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From Theirs to Mine: A Friend’s Journey to Baptism

As a lay evangelist in East Asia, new believers often introduced us to their friends. That was how we met Tom. To get to know Tom, we invited him to basketball and afterwards our Tuesday night Bible study. He gladly joined both. Soon he regularly attended studies, even if there was no basketball. It wasn’t long before he became a good friend.

Tom was smart. When we met, he was getting his PhD in geophysics at a top university in the East Asia. During his doctrinal studies, he published papers in top geophysics journals, in English, his second language.

That said, Tom’s relationship to Christianity always seemed cerebral. As a trained scientist and raised in an atheist culture, Tom merely expressed interest in Christianity, especially in the meaning it gave to people’s lives. But it never seemed to be personal. For Tom, it wasn’t “we believe” but “they believe.” Jesus wasn’t his but theirs.

Fast forward three years. Tom got his PhD and landed a post-doc position in Europe with one of the top researchers in his field. It was time for us to part. I still remember the conversation after our last Bible study. I said something like, “Tom, you’ve come to church and Bible studies for years now. You know who Jesus is and what he’s done. Do you believe it? Do you want to get baptized?” To this, he replied, and I’ll never forget it, “I’m just not ready.” So, sadly, that’s how we parted.

With the distance and life changes, Tom and I drifted apart. Occasionally we’d send a message back and forth, but no real relationship building happened. I heard he’d came back to East Asia and landed a nice job in a big city. Life seemed to be well with him.

Then one day, out of the blue he asked me if I knew any churches in a certain, small coastal city. I asked him if he was visiting that city. He told me he was moving there to teach at a local university. What? It was as if a PhD from Yale, who went to Oxford for a post-doc, worked in Chicago for a time, suddenly decided to teach in rural Montana. I was a little shocked. But I was also profoundly in awe. We did have a local church in that small coastal city (in a country of hundreds of huge cities). Not only that, but it was just blocks from where Tom was going to live. Coincidence?

A few months later, after connecting Tom to the local church, Tom kept coming up in my prayers. Then my wife mentioned him. Then another friend mentioned him. And so, I reasoned, “I’ve got to get in touch with Tom.”

I called him. I called him with the intent of asking him about his baptism, was he any closer to getting baptized? Was he ready? He picked up the phone, we exchanged pleasantries. Then, without prompting, he shot to the point and asked, “Will you come down and baptize me?” Tom went on to tell me that earlier that year his young son nearly died due to a maldeveloped heart valve. Since COVID had just hit the country, Tom and his wife were not even allowed in the hospital during their son’s surgery. Tom told me that the only thing he could hold onto was the hope that Jesus was with him, that God cared for him. So, he said, he remembered the many Bible studies and prayed to God. Some local church members also came to pray with him. Through the experience, Jesus went from being theirs to his.

After talking on the phone, I contacted the local leader who apparently knew Tom wanted me to be there at his baptism. So, just few months ago I got to perform Tom’s baptism. As I look back on this, I can’t help but recall Jesus words, Mark 4:26-27 – He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”

When we scatter the seed, we don’t know how or when it will grow. But we trust the promise and pray to see the fruits of eternal life. Praise be to the God of the Harvest!

Written by a lay evangelist in East Asia.

 

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Faces of Faith – Diosnel

Diosnel Castro Perez is from Curuguaty, a small town in rural Paraguay. He works as a security guard in a ceramic factory just outside of the capital, Asunción. Like many Paraguayans, he can speak Spanish, but his first language is Guaraní. In 2019, Diosnel was searching online to learn more about God. He tried four different Bible training programs, but he didn’t like that their teaching wasn’t based on the Bible. Then he found an Academia Cristo video on YouTube. He signed up for live classes in October 2019. Over the next year, Diosnel finished all 13 courses of the first level of the training program. At times, he was enrolled in three courses at once, “They taught in a way I could understand. It was like a light went on”.

Diosnel was also sharing what he was learning with others: family, friends, coworkers. It even got him in trouble: “My boss told me not to talk religion at work,” he said, “but that didn’t stop me.”

Now, Diosnel is receiving training to plant a church. “What I like about Academia Cristo is they don’t just teach you the Word. They teach you how to teach others.” He already has a group of about ten people that regularly study with him, but he wants it to grow. And he has more plans: “I want to be a missionary one day, to teach God’s Word in other countries.”

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Faces of Faith – Irina, Olga, and Alisa

Irina Yevpak was shocked. She was a young girl growing up in the Soviet Union when she first learned that people die. “Why? Surely science can cure old age and death!” Deep philosophical questions drove Irina through her high school and university years. She studied chemistry and even visited a local church. But she never found peace.

Irina married and had a daughter, Olga. Later, Irina got sick with cancer. The enemy she so dreaded stared her in the face. While standing in line at the clinic, Irina noticed our church’s invitation: “Come study the Bible!” She brought her questions, and God told her everything she wanted to know, and more! Meanwhile, Olga was getting ready for college. She remembers hearing, “You might have three university degrees, but if you’ve never studied the Bible, you’re not educated!” She boldly opened a Bible and began reading, but nothing made sense. Irina noticed Olga’s frustration. “Why not come with me? We can study together.” In December 2002, mother and daughter were both confirmed. Years passed. Olga married and had a daughter, Alisa. Today twelve-year-old Alisa declares, “I don’t even remember becoming a believer!” She has known Jesus her entire life.

The Yevpaks are the first three-generation family in our Russian Lutheran Church. What a blessing when young and old worship together! Irina no longer fears death. Olga treasures God’s mercy. Alisa loves her Savior. The Yevpaks have good news to share with others – including the next generation!

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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 – Ali

Ali was the imam at a mosque for a village in a Muslim nation. He chanted the Koran (the Muslim holy book) for the five daily calls to prayer over the mosque’s loudspeakers and conducted worship services. Two Muslim-background Christians came to him and shared the first verse of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Later they shared Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Ali said, “When I listened, I became excited. There is a person who forgives sins? Who is this? In the Koran I do not see a Savior.” In Jesus, Ali found rest for his soul.

Soon the people learned their imam had converted to Christianity. People became angry, and a mob of 300 came to the mosque to burn him alive. Before they arrived, he went behind the mosque and prayed with his face to the ground, “Jesus, if it is your will, save me. If it is not, I know you will take me to heaven.” Inexplicably, the mob changed their mind and allowed him to live. However, they cast him out of the village and took his property. Today Ali is a pastor studying with us in our Bible Institute. He loves the clear Biblical teaching WELS provides.

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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 – Luke

By God’s grace, Luke was born into a Christian family in East Asia. His grandparents were Christian missionaries, and both his parents were involved in gospel ministry. Luke looks back at the church of his youth and says, “God blessed me so richly there!”

After college and four years of work, Luke came to the United States in 2009 and entered a seminary training program on the east coast. In 2011 he married Wenjing, a WELS Lutheran from Minnesota. They moved to North Carolina where Luke learned two things: the importance of sound doctrine and the need for faithful pastors for Chinese churches. Luke and Wenjing and their two children moved to the Des Moines, Iowa, area in 2016 and joined Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church. A year later Luke began studying with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Throughout his studies, Luke has continued to grow in his love of sound doctrine and gospel-centered ministry. And the family has grown to five.

At the beginning of 2021, Luke accepted a part-time call to serve in a WELS-affiliated organization that is equipping ministry leaders in East Asia. Luke is scheduled to graduate from the PSI program in May of 2022. Anticipating full-time ministry, Luke says, “I feel compelled to preach the gospel. God has prepared me for serving in his glorious church.”

From Bradley Wordell, Pastoral Studies Institute professor

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Faces of Faith – Belachew

I am Belachew Ensermu from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I believed in our Lord, Jesus Christ, as my Savior when I was in high school. After I graduated from the university with a degree in educational psychology, I joined the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekan Yesus (EECMY) to work in child and youth care ministry. I have worked in various levels in the church’s youth ministry for more than 20 years. Beside my work, I am serving my Lord in my congregation as an elder and preaching the gospel. I am married and have four children.

These days many go against the Holy Scripture, and that is why I was searching for confessional Biblical teaching. I found that the TELL method is the best way to understand the learn the work of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I was first introduced to TELL through Missionary John Hartmann on the One Africa Team, and I then participated with TELL live courses, which were taught by TELL Missionary Dan Laitinen and Pastor Nate Seiltz. The TELL courses are very helpful for Christian maturity and mission, and I highly recommend them to all Christians.

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Faces of Faith – Brother Liu

Jonathan Liu was once a blackbelt in Taekwondo and a master with the num-chuks. He was so good at it that he ran his own dojang (Taekwondo school) and taught nun chuck lessons to other dojang owners. Now his num-chuks collect dust in a corner, and he sold his dojang. Why? He has found a new passion (or rather it found him): the gospel. Just as Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” (Matthew 6:21) so young Jonathan left behind his future in Taekwondo to share with others the treasure he has in Christ. He is now a leader in a growing church and a full-time Asia Lutheran Seminary student. The East Asia Missions team has the privilege of serving over a dozen men like Jonathan. We praise our Lord for such an honor!

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Faces of Faith – Kue

In 2002, Kue heard from a villager that there was a God who was more powerful than the shaman and any other gods. She had so many questions and wanted to know more, but no one could really explain this God to her. She knew nothing about being saved by grace through faith in Jesus. A few years later, she married the son of a church leader in a village nearby. She was able to read the Bible in her own language for the first time, as owning a Bible was illegal in her village. She began to understand more, but she still had many questions about her faith and eternal salvation in Christ. All she understood was that doing good would please God. She knew she wasn’t perfect. She was frustrated, but she never gave up. She kept reading her Bible and praying to God daily.

In 2013, church leaders selected her to attend WELS training in Hanoi, Vietnam. They wanted her to bring back the message they had heard from other students: sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not through good deeds. This was very strange compared to what other pastors had said.

Today Kue is very strong in her faith and knows she is saved by God’s grace alone. The women from nearby villages seek her guidance in the Scriptures. Because of this she has been appointed to be a leader of the motherhood in her district. She and her husband have traveled to many villages to conduct training for the Hmong ladies in Northern Vietnam. Through her dedication, many people have been moved by the Holy Spirit to believe that Christ is their Lord and Savior. Kue said, “I thought I chose God, but instead he chose me. I am happier now that I know that. I ask God to give me the strength to serve him, my family, and my congregation faithfully.” She also asks the brothers and sisters in the WELS to keep her family in their prayers. “Thank you for bringing the true Christ to the people in Vietnam,” she added.

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Faces of Faith – Marietta

Marietta Chapman is the lead Kindergarten teacher at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School located on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. She grew up in Bylas, Ariz., and attended the East Fork Lutheran School her freshman and sophomore years of high school. She was planning to pursue a business degree in college, but God led her in a different direction. Throughout college she remembers returning home to help with her local Sunday school classes and vacation Bible school. At that time, although she didn’t know it, God had put a spark of joy in her heart to work with children. This led her to change her major to education and she was able to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Out of love for her community, she decided to move home and put her degree to use. After working 10 years in a public-school system, God opened a door for her to teach at Peridot-Our Savior’s. She says that she loves teaching children about God’s Word and is happy to be a part of making a positive impact in a place she’ll always consider home. Marietta considers herself blessed to be able to pursue her passion in her everyday life. Sometimes we don’t know what our passion is in life; but if we put it in God’s hands, he will guide us on the right path. Her story is a clear example of how being faithful to the Lord will give you a prosperous life.

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Faces of Faith – Julius

Civil unrest between the English-speaking regions and the French-speaking government in Cameroon has caused chaos the past four years. Many churches have closed as members have run from their homes and begun life in the forests, and COVID has added to the difficulties.

But opportunities always exist. A little over a year ago, Dr. Julius Nkwetta reached out to the WELS One Africa Team for training and mentoring. He has been studying Catechism lessons online with Missionary Dan Kroll. Dr. Nkwetta lives and works inside the French-speaking region to where many English speakers have fled. He has started an English-speaking congregation, but he has also opened a French-speaking church where he is helped by a dictionary and translators to share the gospel. In addition to starting small groups in nearby villages, he is also working on plans to teach students from the local high school and university on the topic of morality, with the aim of sharing Christ as the Savior from sin.

Other local churches are surprised with his success. They hand out rice and soap to bring people into their churches. They asked Dr. Nkwetta what he is using to convince the people. He tells them, “The answer is simply that the people are converted by the true Word of God.”

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Faces of Faith – Tsamzo

Tsamzo Lubwe has served as a maintenance worker at Mwalaulomwe clinic in Malawi since 2011. He was born into a Christian family in 1980 in a village near Lilongwe, Malawi. He attended an African church until 1994 when he started attending the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) when it opened a church in Mwalaulomwe.

As an elder of his church, he often provides a Bible lesson, prayer, and blessing before clinic opens. What a joy it is to hear God’s praises before the clinic opens each day! His daily duties include organizing patients into clinic space and weighing patients. He ensures visitors are socially distanced and wearing masks, and he cleans our clinic building and church areas used for malaria testing each clinic day to ensure these spaces are organized, clean, and ready for next week’s clinic. He is the adventurous one who climbs on and off the ambulance to load and unload all the supplies each clinic day. When asked what gives him joy in his work, he stated that people can come for medical services at a low cost compared to other private clinics. He enjoys that he can let his Christian faith to show in his work, and that people see Christ’s love in action through the care received at clinic. His favorite Bible passage is Hebrews 13:6, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

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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 – Brother Peter

Before our church found Lutheranism, there were constant religious disputes within the church. The truth was unclear, and it brought great losses to believers and their lives. We were learning to pray to God, and we asked him to enable us to understand his truth and provide a place to learn. God provided a Lutheran brother from a different area to teach us English. One of the members of our church met him by chance, and he came to our church to help us. At the same time, I met Dave, another Lutheran who came here to preach for more than a year at our church. He lived in a different region and served as an English teacher. He saw the problems at our church and was willing to help us. He taught us Law and Gospel and helped us understand why our church was so confused. Many church members felt guilty and dared not speak out, but Dave made us more aware of the preciousness of God’s salvation. He continued to preach the gospel and brought many believers to the church. Because of him, a lot of people believe Jesus. Dave also introduced Asia Lutheran Seminary (ALS) to us, and he recommended that I study at ALS. Dave helped us for seven years before going back to the United States. However, I know that he is not resting. He is still preaching the gospel, leading groups, and bringing more souls to know our God.

I learned a lot of truth from Bible and knowledge that I didn’t know before when I enrolled in the Diploma of Christian Studies program through ALS. I got to know the ALS faculty and the dedication and love of the teachers. I truly felt a spirit of humility and dedication in them. In order not to delay our study, ALS also asked other bilingual ALS students to teach us. I am very grateful!

Although COVID affected our learning process, we are seeing that Asia Lutheran Seminary is also working hard to help us in various ways. They provided a Chinese-speaking teacher (an East Asia missionary) who is helping and encouraging me to continue preaching the gospel. May God bless the missionaries, teachers, and my classmates at ALS so that they can be filled with God’s love and increase their ability to serve!

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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 – Ibrahim

My name is Ibrahim. My wife is Sara, a Sunday School teacher. I was born in a Christian family, but I left my hometown to find a government job in a big city. I started living in a Christian community with 20 families, but there was no church. Sometimes evangelists came, but they only spent 5-7 minutes reading one verse from the Bible and left quickly. The people had no Christian education. Some believed in Hindu gods and some believed in the Muslim faith. Very quickly I forgot the Christian teaching from my childhood. When my future-wife, Sara, began the Lutheran Sunday School in our village, it was a tremendous blessing. We all started learning regularly about our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Sunday School brought great joy to the children—and to me. What the children learn in Sunday School, they take home and tell their families. I, too, share what I learn with my friends and neighbors.

Before we started the Sunday School our Christian community had no interaction with the Muslim community at all. Eight Muslim families and their children are now a part of our Sunday School. Sometimes it seems the Muslims love to learn about Jesus more than we do. This is a big miracle. We are thankful to the WELS for reaching out to us. God bless our synod.

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Faces of Faith – Brother Sun

A computer screen. That’s what one brother saw for weeks as he had to remain at home during the outbreak of COVID-19. No seeing each other face-to-face, no meeting together, no study time, no going out to eat, no services, no work. What will happen to the Bible study group? What will happen to the members if they can’t worship? Brother Sun responded to the situation with home: “I am thankful for this time at home. I can focus on my family, and I can study his Word. I wake up and study for as long as I want, then in the afternoon I study again. And in the evening, I meet my brothers and sisters online and we study and worship together. I have so much time to focus on these important things. I am thankful.” And he wasn’t the only one: dozens upon dozens of our contacts in East Asia have been worshiping, praying, and studying together online. Amidst such trials, God has given them and our East Asia missions team a special time to focus on his Word and see how he cares for us through every challenge.

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Faces of Faith – Alexei

You met Russian seminary student, Andre Gydkov, in a different Faces of Faith story (wels.net/faces-of-faith-andre). That story continues. . .

In the late 1990s, 18-year-old Andre moved from Kazakhstan to a farming village in southwest Siberia. Here he met Alexei Yryanski. Together they participated in the only pastimes available to young men: sports and troublemaking. After escaping his schoolbooks, Alexei took a job as a blacksmith and discovered a passion for forging metal. With enormous effort, Alexei managed to open his own shop where he still crafts custom furniture, railings, and weathervanes for wealthy clients. In spite of his talent, Alexei lived in darkness. His marriage failed. Dishonest people stole from him. Andre had moved away to Novosibirsk. Life was dark and joyless. Then in December 2012, Andre returned home, and the two friends talked. Alexei shared his troubles while Andre listened sympathetically. Then Andre said, “You’ll never guess what’s happened to me.” That evening Andre shared the Savior with his friend. “Go home and read, yes, READ the gospel of Mark.” Alexei’s story is a miracle. He did read Mark—and was overwhelmed by Jesus’ love! But this story is not a perfect fairy tale. Since becoming a Christian, Alexei has struggled with many ups and downs. But the faithful Lord Jesus holds Andre and Alexei in his mighty arms. And lately Alexei has noticed his mother’s reading glasses lying next to the family Bible. . . and the story continues!

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Faces of Faith – Jackson

CAMM has been operating a clinic in Mwembezhi, Zambia, for almost 60 years. God has allowed the Zambia clinic to be operated and staffed completely by Zambian nationals since 2008. This staff is led by Jackson Kalekwa who has been on the clinic staff for over 35 years! Jackson grew up in Luchele Village, very close to the Mwembezhi clinic. He was a recipient of the Althea Sauer Scholarship program through CAMM and received his diploma in Clinical Medicine. He started his employment as a Laboratory Technician and advanced to his current position of Clinical Officer in Charge. While he enjoys seeing and counseling the patients, a challenge has been ensuring that the clinic is up to date with government standards. In Jackson’s free time, he farms over 20 acres of land which produce maize and soybeans. He is still an active member of Martin Luther Church, where he was baptized, and enjoys socializing with the many people he is blessed to be around. He sees a strong correlation between the patients visiting us and being able to help bring God’s Word to them. The Lutheran church sits next to the clinic, and each day daily devotions are held prior to clinic opening. He is amazed by all the blessings God has given to him through working at the clinic.

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Faces of Faith – Zoilo

Zoilo Vidal lives in Quevedo, a city about 5 hours away from Quito, Ecuador. He has a small farm with about 9 acres of different fruit trees. In May 2019, Zoilo signed up for online Bible courses on the Academia Cristo website. He connected to the classes twice a week and absolutely loved them. “I knew I was in the right spot from the very first session, when the teacher kept repeating, ‘Let’s go to the Bible for the answer.’” He was so overjoyed about the classes that he sent our missionaries in Quito a gift: two boxes filled with 66 pounds of oranges, watermelon, and papaya. The gospel produces. . . fruits!

By God’s grace, Zoilo continues in the classes. He has downloaded our new Academia Cristo app and excitedly calls the local missionary every time he finishes a new self-study level. He finished the first two levels in 10 days—An Introduction to the Bible and Forgiveness. We pray that all the resources be a great benefit for him, his family, and his neighbors.

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Faces of Faith – Michael

In the mid-1990s, the Lord blessed Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI) with its first generation of ordained pastors. One of the first men ordained was Pastor Michael. After serving his Savior Jesus steadfastly for many years, he was called to his eternal rest a few years ago. Around the same time of Pastor Michael’s retirement, God sent “the second Michael” to GLI. In a short time, it became clear to the faculty at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (the seminary of GLI) that this Michael was blessed with many academic qualities. He has a knack for Greek, Hebrew, and English, and he went above and beyond during his 3-year vicar program by serving a congregation and assisting in GLI’s publications program. Vicar Michael was accepted into the Pastoral Studies Institute program, which allowed him to take classes at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. In addition to honing his linguistic skills, he also sat in on courses in Christian doctrine, sermon preparation, education, etc. One seminary student responded: “I am in some classes with him. He is always raising his hand and asking questions!” GLI plans to put Michael’s time and talents to use at the seminary in Indonesia. As an instructor, he will help prepare future generations of called workers. Please keep our soon to be Pastor Michael, “the second Michael” in your prayers!

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