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God’s kingdom is still coming

“Your kingdom come.” We used to pray that every Sunday in church together. When we did, we were asking God to rule our hearts and to send his Spirit to the hearts of others in the world. But we probably prayed those words thinking that, as congregations, we had God’s kingdom work pretty well under control. Not anymore!

Once upon a time, we had ways to measure our—I mean God’s—kingdom work. We tracked worship attendance. We counted kids in Lutheran school desks. We measured offerings. We quantified volunteer hours. Pastors mapped out hospital and shut-in visits. And if we liked the way things look on paper, we assumed God’s kingdom had certainly come! At least we had a good system in place for tracking kingdom work! When we prayed, “Your kingdom come,” we meant, “Just give my kingdom a little boost, God. But we mostly have our—I mean your—kingdom going strong.”

But now our people aren’t in pews. Our students aren’t in desks. Our offerings are not in plates. Our hospital visits are not even allowed! Is God’s kingdom still coming? How can it, if we can’t track it?

It’s a terrifying thing for a congregation to realize suddenly, the kingdom work we’ve gotten used to is no longer within our control. And yet, has it ever been? Did God’s kingdom ever fit within our church’s budget and calendar? Or does God’s kingdom belong to. . . God? The Alpha and the Omega, the Creator, Sustainer, and Light of the world?

Thank God he’s running his kingdom! Because who could have imagined that this was the way he would kick us out of our churches and into the world? I’m amazed by just how powerfully God’s kingdom is pouring into the world in these dark days! He’s hammering through once hardened hearts. He’s uprooting deeply ingrained grudges. He’s tilling up straight paths through the baked desert floor.

And the gospel! It’s been incredible to watch newly emboldened Christians scatter the gospel seed in public in ways I have never seen. Parking lots packed with cars and pastors with megaphones. Facebook exploding with worship service views, shares, and engagements. People talking about death and resurrection in their homes, with their children. Easter Sunday resurrection hope pouring through every media and social media into homes where unbelievers and believers alike are listening. Christians serving in their communities as fearless light and salt when others cower. WELS members across the country becoming stronger together, forming a gospel-seed tidal wave, as they engage with one another through social media!

Is God’s kingdom still coming? Oh, yes! And thank God he has let us be on the front lines bringing that kingdom to more people, in new ways, with renewed zeal. Yes, Lord, yes! “Your kingdom come!”

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

 

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A COVID-19 Baptism blessing

“That’s awesome!”

That’s all I could say as I watched the couple sit at their kitchen table.

Jeff was confirmed on December 22, 2019. Having completed his “Starting Point” course, he was so thrilled to be part of our young congregation. His volunteer spirit—whether it’s making homemade salsa or taking beautiful landscape photographs to decorate our rented walls—is contagious. And so is his positivity. But there was one thing that bothered him—his wife didn’t really know Jesus and didn’t come to church with him. He wasn’t going to push. Partly because of his personality, but mostly because he trusted God’s timing. Then, on December 22, Deedee came to support Jeff. Then she came again on December 24. Even though Christmas Eve worship was interrupted by an armed robbery at the liquor store that shares a wall with our facility (perhaps another Missions Blog story!), Deedee was not deterred. She kept coming to worship every Sunday.

In late February, she asked if she could talk to me after church. Deedee wanted to be baptized. After going through the meaning and blessings of baptism at a Starbucks meeting in early March, we picked the date—April 5, Palm Sunday. And then, coronavirus came. After explaining that it wasn’t absolutely necessary for her to be baptized on that date, both Jeff and Deedee agreed they’d like to explore the options. Zoom to the rescue!

I set up my laptop six feet away from the church baptismal font (not for social distancing purposes, but only for the camera angle).

CAMERA 1 –

Pastor: “We all have a deep need for baptism. . . this is for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Not even the gates of Hades can prevent the gospel from going out. Be confident as you are now baptized in the name of the Triune God.”

CAMERA 2 –

Jeff (pouring water on Deedee’s head): “Denise, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

CAMERA 1 –

Pastor:  “That’s awesome!”

It was a highlight of my ministry. I’m not sure who I was more excited for—Jeff, Deedee, or myself! But the joy wasn’t over. Unbeknownst to Deedee, congregation members were filmed offering their support, “We will, and we ask God to help us.” What a surprise for Deedee to watch the recorded service on Sunday, not just to see herself, but her brothers and sisters in Christ welcoming her into our church family. Jeff’s follow-up email, “We really enjoyed the Baptism section with everyone in support.”

That’s awesome!

Written by Rev. Joel Heckendorf, home missionary at Light of the Valleys in Reno, Nev. 

 

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Faces of Faith – Hany Guzmán

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

Hany and her siblings in Guatemala

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

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

Hany at Camp Luther in Anchorage, Alaska

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

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

 

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Spanish Pastors Conference meets in Puerto Rico

The 8th gathering of the Spanish Pastors Conference met in Guayama, Puerto Rico, for four days in January. Fifteen men (plus two wives) gathered for study, worship and fellowship. We tackled Christian Stewardship, focusing on the Biblical truths and the cultural realities that exist. Discussion was lively–and everyone commented that is was a good study. Beside the study, we heard a report of the work of the Latin America missions team and Academia Cristo along with a report from the Board for Home Mission’s Hispanic Outreach Consultant.

God’s power was displayed by the many earthquakes that occurred while we were on the island – several were 5.7 and higher! God’s grace was equally displayed as no damage occurred where we were staying. All the members of the local congregation reported nothing more than frayed nerves. Many of us awoke on Tuesday morning to the second of four large tremors. All of us experienced the last large quake on Wednesday as we traveled to the second largest city on the island, Ponce, to view local culture and take in local cuisine.

Even though the power was out for almost 24 hours (all of Tuesday), we still enjoyed the opening worship, singing everything loudly in A Capella fashion. Cell phones batteries were drained to the last remaining bar of power as news was relayed to family members that everyone was not only okay but also enjoying the quiet night, staring at the stars near the equator with no light pollution!

As the conference drew to a close, someone asked how many of the attendees had worked in Puerto Rico. Five of the 15 men raised their hands! We give thanks to God that this mission has been a vital part not only of sharing God’s Word on the island, but also of preparing men who are sharing the same message in the United States. A big thanks to the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico who hosted the conference!

The conference meets every other year (on the even years), and it has been determined that our 2022 conference will be held in Tucson, Ariz. We ask our gracious God to continue to bless the efforts of these men and the many others who are sharing the gospel with the lost in Spanish and English.

Written by Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant for the WELS Board for Home Missions

 

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Backyard Mission Work

Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

Isn’t it fun to read or hear the stories of missionaries who live far away? To hear stories of the gospel taking root into hearts in places that are strange to us? When Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world, we often think of such far away places. If we’re being honest, Waukesha, Wis., is probably about the last place that comes to mind. Waukesha is home to four WELS churches, a couple of which were founded over 100 years ago. At first glance you might not expect to find much “world mission work” here.

That wasn’t always the case. There was a time when Trinity Lutheran in Waukesha was a bustling world mission outpost; a gathering place for German immigrants who made their way to America seeking a new and prosperous beginning for their families. As a mission outpost for immigrants, Trinity’s first worship services were held in the immigrants’ native German.

Alma Lopez’s Quinceañera service

Of course, as generations have passed, the days of worship and outreach in German at Trinity are now behind us. And yet, just as Waukesha was once a hot-bed for German immigrants, God has now brought a new group of immigrants to Trinity’s neighborhood, all in need of that same life-giving gospel message.

Immigrants from Central and South America have taken residence in the homes immediately surrounding our church, and just as in the days of Trinity’s founding, mission work is once again taking place in a foreign language, only this time in Spanish.

As part of that mission effort, this past August, Trinity celebrated its first ever Quinceañera service. The Lopez family requested that we help them celebrate their daughter Alma’s fifteenth birthday and transition into adulthood with a special worship service asking the Lord’s blessing. Nearly 30 people, most who had never stepped a foot into our church before, gathered to hear the Word of God preached in their native Spanish! Such days are a victory for God’s kingdom, as God assures us his word never returns to him empty.

No, Waukesha may not look anything like the world mission fields we often imagine, but the work being done here is exactly the type of work our Lord urges his disciples to pursue. World mission work can lead missionaries to travel to distant lands, but sometimes the Lord leads this world’s people to us; planting a ripe for harvest world mission right in our own backyards. God bless our synod’s efforts to carry out our mission to the world.

Yes, even in places like Waukesha.

Written by Pastor Phil Gurgel, home missionary at Trinity Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Wis. 

 

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Many languages, one family

Families who transition languages in their own home are common today. As immigrants continue to come to the United States, their families will experience language transition. The overwhelming presence of the English language in school and public media leads the youth in those families to learn and use English as soon as they can. That is happening as we speak! Often, homes are bilingual, but the languages used are simple phrases remembered or learned, so that children can communicate with parents.

But what do you do when the family wants to worship together? How do you foster the family atmosphere in the church when the older generation loves to hear the gospel in their heart language, but their children desire to hear it also in their heart language, and that language is different?

The confirmands

Congregations throughout WELS are wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas Lutheran Church, in Phoenix, Ariz., is also wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas was established as St. Thomas in 1964. In 1997, the congregation realized that to reach its community, it needed to work in the Latino culture and use Spanish. Men have been called and have served that family of God faithfully, sharing God’s Word from house to house in Spanish. God has blessed those efforts, and over 120 Hispanics worship weekly at Santo Tomas.

Over 10 years ago, the pastor realized that as he was teaching his catechism class to the adolescents in the congregation, more and more of them didn’t understand his Spanish. He was using terms and vocabulary that were foreign to his students. The students overwhelmingly wanted to hear and learn God’s Word in English. Yet, the ministry at Santo Tomas is in Spanish. Worship, counseling, outreach and fellowship all enjoy the frolicking tones of Spanish. How do you keep the family together?

Santo Tomas determined that God’s Word needs to be clearly understood–so they teach the catechism class in English. One of the current pastors, a native from Cuba whose English is not fluent, has the assistance of his wife, who is fluent. When it is his turn to teach Catechism, he prepares the lesson and his wife teaches and translates into English those words, phrases, and concepts that are not understood in Spanish.

The children learn in their heart language. But what about Confirmation Day? Imagine this: you have a church full of families who speak Spanish and wrestles with their English fluency watching and listening to a group of adolescents who are fluent in English and struggle with their Spanish fluency. Talk about an intercultural nightmare!

But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Their confirmation examination doesn’t have the back-and-forth series of questions that many of us experienced in our confirmation. They elected to have the adolescents prepare short essays that answer the questions pertaining to the chief parts of the Catechism. The adolescents take time to prepare those essays. The pastors use the technical means available to them–projectors and screens–to put up outlines in Spanish of what the children are saying in English. They also hand select a few children, whose Spanish is more fluent, and then work with them so that they can deliver those essays in Spanish.

By the grace of God, on Palm Sunday this year, Santo Tomas had 16 adolescent confirmands. The congregation experienced both languages in worship. Everyone was enriched by the essays on God’s Word. Faces beamed with confidence in their heart language. Above all, God was praised–and God’s family grew in faith.

May God continue to bless the congregations who work with many languages under one roof!

Written by: Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant for WELS Board for Home Missions

To learn more about Hispanic ministry, visit wels.net/hispanic.

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