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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 – 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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Faces of Faith – Carmelita

Carmelita says, “My story is hard and ugly, but it’s certainly changed now!” Carmelita married a Lutheran man who took her to church where she learned of Jesus, her Savior. It was wonderful to know Jesus loved her! As life went on, Carmelita got lost in the world. Her life often revolved around drinking too much and hanging out with non-Christian friends, all while raising her children in a sometimes-difficult marriage. Deep down in her heart there was still a little ember of faith. She left God, but he didn’t leave her! One day she woke up and realized it was time to get out of the insanity and find out more about Jesus. She knew she needed help. She ran to her Lutheran pastor to get this power to change from God’s Word. She was finally listening to the Word. She did not want to lose this faith but to live it! More troubles came, but she ran to fellow Christians and activities to hear God’s words and stay in the faith. She exclaims, “I’m so embarrassed because I am not strong, not at all. . . but my God is strong and through Him, my faith is strong. I am happy to be in Lutheran Bible classes and church activities that are full of love here on the San Carlos Apache Reservation!”

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Faces of Faith – Ann

My name is Ann Simi Dung, and I am from Nigeria. I was brought up in a Christian background, but I encountered Christ in 2000. I became a missionary with Youth with a Mission and I’m also a gospel artist and a song writer. TELL and their Facebook page has been a great blessing to me and everyone around me. Since the day I found TELL, my life has not been the same. It has expanded my spiritual understanding in Christ Jesus and has brought me closer to God. TELL has made the Bible so easy to comprehend. It gives a very simple explanation of who God is and what he desires of us. Pastor Dan Laitinen, TELL Missionary, has given me so much love and encouragement. I prayed and fasted for a week, asking God to send someone who is deeply rooted in the word of God to train and encourage me. God has answered my prayers. I have the zeal to work for Jesus, and I am committing myself to winning souls for Jesus my Savior. With TELL, it will be much easier to reach out to the whole world.

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Faces of Faith – Januario

Januario is both a long time Lutheran member and our hardworking contact in Mozambique. He’s got an active love for the Lord’s work in both his local congregation and in his special role in helping the Lutheran Church in Central Africa—Malawi (LCCA) become registered as a Foreign Religious Organization in Mozambique. The registration process has been long and tedious and is still underway. He is a wonderful blessing as we’ve been walking the registration journey together. We are, after all, in his territory! His first language is Portuguese, and he’s just as fluent in Chichewa. These are two big assets when it comes to important relationships, loads of paperwork, and complicated discussions in the Mozambique Ministry of Religious Affairs offices. When he’s not traipsing around the country facilitating the registration process, Januario is doing social work in a national organization in Mozambique. He loves to help the elderly, the orphans and the disabled. Januario and his wife Justina have 10 children. Please continue to pray for Januario, his family, and the work of registering the LCCA with the Mozambique government!

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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 – 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 – 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 – Matthew Cephus

“We have not received the true gospel. Will you oversee us?” begged the caller from Liberia, Africa to Matthew Cephus in Champlin, Minn.

Matthew Cephus sharing the gospel in Liberia

“I couldn’t say ‘No.’” reports Pastor Cephus, who at the time was newly enrolled in the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program. He saw this as an opportunity from God to share the teachings he was receiving in the United States with the leaders of 27 congregations in Liberia. “They are faithful to what they know,” says Pastor Cephus, “but, they have received little to no training.” Since that time, Pastor Cephus, Pastor Dennis Klatt (Matthew’s Anglo partner), the Pastoral Studies Institute, and One Africa Team missionaries have made three teaching visits to build up and encourage this group of pastors who are eager to grow in the knowledge of God’s word and become better equipped to shepherd the souls under their care. Pastor Cephus, himself a Liberian immigrant, shepherds a flock consisting primarily of African immigrant families that gathers at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, in New Hope, Minn.

Training visits to Liberia to have been taking place since 2016 involving our missionaries, stateside pastors, and the Pastoral Studies Institute to two groups in Liberia. In 2019, one trip has already been made and one more will be made in November 2019. Three more trips are being planned for 2020. To learn more about African outreach in Liberia and 5 other African countries, visit wels.net/africa.

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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 – Pastor Marinagaba, Rwanda

God used Google to bring WELS missionaries to Rwanda, a tiny country in the heart of Africa with a dark past and a bright future. Rev. Jean Claude Marinagaba, the leader of the Reformed Lutheran Church of Rwanda (RLCR) had learned about Martin Luther while he was a student at Westminster Presbyterian Seminary in Uganda, and he wanted to connect with Luther’s true spiritual heirs. Most church bodies that still use the name “Lutheran” have unfastened their teachings from the Reformation’s moorings of sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura and the Lutheran Confessions, the historical documents that established the Biblical teachings of the Lutheran Church. A Google search of “confessional Lutherans” led Rev. Marinagaba to the website of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, a mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) located 8,000 miles away in Brisbane, Australia.

So what did ELS Missionary Daniel Finn think when he received an email from a stranger living halfway around the world?

“Jean Claude seemed sincere in his desire to learn how to be more Lutheran,” writes Missionary Finn. In justifying his own expenditure of time and effort working in a mission field so far away, Missionary Finn says, “I began to think of ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ in terms of having Jesus’ permission to go to Rwanda. That is, Rwanda is a nation. So, it’s included in ‘all nations.’  Our Lord told us that we canand shouldgo to all nations. I knew was that there was this guy (Jean Claude) asking that somebody from our fellowship would visit him and help him. Nobody else was going. So…  I figured ‘Why not me?’ I knew that I wasn’t the most qualified man to make this trip, but I figured that I had to be better qualified than nobody.”

From left to right: Rev. Bernard, Rev. Birner (WELS missionary to Zambia), Rev. Maniragaba, Rev. Shamachona (LCCA-Zambia pastor), Rev. Finn (ELS Missionary in Australia), and Rev. Felicien.

And so the Fond du Lac, Wis., native turned missionary to “Down Under” struck up a long-distance correspondence with Rev. Marinagaba in 2016. Their relationship blossomed, and one year later on a trip back to the United States, Missionary Finn made a side trip to Rwanda. He also reached out to his like-minded confessional Lutherans, WELS missionaries stationed in Africa, and offered to introduce them to Rev. Marinagaba and the RLCR. Missionary Phil Birner and Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Zambia (LCCA-Z) Rev. Forward Shamachona met up with Missionary Finn in Kigali, Rwanda, in September of 2017. The three of them traveled to the city of Nygatare, Rwanda, and spent a week visiting various congregations of the RLCR and teaching Rev. Marinagaba and his fellow church leaders about the history of the Lutheran church and Confessions. Since Rwanda is a French-speaking country, and only Rev. Marinagaba speaks English, an interpreter had to translate all of the lessons for the rest of those present.

Missionary Birner made a second trip to Rwanda in August of 2018. Joining him were LCCA-Z Rev. Chibi Simweeleba and WELS Pastor James Krause, who speaks French. The three of them gave presentations on the Sacraments and the worker training program of the LCCA. Observing that more intensive training would be useful, the One Africa Team formally invited Rev. Marinagaba to attend the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia, for one year, but he declined to leave his family and his congregations for such a long time. Rev. Marinagaba agreed to attend a Multi-Language Publications conference in Lusaka last August, but was involved in a traffic accident just before the conference began and was unable to travel. Please pray for his swift recovery, and the ability for WELS to strengthen its connection with RLCR, where an altar to the Lord is being built in the heart of Africa.

To learn more about African outreach in Rwanda and 5 other African countries, visit wels.net/africa.

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Faces of Faith – Fang

I met Pastor Fang for the first time in 2012. He and a few other leaders from the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC)  gathered with me in a small hotel room in Hanoi, Vietnam. We spent a few days together studying the Word of God, quietly, so as not to attract attention. Then the men left to their villages.

Fang was a very polite and humble student in my class, but he challenged me with all kinds of questions about Scripture and leadership. At that time I seemed like a baby pastor to them, compared to many other Hmong pastors who preached their philosophies, ideologies and traditions. For almost two years, Fang and I confronted each other in the classroom on a regular basis. He thought that my teaching—that sinners are saved by grace alone—was not based on the Bible. His reasoning was that if sinners are saved by grace alone, it is too simple and can’t be trusted. It’s like giving a math test of 1+1 = ? to university students. He said, “Sinners need to cooperate in their salvation by doing good and living a holy life.” He added, “None of the other Hmong pastors teach like you. They all teach that if we are good, God will love us, and we earn our salvation through our own merits.” Even so, he kept coming to my training – thanks to God.

In June 2014, Fang came to me and said, “Pastor Lor, I apologize for being angry with you and even labeling you as a cult preacher. Now, I totally admit that sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Throughout my ministry, I’ve tried so hard to please God with good works. I thought that I could be saved through them. But the harder I tried, the more distant from God I felt. The more guilty I felt. I also gave many rules to my members. After two years of studying with you, I have been moved by the Holy Spirit to believe that I am saved through faith in Christ alone.”

Salvation by grace alone means a lot to Fang. He told me that since his members understood grace, they are more active in the church’s activities and more confident in their outreach to their community. Now they can say that they are saved and that they are children of God. Before that, they were hesitant to witness that they were saved because they weren’t sure that they were good enough to be saved.

Pastor Fang’s funeral

Last October, I was invited to preach for the Hmong National Conference in Lai Cau. More than 1,000 people attended the conference. Fang and his wife, Yong, came to me. She said, “Pastor, I appreciate your hard work and how you trained my husband in the word of God. He is now a better husband and is a more caring pastor to his members.” I asked his wife, “How so?” She said, “The love of God motivates my husband to love us more. He was a man of traditions, but now he has a gentle and humble heart.” I told her, “Praise God for his love and mercy! And continue to support your husband’s ministry.”

Sadly, on July 18, 2019, Fang was taken home to his Lord. He was on a trip to assist another family who had lost a loved one just two days earlier. He preached for several hours under a hot sun, and then he was invited to stay with a family for the night. Early in the morning when the lady was done cooking, she called out for everyone to come to breakfast. Fang didn’t answer the call. The man of the family went to wake him up. We still don’t know the cause of his death.

He will be missed by many, especially his fellow workers in Vietnam. His associate called me hours after his death, “Pastor Lor, Pastor Fang passed away this morning. It was a tremendous lost to the congregations in this area because he served his Lord and members from his heart. We all miss him a lot. We know that you will miss him too.” Through his ministry, the Holy Spirit brought many to believe in Jesus. He was a model of faith not only to his members, but also to the community near and far in Northern Vietnam. Both he and his wife worked so hard in their rice field to make sure that they could serve their family and members. He told me, “Pastor, I am not rich but I thank God that he gives me the strength to work in my rice field so that I can support my family and do the work that my Lord has entrusted to me.” I remember one day, after a break from long hours of training, he brought me a well-cooked whole chicken and said, “Pastor, my wife and I thank you for sharing the word of God with us. We have nothing to pay you, so we brought you this chicken.” I didn’t know what to say, so I split the chicken and ate it with him and the other students. That was one of the most enjoyable moments in my life. I ate the chicken with tears in my heart.

More than 600 people, both the Christian and non-Christian community, attended Fang’s funeral. I thank God that he knew the truth that he was saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. No doubt he could have accomplished much more if he had lived longer, but God knows what is best for him and his family. Now, he is united with the saints in heaven, safely in the arms of our Heavenly Father. He is protected by our Lord Jesus Christ. He has no more tears, and he suffers no more persecution due to his faith in Christ. No more worries about his rice field so that he can take good care of his family and members. Peace is his in Christ forever!

Brothers and sisters, let’s remind ourselves daily that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Grace may not mean much to some of us, but for Fang, it was his only hope: his only hope in Jesus. He was willing to endure hardships for the sake of the gospel so that he could bring it to lost souls—sinners saved by grace through faith alone in Christ. God gives us the best treasure, so let’s share our best treasure to all nations, tribes, and languages through our prayers and stewardship.

Thank you for supporting the training in Hanoi, and please continue to pray for your brothers and sisters in Vietnam.

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

 

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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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Pastor Zang

Pastor Zang Lou is 54 years old, and serves as one of the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC). He and his wife Pai Chang have 5 children – their extended family has 22 members, including 12 grandchildren. In 2011, Pastor Zang found Rev. Bounkeo Lor’s online sermons and invited him to train 60 leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Hanoi, Vietnam. This is his story: 

I thank God for everything that he has given me and because he has called me to faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

In 1987, when I was 22 years old, I was invited by the government to serve my country as a policeman. I served as a policeman for six years. During that time the gospel came to my country, and many people were led to believe in Jesus. One week after many became Christian, the government sent me to investigate: to find out why so many people left their Hmong traditions to believe in Jesus. During my investigation, the believers told me that they left their tradition to believe in the Savior, Jesus Christ. Then I told them that if they believe in the Savior and the One that has power to rescue the Hmong from the hands of the devil, I will go back and explain this to the government.

That night when I slept, a man dressed in white and bright clothes came to me in vision and said, “Lou, I call you to believe in me. I am the Lord who chose you to lead my people and to train them in my Word.” When I woke up early in the morning, I told my father that this vision was very important. My father allowed me to believe in Jesus, and the whole family became Christian.

After this event, the government found out that I had become a Christian. They started to find ways to trick me and persecute me and the believers. But we stood firm in our faith, and we asked God to help us overcome the persecution. The power of God and the Holy Spirit gave me the courage and strength to endure persecution. I encouraged the Hmong brothers and sisters to believe in Jesus. In a short time, many more people in many other villages also were led to believe in Jesus. In 1994, we were eager to find someone to baptize us.

I went to Hanoi and to Laos to learn more about the Word of God from Pastor Jouangwa Lor, one of my distant relatives. He baptized me and prayed for me. He also showed me how to baptize others so that I could return to my home town and baptize the people in my area. When I returned, I shared the Word of God with the people in my area and baptized 350 -400 people per day. Many people in northern Vietnam sought me to learn more about the Word of God, and so that I could encourage them and protect them from the government authority. Many times, the government wanted to put me into prison, but I overcame their evil authority with prayer. I strongly believed that God was with me, to protect me and the believers. In 1995 as the believers grew stronger, we start to form congregations in the area, and we appointed leaders to oversee the congregations. In 1993 to 1995, I trained the leaders and baptized more than 6,000 people. Most of our training sessions were done on farms or in the jungle.

I served the government until 2002. The government pressured me to renounce my faith. They gave me the choice of two documents to sign—the first one was to renounce my faith, continue my tradition, and serve the government. The second was to believe in Jesus but lose my position in the government. At that time, the power of God and the Holy Spirit led me to sign the document to believe in Jesus and to lose my position in the government. I refused to renounce my faith. But I told them that there was nothing wrong with believing in Jesus. I praise God that He protected me. The government did not dare to do any harm to me even though I signed the document to continue to believe in Jesus. Since then, they asked me to leave my position in the government.

I work hard to serve the believers. In 2004, the believers in my area were so hungry to learn the Word of God and to receive some training to be recognized by the Vietnamese government as workers for the church. We turned to Vietnamese pastors, but they did not truly guide us in the Word of God. We received training from them many times, but we kept learning the same thing over and over. We were very confused about the Word of God.

I praise God that in 2011 I met Pastor Bounkeo Lor. In 2014, Pastor Smith and Lor came to Vietnam together to teach us the Word of God. We asked them to do more training for the brothers in Vietnam. They told us that God can do everything, let’s continue to pray. Even though we only met them a few times, we started to love the teaching from the Lutheran church. The teaching of the Lutherans is the wisdom of God. According to Romans 10:12, when people hear the Word of God, people are brought to believe in Jesus.

I and the Hmong leaders in Vietnam are willing to serve our God without pay. We know that God is the heart for our lives, and the root of life for every soul that believes in him. And he gives us peace for both body and soul. I praise God for my brothers and sisters in the blood of Jesus and in his name that you have helped and supported the work in Vietnam. I will continue to love and serve my God more for the people in Vietnam. Our Hmong brothers really need more training. We ask you to pray for us. I also thank God that he opens the door more for church activities in Vietnam.

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