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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 – Dia

On February 14, 2020, we hosted a Lego Night event at Christ Lutheran Church in Pewaukee, Wis. My wife Aneela and I were there to welcome any South Asian souls who might be in attendance. I didn’t see any South Asians when we got there. I was feeling a little disappointed, since no South Asians came to the last Lego Night. Suddenly I saw one South Asian father and his daughter enter. We greeted them and invited them to sit with us. Pastor Warnecke came by with a basket of small toys, and she chose a dinosaur. Soon after, we saw another Hindu family walk in. We knew this family well because we invited them to our home for dinner. I began playing with the Legos with their daughter Dia, and a few minutes later Pastor Warnecke stopped by again with the basket of toys. He offered his suggestion, but she still wasn’t sure what to choose. Finally, she picked up something which shook me from top to bottom: a small green cross. I was stunned for few seconds. When I asked her mother about it, she told me that she prays every day, calling Jesus “Jai Jai”. I also asked how she came to learn about Jesus, which I discovered was through our Lambs of Christ preschool.

Many in Pakistan began believing in Christ through school ministries such as these, and some have been killed for their faith. Please pray for the persecuted Christians all over in the world and thank God that Dia lives in a country where there seed of the gospel that has been sown in her heart can continue to grow!

From Pastor Paul, South Asia ministry coordinator for WELS Joint Missions

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Faces of Faith – Rachel

The first time I met Rachel, it was because she wanted to know who Jesus was. She had never heard of Jesus before. Her son was in our preschool and was bringing home Bible stories. Rachel was curious, so she and I met for more than ten months to go through a Bible Basics course.

Rachel is Chinese and her entire family is Buddhist. When we met to study on the Chinese New Year, I asked her if she was going to the Buddhist temple with her family for a meal and traditional Chinese family events. She responded: “Why would I do that, pastor? I’m a Christian. I don’t have anything to do with the temple any longer.”

Currently, we are eagerly waiting to baptize Rachel and her two children. They are excited to receive the blessings of baptism, but I am confident that the Holy Spirit has worked a firm faith in Rachel’s heart! From nothing to everything—how our God works his wonders!

From Dan Burgess, missionary at Water of Life Lutheran Church in Las Vegas, Nev.

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Faces of Faith – Andre

Our world missionaries work hard for a day when they can pass the pastoral baton to a national leader. This ultimate dream and daily prayer will soon be accomplished in Iskitim, Russia. Missionary Luke Wolfgramm has served this congregation for ten years and is now working with Andre Gydkov in the seminary training program. Andre is not just taking classes to learn how to be a pastor. He is already serving the congregation in Iskitim in many ways that are giving him experience in the tasks and functions of a pastor. The PSI is working closely with the Russian Lutheran synod to provide curriculum, consultation, and instructors to assist them in Andre’s training. The relationship between Andre and Luke goes beyond that of student and teacher or even co-workers in a congregation. They are close friends. Andre was introduced to his Savior through the WELS mission in Russia, where Luke has been his pastor and counselor for three years. Since Andre has committed to preparing for the pastoral ministry, his relationship with Luke has grown even stronger. Andre’s life before he became a Christian was difficult in many respects. Through daily support and encouragement from Luke and the other Russian pastors (Pastor Alexei and Pastor Arkady), the congregation in Iskitim will soon receive a strong Lutheran shepherd who is eager to proclaim Christ to his community.

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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 – Richard

On Christmas, Richard, his wife, Sabrina, and daughter, Martina, were baptized by our vicar Qiang Wang. As the first family of the new Chinese mission in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, to be baptized, their baptisms are special enough. But how God brought this to happen is even more remarkable. Richard and Qiang were school classmates in the early 1980s in communist China. At the time, neither one of them knew or believed in God. Years later after losing touch, they both immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, and by chance reconnected in 2014. God worked faith in Qiang’s heart, and he began training to be a pastor. In 2018, Qiang and Richard reconnected again. “I could not believe what a huge change I saw in Qiang,” Richard commented. Qiang shared the good news with Richard and even asked for his help to start a new Chinese mission where Richard lived.

After Qiang and his wife moved to Coquitlam in July 2019, they started studying the Bible with Richard and his family. The Spirit worked. God brought that unlikely scene to pass—one classmate baptizing another. Richard now sees God’s hand in all of this, “I believe God sent Qiang to give us the gospel. It’s an amazing story. God used my classmate to cross oceans and continents just to share the good news with me. We met again in Canada and became Christians. Now it feels like we are family.”

From Geoff Cortright, missionary at Saviour of the Nations in Vancouver, B.C.

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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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Be strong and courageous

My name is Qiang Wang, a Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) vicar of Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Canada. I immigrated to Canada with my wife Susan and my son Ricky in 2013. At that time, Susan and I were Buddhists. Thanks be to the Lord that he sent Chinese Christians preaching the gospel to us almost immediately. At first I rejected their efforts. Later I decided to read the Bible on my own in order to argue with them. The Spirit created faith in my heart through the Word. On the Thanksgiving day in 2014, Susan and I were baptized into Jesus. Shortly after my baptism, I started to read the People’s Bible Commentaries which I borrowed from Pastor Geoff Cortright, who is the pastor of Saviour of the Nations. Since November 2015, after a 3-day trip to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, I have been studying in the PSI program full-time almost 4 years. God willing, I will finish PSI training at the end of this year and graduate from the Seminary in May 2020.

With funding from WELS Joint Missions, WELS-Canada, and Saviour of the Nations, I moved to Coquitlam as a missionary on July 1, 2019, in order to start a new Chinese mission.

Why Coquitlam?

Right now, the population of the city of Coquitlam is about 170,000. Coquitlam is one of the fastest growing Chinese areas in North America. In 2016, the local Skytrain expanded to include Coquitlam. As a result, the city is projecting explosive growth as commuters can now live in a more affordable community and easily connect to the amenities of Vancouver. City planners estimate that by 2026 the population will reach 200,000, an increase of 60,000 people in a 10 year span. Of that 60,000, half are Chinese people. The city of Coquitlam has plans to build up a larger core centre, with high rise towers and dense urban living. In the neighborhoods surrounding Coquitlam Town Centre, 23% to 49% of the homes speak Chinese. An increasing number of Chinese businesses and restaurants have moved in, catering to first generation immigrants. Additionally, what makes Coquitlam potentially the best regional choice to plant a Chinese church—it is currently under-served by Chinese churches.

Vicar Qiang Wang, his wife Susan, and their friend Richard (standing) after a long day of moving

When I received the final decision from our congregation that I would start a new Chinese mission in Coquitlam, I was excited and a little bit intimidated. To start a mission from scratch is not a small task for anyone. Our Lord is good! The first date of our moving, July 1, is Canada Day. God blessed us almost immediately through different ways. After a whole day moving and cleaning, I was exhausted and hungry. All our stuff was unpacked. We didn’t know where to have our dinner. Richard Yu, my friend and schoolmate from back in China and who now lives in Coquitlam, brought food and drinks to our new apartment. We enjoyed the food and shared the gospel with Richard. Suddenly and unexpectedly, an excellent fireworks show started, which we enjoyed from our new balcony.

We kept giving thanks to the Lord. Through Richard, God told us that we are not alone! He uses everything around us to bless us. Through the fireworks, God gave us a warm welcome! He is with us!

“Be strong and courageous!” Three times the Lord encouraged Joshua to be confident to succeed Moses in leading God’s people into the Promised Land. I believe that God will lead us to a wonderful future in North American. We pray that God establish a vibrant Chinese Lutheran worshiping community of believers in Coquitlam through our ministry. It will be a blessing not only for Coquitlam, but also for North America, and perhaps even for as far away as China.

Written by Vicar Qiang Wang, Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) student and Chinese missionary to Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada

The Chinese ministry in Coquitlam was approved to receive partial funding from WELS Joint Missions in May 2019 (with financial assistance also coming from WELS-Canada and Saviour of the Nations). To learn more about WELS Joint Missions, visit wels.net/jointmissions.

 

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Faces of Faith – Ron

Ron Kelly’s passion is to serve the families and young people at his congregation, St. Marcus in Milwaukee, Wis. “The youth and children of my community have so few role models showing them what a Christian man looks like,” Ron told me the first time we met. Ron wants to be such a role model.

And he is. Supervising Pastor Dan Leyrer reports that Ron is friendly, helpful, outgoing, faithful, and always looking to give. Ron is involved with youth discipleship, chapel devotions at St. Marcus school, ministry to school families, Bible information classes, and assistance at the Lord’s Supper. Ron also serves the church at large. He is a member of the Urban Advisory Board in Milwaukee and will represent St. Marcus as a delegate to the 2019 WELS Convention in New Ulm, Minn.

In addition to his work as a realtor and his many hours of service at St. Marcus, Ron is working his way through the PSI curriculum, one class at a time. He and Pastor Leyrer set aside time every week for these studies. Already these classes are equipping Ron for ministry. Ron is a rare gift from our Risen and Ascended Savior!

From Rev. Brad Wordell, member of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team

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Faces of Faith – Chenna

I was standing outside some apartments near our church, talking with some Hindu friends of mine who lived there. We noticed a young man and his father unloading some luggage from a U-Haul. My wife and I wanted to see if they needed help; we introduced ourselves and met Chenna and his father.

Often, we invite our friends to our home for dinner and to get to know them better. As we got to know Chenna, we learned that his father was a former Hindu and his mother used to be a Missouri Synod Lutheran. Chenna had been attending church services through a variety of Christian denominations and was looking for a church home in Pewaukee, Wis. My wife and I invited him to join us at Christ Lutheran.

Eventually, Chenna became more like a son to us than just a friend. We walked with him as he grew in his knowledge of the Bible through the course of a Bible information class hosted in our home with one of the pastors. Once he completed the course, Chenna was confirmed and can now join us as we receive assurance of sins forgiven during the Lord’s Supper.

Chenna’s story is a great example of how simply saying hello to someone can lead to a family-like friendship and impact a person’s faith. We pray that as Chenna continues to grow in his faith that he can let the light of Christ shine to his family so that they too can share in the joy of Jesus.

From Pastor Paul, South Asia Ministry Coordinator for WELS Joint Missions

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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 – Bidit

On occasion, I have met WELS members who imagine that the work of a cross-cultural missionary involves learning exotic languages or traveling to far flung places to share the gospel. Usually when people imagine cross-cultural ministry this way, they also imagine that they could never do. At least for me, the reality has been quite the opposite. Let me share an example through the recent work I have been able to do among the Nuer people from South Sudan who live near Vancouver, British Colombia. I don’t have to go anywhere, and I don’t speak the Nuer language (except for one word). I don’t deeply understand the culture. I have never been to South Sudan. Yet God has enabled me to reach a group of about 60 people in this culture. How? By giving to me special gifts in the form of Nuer leaders like Bidit (pronounced Bi-deet).

Like many of the other South Sudanese in our area, Bidit came to Canada as a refugee when he was a young man. He hopes someday to return to his country and serve his people. But for the time being, he has grown up to be the father of five, a leader in his community, and the kind of servant of God who makes my life as a missionary easy. The gospel clearly flows from his heart.

For the sake of his family and their cost of living, Bidit lives over an hour away from our Sudanese mission in a bedroom community of Vancouver. Yet every Sunday, he leaves his house 3 hours before church begins to first bring his family to church. Then he drives around the community picking up other South Sudanese people who need rides to church. He always comes prepared with a case of water and beverages to make people feel welcome at our South Sudanese mission service. After he arrives, Bidit is often the one leading the service in his Nuer language. When the people are talking in Nuer, he will come sit next to me and interpret so I can understand what they are talking about. After the service is over, Bidit will discuss with me who we should visit this week—for example, we came together twice this week to visit a gentleman who was hospitalized with a serious illness. Later, after our weekly chats on the phone, Bidit messages everyone in the South Sudanese community by Facebook to invite them to come to worship again next Sunday. If that weren’t enough, Bidit also just volunteered with Kingdom Workers to spend a month in Ethiopia to advance our gospel ministry among the Nuer people living in refugee camps there.

Do you see how easy this work becomes when God gives you a leader like Bidit? Instead of spending years to learn Nuer culture and language, my job is instead to equip leaders like Bidit,  through programs like the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Instead of trying to organize a congregation in a foreign culture, I only need to prepare a sermon with clear law and gospel. Instead of traveling to Ethiopia, I only need to connect leaders like Bidit with our WELS partners. Through Bidit, hundreds more people are reached with the gospel than if I tried to do this myself. Please keep the lay leaders like Bidit in our cross-cultural ministries in your prayers! For it is through men and women like Bidit that God truly opens doors for the gospel across different languages and cultures.

Written by Rev. Geoff Cortright, home missionary at Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

To learn more about South Sudanese ministry, a WELS Joint Missions ministry, visit wels.net/sudanese.

 

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