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Faces of Faith – Sebastian

It was a moment parents dread: an early morning phone call from the hospital.

“Your son has been in an accident. It’s critical. The doctors don’t think he’ll make it. Come right away.”

Sebastian had always struck me as a responsible teen. Respectful, polite, hard-working, active in the church – the kind of child that makes parents proud. One night he and a friend were riding Sebastian’s motorcycle home from a party. A different motorcycle blew through an intersection and struck the vehicle Sebastian was driving. He and the friend riding behind him went flying. Sebastian’s body cushioned his friend’s fall, but the pavement cracked Sebastian’s helmet and caused severe head trauma.

Sebastian’s parents, Henry and Eliana, are good friends of mine. Pastor Henry is a missionary in our sister synod in Medellín, Colombia. He is called to help others start churches in Colombian and Venezuelan cities. I heard of the accident from Henry and immediately left for the hospital. What do you say when a brother in the faith and his family are going through a severe test? We lived in different cities. I was unsure whether Sebastian would be alive when I arrived.

Sebastian presenting at his new church in Ibagué

After hours of travel, I got to see the family and shared my favorite Psalm with them: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord…” – Psalm 121. I assured them, “The Lord is with you. He is watching over you.”

“The first three days were critical,” recalls Pastor Henry. When he arrived at the hospital, Sebastian’s skull was cracked and his brain was visible. “After a few days they disconnected him from the machine to see what would happen.” He began to breathe on his own.

After a week, with a bandaged head, the medical team sent Sebastian home. He spent another month in bed, with his mom serving as his primary care provider. The next months his parents retaught him how to dress, eat, speak, and carry out basic skills.

Prior to the accident, Sebastian was studying to be a motorcycle mechanic. However, the trauma his brain suffered made school impossible. His mind found it hard to focus. Nearly three years passed. No longer a teenager, Sebastian grew more and more frustrated. He felt like a burden to his family. He began to struggle with depression.

Then one week, Pastor Henry was making his regular rounds and dropped in on a mission congregation in Ibagué, Colombia, which is about seven hours away from where he lives. Worship there is held in a hotel. Victor and Paulina work at the hotel and are leaders in the new church. Chatting after church, they mentioned to Pastor Henry that they were looking for someone to help them manage the hotel. “As a joke,” Henry recalls, “I told them, ‘You should hire my son.’” What a surprise when Victor and Paulina made the trip the next week to interview Sebastian for the position!

Arrangements were made, and in March of this year Sebastian moved away from home to live and work at the hotel with Victor and Paulina. “It’s been a huge blessing for everyone,” Pastor Henry says. “Sebastian is able to help start a church and stay close to God.”

Sebastian at his new church in Ibagué

I asked my friend, Henry, if a particular Bible passage brought them comfort during these past three years. “Yes brother, it was the one you read to us during the most difficult moments, Psalm 121.”

When David wrote those words some three thousand years ago, he had no idea how they would comfort a Colombian called worker family during their most difficult challenge. But God knew. Sebastian may never fully recover from the injuries he suffered during that early morning accident, but he can know God is watching over him, just as he watches over all his children.

Written by Missionary Mike Hartman, field coordinator for the Latin America missions team

 

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Gospel Networking in Latin America

Sorry, I know “networking” went from being a trendy word to cliché a while ago… but we’re not talking social networking or business networking. We’re talking about GOSPEL networkingIt’s connecting people to the gospel and to each other as much as possible. These partnerships mean we can get more done together than we could as isolated, separate ministries.

Yes, it’s true that many of the connections start online here in Latin America. Academia Cristo has 1.1 million Facebook followers. 1,800 people have asked to receive Bible-based training to share Jesus in the past three months (June-August 2018)… but the end goal is not a virtual, online church. The goal is to see more people trained to share Jesus wherever they’re living. This social and digital networking leads to on-the-ground ministry – aka local gospel networking.

Gospel networking in Venezuela

Ideally, that eventually means new churches are planted with Seminary-trained pastors in worship buildings that serve as tremendous blessings. We pray that gospel networking leads to that.

But in many cases, it doesn’t start like that. A guy finds himself the de facto spiritual leader of a few families. He works a full-time job. They meet wherever they can to study the Bible, pray, praise, and enjoy a meal together as Christian brothers and sisters. No budget, no church building, no ordained pastor. Is that a church? Trained by Academia Cristo, he then passes this gospel message and training on to his group. They take that message of Jesus’ sweet love out to their ‘colonias’ (neighborhoods). The gospel is being proclaimed, taught, and connections are being made for the kingdom. Is it okay if gospel networking leads to that?

From L to R – Jackson, Henry, and Tonny

In August, two Lutheran missionaries traveled to Venezuela for ten days to assist and advise Venezuelan pastor Jackson on the mission opportunities there. Only this time the missionaries are not American WELS missionaries – they’re Colombian: Tonny and Henry. Venezuela is a complicated place right now… There are stores with no food. Want a taxi ride?  You need a suitcase full of cash, since the money there is almost worthless (if you can find money at all). Most ATM’s in Venezuela are empty right now. Transporting ten pounds of food or more is considered “drug-trafficking.” Missionaries saw state police rob people of basic necessities – flour, food, etc… The three-man mission team went almost two days without eating. Pastor Jackson tries to break up a dispute and a guy draws a pistol. Why would Jackson, Henry, and Tonny get in the middle of that hot mess?

Gospel networking. The gospel of Jesus Christ.

People are hungry for something solid. When they meet Bible-based, Confessional Lutheran teaching, they want to connect their own network of people to that treasure. The chain of disciples continues. Pastor Jackson has a gospel network now, consisting of several groups that he is training and influencing via the internet and visiting in-person whenever possible.

This week in Academia Cristo ¡En Vivo! (Christ Academy Live), our online leadership training program, we have over 200 people participating in live online courses from 21 different countries.  With many of them, we say, “Who knows where this will lead?” But we trust that God’s Word will not return to him empty.

Gospel networking in Venezuela

In Guanajuato, a small city in central Mexico, Academia Cristo Facebook publicity grabs people’s attention to find those who want to be part of a church plant that only studies the Bible. Two families turns into seven families pretty quickly in Mexico. Why? People hear the gospel of eternal life in Jesus and want their family and friends to know about it – gospel networking on a local level.

In Quito, Ecuador, missionaries partnered with WELS members through short-term mission groups (WELS Mission Journeys) to launch a Christian Training Center and make initial on-the-ground gospel connections in the area.

Latino leaders meet to talk international Seminary-training. Can we do this work better together across borders in Latin America?

Gospel networking.

Gospel networking, both digital and local, leads to more people to heaven and the eternal network where we will be forever connected to our Savior and to each other. That’s what we’re doing in Latin America. Thank you for your prayers and support, brothers and sisters in WELS.

So just a thought for you… It’s pretty great, the clear gospel message we have as Christians and as Lutherans. Wouldn’t it be awesome to try something like Academia Cristo to reach the almost two billion English-speakers on the planet, most of whom live outside the U.S.?

Jesus said he would be lifted up, and he would draw people in to himself. It’s fun to see Jesus keep his promises.

Written by: Rev. Joel Sutton, Missionary for the Latin America missions team

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Preaching saving grace in Latin America

Rachel Hartman

If you’re looking for Pastor Henry Herrera, you might find him in the city where he spends most of his time: Medellín, Colombia. On Sundays, you could spot him online, delivering a sermon over the Internet. And some days, you’ll see him winding through Colombian highways on his motorcycle, occasionally traveling up to 10 hours to reach congregations throughout the country.

His widespread presence is motivated by a specific reason, and it begins on a personal note. “I am saved by the grace of God,” says Herrera, who first heard the saving message of Jesus’ redemption as an adult. It is this mindset that compels him to strive, every day, toward his goals: to bring the gospel message to every city in Colombia and to continue improving online worship to reach the global Spanish-speaking audience.

View and download a PowerPoint featuring the mission work in Colombia.

LEARNING ABOUT MARY

“Every city in Colombia has a specific virgin Mary,” explains Herrera, who, like the majority of Colombians, was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. He attended worship regularly and even grew to hold leadership positions. “I was a catechism teacher,” he recalls. He faithfully revered the Mary figure in Medellín, where he was born. He even spent time at a Roman Catholic seminary, studying to be a priest. After two years of learning Catholic theology, however, he left the seminary.

At that time, Herrera got married and took a job working at a textile factory in the city, which has a population of more than 3 million people. At the company, Herrera learned the details of the trade and eventually became a mechanic for machinery. He also took on a leadership role, becoming a plant supervisor.

Then in 1999, Herrera took classes at the SENA (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje), a government organization that offers training programs for Colombian workers. While there, he met a Lutheran pastor named Tony Quintero. The two were in the same group at the SENA.

“He began to talk to me and talk about church,” recalls Herrera. Quintero invited Herrera to the Lutheran church, and Herrera decided to give it a try. “Holy Week of 1999 was the first time I went to church.”

Soon Herrera and his wife, Eliana, began attending regularly. They brought along their new son, Sebastian, to church.

Herrera became a member of the Lutheran church and, as he dug deeper into the Scriptures, recognized a growing list of blessings in his life. In addition to learning of God’s salvation through Jesus, he gained a further understanding of Mary and her role in Jesus’ life. “Mary is my sister in the faith, and I will see her in heaven,” notes Herrera.

BECOMING A PASTOR

In 2004, a need arose for a pastor to serve a group of Lutherans in Medellín. The group called Herrera to serve in that position. That same year, while continuing to work at his factory job and help the congregation, he began to study with WELS missionaries who formed part of the Latin American Traveling Theological Team. The missionaries visited Colombia periodically and studied with Herrera. This continued until 2012, when Herrera completed his studies.

Yet his ministry was just beginning. Today Herrera serves as a full-time pastor and no longer works at the factory. In addition to serving in Medellín, he travels to the city of Manizales to help serve a congregation there.

His current role also involves building up and training leaders and pastors in Colombia and beyond. “I help brothers in the faith in other countries, such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Chile,” explains Herrera.

Herrera has met many of these leaders through AcademiaCristo.com, an online outreach and training tool for Latin America. He also uses Skype to stay in touch with them and to teach a law and gospel course, a class on the book of Exodus to 30 students, a Luther’s Catechism class, and a dogmatics class.

TO THE CORNERS OF THE WORLD

In 2006, Herrera heard from Pastor Gonzalo Delgadillo, who was working at Multi-Language Publications at the time. Delgadillo was in the process of starting a virtual church, which would operate through Skype. He asked Herrera to help with it, and thus weekly services began. In 2008, it was decided that the Skype church should be tied with a local congregation, and the church in Medellín was chosen as the base.

Over the years, this setup has developed into what is known as Iglesia Luterana Cristo, and a live video service appears online each week. The service is taped in Medellín, and eight of the young people in the church Herrera serves help with the production. “Two volunteer each week,” notes Herrera. “One handles the camera, and the other oversees the music.”

Herrera is also involved with WhatsApp groups, a form of texting that is widely popular in Latin America. He helps oversee the sharing of devotions and Bible studies using the People’s Bible. Students from Martin Luther College help as well, overseeing different groups and working with Herrera and other pastors to offer more information.

As he works with a wide range of people in many locations, Herrera finds one of the greatest blessings to be the chance to watch individuals grow spiritually. When first encountering others with different religious backgrounds, he notes, there is often a good deal of discussion. “Sometimes I just spend two or three sessions listening to them,” he explains. Then, using God’s Word as a guide, he goes through their questions to see what the Bible says to each of them.

In addition to serving souls throughout Latin America, Herrera relishes the chance to share God’s Word with his family. He enjoys watching his son Sebastian, now 17, as well as his 11-year-old son Julian, grow in their faith. “We are going to see a new generation in Colombia with young people like my sons,” he says. “This will be different from our group because these individuals have been raised their whole lives knowing the gospel.”

Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in León, Mexico.


 

Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church (Colombia)

Members: 320
Congregations: 5
Preaching stations: 6
National pastors: 6
National student pastors: 1
Seminary students: 1
National evangelists: 6
Visiting instructors: 2
Total enrolled in Bible information classes: 310

Unique fact: Most Holy Trinity in Medellín has members in ten countries around the world through its online ministry. Those countries include England, Spain, France, China, USA, Chile, Perú, Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela.


 

 

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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 103, Number 5
Issue: May 2016

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