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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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Reaching souls for Jesus in West Texas

In the vast region of the high plains of West Texas lies great promise for the gospel to reach many new souls. Amarillo, Texas, is a growing city of over 200,000 people. Two hours to the south is Lubbock, Texas, an even faster growing city with a bustling 300,000 people. Lubbock is home to the only full-time WELS congregation, Shepherd of the Plains, within a five hour radius. Our ministry area in West Texas is as vast as the beautiful sunsets rest on the horizon.

Due to the far reaches of Shepherd of the Plains, many people from long distances have contacted me to find out if Shepherd of the Plains is the closest WELS church to them. When looking at the membership list, nearly 20% of our members live two hours away in several different directions. It was over five years ago when Shepherd of the Plains had it’s first contacts in Amarillo. Since then, strong relationships have formed and we have now grown to five families. This all without a resident pastor in Amarillo.

Currently our group in Amarillo has a worship service once a month. Because of the distance, we worship at 2:30 to allow my family and I to make the two hour trip after the morning service and Bible study finish in Lubbock. At each of our worship services in Amarillo, we set up worship in a large shop; where we house a makeshift altar, set up twenty chairs, have a digital piano, and have full projection for worship. It was just a year ago when we worshiped in a living room with couches and some folding chairs, until one of the families purchased a new home with the large shop area in mind to be able to use as our worship space.

Since Shepherd of the Plains also has a full-service livestream of every worship service (and now Bible study), the Amarillo group has begun to schedule once a month gatherings to livestream together. Each time the group gets together they have fellowship and bring food for a meal to follow their worship.

The Amarillo team has charged themselves with the goal of reaching many more with the gospel of Jesus, but they also recognize the importance of a full-time pastor to help in that effort. Because of this, they are in the process of researching and filling out a detailed request to call their first home missionary. The process to obtain home mission status is not a process the group takes lightly. They recognize that with regular prayer and guidance from the Lord, he will bless their work.

This is where the prayers of the brothers and sisters in faith through our synod comes into play. Please pray for the mission work in Amarillo and all of West Texas. If you know of anyone who lives in West Texas, the Texas Panhandle, or even two hours an any direction from there, please contact me at 806-794-4203 or through e-mail at jecares1@gmail.com.

Through prayer and your help in spreading the word about the gospel work in West Texas, we will walk together as a synod and reach many more souls for Jesus.

Written by Rev. Jeremy Cares, pastor at Shepherd of the Plains in Lubbock, Tex.

 

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Plot Twist

One of the things I love most about being a pastor is hearing the stories people tell. Each person that sits in the pew has a unique one, a fascinating account of the working of God’s grace.

Christina certainly had an interesting story. I met her only one week after I was installed as the pastor at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming. She had a connection to our church previously, when her infant son Leo was baptized. But she hadn’t been to church in a while, mostly because it was difficult for her to come with her infant son, whom she was raising while her husband was deployed in Kuwait.

After sitting down with Christina, she told me her story. She was born and raised in Minnesota, but moved to Wyoming when she was 16 years old. She graduated from high school in Meeteetse, Wyoming, a town with a total population of about 300 people. She attended the University of Wyoming and graduated with a degree in Education. She began teaching at a special school for at-risk children in Laramie. And along the way, she got married and celebrated the birth of her first child.

But the bigger story is the difference God’s grace has made in her life. It may seem like a strange plot twist that Christina and her family ended up in Laramie, but this is how God again brought her into contact with the good news of her Savior Jesus. It may seem like a difficult plot twist that Christina and her husband are raising their child together even though they are miles apart, but God is using it to strengthen their relationship, and to drive them even deeper into his promises.

And then, in what may seem like another amazing plot twist, God brings his gracious blessings through Christina to others gathered here at Living Shepherd. He gives a new, inexperienced pastor the blessing of a prospect eager to learn more about God’s Word and grow in faith. He gives a congregation the opportunity to put God’s love into practice by helping and supporting a military family. And he gives all of us fresh reminders of the power of his Word working in the hearts of his people.

Christina was officially welcomed as a member of Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming two weeks ago. Before she joined, I asked her to answer a few questions which we could use to share with the congregation so that we could get to know her better. One of the questions I asked was, “What title would you give to your autobiography?” She answered, “Plot Twist.”

It’s a fitting title to Christina’s story. She’s eager to see what else God has in store for her family, and she’s excited to see how God’s grace will sustain her through all the plot twists that may be ahead.

Written by Rev. Adam Lambrecht, home missionary at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming

 

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Alive and active

His body language was speaking loud and clear. Arms crossed. Slouched down. A toothpick pursed between his lips as he stared at the floor. Avoiding any sort of conversation with others. Refusing a bulletin to follow along. He didn’t want to be there, but somehow his girlfriend had convinced him to join her in church that morning. Perhaps she was buying lunch on the way home. Maybe if he went once she’d leave it alone for a while. Whatever it was, it sure didn’t seem like we’d see him again.

And then he came back the next week, this time looking up a couple of times during the sermon. The following week, he followed along in the bulletin. The week after that, he left the toothpick in the car. A few months later, he was asking about some classes where he could learn more about the Bible and ask some questions that have been on his mind.

Fast forward to mid-November 2019. His brother is on life support, making it hard to finish up his classes for church membership. He asks his other two brothers if it would be okay for him to invite the pastor to stop in at the hospital for a visit and prayer. It takes a week of convincing, but they finally give in. Their body language was speaking loud and clear. They didn’t really see the need or want this big, goofy, Spanish speaking, white guy in their brother’s hospital room. It seemed like they were paying more attention to their phones than to this stranger in the room. The conversation was short and God’s Word was shared.

On the way home I got a message: “Thanks. They’d like you to come again soon.”

For the word of God is alive and active.

Hebrews 4:12

Written by Rev. Paul Biedenbender, home missionary at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo. 

 

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ThanksGIVING

Our nation recently celebrated Thanksgiving. As most people enjoyed time with family, cooked the turkey, and ate too much pie, they were reminded of the many reasons they have to be thankful. In the strong middle class community of Falcon, Colo., it isn’t difficult to see most people through that lens: multiple new(er) cars in the driveway, name-brand clothes, nice houses.

As our mission church prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2018, we wanted to find a way to give to those who weren’t as financially fortunate or materially blessed. We could have donated to a food bank in nearby Colorado Springs or volunteered at a food kitchen for the homeless, but we wanted to impact people in our community – people that lived down the street. We wanted to provide everything for them to make and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner – a turkey, potatoes, vegetables, rolls, pies. But how would we find them?

For the last three years we have held worship services at an elementary school in our community. Over that time, we have developed a strong relationship with the school staff and leadership. So, we asked the principal if she had a way to identify families in need. She connected us with the school counselor, who connected us with other school counselors in the community. Due to privacy concerns, the counselors had to contact the families and ask if they would take us up on our offer and if their contact information could be shared with us so we could arrange to drop-off the food. In a matter of days we had five families lined up!

Our members and prospects rallied around the project by donating the food and wrapping it all up in boxes to be dropped off. They wanted to give so that others would have an extra reason to be thankful.

As we dropped off the boxes of Thanksgiving dinner supplies,

  • one of the school counselors asked if we could stop by her office before we delivered the food because the boy needed shoes and the staff had pitched in and bought him a pair.
  • one family invited us in and the mom shared how much they were struggling, even as they lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. The dad had left and refused to pay child support. The teenage kids were working jobs to help support the family. She broke down crying as we put all of the food on her counter. I asked if we could pray for her and she said, “Yes, please!” And right there in her kitchen I prayed for them.

As November loomed on the horizon this year, several members of our church family asked if we were going to line up families to bless with Thanksgiving dinner again. It helped them appreciate what they had by giving to others. Working through the local schools, we were able to donate to eight families that were struggling this year. And, not only did our members step up to donate the food, several of them were excited to knock on the door of one of these families and give them a box of food. Just because they wanted to give out of thanks.

Written by Rev. Steven Prahl, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Peyton (Falcon), Colo. 

 

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Confessions of faith: Fleck

A long journey ends with faith in Jesus and a desire to serve him.

Amanda M. Klemp

At age 66, Daryl Fleck is retired and lives in New Ulm, Minnesota. He likes to spend his time volunteering. Now he’s getting his feet wet helping with WELS Prison Ministry.

But his journey wasn’t exactly down a straight and narrow path.

Fleck grew up in Minnesota, in a poor family with an alcoholic father. Despite his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s tendency to enable it, he says, “There was love in our family. My dad didn’t express his love outwardly so much, but we knew that he loved us. And my mother would always show her love.” His father was Catholic, and his mother Lutheran. His mom made sure he and his two younger siblings were baptized, attended church, and were confirmed.

After graduating high school, Fleck worked in construction and eventually met his first wife. They got married and had a son and daughter. Fleck had always considered himself a Christian and would, at least periodically, attend church services. But that was a cause of conflict. He says, “She didn’t believe in going to church. She wasn’t a Christian woman, which was a big mistake I made. She wouldn’t even let me hang a picture of Jesus on the wall. I tried bringing my kids to church, but because their mother wasn’t going, they didn’t want to go either.” It was a rocky 22-year marriage.

The spiral downward

He eventually left the marriage and moved back to his hometown, where he could be closer to his mom and an old friend. “I had so much guilt and shame for leaving my marriage,” he says. “I felt I had let God down and started drinking very heavily.”

Then his mother died. “It all happened at the same time. I lost my mother and my wife and family,” he says. “Emotionally I was a wreck. I had so much guilt and remorse. I would try to drink my troubles away. Physically and financially I started going downhill. And, spiritually I gave up on everything. I gave up on God. I was pretty lost.”

He started racking up DUIs and stays in the county jail. Each subsequent DUI led to more time in jail. He moved to North Dakota, but the dependence on alcohol moved with him. One morning, he woke up in his car. A neighbor had called the police, and he was charged with another DUI. This time, he went to prison.

A temporary lull

During his prison sentence, he pored over Christian materials that were available to him. He says after he was released, he felt he was back on his feet and doing well. He remembers feeling like he was getting a fresh start; he even had a good job that he liked. “The biggest mistake I made at this time was saying ‘Okay, God, you can go help someone else now; I don’t need you anymore.’ I pretty much abandoned [God],” he recalls.

His life soon took a downward turn. A woman he went to high school with got in touch with him. She lived in Massachusetts, and he moved east to marry her. He admits, in hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have jumped into that relationship, but he was looking for something he felt was missing after his first marriage ended. After three years in Massachusetts, they moved back to Minnesota, but things weren’t going well. After one big fight, he got his last DUI. This time, he spent 5 months in county jail and another 29 months in prison.

The beginning of a new life

While in prison, one day, Fleck felt compelled to pick up and open a Bible. He doesn’t recall why he did it, but he remembers exactly to what passage he opened the Bible: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). It’s a Bible verses he still cherishes every day.

Later he also saw WELS Prison Ministry booklets that were available for inmates.

“They have these little tests at the end of them, so I did the test and mailed it to Prison Ministry. They mailed it back to me and then sent me another book,” he says. Fleck ended up completing level one and level two. “I have the certificates hanging on the wall at my apartment,” he says. “They mean a lot to me.”

Fleck says he was excited to keep getting the new booklets and tests, because it was nice to get mail in prison. He stresses the simplicity of the materials is really important, because many people in prison don’t have an education. To have something that’s simple but still teaches the love of Jesus is very valuable. He says that the notes from the volunteers and the pictures from school children also really mean a lot to an inmate who doesn’t hear much from the outside world. One of the notes he received encouraged him to find a WELS church after his incarceration. He did just that, joining Good Shepherd, Burnsville, Minn., when he was released from prison.

More opportunities

While his time in prison brought him closer to God, there are still family relationships that need to be healed. He says his daughter and brother don’t speak to him anymore, and his son, who like his father and grandfather seems addicted to alcohol, isn’t interested in a close relationship. Fleck wonders if this is a blessing in disguise. He hasn’t had a drink since 2015, and perhaps the distance from his family also keeps him away from alcohol. But he’s praying that the relationship with his children will be mended and that they too will come to know their Savior like he does.

Fleck says, “For an inmate, living in the inside like that, it’s important to have something to give you hope, something to look forward to when you’re released. That’s what the WELS Prison Ministry gave me. I couldn’t wait to get out to find a WELS church. It gives you hope. I’m still hanging on to that hope that I’ll reconcile with my family. I believe that’s going to happen because WELS keeps me in a relationship with Christ by attending their church services and Bible studies.”

Now a member at St. John, New Ulm, Minn., Fleck hopes to be able to help share God’s peace and love with other inmates and with those who are released from prison so that, with God’s help, they can fight their addictions and demons, stay out of prison, and stay in the Word. He remembers the Savior’s message. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).


Amanda Klemp is a member at St. Peter, Savanna, Illinois.


Hear more about WELS Prison Ministry and Daryl Fleck in this month’s edition of WELS Connection.

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Author: Amanda M. Klemp
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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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Out of the blue

If you can believe the internet, the modern idiom “out of the blue” refers to a flash of lightning that jumps out of a clear, blue sky. It’s something completely and totally unexpected. Sometimes mission work is just that—out of the blue. Maybe this congregation and its pastor were a little frustrated. Perhaps it seemed no one was interested in members’ personal invitations to worship. Who knows? Ministry moved slowly. Energy lagged and motivation struggled. Mission pastors and mission congregations face these things too.

Then, out of the blue, a bolt of blessing that energized the mission once again. I checked the messages on the church phone. I had missed a call from Alyssa. She wanted to talk baptism. I called back as soon as I could. Alyssa desired her 3-month-old son, Stetson, to be baptized, and she hoped Beautiful Savior would be the place, and the time would be soon. We set up a meeting. We discussed the wonderful truth that baptism is all about what God does for us in the gracious waters of life, as he forgives our sins and gives us a new birth into the living hope. We discussed the importance of continued contact with God’s Word in worship, and I expressed my hope they would consider our congregation as their new church home. Alyssa’s husband shared that he had never been involved in a church and had never been baptized. Another opportunity!

Stetson’s baptism was scheduled for the next worship service. It happened so fast that it came at the congregation out of the blue too! Nearly twenty-five guests in worship with us that Sunday! A front row seat at the miracle of faith as God allowed us to witness Stetson’s entrance into the kingdom of God! His soul, in desperate need of forgiveness (as are all of us) plucked, not out of the blue, but out of the pitch, black darkness of sin and ushered into the wonderful light of God’s grace! The opportunity to meet, greet, welcome, and celebrate with the family! A time scheduled to follow up with Alyssa and Dustin and encourage them further in their contact with God’s powerful Word! How incredible!

To be honest, I don’t know that there was anything that we had done “right” as a mission to create this opportunity. Maybe it was important that we had a solid website that shared solid information. Maybe not. Maybe the pastor’s personality, kindness, and careful instruction helped them feel comfortable at Beautiful Savior. Maybe not. But we are here. In La Porte. The right place at the right time for Alyssa, Dustin, and Stetson. We are serving. We are proclaiming God’s grace. God chose to bless us abundantly. . . a little out of the blue.

To be honest, I had been sitting, waiting, and wondering on what I would write this article. Then out the blue, mission work was placed in my lap, and a beautiful blessing to celebrate was given our congregation. Maybe in God’s planning and timing it wasn’t so out of the blue anyway. Thankfully, the energy it has infused into this missionary and his congregation is something like a lightning bolt.

Written by Rev. Kevin Boushek, home missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

 

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Faces of Faith – Mrs. Tri

We take prayer requests verbally from our congregation and then pray about those very things in the moment. About four months ago, Mrs. Tri (pictured above 4th from right), raised her hand and went off on how her whole family is in chaos and disharmony, and how there is lack of respect and discord throughout the family. Her adult children’s families are all members of our congregation. Following that, our congregational president, Mr. Hưu-Trung Lê, and I visited members of the family, and Mrs. Tri, and prayed with them, shared key passages with specific members of the family over the following days and weeks. Later on a different Sunday, the same Sunday at Mrs. Phước’s baptism, Mrs. Tri raised her hand once again at the time of prayer requests. Internally I’m thinking, “Oh boy, here we go again…” Mrs. Tri then went on to say how thankful she was to God for bringing restored peace and harmony to her family. She is happy deep in her heart for what God has done to bring all the family members together again in harmony. Trung said Mrs. Tri came up to him after the service during fellowship time and said, “God has real power. To do what he did in my family—God’s power is real.”

From Dan Kramer, missionary at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church in Boise, Ida.

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Faces of Faith – Phước Thị Trần

The picture above is Phước Thị Trần, who lived her first 85 years without God. She actively campaigned for her family members not to be Christian or attend services at our church. When she found out family members were in a Bible basics course, she told them to stop.

Over these last few years, Mrs. Phước has been more open, even open to attending worship services over the past months. On the last Sunday of September, after much witnessing, prayer and her daughter’s faithful devotion in bringing her to attend services, this lady was happy to be baptized. Everyone applauded at the conclusion of the baptism. One of the family members rushed over to her as she was sitting down and said congratulations. The daughter wanted to do the baptism in the first service so the great-grandsons who attend the first service could see the baptism. They both recorded it on their phones. After the second service, since we had the baptism banner up, I explained what had happened during the first service and everyone applauded again. Mrs. Phước’s name means “blessing.” She is a blessing to us just as she has been richly blessed by God.

From Dan Kramer, missionary at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church in Boise, Ida.

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There is not just one way

There is not just one way. . .

. . . that people come into contact with the gospel. There are lots of different ways, and we are seeing many of them in play at your home mission congregation in Macomb, Michigan. The picture above proves that. From left to right, we begin with Bill and Amanda. Bill was an inactive WELS guys engaged to Amanda, who had no church home. They came to us because they wanted to get married, but also because they wanted God in their marriage. They took our pre-marriage course, then took our adult instruction course, and are now every-week worshipers and regular volunteers. Next to them is Bill’s mom, Andrea. She came because she now has family ties to the mission. Next to Andrea is Kay. Kay is a solid, life-long WELS lady who transferred in because she and her husband moved closer to Ascension. Her husband, Paul, has now completed our adult instruction class and, together with Kay, is a valued member and volunteer. Next to Kay is Gary and a few folks to right of him is Mary, one of our most senior members. They came to us because their WELS church in Detroit closed. Along with them came several others – all who know what it is to stay and serve to the end. Gary’s wife, Gloria, came along, too! Gloria is now our organist – on the very organ that their former congregation donated to our mission. The little girl next to Gary is Jillian, and that’s her mom, Joanne, next to her. They are other-Lutherans who moved into our neighborhood, visited us, liked what they heard, and stayed. Joanne’s husband (Jillian’s dad) is Jason who has also taken our adult instruction class and become a member. Behind silver-haired Mary is Mike, ex-military and one who has been – quite literally – battle-tested in the good fight. He lives in the neighborhood, too. The four folks to the right of him are Rod and his three children. They are former-WELS who bounced around for a while before visiting Ascension and enrolling those three great kids in our confirmation instruction class. Rod’s wife Cori has also taken our adult class and established membership.

What’s the point of all of that backstory? There is but one gospel that the Holy Spirit uses to gather people to Jesus, but there are lots of different ways that he brings that gospel to people. Did you hear them in all that backstory? Proximity to a church that proclaims that gospel, family members who become transmission lines for the gospel to others in their family, people who have had a long association with the gospel and who knew exactly where to find it and serve it in their new community, people searching for a place where they can have a meaningful relationship with God through Word and Sacrament, people drawn by authentic friendships to hear the gospel, and people reached through outreach efforts by one of your WELS home missions. If you look, you will find those same ways at work in your congregation, too. That is what makes every WELS church a mission!

P.S. – The guy in the back row under the cross is your home missionary, Dan Simons. I have the best seat in the house to watch the Holy Spirit reach out with the gospel in many ways, but with the same result: souls are added to the kingdom!

Written by Rev. Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich. 

 

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Confessions of faith: Kalbach

A man shares how Jesus changed his life forever.

Steven H. Prahl

I first met Dave and Connie Kalbach when they walked in the doors for our Christmas Eve service. I introduced myself and welcomed them. Dave replied, “I don’t really go to church; I’m just here with them,” as he pointed to his family.

That’s how my relationship with Dave and Connie started. I didn’t know what to expect, but Jesus knew that this was part of a life-changing experience for them.

Christian influences

Dave would tell you that he always had a sense of a “higher power.” That really started when his father took his own life when Dave was 14 years old. Dave had gone out to find out why his dad wasn’t coming in from the car. Because the car doors were locked, Dave went back into the house, grabbed a flashlight, confirmed it worked, and went back into the night. But when he got to the car, the flashlight didn’t work. Today, Dave is convinced that God was looking out for him, protecting him from seeing his father’s body.

In 1991, Dave and Connie’s youngest son, Sean, met a family at the campground where he worked. This Lutheran pastor and his wife had five daughters, including Tanya, who two years later would become Sean’s wife. While dating Tanya, Sean attended a Bible information class at the church and became a member. As the years went by, Dave and Connie would visit their kids and grandkids every few months. On most of those visits, they would go to church with them, although Dave could not understand why they drove past other churches to go to the WELS church.

Tanya had a big impact on her in-laws. She and Connie began reading through the Bible together, discussing what they had read on the phone. Dave, though, wasn’t very interested, even admitting that he would hold those Bible studies against Connie when they would argue. But through the years, Dave said he and Tanya “would have conversations about the Bible, church, God, and heaven.” He continues, “During one of these conversations I told Tanya that one of us was in for a big surprise since I felt that the fact that I led an honorable life meant that I would go to heaven. Tanya stood by her conviction that I could not get to heaven like that.”

Dave was right that one of them was in for a big surprise—and by God’s grace it was before Dave stood before God.

An aha moment

As Dave tells it: “In 2017, Sean, Tanya, and their entire family decided to visit Colorado for Christmas. This would be the first time in many years we all would be together for Christmas. Tanya told us she wanted to go to Christmas Eve services. Sean and Tanya had been married at a WELS church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and it was the only WELS church I knew of, but it was on the other side of town from us. I thought, Just what I want to do on Christmas Eve—drive across town for church. This is where it gets interesting. A week or so before Christmas, a card for a Lutheran church arrived in our mailbox. The church was named Foundation, and it met in the elementary school three miles from our home. Christmas Eve came, and we all attended church [at Foundation]. Connie and I enjoyed the service and were made to feel welcome by the congregation.”

Two weeks after that December 24 introduction, Dave and Connie came walking through the church’s doors on Sunday. Dave informed me, “In 51 years of marriage, we have never gone to church just the two of us, without our kids.” Dave knew that Connie was interested in going to church, but he had never seen a reason to attend. He thought he was just fine with God on his own. But because of something he heard on Christmas Eve and because he loved his wife, he asked her to go to church with him. Dave says, “You could have knocked Connie over with a feather.”

Dave and Connie started attending worship regularly and decided to go through our FaithBuilders classes. “It was during the section on works that I had an ‘aha!’ moment,” says Dave. “It became clear to me that I could not get to heaven by works. Tanya had been right all along. On that day I realized that the only way to heaven was through Jesus Christ.” Dave admits that this was eye-opening. It was both comforting and scary at the same time—comforting because Jesus had done it all for him and scary because what he had relied on and thought he knew didn’t matter for his salvation.

On May 6, 2018, Dave and Connie were baptized into the Christian faith and became members of Foundation. It was a special day for everyone there as we saw Dave and Connie’s joy as they were washed in the water of Baptism. It was especially exciting for Sean and Tanya, who flew to Colorado for the long-awaited occasion.

As Dave says, “A random postcard; Tanya, a true Christian who never gave up; an ‘aha!’ moment; and Jesus Christ changed my life forever. I have lots to learn, but I am ready for the trip.”

Infectious witness

Since becoming members of Foundation, Dave and Connie regularly help set up chairs and equipment before worship at the school we rent. They hosted one of our Bible study groups this summer. They drop off guest bags to people who have visited our church, because they know what it is like to be on the other side of that door. They aren’t shy about sharing that they are new to the church and they are excited to be here!

Their joy of knowing their Savior is infectious. This summer, they helped with our soccer Bible camp; Dave even did all the drills with the little kids. On the last day of camp, Dave was talking with one of the moms and invited her to church. He told her that he had always thought that he was fine with God and didn’t really need to go to church but now he learned what God had done for him. Her response: “I didn’t know other people felt like that too.” So, Dave invited her to meet “the friendliest group of people” and learn about what Jesus has done for her too.

It hasn’t all been easy. Dave had a health scare, and some of their family has pushed them away because they are now Christians. But Dave and Connie continue to cling to the peace that Jesus gives and hold on to the hope that if it wasn’t too late for them to come to faith in Jesus it isn’t too late for their family members either.

And it’s all because of “a random postcard; Tanya, a true Christian who never gave up; an “aha!” moment, and Jesus Christ.”

Two lives changed, and two souls saved forever.


Steven Prahl is pastor at Foundation, Peyton, Colorado.


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Author: Steven H. Prahl
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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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The bigger the animal, the more special the feast

The bigger the animal, the more special the feast. Traditionally and culturally in the Hmong community, a cow is reserved for a special occasion. (when a baby boy is born, marriage, etc.) A cow signifies the happiness of the parents. A wedding feast with a cow for the meal is a feast for a family of wealth.

Faith Hmong Lutheran Church in Anchorage, Alaska, had a special meal like this in June. It was a meal to invite the community to, and a meal to share with the congregation for the three days of our annual camp. God’s Word says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

“Out of darkness”, is so true as we were held under the control of Satan and his lies. How wonderful it is to celebrate together with brothers and sisters under the cross and to share this experience with other redeemed children of God, young and old.

Ladies enjoying the beef bone

The question was brought up as to how we could gather and have a special meal – how special of a meal was the next question. Leaders in the congregation had to struggle with this question. Chickens, pig, goat, or even a cow? The price of livestock is not cheap in Alaska. To make it as special as possible, we would need to get a cow.

“Why not?” the leaders asked. $1,500-$2,000 is the asking price for a cow, but it would make this year’s camp very special.

In November 2018, the leaders got the ball rolling as we ended that meeting. The idea was that leaders would start to donate to this meal – $10 a week, $20 a week, even $50 a week, depending on what they were able to donate. Then, at the beginning of June, whatever else was needed, we would ask for a donation from the congregation to cover the cost.

What a blessing it was to see when brothers and sister unite and come together for a purpose. We were able to gather enough funds to cover the cost of the cow for this fellowship event.

Camp devotion

June 20, 2019, the day before our camp was to start, a couple strong youth and myself drove to Palmer, Alaska, to butcher this cow for our feast. We butchered the cow at the farm and hauled pretty much all the parts that were necessary – all of the meat, including the stomach, heart, lungs, and intestine. The phrase “leave nothing behind” was true for us as we only left behind what was not edible.

What a blessing it was to have many hands to help with this process. We were able to bring all the meat back to camp and process it there. Many people are familiar with hanging the meat first, but not in the Hmong community. We process the meat into smaller portions to cook right away, and to make sure we have enough to cook for all our planned meals.

Four meals were planned – one for Friday evening, two for Saturday, and one more on Sunday. We thank a couple of our ladies for taking charge of the meal prep. They are great cooks who really know how to cook this traditional food!

On Saturday afternoon, we held our special meal. Members were encouraged to share personal invitations to the Hmong community to come and join us for this special meal. Though the drive was about 1.5 hours from Anchorage, we had three non-member families come and join us for this special meal. The meal’s menu included Laarb ( fine ground beef mixed with herbs), which can be made raw and cooked, boiled beef bone soup (a very time-consuming dish, where the sauce is made from the intestine), short ribs, lean meats, tripe (stomach), BBQ beef, rice, and pepper to go along these dishes.

Lake games

We thank the Lord for an afternoon filled with laughter, conversation, fellowship, games, songs, and the sharing of God’s Word through devotions.

Three days was not long enough. If only we could hold time still for a moment. To see brothers and sisters in Christ gather together and to have families who don’t believe be able to join us and see the unity, fellowship, love, and care of Christians was a great blessing. It’s not just the planning that made all this come together, but God’s guidance and blessings. This was made possible by everyone involved. We had roughly 70 people throughout the three days, and nearly 100 people at Saturday’s meal. We had enough meat left over to share with the 18 families at Faith Hmong. The fact that each family was able to go home with a portion to enjoy shows us the abundance of God blessings.

We are looking forward to next year already! Maybe it won’t involve butchering a cow (as that’s a lot of work), but maybe something smaller. Any time we get to spend working together, loving each other, and being led by the Lord will be time well spent. May the Lord continue to bless this ministry and lead us to do all things to glorify him alone.

Written by Pastor Pao Moua, home missionary at Faith Hmong Lutheran Church in Anchorage, Alaska. 

 

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Surely the Lord is in this place

It wasn’t anything pretty. Just a small suite in an office building on a busy road in Nampa, Idaho. A gathering space with an office in the back. But it was a place to get started. It was a place to meet. It was a place we could invite people to. It wasn’t pretty when we got there, but surely the Lord was in that place.

Suite 120 in the Legend Building in Nampa is now the 24/7 ministry center for Cross of Christ’s multi-site congregation. After 25 years of God’s rich blessings on our church in Boise, Cross of Christ is branching out to the west in North Nampa to reach more and more souls with the saving and freeing message of Jesus and the Bible.

Who would have thought such amazing things would happen in this little place? One man found out on Father’s Day that his wife was leaving him. He came to our divorce support group where he reconnected with the gospel after not having attended church since middle school.

One couple tragically lost their son in a sudden death. They came to our grief support group where they heard about the resurrection and eternal life for all who believe in Jesus.

One lady stayed after class, apologizing for being so emotional (she didn’t need to apologize). She said our Cross Connections (basic Christian instruction) course was giving her just what she needed at just the right time in her life. The Good News she was hearing was so great it was all just feeling a little overwhelming, in a good way.

All we did was get a little place and open the doors so people could hear the gospel. How is it that lives are changed and people are suddenly connected to God, their purpose, and a Christian community?

Surely the Lord is in this little place.

When he woke up from his angelic dream, Jacob said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16). If Jesus has promised to be with us always, we’re going to try and be alert to all the ways God shows us that he is with us today.

Cross of Christ's new worship location

Cross of Christ’s new worship location

Now we’re gearing up for services to start in North Nampa, and we’ll need a place a little bigger than our suite 120 ministry center. So we’ll be renting a restaurant on Sunday mornings. The opening service will be November 24, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Just a little restaurant on a busy road in Nampa, Idaho. Tables and chairs and salt and pepper shakers. But it’s a place to meet. A place to worship. A place to invite more people to. It might not be a cathedral, but surely the Lord will be in that place too.

Because Jesus has given us his Word. And we will worship in the name of Jesus. And where two or three gather in his name, there he is also.

What sort of amazing things will happen in that little place?

I can’t wait to find out!

Written by Pastor Kurt Wetzel, mission pastor at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Ida.

 

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The Lord, our shield

Glenn L. Schwanke

August 15–17, 1969. Woodstock. Over a half million people flocked to Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York. There they rocked to Joan Baez; the Grateful Dead; Janis Joplin; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; and many more. Jimmy Hendrix’ electrifying guitar work wrapped up the event.

But Woodstock is remembered more for the shocking scenes captured in a 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. The three-day event became little more than a warped respite from the violent protests that were sweeping our nation—protests demanding an end to the war in Vietnam and unfair treatment of blacks as well as demanding full equality for women.

Many of the most violent protests were on college campuses. On May 15, 1969, at the University of California, Berkley, police and 2,700 National Guard troops used tear gas and shotguns in an effort to control the rioters. Then came May 4, 1970. Kent State. Four students were killed and another nine were injured while protesting the bombing of Cambodia by US forces.

Our nation was ripping apart. Yet, in the midst of this chaos, something incredible took place at Michigan Technological University (MTU).

At the beginning of the 1969 fall semester, a Michigan Tech freshman, Martin Jones of Woodruff, Wisconsin, reached out to Dr. J. Michael Skaates, a faculty member at Tech. Jones did not want to organize a protest but rather to get a group started for Bible study and worship. Jones knew that Dr. Skaates was a member of the National Church in Calumet and that Skaates had connections with the Wisconsin Synod.

Jones and Skaates received permission to check the religious preference cards on file in the Dean of Students’ Office. They identified 12 students as Wisconsin Synod members. Then they contacted and invited those students to an initial meeting on Oct. 14, 1969. Seven students came and arranged to meet regularly for Bible study. They organized as a chapter of “Lutheran Collegians,” the national WELS Student organization. Several months later, the Michigan Tech Dean of Students granted a charter to the group recognizing them as a student organization.

In the fledgling years of this campus ministry, communion services were held once a month in a Seventh-day Adventist building in Houghton. On other Sundays, students took a taxi up to Calumet for worship. Later, communion services were conducted in the front room of the Baptist Student Center in Houghton. By 1973, weekly worship

services were held on Sunday evenings at the Christian Science Building. Then on Dec. 3, 1978, the first worship service was held at the University Chapel, the campus ministry’s new home thanks to the efforts of the WELS General Board for Home Missions.

So much has changed since then! Yet, just like 1969, 2019 is rocked by protests in our nation. Today’s protests are over migrant issues, border protection, gender identity, or anger over “white privilege.” Our college campuses remain tinderboxes where issues explode, catching students in the cross-fire.

Thank God we still have campus ministries to serve students living through these turbulent times! Here in Houghton, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary with the theme, “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage.” We’ll have special services on Sept. 1, 2019; Oct. 27, 2019; and Feb. 9, 2020. We’d love to have you join us!

Whether you join us or not, please keep praying for WELS Campus Ministry, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Perhaps your prayer can mirror mine. “Father, steel Christians on campus with a faith that joyfully shouts David’s confession. ‘This God—his way is blameless. The speech of the LORD is pure. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him’ ” (Psalm 18:30 Evangelical Heritage Version).


Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, also serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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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Confessions of faith: Kang

The Holy Spirit worked saving faith in a Korean family who claimed, “We are not Christians.”  

Mark A. Eckert

Youngil (Alan) Kang and his wife Sukjeong (Ann) Kim were a typical South Korean couple. They were consumed by their professions—so much so that they had limited family time, which is quite common in Korea. Alan was a government official, working for the Ministry of Science and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). For over 15 years, he has created and implemented policies that foster the development of science and technology and also technology commercialization in Korea. Ann was a plant quarantine officer dealing with diseases caused by insects in imported plants.

Ann had grown tired of her job. She worked and lived in an apartment during the week and only got to see her husband and sons on weekends.

A journey to Michigan State University

About three years ago, they—together with their two sons Gyumin (Tony) and Gyoungmin (Fred)—began quite a journey. Ann quit her job so she could have more time with her family. Then Alan learned that he would be sent to Michigan State University (MSU) in Lansing, Michigan, for two years. In the first year he’d study in the Visiting International Professional Program. Then he’d put what he learned into practice at Spartan Innovations, which provides the educational and financial support necessary to turn MSU research technologies into successful businesses.

This journey to the United States brought many new challenges, including learning English. Fortunately, Alan has a good, dedicated, and organized wife who knew that her family members needed to make the most of their time in the United States. Her priority was to make sure that her family spoke and understood English better after their two-year stint in America. While still in Korea, she searched the Internet for ways to improve the family’s English. She learned about the Friendship House, a place in East Lansing where she and her family could take English classes.

When they arrived in Michigan, the Kang family went to the International Welcome Party at the Friendship House. HaeHee Park, a member of the WELS Campus Ministry in Lansing, met Alan and Ann and invited them to come to the campus ministry. She told them it would be great for them to learn some English and to learn about God. It also would be good for them just to hang around with some Americans, to have fun, and to learn “American.”

First steps in worship

A couple weeks later they came to our Saturday evening worship service. We have Saturday evening services because that works best for our campus ministry. Some of our volunteers attend their own congregations on Sunday, but they also love to worship and fellowship with the WELS students. After our worship service we have a great time together and eat some of the best international—and sometimes even American—food.

That Saturday in September, Ann was planning how often her sons could meet with Doug Tabor, who teaches many of our English classes. Students usually end up meeting with Doug every day except for Sunday and Monday. Doug says he doesn’t really teach them English. He just spends a lot of time talking and doing things (playing Cribbage, basketball, camping) with them so they get more comfortable with English. After two years Doug says their English is definitely better and their ping pong skills have really gotten great!

A few weeks later, the Kangs came again for worship. After that they faithfully attended our worship services, Doug’s English classes, and whatever else we offered them. If they missed, it was usually because they were traveling or experiencing other pieces of American culture.

Soon Alan asked me to record our services so he and his wife could listen to the services again during the week to understand the English better and to understand the sermon message better. So we began posting our recordings online for the Kangs and for other internationals who have returned to their home countries and want to listen to our services.

Learning more about Jesus

Just before Christmas, HaeHee Park convinced Alan and Ann that they should come to my Bible Information Class (BIC). I had talked to them about coming, but it always works better when one Korean invites another. We started a marathon class.

Prior to coming to our campus ministry, the Kangs had no real religious background. Ann had gone to a church for about three years while in elementary school. Tony and Fred had gone with friends to church for a couple years. But they didn’t really know about Jesus. I remember Ann often saying to me, “We are not Christian.”

As the weeks and months rolled by, the Kangs faithfully kept coming to our services and the BIC sessions. I noted how attentive they were in worship. I know that sometimes they were just struggling a bit to understand the English and the message, but I also know that the Holy Spirit was working. Fred and Tony were always the key targets for my youth devotions.

I’m not sure when Ann last said, “I’m not a Christian.” She said it so often. But in the last year when she spoke those words, I would say to her that if she wasn’t a Christian, I didn’t know what a Christian was. I’d ask her and Alan if Jesus was the Savior who lived and died for the sins of the world, and they would say, “Yes, he did.” I repeatedly told them that I believed they really were believers.

I often talked to them about Baptism and encouraged them to be baptized. Finally, at one of our classes, they said they wanted to be baptized. I spent some time talking about Baptism with the entire family, and then they all were baptized. What a journey we had traveled together!

Since then we’ve completed our information classes. I told them that it would be great if we confirmed them as well, but what was more important is that they knew more about Jesus their Savior. When we asked them what they would miss most about Michigan when they returned to Korea this year, they said they’d miss our campus ministry and their Christian friends because here they learned about Jesus.

After the Kangs return to Korea, we’ll stay in contact with them through KakaoTalk (a text/phone app). We’ll also e-mail them our sermons and bulletins. They said they’d continue to go online to find our service recordings. Maybe we’ll get the chance to visit them in Korea. Maybe they’ll come back to the United States for a visit. Whatever happens, we can rejoice because the Holy Spirit worked on the hearts of the Kangs and made them who said, “We are not Christians,” into believing children of God and heirs of heaven.


Mark Eckert is pastor at Calvary, Eaton Rapids, Michigan, and campus pastor in Lansing, Michigan.


WELS Campus Ministry is celebrating its 100th anniversary this school year. A ministry of WELS Home Missions, WELS Campus Ministry provides resources, support, and encouragement to approximately 30 ministries on college campuses (ones like the campus ministry in East Lansing) and many congregations near college campuses in the United States and Canada. Learn more at wels.net/campus-ministry.


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Author: Mark A. Eckert
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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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Lavished love for loneliness

The absence of familiar things often means feeling alone, but God’s love in Jesus remains sure and certain.  

Jonathan P. Bilitz 

Would it surprise you to learn that the fastest growing problem faced by college students (especially first-year students) is loneliness? Medical services report that more and more students present symptoms of depression and anxiety because they feel alone. Survey statistics from universities convey that as many as 70 percent of college students say they have gone through bouts of loneliness.  

Loneliness in college is certainly not new. But the rate of increase among students has led some to label the issue the “Loneliness Epidemic.” Why? Certainly many factors contribute to its rise. Modern technology has allowed people to be in touch with each other like no other time in history. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook can connechundreds or even thousands! Snapchat streaks promote a daily communication with others. But how many of those relationships go deeper than a surface friendship?  

College students have left behind many of the friends made in high school. A new beginning means new relationships need to be cultivated. The pressure of academic success might isolate the student as studying becomes the top priority. 

Whatever triggers loneliness, God’s people know that the “father of lies” would like nothing more than to convince us that we are all alone. He wants us to think no one loves us or cares about us. He wants us to focus so much on our troubles that we forget about the One to whom we belong. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). We are never alone; our Lord promises he is always with us. 

So when lonely times hit, you have the greatest relief: Jesus, who already defeated Satan. King David experienced bouts of loneliness. He expressed his anguish in Psalm 25:16: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” Though he felt alone, David knew where to turn. He knew his hope was in the Lord. Connect with your Lord through his Word when lonely times visit you. He has lavished his love on you and calls you his child. 

Consider these ideas when you’re lonely:  

  • Don’t panic! What you are experiencing is common.Remember that it takes time for something new to feel comfortable.  
  • Try getting out of your dorm or apartment to meet people.Connect with others through activities and clubs.  
  • Find opportunities to connect with those students who share the same beliefs as you.Search out the campus ministry at your college or university. 

Campus ministry can provide the blessing of connecting you with Christians who are experiencing the same things. Together you will find strength for your faith in the Word of God. You will be encouraged to cast your worries on the One who cares for you. Campus ministry may provide the outlet you need to alleviate loneliness. In his grace, God has provided one hundred years of campus ministry through our church body. (Watch for more information about this anniversary in upcoming issues of Forward in Christ!) Countless students have connected with one another around the promises of God. Campus ministry can provide that for you. 

Most of all, remember God says that you are his child. When pangs of loneliness hit, cherish your status. Reflect on the love he has lavished on you. Trust that he will never leave you or forsake you. Because God is faithful, you will never be alone. 


Jonathan Bilitz is pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Jonathan P. Bilitz 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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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Learning about God’s timing

In April 2018, WELS Board for Home Missions approved funding for a new mission in Joplin, Mo. In May 2019, Jordan Bence was assigned to serve as the home missionary in Joplin, Mo. What did the core group in Joplin do as it waited for its first pastor?  

“Well, the first thing we had to learn was patience,” says Wendy Wright, a member of the core group. “This was God’s timing, not ours! We learned a lot about the divine call process, as we extended ten calls during this year.” 

Wright adds, “The waiting would have been much harder had we not started a weekly Bible study last July, led by Pastor Aaron Schumann, who serves at Faith, Pittsburg, Kan.”  

The Bible study began as a way for the core group to enjoy fellowship and biblical encouragement together. “But then, several of the group invited guests . . . and they came . . . and they stayed!” says Wright. “We were excited to have three guest families join us, and two have continued regular attendance.” One of the guests even offered space at her real estate office for the group to meet. 

“My role was every pastor’s dream—I showed up and taught them and their friends God’s Word every Wednesday evening for one year,” says Schumann. “The core group took care of all of the details, filled out all of the necessary paperwork, put together the proposal to synod, and invited their friends and their coworkers to the Wednesday night Bible study. They were awesome. My role was to bring them Jesus on a weekly basis and to encourage them in what they were doing. Their motivation to serve their Lord and tell others about Jesus is what has driven this mission.” 

So what was it like to find out that a pastor was assigned to them from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s graduating class of 2019? 

“On Call Day the whole core group was waiting anxiously to find out who would be assigned to our home mission,” says Wright. “We were all watching on our laptops or phones at work and at home. When we saw that at the top of the list Jordan Bence was assigned to our mission, we were ecstatic!”  

And Bence’s reaction? “I guess it was just pure shock,” he says. “You try to prepare yourself for that moment, but you really can’t. When President Schroeder read my name and assignment, I was just overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the fact that God had chosen me for such a task. Overwhelmed with the opportunity that God placed before me to love these people by continually building them up in his unconditional love. It’s truly a humbling moment of God’s grace. It was something I had been dreaming of since kindergarten.” 

Bence continues, “The training program of our synod has given me many experiences to not only build my own faith but also prepare me to serve the Joplin, Mo., (JOMO) mission. I have helped out multiple mission churches throughout the United States going all the way back to high school. 

Finally, Bence says, “When it comes to the JOMO mission, I guess a summarizing statement for this group might beambitious to serve. These people are filled with the spirit and are ready to go out and proclaim the good news!


To learn more about the JOMO mission and other home mission congregations, visit wels.net/missions 


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Author:
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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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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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After 16 years of waiting…

Well, it’s been over 16 years of waiting, but Living Word in Waukesha, Wis., finally broke ground on its first facility on September 15, 2019. In that time, we’ve set up and taken down for worship services nearly 1,000 times.

Living Word members wrote Bible passages and symbols on rocks that will be buried under the altar and in the foundation.

Are the members excited? Absolutely! In their time renting Rose Glen Elementary School, there have been times they couldn’t use the school due to school activities, times when the custodian forgot to open the building (not so good for a Good Friday service), and whole summers where the first thing anyone saw as they drove into the parking lot was a big, ugly dumpster blocking the school entrance. There’s nothing quite like a welcome dumpster that tells visitors, “We follow the theology of the cross.”

But the members have kept things in perspective. Worshiping in a public school for 16 years is nothing compared to dealing with persecution, or worshiping in graveyards, as some early Christians had to do, or having no place at all from which to proclaim the gospel, such as in many of our foreign mission fields.

View from drone with Waukesha West High School in the background, across the highway from where we’ll build. Members are breaking ground on the perimeter of the building.

Are the members excited and happy?  Of course.  But not just because they won’t have to set up and tear down worship each Sunday. Now we get to use a facility as an encouragement to our members in their gospel outreach. We’ll have a coffee shop as the hub of the building that will encourage members to tell their friends, “Come and see what we’re all about—Jesus, our Savior from sin, and your Savior as well.” We plan on partnering with Lighthouse Youth Center to reach out to Waukesha West High School students as well as partnering with Christian Family Solutions so we can provide professional Christian counseling to anyone who needs it. And we’ll continue to invite the community to our Faith Quest for children and our worship services and Bible studies where we know God’s word will do its work to save and strengthen souls.

Above all, we thank our gracious God and so many people he has worked through who have made sacrifices to get us to this point, including the members of our 16 mother congregations. Now we pray that God blesses the construction so we can finally realize our dream of a facility from which the gospel will reach many souls—and we’ve dreamed of it reaching quite a lot!

Written by Pastor John Borgwardt, home missionary at Living Word Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Wis. 

 

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Holy Smoke Ride

There are two things that strike me about home missions. First, opportunities for outreach come up way more often than we’d think— if we keep our eyes open for them. Second, apart from sin, just about any activity we are involved in can be brought into the service of the Savior. Permit me to share with you something that’s a little of both.

I have been a motorcycle guy since I got my driver’s license a whole lot of years ago at age 16. That’s partly because it was a cheap mode of transportation (in the beginning), and partly because motorcycles are just so much fun. My first was a little 50cc scooter my dad bought for me so I could get to my first “off the farm” part-time job in town. (That job was as a lifeguard at the community pool in St. Charles, Michigan. Tough job, I know, but someone had to do it. But I digress…) Over the years since, the motorcycle just got bigger. In 2017, our Treasurer at Ascension, Paul, bought his first motorcycle and became an avid biker. Since I was already riding, it was just natural that we became riding partners. Over the past two years the circle of friends who became part of our riding group grew. The time spent on rides with those guys has been a wonderful way to develop friendships and to recharge my batteries for service. Over the past three riding seasons, I have logged hundreds of miles and had dozens of meals with those guys. On the weekend before last, we rode 300 miles (round trip) for a cheeseburger and deep-friend Oreos. For motorcycle guys, that is completely normal behavior. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination. It’s about the camaraderie, not the cuisine.

Pastor Dan Simons (front) and some of the Holy Smoke Ride group

As those relationship have grown stronger, one of our group suggested that we do a ride that would start with church at Ascension and leave from there for a Sunday afternoon ride. He suggested that since I am the pastor at Ascension, I ought to plan it. I get that black and orange is not a liturgical color and a Harley jacket is a far cry from an alb, but out here in home missions, it might kind of work. The Holy Smoke Ride was planned, guys had the opportunity to sign up, and then we prayed for good weather.

That ride happened on August 25. Of the 8 guys who committed to the ride, 3 of them were in worship on Sunday morning. Ascension, in their usual friendly way, welcomed them, fed them with refreshments after the service, and made them feel at home. No one batted an eye at the row of motorcycles parked in front of church.

The ride was 100 miles of beautiful weather, excellent lunch at a gem of a smoked meats/BBQ joint north of here, and great conversation. After the ride was over, the group was invited back to our house for some “afterglow.” My wife, Maria, provided her crazy-good salsa & chips, tamales, and ice cream. The camaraderie and conversation continued until nearly dark. The Holy Smoke Ride is history, and we are already planning future rides. This one, everyone agreed, was one of the best.

I don’t know what might come of this as far as new members for Ascension goes. Statistics indicate that millennials and generation z are not big into motorcycles. But for late baby-boomers, it’s still a thing, and there are plenty of boomers who still need to get connected to the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I don’t know what God may bring from this. That’s his work in his own time. I do know that there are three guys who heard about the love of Jesus on Sunday morning who had never darkened our doorway before. I do know that I have the privilege of being a Christian friend, salted into a group of guys I count as friends. It will be interesting to see where this road leads. As far now, I’ll just crack the throttle, keep the rubber side down and shiny side up, and enjoy the ride!

P.S. – Over lunch one of the guys asked about the riding jacket I was wearing. He asked where I got it. When I told him that it was a gift from the members of the church I served in Milwaukee on the occasion of my 25th anniversary in the ministry, he was clearly surprised (in a good way). It was clear a paradigm shift had occurred for him about “church.”

Written by Pastor Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich.

 

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Real faces, real lives, real souls

I was nervous this year. This was our fifth year of holding an art camp for children ages 5-10. Some experts suggest that church outreach events have a shelf life. Some say the shelf life is three years. Others say five years. But both say that after a certain amount of time a congregation needs to change the event because it grow stale. This was year five of art camp.

So, I was nervous this year. Between not being able to quickly recruit volunteers and then a slow year for registrations, I was thinking we were going to have as many volunteers as kids. We did everything we had done in the past to advertise, but two weeks out from camp we had less than half the registrations we normally have. I was worried that our volunteers coming from Wisconsin, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, and Ontario would come for nothing. Maybe the experts were right.

I continue to struggle to learn this lesson—the Lord blesses in his own way in spite of my nerves. This year we had 57 kids. Not the most we’ve ever had, but then I took a closer look at the registrations. 52 of the 57 were non-Redemption children. 21 of 57 were returning children. 16 children were registered due to referrals. Maybe most exciting was that this was the first year we had more local children registered (31 of 57) than Ft. Drum children registered. That is important for us as we continue to try to break into a community that one community leader said “lives in relationship silos.” By statistical measure, this was our most successful art camp to date.

Still, I was nervous this year. Rain was in the forecast for our gallery afternoon and barbecue. A time when we try to make connections with parents. Stats are interesting, but they mean little if connections aren’t made and Jesus isn’t shared with people. But the wind moved the clouds and the sun shine was warm. People came. Real faces, real lives, real souls came.

A soul named Danielle brought her granddaughter to camp. She had tattoos down her arms and across her chest, gauges in her ears, a ring in her nose, and a face that could tell two lifetimes of stories. She came to the barbecue with her daughter and their friend, “Aunt” Becky. We talked about Jesus and it was like water for two weary souls.

Another soul was a young mother who thought she should find a church since her daughter was getting older. But she was skeptical and wasn’t sure if there was a church that would value her daughter. “We have a message here just for you and your daughter,” I said, “It’s all about forgiveness given to you by God through Jesus. He loves children and so does our church.”

There was another soul. A mother of three. A burnt out Catholic. She was starved for grace, but Catholicism was in her DNA and she was struggling with what to do. “Are you going to church now?” I asked. She said no. “Bring your kids; come and listen to God’s message of grace,” I said.

I could keep sharing with you the real faces, real lives, real souls that God brought us for three days this past July. This art camp was successful for many reasons, but most of all it was successful because real faces, real lives, real souls came, and the Word was planted.

Written by Pastor Aaron Goetzinger, home missionary at Redemption Lutheran Church in Watertown, N.Y.

 

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A church planter’s checklist

A mission planter has a check-list of items a mile long. We need instruments, people to play the instruments, worship folders, a place to print worship folders, coffee, songs, and on and on it goes!  Perhaps the biggest item on the list of things to accomplish is finding a place to worship. As you continue to invite people and share the gospel, one of the natural questions that arises is, “where are you meeting?” All I could say was…”Aaaaah, we have some options!” It was frustrating trying to find a place we could rent for worship and ministry.

I was called to launch a second campus for Shepherd of the Valley in Westminster, Colo. The target area is to the west about 15 minutes. Hundreds of homes had already been built on the northwest side of the city of Arvada and hundreds more were planned in the coming years. A large space of thousands of acres had been set aside for commercial development. There was only one church in this whole five mile radius, a church a little more than 2 years old. All signs pointed to a ripe mission field. That’s exactly what we found as we surveyed and participated in community events.

People were yearning for connections and longing to be better parents and spouses. As we chatted with them, we shared the gospel and let them know we were planting a church in their area to serve them. There was a lot of interest! However, we lacked one thing. . . a space for ministry and worship. Where do you start?

Ralston’s Crossing Event Center. . . and Shepherd of the Valley’s new worship location

On the advice of other mission planters and friends, I started asking the schools in the area. I was met time after time with a big NO! They didn’t have the staff to open the building, or they just didn’t want the hassle of a renter. We looked for commercial space to rent and convert, but in an area so new there wasn’t any good or affordable commercial space. Lots of people and no places to meet. Where would we meet? What would we do if we didn’t find a place? I feared we would have nothing since it was April 2019 and we planned to start in the fall.

The last possibility was an old Presbyterian church, built in 1911, now a wedding and event center. I hadn’t met the owner, the site was a bit out of our target area, but the location was along a state highway and many local people knew where it was located. It’s worth a try. I sent the owner an email two weeks before Easter, described what I was looking for, and asked about renting. The following Monday as I sat in the car in the Home Depot parking lot, my phone rang. On the other end was the most pleasant, upbeat voice I’d heard in awhile,

“Is this Jeremy? I’m so glad I got a hold of you! I received your message you were looking to rent the chapel. How can I help? I have to tell you, when I heard your message I was ecstatic you asked! I’ve never rented to a church before. This is going to be so much fun!”

What followed was nothing short of God’s gracious hand. The owner, Randy Miller, said to me, “I heard your message and was so excited to have a church meet in the church again! This is going to be exciting.” Randy asked us what we wanted to pay. He opened up his entire property for us to use on Sundays (check out these pictures!) and encouraged us to have as many outdoor services as we wanted to have. He talked about adding us to his main sign. He said to me, “You sound like a really nice guy so I’ll probably just give you a key and you can have access when you need it.”

Since then, Randy has moved schedules around so we have sole access on Sunday mornings. His wedding season goes from May through September, so for the rest of the year we have the place all to ourselves. Randy has said many times, “I’m so excited to partner with you and have your congregation here.”

It was struggle to find a place and extremely frustrating to be turned down by over a half dozen different spots or find nothing to rent within your budget. Ralston’s Crossing Event Center has been a blessing from God. The owner has been inviting people to attend our new church. This was just another reminder that the Lord guides the steps of his people and promises to be with them wherever we go.

Written by Pastor Jeremy Belter, home missionary at Shepherd of the Valley Candelas in Arvada, Colo.


Post-Script: Pastor Belter reports, “Every seat was filled. We counted 140 people in attendance and nearly 70 first time guests! I was also privileged to baptize three little children that day from the same family. That family is currently taking class for membership. We have contact info from 10 families for follow up and lots of positive conversations. Several inquired about next steps for membership. Several people commented, “We’re looking for a church with a more traditional structure and solid sermon from the Bible. We want a church that is true to the Bible.” Lots of people said they’d be back. To say that God is good is an understatement. He did do more than we asked or imagined as he always does. The launch team is excited to continue working as missionaries, inviting and welcoming people to hear the message of Christ crucified!”

 

 

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Growing together with God and with our communities

Dear Christian Friend,

The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is a mission church that started in 2017 with the help of Home Missions and you, my fellow WELS members. We’re all about #GrowingTogether in our relationship with God, with each other, and with our community.

Recently, we held a “Faith in Action Day” where we did four community service projects in one day in order to grow together with our community.

  1. Sweet treats for first responders: Our members baked a whole bunch of sweet treats and then delivered them to the first responders in our community (firefighters, police officers, hospital emergency room staff, county sheriff, paramedics, etc.) as our way of thanking them for serving our community so faithfully. They absolutely LOVED taking a break from their work to try some of the delicious homemade cookies we brought them.
  2. Visiting the elderly: We visited the residents at one of the local nursing homes and spent time getting to know them, singing songs with them, and sharing Jesus with them. God blessed our time with these elderly folks, and it brought smiles of joy to their faces.
  3. Food drive: We held a food drive to support our local Coeur d’Alene food bank. When people donated food, we gave them a thank you note with an invitation to our church.
  4. Batteries giveaway: On the eve of Daylight Savings Time, we gave free nine-volt batteries to local residents in the Walmart parking lot as a reminder to change the batteries in their smoke detectors. People were pleasantly surprised and thanked us for the gift and reminder.

After we were finished with the projects, one family stopped by our church to check us out and thank us for caring so much about our community. “My husband and I were so impressed with what your church did today and how involved you guys are in the community. How often does your church do these kinds of things?” I told her that we try to do at least one community service project or outreach event every month. I said, “It gives us an opportunity to show that we care about our community as we look to tell them about our Savior Jesus.”

Community service projects like these help us and other WELS home mission congregations to connect with neighbors, show them the love of Jesus, and invite them to church to hear more about their Savior. It is our passion, and we look forward to doing it every month. But we aren’t able to fund these types of outreach activities on our own.

Would you help by considering a gift today to the WELS “Tools for Outreach” fund that makes it possible for home mission churches to do community service projects and outreach events? The Lord has given us wonderful opportunities to serve others. We want to take full advantage of it while we can.

Connecting to our community is making a difference at The Vine. With your prayers and support, we can all make a difference by reaching many more lost souls for Jesus through home mission congregations across the U.S. Thank you for allowing me to share this great opportunity to support Home Missions with you. And thank you for partnering with us to accomplish this goal. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3).

Serving Christ with you,
Pastor Kevin Schultz
The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Faces of Faith – Dana, Kimia, and Harir

At Hope, having first-time visitors is a regular blessing. We are blessed to be in a city made up of 50 percent first generation immigrants and are in an area of the city where many immigrants land. It wasn’t unusual to look out one Sunday and see new faces—Dana and Kimia with their daughter Harir (Dana is pictured holding Harir). What was unusual was the story of how they got there.

Shortly after their visit, I asked them, “How did you come to Hope?” They told me Jacqueline sent them . . . yet no one knows who this Jacqueline is. There is no Jacqueline in our congregation, and the address Jacqueline gave them didn’t exist. However, the fake address was relatively close to our church, so the couple saw a cross and walked in. And then they cried.

Harir (left)

This was the very first time they had ever been able to attend a worship service with fellow Christians. In their home country, they had each began asking questions about Christianity, which led them to secret Bible study gatherings. They were introduced to Jesus and to each other, learned of Jesus’ love, and grew in love with each other and were married. But becoming Christians meant fear of retaliation, even death, for leaving the Muslim faith. They sold all and sought out a new country.

They came to Toronto and, by God’s grace, they found Hope . . . They attended worship services and cried tears of joy as they brought Harir up for the children’s message without fear and sang Christian hymns for the very first time. Then came more tears, for them and the whole congregation, on the Sunday they were all baptized. Kimia (pictured being baptized) spoke to the whole congregation and said, “We came here knowing no one, but trusting God. Now we have a new family and we can worship Jesus together.”

From Mark Henrich, missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto, Canada

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A cross-cultural camping trip to remember

On July 20-21, my church family (Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church) was able to take a beautiful camping trip to the Oregon Coast. With lots of laughter and some incredible food, the weekend was wonderful.

After a nine-hour drive from Boise to a little outside of Newport, my family and many others arrived at our group camp site. The site itself was quite sandy, and many trees guarded it from the wind and sun. Overall, we had a little less than ten tents set up around the large campfire, which was most certainly not the only heat source used to cook.

Peace in Jesus 2019

Over the course of our stay, all the people involved had been to the beach at least twice. As it was about a five-minute walk from our campground, we were able to see it quite frequently. Enjoying its views and doing fun activities there was the highlight of my (and I’m sure many others’) stay at South Beach State Park.

One thing that I would like to highlight is the high quantity of the youth on this trip. On the second night of our stay, all the teenagers went to the beach in the dark to play a very fun card game, strengthening friendships while having a great time. This was not the only activity young people enjoyed, as hacky sack and word games were also incorporated. Overall, the stay was very enjoyable for all ages.

Sunday morning was a service to remember. In the beautiful nature of our campsite, the church body was able to hear a meaningful sermon highlighting God’s amazing creation of the ocean. Not only this, but special hymns were performed and heard by many, leaving a lasting impression in the memory of this church camping trip. Even our church choir sang a meaningful anthem about God’s enduring love.

For every meal of the day, there seemed to be a delicious feast for all to take part in. The Vietnamese culture that makes up almost our entire church family had a heavy impact on the food made during the camping trip-I can assure you, no one complained. Although not specific to the culture, at one point an entirely whole (huge) tuna was cooked for people to eat, followed by spicy grilled squid the next day. One thing that can be said for certain is that hunger never entered our camp!

Peace in Jesus had a wonderful church camping trip to the Oregon Coast. Complete with full stomachs, endless fun, and the beautiful Word of God, this stay was one to remember; and leaving our temporary home was less than easy.

Written by Laura Hope Kramer, member at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church, Boise, Ida. 

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