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Confessions of faith: Heerema

A family finds faith, forgiveness, and their church home. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

They hadn’t lost their faith, but the light of the gospel had grown dim in their hearts. 

“We were just stumbling along,” says Tracy Heerema, of her and her husband, Daniel. 

But they regained their footing—and the light burned brighter—when they started attending a small church right in their neighborhood that has a big heart and a big message of Christ’s love and forgiveness for all sinners.  

“It just felt like home,” says Tracy about Prince of Peace, Flower Mound, Tex.  

And it became their home. 

Shopping for churches 

Lutheran teachings were nothing new to Tracy; she was raised in the Lutheran church until the age of 11. But then her parents switched religions to Mormonism, and Tracy says she stopped going to church after her father died when she was 15 years old. 

“I don’t think I ever truly didn’t believe in my heart that Christ was my Savior,” she says, “but I wasn’t interested in organized religion.” 

When she and her husband got married and started having children, they realized that the spiritual part of their marriage was missing. “We felt like church was important,” she says, “so we bounced around from church to church to church.” 

But something was always lacking in the churches they visited. “I just never felt like I belonged,” says Tracy. “When they say that everything is bigger in Texas, they’re not lying. Most of the churches are huge and overwhelming; to me it felt like it was all about money and show as compared to real community.”  

Daniel had grown up jumping from church to church while his parents searched for a congregation they liked. He didn’t want that for his family, especially when their church searching wasn’t going well. 

So they stopped looking. “We were burnt out,” says Tracy. “We just didn’t make it a huge priority.” For the most part, religion was reduced to a mention of Jesus at Easter and Christmas. 

Making a connection 

When their oldest child was 7, Tracy noticed that Prince of Peace, a church she walked by frequently in her neighborhood, was offering vacation Bible school for the community. “I remembered how much fun I used to have a VBS during the summer when I was growing up,” says Tracy. She and Daniel decided to send their son. “That was when I was first introduced to Prince of Peace,” she remembers. 

A short time later she met Brad Taylor, pastor at Prince of Peace, and his wife, Molly, socially at the school their children all attended. Tracy had just had her second child, and Molly invited her to attend Mornings with Mommy, an outreach program that offers activities for young children to do with their parents, at the church. Tracy started attending the program. 

After she had her third child, Prince of Peace began offering Power Hour as well. This program focused more on sharing God’s Word to parents and their children through Bible studies and activities. Parents were also invited to a parenting class offered by Pastor Taylor. Tracy naturally transitioned into attending Power Hour with her children along with the Mornings with Mommy sessions. 

“During Power 4 Parenting, the 30-minute Bible class that Pastor has, his message and the way he presented everything was so a-ha, so natural,” says Tracy. “It wasn’t like anything else I had heard in any of the other churches my husband and I had tried.” 

Tracy says that during that time she and Daniel were struggling with some marital problems. The messages she was hearing at the parenting class really began to resonate with her. 

“One day, I just said, ‘I am going to try Sunday services,’ ” says Tracy.  

She continues, “When I got to Prince of Peace and started hearing the message, it was like a light bulb went off. I thought, Hey, I know this. I remember this. That was what was missing going to all those other churches—the message didn’t resonate. It was too watered down, too taken out of context. I didn’t feel like it was right.” 

Tracy says that after she and the kids attended services at Prince of Peace for a couple of weeks, her husband noticed a change in her—a change that sparked his interest. He decided to go too. 

“Once he heard Pastor’s sermons, that was it,” says Tracy. “It was just so true; there was no crazy fluff. It felt like home. It was not a big, huge megachurch. It was traditional hymns and the reading of the Scriptures. . . . It didn’t need any of the pomp and circumstance because it was just the truth. My husband had the same reaction to it. He couldn’t wait for the next Sunday.” 

The Heeremas started Foundations of Faith classes and were confirmed in May 2017. Now they are volunteering at the same community events that first introduced them to Prince of Peace. 

Finding forgiveness 

Tracy says she notices many positive changes since their family started attending Prince of Peace. Their marriage is getting stronger, and the family now talks about their Savior on a regular basis. “With the kids, we can definitely help them to understand what it means to be a child of God,” she says. 

She continues, “This has been a huge blessing to our marriage for the two of us to go through this journey together. We both know we’re going to stumble; we’re going to fall. But as long as we continue to remember that Jesus died for all our sins, we can wake up tomorrow and try a little harder.” 

Having that message of forgiveness back in the forefront—a message she had learned long ago in her youth—is something that Tracy cherishes. “I just remember feeling a great sense of comfort knowing that I was flawed and that it is okay to be flawed because Jesus died to wash away all my sins. 

“It’s been a blessing. It made me feel like everything has come full circle.” 

They found their home. 


Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ. 


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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Ally

After worrying for years that she was carrying sins from her family’s past, a woman learns of God’s full and free forgiveness.

Rachel Hartman

Anny Ally spent some of her early years in an orphanage in Rwanda. Today she lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, but she has also had another drastic change in her life. After being born into a Muslim family, Ally is now a Christian who clings to the comfort found in Jesus’ words. She says “For some reason, God has given me a different life, and I don’t want to take that life for granted. I just want to serve him.”

Starting out in Africa

“I grew up in Rwanda, and I lived with my mom and dad,” Ally recalls. Both of her parents, as well as her surrounding family members, were Muslim.

In 1994, when Ally was still a young girl, about 800,000 Rwandans were killed in a span of one hundred days. Both of Ally’s parents died during the genocide. “I ended up going to the orphanage home,” says Ally. The place was called Noel de Nyundo.

Ally stayed at the orphanage until she was ten years old. Then she left with a woman who took her to the neighboring country of Uganda, where she ended up in a refugee camp.

“I grew up considering myself Muslim,” she says. She read the Koran and studied Islam since her parents had been Muslim and she felt she should learn about it.

Ally also visited churches while in Uganda. At one, she found people inside praying for others. “The pastor said everyone had a problem, and they could pray for you—if you have a problem, that’s going to solve it,” she remembers. “I was 14, and the pastor started praying for me. Everyone went down to pray, and he reached for me and pushed my head forward. He told me I had demons.”

The incident left Ally wondering why she had demons inside of her. Familiar with a common teaching that children can end up paying for the wrongs of their parents, Ally worried about her family’s past. “In Africa they say if parents do something, it comes back through the children,” Ally says. “My parents died when I was young, so I didn’t know what they had done.”

Another church she attended had members who appeared to speak in tongues. It seemed everyone there had something special, except Ally. “I said, ‘Okay, maybe God doesn’t like me. Everyone has a gift—some had a gift of a spirit, others can talk in tongues—and I have nothing at all.”

The event left her anxious. “When I was in Africa, I thought that sins were not the same,” she says. “There were some that God forgives and some that God cannot forgive.” She was taught that seemingly small sins, such as lying, could be forgiven. More serious sins, such as murder, were said to be unforgivable.

That teaching coupled with the idea of children paying for the wrongs of the parents left Ally wondering if there was something in her, or her past, that God couldn’t forgive. “I thought, ‘Has my family done something that is coming back to me?’

These experiences left her feeling alone and helpless. “I quit going to church,” she says. “I was kind of lost.”

Living in Canada

A private sponsorship made it possible for Ally to move to Canada at the age of 17. She settled in Ottawa and had two daughters. But it was hard to go to church. “I tried to go to the mosque to pray, but I would just sit there,” she says. “Then I decided I would stay in my house with my kids and thought if God can hear, he’ll hear me at my house.”

One day, shortly after her second daughter was born, it was really cold outside and Ally felt depressed. To cheer up, she took her girls for a walk. While out, she passed St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which was across from her house.

Out of curiosity, Ally went inside. The service had ended, but a woman still there. She told Ally to go downstairs for coffee. “I thought, Why am I going here? I was just taking a walk,” says Ally.

She headed downstairs and sat down with her girls. “A lady came next to me and she didn’t move; she just asked my name.” says Ally. “Then she told me, ‘I think you should come to church and see how we are. How about you come next week?’ ”

The lady took Ally’s phone number and called her. “She talked to me like she knew me a long time ago,” recalls Ally. She asked Ally if she was planning to come to church on Sunday, and Ally said yes.

Ally went to worship that week, but she wanted to know about the church before continuing much further. She started studying the Bible with one of the pastors

What she found was a message of comfort. “When it comes to the Word of God, it assured me that God died for all our sins. We are human and not perfect; we do sin, but that doesn’t mean God is angry with us. He always loves us,” says Ally. “Since Jesus died for me and my sin, I shouldn’t worry. Now I get to serve him.”

A part of God’s family

Ally now looks forward to going to church on Sunday, and so do her girls. In addition to hearing God’s Word, Ally treasures the community she’s found there. “Everyone is welcoming—it doesn’t matter who you are, everyone is so nice,” says Ally. “It makes you feel that you are a part of something, like you belong.”

She has grown especially close to the woman who first invited her to church. “She calls me her daughter and has become like a grandmother to my two girls. God put her into our lives.”

And while Ally is thankful to be where she is today, she has not forgotten her past. She takes trips back to Africa and uses the opportunity to help others in need. She always takes something to hand out at a camp or orphanage that is low on supplies.

At the end of 2017, St. Paul helped pay for her to visit a refugee camp in Uganda. She went to a place called Imvepi, which has been receiving refugees from Sudan. “Before it used to be a few children, but people are coming from Sudan so there are a lot of kids,” explains Ally.

While there, she handed out Christian material from WELS Multi-Language Publications, toothbrushes, and soap. She also held a Christmas party. “I was able to feed seven hundred children,” she says. “Everyone was so happy and loved the gifts. It made me very happy that I was able to do that. I remember being in the orphanage and wanting someone to give me something.”

Ally also met a girl who had walked three hours to the camp to pick up food and take it back to her home. Says Ally, “I helped her to her house. I visited with her family and told them how I found Jesus.”


Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in León, Mexico.


Did you know that “Confessions of faith” has been a series in Forward in Christ for ten years? Started in April 2008 to share stories of peoples’ journeys of faith, this series also helps teach the differences between the teachings of WELS and other religions and gives us all the opportunity to rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit. What do you appreciate most about this series? Any favorite stories? Share your thoughts with us at fic@wels.net.


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Steinhorst

After trying to find answers on his own, a man discovers God’s answers to life’s important questions.

Gabriella Moline

“Figure it out for yourself.”

Don Steinhorst heard those words any time he asked his parents questions while growing up. And as a child, Steinhorst had a lot of questions, many regarding how he came to earth and what God’s purpose in his life was. Those questions are difficult for some parents to answer, and it’s not surprising that their answer to his questions was not really an answer.

Finding his own answers

Steinhorst turned to reading the Bible. After reading Genesis and the creation of Adam, Steinhorst concluded that God had created him in the same way as the first man was created. He believed God formed him with clay and breathed the breath of life into him from heaven, with no parents involved.

He came across a magazine one day with a picture of a nursery in a hospital. For him, that was the final piece of the puzzle regarding his birth. Until the age of 13, Steinhorst concluded God had placed him in the nursery at birth for his parents to pick up and take home.

Steinhorst had one Lutheran parent and one Catholic parent and was raised in the Catholic faith. He attended catechism class every Friday and learned the church’s teachings, but he never opened a Bible.

His parents also did not take him to church to learn more. The reason was simple: his little brother often made noise and disrupted the service. In catechism class, Steinhorst learned that if you do not attend church, then you are going to hell, unless you attend confession with the priest.

“To me, going to confession was a nightmare,” says Steinhorst. “I figured back then that I was the most sinful human being who ever walked the face of the earth. I assumed every other family went to church on Sunday, except us.”

When his family casually discussed church and religion, Steinhorst was perplexed that they were not more concerned about going to hell.

So, like the other mysteries in his young life, he came to his own conclusion. Steinhorst decided that his family must be secretly going to church each Sunday and that it was all a test from God. But by these standards, he had failed, because he himself missed church each week. He was miserable because he had was not part of his family’s secret attendance and he did not make the effort to go himself.

The thought of going to hell tormented Steinhorst. The catechism instructor told Steinhorst’s class that anyone carrying a mortal sin would not have their prayers heard by God, so Steinhorst stopped praying altogether.

He also cut himself off from people. He did not want anyone to know his secret—that he was going to hell. It weighed on his heart heavily. At school, he did not talk to any of the other students. He hid and avoided any conversations. The only friends he had were his cousins. “It got to the point where it was literally almost making me sick,” Steinhorst says. “Every time I went to religion class, it made me feel more and more guilty all the time.”

When he was 20 years old, his whole worldview changed. Steinhorst discovered that his whole belief in God was wrapped up in how he figured things out for himself. But that was all wrong. After making this realization, he immediately became an atheist.

Finding God’s answers

Steinhorst and his cousins went to see a movie called The Late, Great Planet Earth. They expected it to be a horror movie, but they found it made a deeper impression on them than they expected.

The 1979 movie, narrated by Orson Welles, is based on the book of Revelation and its descriptions of the end times. Steinhorst had never heard of this book of the Bible before and found himself both fascinated and terrified by the content of the movie.

In those catechism classes at the Catholic church, the priest said there was no reason for him to have a Bible. Steinhorst had never explored the biblical texts himself; he only read Genesis and absorbed what he heard from his instructors.

After seeing The Late, Great Planet Earth, Steinhorst decided to buy the book of Revelation at a local bookstore. The cashier told him, though, that he could not just buy one book of the Bible but would have to buy the entire Bible. Steinhorst left the store that day with a Bible. “That was the first Bible I ever owned,” Steinhorst says.

Steinhorst began a journey exploring the Christian faith. He started listening to Christian radio programs. He looked up Bible passages that were mentioned in the shows. His faith and life began to grow.

Steinhorst eventually joined a Christian church near his home. He was not completely happy with some of its beliefs, so five years ago, he visited St. John, Fox Lake, Wis.

David Nottling, pastor at St. John, says that Steinhorst just showed up in church one day and has been coming ever since. “He would even sometimes let me know if he was going to miss church or couldn’t come one week,” says Nottling. “I couldn’t get him to take the classes at first, but he kept coming to worship.”

After a major surgery, Steinhorst knew he would be out of work for several weeks. So he decided that it would be the perfect time to take the courses with Nottling and become an member of the church.

“I can remember in class one time that we were talking about Martin Luther, and Don borrowed my book on him,” Nottling says. “Don told me that he experienced what Luther went through, how he was afraid of God.”

As a member of St. John, Steinhorst feels a sense of peace and comfort in knowing that Jesus has suffered and died for his sins. He also has developed new relationships and friendships. Last spring, he sponsored a trip to the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter for a group of children and adults from the congregation. This was the first time he traveled out of the state of Wisconsin.

“I did a complete 180 compared to where I was before,” Steinhorst says. “I’m so happy now.”

Today, Steinhorst goes to church and Bible study every week, not for fear of going to hell if he misses but because of his deep love for Christ.


Gabriella Moline is a member at Zion, Crete, Illinois.


Did you know that “Confessions of faith” has been a series in Forward in Christ for ten years? Started in April 2008 to share stories of peoples’ journeys of faith, this series also helps teach the differences between the teachings of WELS and other religions and gives us all the opportunity to rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit. What do you appreciate most about this series? Any favorite stories? Share your thoughts with us at fic@wels.net.


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Author: Gabriella Moline
Volume 105, Number 4
Issue: April 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Zak

A family finds joy when they discover the truth of God’s Word. 

John A. Braun 

“When we got married, we decided to find a church where we could worship together,” Kimberly begins. That search came to an end when Chris and Kimberly Zak joined a nearby Lutheran church. “It was comfortable. We made a good connection with the pastor, and they had a strong children’s ministry,” she says. The church was not a conservative confessional church, however.  

For 12 years they made friends and were active in the church. The congregation was large, and it took over one hundred volunteers doing various tasks each weekend to ensure the services ran smoothly. Eventually Kimberly became the coordinator of those volunteers. “It was a tight fit for us for 12 years,” she says. They felt comfortable with their choice. Soon Chris and Kimberly added a son, Adam, and a daughter, Kate, to their family. 

The year of politics 

But things changed for them in 2016. They call that year “the year of politics.” The political divide was evident then as it still is today. We may all have memories of the division and rhetoric of the campaigns. For the Zaks, politics invaded their church. Sermons became political. “The weekly sermon at our previous church touched on social and political issues often. This was disturbing to us,” says Chris. “We wanted to hear about the Word and the amazing gift we have been given by Jesus, not lectures on how social and political issues fit into our Christian lives.”  

Kimberly agrees: “We wanted to grow in our faith. We did not want to hear politics in the pulpit.” 

They had already noticed the messages they heard in Bible class were not clear. That year of politics brought those disturbing messages into focus. “We were frustrated with our Bible study, because there were never any real answers,” says Kimberly. “The Bible was always a matter of interpretation.”  

Chris agrees, “We had numerous experiences in Bible studies where the consensus of the group was that you can take part of the Bible literally and then, at your convenience, take other parts of the Bible figuratively. Whenever you personally didn’t like what the Bible passage conveyed, you could just wash it away by saying, ‘Well, that didn’t really happen’ or ‘That was just a figure of speech.’ ” 

When they talked with others in the church, “there was a consensus that some of the Bible was true, but it was all a matter of interpretation,” says Kimberly. They were confused instead of satisfied. Exactly what did the Word of God say? The answer often was vague and unclear. It seemed that it was all part of the approach in their previous church. 

An eternity of joy 

The Zaks decided it was time to search for a new church home. That meant researching other Lutheran churches. Kimberly did the research, finding a couple of more conservative Lutheran churches in the area.  

This search for a church home ended suddenly when they stepped through the doors of Resurrection, Verona, Wis. It was the first church on the list. Kimberly says that it was “like a light bulb went off.” The message they heard was different from what they had heard for 12 years. “We heard the Word of God, not interpretation,” she says.  

The entire family was amazed. Kimberly said, “This is where we belong. But we should check out the other churches on our list.” Chris, Adam, and Kate all disagreed and said they did not need to look any further. They had found the pearl of great value (Matthew 13:15,16)—the Word of God, the gospel of Jesus. It brought them joy. They had found their new church home. 

They met with Nathan Strutz, pastor at Resurrection, who assured them that the Bible is the true Word of God. Together with Strutz, the Zaks began a Bible information course. For three months he met with them once a week in their home to share the truths of the Bible. Kimberly comments, “We talked about Jesus, sin, grace, faith, works, the Bible, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and all the important topics.”  

The light bulb that had been ignited on that first visit grew brighter. Kimberly says, “We learned more in those three months than we did in 12 years at the previous church. We heard the Word of God.”  

Chris adds, “We were dead in sin, but because of God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, we are saved. The message is steadfast and clear, without social and political commentary.”  

The assurance of heaven is especially important. Kimberly shares that lesson: “I’m going to heaven. Period! In those Bible classes, Pastor Strutz would regularly ask if we knew we are going to heaven. The answer is yes, and the reason is Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus rose. It’s amazing. It’s that simple.” 

Their joy in finding the truth of God’s Word brings them to church every Sunday, “Now attending Resurrection Lutheran, the message every Sunday is very clear,” says Kimberly. They are growing in their faith and continuing to learn about God and what Jesus has done for them.  

They still miss the people they grew to know during the 12 years they were members of their previous church. But now they have found the peace, joy, and comfort of God’s love. “Now it is unbelievably awesome. Every Sunday is exactly what we need to hear,” they say.  

Every Sunday! What an important reminder for all of us. We all have the opportunity to hear the gospel every Sunday. The place and the pastor may be different, but the gospel is the pearl of great value that fills us all with joy and peace. The example of the Zaks can encourage us all to walk through the doors of our congregations and hear such great news every week. How thankful we are to the Holy Spirit who continues to work through the gospel. 

When I asked the Zaks what they would like to tell others about their journey, they both agree: “We are blessed that God has shown us the truth of his Word at Resurrection and that he has led us to our new church home.” 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ. 


 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Indest

A man who grew up in legalism and fear discovers the peace and love of Christ through the gospel. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

All Mike Indest was looking for was peace. 

But after growing up steeped in legalism, afraid of the Rapture, and confused by conflicting beliefs, peace was hard to come by. 

“Without being taught the idea of where faith really comes from—that it comes from God and it’s nothing we do at all—it’s just a terrifying way to live,” Indest says. 

But Indest saw and experienced Christ’s love and the peace of the gospel at Crown of Life, New Orleans, La., and is sharing that message with others.                      

Finding no peace 

Indest spent his early childhood in a Catholic charismatic church, a mix between a Catholic and Pentecostal church, in New Orleans. “It was not a weird thing for me to hear priests speaking in tongues,” Indest says. 

His family left that church when Indest was eight years old, mainly, he thinks, because they recognized differences between Catholic theology and what the Bible taught. 

Instead they joined a charismatic denomination, which brought its own list of doctrinal difficulties. 

Indest says he struggled most with the idea of decision theology—Christians have to make a decision to follow Christ in order to be saved. “People would go to the altar to make a decision for Christ, but there was no assurance of salvation,” he says. “Salvation was based on your decision, but because it was something you did . . . then the problem is how do you know you did it with good intentions?”  

He continues, “To me, even as a kid, it became like works because it was something you were doing—it was initiated by you.” 

The church’s end times teachings—which were a literal view of the book of Revelation, including a Rapture of all believers—also incited fear, rather than hope. 

“It was those two things combined—there was no peace of God there,” Indest says. 

Discovering God’s love 

In high school, Indest became more vocal about his doubts on his church’s teachings, to a point where he ended up attending L’abri, a Swiss religious study center for those with faith questions, for nine months immediately after high school. “At the time, that was what I needed,” he says. “I was taught to think there and not just to accept [what I was being taught].” 

But when he returned to New Orleans, he couldn’t find a church to attend. “I asked way too many questions,” he says. “I visited every denomination, and there was no fit.”  

A move to Nashville, Tennessee, didn’t help him find a church home. “I read a lot, I prayed a lot, I wrote a lot of songs,” he says. “I basically was a Lone Ranger Christian for many years.” 

Indest’s beliefs continued to change as he read and learned more about doctrine and the Bible, though he says he struggled with what to believe about the sacraments. After moving back to New Orleans, he even began taking seminary courses online through several different denominations. But he still couldn’t find a church he wanted to attend. 

Indest first met David Sternhagen, pastor at Crown of Life, New Orleans, and several Crown of Life members at the Christian radio station where he worked. Sternhagen had a weekly radio show there. “When I would engineer the show, I would hear some theology,” says Indest.  

Indest agreed with what he was hearing from Sternhagen—and also appreciated the manner in which Sternhagen shared the message. “He wasn’t combative. He was very nice,” says Indest. “There was a lot of grace and kindness there that I never experienced before. No legalism, just the love of Christ.” 

It still took years before Indest set foot into Crown of Life. During that time, he watched Sternhagen and his members live their faith and talked to them about their beliefs. “The kindness of Christ was exhibited in a way I have never seen before,” he says.  

He finally was ready to take the next step when he became serious with his girlfriend, Diana. “I thought it was time to start again in a church when I started my new life,” he says. He and Diana went through Bible information class, joined Crown of Life in 2011, and were married in 2012. 

Continually growing in the Word 

Indest’s thirst for knowledge continued after he joined Crown of Life. He first decided to go through the Congregational Assistant Program offered by Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., with four other members of Crown of Life. “It really helped me solidify what we believe,” he says. 

Then he enrolled in the Chaplain Certification program, which prepares pastors and laypeople to serve people in special circumstances, for example, those in prison, nursing homes, hospitals, or the military. He graduated in 2017. “I can’t tell you the amount of healing I got just going through the counseling classes,” he says, referring to difficulties he experienced following Hurricane Katrina. 

Indest is putting his new knowledge to good use. He and his wife now run a youth outreach program at Crown of Life that serves neighborhood children.  

The kids, ranging in age from 8 to 15, started showing up at Crown of Life a few years ago, looking for something to do. The church got them involved in Sunday school classes but knew there was a bigger opportunity. Soon the congregation began offering Sunday afternoon activities like basketball and crafts, also including a meal and devotion time. The program has now expanded to include homework help and a meal and devotion on Tuesday afternoons as well. 

Indest says his chaplaincy training has given him a lot of confidence as he shares Christ’s love and peace with the youth—both in words and actions. “Last year, I clearly presented the gospel to at least 40 kids,” he says. 

Those opportunities to plant the gospel message and show Christ’s love will continue to grow as Indest keeps looking for new ways to share the peace he discovered. “There’s grace and there’s forgiveness!” 


Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ. 


 

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Porter

Through questions and the Word, one man finds his final church home. 

Gabriella Moline 

Sept. 11 is a somber day for many people in the United States. But Sept. 11, 2016, gave Greg Porter something to celebrate. He describes this date as one of the happiest days of his life. On that day Porter officially became a member of Abiding Grace in Covington, Ga., the place where he finally ended his search for peace and truth. 

Asking questions  

For the first 45 years of his life, Porter was a member of the Baptist church. He grew up in a house with strong Christian ideals and actively participated in his congregation. But after studying certain passages in the Bible, Porter saw some issues with the doctrine being taught in the Baptist church.  

One of its central teachings is that if a person was baptized as a baby or was not fully submerged during his or her baptism, then the person must be re-baptized. That troubled Porter. He turned to the Bible for answers. When he read Ephesians 4:5, he discovered that Paul says there is only “one baptism.” Then looking at Matthew 28:19, he found that Jesus said that we should baptize all nations. That includes babies.  

In addition to the teachings on Baptism, Porter also found issues with the Baptist teaching on Holy Communion. For the Baptist church, the bread and wine are only symbols of the body and blood of Christ. They are not truly the body and blood of Christ.  

Porter wanted to find a church that addressed his questions and taught what the Bible taught. He looked at Lutheran churches, but he was not sure about the theological differences between the many different denominations. At first he avoided Lutheran churches. But he saw that Catholicism only had one branch. There were no different denominations, so Porter started attending a Catholic church. 

He said it “started off well,” but over time he developed new questions about some of the Roman Catholic teachings. These included the Catholic church’s stance on divorce, as well as certain rules on Holy Communion. Porter attended the church for eight years but could not reconcile these issues. In addition, he felt uneasy that the Catholic church made salvation so difficult. Instead of saying that Jesus paid for all sins on the cross, Catholics still had to do things to undo their sins and failings.  

Finding answers 

Over the years, Porter received cards in the mail from Abiding Grace Lutheran Church, inviting him and his family to attend its Fall Festival, an annual event featuring lunch, games, and a worship concert. In 2015, he finally decided to attend the event. 

“I always thought, These look like nice people,” Porter says. “So I thought I would go and check it out. There would be other people there so they wouldn’t know I was visiting.” 

During the worship portion, Porter filled out the church’s friendship register, where he checked off that he would not be interested in a visit from the pastor.  

“He didn’t listen,” Porter shares with a laugh. “He came to the house to visit anyway.” 

But Porter is glad that Jonathan Scharf, pastor at Abiding Grace, ignored the card. This visit began Porter’s journey in the Lutheran faith. He soon began attending weekly Bible information classes with Scharf to learn more about Lutheran doctrine. Porter found that there was not enough time in the classes for all his questions. He wanted to speak more with Scharf, so he asked to meet with him outside of class. 

“I wanted to make sure that when I made this change that it would be the last change that I ever made,” he says.  

So Porter meet with Scharf before class each week at the Waffle House for breakfast to privately discuss more about the Bible. Porter had a hunger to learn, reading about the congregation and its teachings on its website. Scharf answered any of his questions that came up, giving him more materials and passages to read. Their discussions ranged from creation versus evolution to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  

“He had a lot of questions, realizing that a lot of the different teachings he had heard in his previous churches weren’t lining up with Scripture,” Scharf says.  

Porter says Scharf was extremely patient in answering all his questions. “He has a way of explaining the Bible in a way that no one else has been able to.” 

During one of their breakfast sessions, Scharf loaned Porter his Lutheran Confessions, a collection of confessions written by Marin Luther and others during the time of the Reformation. The collection is not a small pamphlet, but a large heavy textbook. Within the week, Porter had read the entire book and had passages picked out that he wanted to talk about. Scharf was amazed at Porter’s passion and devotion for God’s Word, even while balancing a full-time job and a family.  

“He has this insatiable desire to keep learning and is excited to have an opportunity to learn and grow in God’s Word,” says Scharf. 

Before joining Abiding Grace, Porter took several months to think and pray about becoming an official member. He had a lot to consider. He had to think through his early Baptist background and his current Roman Catholic membership. Was he sure he wanted to turn his life in a new direction? When Sept. 11 finally came, Porter was ready to make his final change and become a Lutheran.  

Still learning today 

Today, Porter still has his enthusiastic drive to learn more about the Bible. In addition to attending church on Sundays, he also listens to sermons from other WELS pastors and reads Meditations and Time of Grace devotions. 

Scharf and Porter still meet regularly, never running out of new topics to discuss. They also attended the National Worship Conference in Kenosha, Wis., together this past summer. Porter is heavily involved in Abiding Grace, volunteering to help whenever he can and participating in Bible studies and choir.  

“He has really jumped in anywhere there has been a request or opportunity,” Scharf says.  

Porter reflects that becoming a Lutheran and finding answers through the Bible has been a great comfort in his life. He knows that the Bible is the final authority, providing clarity to all of life’s questions.  

“It gives me a type of freedom knowing that you don’t have to jump through any hoops,” he says. “You’re free in the truth that Jesus gave us.” 


Gabriella Moline is a member at Zion, Crete, Illinois. 


 

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Author: Gabriella Moline
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Medina

After growing up with the idea that God seeks to punish believers, a woman finds solace in full forgiveness through Jesus. 

Rachel Hartman 

Juana Medina was born south of the border, in the central city of León, Mexico. She grew up in a strong Catholic family. “We were Catholics—we had always been Catholics,” she recalls. “We always went to church.” 

Catholicism is predominant in Mexico. Other religions, when Medina was growing up, were few and far between. “I only knew there were two types of religious people: Catholics and Protestants,” she notes. “As for Protestants—well, my family didn’t even go close to homes where they knew Protestants lived.”  

Beliefs in Mexico 

“Mexican Catholicism is more closely related to Catholicism at the time of Luther than it is to American Catholicism today,” explains Mike Hartman, a missionary who serves in Latin America. “The idea that God is stern and wants to punish you is at the heart of it.” 

This is one of the main reasons typically given in Mexican Catholicism for approaching Mary, adds Hartman. “Mothers are kind and gracious. Fathers are stern and macho. They often say, ‘If you want something, you ask Mom, not Dad.’ ” 

Throughout Latin America, the thread of Catholicism runs prevalent in the culture. This means other religions or beliefs are often shunned. To explain this phenomenon, Juan Ricardo Díaz, a WELS member who works for Wisconsin Lutheran Child and Family Services, wrote a book titled Soy Católico, no Cristiano (I am Catholic, not Christian).  

“A typical Catholic in central Mexico will be insulted if you call them a Christian,” notes Hartman. 

debilitating illness 

When Medina got married, she continued to live in León and attend the Catholic church. She and her husband started a family and got together regularly with relatives in the area, who were also Catholic. 

As her children grew, however, Medina became ill. Her conditions worsened, and doctors couldn’t find a cure. “All of my bones hurt,” she says. “I couldn’t move anything except my mouth. I was a complete invalid.” 

For three years, family members took her to doctor after doctor, without finding a cure. “Some doctors thought I had problems with my kidneys or liver, but I wasn’t convinced. I had different aches and pains each day.” Medina’s disease continued at a debilitating rate. It got to the point where she no longer wanted to live. “Doctors would prescribe medicine and I refused to take it. I just wanted to die,” she says. 

Her mother encouraged her to seek treatment elsewhere. One of Medina’s brothers lived in California, and the family sent her there to get help. “I thought they were all tired of dealing with me and just wanted me out of their lives,” she recalls. “I figured I would head there and die.” Weak and sick, Medina arrived at her brother’s home in California. Shortly after, she was admitted to a nearby hospital. 

Medina remained in the hospital for three months. When she was released, she felt only somewhat better. “I did recover but never regained full health,” she notes. “No one determined what I had. In hindsight, though, I know part of it was depression.” 

After she was released from the hospital, Medina’s husband, Marcelo, decided to come to California and join her. He brought their children, as well as a sister and her baby. All of them stayed with relatives for a time. Then Medina received a housing option through the government, and the family moved there. 

Learning about other religions 

During her stay at the hospital, one of the nurses told Medina of a place to go for help. While the doctors couldn’t identify what exactly was wrong with her body, the nurse suggested a spot that could provide some aid. “It sounded like an odd place—I was sure it was full of witches,” recalls Medina. 

Desperate for answers, when she left the hospital Medina went to the address with her sister. “It was a Christian church, which I hadn’t understood before I got there. I liked it, and it was there that I started learning Jesus loves me just how I am,” she says. Medina attended the church for a while, but she also grew involved in a nearby Catholic church.  

A move away from violence 

The family settled in to live in California. Medina and her husband had four daughters and four sons. The neighborhood they lived in was a rough and dangerous place, full of gangs and frequent fights. “When my oldest daughter was about to turn 15 years old, we started planning her party,” remembers Medina. In Mexico, families often hold a quinceñera, or special party, for a daughter’s 15th birthday. The daughter usually wears a formal dress, is accompanied by attendants, and receives a service and celebration in her honor.   

Medina’s daughter never attended the party. “Two months before the big day, she was murdered,” explains Medina. The event sent shock waves through the family. Medina and her husband worried that when the other children grew older, they would get involved in the neighborhood’s violent atmosphere—or worse, try to carry out revenge on their sister’s murderer. 

The family looked for a new, quieter place to live. After sorting through the options, they decided to move to Edna, Texas. There they found a calm atmosphere and lifestyle. After settling in, Medina noticed a Lutheran church was offering English classes. She signed up and started attending the courses. Bible classes were offered as well. “I started going to Bible study there, but I was still active in the Catholic church,” recalls Medina. 

Clinging to the Bible 

After attending Bible studies for several months, Medina grew to appreciate the detailed teachings of the Bible. “I started realizing that God doesn’t hold my sins against me. Before I was always living in sin and tormented by my bad deeds,” she says. Later the congregation started offering Spanish services. “When the pastor told me they were going to start having worship in Spanish, I said it probably wouldn’t work too well and that not many people would come,” she remembers.   

Worried about low attendance, Medina called her family and relatives in the area and encouraged them to go. “I told them to go so that at least some people would be there,” she says. Marcelo agreed hesitantly to go to the service. On the way home from Spanish worship, he said to Medina, “It can’t be that easy. We must have to do something. God can’t just forgive our sins like that.” 

Medina explained to her husband what she had learned from the Bible and that God really does wash all sin away. Medina and Marcelo took classes to become members and were then confirmed.  

Now both are active and involved in the church. “Whenever something comes up in which I can help, I always do,” notes Medina. “My husband is a painter and fixes things around the church and property.” 

She also looks for ways to continually invite her children and family members to attend a church where full peace is offered on Jesus’ behalf. “Before I always had an image of a God who wanted to punish me,” she says. “At the Lutheran church I learned about his love.” 


Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in Leon, Mexico. 


 

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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Moseley

A couple travels down different paths to discover the truth: Salvation is God’s gift to us through his Son. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

David and Meredith Moseley came from different ends of the religious spectrum—she from a strict Roman Catholic upbringing and he from the charismatic Assemblies of God. She grew up with the rosary, praying to the saints, and being “all about Mary.” His church emphasized the gifts of the Spirit, the laying on of hands, millennialism, and speaking in tongues. 

Both denominations lacked the distinctly Lutheran message: Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone. 

“Although [our religious upbringings] might be different on the outside, in the end it’s the same bag of tricks,” says Meredith. “It’s all in the end a works-based religion.” 

David and Meredith traveled down different paths to discover the truth: Salvation is God’s gift to us through his Son. 

Meredith’s journey to Lutheranism didn’t start until she went to college. She grew up in a devout Catholic family, attended Catholic high school, and served as a cantor for the weekly mass at church.  

It wasn’t until she met a friend at UW–La Crosse that she stepped back to look at what she really believed. “My friend was an evangelical, born-again believer type and she was really outspoken about her faith,” says Meredith. “It made me think about myself and where I was in my beliefs.” 

She says her friend encouraged her to read the Bible—something she hadn’t done much in the past. So Meredith started casually reading the Bible, and the Holy Spirit begin his work.  

After finding a book about the virgin Mary at home and reading it, Meredith began questioning her upbringing even more. “The book was saying the secret to heaven is to become a slave of Mary,” she says. “I had the weirdest feeling that this isn’t right; this isn’t what the Bible is telling me.”  

This became a turning point for her. “I realized I always just accepted what the Catholic church said as true, but if they’re accepting these teachings that aren’t right, it had me questioning everything they teach,” she says.  

She began visiting other churches and more regularly attending an Evangelical Free church, although she wasn’t always comfortable with the more contemporary worship. A WELS friend invited her to his church, and she decided to take the Bible information class to learn more about Lutheranism. “It was a good representation of what the Bible teaches,” she says. Being a musician, she also appreciated the historical liturgy and reading the music directly from the hymnal. She joined Immanuel, La Crosse, Wis., in 2009. 

Now came the hard part—telling her parents. She wrote them a letter and gave it to them when she was home for Christmas vacation. “I put all the Scripture verses and reasons why I chose not to be Catholic anymore,” she says. “I felt like [my parents] were put off by the Scriptures; I guess the Word is offensive to people.” 

But for Meredith, the Word brought the true meaning of grace—not by works, but through faith in her Savior from sin. 

David grew up in an Assembly of God church. The largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, the Assemblies of God emphasize speaking in tongues, the laying on of hands for healing, millennialism, and the need to accept Jesus as your Savior. 

Being moved by the Spirit was common in worship services David attended in Tomah, Wis., while growing up. He says often someone spoke in tongues during worship and people were “slain by the Spirit,” in which they would fall to the ground after the laying on of hands for healing. “The whole emphasis on worship is to let the Spirit move so the emotions of people were affected,” he says. David says he was zealous for the faith as a teen, even being part of the worship team.  

But the congregation had internal problems, and his father, a former Lutheran, began to question the charismatic gifts emphasized at the church.  

The Lord also placed other influences in David’s religious life. His dad’s parents were WELS, and his grandmother introduced him to a WELS pastor’s wife who gave him piano lessons. This gave David a chance to know someone who was Lutheran besides his grandparents. “She was very vocal about her faith,” he says. 

David joined the army in 2006 and before leaving for basic training, he decided he wanted to attend a service at St. Paul, Tomah, with his grandma and grandpa. “I was getting curious,” he says. He attended a Christmas Eve candlelight service when he returned after basic training and Ash Wednesday church when he was back on leave.  

Then, while serving at Fort Eustis in Virginia, getting to an Assembly of God church for church was difficult, so he began attending the chapel at the fort. “I discovered you don’t have to be Assembly of God,” he says. “There were wonderful believers here at the chapel.” He also began listening to a confessional online Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod radio program, which helped him understand how Lutherans viewed the sacraments. “It took care of a lot of issues for me because it pointed me back to Scripture,” he says. He began reading and learning more. 

When David returned to Tomah in 2010 after he completed his active duty, he started visiting St. Paul more regularly. But he also still kept attending the Assembly of God church—partly because his parents were still members and he was living at home and partly because “I was not ready to say that it was heretical,” he says. 

In 2011 he met his wife, Meredith, who then was a member at another WELS church in town. She and David began attending St. Paul’s together and she decided to become a member there. They got engaged, and David started taking Bible information class.  

The class further clarified his understanding of the Lutheran faith, including the definitions of words like faith and grace. “Most American evangelicals view faith as something I drum up in my heart instead of being the gift of the Holy Spirit to us,” David says. “It’s about having to look inside me and I can make the decision—I can believe in Jesus—vs. it’s the Holy Spirit through the Word that causes us to believe.” 

In June 2013, David was finally ready to make a complete break from the church of his childhood and join St. Paul. It wasn’t easy—David says his mom, though she accepted it, never really got over it.  

David and Meredith continue to be faithful members of St. Paul and participate in the music ministry of the congregation. David also served as a delegate to this summer’s synod convention. With raising one daughter and another child on the way, they say that sometimes it is difficult not to have a close family heritage with the confessional Lutheran church and its teachings. But, according to Meredith, their broader understanding of what other denominations teach helps them appreciate the distinct Lutheran truths of Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone all the more. 

Says David, “We have our salvation—it’s all God’s gift to us. . . . Just go back to the Word of God—that’s all you need.”  


Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine. 


 

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Hometown: Eisleben

A German from communist-controlled Eisleben becomes a Lutheran in British Columbia. 

Ann M. Ponath 

“In spite of the countless times I have transgressed against my holy God, he assures me time and again that I am his forgiven child. Nothing and nobody bars my way to heaven! Now it is safe for me to die.”  

Earlier this year, Forward in Christ asked readers what it means to be Lutheran (see insert). This inspiring quote arrived from Canada. Even more interesting—the writer, Monika Weihmann—grew up in Eisleben, Luther’s hometown. She commented: “Martin Luther was a real Mensch; he had his faults and limitations, yet the Lord used him so greatly. What a blessing he has been to all of us.”   

Just how did a German from communist-controlled Eisleben end up as a Lutheran in British Columbia? Monika explains: “I was born in Eisleben when it was still behind the Iron Curtain. Growing up under the communist regime, I was anything but [Lutheran]. Yet the Lord had plans and has been an everyday part of [my life] for 54 years now.”  

Growing up in East Germany 

Monika was born just two weeks after the end of WWII in May 1945. Her father, who had been in the German Navy during the war, did not return home to his family after the war. Her parents divorced, and Monika’s father eventually immigrated to Canada. 

Monika says, “My mother had to fend for herself and two girls in post-war East Germany. Life was tough.” Her mother worked at a grocery store while the landlady “made sure my older sister, Erika, and I didn’t get into too much trouble.” Food stamps, stamps for coal, and supplies were often gone before you got to the end of long lines. “Everyone we knew was equally poor, but we all survived,” says Monika. “In retrospect, I can apply Matthew 6:26 to our situation, but no one in our world considered God at all.” 

Under Communism, “religion was definitely not part of the ideology, but our family was never religious,” says Monika. “Church was for Christmas Eve, weddings, baptisms, and funerals.” As for Luther, Monika says everyone knew of him and the bronze statue in front of the church where he preached his last sermon. But she says, “In the East German version of history, Luther was the great ‘social reformer’ who went against the church and the corruption that was so prevalent.”  

Monika was baptized in the Lutheran church “because that’s what one did then.” But things changed quickly. “By the time this first post-war generation reached the age of confirmation, the communist regime had devised a substitute in the form of ‘Jugendweihe,’ a so-called ‘youth dedication,’ where we dressed in formal clothing—exactly as if we were to be confirmed,” she says. “We had a convocation and promised to be true to our State as long as we lived.” Following the ceremony, there was a big family gathering, including Monika’s godparents. She says there were Christians in East Germany, “but not in my little world.” 

Monika’s world changed when her mother took a job some distance away and left Monika with her grandparents for three years. “My grandmother became the dearest person in my life,” she says. Because she was living with her father’s parents, there was some contact with her father in Canada. Eventually the family planned that Monika would join her father after she finished primary school.   

But there was another step along the way. Monika was reunited with her mother and sister in 1959. Then all three of them fled East Germany via train through the western sector of Berlin. They lived in several refugee camps until her mother and Erika relocated to central Germany. Monika worked as a live-in maid in Hamburg, waiting for funds to join her father in Canada. 

Discovering her Savior in Canada 

Monika’s adventure in Canada began in 1962. “My father had a new family there, including a half-brother and sister. There was a homestead with some animals and there was snow up to the roof which lasted until May,” she says. “My brother and I hunted rabbits in the bush behind the homestead, and we rode old Goldie bareback, because there was no saddle and only a rope for a bridle.” 

Monika’s father also had a young neighbor, Fred, who “was like a son to him.” Fred was working in a gold mine in Yellow Knife when Monika first arrived, but once they met, “there was no doubt in our minds that we would marry,” says Monika. Fred’s Lutheran family “gently nudged” Monika to take classes at their church. “So this little communist was enrolled in confirmation instruction, and the Holy Spirit continued the work he had begun,” she says. 

In 1963, Fred and Monika were married, and by 1971 they had been blessed with four children: Ingrid, Stephanie, Donovan, and Byron. “Although we had our babies baptized, it wasn’t until a concerned neighbor asked us to bring our children to Sunday school that we began attending a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod church in our small town,” says Monika. They quickly got involved in church—Fred becoming a church council member and Monika a Sunday school teacher—and it became an integral part of the family’s life. 

Monika recounts, “God blessed us so richly. We were able to purchase a fuel agency, worked hard, and were involved in our community and church. Our children grew up in the relative safety of a small village. [We had] a large family and good friends.” 

In 1982, they pursued an opportunity to serve a Lutheran mission in Ghana, West Africa, leaving two of their older children behind. At the end of 1989 they returned and settled in British Columbia. The Weihmanns’ children who had remained in Alberta had families of their own and were introduced to a WELS church. “Because they could not agree with the other synod’s practices, they all became WELS members,” Monika says. Monika and Fred were also compelled to leave their church as “the church situation deteriorated more and more” and joined WELS in 1994.  

The closest WELS church is in Washington, two and a half hours away, but the Weihmanns are members at St. Peter, St. Albert, Alberta, where their family lives. “Every Sunday we join them via livestreaming, and at Christmas and Easter we drive the thousand kilometers to be together,” says Monika. “It is not an ideal situation for us here. We do miss the fellowship of believers, but all of our unchurched friends give us the opportunity to practice Christian charity and love as well as serious witnessing during our home devotions and conversations.”  

A family favorite Bible passage is this: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). As Monika reflects on God’s guidance in her life and considers the Reformation’s anniversary from her unique perspective, she says, “God’s Word in its truth and purity has survived these many years and will continue until the Lord puts an end to this world. There may never be another Luther, but thank God there are still many Lutherans!”  


 Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North Saint Paul, Minnesota. 


 

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Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Confessions of faith: Singh Family

A couple who grew up in a mix of religions now knows the one true God.

Julie K. Wietzke

Deo and Juliet Singh found the church pretty easily—it was right by the hotel they were staying at until their house was built.

That short walk across the parking lot started their journey to understanding sin and grace and to finding everlasting hope through their Savior.

The Singhs were not strangers to religion. Religion was part of their lives. Yet they didn’t really know or understand their Savior.

Deo and Juliet grew up living three miles apart in Guyana, South America, in the 1940s and 50s. At that time, Guyana was a British colony and, as Deo explains, had a mix of religions—mainly Hinduism and Christianity. The older people who migrated from India practiced Hinduism in a broken Hindi language, while the children grew up speaking English and attended Christians schools. At these schools, they sang hymns, prayed, and learned basic Christian principles.

Both Deo and Juliet grew up practicing both religions but not really understanding either one. They participated in the Hindu rituals with their parents but didn’t understand Hinduism because they didn’t know the language of their parents. “The Hindu priest would come to bless the house and do prayers, but we didn’t understand unless he explained in English,” says Deo. At the same time, they attended Christian schools, and Juliet remembers going to Sunday school and lighting candles at the weekly Catholic Mass. Their lives were a mix of both religions, and they weren’t sure what was really true. “We only keep following what we see our parents do,” says Deo. A Savior from sin and death was missing in their lives.

Juliet left school at the age of 11 to care for her ill mother. Deo attended secondary school through the age of 15 when he had to quit to find work. He worked several odd jobs and then got a job at a large company, where he slowly worked himself up the ranks.

The lives of Deo and Juliet came together when their families arranged for their marriage. “I was tending sheep and I say to my mother, ‘Look, some guy is coming and he’s well dressed.’ She said, ‘Leave the sheep and come get some clothes,’ ” Juliet remembers. “I went upstairs . . . and my aunt said, ‘Look through that window. You see that guy; you’re going to get married to him.’ And that was it!” They have been married for 55 years.

They left Guyana in 1985 for New York City, where Deo started working at a warehouse at John F. Kennedy airport. Juliet had several jobs—often working over 60 hours a week. They said there was no time for church. “My work week started on Sunday,” says Juliet. “There was no time for nothing but work.”

That changed when Deo retired in 2008, and the Singhs decided to move with one of their daughters to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Amazing Grace was located in a strip mall across the parking lot from the hotel Deo and Juliet were staying in while their new house was being constructed.

“We were anxious to start getting into prayers,” says Deo. “So I was walking around [by the hotel] and saw the church.

Deo stopped to talk to the pastor of Amazing Grace. “From the time we met one another, that was it,” says Deo. “We fell in love with him.” That meeting started the Singhs’ journey to truly understanding what their Savior did for them.

Pastor Ben Zahn began Bible information classes with the Singhs at their home. “I gave them a feast for their souls, and Juliet always had a feast for me,” he says, chuckling.

The Holy Spirit began working through the feast of the gospel. Zahn says he remembers two specific instances when he saw the Word in action in the Singhs’ lives.

When they first met, Deo told Pastor Zahn that he was afraid to die because he was uncertain of what would happen next. Zahn says as the instruction classes continued, they were talking about sin and grace and were looking at Hebrews 2:14,15: “[Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

“I said that the devil’s power had been destroyed and we don’t have to be afraid,” says Zahn. “Deo stopped me right after I read the passage and said, ‘Pastor, I have to tell you something. . . . I’m no longer afraid to die.’ I asked him why not. He said, ‘Jesus is my Savior.’ ”

Prayer by the Singhs in Guyana had offered no comfort. “Juliet said that when she was growing up in Hinduism, she was frustrated about praying,” says Zahn.

“[In Hinduism,] we had so many gods to pray to—lots and lots,” says Juliet. Deo agrees. “It was conflicting in so many ways with different deities responsible for the sun, the rain, and this and that.”

But when they talked about who the true God is and being able to pray to him in Jesus’ name, Zahn remembers that it was like a light suddenly going on for the Singhs.

Juliet says that after learning more about God and the Bible, she feels differently. “Now you pray, and the Lord answers prayers,” she says. “And it’s true. He does answer prayer.”

Deo and Juliet were baptized in 2009, confirmed in ??, and are regular attenders at Amazing Grace. “We can’t wait to get to church on Sunday,” says Deo, who Zahn says is the congregation’s resident “church hugger.”

The sacraments hold special meaning for them. “One day we were looking for our Baptism certificates, and I couldn’t find them, and I got scared,” says Deo. But the fear disappeared in the reality of their Baptism. He continues, “When we take Communion, I always try to concentrate on Jesus shading the blood on the cross, and it makes me feel good.”

Juliet says that now she understands more about the Bible teachings and it makes her happy. “I love the Bible, and I love Pastor reading on Sunday,” says Juliet. “We feel different. We learn more about God; we learn more about the Bible; we learn about Jesus.”


Julie Wietzke is the managing editor of Forward in Christ.


 

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: J. White

A man discovers grace through faith, Martin Luther, and the promise of heaven.

James White

The neighborhood I grew up in was an old, working-class, ethnic settlement on a busy street. As a young child, I entertained myself in the backyard playing everything from frontier army scout to excavation contractor with toy trucks and earth movers. Playmates were scarce, and I was left mostly to my own devices and imagination. I had no siblings.

Sometimes I could hear the bell ringing vociferously from the Wesleyan church down the street. Something about the sound of it enchanted me. My parents and I did not attend church, but I looked forward to hearing the distinct peal as I reloaded my musket on quiet Sunday mornings, ready for imaginary threats.

The closest church to my house was St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic church. It was only about six city blocks away, easily navigable for an experienced army man and frontiersman. I convinced my parents to let me walk there for Sunday services. The Mass was celebrated in Latin, and it was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. I had no idea what the priest was saying, but the lyrical cadence of the chants was mesmerizing.

The ancient church was appointed with large statues of the saints, one of the virgin Mary, and a huge crucifix above the altar. The Lord hung on it in perpetual agony. There were Stations of the Cross, incense, and even something they called holy water.

The next move in my “walk,” a term I learned watching TV preachers when the weather was too bad to walk to church (or more likely I overslept), was to successfully lobby my parents to let me switch from public school to St. Vincent de Paul in the fifth grade. It was grand. At one point, I’d even considered the priesthood. Repetition and recitation of directives and church laws were etched in my mind, and I developed an unshakable faith. I don’t recall studying much Scripture, though.

Once, in early spring, I came home from school starving, as most teenaged boys are apt to do. I spotted a hunk of Italian salami in the refrigerator, a delicacy recently discovered at a friend’s house. It made a glorious sandwich and I began to devour it. Suddenly my blood ran cold, and my soul went dark. It was a Friday in Lent, and I had a mouthful of salami. When I opened my eyes again, things thankfully seemed as they were. No fiery cherubs came to remove me to a warmer environment.

Soon after, I met a girl who worked at the local pizza parlor. She was a nice girl from a good family. There was only one hitch to the budding relationship. She and her family attended a Protestant church, a place I learned never to set foot in if I didn’t want celestial forces to immediately carry me off to the pit. Predictably, I was eventually invited to Sunday service with them at St. Andrew’s Lutheran. They never knew what courage it took for me to accept the invitation.

The church interior looked like any other, but with far fewer adornments, and instead of a crucifix above the altar, there hung an empty cross. Great, I mused, even Jesus doesn’t want to come here. I followed the family to a pew, sat, and waited for the earthquake. Perhaps the roof would cave in. To my immense relief, nothing happened, but I had no idea what the sermon was about.

I heard the minister preach something about grace through faith and then speak of the Reformation and Martin Luther. I was under the impression that Martin Luther was some sort of religious criminal and the Reformation was an illegal uprising of heretics against the holy church. Who but a trouble maker would have the audacity to nail a list of complaints to his church right on the front door? But a tiny notion was forming as my mind wandered back to when I first heard that Sunday bell. Could there possibly be truth here in the Lutheran church?

It could be a reasonable possibility that instead of angry angels ever at the ready to cast me into judgment, the Holy Spirit was quietly guiding me to a new path bereft of peril and fear. Secretly, I figured I wasn’t going to be saved come judgment day anyway; too many sins needed penance. I just kept mentally hearing the words of that Lutheran minister over and over—grace through faith, grace through faith—verify everything in Scripture. This beauty-in-simplicity was something definitely worth pondering.

I began to ask questions. I began to understand and like the answers. The teachings and admonishments of Martin Luther struck a chord within me as nothing before ever could. This opened up a new world for me, and before I knew it, I was enrolled in adult catechism. I found out what God’s grace really was, and was so thankful that not only were prescribed penances unnecessary, but they were fruitless. My question became: Just who was Martin Luther exactly? I intended to find out.

I eventually became a teamster driving long distances. At one point I became the owner of an iPhone with downloadable MP3 capability, and the selection of audiobooks was endless. I wondered whether iTunes had any books by and about Martin Luther.

To my surprise, there were plenty. I downloaded many and listened. Some were published directly by Luther himself. Slowly I got to know Martin Luther, the man.

Luther had grown on me to the point that I could easily regard him as Uncle Marty. I learned every aspect of his life from start to finish, but what stood out the most was that he seemed to be a regular guy. He had no qualms about having a beer or a couple glasses of wine with the boys, always in strict moderation. In Here I Stand, he displayed an appreciable sense of humor about married life and the compromises and sacrifices required. He married a woman, Katie, an apostate nun, and together they had six children—three boys and three girls. He enjoyed gardening, wine making, and a form of lawn bowling. And, as with most men, his wife’s insistence on constantly changing the bedsheets became an irritant.

The more I got to know him, the more I truly enjoyed his company. He was the kind of man with whom you could strike up a conversation in the market square about practically anything—and not be nervous. He taught students at supper seminars in his home about faith. Little did he know, but 500 years after the Reformation, he was still helping people—me. He escorted this old teamster to find his way to grace in a way no one else could.

Now it’s years later. I still have the original girlfriend—she’s now my wife—and together we brought up four children in the faith. From time to time I encounter old classmates from the elementary school, and there’s no animosity. Someone may invariably ask about how and why I made the decision to leave the former faith. I just politely but firmly respond, “Here I stand.”


James White is a member at Grace, Tecumseh, Michigan.


 

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Author: James White
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: August 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Confessions of faith: Gruber

After a couple rejects religion, two postcards serve as their call to Christ.

Gabriella Moline

Preparing for retirement, Joanne, also known as Joni, and Bob Gruber moved to Madison, Alabama. After settling into their new home, they received a postcard from Lamb of God Lutheran Church inviting them to come to worship. The Grubers agreed that they didn’t need to waste their Sundays by going to church, but Joni didn’t toss the card. Instead, the card sat on her desk for nearly a year. Finally, when tidying up a bit, Joni threw it away.

But the day after Joni threw it away, a new card appeared in the mail. It seemed to the Grubers like a good time to change directions. Because of that card, Joni and her husband started on a new path of faith.

No need for organized religion

Joni was raised in a devout Catholic household, attending Catholic school in Wausau, Wisconsin. In high school, she told her parents that she didn’t want to attend Catholic school anymore, because she didn’t believe in the Catholic religion. To Joni, there were fundamental things wrong in the church; the leaders allowed bad things to happen without making corrections. After a little discussion, her parents allowed her to go to the public high school. “If I didn’t believe in the Catholic religion, they didn’t see the point in spending the money for it,” Joni says.

In 1966, Joni married her husband, Bob, at a Lutheran church in Chicago. Although they were married in a church, both already had made the decision not to join a church or attend worship. Joni and Bob agreed that they didn’t believe in religion. They thought that religion caused the major wars and turmoil in the world. “Religion seemed to be disappointing to us,” Joni says. “Religion as we knew it was not as important as they were trying to say that it was.” Their lives continued without Catholicism, Lutheranism, or any other faith. Although they still prayed to God and trusted in him, they believed that religion was something human-made and it was used to suit the needs of humans. Their lives seemed to be fine without organized religion.

New connections

It wasn’t until after Joni and Bob received the second postcard from Lamb of God that they changed their minds about religion. They discussed the idea of going to church and decided it wouldn’t hurt to attend just one Sunday.

When they arrived at Lamb of God for the first time, their experience was a lot different than they both expected. “There were greeters at the door, and they were very nice,” Joni recalls. “Everybody was very interested in talking with us, which was very welcoming.”

After that day, Joni and Bob regularly attended services at Lamb of God, and the pastor led the couple through Bible classes. “He answered every question we had, and, of course, we had lots of questions,” Joni remembers. It wasn’t long, though, before the pastor took a call to the state of Washington.

About the same time, Joni officially retired from her business and decided she needed to fill her time with something new. She thought that being a church secretary would be a perfect fit for her, but with the pastor leaving, she found it unlikely that an opportunity would arise. Still, she prayed to God, asking him to guide her.

Soon another pastor accepted the call to serve Lamb of God. As he began his new work in Alabama, he asked the church to budget for a part-time administrative assistant. The church agreed to hire a secretary and put an ad in the weekly bulletin. That Sunday, as Joni sat in her pew and read the bulletin, she was stunned to see the ad for the position. It was exactly what she was praying for. She nudged Bob and showed him the ad, and he encouraged her to look into the job. She thought about it for two weeks until she finally put in her resumé for consideration. She got the job. “We were both very happy with my opportunity,” Joni says.

Valuable ministry partners

Joni met the new pastor, John Roebke, on her first day of work, starting a friendship that continues today. She says she enjoyed working with him all the years she was there. He helped train her the first year, including teaching her about computers and how to create bulletins. Roebke says Joni had a willingness to learn and be trained, asking important questions and always troubleshooting problems. “She was a very valuable ministry partner,” he says. “God certainly got the right person in the right place at the right time.”

The job came with some unexpected important benefits. Joni learned new information about the Bible. One of her favorite parts of the job was finding Bible passages and information to incorporate into the church bulletin. She found ways to integrate the Bible into her daily activities. “I got the best part of the deal because not only did I come to church, but I got to see my friends, and I learned more about my religion than I probably would’ve learned otherwise,” Joni says.

Her pastor became much more than just a boss to Joni. He also provided the support of a friend. When Bob was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Roebke became the couple’s spiritual shepherd and offered them counsel. Trouble and trial drove them both to the promises of God. From those promises, their faith grew stronger. Roebke remembers, “That is definitely what I saw with Joni. I’ve really seen her faith mature.” When Bob passed away, Roebke answered Joni’s call at two in the morning, offering words of encouragement that her husband was with his Savior.

Joni worked at Lamb of God for several years, even after she had a stroke. As her mind was healing, Roebke was there, patiently helping Joni relearn certain tasks. “I give her credit because she didn’t quit. She kept it up,” he says. She eventually started a card playing group to help with her memory. That also had some unexpected benefits—it grew into a strong fellowship group.

Joni retired from her church work a year ago but still maintains her church relationships and volunteers when she can. She hopes that her story inspires others to keep their hearts open. “Keep yourself open to different things in life because you never know when the best is going to come,” Joni says.


Gabriella Moline is a member of Zion, Crete, Illinois.


 

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Author: Gabriella Moline
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Confessions of faith: R. Baker

A man lives on overtime after God uses a brush with death to make his life-saving message known.

Amanda M. Klemp

Randy Baker says that he’s living on overtime. He’s been saying this for 30 years.

He confesses, “God uses extreme circumstances for extreme people, so he used a two-by-four to get my attention and then once he had my attention, he had me.”

Going his own way

Baker grew up in California. When he was eight, his parents divorced. While he went to church a few times with his grandparents, his parents didn’t put a priority on a church life. The divorce was amicable, to the point that both sides got together for holidays and special events. But, Baker says, this was almost more confusing to a child because it seemed like his parents separated for no obvious reasons.

This family instability affected his own views of what family should be and what commitment means. “I got into things that were definitively not Christian,” says Baker. “It went on for a while until I met my wife, and then we ended up living together and not getting married because both of us came from dysfunctional families.”

He continues, “We didn’t see any functionality in the families that were supposedly Christian-based to begin with, so we were kind of trying it our own way.”

It was when they started to talk about having a family that Baker and his wife, Gail, got married. They were married in 1977, and their first son was born in 1980. This was when Gail, who was raised WELS but wasn’t attending church as an adult, felt the pull to go back.

“It was shortly after our oldest son was born that Gail started to feel the heartstrings tugging her back to church. So she started going without me and inviting me,” says Baker. He went occasionally, but often made other plans and found reasons not to go. Their second son was born in 1983, and all the while Gail made sure the children were baptized and going to church.

In general, the Bakers represented the all-American family—two small children with two stable parents who loved each other and a father who supported the household working in the construction business.

Changing his attitude

But God had other plans for Randy and needed to get his attention. In 1985, he came face to face with God’s two-by-four.

He was diagnosed with melanoma. It was stage five and had metastasized.

The only treatment available at the time was dangerous, and Baker didn’t have insurance because he was self-employed. He was given a 20 percent chance that he would live two years. He underwent surgery to remove the melanoma from his back, but the doctors said it would certainly return after three months.

“Now, God had my attention,” says Baker. With a cancer diagnosis, he says, “The rug gets torn up from underneath you by the world. I was facing my demise. We had two children at the time, and Gail was being faced with being a widow in her 30s.”

Facing death, Baker started going to church. He started attending Bible class, reading God’s Word, and praying. In 1986, he was baptized and confirmed at Shepherd of the Hills, La Mesa, Calif., where he and his wife are still members.

“It was dark days, and it took a while to get out of that from a worldly standpoint. But from the standpoint of going to Bible class and becoming confirmed and learning more about the Christian faith and how it should work, it changed my attitude quickly,” remembers Baker. “But I was still faced with not surviving. During that two-year period that I was supposed to be perishing, our daughter was born, so obviously God had something different in mind.”

Baker started spending more time thinking about God’s Word and praying for guidance and healing. He wanted to see his kids grow up. It was after his confirmation that he felt he could face his illness and impending death. But, he says, there’s never really a sensation of “all clear” as a cancer survivor; every little ache or pain or weird malady makes you wonder if it’s back. The difference now is that he felt he could face it.

He says, “As time goes on, you’re able to see the next day, the next week, and finally starting to be able to look further down the road. It was certainly meditating on God’s Word and getting introduced to the truth that changed my attitude, and I was able to look forward and get a smile back.”

After the surgery, he was expecting the cancer to return. By all medical accounts, it should have come back. But it didn’t.

“Basically, it went away, and they don’t know why it went away,” says Baker. “I think it was God, because nobody knows.” And it hasn’t come back in 30 years. “From a medical standpoint, it’s a miracle, plain and simple.”

Now, he has three children, a new faith in God, and no signs of cancer.

Baker says, “I had a new attitude and a whole new outlook on life. I was going to church regularly, going to Bible classes. The day I got confirmed, I was added to the church council and board of trustees.”

Working on overtime

It was at this time that he started tapping into his construction experience to work on building the church . . . literally. It started with pouring a foundation for a school. Then he worked on or helped build several WELS churches in his area of southern California. From there, he went with a crew to Antigua in 1995 to help with relief work there. The projects kept coming, and his hand was always raised.

When Christian Aid and Relief started relief work in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, Baker was one of the first to go and last to leave. He spent the better part of three years overseeing construction work on behalf of WELS organizations.

“When I had the opportunity, it was an easy move to make,” he says. “It was work, and not always for pay, but it was an easy decision for me to give thanks back. This whole time, I’m in overtime. Every day is overtime, every month is overtime, every year is overtime. When I got asked to be involved with these projects, I couldn’t say no.”

He’s even brought his children to help with some the projects, modeling and teaching service to the Lord. One of his sons even met his spouse volunteering with his dad.

Baker says he comes into contact with a lot of people who say they want to do similar volunteer work someday. His advice is always, “Don’t wait. Make plans now, because we don’t know where we’re going to be tomorrow or in ten years.”

Baker is quick to say that none of this is actually about him. “It’s about God’s people sharing the light that’s presented through our actions.”


Amanda Klemp is a member at Gethsemane, Davenport, Iowa.


 

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Author: Amanda M. Klemp
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Hunt

Believers in Christ have a deep peace, but living as a Christian in this world is a struggle.

Donald A. Patterson

When Paul and Barnabas passed back through Asia Minor where they had spread the gospel in their first missionary journey, they reminded the new Christians, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Surely becoming a Christian is a great joy. For the first time in your life you feel loved, forgiven, and right with God through the grace of your Savior. Nothing can compare with the freedom of faith! But the apostles were telling these new Christians that becoming a Christian in a world led by Satan puts us at war with him on several fronts.

When I think of this truth it reminds me of a dear Christian friend, Denise Hunt. She is a beautiful Jamaican woman whom the Lord moved to the neighborhood next to our church.

Denise is extremely extroverted, energetic, infectious, and downright charming. On the island of Jamaica, she is a celebrity. You can google her name and read all about her. But before she visited our church, she did not have the peace of Christ that passes understanding. For her, all faith—even the Christian faith—was a work of her own heart. She struggled; she wanted to be worthy. She had been taught a lot of good Christian moralism but very little grace.

But she came to church, and she listened. She studied, prayed, and strained to understand. Hours of discussion with our pastoral team eventually paid off. One day, when she was praying, she realized deep in her soul that Jesus really did love her, that he alone died for her, and that there was nothing she could do to earn such love or deserve it. She trusted God’s promises in the gospel. It has changed her life for an eternity.

Now this ambassador of Jamaican fitness and entertainment is also an ambassador of the gospel. She wants everyone to know the peace of Christ right here and right now. She began to take territory from Satan as she shared Jesus with family and friends. That’s when life got a little tougher. Her struggle to believe morphed into a struggle to share the faith.

We’ve all been there. We live on the island of faith where Jesus feeds and waters our soul in his oasis of love and truth. And we see restless souls passing our island like dark, pirate ships filled with people trying to pillage the world for treasure that cannot satisfy the soul’s craving. So, we beg them to come and taste the gospel with us. Not everyone takes us up on it. Instead, they even might argue with us, reject us, or insult our sincere trust in a God who both confronts and forgives at the same time.

Denise has religious friends who challenge her about the idea that Baptism saves or that Christ’s body and blood for forgiveness are really present in the Lord’s Supper. For her, Baptism seals her identity as a forgiven child of God. She knows all of her sins are washed away. She won’t let the devil guilt her. When she goes to the Lord’s Supper she knows she touches Jesus in a miraculous way. She attributes her overall wellness to the Lord’s Supper as much as to her exercise and diet. She has unbelieving friends who snicker at her vehement testimony about Christ and his sacraments. They are people she cares about, and it hurts that they reject the love of Christ. In addition, she faces the daily attraction to return to the world where she was very good at getting attention, praise, and admiration. Sound familiar? Her struggle is our struggle.

Recently, Denise joined us at the WELS South Central District Grow Conference, a conference that brings together pastors, teachers, and lay leaders to grow in God’s Word and in their various roles within the church. There she had more epiphanies. She gained new spiritual ammo to defend herself against the temptation to envy others and their lot in life. She still talks about how Jesus has custom-made her cross to bear for his name. As Denise will tell you, the cross every Christian has is unique to them. While our crosses are all different, they come from our faith in what Christ has done on his cross. By his sacrifice we are freed from guilt and fear; we have forgiveness, life, and salvation. Trusting in his cross we take up our own crosses and endure ridicule and hardship.

Denise is not just defending herself with the gospel. She is using it to claim territory that Satan once ruled. Through the Holy Spirit, her mother, Angela, and her sister Sasha have come to faith in Christ, trusting God’s pure grace. It’s fun to watch Jesus pluck people out of the devil’s grasp and firmly establish them in his body.

Denise and her family are changing the congregation too. They are boldly different than our monocultural heritage. They challenge our thinking, awaken excitement in our Sunday morning worship and Bible class, and push us to challenge all of our assumptions about people and culture. As a pastor, I am deeply refreshed and happily improved by their presence.

When Paul and Barnabas told those baby Christians in Asia Minor that they would have struggles as they entered the kingdom, they weren’t talking specifically about struggles in the church. But becoming part of a church that originated in a different culture is a big struggle for Denise. She will often say, “I just don’t get it! Uhhhhhh!” And she asks, “Why can’t we do that?” or “Why does this church stand for this or that?” My old filters for discussing truth and practice are shattered as I struggle to see the world from her perspective and learn what she thinks, feels, and understands. It’s a great adventure. God is using Denise and her family to change us just as he used us to change them. Jesus works that way. As members of the body of Christ hang in there with each other with durable love and grace, we morph into a something new and better without giving up any truth. But it’s a struggle. Jesus helps us with that too.

When I see Denise, I think of Paul’s words in Philippians: “You will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (2:15,16). For years Denise Hunt was just a star on the silver screen on the island of Jamaica. Now she is a star that shines on God’s screen for the world to see.


Donald Patterson, president of the South Central District, is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas.


 

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Author: Donald A. Patterson
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Phetsanghane

God’s arm is not to short to save. He can reach around the world to rescue sinners and make them part of his people.

Souksamay K. Phetsanghane

Imagine someone born into a Buddhist family, in a communist country, where there were few Christians and fewer Lutherans. What would be the chances that person would come to faith in the Lord? Improbable? Impossible?

God works in difficult situations

My parents were born in Laos in southeast Asia. Laos is almost exactly halfway around the world from Wisconsin. I was born in 1982 into a country that is two-thirds Buddhist. That religion shapes Laos’ culture and landscape. Seven years before I was born, Laos fell to Communism. Christianity became more often persecuted than permitted. Today Christians number approximately 150,000 of the 7 million people in Laos. No one had ever heard of Lutheranism and certainly had no knowledge of WELS. What would be the chances I would ever hear the gospel? Slim to none, right?

But as in all our lives, our Lord stepped in to make us his own. In communist Laos, my parents knew that there was no future for their son and soon-to-be-born second son. So in 1984, they decided to flee to Thailand, a country separated from Laos only by the Mekong River. When crossing that river, my parents left Laos with only the clothes on their backs and the items they could carry. My mother was pregnant with my brother; I was a two-year-old. They left behind all they knew and entered one of the many refugee camps in Thailand. Still, there was little chance of hearing the gospel.

But our Lord stepped in. In 1975, the United States had passed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act. This helped families like ours immigrate to the United States. We spent one year in a Thai refugee camp. Then we spent another in the Philippines, awaiting approval for our U.S. immigration. Through this act, the United States only allowed a few thousand people to immigrate each year. In addition to approval, a refugee family also needed a U.S. person or group “to sponsor” them. Refugee sponsors agreed to help the refugees acclimate to life in the States. Hearing the gospel became a little more realistic but still not much of a chance.

Our Lord stepped in again. Lutheran Social Services (LSS), an arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, helped my family find a sponsor. Our sponsor was a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregation in Springfield, Illinois. Finally, my parents, my two-year-old brother and I, almost four years old now, were on our way to the United States. However, the LCMS congregation backed out, without warning or explanation. If there was no sponsor for my family, we would have to remain in the Philippines. Hopes faded.

Our Lord stepped in one more time. The LSS ended up calling a WELS congregation, Peace, Granger, Ind. The LSS talked to Peace’s pastor at the time, Michael Hintz. He had the impression that the LSS was just calling churches out of a phone book; the congregation had never previously sponsored a refugee family. After the call, Pastor Hintz discussed it with Peace’s members. One member is remembered to have responded, “We can do something about this; we can help this family.” In about an hour, Peace had decided to get into an unknown situation sponsoring an unknown family. The Lord changed the gap between the impossible and improbable to reality.

God works through his people

On Nov. 13, 1986, about 10:45 p.m., my family and I arrived at the little airport in South Bend, Indiana. Total strangers were there to meet us. People we met for the first time. People who would eventually become family and even closer. Peace’s members faithfully carried out their responsibilities as our refugee sponsors. They taught my parents where to go for doctor’s appointment, where to buy groceries, how to drive a car, and a lot more.

Of the entire congregation that helped, two people stick out in my mind: Bob and June Koester. Here are some reasons why. I was a four-year-old who had never known snow. Now I was in northern Indiana right before winter. So Bob and June Koester got me my first snowsuit—it was bright red. Red is still my favorite color. I remember them throwing me my first birthday party in America and introducing me to American food.

I specifically also remember them—and the entire Peace congregation—sharing their faith with us. Not just with words, but by the mere act of sponsoring a refugee family. Certainly, they shared with us how to live in America. Most important, they shared with us their Lord, the reason for all they did for us.

Pastor Hintz would spend the better part of two years taking my parents through a Bible Information Class. The length was due to the language barrier. I remember being baptized on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1988. The Koesters were my sponsors and godparents. I remember my parents getting confirmed on March 5, 1989. As June Koester recalled, “There was not a dry eye in the congregation.” I remember the examples of Christian love and service from Peace’s members.

Fast-forward to the present, I now serve our Lord as a pastor in his kingdom. My family lives in Florida. My sister is named after June Koester. Peace Lutheran is still spreading the gospel. Bob and June Koester are now among the saints triumphant.

God works out of love and grace

I am often asked: Was it difficult converting from Buddhism to Lutheranism? Conversion is all our Lord’s work, so in that sense, it was easy. However, it was also easy in another sense. How I lived as a Buddhist is basically how I live as a Lutheran: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

Between the two religions, the actions may look the same, but the motivation is vastly different. The motivation in Buddhism is to earn your way into Nirvana, the Buddhist version of heaven. If you do not do enough good deeds in this life, then you get reincarnated to try again in a new life. This cycle repeats until you have done enough good deeds to reach Nirvana. For us as Lutherans, we “do to others . . .” because of what our Lord has first done for us. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our good deeds are our thanks for all our Lord has done.

So what happened, and why am I here? It’s grace—God’s undeserved love to me and my family. That is the sole reason why any of us are a part of God’s family! Indeed, we all have an amazing account of our Lord’s love and grace to us. It always his grace that brings us into his family. God used his faithful people who share the gospel to make it happen. It may not be as dramatic as my story, but it just as amazing. We all thankfully remember, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16).


Souksamay Phetsanghane, a professor at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wisconsin, is a member at St. John, Watertown.


 

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Author: Souksamay K. Phetsanghane
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Confessions of faith: Woods

A woman discovers the Lord’s guidance along an often difficult road.

Ann M. Ponath and Vanessa Woods

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

Vanessa Woods’ favorite section of Scripture is Psalm 23.* As she considers her life’s journey, the words of verse 3 are especially meaningful: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” As Woods puts it, her life has been “a long road behind.”

Following other paths

Woods was born in Santa Rosa, California, and raised in the San Francisco Bay area until she was six. Her family eventually settled in Redding, California, where her parents continue to live. Woods was a baptized and confirmed member of the Church of Christ. The church only allowed unaccompanied singing in their services. Woods plays guitar and a little piano but was not allowed to play during services.

Fast forward several years. Woods married. Her husband was also a Church of Christ member, and “things were fine until, after many years of physical and mental abuse, I had to leave him,” says Woods.

Woods took a job as a live-in nanny with a man who had custody of his developmentally disabled daughter but worked full time. The church told Woods that this was a sinful situation and “ordered me to go back to my abusive husband or face excommunication.” Woods refused and was banned from the church. “I vowed never to go to church again and for years questioned the existence of God at all,” says Woods. “I followed other paths.”

One of these paths was called Red Path. Woods is Native American of Chockta and Cherokee descent. Woods says Red Path is “Native American spiritualism, a very nature-based belief system that is based on a great spirit who made and owns everything. It allowed me to see God in everything and to be closer to God than I had ever felt.” Woods was part of Red Path for 15 years. “I felt satisfied in the presence of God. I began to believe he was real again, without the confines of church-based rules and ceremonies,” she says. But she was still missing something.

Seeing God’s care

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Things got very difficult. Woods moved to Oregon and says she lost connection with those of Native American descent and floundered, although she kept praying. “As things unfolded in my life, it got hard,” she says. She was plagued with arthritis and bursitis in hips and shoulders, and depression, among other things. She had remarried, and her new husband took care of household expenses, but Woods was a smoker. She tried quitting “but to no avail.” They had no money to spend on her habit, so she decided to collect cans to make money, but because of her disabilities, she could not physically do the collecting. “I got a little cart, put a sign on it that read: ‘Clean out your cars. Give me your cans and bottles,’ and sat in a small shopping center,” says Woods.

It was a hard time, but Woods started reading the Bible again while sitting by her cart for hours. Daily she prayed.  Every day she made enough to get the things she needed. Woods says, “I realized God was listening to me, knew what I needed, and made sure it was there. I quit worrying about my day-to-day existence. . . . I may have forgotten about God for a time, but the Father did not forget me.”

Finding a church

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

After three years, Woods was able to stop collecting cans. “I had made a promise to God that when things got better, I would go in search of a place of worship,” she says. “Problem was, I was picky. Finding a church that was Bible-based was difficult.”

Woods’ youngest brother was actually married for a time. Woods and her former sister-in-law, Laura, remained friends. For years, Laura had been asking Woods to go to church, and, finally, around Christmas, Woods attended Mount Calvary, Redding, Calif., with Laura. “The message was full of hope, not the gloom and doom that I had always encountered before,” says Woods. “Here was a place that followed what the Bible taught and focused on Christ’s love and forgiveness for all.”

After the service, Woods was “so impressed with the message” that she asked the pastor if there was a WELS church near her home in Oregon. He gave her the address. She began regularly attending Trinity in Eugene, Oregon; took Bible information classes; and, less than a year later, became a confirmed member. “I am happy in my new home. God is a central part of my life, and I keep seeing his influence,” says Woods. “Even though I had no church, he watched over me, taught me, comforted me all along the way. I have been blessed.”

Encouraging others

Woods’ long road has also been a blessing to others. Even during her tough years in the shopping center, Woods says she got to know many homeless people and grew to understand them. “Just because someone is dressed shabby and dirty—they have souls too,” she says. “I met some very intelligent people and made friends with many of them. I started preaching God to them too.”

Another person blessed by Woods’ faith is her young pastor. Ben Zuberbier was installed as Trinity’s pastor just weeks after Woods’ confirmation. He says, “It’s a blessing to have Vanessa in our Sunday morning Bible study. She has a good working knowledge of the Word. Not only is she well-versed in the pages of Scripture, but through these God has worked a faith in her Savior that has carried her through many difficult times. As a young pastor who’s been out of the seminary less than two years, I’ve learned what sections of Scripture you can use to comfort people who are facing different types of adversity. When I talk to Vanessa, she shares exactly how those sections of Scripture have given her comfort and hope through the years. What an encouragement that is to me and the members of Trinity! It regularly reminds us that the Word God gives us is living and active, powerful and efficacious. It gives new life and new hope. Praise God that he has promised to preserve it for us into eternity.”

Woods encourages all Christians when she says, “Never give up. Learn something new about the Lord every day, and be glad that someday we will all meet in heaven.”

The psalmist puts it this way: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North Saint Paul, Minnesota. Vanessa Woods is a member at Trinity, Eugene, Oregon.

*Verses from Psalm 23 are using the English Standard Version translation.


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Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 104, Number 2
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Confessions of faith: Katie Erb

A church’s child care center offers the opportunity to reach out to not only its students but also to its workers.

Ann Ponath

On April 20, 2014, Deb Burgess posted the following message on her Facebook page: Today, a very special child of God became a member of St. Peter. Congratulations, Katie! Welcome to our church family! I look forward to worshiping, praising, and serving our God together!

What an exciting post, but who is this Katie? Who is Deb? And how did they meet? There’s more to this story than a simple Facebook friendship, and it all, strangely, begins in a child care center.

An opportunity

Katie Erb, now 23, was a student at Northcentral Technical College (NTC) in the early childhood education program. In the fall of 2012, NTC assigned Erb to Key to Life Childcare Center, a ministry of St. Peter, Schofield, Wis., for her practicum experience. Erb had had only brief encounters with Christianity and had stopped attending church due to the busyness of school work and her waitressing job. But while fulfilling her 108 hours of observation, Erb overheard the director saying more help was needed in the school-age room, and Erb jumped at the opportunity. Soon she was working part time and then full time at Key to Life in the toddler room and fitting college in online, at night, and on the weekends.

Erb’s first impressions of Key to Life were positive. “The teachers were really nice,” she says. She found Bible time, her first exposure to some of these stories, to be interesting. “I was intrigued,” she says.

Deb Burgess, meanwhile, began working part time at the center. She and Erb worked together periodically in different classrooms. Erb and Burgess both agree that they immediately “hit it off” and worked well together. “We talked A LOT. We talked in the classroom, on the playground, on long walks with the children,” says Burgess. “Katie is especially bubbly and out-going, and we got to know one another very well. Katie began to see that Christ and our church played a major role in my life, and I learned that neither Katie nor her family was attending a church and hadn’t for a long time. I also learned that Katie had experienced many struggles growing up. I kept Katie in my prayers and knew that I had to share the hope of Christ with her.”

An invitation

Erb remembers Burgess’ invitations to join her and her family for Sunday worship. For three months, Erb’s response was “No, thanks.” However, according to Erb, Burgess was “very persistent, but she never judged me, just loved me for who I was.”

Burgess recalls worrying that she would offend Erb. “I felt I just had to take the risk,” she says, “because I cared too deeply about Katie not to try to expose her to what she was missing by not having Christ in her life. I recall questioning some of her behavior and later learning I was the only one who stepped forward and that she was glad I cared enough to take that risk. I couldn’t give up. I felt God was calling me to be there for Katie.”

Finally, Erb said she would join Burgess’ family at church. Burgess says, “I had tears as I showed her where we were in the service. I tried

to quietly explain what was going on.” In subsequent weeks, Burgess con-tinued to encourage Erb to join her family at church, saying, “You always have a spot in the pew with us.”

Erb enjoyed the services. She says, “They focused on a relationship with God.” She also speaks highly of the friendly members and the pastor who always shook her hand. “It was somewhere that could be my home,” she says.

After about a month of attending services and many conversations with her friend, Erb still had lots of questions. “Sometimes I didn’t really even know how to answer,” says Burgess. She recommended that Erb attend Bible information class. It turns out that the pastor also had invited Erb to the classes. “I could tell the Holy Spirit was working on her heart in a big way!” says Jeff Mahnke, pastor at St. Peter.

With the Holy Spirit’s working, the pastor’s instruction, and Burgess’ encouragements, Erb faithfully completed the class and was welcomed as a member on Easter Sunday. “How fitting!” says Burgess. “Our church was celebrating that Christ died for our sins and had risen from the dead and Katie was confessing this to be true. To God be the glory!”

A reminder

Once Erb became a member, Burgess continued to encourage and invite her to attend Bible class and consider other opportunities to get involved. Currently, Erb teaches Sunday school and vacation Bible school and assists with the youth group, even chaperoning at this summer’s youth rally in Colorado. “She’s on fire for her Savior, and it’s so awesome to see that!” says Mahnke.

Burgess says, “[Katie is] now often my encourager. I never thought I would still be working at Key to Life for almost three years, but it’s become one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever held. I can’t thank God enough for bringing me here and for bringing Katie and me together.”

Burgess and Erb no longer work in the same classroom, but Burgess says she’s observed “renewed hope and confidence in Katie since she’s come to know Jesus as her Savior. She lets her Christian light shine. . . . She often refers to me as her second mom, and she will always hold a special spot in my heart.”

Kate Shambeau, Key to Life’s director, was also instrumental in inviting Erb to church activities and speaks highly of her: “Katie is a perfect example of the outreach opportunities present in our child care center not only with the families we serve but with our staff as well. She is a constant reminder that it is solely by the grace of God that we have faith. Over the past couple of years, it has been a pleasure to see Katie become more and more involved at church. She truly is an inspiration to me and those around her!”

Mahnke agrees, “It’s amazing how . . . God opened the door for us for sharing the gospel with one of our staff members. How cool is that!”

Erb is forever grateful for all the people at Key to Life and St. Peter’s. “God was shining his light through them,” she says. “[It’s] all about having faith. Jesus died on the cross. The rest of life is just details.”

Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North Saint Paul, Minnesota.

 


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Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Confessions of faith: Baker

After attending Mornings with Mommy sessions, a family finds joining a church body to be a smooth transition.

Rachel Hartman

“Just being a part of a church family is a blessing in and of itself,” notes Kim Baker, who joined the Lutheran church several years ago with her family.

Kim, along with her husband, Chris, had grown up attending a church, but they had not found a place to call home for their family after getting married.

That changed after Kim attended Mornings with Mommy sessions at a nearby Lutheran church. Now the family appreciates having a place to worship and the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a church body.

Different backgrounds

Both Chris and Kim were born and raised in Missouri. As a child, Chris attended the Catholic church, while Kim went to a Baptist church with her family. “I grew up in a small town and went to services with my grandparents,” she recalls. “I would even take my great-grandma to church.”

When Christ and Kim got married, the wedding ceremony was held in a Baptist church. During their first years of marriage, however, they realized it would be difficult to find a church home. When they discussed their backgrounds, they noted the Catholic and Baptist churches had stark differences. At one point, they decided to try attending the Baptist church together. “It just didn’t work,” says Kim.

As a result, the couple drifted away from services and from a congregation. “We spent a number of years in our early marriage not going to church,” Kim explains.

One reason involved the idea of a separate place for kids to worship, away from the parents. Chris and Kim were blessed with three children, and with Kim’s background in the Baptist church, she was accustomed to seeing children attend a kids’ church while the adults went to a different area. “The kids were young,” she says. “I wasn’t comfortable going and dropping them off at a place away from me.”

Mornings with Mommy

Several years later, while their children were still young, the Baker family moved near Myrtle Beach, S.C. As they settled in, Kim heard from an acquaintance about a program being offered at a nearby Lutheran church called “Mornings with Mommy.”

Kim decided to try it and attended a session with her youngest daughter. At the time, the program was held in a temporary space, as the congregation worked on constructing a new building.

The Mornings with Mommy program offered both structured and play environments. Parents were invited to attend with their child and to enjoy a variety of activities together. The sessions often involved arts and crafts, play time at a sensory table, flannel stories, and a snack. Mothers could mingle with each other during the activities. “It’s a great resource for moms to come in and meet other moms,” Kim explains.

Kim continued to attend Mornings with Mommy for about a year. Then her youngest started preschool, so they stopping going to the sessions. When her daughter had a day off of preschool, however, they went back.

When they returned, Kim noted that the location had moved. The program was no longer offered at a temporary space; it was in a new church building. The pastor’s wife was the director of the program.

Kim enjoyed the program and found it to be a welcoming way to learn more about the church. She mentioned to Chris that the church would be a good place for their family.

The first Sunday the family walked into the church, one of the members greeted Kim with a big hug. “My kids said, ‘Why is he doing that?’ ” None of the family knew the person.

“I said, ‘He’s just welcoming us to church,’ ” remembers Kim.

The Baker’s youngest child was four when the family first attended worship. At the time, Kim was nervous about how her daughter would act. She was pleasantly surprised to find that no one judged them. In fact, children were encouraged to sit with their families. “They want [kids] there,” says Kim.

After their initial visit to church, the pastor paid a visit to Kim and Chris at their home. “I talked to him about how the kids and I had not been baptized before,” recalls Kim.

There was a reason for this. “With the Baptist faith you have to have this saving-faith moment to be ready to be baptized,” notes Kim. Since the event seemed to require a certain time and emotion, she had never been baptized. And her children hadn’t either.

The pastor came back another night to talk about what the Bible says about Jesus, forgiveness, and Baptism. “The pastor told me, ‘If you want to be baptized, you don’t have to wait until you’re a member,’ ” recalls Kim. “The kids and I were baptized pretty much immediately after that.”

Chris and Kim began attending worship on Sundays on a regular basis. They also completed a Bible information class. When they finished with the instructions, they were confirmed as members.

Serving as a bridge

Kim is thankful for the chance she had to learn more about the church and to become familiar with the environment through the Mornings with Mommy program. “Without the program, we probably wouldn’t be going there,” she notes. “It helps you to get comfortable and is a good tool to get people in the church.”

She has appreciated the chance to let God’s Word speak to her. “It’s a blessing to delve into the Bible and realize, yes, I’m a sinner and God still loves me.” She values the certainty that comes from God’s forgiveness.

As a teacher, Kim has been able to serve at church as well. In addition to teaching Sunday school during the year and vacation Bible school in the summer, she also helps organize a regular basketball camp. She was part of a group that initiated plans to add a preschool to the church. The preschool opened in the fall of 2016.

Chris has managerial experience that he has been able to apply in various ways. He serves as an elder in the church and is part of the executive committee for the preschool.

Living in South Carolina puts the Bakers far away from the rest of their relatives. “Being part of that church family is such a blessing, especially when our family lives a thousand miles away,” notes Kim.

Furthermore, going to church as a family has aided the Bakers in setting the tone for their life at home. “It has helped center and focus our family,” notes Kim. “We’ll have conversations in the car and at the dinner table about the sermon and how we can apply it to our lives.”

Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in Leon, Mexico.


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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Confessions of faith: Miller/Cares

After being raised in the Baptist church, a man finds comfort in the answers the Bible provides to life’s questions.

Rachel Hartman

Wayne Miller is familiar with churches: He spent nearly his entire career as a church musician in Baptist and Methodist congregations.

Today, however, he regularly attends just one: a Lutheran church. “I love being Lutheran,” he notes. While he is familiar with other religions, especially the teachings of the Baptist church, he treasures where he is at now in life.

Growing up

Miller was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and grew up attending a Baptist church. “I came to know the Lord at nine years old during vacation Bible school,” he explains. “I was baptized in that church, and I surrendered to the ministry when I was 16 years old. At the time, I felt a call from the Lord to be involved in the ministry.”

When Miller was in junior high, his family moved to Texas. There they attended a small Baptist church in the area. Around that time, Miller became involved in church work. As a young teenager, “I started an adult choir at the congregation,” he recalls.

Miller enrolled in Wayland Baptist University for his college years. There he majored in education. “As time progressed, I realized my calling was to be in full-time music,” he notes.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, Miller accepted an offer to teach at a high school in Plainview, Texas. He taught for two years, and during that time, he also attended a Baptist church every Sunday.

As he got ready for church on Sundays, he often listened to a Lutheran show on the radio. The sermons and theology taught intrigued him. “I got to thinking, ‘If I wasn’t Baptist, I would be a Lutheran.’ ”

After teaching for two years, Miller was offered a position as a full-time church musician in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He moved to Albuquerque, and he became involved with music education and youth ministry at the church.

As time went on, Miller moved to different places and held a variety of positions in churches. Most of these were Baptist churches. Miller also got married during the time, but his first wife passed away. Miller married again. The two continued to move from place to place, as Miller worked in different churches.

A whirl of change

“Being raised in the Baptist church I knew nothing else—that was just the thing to be,” notes Miller. “When I surrendered into the ministry, I started questioning things. I asked those questions all through my adult life, even though I was working at the Baptist church.”

One of the questions Miller asked time and again involved communion. He says, “In some Baptist churches, there is open communion,” a practice in which anyone can receive communion. “On the other end of the spectrum is closed communion.” In this method, only members of the congregation are able to participate in communion.

In 2008, Miller received a master’s degree in Christian ministry from Wayland Baptist University. “I studied theology as part of the master’s program,” he explains.

“The last church I had was a Methodist church in Cyprus, Texas,” notes Miller. He stayed there for six and half years.

Then he went through a difficult family situation. He got divorced and resigned his position at the church. He decided to head back to Lubbock, Texas, where he had lived for a time and still had family members.

“On the same day I decided to leave and turned in my resignation, I got a phone call that my mother had died,” he recalls. “Ten days later I had a heart attack.” The attack was mild, and Miller recovered. As a result of his mother’s death, he bought her estate and lived there for the next two years.

Her house was directly across the street from a Lutheran church. One day Miller was outside talking to a neighbor. He noticed Jeremy Cares, pastor at that church, walking by with his family. “I said, ‘Hey, aren’t you in the Lutheran church?’ ”

Cares invited Miller to an upcoming block party the congregation was going to hold. “He came to the block party and stayed there the whole time,” recalls Cares.

Miller came to worship the following Sunday and continued to come every week. “I’ve been going there ever since,” he notes.

Settling in

Cares took Miller through a Christian Foundation course. “We did it one on one at my house,” explains Miller. “I fixed breakfast every Monday, and we’d have breakfast and study.”

Partially due to Miller’s background, these study sessions often led into in-depth discussions on theology and church practices. When the subject of Holy Communion came up, Miller brought up the idea of the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood. “I understood the real presence before we talked about being a Lutheran,” notes Miller. “That is how I had understood it.”

Cares explained the church’s stance on close communion, in which all those who share the same beliefs come to the Lord’s Supper together.

Infant baptism was another discussion. In the Baptist church, Miller had learned that in order to have faith, a person needed to understand what he or she believed. For this reason, baptisms were carried out later in a person’s life. The Lutheran church teaches that baptism is God’s act of washing away sin. God’s Word and promise are important, rather than the faith of the baptized. But children also can believe. At one point in the discussion, Cares pointed to the story of John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth’s womb. “[Wayne] stuck his hands in the air and said ‘Hallelujah,’ ” says Cares. Miller finally could see in Scripture that children can believe.

Miller became a member of the church and continues to study on a weekly basis with Cares. “I appreciate that when we have a biblical or theological question, the first place we turn to is the Bible,” says Miller. “We look at the Word—that means more to me than anything.”

While attending the Lutheran church, Miller met a member who had been married previously but had been through a divorce as well. The two got to know each other and started dating. Then they got engaged and married.

Miller is now retired, but he enjoys serving on the outreach committee and the fellowship committee at church. “I’m very happy where I am,” he notes.

When the congregation in Lubbock reworked its mission statement, Miller helped craft the new one. It now reads, “A neighborhood church who worships, works for, and witnesses Jesus.” “To me, if you confess the Lord as your Savior—that’s the bottom line,” says Miller. “That’s the whole basis for Scripture: that you know the Lord as your Savior and you believe in the triune God.”


Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in Leon, Mexico.


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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Bernabe

A woman finds safety and comfort in the gospel message.

Julie K. Wietzke

The world is a dangerous place—for the body and the soul. Ivette Bernabe from Queens, New York, knows that firsthand.

Bernabe, like all of us, want to feel safe from the bad things of this world—whether it be drugs, abuse, hunger, or poverty.

Sure Foundation, the WELS congregation in that neighborhood, is working to protect people from the spiritual hazards of the devil, the world, and sinful flesh.

Sometimes those worlds collide. Now Bernabe truly has met the One who can shield her from all real harm and danger.

“She is in a safe place for her soul,” says Tim Bourman, pastor at Sure Foundation.

Bernabe has been in New York City since she was five years old. Her dad moved her there from Puerto Rico when her parents split up. Her mom soon followed, moving to the United States to get custody of Ivette and her sisters and brothers.

Her mom brought them up as Catholic, but she didn’t have time to take them to church regularly. “She was raising us alone,” says Bernabe. “She was working two or three jobs to raise us.” She says the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to their apartment to hold Bible classes. The family lived in the Bronx until her mom remarried when Bernabe was 13 years old, and they settled in Long Island.

Life went on. Bernabe got married and soon after had a baby girl. Her marriage ended, however, when her husband brought drugs into the home. She decided to visit her brother and sisters who had moved back to Puerto Rico. It was there she met Luna, who taught her how to read tarot cards. “You literally felt a presence. This is a spirit,” says Bernabe. “I was young. It was so interesting. How can some cards tell somebody’s whole life?”

Bernabe says she was raised knowing she shouldn’t be doing this, but she couldn’t stop herself. She continued reading the cards for fun until they “told” her that her then seven-year-old daughter was in danger. It was then that she realized the cards weren’t helping her, and she decided to stop. “We need to pray to God for protection,” she says. “The devil won’t protect you.”

Bernabe spent most of her young working life selling wares on the street and in markets to make money. She did quite well and eventually made enough to buy a four-apartment home in Queens. She tried many religions—Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishna—to see what they were like, but “it never did nothing for me,” she says. “But I didn’t know this until I went to the Lutheran church.”

Bernabe met Dan Olson, a pastor at Sure Foundation, at a street fair where the congregation set up a booth to meet local residents. She says she was drawn to his beautiful little girls who were with him. They talked and exchanged contact information, but Bernabe wasn’t ready. She had been attending a Jehovah’s Witness church and wasn’t looking for another congregation.

Olson kept her phone number and called her once or twice a year to see how she was doing. Seven years after they first met, the timing was right. “I don’t get rid of people’s contact information because you never know what issues God is putting in their lives when it’s the perfect time for you to call,” says Olson. “She was so thankful I called.”

Bernabe started coming to church—and also asked lots of questions. “Pastor Dan made me understand so many things. I felt so comfortable. How could I not want to stay there?” she says. “It was different [from other religions].”

Olson says Bernabe thought that to get close to God, you had to be a good person. “One of the main things she struggled with was how you can have salvation completely free without having to earn it,” he says. “It’s the typical non-Christian idea of how to get to heaven.” He says Bernabe would ask him to pray for her because she thought that since he was a pastor he was closer to God. “I told her, ‘You can pray too. Your prayers are just as powerful as mine.’ ”

He said that after years of teaching and patiently answering her questions, she finally understood that she—like all of us—was a sinner but that forgiveness was hers through Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection.

“I wish everyone would know of God like I know,” she says. “It’s such a good feeling.”

It’s a message that Bernabe can’t keep to herself. “She’s very excited about the gospel. She’s one of the best listeners, and she leaves as a different person every week,” says Bourman.

“In her whole spiritual history she never has been engaged with the gospel the way she is now. She knows it, and she wants her friends and family to know about it.”

Bourman says that’s common in the neighborhood. Many live their entire life in the area and make lifelong friends. They want to share what they discover—especially the message of hope the gospel brings. Bernabe already has brought her close friend to church. Her friend was confirmed, and her friend’s immediate family was baptized. Bourman says they now are talking to her friend’s brothers and sisters. Bernabe also shares the Word with her children and grandchildren. She’s in church every week, and she appreciates the lessons she learns in the sermons and the Bible classes that further help her understand the sermon message.

Bernabe’s life isn’t perfect. She says she still is trying to learn how to forgive. She is going through a messy divorce. She has had health issues (but she says, “Thanks to God, all is good”). Money struggles still happen. But now she knows the One who can keep her safe. “What do I have to worry about?” she says. “God will protect me.”

Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine.

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Falcon

A woman who felt empty most of her life finds a lasting peace and now is sharing it with others.

Rachel Hartman

Sylvia Falcon has traveled to India and Nepal to reach more lost souls with the gospel message. She is on a continual quest to share the peace she has found from studying the Bible. She wants others who feel empty to learn about God’s full forgiveness and sure promise of heaven.

Before reading the Bible, Falcon spent years of her life searching for an answer to her spiritual questions. “I’d always known there was something; I just didn’t know what it was or where it was,” she explains.

The search begins

Falcon was born in El Paso, Texas, the fourth of six children. She spent the first ten years of her life, however, directly across the border in Juarez, Mexico.

Falcon grew up in a home that had some Catholic influence. While Falcon’s mother had been a Catholic all her life, her father didn’t share the same faith. “My father was a non-believing person but wanted us to grow up Catholic,” recalls Falcon. “He felt that was the right way.”

In addition, Falcon’s grandmother was a devout Catholic. Along with attending church, her grandmother and mother held to many of the traditions that are tied to the Catholic Church in Latin America.

Even during her early years, Falcon found it difficult to find a sure peace through going to church. “I had a hard time believing in heaven and hell,” she recalls. “I couldn’t find anyone to explain it to me. If I asked the priests about it, they would say to read about it in the Bible.”

When she brought up the idea of reading the Bible to others, such as her mother and grandmother, Falcon learned they felt reading the Bible was an activity only for those who were worthy enough, such as priests.

When she was ten years old, Falcon moved with her family back to El Paso. She joined the Air Force at the age of 20. She also married an atheist who at one time had been a Catholic. During her marriage, Falcon was discouraged from going to church.

The marriage ended, however, and Falcon started looking for a church. She tried going back to the Catholic Church but also spent time in the Mormon church, the Presbyterian church, a Nazarene church, and with a Seventh Day Adventist group. But she couldn’t find anything that offered lasting peace.

“All the bishops and clergy were the same,” she explains. “I had questions, and they didn’t provide answers.”

A trial run

While she was in her 30s, Falcon worked at a VA clinic in El Paso. One day, “a lady passed out in front of me,” Falcon recalls. Falcon was so shocked at the sight that she didn’t attempt to help. She watched doctors and nurses tend to the woman.

The incident stayed with Falcon, who felt that with her military background she should have helped. When she later came across the woman in the hallway of the clinic, Falcon approached her. “I wanted to apologize,” says Falcon. “The woman said, ‘If you want to make it up, come to church with me.’ ”

At the time, Falcon was discouraged at not being able to find answers in any church, so she passed on the invitation. But the woman continued to encourage Falcon to come. “Finally, after about six months, I said, ‘Fine, if I go to church will you stop inviting me?’ ” The lady agreed, and the two set a date.

The woman was a member at Christ Our Redeemer in El Paso. The first time Falcon went to church with her, they attended an Easter service. “I remember the sermon was very peaceful,” she notes. “It wasn’t like the sermons I had heard before that focused on condemnation.”

But Falcon was ready to be finished with the bargain. The lady, who was now becoming a friend, asked her to come again to church. On the following weekends, Falcon wasn’t in the area due to her military duties, but on the third Sunday after Easter, she came to the same church. Again, the sermon caught her attention. “It was a different kind of message,” she says.

The third time she came to church, it was on her own accord. This time, she spoke to the pastor and agreed on a time to talk some more.

“The first time we sat down together, we talked for about two and a half hours,” says Falcon. “I asked the same questions I had always asked. He had the answers and reached over to the Bible and showed me. He said, ‘Here, read this.’ ”

Falcon was deeply moved, because she had never been able to find answers to her spiritual questions. Now someone was showing her what she had craved for so long. She still had questions, so she agreed to come and talk more. “I have a very scientific mind and like to have proof,” explains Falcon.

At one point in their discussions, the pastor gave her a challenge. “He said, ‘What if?’ ” recalls Falcon. “He challenged me to give it a chance, to see if it was the truth. I said I’d give the church a trial period, for six months to a year, as I had done with the other churches.”

After about two years of going through more questions and digging into God’s Word further, Falcon decided to take membership classes and was then confirmed.

Sharing with others

Thinking about the time before she learned of God’s immense love and forgiveness, “I had so much darkness and sadness,” says Falcon. “It’s hard to explain the emptiness I had.”

Learning about Jesus’ death and resurrection and the promise of heaven changed Falcon. “I went from being very angry and self-destructive to being a very happy and thankful person,” she says.

After becoming a member at Christ our Redeemer, Falcon was asked to join the team at WELS Multi-Language Publications, which produces materials with the gospel message for countries around the world. Thinking of the chance to help more people learn what she had discovered, Falcon agreed. “I was extremely lost most of my life, and it makes me wonder how many people out there are like me,” she says.

Today, Falcon serves as the digital publications coordinator at Multi-Language Publications. She helps with the operations of AcademiaCristo.com, a site that offers free Christian resources in Spanish. She also works on other projects related to translating Christian materials into Spanish.

Knowing and remembering what it was like to feel so empty, dark, and negative inside drives Falcon to put every effort into her projects. “Many times it’s after hours and I am still working,” she notes. “If I can help reach more with the gospel, then I’ll happily work the extra hours. Those lost souls are my motivation.”

Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in Leon, Mexico.

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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Presley

A man rediscovers the truths he learned years ago at a WELS Lutheran elementary school.

Ann M. Ponath

God tells us that his Word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). As Christians we want to see results, but God reminds us that we are simply to proclaim the gospel. We do not always see the results of that work, and we may wonder if the Word had any impact at all. But sometimes it just takes time to see the fruit of the sowing.

Planting the seed

Quinton Presley was born and raised in Milwaukee, the third of four children. When he was ten, Presley and his siblings were enrolled at Mount Lebanon Lutheran School and soon afterward became members of the church. Presley says that this was “a beneficial opportunity for me. It helped my faith become stronger.” He recalls participating in Bible study every morning and in prayers throughout the school day. “I really enjoyed the stories from the Bible when I was younger. It helped me gain a great moral understanding of how I should lead my life,” he says. “During those times, learning about Christ and showing appreciation for what he had done for us was the norm.” Extracurricular activities like basketball and track taught Presley “to be a team player and develop good sportsmanship,” and “Christmas and Easter plays and events brought great excitement, as we would prepare for weeks to present in front of all of our families and friends.”

Although things were going well at school, when Presley was 12, “things at home, unfortunately, began to fall apart with my parents.” After just two years at Mt. Lebanon, the Presley children were transferred to Young Leaders Academy, a local YMCA school. The school environment changed significantly. The biggest setback was the division of church and religion from academics. “Though the learning environment was not the same, my background from Mt. Lebanon allowed me to adapt to the changes,” says Presley.

At Young Leaders Academy, Presley learned “more about his heritage and ancestral background, which was also priceless to me.” He says, looking back, “I was blessed to learn and get mentoring from teachers who influenced me positively. There was limitless guidance it seemed to me in the world, and I have always loved to learn.”

Presley graduated from high school and continued his education in the field of electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Harvesting the fruit

But Presley’s story is not over yet. In his junior year of college—“due to stress from a combination of working full time, third shift at a local casino, family issues, and school work overload”—Presley developed alopecia, a type of hair loss. “One day I woke up with just one patch in my hair, the next with another, until eventually ninety percent of my hair had fallen out. This was very tough,” he says.

At the age of 22, Presley completely lost all of his hair. Multiple doctors could find no cure, which caused Presley more stress. But it was a blessing in disguise: “During my early period of losing my hair I realized my approach to handling my problems was completely flawed,” he says. “I had succumbed to the ways of the world and not the ways of God.”

Through all of this, Presley was dating a woman who was at the time Muslim. “Though my girlfriend and I were of different religions, we shared all the same moral values . . . the only separation was my love for Christ. So, with our shared passion for learning and myself mentally fighting alopecia, we were directed to Siloah Lutheran Church through a mutual acquaintance.” It was Presley’s girlfriend who added his name to the prayer list. “This was something I was deeply embarrassed about, but at the same time, I knew through my religious background that prayer is the way to overcome my mental struggles,” he says.

He continues, “I had the opportunity to present myself to Pastor Tulberg within the first couple of months, and I gained a great appreciation for his structure of prayers, service, and loving support. My girlfriend and I had visited churches prior to coming to Siloah, but immediately she and I were attracted to Siloah and felt a bond.” Eventually, Presley and his girlfriend became members.

Enjoying the harvest

But another chapter soon unfolded. Presley moved to Phoenix to find a job and within a month “was blessed to receive a position as an electrical design engineer.” He has begun to attend two WELS churches in the Phoenix area regularly, although he “still has yet to decide which one I will set as my church home.” Presley says, “What I enjoy most is that the WELS churches are consistent. The churches have been extremely warm and friendly, providing the same structure.”

Presley says he appreciates what he learned at a WELS school. “Mount Lebanon had a significant impact on my early years of life because I was introduced to Christ at an early age and, therefore, was taught how to live according to the Bible. I always stressed that my morals and ethics were a direct reflection from learning the stories of the Bible and what God commanded of us. I have received many blessings such as being able to complete college as a first-generation member in my family, having multiple job opportunities, and meeting my best friend who became my girlfriend.”

He continues, “I would like readers to know that I have learned that we are all part of God’s family and no matter what your background is, you can find the foundation and the path of your life through Christ.”

Presley still has alopecia. “It’s something I continue to pray about, but I am very healthy physically and I appreciate what I do have more than what I don’t have,” he says. Perhaps this continuing trial fits under Presley’s favorite Bible theme: perseverance. “I believe in the darkest days of my life that through my trust in God and following his ways, I have been able to persevere through many obstacles and achieve my goals,” he says.

Back in Milwaukee, Presley’s former teacher, Roger Kramp, was excited to hear about his past student. “Hearing Quinton’s story brings me great joy. As Lutheran educators, often the faith we see growing in young people becomes routine. We don’t always get to see the fruits of faith produced from the seed that has been sown in the hearts of those children who don’t sit beside us in the church pews every Sunday. Mostly, though, it is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word. From simple childhood truths, Bible passages, and hymn verses to faith in an adult—what a miracle of God!” Yes, God’s miracle comes through the Word. It is the means through which God keeps us faithful to Jesus.

God’s Word will not return empty. He has promised. May he continue to bless Presley and all in whom his Word has been sown.

Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North Saint Paul, Minnesota.

 

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Author: Ann M. Ponath
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Skene

An ex-football player learns that God is in control of all things—whether good or bad.

Alicia A. Neumann

“I was so naïve and arrogant to complain about only getting to play in the NFL for a couple of seasons—many people never get that opportunity,” says Doug Skene, reminiscing about his years playing professional football. But little did he know that the end of his football career would eventually lead him to a newfound relationship with God.

The early years

Looking back on his childhood, Skene describes his relationship with God’s Word “loose at best.” He was raised in the Methodist church, but his family moved to Texas when he was 10 and never found a new church home. “In my adolescent years, there was no relationship with God,” he says. “We weren’t going to church on a regular basis.”

In middle school, Skene started playing football. “I had the God-given size to be good at it,” he recalls. “I was much taller and bigger than the other kids, so football came easy to me. It became a large portion of my identity—and looking back at it, an unhealthy proportion of my identity.”

He finished high school as one of the higher rated players at that time and went on to play football at the University of Michigan. “I had a challenging experience, but it was great that I had a chance to do that,” he says. During this time, he says his faith life hadn’t changed. He didn’t have much of a relationship with God, and he only attended church on Easter and Christmas. “When a family member or friend was in an accident or there was an illness, then there was a prayer or two at those times,” he says. “But there was no regular relationship, talking or praying to God. I was a college guy getting a chance to play football, and I was enjoying it. I didn’t think I had a need for God.”

A dream come true

After college, Skene got a chance to play in the NFL. First he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, then he was picked up by the New England Patriots, where he became a starter. “I was a starting player in the NFL; I had made it!” he says. “I wasn’t a

highly paid player—I was making the league minimum—but I was playing with the expectation that I’d sign a contract and start making good money. All I had to do was make it to the end of the season.”

But that never happened. He ended up injuring his leg and was unable to play for the rest of the season. He was eventually cut from the team and missed out on signing his big contract. His plans and expectations took a dramatic turn. “I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me,” he says.

Another struggle

Shortly after Skene’s injury, his sister—who was married with three small children—was diagnosed with cancer. “It was a pretty difficult year,” he says. “My relationship with God became contentious at best.” Why was God sending all this trouble?

Two years later, his sister passed away. “Those were the dark days,” he says. “It was a crushing blow for me to lose a sibling. For a family that wasn’t religious, there were a few of us who had a harbored anger and hostility toward God. I was one of them.”

During this time, Doug got married. Although his wife, Tracy, had been raised in an active Catholic family, she and Doug hadn’t been attending church. But when Tracy got pregnant, they both knew their child would need a relationship with God, and that pushed them to start looking for a church home.

“A lot of that energy came from her,” says Skene. “I told Tracy, ‘You’re right. We should have a spiritual home, a church home.’ I had issues with God, but there was this underlying feeling—I think it was the Holy Spirit working in me, nudging me. I knew it was time.”

Finding a church home

The Skenes were living in a small town in Michigan. They weren’t sure where to start their search for a church, since neither of them wanted to join the denomination the other was raised in. Then Skene’s cousin, who lived in the same town, called Skene up one day and invited the family to visit his church.

“I was hesitant to go, but the pastor’s sermon that day hit me like a ton of bricks. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” says Skene. “It was like God finally had enough of my complaining and said, ‘Who do you think you are? Stop feeling sorry for yourself and understand that I am your God.’ I sat up in that pew and listened like I hadn’t ever listened before.”

Skene says he felt like the answers he was looking for were right there. “This stereotypical light had gone off,” he says. “I knew this is where I belonged.” He and his wife joined, and Skene says it was enlightening for both of them. “Tracy learned about her religious upbringing, and it helped me finally deal with the frustration of what I thought was so bad.”

Because of his new relationship with God, Skene says now it’s easier to deal with challenges that come his way—whether it’s related to work, relationships, or dealing with illness. And that’s the message he shared when he was asked to present at a WELS men’s rally last fall in Bay City, Mich. “I was able to use my football experiences to communicate how things won’t always work out the way you think they are going to and you’re not always going to win. And that’s okay.” God is in control and loves us more than we deserve. He works to bring us to our senses so we can grasp the depth of his love for us and the treasures we have because of Jesus.

Skene says that knowledge and understanding would have been helpful for him as a young man. “There are regrets along the way, but we can’t go back and change,” he says. “For whatever reason, my path led me to have this religious reawakening in Tawas City. And now I have this home, and friends, and family—I have a great deal of gratitude for all of it, including the hard parts.”

Alicia Neumann is a member at Resurrection, Rochester, Minnesota.

 

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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Scarano

An accident that nearly killed a man ended up saving his life.

Pamela Holz

Theirs was a love story out of a movie. Two kids from New York who met in Virginia Beach while on vacation. She was mortified about the smell of the new perm she had just gotten and refused to make eye contact with anyone. He saw her and was determined he was going to see her again.

Later that week, they were both at a popular Virginia Beach destination. The crowd parted, and their eyes met . . . and it was like the rest of the world melted away. They spent the rest of the evening walking along the beach and talking, and when she got home from the vacation, there were flowers waiting for her. By August they were dating, and by Christmas, they were engaged. A big Catholic wedding came the following August, and their fairy tale romance was complete.

Then the practicalities of life set in. Ed was determined to take good care of this amazing woman JoAnn, who was now his wife. He was working hard as a New York City police officer. JoAnn was working for Gulf Industries. Every Sunday, JoAnn attended Mass, as she had done her entire life. Ed kept working. Raised with the perspective that one only had to go to church until one was confirmed, Ed had a skewed view of the church and of God. On the job, he saw so many things that made him question God. Church was fine for JoAnn, but Ed had no need for it.

Time passed, and their perfect family grew by first one and then a second little girl. Ed worked harder than ever to make sure that his girls lacked for nothing. He would stop in between jobs to change a shirt and grab lunch. JoAnn and the girls continued attending the Catholic Church. Ed kept working, switching to a Long Island police department.

Ironically, it was a Sunday morning when Ed and JoAnn’s life would change forever. Ed was on the side of the road, assisting a motorist whose car had broken down, when he was hit by a Volkswagen that strayed off onto the shoulder. Ed crashed into the windshield of the VW and then was thrown 30 feet from the car. He slid another 30 feet before crumpling on the ground. While he remembers nothing of the incident, eyewitnesses told of the horrific sight as the emergency crews hurried to save one of their own.

Blissfully unaware of the situation, JoAnn was enjoying lunch out with a friend. Frantic to find her—these were the days before everyone had a cell phone—another friend called every restaurant in the area to locate her. Moments after finding her, a police officer met JoAnn at the restaurant and hurried her to his vehicle. Despite her many questions, he remained silent as they sped to the hospital.

JoAnn arrived to find Ed alive, but broken. His left leg was crushed right below the knee; his right knee was dislocated to the point that it was dangling by a thread. His shoulder blade was broken, and he had suffered a T-10 vertebrae fracture in his spinal column. Monday’s surgery was able to repair the damage to the right knee but put Ed in a full to the hip cast. His right shoulder was restricted to a sling, and would be completely non-weight bearing for the next four months.

One of the first things that Ed asked was to see a priest. He remembers thinking that if God had allowed him to live through such a death-defying ordeal, there must be a reason for it. He had a strong sense that he needed to talk about God.

Over the course of the next year and a half, JoAnn struggled with the intense task of in-home care for her husband. A petite woman, JoAnn somehow managed to take care of Ed on a day-to-day basis, tending to his every need in addition to continuing to raise their two girls, now six and three.

As he began to get out, Ed started attending the Catholic Church with JoAnn and the girls but found himself frustrated with the message he was hearing. He knew he needed to find something else, but he wasn’t sure what that was.

In the midst of his search, their daughter, Jennifer, became quite ill. A neighbor came over and prayed with JoAnn, telling her words from the Bible to comfort her. JoAnn was amazed and dismayed to learn that after all of her years attending Catholic school and faithfully attending Catholic Church, she didn’t have any idea of what the Bible taught. The neighbor invited the family to attend her church, but Ed and JoAnn were not comfortable with the tambourines and dancing. They knew they needed to keep looking.

Invited to attend a Lutheran church, Ed and JoAnn found themselves in a setting that was more comfortable. They attended the adult orientation class. The more JoAnn learned, the angrier she became. She was angry that she didn’t know any of the things she was being taught from the Bible. She was angry with herself for never questioning how she was raised. The pastor comforted her by telling her that she had a childlike faith, and those words gave JoAnn a sense of peace.

Ed, meanwhile, found himself wanting to know why about everything. It wasn’t until he read a Bible verse that spoke of man’s inability to understand the ways of God that he finally found peace.

They continued at this Lutheran church for two years, until they decided to move to Tennessee. They knew no one there, but every door that needed to open happened at just the right time. Trusting that this was the right place for them, they confidently moved away from their families and all that was familiar.

They found a Lutheran church nearby. Eager to continue their walk in a Bible-teaching church, Ed and JoAnn got involved. As time went on, Ed grew increasingly uncomfortable. The church was making decisions on which parts of Scripture to follow and which ones not to follow. Ed questioned that decision. He wondered how error-filled men knew which parts to keep and which parts to discard.

Feeling that they were not yet in the best place for their family, Ed and JoAnn moved to Clarksville, Tennessee. But another Lutheran church also made them uncomfortable. They looked again and found Beautiful Savior.

At once they knew they had finally found their home. They heard God’s Word preached from the pulpit and spoken throughout the service. They became active in Bible study, and it was in a Bible class one evening that Ed, that tough New York City police officer who kept his feelings close to the vest, opened up and shared his story. Laughing sheepishly, he said, “Who would have thought that God would use a VW to get my attention? I am so glad that he did, because that accident saved my life.”

Pamela Holz is a member at Beautiful Savior, Clarksville, Tennessee.

 

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Author: Pamela Holz
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Confessions of faith: Scott

Our plans are actually God’s plans, and he guides events to purify and strengthen our faith.

Barb Scott

My biggest aspiration in life lately is to “have the faith of a child.” It sounds so comforting . . . to believe and know, without question, that you are loved, cared for, and saved.

The child whose faith I strive to emulate isn’t so young—she’s almost 34 years old, as a matter of fact. She’s my daughter. At the most needed and opportune times, she speaks words of comfort and wisdom that amaze and astound me.

I was raised Catholic—strict Catholic, strict Baltimore Catholic! I went to parochial grade and high school, taught CCD classes, was a reader at Mass. I went to confession and communion regularly like any good Catholic would. I couldn’t imagine anything else.

Then I met my would-be husband, who was not Catholic, but Lutheran! (Insert gasp here if you are Catholic!) He was divorced. I remember finding out we could not get married in the Catholic Church unless we were willing to go through months of waiting for annulment proceedings. I informed my mother that I wasn’t willing to do this. I can still hear her plea for me to get married at the courthouse instead of a Lutheran church. She hoped we would reconsider (a.k.a. come to our senses!) eventually and be able to have our union blessed in the Catholic Church.

We did marry at the courthouse, and a few years later I became pregnant with our daughter. Funny how carrying a child encourages you to reevaluate a faith you thought you could put on hold indefinitely. Baptism and a church home were non-negotiable for both of us, so we joined a Lutheran church. Mom had given up on her hope of us “coming around.” I think she had softened a bit and wanted her first grandchild to become a baptized child of God. She even said—albeit grudgingly—that it could occur in the Lutheran church.

We had a comfortable church life, though not particularly regular or too involved. We met some new friends through boating, which was a big part of our social life at that time. Our daughter was almost ready for school, and we were struggling with where to send her. Our friends invited us to their WELS church, which had a school. It seemed like a fine church, but the deciding factor for us joining was that they had a bus that picked students up—a real perk as we both worked full time! So we joined the WELS church, signed her up for school, and were all set.

Then, a couple weeks before the first day of kindergarten, we were notified that the bus needed repairs. The church could not justify the expense and canceled the bussing. Since we had so little time before school started, we decided we would figure out transportation for that year and reevaluate as we went along.

Looking back it amazes me that I don’t ever remember feeling the hand of God in my life then. Now I can’t help but shake my head at the timing of numerous events. A new friend, a conversation, a carpool, the daughters of the principal that became babysitters and a second family to our little girl. Then I thought it was just luck; now I see it is crazy to think of something as precious as life happenings as “luck.”

One year at school turned to three, five, then confirmation and eighth-grade graduation. The nice people we met at church and school became friends, and then I learned what a church “family” really meant. I was comfortable in a way and depth I never knew growing up in the Catholic Church. We had never been encouraged to read the Bible. It needed to be taught lest we “misinterpret” what God wanted us to learn.

I remember being in a Bible class once. I rarely spoke because I felt ignorant compared to everyone else, most of whom were lifelong Lutherans. But this particular class I did speak . . . we were talking about differences in religions. I shared that I had been raised Catholic and that I was so appreciative of the WELS faith and the “black and whiteness” of it. For any question or concern I may have there was a concrete biblical answer, not a “maybe” or gray one. It gave me comfort to know it never changed like so many aspects of the Catholic faith I’d known had changed. After class, a pastor from our congregation came up to me and thanked me for my comment and the beauty and simplicity of describing my faith. It meant a lot to me that day and still does.

I digress . . . our daughter grew up. She was outgoing, a trusted friend to many, and an unbelievably talented musician. I never have figured out where the genes came from for that. I guess the Lord just wanted to bless us with the joy of listening to her play her favorite hymns for hour upon hour on the piano, flute, and finally organ.

Oh, I think I forgot to mention she ended up going to a WELS high school. We weren’t sure how we would swing it financially—it wouldn’t be easy—but we had also been seeing that we always seemed to have enough, somehow. Eventually, our daughter became a teacher . . . yes, a WELS teacher! She had a special love of little ones, and when I visited her classroom I often heard her effortlessly talk to them of Jesus’ love for them. She shared with me incidents with parents that troubled her and conversations she had with them, always pointing them back to our Lord. She took her call very seriously. Some of her happiest times were calling her pastor to ask him to visit one of her unchurched families!

She has faced some pretty trying times for someone her age, and my heart ached for her during those rough patches as any mother does for a child. But she had faith in the Lord. When I was wondering where God was for her, she would share that she knew Jesus stood at her side! I became stronger though her witness.

She is married now with two beautiful boys. I love to hear my oldest grandson tell me some of the Bible stories he is learning. My heart could burst because I am so happy to see him growing in the faith his mother knows so well.

Today when I look back on my life I am awestruck at the many ways God has always cared for me. I used to think I was the ultimate planner—that if I planned enough I would be able to handle whatever came my way. I see now that the plans were never mine to make, but his: “For I know the plans I have for you” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Yes, God has taken care of me. The child he planned for and allowed me to bring into this world has become my path to grow in my faith—the faith of a child.

Barb Scott is a member at Redeemer, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

 

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Author: Barb Scott
Volume 103, Number 5
Issue: May 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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