. I had the privilege of journeying with him through the valley of the shadow of death.
Richard spent his life helping others; he was spending his final days being helped by others.

He endeavored to beat cancer, but it beat him. It humbled a fiercely independent man who always had to have things his way, a stubborn man with a heart of stone.

Tearfully, he told me that the previous week he had entered the hospital chapel to pray, to surrender his life to Christ. He realized that he could no longer control his life and collapsed in the arms of his Savior, who had been pursuing him his whole life.

God used Richard’s physical sickness of leukemia to heal his spiritual sickness of sin.

Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (42:3).

God says in Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (36:26). “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (18:32).

Richard did repent and was born again in that hospital chapel. Meanwhile, in heaven’s chapel, “…there is more rejoicing…over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).

This once lost, now found sinner wrote a testimony that revealed his changed heart toward his wife and his life. He was moved to tears of joy, mingled with tears of repentance, every time he heard his Christian wife’s voice. Julia had made a commitment to her husband, for better or worse, and had kept that commitment for 43 years, despite many difficulties. He was overwhelmed with her legacy of undeserved love, like that of his Savior.

At Julia’s request, I conducted Richard’s funeral service, where those who had come to mourn heard of the joy that awaits those who repent and turn to Christ.

Jude Peck is a member at Hope, Irmo, S. C. He serves as a volunteer hospital chaplain and a paid hospice chaplain in the Columbia area. To learn more about WELS chaplain certification, visit wels.net/chaplain.

 

 

 

MLC online courses bolster local ministry

This fall, Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., is offering online courses toward its Chaplaincy and Evangelism certificates. These courses are intended for both WELS called workers and lay members who wish to further their knowledge and skill in conducting local ministry.

Class participants can earn certificates in Evangelism and Chaplaincy, indicating they completed the course work. Particularly for chaplaincy work, the certificate from an accredited institution like MLC, better enables members to enter institutions like jails and nursing homes to reach those thirsting for the gospel.

“The courses are designed to deepen a person’s understanding of those they serve and to help them to have a Christ-centered response,” says Dr. John Meyer, director of graduate studies and continuing education at MLC.

Registration and courses are online. The Chaplaincy certificate requires 10 credits, and the Evangelism certificate requires three one-credit courses. Prospective students also can enroll in courses that interest them without pursuing a certificate.

Four three-credit courses toward the Chaplaincy certificate are scheduled this fall. They include: Communicating Forgiveness, Ministering to the Incarcerated and Their Families, Geriatric and Care Facility Ministry, and Grounded on Scripture. One one-credit course for Evangelism, Friendship Evangelism, is being offered as well.

These courses are conducted in partnership with the WELS Commission on Special Ministries (Chaplaincy) and WELS Commission on Evangelism (Evangelism). They were started to utilize the educational foundation of MLC for the training of members for ministry.

“Our mission at Martin Luther College is to train a corps of witnesses for the ministry needs of WELS. These courses fit exactly into our mission. We are assisting called workers and lay leaders in communicating the gospel and sharing the Word of God with people,” says Meyer. “We’re all called to serve in one way or another, and these courses provide a deeper understanding and practical ways to do that.”

This year Martin Luther Elder Care Ministries is providing a full scholarship to any WELS member interested in taking “Geriatric and Care Facility Ministry.” This class will provide both knowledge and skills for congregation members to provide spiritual care for the homebound and institutionalized. Visit mlecm.org to learn more about this opportunity.

To see the full list of available courses and descriptions and to register, visit mlc-wels.edu. It is recommended that interested students should enroll by Aug. 5, 2019.

 

 

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Restricted

The light-pulsing, vibrating device on the nightstand could only mean one thing—a call for help. I was in the waning hours of a 24-hour on-call shift. “Restricted” read the caller ID, confirming my hunch. “Chaplain, we need you.”

There is nothing routine about these calls, other than talking to God on the 20-minute drive to an address now etched into my mind. Police cars are in the street. Family members are in a cramped apartment as friends and neighbors cycle in and out. Officers stand by—waiting, watching, wondering.

The Medical Examiner is at least an hour away in a neighboring community, performing the task that the ME does best. As I walk through the door, I’m already doing a chaplain’s triage. Who called for me? How can I help? What questions can I ask. . .and answer? How do I gently guide them along the pathway of decisions that they need to make in a short period of time? Do they have a faith community, and can I connect them with it? These questions and more will shape the next few hours of my interaction with these people that God has prepared for me to meet.

Few people wake up in the morning imagining that today will be the day a loved one or a friend will be called from this life. God’s jets to eternity do not run on our schedule and normally arrive without warning. So many wish for more time. One more cup of coffee and conversation before we are called home. Too often, though, that never happens.

This case is no different. There are regrets, conversations of forgiveness stuck in hearts and throats—unspoken, because a person thought there would always be more time. “Chaplain, can I talk to you privately about this?” God sometimes opens doors for us to share our comfort in Jesus. In fact, he always opens doors for us to show the love of Jesus on what may be the worst day of someone’s life up to that point. But we never know just how long or how short our time here will be. “Speak now or forever hold your peace” is a lesson repeated many times a week.

Before I know it, the Medical Examiner has come. She has finished her work. The funeral home is called and we assist when they arrive. Both the ME and those from the funeral home know that we will meet again, perhaps in only a few hours! All the more reason for us to take time to debrief and to care for our own emotional and psychological health, since one cannot serve the grieving without absorbing some of the hurt.

The streets are almost empty when I make my way back home. I thank God for helping me to serve our first responders and those who are hurting with the love of the Savior Jesus.

Little did I realize that the start of my week would lead to so much heartache: an officer down, ambushed by a gunman; anxious moments, but God’s holy angels were guarding and protecting; his backup there at just the right time, protecting and saving a life. God blessed the hands of the surgeons, doctors, nurses, and all others assisting. He answered a resounding “YES” to the many prayers. There was an outpouring of love, care, and concern for the officer and his family from relatives and friends. The community has shown an amazing amount of love also. Lives were changed in that instant. There was a defusing with the officers and a Critical Incident Debrief planned and carried out. A chaplain needs to be available to talk, to listen, to be there for support.

Fred Voss serves the saints at Shepherd of the Hills, Anchorage, Alaska, and also serves the city’s citizens and first responders as a chaplain for the fire and police departments. He covets your prayers for the first responders there and where you live.

 

 

 

Chaplain Certification online courses – Spring 2019

Martin Luther College will offer three courses in Spring 2019 as part of the WELS Chaplain Certification program. These courses are not just for those who seek to be certified, but also offer useful skills and knowledge for called workers and church members to serve in specialized opportunities for ministry.

Communicating Forgiveness (THE9520) – Study what Scripture says about forgiveness and the many ways this truth can be communicated vividly and meaningfully. Core course. (3 credits)

Grief, Loss, and Trauma – Help for the Hurting (THE9533) – Understand the impact of trauma and how to bring God’s comfort to those in the grieving process. Elective. (3 credits)

The Spiritual Side of PTSD (THE9601) – Helps spiritual advisors recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and provide appropriate spiritual care. Elective. (3 credits)

The Chaplain Certification Committee offers scholarships for those who are accepted into the program and successfully complete courses. Contact Chairman Robert Dick at chaplaincert@wels.net.

For information on the certification program or any of these online courses, go to mlc-wels.edu and search for “Chaplain Certification.” Spring classes begin January 9.