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Faces of Faith – Mike

When Mike first commented “Good morning!” in the Facebook comment section, none of us knew who he was. It was the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic when we were doing online-only worship. Somehow Mike had found us while scrolling through Facebook. He didn’t respond to any of my follow-up messages, but he did continue to log in to our services on a regular basis.

Nine months later, Mike finally sent me a Facebook message. It had been a hard year. His brother had died, his mom was sick, and Mike himself had just been diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. It was time to figure out his faith. The first time I met Mike in person, it was to give him a binder for Bible Basics class. I learned that he had a vague Mormon background, little church experience, and had never been baptized. Through Bible Basics class (taught online over Zoom), Mike had a great opportunity to grow in the grace and knowledge of his Savior Jesus.

The second time I met Mike in person, it was to baptize him—during a private ceremony at church. Just two days later he began chemotherapy treatments for his cancer. After his baptism, Mike sent me another Facebook message: “I really liked coming to the church building—I’m so glad we did the baptism there. I look forward to tuning in to tomorrow’s service online. I’m going to start the book you gave me right away. (“Prepared to Answer,” by Mark Paustian) There is just so much more I want to learn.”

Praise God for the gift of technology, the gift of baptism, and the way he brought it all together to give Mike a powerful dose of spiritual comfort at the time of life when he needed it most!

From Lucas Bitter, home missionary at Intown Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga.

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Faces of Faith – Allen and Rosalind

An invitation to blueberry pancakes. That is all it took. A friendly gesture, the simplest thing, led my wife and I down a path to God that we never knew we would take.

I am the youngest of my family and the only son. My wife is the youngest of six. I am originally from Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and she is from Houston, Tex. Our backgrounds are remarkably diverse and vastly different at first appearance. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she was raised Baptist. Our paths were filled with many losses and obstacles, just as many Christians have experienced. So how did an invitation to blueberry pancakes change things? My wife met a genuinely nice man by the name of Jim Bruland. She invited him over for pancakes. During conversation he mentioned Cross of Christ, and she mentioned something about it to me. It was a small gesture, one that did not even come to fruition for an entire year. As an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, it was taboo to even go to another church. We searched for churches for many months after that conversation, but nothing materialized. One day the Holy Spirit motivated me to ask Mr. Bruland if we could go with him to church. The genuineness of the people and God’s grace culminated in our confirmation on my 52nd birthday on April 18, 2021.

From Allen Braun, new member at Cross of Christ in Liverpool, N.Y.

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Faces of Faith – Levi, Jennifer, and Cameron

Levi is a young, single dad living in urban Milwaukee who wanted nothing more than for his young son Cameron to get a good education. So, he enrolled Cameron in our church’s school confident his son would get not only a good education but a good Christian education. Levi also was convinced he wanted to become a member of our church, completed Bible information classes, and was preparing for membership. Then tragedy struck.

On January 27, 2013, Levi and Cameron were riding in a car with Levi’s best friend, Mark. There was an accident. Mark died, and Levi was left in a wheelchair. There were many pieces to pick up—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But God brought good out of this tragic situation. After the accident, Jennifer, a mutual friend of Levi and Mark, became caretaker for Levi and mom for Cameron.

The ensuing years were challenging for this young family. But God’s grace was persistent and there have been some amazing victories as well. Cameron graduated with honors in 2018 and is now attending Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis. In 2019, Levi once again took Bible information classes and became a member of our church. In August 2020, Levi and Jennifer were married (despite the pandemic). And just this year, Jennifer started Bible Information Class for membership in our church.  We all at Mt. Lebanon are truly thankful for all that God has done for this special family!

From Nate Bourman, home missionary at Mt. Lebanon in Milwaukee, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Greg

One Sunday after church Steve asked me, “Hey Pastor, will you visit Greg?” I said, “Sure! Who’s Greg?” Turns out, Steve had come from New York and had become a member of Greg’s Jiu Jitsu gym here in Texas. Over time Steve had talked to Greg about Jesus and his new church, Christ Alone. Greg was intrigued, but he had no background in Christianity. He had moved to Texas from Los Angeles and did not know his Savior.

So I went. I met Greg at his Jiu Jitsu gym on a cold February day in 2019. I didn’t even know what he looked like! We met at a local restaurant, and I got to know him and his family a little. I went back the next week and met him at that same restaurant. There I explained God’s law and gospel to him. At 45 years old, it was the first time he had ever heard it. He was blown away. Greg came to faith in Jesus that day. He was baptized later that year, and he recently became a member. I know who Greg is now. He’s not only a fellow believer, but a dear friend in Christ.

From Paul Seager, home missionary at Christ Alone in Keller, Tex.

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Faces of Faith – Bruce

Most people move to the South Carolina low country to slow down. They move to escape the snow and find the famed hospitality of the south. They move to escape the frantic work pace of the cities. They move to spend their days on the golf course or the water, as opposed to the desk.

But when Bruce moved here, he didn’t stop moving. When he moved from Wisconsin to South Carolina, he planned to retire within a few years. But, finding Bluffton ripe for mission work, he found a whole new role in helping plant a church. With the help of a mission-minded mother church (Risen Savior in Pooler, Ga.) and the Board for Home Missions, May River Lutheran Church was born.

From renovating a worship space, to canvassing new neighborhoods, to faithfully serving throughout a pandemic, members like Bruce have helped bring a young church through the pandemic in better shape than before.

From Erik Janke, home missionary at May River Lutheran Church in Bluffton, S.C.

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Faces of Faith – Christopher

“I was literally upside-down.” Christopher wasn’t exaggerating. He was talking about a time when he was driving to visit his girlfriend. The combination of slick roads, high speeds, and a sharp turn left him upside-down in a ditch.

Looking back on it now, he sees God’s hand in that pivotal moment. He sees a loving God bringing him even closer to the family of the girl who is now his wife. He sees a patient God using a life-threatening moment to teach him to re-prioritize what’s truly important in his life. He sees a gracious God directing all things—even a car on a slippery road—so that an undeserving sinner would be rescued from real spiritual danger. When I first met Christopher, he told me how thankful he was that God turned him upside-down.

Christopher joined our church family at Living Shepherd in Laramie, Wyo., a few months ago. And he still draws a direct line from being upside down in a ditch years ago to his joyful growth in faith now. He sees all of it as the work of his good and gracious God. There’s a lot more to Christopher’s story—he could probably write a long and fascinating book about his life. But the greatest chapter is the one yet to come: the eternal joy of heaven that he will experience, all because God turned him upside down!

From Adam Lambrecht, home missionary at Living Shepherd in Laramie, Wyo.

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Faces of Faith – Emma

Outwardly, the most dramatic moment in Emma’s coming-to-faith experience might have been the water splashing in the bowl at her baptism. Being raised on an Apache reservation, spending her early teenage years on a Caribbean island, and competing for a softball state title at Arizona Lutheran Academy certainly qualify as memorable. However, her rebirth into God’s family lacked any visual excitement, and she’s been raised in a Christian environment ever since.

Don’t let the lack of external spiritual drama fool you. There is a cosmic battle taking place for her soul every day, especially during her college years. The research is scary. Statistically, three out of four young adults raised Christian leave their Christian faith while attending secular universities. But fear isn’t helpful; our young people must live in this world. They need to engage in life and find their purpose serving the Lord.

That’s why I’m thankful for our WELS campus ministry. Emma chose the University of Arizona in Tucson not just for its excellent medical program but also because they have a welcoming nearby church family (Grace Lutheran) with an active campus ministry that allows her to strengthen her faith and serve others who are asking the big spiritual questions of life. She has found invaluable Christian friendship and joy volunteering, attending Bible studies, and participating in fellowship events. Please pray for this generation of Christian witnesses and the campus ministries that serve to equip them!

From Tim Patoka, campus pastor at WELS Tuscon Campus Ministry

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Faces of Faith – Roy

Roy Mendoza was born in Detroit, one of 10 children. From an early age, his parents tried to get rid of him. Twice they took him to Mexico and left him there. They took him to California and other states and purposefully left him behind. He always managed to find his way back, but his distrust and hatred grew.

He soon began to take lives. People in Southwest Detroit called him a vigilante. Neighbors would ask him to take out an abuser, a thief, or some other untouchable, and he would. He became good at killing—he boasted about it—and he didn’t think twice about doing it. He felt no remorse, until he accidentally took the life of his own son.

Shortly after that horrific event, Roy landed in prison. He didn’t want to hear anything about God or forgiveness because he’d killed his own son. But then he heard a verse from Luke where Jesus said, “They will be divided—father against son and son against father.” By the Spirit’s power alone, these words piqued his interest, since he had been wrestling with guilt for the first time in his life. Within months of being in prison, God grabbed hold of his heart through his Word, and Roy cried. Tough guys weren’t supposed to cry, but Roy did. . . and it felt good.

Roy Mendoza

As he reflects on the 25 years he spent behind bars for his life of crime, Roy says, “I didn’t go to prison. I went to school—God’s school.” He hadn’t known how to read, but he somehow started to learn by reading an old King James Bible someone gave him. He poured over Scripture day and night. At one point, he taught 14 men the Bible every day—many of whom had worked to destroy his own family because of things he’d done against their families on the outside. Roy came to know Christ and God’s grace for him, and with a humble, penitent spirit, he brought the gospel to his own enemies.

Since 2017, Roy has been out of prison—by God’s grace, a changed man. One fall day in 2020, after church, a member of Palabra de Vida bumped into him on the sidewalk and told him to check out our church. He did. He walked inside, and I met him. He’s been coming faithfully to worship and Bible study ever since. After studying with me in Bible information class, he was received into membership. Now, Roy is training to be a leader at Palabra de Vida. He encourages others who are just starting out in their faith. He applies the Word to hurting hearts. We pray that God continue to use Roy to give life to others—a big change from a few decades ago! All thanks to the Holy Spirit.

In awe of God’s mercy, Roy sees the famous hymn as his own: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound—that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found—was blind, but now I see.”

Written by Ryan Kolander, home missionary at Palabra de Vida in Detroit, Mich. 

Hear more from Missionary Kolander in the presentation he gave as part of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) annual convention that occurred this past weekend: vimeo.com/566224349

 

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Faces of Faith – Clark

Our first worship service at Foundation Lutheran Church in Folsom, Calif., happened on August 16, 2020, in a local park. A few months earlier, the college where we had signed a contract to use their community room for worship was closed due to COVID-19. Many churches were holding outdoor services and our pastor said: why not?

That first service ended, and we had extra donuts and treats. Nearby, there was group of kids and young men playing basketball. One member said we should offer them our leftovers. So, we headed over and offered them some of the food we had brought.

We met a man in his early thirties named Clark. He shared that he played basketball in college, and now he coaches and has three kids in elementary school. The last thing shared with Clark was, “We’re here every Sunday—you’re more than welcome to join us!”

Clark, wearing green and a hat, playing basketball in the background.

The next week Clark was there again playing basketball. As the service started, he slipped over with his brother during the sermon to listen. Afterwards, a number of members talked with them in friendly and encouraging conversation. He said he’d be back.

The next week Clark came back with his lawn chair and sat with us through the entire service. This time it was Clark and more of his family. Before and after the service, members of our “Foundation Nation” enthusiastically engaged with them. Some of the conversations were private and got deep. Clark was compelled to share he had struggled with his faith and life had been tough recently, including the loss of his dad a couple years ago.

Our pastor had a good conversation with Clark, too, and followed up with him during the week. Clark is very interested in learning more about Foundation and, more importantly, diving deeper into Scripture with pastor.

A park, friendly people, food, pastor’s message, and fellowship—all used by the Holy Spirit—to reach one soul at a time.

From Noel Ledermann, member of the core group at at Foundation Lutheran Church in Folsom, Calif., and member of the WELS Board for Home Missions

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Faces of Faith – Rhoda and Helen

Eight years after her husband passed away, Rhoda (pictured left) moved into an assisted living facility. In her mid-80’s, she would describe herself as a bit shy. Still, it wasn’t long before she found a friend in her neighbor Helen (pictured right). For as quiet as Rhoda is, Helen loves to talk. Music, art, literature, her world travels, interesting people she’s met. . . there’s not a topic that Helen isn’t comfortable expounding on.

Early in their friendship, Rhoda opened up to Helen to talk about how much her church and her Savior meant to her. And soon enough, Helen was coming to our Bible studies and worship services. I’d stop to visit her, and this 93-year-old retired teacher would show me the poetry late husband wrote. “You should read this. . . No, you should read it out loud to me. Now before I see you again, I want you to write some poetry yourself. Take five minutes and write six lines about whatever comes into your mind. Then show it to me the next time I see you.”

So I write poetry, just for Helen. In the meantime, she is thrilled to learn more about the Lord Jesus at her new church home.

From Paul Zell, missionary at Living Savior Lutheran Church in Hendersonville, N.C.

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Faces of Faith – Krystal

Krystal is a young mom who has attended our Mornings with Mommy program and who recently enrolled her daughter in our preschool. Krystal wanted to come to church, but she didn’t want to come alone with her kids. Her husband’s crazy work schedule didn’t allow for him to join. And yet last fall, Krystal came with her kids Kinsley and Christopher. All the moms from Mornings with Mommy were smiling from ear-to-ear. Since then, Krystal has been coming on a somewhat regular basis and even began taking classes to become a member.

During one of our lessons, Krystal asked about having her kids baptized. She also mentioned the she had never been baptized. She wasn’t raised going to church or having God as part of her daily life. Her mother was raised as a strict-Catholic and decided not to force any religion upon her. Krystal has always wanted to have God as a part of her family and admitted, “I’ve tried many different churches in the Myrtle Beach area, but none of them seemed to fit. But we’ve found the truths about Jesus here at Amazing Grace.”

The next day I ran into Krystal at preschool drop-off when she said, “Pastor, I spoke with my husband last night. He doesn’t think he’s ever been baptized either!” We will be getting together soon to talk about baptism for the entire family. What I thought was going to only be the baptism of two children has now turned into an entire family. Grace upon grace!

From Ben Zahn, missionary at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Myrtle Beach, S.C. 

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Faces of Faith – Katherine

Sometimes mission connections happen in very interesting ways. Every year, Spirit of Life in Caledonia, Mich., hosts a booth at the local Davenport College Panther Palooza event. It’s an event where freshmen go to learn about opportunities to serve, learn, and work in the community. During that event we were publicizing a women’s self-defense class being held at Spirit of Life. Little did we know, God would bless us with a new member and a really great friend.

Katherine Campoverde was studying to be a recreational therapist at Davenport. She was Catholic growing up in Ecuador, and she had family in New York City as well. She spoke to us and visited the church that next Sunday. After some weeks, Katherine went through class to join our Lutheran church. For a few years we enjoyed having her as part of our church—but upon graduation, Katherine moved back to NYC for work. It was bittersweet for us because we wished her the best, but we were also concerned about Katherine’s connection with the church. We don’t have all that many congregations in NYC.

When Katherine arrived in NYC, we stayed in touch. I looked up her address in the WELS church locator and discovered a great blessing: Katherine was living less than 2 miles from Sure Foundation Lutheran Church, our WELS home mission congregation in Woodside. I immediately grabbed the phone and called the pastor there. And after a few short weeks, Katherine was connected. An even greater blessing was that Sure Foundation has Spanish services every week. Now Katherine could not only worship, but she also brought her father to worship for him to hear God’s Word in their first language.

But the interesting connections continued. Katherine’s mother still lives in Ecuador. So while she was on a trip to visit her mother, she introduced her to our world missionary living in Ecuador as well.

Recently Katherine had the opportunity to come back to visit us here at Spirit of Life, and she was welcomed with open arms. It’s really interesting to see how God works. He blessed our congregation to do some outreach at a local college. We shared the Word and Sacrament together with a new member. Little did we know the impact that would have in another congregation in NYC and possibly all the way down in Ecuador. God’s Word is so amazing, and his plans for our life are too.

What a blessing it is to have mission congregations around our synod who can connect and serve believers even when school and work causes them to move!

Written by Allen Kirschbaum, home missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich. 


 

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Faces of Faith – Campus Ministry Alumni

Campus ministries often serve as places where students can grow in their abilities and gain the confidence in use them later in life to serve their future congregations. Grace in the Ward, a current home mission congregation located in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., is one of those congregations. Robin Lehninger (playing piano) spent time as a graduate student organizing musicians from True North Campus Ministry in Minneapolis, Minn. Now she serves as the women’s choir director at Grace. Greg Strommen (on guitar) and his wife Devon (singing) both used their musical gifts at the Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel in Madison, Wis., during their college years. We praise God for using WELS Campus Ministries to equip students for future service in Christ’s kingdom!

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Faces of Faith – Dag

One evening, I knocked on a door and a man wearing pajamas answered. He invited me in. I got to talk about the Bible with pajama man (Bryan) and his wife for almost an hour. By the end of the conversation I was confident that Bryan and his wife were believers. I was also certain they’d never come to Living Hope. They were happy at their Baptist church. I was right. They’ve never been to Living Hope.

Fast forward two years. I’m sitting down for a Bible Information Class with a 90-year-old man named Dag from Germany. He even fought in World War 2. . . not for the Allies. Dag was baptized and confirmed Lutheran, but I quickly found out he doesn’t know anything about what Lutherans teach. He says he believes in God but struggles to believe in Jesus as the Savior. But God is working. Dag is hearing the law and gospel like he never has before. He’s starting to understand the depth of sin and God’s amazing love. God is giving Dag one last shot. He’s told stories of his scrapes with death during the war, and he’s already had some scary hospital visits since I’ve met him. But God’s not done with Dag.

I have Bryan, the pajama man, to thank for that. When Dag and his wife moved to the area they visited their daughter’s church: the same Baptist church where Bryan attends. Dag made it clear he wanted to go to a Lutheran church though. Bryan heard this and recalled talking with me. He gave Dag and his wife information about Living Hope. It’s awesome how God can use one seemingly fruitless conversation with a man in his pajamas to get a 90-year-old former Nazi solider an audience with the gospel.

From Eric Melso, missionary at Living Hope Lutheran Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Faces of Faith – James and Emelia

James and Emelia are originally from Nigeria, but because of difficult life situations had moved to Mexico before finally immigrating to Canada. During those years of transition, James led his family in God’s Word, even serving the Lord’s Supper to his family, but they still longed for a church home. A couple years after moving to Canada, they found Cross of Life and immediately loved it. They were thankful for a church that taught from the Bible and loved them and have since joined and become active members of our congregation. In a heavily immigrant-saturated area of Canada like the Toronto area, being an advocate for immigrants, refugees, and those in need is a huge way for us to bless others like Jesus did. We get to do “world missions” without leaving our city by simply loving and supporting the many immigrants and refugees that end up in Canada. But the truth is that God has blessed us just as much, if not more, by giving us James, Emelia, and their sons. We thank God for them and pray for many more opportunities to “defend the cause of the fatherless and the widows, and love the foreigner.” -Deuteronomy 10:18.

From Caleb Schultz, missionary at Cross of Life Lutheran Church in Mississauga, ON

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Faces of Faith – Chuck

Earlier this winter I stopped in to pick up our church trailer from our storage unit. While I was there, I met an older man in the unit next to ours who was working on his RV. I walked over, introduced myself, and started a conversation. After some small talk, he shared that his wife of 60 years died two months ago, and he was still grieving her loss. I was able to share comfort from God’s Word, and then I invited him to come to The Vine to learn more about our God who gives comfort in all our troubles, especially when we lose a loved one. He told me that he had been thinking about coming back to church after being away for many years, but just needed a little “push” from God to do it. I said to him, “Well, God might have orchestrated our meeting each other today so that I could be his little ‘push’ for you.”

The next Sunday, he showed up in church and said to me, “Thanks for taking the time to talk with me last week. God must have known that I needed to be here. I just need a little ‘push.’” I’m grateful that God allowed me to meet this man and be there for him when he really needed it. And I’m thankful that he has continued to worship with us on Sundays and hear more about our God who will always be there for him.

From Kevin Schultz, missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Coeur D’ Alene, Ida.

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Faces of Faith – Trina

Last summer, my neighbor’s furniture was delivered to my house by mistake. I carried the furniture down the street (while grumbling under my breath at the ineptitude of the mailman), but thankfully I got to meet a new neighbor. I mentioned that I was the pastor of a new church in the area. She was not particularly interested, but she just happened to have a friend over that night whose mother-in-law (named Trina) was looking for a church. Trina attended one of our next worship services and enjoyed it so much that she signed up for Bible Basics Class. After the first two lessons, however, life took over. Trina was diagnosed with breast cancer. She dropped out of Bible Basics and stopped coming to church. By the grace of God, she responded well to chemotherapy and her health began to improve. When spring came, Trina restarted Bible Basics Class at the beginning and completed all 12 lessons. She joined our church and is now a familiar face on Sunday mornings who is beloved by all her Sunday School students!

Trina says, “Intown Lutheran has become my second family. I was newly diagnosed with cancer when I started coming to this church. I received so many prayers and genuine concern that it blew me away. I was looking for a new church home and I truly have found it here!”

So my neighbor’s friend’s mother-in-law is now a member of my church. And why? Because a box of furniture just happened to be dropped off at the doorstep of a local pastor, on the very night that her daughter-in-law just happened to be visiting that pastor’s neighbor for dinner. Of course, we know that things don’t just happen, do they? God is always working. Next time I see the mailman, I have to tell him “thank you.”

From Lucas Bitter, missionary at Intown Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga.

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Faces of Faith – Cordale Jr.

Several years ago, I baptized a baby boy in our church. Later I was introduced to the baby’s grandfather, who is a Lutheran pastor and missed his grandson’s baptism because he was preaching that morning. He shook my hand and asked me one question: “Did you get the boy wet?” I replied, “Yes, sir. I got the boy wet.” A smile came over his face and he said, “That’s all I wanted to know.” Then he walked away.

In January 2019, I learned that one of our Wisconsin Lutheran School families had their baby three months early. Cordale Jr. was born at 25 weeks and weighed only a single pound. I went into the NICU of the hospital with Cordale Jr.’s mother, father, grandmothers, and nurse. The nurse gave me a bottle of sterilized water to use for the baptism. I put three drops onto his head – one drop for each person of the Trinity. Three drops. . . but I got him wet. It was a waterfall of God’s grace!

That waterfall of grace continued in February 2020 when Cordale Jr.’s mother stood before the baptismal font and altar at Epiphany Lutheran Church to make her vows of adult confirmation. Lord willing, Cordale Jr.’s older step-siblings will be baptized in the coming months, so they too can experience a waterfall of God’s grace.

From Michael Zarling, missionary at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Racine, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Elena

“Are you the pastor?” were the first words I heard from Elena, over the phone on a Sunday morning as I was preparing for worship. “Yes,” I replied. She said, “I need to go to your church today. But I need a ride.” I picked Elena up that morning in July. She’s a long-time resident of Michigan, originally from Panama, and a former medical doctor. She sat through church alongside several other guests who came for our special bilingual service. It was clunky, going back and forth between English and Spanish. After the dust settled and I said goodbye to the last person, I took Elena back home. “Well, Elena, what did you think?” She turned to me and replied, “I loved it.”

Late that night, she called me. I was almost asleep, so I let it go to voicemail. She called me again as soon as the sun was up the next day. I answered with a groggy “hello,” and she exclaimed, “Pastor, I was up all night reading about Luther and the hymns. I have been looking for a church like this my whole life. How do I become a member?”

Elena had called me that Sunday morning because her friend kept getting texts from me inviting her to church. Finally, her friend told her, “One of us has to go or he’ll keep bothering me!” Elena bit the bullet, called me, and went. And God, by his miraculous Word, drew another sheep into his Church.

From Ryan Kolander, missionary at Palabra de Vida Lutheran Church in Detroit, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Hany Guzmán

As the morning mist mixed with the bright beams of the sun’s first rays over Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, ten-year-old Hany Guzmán would stand out on her earthen porch to greet the day. With a mug of atol de elote in her hand, she watched the cool fog slowly dissipate and the shadows silently disperse as they gave way to the scorching heat and piercing light of a Sunday morning. The sweet, corn beverage brought warmth to her body and strength for the day as she helped get her family ready for church. Slipping through the front door, she would wake her three younger siblings with whom she shared a single bed. They would march off together to attend their local congregation’s misa. Sometimes her parents would accompany them and other times they went alone, but Hany wouldn’t miss a mass for the world.

Hany and her siblings in Guatemala

Once they found their customary spot in the back of church, although the sun still shone brightly through the stained-glass windows of the cathedral, it seemed as though an even denser fog settled in. Hany and her siblings heard the priest read the Bible and give short talks about how they were to pray to the right saints to find fame and fortune, but it just didn’t seem to make sense. There was a spiritual haze that never seemed to lift, a darkness that just wouldn’t disappear. Hany wondered to herself, “Is there any way I can go to heaven?”

Five years later, darkness defined the day as Hany woke up on a frigid December morning in Anchorage, Alaska. A glance outside at the thermometer showed twenty-five degrees below zero as the first hints of daylight slowly revealed the silhouette of the mountains beneath a cloudless sky. It was Sunday morning and it was still her job to wake her younger siblings for church, but they could wait a while to brave the cold. The short trip to church was less than a block. She started to make some hot chocolate as she waited for the sun to creep over the Chugach Mountains. In a few short hours, she and her siblings would be on their way to Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo. She still wouldn’t miss a service for the world.

Hany at Camp Luther in Anchorage, Alaska

Although the sun barely skimmed the tops of the peaks outside, inside her church one thing was clear—the light of the gospel had changed her life. The same sun that warmed her face in Guatemala now shone through the stained-glass windows of her new church, but here the mystery of salvation had been revealed. Here she heard the unobscured gospel that brought clarity to her mind and comfort to her soul. Hany and her sisters and brother—Brianna, Alegría, and David—found their spots in the back pew. From her vantage point, Hany could see many people she had invited to church herself. In fact, she was personally responsible for seeing her church’s catechism class grow from a dozen kids to over thirty. Later in the service, the congregation would confess its faith together using the familiar words of the explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “All this he did that I should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just has he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally.” There was no longer any doubt; the darkness had dissipated and the fog had lifted. Wiping away a tear, Hany chimed in with confidence and conviction: ¡Esto es ciertamente la verdad! This is most certainly true!

Written by Rev. Christopher Ewings, home missionary at Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo (Faith Lutheran Church) in Anchorage, Alaska

 

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Faces of Faith – Clay and Dee

We first met Clay Smith and his wife Dee at their door while canvassing back in the fall of 2017. After hearing that we were starting a new church in Chattanooga, Clay’s first question was, “Do you confess the Apostles’ Creed?” I told him, “Yep, we’ll say the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed every Sunday at worship.” He said, “Then I may just have to come check out your church when you start holding worship.” Clay soon started taking a Bible Information Class and completed it. He just ate it up, and he learned something new every lesson. But his wife Dee never came to the studies with him.

Months later, Clay finally got Dee to come with him to Bible Study. He wanted to take the whole class again, this time with his wife. And as happy as we were to have Clay in the class, it was Dee who really needed to hear the gospel of free and full forgiveness. A few lessons in, she opened up and said, “I always thought I was going to hell. When I went to church, I was taught I had to speak in tongues if I was really saved. I never could so I was scared of God and church. Now I really know God loves me.”

What a privilege to open people’s eyes to their Savior. It never gets old.

From Eric Melso, missionary at Living Hope Lutheran Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Faces of Faith – Mrs. Tri

We take prayer requests verbally from our congregation and then pray about those very things in the moment. About four months ago, Mrs. Tri (pictured above 4th from right), raised her hand and went off on how her whole family is in chaos and disharmony, and how there is lack of respect and discord throughout the family. Her adult children’s families are all members of our congregation. Following that, our congregational president, Mr. Hưu-Trung Lê, and I visited members of the family, and Mrs. Tri, and prayed with them, shared key passages with specific members of the family over the following days and weeks. Later on a different Sunday, the same Sunday at Mrs. Phước’s baptism, Mrs. Tri raised her hand once again at the time of prayer requests. Internally I’m thinking, “Oh boy, here we go again…” Mrs. Tri then went on to say how thankful she was to God for bringing restored peace and harmony to her family. She is happy deep in her heart for what God has done to bring all the family members together again in harmony. Trung said Mrs. Tri came up to him after the service during fellowship time and said, “God has real power. To do what he did in my family—God’s power is real.”

From Dan Kramer, missionary at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church in Boise, Ida.

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Faces of Faith – Phước Thị Trần

The picture above is Phước Thị Trần, who lived her first 85 years without God. She actively campaigned for her family members not to be Christian or attend services at our church. When she found out family members were in a Bible basics course, she told them to stop.

Over these last few years, Mrs. Phước has been more open, even open to attending worship services over the past months. On the last Sunday of September, after much witnessing, prayer and her daughter’s faithful devotion in bringing her to attend services, this lady was happy to be baptized. Everyone applauded at the conclusion of the baptism. One of the family members rushed over to her as she was sitting down and said congratulations. The daughter wanted to do the baptism in the first service so the great-grandsons who attend the first service could see the baptism. They both recorded it on their phones. After the second service, since we had the baptism banner up, I explained what had happened during the first service and everyone applauded again. Mrs. Phước’s name means “blessing.” She is a blessing to us just as she has been richly blessed by God.

From Dan Kramer, missionary at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church in Boise, Ida.

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Faces of Faith – Dana, Kimia, and Harir

At Hope, having first-time visitors is a regular blessing. We are blessed to be in a city made up of 50 percent first generation immigrants and are in an area of the city where many immigrants land. It wasn’t unusual to look out one Sunday and see new faces—Dana and Kimia with their daughter Harir (Dana is pictured holding Harir). What was unusual was the story of how they got there.

Shortly after their visit, I asked them, “How did you come to Hope?” They told me Jacqueline sent them . . . yet no one knows who this Jacqueline is. There is no Jacqueline in our congregation, and the address Jacqueline gave them didn’t exist. However, the fake address was relatively close to our church, so the couple saw a cross and walked in. And then they cried.

Harir (left)

This was the very first time they had ever been able to attend a worship service with fellow Christians. In their home country, they had each began asking questions about Christianity, which led them to secret Bible study gatherings. They were introduced to Jesus and to each other, learned of Jesus’ love, and grew in love with each other and were married. But becoming Christians meant fear of retaliation, even death, for leaving the Muslim faith. They sold all and sought out a new country.

They came to Toronto and, by God’s grace, they found Hope . . . They attended worship services and cried tears of joy as they brought Harir up for the children’s message without fear and sang Christian hymns for the very first time. Then came more tears, for them and the whole congregation, on the Sunday they were all baptized. Kimia (pictured being baptized) spoke to the whole congregation and said, “We came here knowing no one, but trusting God. Now we have a new family and we can worship Jesus together.”

From Mark Henrich, missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto, Canada

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Faces of Faith – Paul and Abigail

Every year the men from our congregation rent a large tent and host an awesome prime rib breakfast after Easter worship. In 2017, more than 200 people showed up for Easter worship and fellowship! That year, a long time WELS member named Helen invited her friends Paul and Abigail. They enjoyed everything – but Paul had not worshiped in a church for quite some time due to some mistrust in the church establishment. After that Easter breakfast, we didn’t see Paul and Abigail for a long time. Fast forward to 2018, and there they were, sitting in the church for worship. After some conversation and pre-marriage counseling, Spirit of Life hosted a small, beautiful wedding for this couple. I had learned that Paul wasn’t baptized in some of our discussions, and so on December 23, 2018, I had the opportunity to baptize Paul. Both Paul and Abigail have finished membership classes and are excited to be a part of Spirit of Life.

It was a long journey, with multiple touchpoints over multiple years. But from a personal invite, to a meal, to a wedding, and then to a baptism we’re shown how God’s Word is living and active and—on his time—works and grows. Stories like this make our members and I excited to sow the gospel seed every day, never knowing when the next Paul and Abigail might show up.

From Allen Kirschbaum, missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Hal and Anna

We both attended church our entire lives. For many years we had a hunger for the truth. We knew there was more, but we could not grasp what we were unaware of. While attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church we found what we were missing. We became aware of how sinful we are and how much we need a Savior. Since joining Grace we have become spiritually alive, feasting on God’s Word and truth!” – Hal & Anna Thorson

Hal and Anna’s story is simple, yet remarkable. It started with their friend Holly, who found the same thing while attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church in Tucson, Ariz. When visiting her friends in the frozen north, spiritual discussions led Holly to invite Hal and Anna to Grace in Minot, N.D., because Holly didn’t want to miss a single week in church.

That’s all the Holy Spirit needed to work with. Hal and Anna quickly found Christ in a way they hadn’t before, even after a lifetime in church. Sometimes the gospel creates stories with massive, unbelievable details. More often, it’s simply one person sharing it with another, who then shares it with another. Today, Hal and Anna are “paying it forward” by bringing Christ to their friends and family, hosting Bible Studies in their home, and sharing answers with their loved ones for the first time in a lifetime.

From Nate Walther, missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

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Faces of Faith – CJ

“My pastor is always smiling.”

That was CJ’s take on me. He was talking with his friends at school about their pastors. He told his friends that his pastor was always smiling and in a good mood. God be praised for this perception!

CJ is a sophomore in high school. He joined Amazing Love with his mother over a year ago. As a high school student, it would be easy to pick different priorities—he’s a rising baseball star at his high school. But he’s in worship every Sunday. On our teen trip to downtown Chicago, he was so excited to share what God was doing in his life. He said he used to be more negative, but now he strives to see things in a positive light.

The work God is doing in CJ’s heart is nothing short of remarkable. In our conversations about life and church he told me he has signed up for four different volunteer positions, and he’s hoping to make it to five. You’ll find him greeting, ushering, helping with kids, at the tech table, and with his attitude, I’m sure we’ll find a fifth position. He uses our church app to listen to the sermon a second time during the week, and he’s used the app to catch up on the last five years of gospel proclamation.

God gives us so much to smile about, and CJ’s story is one reason it’s easy for me to smile.

From Dustin Blumer, missionary at Amazing Love Lutheran Church in Frankfort, Ill.

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Faces of Faith – Lindsey

In the spring of 2018, I pulled out of my garage to make a few informal visits in anticipation of Easter. My motivation really needed to be compelled by the Holy Spirit that night. As the daylight faded, I wondered if it would be wise to knock on the next door.

Lindsey answered. I knew she had young children, so I didn’t intend to stay long. I gave her the invitations and wished her a good night. The next day I opened an e-mail from Lindsey. In it she wrote, “You came to my house last night and unfortunately saw me at the end of an extremely long day in my bath robe and probably at my worst! For some strange reason, that did not bother me so much because it got me thinking. . . I haven’t been to church in almost 20 years and it is very difficult for me to know where or how to come back. . . I just need some reassurance to get over the awkwardness I feel about coming back.”

Thankfully, Lindsey didn’t stop with an e-mail. She joined us in worship that Sunday and has been joining us since. She had been encouraged by friends who attend a different WELS church to investigate our congregation more fully. I am so thankful for their collaboration on her heart. In November of 2018, Lindsey was welcomed as a member and her children Karlee and Korie received the washing of rebirth and renewal in Baptism. I am so glad I knocked on her door.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – The Almarales Family

They were in tears for nearly the entire service the first time they visited. After opening up to their neighbor about the sleepless nights, the overwhelming worry, and constant wondering where they had gone wrong, the neighbor invited them to join her at church on Sunday to hear some much-needed good news.

As always, God’s Word did not disappoint. Alexis and Maria came to church with heavy hearts as their son was waiting on his sentencing in the city jail. They walked out of church refreshed and restored by God’s love and forgiveness for them in Jesus. Later that week through a jail video visit, their son was taken to the same cross of Jesus for peace and comfort even while facing the consequences for his actions.

About three months later, Alexis and Maria publicly confessed their faith in Jesus. Their teenage daughter, Roxana, was baptized in the same service. Several family members were in attendance that day and have seen the difference Jesus has made for them. They are eager for their oldest son and his family from Cuba to join them at church.

It will be a few years yet before their son is able to join them in a worship service on a Sunday morning, but all have been able to find true rest and peace in God’s grace.

From Paul Biedenbender, missionary at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo.

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Faces of Faith – Angel

The Lord of the Church continues to be with and bless the work carried out through Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wisconsin. Angel Ayala, an eighth-grade student at Wisconsin Lutheran, expressed to his mother that he wished to be baptized and confirmed at Epiphany Lutheran Church. In January 2019, Epiphany observed The Baptism of our Lord Sunday with the baptisms of Angel and his whole family as his mother Alicia joined the church. In February 2019, a Hispanic family from the school joined First Evangelical Lutheran. Due to language challenges, the daughter served as translator during the instruction classes as well as during the rite of membership in church – the church’s first bilingual confirmation since the years when First Evangelical was a German speaking congregation.

From Mark Blauert, school chaplain at Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wis.

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