People group ministry

Dear Friend,

We call it “people group ministry.” Immigrants who have joined our fellowship in the U.S. and Canada take the gospel back to friends and family in their countries of origin. We praise God for so many opportunities!

This month’s WELS Connection shares the story of Dr. Paul contacting WELS for ministry resources for Pakistan. Eventually God brought Dr. Paul to the U.S. where he became a WELS pastor. He now plants International Friendship Centers that reach out to the local South Asian population through fellowship, educational, and faith-related activities.

Maybe you’ve heard of the opportunity God has given us in Vietnam. When the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) found online sermons posted by WELS Hmong pastors, which clarified their understanding of law and grace, they asked WELS for training. WELS began working with them and, by God’s grace, their church body has grown from 55,000 to 100,000. The HFC hopes to eventually reach as many as two million Hmong in the greater area!

Here are some other examples of “people group ministry”:

  • More than a hundred WELS churches serve a Hispanic population and are working with the Latin American missions team to bring the gospel to Latin American countries.
  • Eight WELS congregations have assisted South Sudanese refugees, which has led to outreach to refugee camps in Ethiopia, Kenya (pictured), and Uganda.
  • Various WELS congregations provide devotional materials to East Asian members to share with family and friends locally and back in East Asia.
  • Two Liberian refugees (in Las Vegas, Nev.; and New Hope, Minn.) are training to become WELS pastors. These men lead congregations in the U.S. and have strong connections to congregations in Liberia, Africa.
  • Two WELS congregations serving Korean members are partnering with WELS’ sister synod in South Korea as people reach back to their home country.
  • A congregation in the Boise, Idaho, area serving Vietnamese immigrants is sending individuals to Vietnam to teach English and share the gospel while also assisting students in the country with coming to the U.S. to study at our schools.
  • We have been contacted by a Detroit-based immigrant from a predominantly Muslim country in Asia who has become a WELS member. He has experience instructing Muslim refugees in the Christian faith. He operates three Christian schools in Asia and is looking for doctrinal guidance.

Funding for these efforts comes primarily from the WELS Missions Endowment Fund. Member gifts of cash, appreciated assets, and planned gifts (through a will, trust, beneficiary designation on a retirement account, or insurance proceeds) go into this permanent fund designed to make steady annual distributions that increase as the fund grows.

At this point the WELS Missions Endowment Fund distributes about $480,000 each year. I am asking you to give to this endowment to increase these annual distributions so that we can keep up with the amazing people group ministry opportunities our Savior is providing.

Chenna was reached through the International Friendship Center when Dr. Paul and his wife saw him unloading luggage from a U-Haul and offered to help, introduced themselves, and invited his family for dinner. This kindness led Chenna to Bible study and then confirmation. Chenna is an example of the ultimate goal—reaching souls with the good news of Jesus. Please pray for these efforts and consider a gift today to fund people group ministry through the WELS Missions Endowment.

Cordially in Christ,
Rev. Paul T. Prange
Chairman, WELS Joint Mission Council

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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

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Sharing the risen Christ across cultures

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20a).

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Risen Christ,

“I love your church. It was like I was walking into my own home!” declared Maria. Although she spent decades living within walking distance of church, she never visited until she was invited (repeatedly).

Palabra de Vida is located on a main street in a largely Hispanic area in Southwest Detroit, a neighborhood of around 25,000 residents. Many people drive by our building every day, but very few come in. There are many who, like Maria, might come . . . if someone would just invite them!

That’s why we engage our community through different mercy ministries that allow us to meet basic needs and invite them to hear the gospel. We run “Palabra Kids” ministry with various programs in addition to other community outreach events. Pastor Ismael and his wife connect with people at these events. Then we work hard to follow up and invite people to worship services, new events, and Bible information classes.

While we meet hundreds of new people a year, only a few families will stick around after hearing the gospel. We count rejection as part of the ministry: “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22a). Rejection doesn’t deter us, because the gospel is too precious to keep to ourselves. This way people who may have passed by our church a thousand times, like Maria, look differently at our building now—it’s their new “family in Christ,” where truth and love are taught and shown.

Please consider making a gift to Home Missions Multi-Cultural Outreach today, and together we will watch the Holy Spirit change lives. Many congregations, whether they’re just starting out or are in impoverished areas, benefit from your prayers and financial support. This doesn’t just help our church body grow; it lifts up a new believer’s face to see their risen Savior.

Sharing the Easter joy of the risen Christ,

Pastor Ryan Kolander
Palabra de Vida, Detroit, Mich.

P.S. For more on WELS mission work, “like” WELS Missions on Facebook and subscribe to our Missions Blogs.

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“Go Into All the World”… More Efficiently

Trinity Lutheran Church in the town of Liberty, on the outskirts of Manitowoc, Wis., recently held an event called Summer Spectacular. The Home Missions Hispanic Outreach Consultant, Pastor Timothy Flunker, was a great help to us in the planning. This event was to reach out to the unchurched, including Hispanics, so we could promote our upcoming English classes. The Northern Wisconsin Home Mission District gave us a generous grant. Pastor Samuel Degner kindly served as our interpreter, as I am still trying to learn Spanish little by little on a computer program. In an answer to our prayers, God blessed our Summer Spectacular! Two Hispanic families plan to take our English classes, and one spouse wants to take membership classes. A big feat for a small, rural congregation like ours.

The pinata was a “hit” at our Summer Spectacular

Technology was such a blessing to our efforts. Throughout the process, we found out that the most successful event advertising we did was on Facebook. Several guest families who attended said they learned of the event from our Facebook advertisement. We also tried some other advertising methods… weeks before Summer Spectacular, I visited local farms and asked them to share some of our posters. Many local farms employ Hispanic workers. But out of the all the outreach activities that our congregation does, door-to-door visits have been the most impactful. No other method has led to guests visiting our church or an outreach event the way that a face-to-face invitation has. Our church is surrounded by farm fields, so in many cases the local unchurched do not learn of our church unless we seek them out. Even in our face-to-face visits, technology has made “Going Into All the World” (aka the town of Liberty) more effective and efficient.

Let me assure you, I am not a Salesforce or Geopointe salesman, but the rest of this blog might make you think that I am.

Salesforce is a prospect management system that is free to non-profits (a very generous offer by the company). Geopointe is a geo-mapping application that integrates with Salesforce. It is greatly discounted for non-profits, and serves as a great tool for tracking church prospects and visits. I went into the Manitowoc County Real Estate website and was able to import all of the addresses and property owner names in our outreach area into Salesforce.

Through this useful tool, I was able to create labels for “Unvisited Residents,” “Already Churched or Uninterested,” and “Prospects.”

Not just marks on a map… but people who need to hear the gospel

Geopointe helped me create a route to visit residents and invite them to our event. I was able to Check In, Check Out, and write notes about my visit. Later on, on my computer, I would run a report to see the notes I made on prospect visits. From there I was able to label all of of the households I visited. The “Prospects” account has a great tool that lets me print address labels for sending WELS outreach newsletters to these households.

Salesforce and Goepointe have been extremely helpful in organizing our outreach efforts. It also makes creating a new route for outreach visits much easier. I have just begun using this program, and I’m not that computer savvy, but the Salesforce and Geopointe tech people were very responsive in helping me tailor the program to my preferences. The next step is to equip more church members to make visits so that a discovered prospect is not neglected but, rather, a relationship in the Lord is cultivated. Pray for blessings on our efforts, and thank the Lord for providing the technology to make “Going Into All the World” more efficient!

Written By: Pastor Greg Pope, Trinity Lutheran Church – Manitowoc, WI

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A Recipe for Intercultural Outreach

As the horizon of cultures expands in the United States, we ponder a simple question: How do we share God’s Word with everyone? Now that culture, language, and social-economic status are barriers used by the opponents of the gospel to limit contact and connection with other people groups, a congregation that surveys its community and desire to reach out interculturally needs to find the right recipe.

Fellowship event at Immanuel

Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waukegan, Ill., is a congregation that has followed a recipe for Intercultural Outreach. Over four years ago, the leaders at Immanuel observed that their Christian day school reflected the community, with over 55% of their student body from other people’s groups. They also noticed that their congregation didn’t reflect that same percentage. A simple demographic study revealed what most already knew – over 57% of the 84,000+ community members identified themselves as Hispanic. Many of them still spoke Spanish at home, even though the children are fluent in English.

How could Immanuel reach them?

The recipe uses several ingredients. You need a strong spiritual leader who can help identify and lead the congregation through the cultural barrier. You would like to have a couple of members who can navigate the language barrier. It would be a blessing to have everyone understand that membership in the visible church isn’t just to increase local offerings, but to answer God’s call of making disciples for now and eternity.

God has blessed Immanuel with those ingredients. So, they went to work on the recipe. They marinated an EIO (English Improvement Opportunity) class, to which the non-English speakers could be invited, thereby creating contact. They set the oven for three years – during which they mixed the ingredients of the plan to call a bilingual man now, so that after three years the English-speaking pastor will retire (his choice!) and the bilingual man would take over the entire ministry. They added the toppings of a relationship with WELS’ Board for Home Missions, which helped them call that bilingual man right away.

Home Bible study

The recipe is proving to be a good one! God has blessed this location with a bilingual pastor, Rev. Seth Haakenson, who started reaching out to the community in September of 2017. He has made contact with hundreds of people, held Bible classes in prospects homes, invited them to his own home, instructed for baptism, and has begun to introduce Biblical culture to their own.

That is why we call it “Intercultural” outreach: we introduce the culture of the Bible to their own culture and allow the two to mix, so that which pleases God will become everyone’s culture. Lord willing, in a few months, worship will be held at church at which the current members, alongside of the new prospects, will together praise God.

The recipe is not difficult to follow, and as most packages will tell you, it requires some changes from place to place. You may have to adjust for altitude or strength of the oven, but the ingredients remain the same: Identify the barriers, use God’s Word to overcome them, and bring peoples together under one roof to praise God.

Now that is a recipe we all can follow.

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

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New Home Mission Projects Approved

On April 13, the Board for Home Missions approved support for seven new mission congregations as well as support to enhance mission-minded ministry at seven other congregations.

The ministries receiving financial support for a new mission include:

  • Reno, Nev. – Two area congregations are partnering to start this congregation in the Northern Valleys area of greater Reno. On March 25, the first worship service was held; 63 people attended
  • Phoenix, Ariz. – Crosswalk, Phoenix, is opening a second site to reach out into downtown Phoenix.
  • Joplin, Mo. – A strong core of WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod members from the two nearest churches are helping support this mission.

    Core Group from Joplin, MO

  • Brandon, S.D. – Near Sioux Falls, this new congregation includes core members from two WELS churches and an Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregation.
  • Milwaukee, Wis. – Grace in downtown Milwaukee, one of WELS’ original congregations, is establishing a new location in the area known as the Third Ward.

Two new multi-site starts were approved to receive unsubsidized mission status. Home Missions will provide assistance through its district mission boards, mission counselors, and synodical support staff, but the original congregations will provide 100 percent of the funding needed. These include:

  • Hobart, Wis. – Mount Olive, Suamico, Wis., is starting a second site in Hobart. The congregation is calling a second pastor to begin this new ministry.
  • Horicon, Wis. – Members of St. John’s, Juneau, Wis., see an opportunity to reach out in nearby Horicon, where 90 members of St. John’s live. Saturday worship services are scheduled to begin in Horicon in June.

Wisconsin Lutheran School – operated by First Lutheran and Epiphany in Racine – prepares for worship services.

Home Missions is also financially supporting mission-minded enhancements to these existing congregations:

  • Crown of Life, Corona, Calif. – This multi-site mission currently has four different locations for worship. Home Mission funding will support a third pastor.
  • Faith, Anchorage, Alaska – A second bilingual pastor will allow Faith to enhance their Hispanic ministry.
  • Grace, Seattle, Wash. – Two congregations will be combining to restart their ministry in the heart of Seattle. Funding will allow a full-time pastor to again serve at Grace.
  • Ascension, Harrisburg, Penn. – Remaining members of Ascension are ready to restart their congregation. They have demonstrated they are willing to take on ministry responsibilities and support outreach efforts that will be guided by their next pastor.
  • Shepherd of the Hills, Knoxville, Tenn. – A group of members are ready to restart their congregation after a longer-term pastoral vacancy. With the congregation back on its feet, they hope to begin a preschool ministry in order to jump start their outreach efforts.

    Trinity in Waukesha, WI holds Bible Information Class with Hispanic community members

  • Trinity, Waukesha, Wis. – Trinity hopes to reach out to a large population of Hispanics in their community by bringing in a bilingual pastor to lead the ministry.
  • Epiphany and First, Racine, Wis. – These two Racine congregations currently operate a joint Lutheran Elementary school. Home Mission funding will allow the school to call a staff minister or teacher to coordinate outreach efforts to prospective church families.

Please pray for these new mission starts and enhancements as they reach out to their communities with the live-saving message of the Gospel!


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Connecting congregations to Hispanic communities

Julie K. Wietzke

Different histories, one future

When we talk about reaching out to other cultures in the United States, we can’t ignore the amazing opportunities God is providing for us to share the good news of Jesus with Spanish-speakers.

Consider these statistics:

  • Hispanic people are the largestminority in the United States, with an estimated 54 million Hispanic people comprising over 17% of the population (2015 Census).
  • More than75 percent of WELS congregations are located in areas of concentrated Hispanic populations (more than 1,500 Hispanics who live within three miles of the church).

But how do we reach out to people who speak a different language than we do?

“You just need to have an open heart and a willingness to change, and be willing to love,” says Timothy Flunker, WELS National Hispanic Consultant.

Exploring opportunities

Having an open heart may help you see the opportunities God has placed in front of you. A few years ago, Greg Pope, pastor at Trinity, Liberty (rural Manitowoc), Wis., began noticing more and more Hispanics as he made his door to door visits. “I would come across Hispanic families who didn’t know a lot of English. They seemed interested in my message, but I couldn’t communicate,” he says.

He discovered that half of the workforce of the large local farms was Hispanic. He also found out his members had connections with these Spanish speakers—some as employers and some as fellow workers in the fields.

Pope contacted Flunker to find out how he and his congregation could reach this new mission field. Flunker suggested offering English Improvement Opportunity (EIO) classes as a way to meet their neighbors and build a base.

According to Flunker, most of the more than 100 WELS congregations doing Hispanic outreach started with offering English classes. These classes fill a need for the Hispanics who want to learn English, as well as create friendships and connections with congregation members that lead to witnessing opportunities. Gospel seeds are also sown when later classes begin with devotions in simplified English.

Eighteen months after Pope contacted Flunker, the congregation offered its first English class in October 2017. Much work happened during that time. Members were inspired to see this new opportunity. Neighboring churches were alerted. Volunteers were recruited and trained. The classes were advertised.

And yet, despite the interest shown in the community, only one person came.

Most likely, this is because the classes started during harvest-time, when many Hispanics are working long, hard hours. But Flunker says it also can take time to break into the community. “I encourage congregations not to think in large, bold, success numbers [when starting],” he says. “Think one to two families. Just be content to get to know them, and they will be the conduit into that community.”

Says Pope, “I’m very eager and excited for it to develop and gain momentum. Only God knows the result of it.”

Making connections

Four years ago, Immanuel, Waukegan, Ill., a congregation that has just celebrated its 125th anniversary, also saw an opportunity. Waukegan had turned into a Midwest hub for Hispanic immigrants, with more than 65 percent of the community being Spanish speakers. Immanuel’s school was drawing heavily from the Hispanic community and was growing steadily.

Wanting to reach out further into its community, Immanuel began English as Conversation Outreach classes. Over the course of four years, the classes grew, sometimes having 35 to 40 adult students a night. These students expressed interest in the church, but since the pastor didn’t speak Spanish, the congregation couldn’t offer Spanish services or dig deeper into the Word with them.

The congregation approached the Board for Home Missions, and this past spring, the board funded a bilingual pastor for the next three years to cultivate relationships with Immanuel’s Hispanic prospects. Then Immanuel’s current pastor plans to retire, and the bilingual pastor will take over the entire ministry.

Seth Haakenson, Immanuel’s new bilingual pastor, is now connecting with the parents of school children and starting Spanish language Bible studies in peoples’ homes. Talking about faith in the Hispanic culture is not considered taboo, according to Haakenson. “They have grown up in a culture that is very religious, but they don’t know who Jesus is,” he says. “Once they know who Jesus is, the light turns on.”

Haakenson says he probably will start Spanish-language worship in six months to a year, depending on the interest of the people. Some Hispanic families already attend the English services, but other newer Christians want to worship in Spanish. “They want the Spanish services not because they don’t want to integrate but because it’s the language they understand the most for learning the Bible,” says Haakenson.

That being said, he is quick to note that Immanuel is one church. “We have different histories, but we have one future,” he says. “It’s not languages and cultures that unite us; it’s a common faith in Christ.” To celebrate that connection, he says that the congregation will have purposeful bilingual events and bilingual worship in the future.

Expanding ministry

Christ, Milwaukee, Wis., has been reaching out to its Hispanic neighbors on the southside of Milwaukee for more than 10 years. Its 200 members are evenly divided between Spanish speakers and English speakers. Its joint school with St. Peter, Milwaukee, even more so represents the community makeup, with 60 percent Latino students and between 30 to 40 percent Anglos.

The congregation has had a bilingual pastor since 2009, and just this year Nixon Vivar, a 2017 Pastoral Studies Institute graduate originally from Ecuador, was assigned as the congregation’s second bilingual pastor. While Vivar will focus more on Hispanic outreach and Chad Walta, the congregation’s other bilingual pastor, will focus more on the English side, they are working to overlap their ministries so that members, whether Hispanic or Anglo, see them both as their pastors and see the ministries as one.

According to Flunker, having pastors who speak both English and Spanish can make it easier to integrate Spanish-speaking families into the congregation, especially considering that children in these families often use English more than Spanish. With eight confirmands from the Spanish-speaking side of the congregation last year, involving this younger generation in church life is an exciting challenge. “They are the future of the congregation,” says Vivar. “But how do we use their talents and energy to serve the Lord?”

Being mindful of the Hispanic culture can provide opportunities for reaching this community. Through offering baptisms and quiñceaneras, two important religious events in the Hispanic culture, the pastors make connections within the community and can share the life-saving gospel message of faith alone. “Hispanics are very family- and friend-oriented,” says Walta. “If one or two start coming to faith in Jesus and start coming to church, they’re going to bring others.”

Vivar, who grew up Catholic, says he feels blessed and privileged to share the gospel message. “If I can put in their hearts what Jesus put in my heart—the joy of salvation—if I put it in one heart at a time, I would be so happy.”

Julie Wietzke is the managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine.  

This is the fifth article in a series about cross-cultural outreach in the United States and Canada. Learn more at

Did you know? 

Twenty WELS congregations hold worship in both Spanish and English, and more than 100 locations have some sort of Hispanic ministry, ranging from English classes to simplified English worship to Spanish language services.



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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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Celebrating 20 years of Hispanic outreach in Phoenix

On Nov. 25, Santo Tomas, Phoenix, Ariz., celebrated its 20th anniversary. This Spanish-speaking mission congregation averages four baptisms per month and has confirmed more than 18 adults and 13 youth this year. Each month, the congregation welcomes an average of 23 first-time visitors.

“Friendship evangelism is a key part of our growth as family ties and trust form an important bond,” says Rev. Tom Zimdars, one of Santo Tomas’s two pastors. “Most of our members enter the congregation via special celebrations like baptisms, weddings, and quinceañeras.”

Zimdars notes that as visitors encounter the gospel, “they receive the joy and peace of knowing that their sins are forgiven through faith in Christ, and this message continues to work in their lives as they grow in their faith and share their faith with their family and friends.”

Santo Tomas was formed in 1997 by St. Thomas, an English-speaking congregation that saw the growing Latino community and need for a Spanish-speaking ministry. Santo Tomas now has 169 communicants and 360 baptized members. In addition to Zimdars, the congregation has a second pastor, Rev. Frank Cossio, who was born in Cuba. WELS Home Missions and WELS Church Extension Fund help support this cross-cultural mission.

“We want to thank the Lord as he has richly blessed Santo Tomas during the past 20 years to reach countless souls with the precious gospel message of free and full salvation through faith in Jesus Christ,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions.

More than 220 people attended Santo Tomas’s anniversary celebration, which included a special bilingual worship service, a fellowship meal, and traditional Mexican music sung and performed by the congregation’s members.

Read more about WELS Missions at

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Introducing Ourselves – One Taco at a Time

“What restaurant are you from?” a man asked me.

I said, “We’re not a restaurant. We’re a church!”

For three years running, Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, WI has set up a small taco kiosk during community festivals. This year’s Latinofest turned a beautiful Fall weekend into a mission opportunity.

Both Anglo and Latino members make plans months in advance. Still, the week before the event always sees a flurry of activity – marinating the pork in a bright-red blend of chilies and spices, buying and chopping bulk onions, cilantro, and limes, reigniting the friendly debate over the best size and brand of corn tortillas to get from the Mexican grocery store.

Everything must be fresh and authentic!

The night before the event, a salsa-making party fills the church kitchen with the smells of a creamy salsa verde (green) and an eye-watering salsa roja (red). Finally, it’s show-time: The meat is stacked with great care on a vertical spit called a trompo and then fire-roasted until crispy. No one can resist watching the taco meat go ‘round and ‘round as it cooks on our two machines – or the delicious smell that floats through the festival and brings in a long line of curious gringos and Latino families.

The food is simple, and the price is kept low – just enough to cover our costs. (Any additional proceeds are reinvested into supplies for future Hispanic outreach events.) The reason we’re there is not to make money. We’re there to tell our Latino neighbors that Iglesia Betel (Bethel Church) is a church that loves them, offers many free services to them, wants them to hear God’s Word in their native language, and proclaims salvation through Jesus alone.

That’s why every plate of tacos is served up with a small invitation to join other Spanish-speakers for worship every Sunday at noon or for bi-weekly English classes, which wrap up with a prayer or Spanish Bible Study.

Each year so far, our kiosk has been staffed by an even blend of Anglos and Latinos, and the group always works together like a well-oiled machine. Those volunteers gave up a beautiful Fall afternoon to serve tacos, all because they wanted to introduce their neighbors to our bilingual church. Their work made it possible for me to spend the day talking with the folks who passed by, answering their questions, and inviting them to worship – whether in English or in Spanish.

Written by: Pastor Phil Hunter, Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, WI

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Question & answer with Nixon Vivar

In May 2017, Nixon Vivar graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). He was ordained and installed as one of two pastors at Christ, an Anglo-Hispanic congregation on Milwaukee’s south side. Here he shares his journey from Ecuador to the United States, from Roman Catholic to Lutheran pastor.

Q: How did you come to the U.S.?

In 1991, when I was 21, I left Ecuador and joined my brother and cousin in Milwaukee because the economy of Ecuador had gotten very bad. Many young people were moving to countries like Italy, Germany, and the U.S. in search of jobs.

Q: How did you come to attend a WELS church?

I went to St. Anthony, and the priest there said he could help me become a priest. But I wanted to have a family, and I also had lots of questions about the Bible. When I was attending [school] to learn English, I met Andres, a member of St. Peter’s Church, Milwaukee, who was also studying English. He is from Colombia, which has similar customs to those in Ecuador, and he was also alone. We became close friends. Andres said, “Ask my pastor your questions.” Soon I was studying on my days off with Pastor Matt Krenke.

On Jan. 12, 2001, God revealed to me that I could do nothing to add to Christ’s saving work. It was all God’s grace. This was a huge relief. I was able to rejoice in the truth of the power of God’s grace. Pastor Matt also introduced me to a new program of the seminary, the PSI. Right away I knew I wanted to become a pastor. I prayed that I could bring this same joy and hope to other hearts.

Q: How long did it take you to complete your studies?

It took a lot longer than I imagined—15 years. But by God’s grace I was able to take each course in turn. And I met my wife Carla, who has been a great encourager, especially during the bad times. She would remind me that for God nothing is impossible.

Q: What were some of the bad times?

In 2010 and 2011 we experienced some personal losses—Carla’s father was seriously injured in an accident; my mother, whom I hadn’t seen in 12 years, died; and my in-laws lost their home where we were also living. Also, my residency documents were denied, and it appeared I might have to leave the U.S. Things were very uncertain.

Q: But God gave you great joys too?

Yes! In 2015 I opened the letter that said, “Welcome to the U.S.” That was one of my happiest moments! Then I began my final year of studies at Christ Church, working under Pastor Chad Walta. And finally, my ordination and installation, where I was honored to have 14 pastors, including my first teacher, PSI instructors, and the district president, participate. They had seen something in me—that I could serve the Lord.

Q: What plans are there for this Anglo-Hispanic congregation?

[Chad Walta] I see our chief, prayerful goal to be making one “Christ Lutheran” congregation. Language and cultural divisions can quickly turn into spiritual divisions, but this is overcome through Christ.

[Vivar] Yes, but it will take time. It started as two distinct halves because few people were bilingual. Over the years, new believers have developed maturity, both in faith and in being involved in the life of the congregation. With Christ at the center, we feel each other’s pain; we work together.

Karla Jaeger


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Author: Karla Jaeger
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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A New Way to Reach Spanish Speakers: Serving both sides of the border


Rachel Hartman

Many Hispanics in the United States have close ties to other areas in Latin America. For Hispanic Lutherans, the desire to share Christian resources with relatives and friends in other areas is often strong. Occasionally, Hispanic members are even looking for a new church home as they head back to Central or South America.

In the past, sharing gospel resources with those south of the border was frequently a challenge. Congregations are spread out, and travel distances between them are often great, making it difficult for those interested in attending worship.

Today, through online resources such as, which offers free Christian materials to Spanish speakers everywhere, that is changing.

“We have such a diverse congregation,” notes Abe Degner, pastor at Christ the Lord, Houston, Texas, which serves a Spanish-speaking population in the area.

With members from more than ten different Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, when it comes to the opportunity to use sites like Academia Cristo, “there’s a lot of potential,” he explains.

Twice when members moved back to areas south of the border where there were no nearby Lutheran churches, Degner directed them to these online resources.

Two women involved at Christ the Lord lived in El Salvador during their early years. Now in Houston, they have used Academia Cristo as a way to share the gospel with family members back home.

Not long ago, one of the ladies pulled Degner aside and asked how to do a baptism if there wasn’t a Lutheran church. “I talked her through it,” notes Degner. “That’s an example of where those resources can be so useful.”


Dalila Campos

Meet Dalila Campos, originally from El Salvador, now living in Houston. She attends Christ the Lord in Houston and appreciates the resources from Academia Cristo, as seen in her Facebook post: “Thank you, Academia Cristo, for your faithful work in preaching the gospel to all people. Having you has been a big blessing for me. As I meditate on your publications, I renew my faith in Christ my Savior, but I also review things I learned as a girl and thought I knew but am now remembering. In this way I am ready, every day, for the work of spreading the gospel to others through this fresh and simple method, which is easy to understand. May God continue blessing you. I truly love you in the love of Christ our Lord.”

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


Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.


Your offering to WELS Missions will help more missionaries go to more places and share the gospel with more people.



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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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