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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.

 

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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

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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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All about telling people about Jesus

The conversation took place in January. I had just told our leadership team that I didn’t think we should do our outdoor Easter service again this year. I thought my reasons were pretty valid. 1) It was a lot of work on our mission church, 2) it was located somewhere other than on our church grounds, and 3) even though attendance had climbed each year for the past three years, only one person came back to our church for a second visit. In other words, we saw no church growth because of our efforts. So, I had suggested that we have our Easter worship at church this year.

However, they didn’t agree. They thought we should host the outdoor Easter service one more year. So that’s what we did, but this year we decided we weren’t even going to promote our church. With that in mind, we changed up our Easter morning just a little bit. We had a worship service filled with songs, Scripture readings, a sermon, and prayers. However, we didn’t take an offering. We didn’t try and collect people’s information through connect cards or anything else. We all went in with the attitude that we were just excited to have the opportunity to share Jesus with them that morning. If they came back the next week, we’d get their information then. But on Easter, it was all about telling people about Jesus.

Children’s message

And God blessed us! He sent 138 people to worship with us that morning. 77 of them were guests. Just like we planned, we didn’t collect anyone’s information, but we did have great conversations. We didn’t take a collection, but we gave them a brunch and an Easter egg hunt.

Several weeks later, nine people who attended our Easter service for the first time this year are now regular attenders at our church.

It is so easy to fall into the church growth mindset. It’s easy to worry about the numbers and to be only concerned about the statistical growth. But when we fall into that mindset, we are trying to take on the job of Jesus. He’s the one who makes churches grow. Our job is a lot simpler than his. We simply get the joy of telling others about Jesus. That’s all our job is.

We love Jesus. We love people. We love telling people about Jesus. When we have that attitude, Jesus will grow the church.

Written by Rev. Stephen Apt, home missionary at Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Liberty Hill, Tex. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Faces of Faith – Paul and Abigail

Every year the men from our congregation rent a large tent and host an awesome prime rib breakfast after Easter worship. In 2017, more than 200 people showed up for Easter worship and fellowship! That year, a long time WELS member named Helen invited her friends Paul and Abigail. They enjoyed everything – but Paul had not worshiped in a church for quite some time due to some mistrust in the church establishment. After that Easter breakfast, we didn’t see Paul and Abigail for a long time. Fast forward to 2018, and there they were, sitting in the church for worship. After some conversation and pre-marriage counseling, Spirit of Life hosted a small, beautiful wedding for this couple. I had learned that Paul wasn’t baptized in some of our discussions, and so on December 23, 2018, I had the opportunity to baptize Paul. Both Paul and Abigail have finished membership classes and are excited to be a part of Spirit of Life.

It was a long journey, with multiple touchpoints over multiple years. But from a personal invite, to a meal, to a wedding, and then to a baptism we’re shown how God’s Word is living and active and—on his time—works and grows. Stories like this make our members and I excited to sow the gospel seed every day, never knowing when the next Paul and Abigail might show up.

From Allen Kirschbaum, missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Hal and Anna

We both attended church our entire lives. For many years we had a hunger for the truth. We knew there was more, but we could not grasp what we were unaware of. While attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church we found what we were missing. We became aware of how sinful we are and how much we need a Savior. Since joining Grace we have become spiritually alive, feasting on God’s Word and truth!” – Hal & Anna Thorson

Hal and Anna’s story is simple, yet remarkable. It started with their friend Holly, who found the same thing while attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church in Tucson, Ariz. When visiting her friends in the frozen north, spiritual discussions led Holly to invite Hal and Anna to Grace in Minot, N.D., because Holly didn’t want to miss a single week in church.

That’s all the Holy Spirit needed to work with. Hal and Anna quickly found Christ in a way they hadn’t before, even after a lifetime in church. Sometimes the gospel creates stories with massive, unbelievable details. More often, it’s simply one person sharing it with another, who then shares it with another. Today, Hal and Anna are “paying it forward” by bringing Christ to their friends and family, hosting Bible Studies in their home, and sharing answers with their loved ones for the first time in a lifetime.

From Nate Walther, missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

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Faces of Faith – CJ

“My pastor is always smiling.”

That was CJ’s take on me. He was talking with his friends at school about their pastors. He told his friends that his pastor was always smiling and in a good mood. God be praised for this perception!

CJ is a sophomore in high school. He joined Amazing Love with his mother over a year ago. As a high school student, it would be easy to pick different priorities—he’s a rising baseball star at his high school. But he’s in worship every Sunday. On our teen trip to downtown Chicago, he was so excited to share what God was doing in his life. He said he used to be more negative, but now he strives to see things in a positive light.

The work God is doing in CJ’s heart is nothing short of remarkable. In our conversations about life and church he told me he has signed up for four different volunteer positions, and he’s hoping to make it to five. You’ll find him greeting, ushering, helping with kids, at the tech table, and with his attitude, I’m sure we’ll find a fifth position. He uses our church app to listen to the sermon a second time during the week, and he’s used the app to catch up on the last five years of gospel proclamation.

God gives us so much to smile about, and CJ’s story is one reason it’s easy for me to smile.

From Dustin Blumer, missionary at Amazing Love Lutheran Church in Frankfort, Ill.

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Faces of Faith – Lindsey

In the spring of 2018, I pulled out of my garage to make a few informal visits in anticipation of Easter. My motivation really needed to be compelled by the Holy Spirit that night. As the daylight faded, I wondered if it would be wise to knock on the next door.

Lindsey answered. I knew she had young children, so I didn’t intend to stay long. I gave her the invitations and wished her a good night. The next day I opened an e-mail from Lindsey. In it she wrote, “You came to my house last night and unfortunately saw me at the end of an extremely long day in my bath robe and probably at my worst! For some strange reason, that did not bother me so much because it got me thinking. . . I haven’t been to church in almost 20 years and it is very difficult for me to know where or how to come back. . . I just need some reassurance to get over the awkwardness I feel about coming back.”

Thankfully, Lindsey didn’t stop with an e-mail. She joined us in worship that Sunday and has been joining us since. She had been encouraged by friends who attend a different WELS church to investigate our congregation more fully. I am so thankful for their collaboration on her heart. In November of 2018, Lindsey was welcomed as a member and her children Karlee and Korie received the washing of rebirth and renewal in Baptism. I am so glad I knocked on her door.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – The Almarales Family

They were in tears for nearly the entire service the first time they visited. After opening up to their neighbor about the sleepless nights, the overwhelming worry, and constant wondering where they had gone wrong, the neighbor invited them to join her at church on Sunday to hear some much-needed good news.

As always, God’s Word did not disappoint. Alexis and Maria came to church with heavy hearts as their son was waiting on his sentencing in the city jail. They walked out of church refreshed and restored by God’s love and forgiveness for them in Jesus. Later that week through a jail video visit, their son was taken to the same cross of Jesus for peace and comfort even while facing the consequences for his actions.

About three months later, Alexis and Maria publicly confessed their faith in Jesus. Their teenage daughter, Roxana, was baptized in the same service. Several family members were in attendance that day and have seen the difference Jesus has made for them. They are eager for their oldest son and his family from Cuba to join them at church.

It will be a few years yet before their son is able to join them in a worship service on a Sunday morning, but all have been able to find true rest and peace in God’s grace.

From Paul Biedenbender, missionary at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo.

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Faces of Faith – Angel

The Lord of the Church continues to be with and bless the work carried out through Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wisconsin. Angel Ayala, an eighth-grade student at Wisconsin Lutheran, expressed to his mother that he wished to be baptized and confirmed at Epiphany Lutheran Church. In January 2019, Epiphany observed The Baptism of our Lord Sunday with the baptisms of Angel and his whole family as his mother Alicia joined the church. In February 2019, a Hispanic family from the school joined First Evangelical Lutheran. Due to language challenges, the daughter served as translator during the instruction classes as well as during the rite of membership in church – the church’s first bilingual confirmation since the years when First Evangelical was a German speaking congregation.

From Mark Blauert, school chaplain at Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Trace and Alissa

We first met at a church event for the community that offered free Easter pictures with a 1916 Model T. Trace and Alissa came by to take a picture and stayed to visit with some of our members. We invited them to church and an off-campus Bible Study, and they came! We are so grateful to remind them of Jesus’ love and forgiveness every week. Our growing mission benefits from their kind hearts and enthusiasm for Bible Study. We often thank God for bringing us together and pray for more in our community to come to our campus for the free message, family atmosphere, and bright future through our Savior Jesus.

From Gunnar Ledermann, missionary at Divine Peace Lutheran Church in Rockwall, Tex.

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Faces of Faith – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Our congregation wanted to think of more ways to get involved in our community. Being right along a parade route, we entered a float in the Coeur d’Alene Christmas parade and set up a tent and bonfire right in front of our church, along with free hot chocolate, so that parade-goers could warm up by the fire and enjoy a friendly conversation with our church members. We also had a free raffle prize which allowed us to get important contact information for follow up. Several people along the parade route who saw our float ended up coming to our Christmas Eve service.

After the parade, we selected the winner of our raffle prize, and I went to their house to deliver it. When I got there and told the person who I was, he remembered seeing our float in the parade and the tent along the parade route. He immediately invited me in and asked if he could talk with me “for a few minutes.”

Over the next two hours, he told me about the challenges and stresses he was facing in his life. He said, “I think God must have known that I really needed to talk to a pastor tonight, and that’s why you’re here.” It’s experiences like this that make being a pastor so wonderful. And God used our church float and tent in a parade to make it happen.

From Kevin Schultz, missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

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Faces of Faith – The McFadden Family

At our very first Easter Egg Hunt in 2013, Tony walked in to the building. Tony is a big guy. He served in the Marines. He’s a mechanic who works on jets and helicopters. Some might say he’s an imposing figure—but he has a soft heart, especially for his daughter, Brooke. As the pastor of the congregation, I didn’t know that. . . yet. He asked if their family could participate in the Easter Egg Hunt.

Using the information from the registration card, I was able to follow-up with them and personally met Brooke her mom Mary. On the next visit he opened up more about his struggles with faith. He grew up in a Roman Catholic family but had left the church long ago. While he continued to sense how “God placed people in his life to call him back,” he still admits he “struggles to find his faith again.” The relationship I have been able to continue with Tony, Mary, and Brooke has continued for the last six years. Mary and Tony asked me to officiate their wedding in October 2018 and to meet with them for premarital counseling beforehand. Since then, I’ve seen increased attendance at worship. Brooke, now 11, was so excited when she was invited to participate in Beautiful Savior’s Christmas Program, led entirely by members. She practiced her parts and spoke them with conviction. When she witnessed a baptism in worship, she personally approached me and asked if she could be baptized too. I currently have the privilege to work with their family to schedule the baptism and instruct Mary and Tony for welcome into membership.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Cherie

Cherie shares the story of her connection to Beautiful Savior:

“Over eleven years ago I nervously entered the doors of Beautiful Savior. I had everything I could ever imagine wanting: a brand-new home, all new furniture, proximity to all the conveniences of shopping, work and friends. Something was missing. I continually felt a void. I had passed by Beautiful Savior many times on my way to various places and felt a strong urge to investigate. I was a non-practicing Catholic due to a divorce and had not been in a church for well over 20 years. Would a Lutheran church accept me? Yes, yes and yes! I walked into the church, was immediately greeted in such a genuine way that I have continued to enter those doors for over eleven years.”

Cherie demonstrates an incredible heart for our congregation and its ministry. She is extremely faithful and dedicated and has become a consistent aid in our Mornings with Mommy program – she even stepped in to lead sessions this year when our director was unavailable. Cherie relates well with the 5th-8th graders of her Sunday School class, which she began leading two years ago. Recently Cherie took the lead to organize the Sunday School children for a Christmas program (the first in 5 years.) She also wants to create a children’s choir – stepping even more outside of her comfort zone because of limited musical experience herself. She is such a blessing to our congregation.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Brian and Jen

Brian and Jen Larson began attending Beautiful Savior in the fall of 2016. Brian says,

“Finding a new church can be hard, but Beautiful Savior made it easy. When my wife, a Southern Baptist, and I, a Roman Catholic, were married, we shared a common Christian faith, but had trouble reconciling the differences in practice between the denominations. Moving to La Porte with our two small kids, we knew we had to seek a new church that focused on our common beliefs.

We are so glad to have found Beautiful Savior. The entire congregation was warm and welcoming on our first visit. Pastor Boushek met with us to explain the practices of the church and how they were well grounded in the Bible. This erased the difficulty and confusion of walking into a new church. Now we enjoy being part of a friendly faith community that supports our family’s beliefs and spiritual growth.”

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Paul

“I have been to every church in Detroit. I’ll tell you what, one thing’s for sure—this place has the truth.” Paul Moronczyk grew up in Del Ray, a desolate and dangerous part of Detroit. He got into trouble early on, and even left the faith for a while. Then God brought him back. By his 30s, he was walking around the violent Del Ray and Springwells neighborhoods, visiting churches and getting to know pastors and priests. He studied and trained with various ministries around the city and had been ordained or licensed by many of them.

Then, he came to Palabra de Vida. In fall of 2016, he pounded on our church’s front door because he saw the light on. Shortly after, we began studying together. He peeled through the Catechism and was blown away by the doctrinal precision and proof passages. He started to study Martin Luther himself and delighted in the Reformer’s perseverance for the truth in the face of danger. He could relate to that! He professed his faith publicly at our church in fall of 2017.

From that point on, Paul has done everything—from helping to set up the Christmas decorations to passing out flyers to leading Bible studies in prospects’ homes. He’s found the truth—and he’s dedicated himself to getting it out there!

From Ryan Kolander, missionary at Palabra de Vida Lutheran Church in Detroit, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Spenser

Spenser hadn’t been to church in years. He found himself wandering in faith and unsure of his beliefs. Moving to the city of Atlanta had provided him with a great job, but it did nothing to fill the spiritual void in his life.

Then, one weekend in August, Spenser attended a free community festival. As he walked through a long line of booths, he saw something that caught his eye: a booth sponsored by volunteers from Intown Lutheran Church. Spenser spun their prize wheel and won a free pair of sunglasses. He also received an invitation to their grand opening worship service in just 2 weeks. Spenser had been Lutheran at one point in his life, and the people at the booth seemed friendly enough. He decided to come.

On September 9, Spenser stopped by our rented facility, with nearly 60 other people, to kick off worship. He enjoyed the pre-service coffee and fellowship time. He enjoyed the worship service and the Bible-focused sermon. During the post-service announcements, Spenser heard about a new “Bible Basics Class,” which would be offered in a local coffee shop. He decided to give it a try.

3 months later, Spenser joined our church as an adult confirmand. Through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in Bible Basics Class, his faith was built and strengthened to the point that he is now excited to be a part of this family of believers and help us reach out to the city of Atlanta with the gospel. By God’s grace, Spenser has found a spiritual home in the city.

From Lucas Bitter, missionary at Intown Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga.

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Seeds are small. But they grow.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

It began with just a small group of WELS military personnel and civilians gathering once a month in Minot, N.D., and a WELS pastor from Bismarck, N.D., being willing to travel the 110 miles north to serve them. For years. And then our Lord gave us a seminary graduate named Nathan Walther and his wife Heather to serve this field. Pastor Walther was installed at Grace Lutheran on July 13, 2014. Since then—in spite of crazy high building prices that prevented us from pursuing early childhood ministry as an outreach strategy, and in spite of many difficulties finding available space for our mission, and in spite of the long cold winters—our Lord’s Word has not returned void, but has accomplished the purpose for which he sent it. Today, Grace Lutheran is a congregation of 54 members. And they keep moving forward. In fact, even as I write this, they are closing on a deal to purchase and move into their own worship facility.

It began with just a small group of WELS members meeting in the living room of the city planner and his wife. This was in 2008, in Williston, N.D., a small town that had a regular influx of transient WELS workers who were part of the oil patch. Then our pastor in Circle, Wolf Point, and Terry, Mont., started making regular trips to serve them, driving 120 miles one way. Then came the oil boom. This small town went crazy, more than doubling in size, as oil companies raced in to drill wells. And through it all, our group continued to meet and mature, so that now they aim to be what our Lord has made them—to be the church in their corner of our Lord’s vineyard, as we await the time a full-time missionary can be called to that field.

Home mission church in Dickinson, N.D.

It began with just a small group composed of members from our two sister congregations in Sioux Falls, S.D. Their small city, which had always felt more like a town than a city, had become a community of a quarter of a million people living in and around it. It was time to plant a mission in an area that was always just beyond the reach of their evangelism efforts. And so it is that, on July 21, Craig Wilke will be ordained and installed as our missionary in Brandon, S.D.

It began with just a small group of WELS members, ten adults and five children, gathering at a community center in Dickinson, N.D., to live stream worship from the next closest WELS church—Redeemer, Mandan, N.D., 92 miles to the east. Then Our Saviour’s in Bismarck, which is next to Mandan, got involved as well. In the spring of this year our District Mission Board was able to put in a request for a full-time missionary for that field. Though there were not enough funds to grant our request, this group has no intention of just sitting on their 15 pairs of hands. They know there is work to be done while it is day.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

Written by Rev. Jonathan Werre, Chairman of the Dakota-Montana District Mission Board

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Faces of Faith – Sherry

Over 2,000 years ago, God sent a man named Philip to minister to a royal official from Ethiopia. Their time together was short. They had one Bible study about the book of Isaiah and a conversation about the blessings of Baptism. Soon after, the Ethiopian was baptized in the name of our Triune God and Philip was taken by the Holy Spirit to another town to go and minister.

That short encounter between two men centered around the good news of Jesus Christ caused the nation of Ethiopia to be one of the most influential Christian centers in all of Africa.

Just like God sent Philip to the Ethiopian, I like to think that God sent Sherry Deaton to Faith Church or maybe he sent Faith Church to Sherry Deaton. Either way, the encounter is nothing short of a miracle.

Two years ago, I received a phone call from Sherry who said she had received a flyer from our church the year prior. She was now living in the area and she recognized our sign out front. She asked if we could meet. We put it on the calendar and then, like so many others, she called to cancel.

That could have been the end of Sherry’s story, but God wouldn’t let me let her off the hook that easily. We rescheduled and that’s when I found out about her past. She had grown up in a broken home. Lived on the streets for a while in her early teens. Eventually she had three kids. Got hooked on meth. Lost her three kids to Child Protective Services (CPS), and in her early 30’s found Jesus. Or as she would say, “Jesus found me.”

Three different missionaries came knocking on her door on three different occasions and the third time was the charm. She was enveloped by God’s love and that’s when her new life began. God freed her from her addiction to drugs. Over time, he graciously gave her children back to her and two of them are now members at Faith Church.

Sherry is the perfect example of God’s amazing grace and his promise that he will never leave us the way he found us. If you were to ever meet Sherry in person, you’d have no idea that she has such a colored past. She’s got a sweet East Texan accent, a huge smile, and a Holy Spirit glow that is infectious. And she’s open enough to tell anyone her jaw dropping stories of unbelief and rebellion so that she can quickly introduce them to their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sherry works part-time at a pregnancy counselling center where she gets to work with women and their families that are going through some of the very same situations she herself has faced. Her experiences and her love for Jesus uniquely qualify her to speak into these women’s lives. Because of her faithful work, many mothers and children have received the gift of baptism, a new life in Christ and a family of believers to surround them with love and support.

On June 2, Sherry was commissioned as Faith Lutheran Church’s Deaconess over Women’s Ministry. Sherry has had many “Philips” sent into her life to show her Jesus’ love and now, like Philip, God is sending her into many other people’s lives. Please pray that God would fill her with his love and strength to continue on with this amazing work!

Written by Rev. Dan Schmidt, home missionary at Faith Lutheran Church in Tyler, Tex.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

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Leaders discuss students’ needs at the Campus Ministry Staff Conference

From May 20-21, WELS Campus Ministry hosted the 2019 Campus Ministry Staff Conference in Pewaukee, Wis. Over 50 called workers and other ministry leaders from dozens of colleges came together to discuss their current efforts and goals.

WELS Campus Ministry, a ministry of WELS Home Missions, provides resources, support, and encouragement to approximately 30 ministries on college campuses and many congregations near college campuses in the United States and Canada.

Campus Ministry Committee Chairman Rev. Charles Vannieuwenhoven, Northdale Lutheran, Tampa, Fla., notes that the simple mission to connect college students to Jesus united all conference attendees no matter their individual circumstances.

“Sometimes we get in our minds that campus ministry has to be this big thing,” he says. “But just get those students into worship on Sunday. That’s campus ministry. Maybe you have four that you can get together for a little Bible study. That’s campus ministry. You can look at it as a youth group for college kids. That’s campus ministry. Serve the students that are there. Find ways to involve them.”

The theme of the conference was “Defending the Faith.” Rev. Michael Berg, assistant professor of theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wis., led a presentation about apologetics within the context of campus ministry.

“Part of a successful campus ministry,” Berg explains, “is having secular students interact with intelligent Christians so that they can see that the Christian worldview and the gospel of Jesus Christ is a viable, beautiful, life-altering thing and that it is intellectually robust.”

Attendees also learned how campus ministry might work together with other WELS ministries. Mr. Shannon Bohme, Mission Journeys coordinator, spoke about how Mission Journeys’ short-term service trips are fulfilling experiences for college-age believers.

“We can give them the opportunity to share their faith in a completely different situation with people that they don’t know and get some practice with that. Then they get to come back with that confidence and with that zeal for sharing the gospel,” Bohme says. “Hopefully then they are able to more easily put that into practice on the campus.”

Between presentations and discussions, attendees were also able to enjoy devotions, networking, and fellowship.

To learn more about WELS Campus Ministry, visit wels.net/campus-ministry. To help your organization understand the importance of campus ministry today, WELS Campus Ministry leaders are available to speak at church and synod events. Request a speaker at wels.net/speaker-request.

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Finding a spiritual home in Atlanta

Spenser hadn’t been to church in years. He found himself wandering in faith and unsure of his beliefs. Moving to the city of Atlanta had provided him with a great job, but it did nothing to fill the spiritual void in his life. 

Then, one weekend late in August, Spenser attended a free community festival in the neighborhood of Grant Park. As he walked through a long line of booths selling cotton candy and offering face painting, he saw something that caught his eye. It was a booth sponsored by our volunteers from Intown Lutheran Church in Atlanta. Spenser spun our prize wheel and won a free pair of sunglasses. He also received an invitation to our worship grand opening in just two weeks. Spenser had been Lutheran at one point in his life, and the people at the booth were friendly. He decided to go. 

On Sept. 9, 2018, Spenser stopped by the Elevator Factory event space with nearly 60 other people to kick off worship at Intown Lutheran. About one-third of the people in attendance were unchurched prospects, many of whom had found out about Intown Lutheran from the Summer Shade Festival. Spenser enjoyed coffee and mingling with everybody. He enjoyed the worship service and the Bible-focused message. During the post-service announcements, Spenser heard about our new Bible Basics class starting soon in a local coffee shop. He decided to give it a try. 

Three months later, Spenser joined our church as an adult confirmand. The Holy Spirit had worked powerfully on his heart through his in-depth study of God’s Word.  

“Bible Basics opened my mind and heart to better understand my faith,” says Spenser. “Through this course I was able to learn, ask questions, and grow as a person.” 

Today Spenser remains an active member of our growing congregation. By God’s grace, he has found a spiritual home in the city. 

Intown Lutheran hosted a booth at six different festivals in 2018, gaining dozens of prospects and worship visitors in the process. We’ve gained several members and prospects through the Summer Shade Festival in particular, including three more families who recently finished Bible Basics and joined our church. All costs for the 2018 Summer Shade Festival were paid for by the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society’s First Public Service Fund.We are so thankful for all who contributed to this generous gift so that people like Spenser can find a spiritual home in the city.


Lucas Bitter, pastor at Intown Lutheran, Atlanta, Ga.


 To learn about other home and world missions supported by the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society, attend the group’s national convention in Des Moines, Iowa, from June 27–30. To learn more, visit lwms.org.  


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Author: Lucas Bitter
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 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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My Mission Journey: Forest

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus sent out a Mission Journeys team during their spring break to assist Fount of Life Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., with canvassing and handing out invitations for worship and the pre-school program. Forest Wu, a senior at UW-Madison, was a member of the team and shares his experience: 

Another semester, another spring break, and a mission trip – all in my final year at UW-Madison. It has been an ongoing tradition at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel to invite college students to go on mission trips during spring break. Instead of becoming a “couch Cheeto” and binge-watching “The Office”, students are provided an opportunity to do something memorable for themselves, interact in a community, and most importantly, to serve the Lord.

Forest and Pastor Bilitz assemble packets to hang on doors

With the help of the WELS Mission Journey program, and through the support and prayers from our homes and the local congregation, I joined Pastor Bilitz and five other students. We were invited to serve Fount of Life in Colorado Springs, Colo. For two days, we canvased through neighborhoods in teams; we walked a total of 25 miles! In total, we handed out 2,700 invitations for people to come to worship or to check out the church’s pre-school program. In fact, by God’s blessing, some people had already expressed an interest after our first day.

During our canvassing, we were also fortunate enough to talk to some residents and personally invite them to church. Contrary to the expected rejections, most were happy to take the invitations while some even identified themselves as Christians. This experience reminded me of the time Elijah felt he was the only believer, but God said to him “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (2 Kings 19:18) To me, as a college student in a secular college such as UW-Madison, this is the comfort I needed to spread his gospel. Coming back from the mission trip, I have been more comfortable sharing my beliefs, especially in my Philosophy class and Theatre class, and I am comforted to find that it is true – I am not the only believer left, even in my secular community.

If you want to do something more to serve the Lord in your downtime, I recommend (12 out of 10!) participating in mission trips. Not only will you see the wonders that he has made, but God might also use and inspire you in an unexpected yet wonderful way.

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True Community

One of the challenges of serving in an eastern Canadian context is the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Ontario is full of folks who have a “Catholic background,” but have not gone to church in years. This is a challenge for us because many people believe that they know “The Church” already and know that they don’t like it because of their experience with a Roman Catholic Church.

Ambyr and Nicholas

However, we have found that one thing that breaks that barrier is true community. That’s what happened with Ambyr. Ambyr grew up Catholic but was not attending church when she was invited to come to Cross of Life by her boyfriend, Nicholas (a life-long member of Cross of Life). And though she would say that not everything made sense to her right away and that she was nervous to be in a Lutheran church when she grew up Catholic, she kept coming back because she found a community. She found people who actually cared about her and wanted to see her at church.

She requested to take Faith Builders (our Bible Information Class) with me every week at a Tim Horton’s. Sometimes we just drank coffee and chatted about life, sometimes we studied Scripture, but all the time I got to be part of her life and show her that church is more than a big scary institution. It’s people who love Jesus and love people. During the class, she learned how free the grace of God actually is, and she was hooked. “Cross of Life has changed my life,” she has said to me multiple times.

But that’s not all. We confirmed Ambyr into our fellowship in January, and since then, she has joined a Bible study group, volunteered to help with A/V at worship, has brought a couple friends to Cross of Life, and all of this without even owning a car. She has to bus or taxi everywhere she goes. In fact, she has been so committed, that one time she even paid for a $40 taxi ride to get to church because she was volunteering for worship. Would you still come to church if it cost you $40 just to get there?

Oh, and one other thing: Ambyr is 19. She’s part of the generation that the church is struggling to reach. If Ambyr is any indication, maybe the best strategy for reaching young people is to just take time to love them enough to buy them coffee, listen to their story, and share Jesus with them for a couple weeks. No one is saying it’s efficient, but it’s certainly what builds true community.

God has truly worked a good thing in Ambyr’s heart, and our congregation is blessed to have her. And it all happened because someone invited someone they cared about, a congregation shared the love of Christian community, and a pastor shared the gospel.

I am reminded of Philip’s sharing of the gospel with the Ethiopian in Acts 8. Philip didn’t have to do any “pre-evangelism” or make a special program to get the man in the door. No, God set him up for success. All he had to do was share Jesus. Of course not all mission work is like that, and in a country like Canada that is even more post-Christian that the United States, frankly, it rarely is. But it’s stories like Ambyr’s that remind you that God knows his sheep, and his sheep know his voice. We just simply open our mouths to let his voice be heard.

Written by Rev. Caleb Schultz, home missionary at Cross of Life Lutheran Church in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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