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A flight with Jesus

A few weeks ago during family worship we read and discussed Matthew 2 and the flight to Egypt. As we began, one of the kids remembered that Annibale Carracci had painted The Flight to Egypt in 1604. She ran and located a print among our piles of books which were being sorted and packed for our imminent relocation to Thailand. Like a lot of art from this period, it looks very European (that’s all the artists knew), but still evokes so much thought and emotion by pulling you into the scene.

As we looked at the painting and read the account from Matthew, our children pointed out the range of feelings at having to leave so suddenly. Joseph looks grumpy in the picture. Maybe he’s thinking, “I can’t believe we have to move. . . again!” Mary looks sad, but she also seems concerned for her husband as she looks back at him. And Jesus, he just looks like a content baby as he clings to mom—but maybe there is a hint of distress as well. Our 8-year-old wondered if the expression on Mary’s face in the painting was disappointment at all the things they had to leave behind. After all, they left in such a hurry. Our youngest pointed out, “Babies are too little to be sad about moving.” But then he added that Jesus could be sad if he had to leave his Transformers behind. The older kids were more aware of the reason they had to leave. . . a bad leader didn’t like Jesus, and he didn’t want anyone to take away his power.

But the Lord provided a way to keep the holy family (and the Magi) safe. All the kids pointed out that even though there were a lot of difficult, surprising, and stressful things happening, everything was okay because God was with them. No one missed the divine irony that God was literally with them as Mary carried him in her arms (or in an ancient baby stroller as one child imagined). God was literally and physically with them, but at the same time watching over them from on high.

No one missed the similarities between the flight to Egypt and our flight out of one Asian country to Thailand (even if one flight was much more intense than the other). One big difference, however, is that although God is still with us, this time Jesus is the one carrying us in his arms. Of course, we still hold Christ in our own way—in worship, adoration, thanks, and praise. But how much greater is the peace in our journey knowing who holds who with an everlasting love.

Even though we don’t always know the way in which our Shepherd leads us, what a comfort it is to know that our guide and protector is Christ Jesus. And while we groan with the burdens of major transition, what a comfort too that when we pour out our feelings and concerns to Jesus, he can look back at us with understanding eyes and say, “I know what you mean. I’ve been there too. My Father got me through it though. And he and I will get you through this.”

As missionaries take flights (literally) to new countries, or perhaps wait a little longer in some in-between-land, or stay put in Herod’s land for a while longer—the Prince of Peace will be with us. Whatever transition, trial, or trauma you face, Jesus will still be Immanuel, God with us, no matter what.

Amen.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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Pursuing a Kingdom culture

As my friend Bo and I watched our kids play together on the playground, Bo turned to me and said, “I’m not afraid to lose my culture.”

Bo is an important member of a successful business, owns his home, is blessed with a wonderful wife and 2 kids, is well-liked by his neighbors, and finds many joys in the life he has been given. Bo and his family have invited us to celebrate their cultural holidays and festivals with them. Bo has been a quality language partner who genuinely wants me to learn his native language. His hope is that we can continue to be neighbors for a long time.

What would cause a man like Bo to be at peace with losing his culture? Especially considering this man has many visible blessings and opportunities from growing up in his culture. He has not been turned away or forgotten by his own people. Instead he is respected and enjoyed by many.

Bo spent a few seconds smiling at the surprised look on my face before explaining the joy he has in his heart from his family pursuing a new culture: a Christ-centered culture.

My friend has no plans to stop speaking his native language or befriending his fellow countrymen. He will continue to celebrate local holidays and enjoy the unique foods that accompany the festivities. But Bo simply has bigger things on his mind and in his heart. He is pursuing a Kingdom culture. His family reads the Bible together, prays together, worships together, and enjoys living life with their Christian friends.

Many of our contacts in East Asia initially pause when presented with the teachings of Christianity, because to them Christianity is a cultural way of life in the West. Bo would say you could count him as one of those skeptics in the past. In the present, Bo is quick to speak on how Christianity isn’t pursuing a Western culture at the expense of losing an Eastern culture, but instead it’s a new culture altogether. In a Kingdom culture, God reigns supreme in the hearts of God’s people, the followers of the Way speak truth from Scripture and build each other up in love, and we all walk together with our Good Shepherd on the narrow path to eternal life.

Bo’s way of thinking has moved away from being set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19) and is now pursuing his citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

Only the Good News of our Savior Jesus can change a human’s heart to pursue God and want to follow His Word. My prayer is that we keep our eyes fixed on our Savior as he desires to lead us to our true home and citizenship in heaven.

How might that affect our own cultural practices? Does our way of thinking in our earthly culture ever cause us to lose focus on the life God calls us to lead?

Ask God in prayer to help you know the way in which you should go. Listen to him as he speaks to you through your Bible reading. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters in the faith who are willing to walk with you home to heaven. Invite others to join you and enjoy the warmth of a Christian community.

Jesus calls us to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). May God bless you with his peace and joy as you pursue a Kingdom culture.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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Recently announced changes in East Asia mission field

Recently the Board for World Missions decided to pull our East Asia Team missionaries and families out of their focus country because of security concerns. The government of their focus country is now regularly detaining, interrogating, and deporting any Westerner or group suspected of religious activity. Many mission organizations, large and small, have already pulled their operations out of the country over the past few years.

The East Asia missionaries and their families are being relocated to a nearby country from which they hope to continue their work in the focus country through online teaching, through distance mentoring and coaching, and through regular monthly visits back into the focus country. Over the next few months, the team will be working hard to acquire new visas and adjust to the new reality in the relocation country.

The Board for World Missions and the East Asia Administrative Committee have been monitoring this situation for the last few years and had been preparing for this contingency for months. As a result, the team is not in a state of panic, and everyone is safely out of harm’s way. Most important, the team is humbly confident that the Lord works even through these difficult times to advance his kingdom’s work.

The leadership also continues to closely monitor the political situation in Hong Kong where Asia Lutheran Seminary is located.

Please keep this situation in your prayers. Pray that our heavenly Father would protect the brothers and sisters of the focus country and give them courage to continue to stand upon the gospel and share it. Pray that our missionaries and families would be encouraged in this time of upheaval. Pray that the Lord would continue to keep the professors, staff, and families of Asia Lutheran Seminary safe.

Serving in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Faces of Faith – Thomas

Chinese students are often assigned a traditional English name when they begin to study English in grade school—if their parents haven’t already given them one. Later on, many of them choose a new English name for themselves, something that feels more suitable—the name of a famous athlete, a name that sounds successful, or a name that has special significance for them. When Thomas became a Christian, he chose the name Thomas, after Jesus’ apostle, because he also had many doubts about his faith. From that time, Thomas has dedicated himself to learning the Scriptures, sharing the gospel, and helping other doubters stand more firmly on God’s promises so that they can also say confidently that Jesus is, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). He even walked away from a lucrative future in the sciences to begin his seminary education – while he finished acquiring his PhD in physics! Currently, Thomas works hard to balance his studies, his new marriage, and his duties as an evangelist at the local church. His church already has three different sites, even though it is only about 5 years old. Thomas reaches out, disciples the believers, counsels the hurting, mentors new leaders in his congregation, and helps the different sites grow in grace. The doubter who once needed to be mentored into gospel confidence is now confidently mentoring others into God’s promises. He is even visiting developing groups and leaders in other cities to encourage them! Please keep Thomas in your prayers.

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Online outreach in a restricted-access country

Imagine a country where it is illegal for churches to gather without special permission, to proclaim any gospel other than what the unbelieving government approves. A country where churches, obviously, cannot do any promotion, canvassing, or big outreach events, where all social media is controlled by the powers that be, and where most everything that is perceived as coming from the West is considered suspect by the authorities. How would you do large-scale outreach and evangelism in a setting like that, especially when you know that there are millions of people in that country who are looking for meaning and are open to spiritual direction?

Believe or not, one group has still launched an outreach website on the approved social media platform through the help of Multi-Language Publications (MLP). It is not overtly Christian, at least not at first glance. It talks about sports, common marriage problems, and movies that are popular. Each blog post offers simple life advice and insights on these topics to get people’s attention and then quotes a relevant Bible passage. Finally, at the bottom of the article there is a link to more information. From there, readers can access a page that tells them more about the Christian message through articles such as “Who is Jesus?” and “What is the Bible?”

Now, keep in mind that there is no way to promote this web page. There is no Facebook targeted advertising campaign; there are no flyers; there is no canvassing. There is only word of mouth. Praise God that several “Promoters” (outreach-minded brothers and sisters) have agreed to post the weekly articles on their local version of a “Facebook Wall.” Praise God that, in the first 12 hours of the first article being released, there were already 753 views! Within a few days, there were over 1,200 views! But, more importantly, 120 people (10%) had gone on to view the article “Who is Jesus?”

By Facebook, Twitter, and Google standards, these numbers are insignificant. But the impact in a restricted-access country filled with spiritually curious people is powerful, and it is growing. In fact, this site is the sister of two other sites launched earlier, also with the help of MLP. The one launched in March, a simple discipleship website, had 7,300 visits last month. The second, a leadership training site, had 15,600 visits last month. Remember, there is no promotion; just one person telling another, “Hey, check this out!”

Please pray that these sites continue to grow and reach tens of thousands of people every month. Our goal for the first year is 150,000 visitors, and our 3-year goal is 1,000,000. Please pray that these sites are not shut down by the government. Pray that the authors, website manager, and “Promoters” have the courage to continue boldly and clearly proclaiming the gospel. But most of all, pray that the Holy Spirit works through the gospel on these sites to create and strengthen the faith of many people.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

To learn more about WELS Multi-Language Publications, visit wels.net/mlp.

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Recommendations for church fellowship

One of the highlights of this summer’s 65th Biennial Synod Convention will be the formal declaration and recognition of fellowship with two confessional Lutheran church bodies. The 2019 synod convention will be held July 29 – Aug. 1, 2019, at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.

The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ – Kenya (LCMC – Kenya) was formed when the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya began to tolerate false teachings. A group of Kenyan pastors broke away and began searching for a confessional Lutheran church body. In 2015, Rev. Mark Onunda of the LCMC – Kenya met at length with the Doctrinal Committee of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa – Zambia Synod (LCCA – Zambia), a former WELS mission and now our sister synod. The LCCA – Zambia synod declared formal fellowship with the LCMC – Kenya last September. The WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations will be recommending to the synod convention that WELS also formally declare fellowship with the LCMC – Kenya.

The Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church in Taiwan began as a WELS mission and is now an independent Lutheran Church body that has always been in fellowship with WELS. Because this church is now independent, the Commission on Inter-Church Relations is recommending that the synod in convention formally recognize our fellowship with the Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church in Taiwan.

Representatives from each church body will address the convention and make presentations that will familiarize the delegates with these church bodies that will be recognized formally as a part of our fellowship.

We thank God for continuing to enlarge our fellowship with Lutheran Christians around the world.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Learn more about the 2019 synod convention.

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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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WELS World Missions updates – October 2018

WELS World Missions updates 

East Asia 

As the Lord blesses the outreach efforts in East Asia and Hong Kong, two new missionaries have been called to serve. Michael Smith (pictured) was commissioned to serve at Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong in May. Smith previously served as dean of students and New Testament professor at Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mankato, Minn., the Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s seminary. Joining four WELS professors and one national instructor, Smith will teach New Testament courses at Asia Lutheran Seminary.  

In July, Stephen Wiesenauer was commissioned to serve as missionary to East Asia. Earlier this year Wiesenauer completed the colloquy process to become a WELS pastor, after having previously served as a mission developer in East Asia. Wiesenauer will be assisting with the church planting and multiplication effort occurring throughout East Asia.  


One Africa Team  

Stefan Felgenhauer was recently hired to serve as the new director of Africa missions operations. This new layman’s role will take over business operations for the One Africa Team to allow the missionaries to focus more on gospel outreach. Felgenhauer previously lived and served in Malawi as business manager for the Malawi mission field and as field manager for Kingdom Workers. Stefan, his wife, Kathy, and their three children have moved back to Africa, with Lusaka, Zambia, serving as the base of operations. The Felgenhauers are pictured with Kathy’s brother, Wayne Uhlhorn, at Stefan’s commissioning. 

The current political situation in Cameroon, Africa, has created great difficulties for WELS’ Christian brothers and sisters of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC). The conflict and violence between the English-speaking and French-speaking regions of the country has not ceased, and for that reason WELS missionary to Cameroon, Dan Kroll and his wife, Karen, have been temporarily relocated to Lilongwe, Malawi, while the situation on the ground is being assessed. “We pray that God continue to strengthen members of the LCC and for resolution to the conflict, so our world missionary can return to serve alongside our brothers and sisters in the faith,” says Larry Schlomer, administrator for WELS World Missions. 


Apache 

The Apache mission is celebrating 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018 as the first world mission of WELS. Anniversary celebrations on the reservations are planned for Oct. 26–28. Visit nativechristians.org to find out all the details. 

In May, Timothy Leistekow (pictured at his commissioning in July) was assigned out of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to serve Grace, San Carlos, Ariz., and Peridot, Peridot, Ariz. He joins four other world missionaries and two national pastors serving the White Mountain Apache Reservation and the San Carlos Apache Reservation through eight churches, one preaching station, and two Lutheran elementary schools.  


Pakistan 

This past August, a ten-day Bible institute/seminary class was held for 11 men and some of their wives in Pakistan via the Internet. WELS’ friendly counselor to Pakistan and his contact, both based in the U.S., taught the class from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day so it could be held during the daytime hours in Pakistan. The goal is for the men to visit four to five different house churches every week and teach what they learned. There are 56 house churches total. The women will teach the children in Sunday school. The next class is planned for January 2019. Read more about this experience in a Missions blog, wels.net/sun-at-midnight 


Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions. 


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Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A new way to begin your mission journey

A new program called WELS Mission Journeys is coordinating short-term trips for WELS congregations and their members to help home mission churches, world mission fields, and existing congregations with outreach events.

Mr. Shannon Bohme, coordinator of the Mission Journeys program, says that there is a huge gap between congregations and WELS members who were looking for short-term mission experiences and available options for taking trips like these. With the creation of this new program, WELS Missions will offer opportunities for laypeople to get involved in outreach as well as to experience work in the mission field firsthand. “You will get the joys and the sorrows,” says Bohme, who has had 17 years of international mission experience. “You may invite someone to come to church and they don’t come; that’s real-life mission work. But you may also get the chance to tell someone about their Savior for the first time.”

But the trip will be just the start of each person’s mission journey.

“We’re looking at a way we can grow together in the Great Commission,” says Bohme. “We want everyone to take that excitement from the mission experience, bring it home, and start looking at their neighbors in a different way—to start inviting them to learn about the most important thing in the world, their Savior.”

For the program, members age 13 and up from a congregation or school will sign up for the trip as a group. Training, which includes team building and culture awareness, then will be provided. Events on the trips could range from canvassing to helping run vacation Bible schools or soccer camps. “It all depends on what the field needs,” says Bohme. Congregations will fund the trips on their own, with WELS Missions providing the training and coordination needed to make the trips happen. After the trip, the team and its supporting organization will be encouraged to conduct an outreach event in its own community.

Three congregations have already participated in the pilot program: St. Matthew’s, Oconomowoc, Wis., and Goodview Trinity, Goodview, Minn., both sent teams to Ecuador, and St. Martin’s, Watertown, S.D., sent members to East Asia.

Bohme says more international trips are already in the works for the upcoming year, including five more trips to East Asia. Several trips are also being planned to the Apache Reservation to help with its upcoming 125th anniversary of WELS mission work. Other domestic trips are being considered, though Bohme says that the program still is looking for more volunteers and more congregations that need outreach help.

Mission Journeys is also forging partnerships with congregations, schools, and other WELS ministries that set up their own mission outreach trips, offering training and organization expertise to help ensure that the trips are “effective” and are complementing the missions’ goals. Currently Mission Journeys is working with groups traveling to Paraguay and Mozambique.

Want to get involved in WELS Mission Journeys? Sign up to host a team or to be part of a team. Learn more at wels.net/missionjourneys.

View an interview with Bohme about Mission Journeys.

 

 

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Bearing Much Fruit

I want to tell you about a friend. We’ll say her name is “Lydia”. We started working in this city in East Asia because of her and her husband. When I first got to town, I thought they’d be critical factors in the work here. But as the year went on I saw their life being filled up with, well, life. Both husband and wife worked; and they have a son who is very smart and also very strong willed, which can make for a lot of work at two years old. On top of that, they bought a home and are renovating it. That’s a full life. So in my mind I said “goodbye for a while” and hoped they could continue to study with us. I couldn’t really see them helping lead or being a main contributor to our ministry while their lives were so busy.

That’s how it went until after this last winter break. I saw them a bit (if they could make it), or I’d sporadically go over to their place if they had time. After winter break she called me up and said she wanted to give a presentation. When we got to her home, she had copies and a projector set up.

Her presentation was about mothers.

She wanted to help. In her own life she saw the difficulty of raising a child, and she also saw it in others: the loneliness, the huge change in social life, the work, and many mixed feelings of guilt, anger, and even child abuse. She wanted to do something about it. So she told me of her plan to create a support program for moms. They would find a time to meet together to learn how to parent, to give them a break to develop friendships with other women, and to provide a time to hear about forgiveness and the gospel comfort as they raise their children. A ‘support for moms’ program to take on the challenges of raising a child in this culture.

To put it mildly, I was blown away. I had resigned to the fact that they would be occasional “receivers” of the work here. Maybe they’d come once or twice a month, but we wouldn’t see too much of them. But instead, God was working in her something massive. In fact, this is so big that she quit her job to focus on the program. Can you imagine quitting your job to dedicate yourself to serving others and sharing the gospel? She wanted to do just that, especially to this specific group.

There’s so much here that I would love to talk more about, but I’ll just mention one more thing. Last week at our Bible study we focused on John 15, the vine and branches. Jesus promises, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Those who remain in Jesus will bear much fruit. That verse made me think about our expectation of Jesus’ promise. Maybe I had been looking for some consistent fruit from her – like a good ole’ reliable apple, or some other plant like wheat or corn – i.e. faithful attendance to studies and consistent outreach work. But maybe God was growing in her some other fruit that takes a bit longer to develop. Maybe like a sweet cherry tree. The sweet cherry tree can take from four to seven years to see fruit; but once it blooms, it produces a large quantity of sweet, much sought after cherries. Maybe God was slowly building in Lydia something that would produce a little later, but something much sweeter and richer in taste.

We can wonder about that same promise of Jesus in our lives, especially when we can’t see the fruit right away. Does that mean we can reverse the logic and say, “I must not be connected to Jesus because I can’t see the fruit?” While that could be the case sometimes, I think we can also rest in God’s promise. He says you will bear much fruit. Maybe you can’t see it right now, or it’s not the kind you are thinking of, but Jesus is connected to you and in you – and you will bear fruit.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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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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Synod convention overview

Synod convention celebrates our great heritage 

From the opening hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”—complete with a 45-voice choir, instruments, and organ—to the closing anthem “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage” sung acapella three days later, the 64th biennial convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod highlighted the blessings of our Lutheran heritage. 

More than 400 delegates and advisors attended the convention, held July 31–Aug. 3 at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis. The convention theme, “Our Great Heritage,” connects with the important anniversary confessional Lutherans are celebrating in 2017—the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. 

In the opening President’s Report, WELS President Mark Schroeder stressed the importance of the blessings God gave to the church through Martin Luther and the faithful witnesses that followed him. “We can’t help but thank God for the many blessings that God has passed down through the generations to us,” he says. “It’s a rich and priceless inheritance—not of money or property but of the truth of his Word and the life-giving power of the gospel. It’s a heritage that has been treasured, protected, and preserved, and which has now been entrusted to us. It’s a heritage for us to defend and hold on to, so that we can share it with others now and with generations to come.” 

Daily devotions reflected on the three solas of the Reformation, grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone. John Brenner, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., also presented an essay entitled “God’s Word is our great heritage,” which focused on one of the teachings brought back to the light by the Reformation: The Bible is the totally inspired and inerrant Word of God. 


Learning about work being done 

Reports from WELS areas of ministry shared how WELS is working to spread this ageless, unchanging gospel message.  

  • LarrySchlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions, gave an overview of expanding gospel-outreach opportunities around the world.He reported that since the last synod convention in 2015, WELS has made contact with and been involved in some capacity with 14 new mission fields around the world. Now WELS works with close to 50 world fields, ranging from places where WELS sends missionaries to locales with contacts from national churches to groups that are using materials from Multi-Language Publications. Delegates also heard firsthand about world mission work from missionaries who live in Africa, Russia, and East Asia.
  • Outreach opportunities in the United States and Canada were also highlighted—including new and enhanced ministries started in 2017 in placessuch as Waukegan, Ill.; Hendersonville, N.C.; and Milwaukee, Wis. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions, also underscored growing cross-cultural ministries to the Hmong, Sudanese, Vietnamese, and Spanish-speaking populations.
  • Training called workers to preach and teach is an important part of preserving our heritage. Paul Prange, administrator of WELS Ministerial Education, talked about quality and quantity of workers as he looked at the ministries of the four ministerial education schools—Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.; Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.; Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.
  • Representatives from the Congregational Supportshared updates on resources and information that can help congregations in the areas of outreach, education, discipleship, worship, and member assistance. A special report from Jonathan Hein, director of the WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling, highlighted key findings from a comprehensive demographic survey of WELSconducted over the past two years.

Highlighting Reformation 500 

Celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation continued with presentations that highlighted Reformation history as well as shared materials and ways for congregations and individuals to celebrate the Reformation. 

Michael Herbst, vice president of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany, was a special guest of the convention and shared more about the history of our sister church and how the ELFK continues to reach out in the land of the Reformation. 

Herbst was not the only special guest at the convention. Representatives came from three Lutheran church bodies with whom WELS will be declaring fellowship during the convention: the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia; South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (Hong Kong); and East Asia Lutheran Synod. Guests from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Church of the Lutheran Confession, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod also attended. 

John Braun, chairman of the Reformation 500 Committee, reported on available Reformation 500 resources, including Bible studies and a children’s film taken from the popular Martin Luther film, A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy. Delegates were treated to a viewing of A Return to Grace, which included a question-and-answer period with the film’s executive producer, Steve Boettcher, and author of the companion book Luther’s Protest, John Braun.  

To celebrate the anniversary, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) decided to prepare a new “Ninety-five Theses for the 21st century.” Fifteen pastors from around the world put together the document, which was approved by the CELC at its triennial convention in Grimma, Germany, this past summer. A video of confessional Lutherans from around the world reading some of these theses was shown to the delegates.  


Go to wels.net/2017synodconvention to read the President’s report and the essay, to view presentations, to look at photos, and to watch news videos filmed at the convention. 


Convention resolutions set direction for the future 

During the convention, 21 floor committees met to consider information that pertained to their assigned area of ministry and to offer reports and resolutions to the convention floor that will set the course for the next biennium. 

Delegates adopted the resolution approving the Synodical Council’s proposed ministry financial plan (budget). This plan keeps WELS on solid financial ground, but, according to Todd Poppe, WELS’ chief financial officer, near-flat Congregation Mission Offerings and increasing costs could make it difficult to maintain ministries beyond this biennium. The Synodical Council authorized a greater use of reserve funds to maintain ministry for 2017–19. 

Delegates did express some concern about the amount of support for the Board for Ministerial Education, particularly for Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn. The amount of debt for Martin Luther College graduates has been an issue of concern in recent years. Other delegates noted that adding support to one area of ministry means that support would need to be removed from another area.  

The Synodical Council’s unfunded priority list, which helps allocate additional resources received above those projected by the ministry financial plan, was also adopted. Some of the prioritized ministry programs not in the current ministry financial plan include Publication Coordinating Commission theological works, more new Home Mission starts, enhancement of World Missions, financial assistance to MLC students, another Christian giving counselor, capital projects at ministerial education schools, and support to various Congregational Services ministries like Military Services and Prison Ministry. 

A resolution to support the synod’s new long-range plan was adopted. Titled “Our Great Heritage,” this plan will help guide the work that WELS will undertake from 2018–25. 

Delegates adopted a resolution that will constitutionally change the name of the Congregation and Ministry Support Group to Congregational Services. The Congregation and Ministry Support Group recommended the change because it wanted a shorter and more memorable name that better communicates the central mission of the commission. 

Recommendations of the Compensation Review Committee were reviewed and adopted by delegates. The 2015 synod in convention called for a thorough review of the WELS Compensation Guidelines. The Compensation Review Committee of the Synodical Council recommended only slight modifications to the current guidelines but also worked on repackaging the guidelines to make them easier to apply by calling bodies.  

Discussion ensued when a resolution was presented to require all early childhood and Lutheran elementary schools to require a $7.50 annual fee per student and all high schools to pay a $4.00 annual fee per student to help support the work of the Commission on Lutheran Schools. Since 2007, schools have been encouraged to give a voluntary supplemental contribution to assist with Lutheran Schools’ operating costs. Delegates who spoke against the motion believe that these costs should be included in the WELS ministry financial plan. The motion was defeated. A motion did subsequently pass urging delegates to “strongly encourage all of their schools to participate in the voluntary supplemental contribution.” 

Synod leaders now will move forward during the next biennium to carry out the direction that was supported by convention delegates. The next synod convention will be held in 2019 at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. 


 Read all the convention reports and resolutions as well as learn more about the new long-range plan, the unfunded priority list, the recommendations of the Compensation Review Committee, and details of the ministry financial plan at wels.net/2017synodconvention. 


A growing Lutheran family 

The synod in convention had the joy of officially welcoming three Lutheran synods from around the world into fellowship.  

Representing the synods at the convention were Rev. Dr. Kebede Yigezu from the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE), Rev. Titus Tse from South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM) in Hong Kong, and two pastors from East Asia Lutheran Synod. 

Kebede founded the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia in 2012 and, at the same time, added a seminary so that he can teach other Christian pastors, in addition to Lutheran pastors, the pure Word of God. Today, the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia has nearly 400 members and has already seen graduates from its seminary. Kebede says the declaration of fellowship is a historic moment for the LCE. “It is meaningful for us because faithfulness to Scripture is a very important matter of life and death. Jesus says ‘If you hold to my teaching . . .’ So, faithfulness to what he says, what the Scriptures say from Genesis chapter 1 to the last chapter of Revelation, is very important. We are very happy because we know that WELS is faithful to the Scriptures and is a confessional Lutheran church.” 

Founded in 1977, SALEM has 10 congregations and six pastors. The synod’s history is tied closely to Asia Lutheran Seminary, the WELS ministerial training school located in Hong Kong. Tse says, “We recognize that it’s important that we’re keeping the faith, and we can share with future generations the importance of keeping the faith because of this relationship with WELS, a church that shares our faith.” 

East Asia Lutheran Synod was established in February 2017. It was formed from five Lutheran groups and has 280 baptized members. The synod is just getting started but is already looking ahead to how it can expand and grow as well as begin international mission work. One of the pastors said, “It’s a numerous number of people who come to convention, and it’s a blessing to see there’s a huge church group at our back to support our church even though we are very far away and in a very different situation.” 


To learn more about of WELS’ sister synods, visit celc.info. 


Bible study important part of compensation guidelines 

One of the important issues coming in front of delegates at the 2017 convention was a set of revised compensation guidelines put together by the Compensation Review Committee to help calling bodies determine adequate compensation for their called workers. The delegates adopted the guidelines through a resolution put together by Floor Committee #8. 

But Michael Woldt, pastor at David’s Star, Jackson, Wis., and chairman of that floor committee, says the numbers and guidelines and new compensation calculator were only part of his committee’s discussion. “The message that the floor committee really wanted to get out was not just adopting the calculator and guidelines but looking at the Bible study and the prayerful, thoughtful approach to compensation as the most important element and the starting point,” he says. 

The compensation guidelines begin with a Bible study that explores the guidance God’s Word gives about what compensation full-time called workers should receive. In a report presented to the convention, Floor Committee #8 wrote, “Special thanks is given for the Bible study portion of the report. We strongly encourage all calling bodies to review this Bible study on a regular basis.” The report also noted that the Compensation Review Committee is planning future Bible studies and instructional videos related to called worker compensation issues. 

Notes Woldt, “The calculator is not where you start. . . . You start with the Bible study and make that front and center.” 

The report also included one final note: “No guidelines or resources, no matter how well-crafted, will ever eliminate selfishness, greed, or discontent in the hearts of those serving in the public ministry or in the lives of those being served by faithful ministers of the gospel. That is the work of the Spirit. No guidelines or resources, no matter how well-crafted, will ever provide the financial means for struggling congregations to compensate their called workers according to synodical guidelines. That too is the work of the Spirit as God’s people grow in the grace of giving.” 


 The compensation guidelines and calculator as well as a new video Bible study presented by Prof. Earle Treptow, chairman of the Compensation Review Committee, is now available online at welsrc.net/human-resources. 


Elections 

The following individuals were elected at the 2017 synod convention to serve on various boards and commissions: 

First vice president 

Rev. James Huebner 

Recording secretary 

Rev. Robert Pasbrig 

Synodical Council  

Pastors-At-Large—Rev. Joel Jenswold, Rev. Jonathan Schroeder 

Teacher-At-Large—Mr. James Moeller 

Board for World Missions 

Chairman—Rev. Paul Janke 

Layman—Mr. Arlin Bornschlegl 

Board for Home Missions 

Chairman—Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn 

Board for Ministerial Education 

Chairman—Rev. Duane Rodewald 

Teacher or staff minister—Mr. Gerald Zeamer 

Laymen—Mr. Paul Hahm, Mr. Dean Waldschmidt 

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Governing Board 

Chairman—Rev. Jonathan Scharf 

Board of Appeals 

Pastor—Rev. Joel Leyrer 

Teacher or staff minister—Mr. James Moeller 

Layman—Mr. Kennith Gosch 

Commission on Evangelism 

Chairman—Rev. Donn Dobberstein 

Commission on Lutheran Schools 

Chairman—Mr. James Sievert 

Northwestern Publishing House Board of Directors 

Parish pastor—Rev. Joel Schroeder 

Teacher or staff minister—Mr. Matthew Groth 

Laymen—Mr. Joel Raasch, Mr. Edward Wolf 


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Author:
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

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“Knows Little” Becomes “Knows the Gospel”

I recently had a chance to teach an East Asian man named Xiao-Dong. His name means “knows the East.” The same sounds in the native language can also mean “knows little.” That was certainly true for him. He hadn’t had much formal Christian training. What he had learned was from books and the internet.

“Knows Little” and his fellow students were East Asian grass roots church workers who were part of four weeks of training spread out over a year. They weren’t yet affiliated with us but were willing to study. Church workers from our daughter church SALEM in Hong Kong and I were doing the teaching.

BWM-ALSblog-012816-350We didn’t hit it off well in our first meeting. I was responsible for going through the teaching about the end times. I diagrammed on a white board our Lutheran understanding. I could see “Knows Little” was becoming agitated. In fact, he suddenly got up and went to the white board. Without asking for permission, he sketched out his understanding which was much different. Then he sat down. It was a bit embarrassing for the others in the class.

“Xiao-Dong was zealous, but he was being true to his alternate-name “Knows Little.” Fellow students talked with him later asking him to be patient and respectful. I also encouraged him to make good use of this time and let the Holy Spirit guide him. We kept teaching. He didn’t speak up much in the next classes. Nevertheless, in other classes he still didn’t look too comfortable with some of our teachings such as infant baptism. We were getting worried this could be a difficult situation.

The gospel, however, is the power of God. Our teaching centered around the grace of God in Jesus. We patiently taught the Biblical truth of law and gospel. Over the course of several months we saw a marked change in “Knows Little.” The frown on his face became a smile. The hardness we had seen was melted by the good news of a Savior who loved, forgave, and accepts him. His initial doubts about us were removed as he heard sound teaching that was followed by genuine care for him.

At the end of our training, he got up and shared what he had learned. “I want to thank you. I never knew the difference between law and gospel before. I was living in the law. I never really saw or shared the love of Jesus. Now I know. Thank you for teaching me the gospel. Thank you for showing me in your teaching and in your lives what it means to love one another. I have so enjoyed the brotherly love. I want to share this love with my church and with my neighbors.”

The gospel is powerful and changes people.

All of us start out as “know nothings.”  Thank the Lord for pastors, missionaries, and brothers and sisters who can correctly teach the gospel. Thank the Lord for power to demonstrate the effects of the gospel in our lives. Even though we get to know something, there is always much more to learn. God’s will is that all of us who “know little” become people who “know the gospel.” People who get to know Jesus know all they really need to know.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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