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Faces of Faith – Clark

Our first worship service at Foundation Lutheran Church in Folsom, Calif., happened on August 16, 2020, in a local park. A few months earlier, the college where we had signed a contract to use their community room for worship was closed due to COVID-19. Many churches were holding outdoor services and our pastor said: why not?

That first service ended, and we had extra donuts and treats. Nearby, there was group of kids and young men playing basketball. One member said we should offer them our leftovers. So, we headed over and offered them some of the food we had brought.

We met a man in his early thirties named Clark. He shared that he played basketball in college, and now he coaches and has three kids in elementary school. The last thing shared with Clark was, “We’re here every Sunday—you’re more than welcome to join us!”

Clark, wearing green and a hat, playing basketball in the background.

The next week Clark was there again playing basketball. As the service started, he slipped over with his brother during the sermon to listen. Afterwards, a number of members talked with them in friendly and encouraging conversation. He said he’d be back.

The next week Clark came back with his lawn chair and sat with us through the entire service. This time it was Clark and more of his family. Before and after the service, members of our “Foundation Nation” enthusiastically engaged with them. Some of the conversations were private and got deep. Clark was compelled to share he had struggled with his faith and life had been tough recently, including the loss of his dad a couple years ago.

Our pastor had a good conversation with Clark, too, and followed up with him during the week. Clark is very interested in learning more about Foundation and, more importantly, diving deeper into Scripture with pastor.

A park, friendly people, food, pastor’s message, and fellowship—all used by the Holy Spirit—to reach one soul at a time.

From Noel Ledermann, member of the core group at at Foundation Lutheran Church in Folsom, Calif., and member of the WELS Board for Home Missions

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Faces of Faith – Katherine

Sometimes mission connections happen in very interesting ways. Every year, Spirit of Life in Caledonia, Mich., hosts a booth at the local Davenport College Panther Palooza event. It’s an event where freshmen go to learn about opportunities to serve, learn, and work in the community. During that event we were publicizing a women’s self-defense class being held at Spirit of Life. Little did we know, God would bless us with a new member and a really great friend.

Katherine Campoverde was studying to be a recreational therapist at Davenport. She was Catholic growing up in Ecuador, and she had family in New York City as well. She spoke to us and visited the church that next Sunday. After some weeks, Katherine went through class to join our Lutheran church. For a few years we enjoyed having her as part of our church—but upon graduation, Katherine moved back to NYC for work. It was bittersweet for us because we wished her the best, but we were also concerned about Katherine’s connection with the church. We don’t have all that many congregations in NYC.

When Katherine arrived in NYC, we stayed in touch. I looked up her address in the WELS church locator and discovered a great blessing: Katherine was living less than 2 miles from Sure Foundation Lutheran Church, our WELS home mission congregation in Woodside. I immediately grabbed the phone and called the pastor there. And after a few short weeks, Katherine was connected. An even greater blessing was that Sure Foundation has Spanish services every week. Now Katherine could not only worship, but she also brought her father to worship for him to hear God’s Word in their first language.

But the interesting connections continued. Katherine’s mother still lives in Ecuador. So while she was on a trip to visit her mother, she introduced her to our world missionary living in Ecuador as well.

Recently Katherine had the opportunity to come back to visit us here at Spirit of Life, and she was welcomed with open arms. It’s really interesting to see how God works. He blessed our congregation to do some outreach at a local college. We shared the Word and Sacrament together with a new member. Little did we know the impact that would have in another congregation in NYC and possibly all the way down in Ecuador. God’s Word is so amazing, and his plans for our life are too.

What a blessing it is to have mission congregations around our synod who can connect and serve believers even when school and work causes them to move!

Written by Allen Kirschbaum, home missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich. 


 

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Campus Ministry: My second family

Do you remember how you felt your very first week of college? Maybe you were excited about starting, making lots of friends, and feeling confident about all your classes. For me, I was the exact opposite. I was nervous, lonely, and honestly a little scared about the prospect of being on my own. It didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone at all on campus, and I was going to a non-Christian school for the first time in my life. I didn’t feel any better as I left my dorm room for the campus ministry Bible study for the first time. Several times I considered running back to my room and taking a nap, but I pushed myself to go because I knew I needed to be surrounded by believers during this challenging time.

Two years later, I’m no longer nervous to go to Bible study. Instead, I look forward to it. Bible study is the perfect break from school, work, and all the other distractions in life. The people in my Bible study are more than acquaintances I see once a week; they are my friends, confidants, and second family. They have helped me through roommate concerns and relationship problems, sickness, and the loss of loved ones. The relationship status of “second family” didn’t come quickly, but it did come naturally. We made an effort to spend time together outside of Bible study by playing games, conversing in our campus center, and preparing Lenten/Advent meals together. We also made a habit of preparing a meal or having a potluck together off campus in order to help relieve the stress that school can bring. Another way we have built our friendships is by going to church together. Several members of the group will plan to go to church together on Sunday mornings and during Lenten/Advent season. We have unofficially claimed a pew near the front of Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, which we call the “MSOE pew”.

Rebekah and her friend Katie in the “MSOE pew” at Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wis

Not even a pandemic was able to stop our campus ministry group from getting together and continuing to grow our community. We used Zoom to meet once a week for Bible study, refreshing our hearts and souls. Just like before, this time was used not only for spiritual purposes, but also to play games and talk after Bible study was over. The games especially were a source of endless laughter as we learned, for people who already can’t really draw, playing Pictionary is much harder when you play it with a computer mouse.

This campus ministry program means the world to me. I am so thankful that I am a part of such a wonderful group and that God has placed these people in my life. It is so refreshing to be in the habit of meeting together and encouraging one another to show God and his love in our lives, as Paul urges us in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching.” I praise God every day for The Point of Grace campus ministry group at MSOE, and for the entire family of believers all around the world.

Written by Rebekah Bartels, a junior at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in Milwaukee, Wis., and member of The Point of Grace campus ministry


 

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His message always finds a way

In the same way my word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty. Rather, it will accomplish whatever I please, and it will succeed in the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:11

A year ago in July of 2019, I was installed as the first pastor of a new home mission in Mansfield, Ohio: Risen Savior Lutheran Church.

Interior remodeling at Risen Savior

Getting situated with my family, planning for the remodeling of our church building (purchased from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod for $1), getting to know my new members, and taking a tour of the Ohio State Reformatory (a right of passage for Mansfieldians who appreciate the city’s claim to fame as the filming location for The Shawshank Redemption) filled up the first few months.

Planning began that would help the congregation spread the gospel message out to the community.  There were so many great plans and new ideas for reaching new potential members. Community events in March, a big Easter celebration, and the grand opening of the newly remodeled church. Postcards were mailed out and a big weekend planned for knocking on doors to introduce ourselves and meet the locals. The core members (10 families) were filled with excitement.

Unfortunately, our efforts came to an unexpected standstill when Covid-19 led to community-wide shutdowns and isolation for many individuals and families. It was time to switch gears. We had to find new avenues to share the gospel message.

Risen Savior’s church set-up

Now, I’m not a computer guy. In fact, I am—for all intents and purposes—technologically illiterate. Videos and social media became the avenue for the foreseeable future, which was certainly not in my wheelhouse. Recording and downloading services for the current members, creating digital devotions for both members and prospects, reaching out to members and prospects via phone, email, and social media, while trying to forge ahead with our building remodel. All of these skills had to be learned, and learned quickly. It was overwhelming and quite the challenge to say the least.

Knocking on doors, inviting friends to church, helping with community events, and simply chatting with people met in everyday life vanished. This is where the Risen Savior members took over.

Our mission outreach tools became Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Zoom, instead of our typical in-person approach. While sharing simple devotions and Sunday services with the members, I quickly realized that these weekly messages were not simply for them. The digital resources were being shared on members’ social media platforms to their family and friends. Even our members who were stuck at home could still be involved with hearing and sharing the message!

On any given pre-pandemic Sunday, an average of 15 people heard the word of God in our building.  Once technology took over and the members began sharing, the weekly number  rose to over 500 different people hearing the gospel message. In the days and months ahead, we will continue to see how God blesses these efforts.

Over the past few months, the world has changed and along with it our outreach ministry, but the word of our God is still strong and powerful. His message always finds a way, and it does so through every member of his church in small, seemingly insignificant acts every single day. We are reminded of this fact in Isaiah 55:11, “In the same way my word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty. Rather, it will accomplish whatever I please, and it will succeed in the purpose for which I sent it.”

I look forward to a future of serving this community. I am excited to witness our Savior’s message spread through the continued efforts of Risen Savior members. And I can forge ahead trusting that our Lord’s Word will not return to him empty, no matter the challenges placed before us. To God be the Glory!

Written by Brad Wright, home missionary at Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Mansfield, Ohio


 

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Connecting campus to Christ

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him (Colossians 2:6).

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Over the past 100 years, thousands of young adults have found spiritual comfort, community, and encouragement through the good news of Jesus shared at WELS campus ministries across North America.

Wendy Urbanek transferred to University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point her junior year of college with her best friend. When she was asked, “What does Campus Ministry mean to you?” here’s what she had to say:

Being new to the area, I had no idea where I was going to go to church, but my friend found a WELS church with a Bible study group to attend, which was exciting because we both grew up attending WELS church and schools. I was hesitant about the Bible study because I didn’t want it to interfere with my new college life experience, but my friend convinced me to go, and it was the most amazing experience. After just a few short months of attending The Real Thirsty Thursday Bible study, I fell in love with the people. And not just my fellow students, but the other church members too. They were welcoming, and they provided food, friendship, and anything else we needed. The called workers were always so encouraging and helpful when it came to those life situations where you just need some godly advice. Throughout these Bible studies I found a family: people who help when your friend’s car gets stuck in snow or when you need some encouragement, someone to vent to, people to do laundry with, and most importantly, a family where everyone helps faith grow. It has been a life-changing experience that means so much to me as a college student in these difficult times.

Here are additional testimonials from Campus Ministry students:

It was what kept me sane and safe—all around me I was being exposed to beliefs totally in opposition of what I believe as a Christian—and going to the Campus House and spending time with other Christians grounded me and strengthened me for the week ahead. Arlyss Troge

Campus ministry helped me gain friends with whom I could gather each week. It also helped me to stay strong in my faith and set aside time for my Lord each week. Having a place to gather and grow was quite a blessing. Emily Scharenbroch

The group of WELS Christians that I associated with really helped me stay grounded in my faith in the midst of many different influences. Pharmacy school was very stressful, and it helped to have my faith as a relief through it all. I realized that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Tamera Rose

The campus ministry means I always have a place to go where others understand my support [in God]. It is a safe place where I am always welcomed and loved. Avianna Holmes

It makes me feel confident and safe. No matter what my college experience throws my way, I have God on my side. Kirsten Storhoff

What beautiful reminders that God’s Word is working on our campuses! WELS Campus Ministry, a ministry of WELS Home Missions, provides resources and support to congregations that serve these college students during a critical transition point in their lives. We thank our Lord and you for your prayers and offerings to date! If you haven’t had the opportunity yet (or you want to offer more), please consider supporting the work of Campus Ministry with a gift today.

Serving Christ with you,
Pastor Scott Wolfram
Chairman, WELS Campus Ministry Committee

P.S. Want to learn more about WELS Home and World Missions? Subscribe to weekly Missions blogs and the bi-annual Missions Update Newsletter at wels.net/subscribe and like us on Facebook.

Outreach to the not so lost

Kaitlin was an energetic young freshman. I was a brand-new campus pastor. Both of us were trying to find our place. She had come to Wisconsin Lutheran College from the east coast, not really knowing anyone, but she made some good friends pretty quickly. I was still trying to figure out what campus ministry at a Lutheran college meant. I knew that it meant chapel and Bible studies, but I’m not sure that I anticipated how much it meant outreach.

Kaitlin (left)

It was only a couple weeks into school when Kaitlin came to my office and said, “I don’t really know what confirmation is but I think I want that.” Doesn’t outreach usually mean that I have to go reaching out? Knocking on doors? Sending mass mailings? My first prospect in my new ministry just showed up. I was floored!

We proceeded to spend the next several weeks going through Bible Information Class at the same time that she was in theology class, attending chapel everyday, and attending every single Bible class that she was offered. She was on fire! Our one-on-one time together was awesome. She had a religious background, but it perhaps wasn’t as formal as she would have liked it to be. She knew she had faith in Jesus, but it seemed to me that she wasn’t quite sure what that even meant. But she sure wanted to know!

When it came time to wrap up our class, the question of confirmation came up. She and I drove to a few WELS churches in the area, and she got connected with a local church and was formally confirmed.

Fast forward a few years, and she was eager to connect with WELS Women’s Ministry to organize an event where the women could discuss different ministry options. She continued to attend every Bible study she could and regularly attended chapel. She went through some tough times and was there for her friends when they went through tough times. She worked through the challenging decisions around choosing a major and then deciding what to do after graduation. But through it all, she kept Christ at the center. She never lost sight of the big picture that God is love and that God loved her first, so she was good no matter what.

Sometimes students come to college with a faith background that is rock solid. Sometimes it just looks rock solid on the outside. College is a time when students start asking some big time life questions, and those questions aren’t limited to career choices. Sometimes those questions center around faith. “What do I believe? Why do I say that I believe that if I don’t really get that?” There are plenty of voices out there that would be more than willing to answer those questions in a way that would drive a wedge between that students and their Savior.

But isn’t this the value of Campus Ministry in the WELS? God-willing, campus ministry is a place where students can wrestle with things that they wrestle with every day regardless of where they are. God-willing, campus ministry is a place where that wrestling happens in the context of Jesus Christ and him crucified and that students are led to struggle under the cross of Christ and guided by his word! Outreach in campus ministry isn’t just about reaching the lost (although it is), it’s about being there with God’s comforting grace for the found in the good days and the bad. God grant us 100 more years of reaching with the cross of Christ.

Written by Greg Lyon, campus ministry pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wis. 


 

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Here I am Lord, send me

Everyone has a dream job. From traveling the world to being a billionaire, we all desire a unique outcome for our lives. My dream job is to do mission work. . . travel to developing countries to help people physically and spiritually. Coming into public college at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, I expected to push that dream back until after graduation.

UW-River Falls Mission Journeys team at Divine Peace in Rockwall, Tex.

By the end of my freshman year, my expectation was proven wrong by a simple video. After a Sunday service in May of 2019, a video explaining the WELS Mission Journeys program was shown. These few minutes of information inspired some of our campus ministry students to go on a mission trip. Almost immediately, I took the opportunity to fulfill my dream and worked tirelessly to give myself and some of my fellow campus ministry students the opportunity to do mission work. Come January 2020, four campus ministry members and our pastor were trained and ready to serve as missionaries. Once packed, we set our van on the 17-hour drive to Divine Peace Lutheran Church, a home mission congregation in Rockwall, Texas.

Getting to know the members of Divine Peace

This week long mission trip proved to be beneficial for all involved. We canvassed for hours, painted the offices, redid the parking spaces in the parking lot, and experienced God’s love in many ways. Our host families gave us a chance to get to know the hands and feet of God’s kingdom in Rockwall, Texas.

Through these connections we were able to gain insight into what living as a WELS Lutheran is like when outside the Midwest. We got to listen to live music, drove a 1916 Model T, learned to two-step at a honkytonk, and went to a Bible study called “The Bible on Tap”. This trip taught each of us that getting the physical work done is important, but taking the opportunity for fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ is far more important.

Fun at the Fort Worth Stockyards

My lifelong dream is to be a missionary. Maybe I will never make it to another country, but I know now that even a small mission trip like this can change someone’s life. Here I am, a junior in college, and now president of the WELS Campus Ministry Club at UW-River Falls. Here I am, a 20-year-old, on the committee working to merge two congregations in my hometown. These roles only happened because I followed my passion for the gospel when I saw a video about WELS Mission Journeys and went on a short-term mission trip. As I walk towards this dream job, I say with a full heart, “Here am I Lord, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).

Written by Miriam Zarling, campus ministry student leader at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls and alumna of Shoreland Lutheran High School in Somers, Wis. UW-River Falls is served through the campus ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in River Falls, Wis. 


 

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Campus ministry is in my blood

I wouldn’t trade the past 17-years of ministry for anything. Working with college students has gotten under my skin in a good way. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s in my blood. More about that later.

That’s not to say that campus ministry was what I always wanted to do. I was more like Moses than Isaiah on the day I was assigned to Beautiful Savior in College Station, Texas. When I heard I would be working with college students, my heart said, “Send someone else to the campus. Here am I. . . just a little more comfortable in the parish.”

Robinson family – Former campus ministry students Austin and Diane with their children, Flint and Olive

It wasn’t a good thing that I was intimidated by the public university, but it maybe wasn’t unexpected. I am a WELS boy through and through. I attended WELS school for 22 years—from my second year of preschool to my final year of grad school. My own college experience was at Martin Luther College (MLC) in the farm fields of New Ulm. Minn. I loved my time there. But, even though I was a kid who grew up in the big city of Seattle, I still had culture shock when I heard Texas A&M University had more students than half of the entire city of Green Bay. As if that were not enough, the entire MLC campus could fit inside the A&M football stadium and parking lot.

I was excited to return to the Lone Star State, but I was not excited about campus ministry. This is kind of embarrassing, but even though I lived in Austin for a year, I didn’t know where College Station was, and I hadn’t really heard of Texas A&M. I was intimidated and a little ignorant. So, what changed?

It turns out that sharing the good news of Jesus with college students just gets in your blood. Of course, when it comes to sharing the gospel, that is not really a surprise. The Apostle Paul said, “We were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Our hearts beat for one another not because we bleed the same school colors, but because we are forgiven and Christ’s own blood courses through our veins.

The first baptism at the Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota in 1950.

While I believe that campus ministry gets in your blood, for me it runs a little deeper. In the dark of winter in 1950, the collegiate romance of my grandparents gave birth to a baby girl. God not only blessed their marriage with a child, but one weekend in between classes at the University of Minnesota, they took hold of the blessings of baptism and my mother was baptized at the campus ministry.

I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of that until I began to see the years pass in College Station. My own children were baptized here in College Station (and our college students were often the first non-family members to hold them). But, even greater than that, the gospel has brought many college students to be baptized, and in the course of time their children too. This year is the 100th anniversary of WELS campus ministry. And, based on God’s promises connected to baptism, it is going to be in our WELS blood for generations to come.

Written by Caleb Schoeneck, home missionary and campus ministry pastor at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in College Station, Texas. Beautiful Savior ministers to college students at Texas A&M University—the second largest university in the United States with a total of 69,465 students (54,476 undergraduate).


 

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Faces of Faith – Campus Ministry Alumni

Campus ministries often serve as places where students can grow in their abilities and gain the confidence in use them later in life to serve their future congregations. Grace in the Ward, a current home mission congregation located in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., is one of those congregations. Robin Lehninger (playing piano) spent time as a graduate student organizing musicians from True North Campus Ministry in Minneapolis, Minn. Now she serves as the women’s choir director at Grace. Greg Strommen (on guitar) and his wife Devon (singing) both used their musical gifts at the Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel in Madison, Wis., during their college years. We praise God for using WELS Campus Ministries to equip students for future service in Christ’s kingdom!

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Faces of Faith – Dag

One evening, I knocked on a door and a man wearing pajamas answered. He invited me in. I got to talk about the Bible with pajama man (Bryan) and his wife for almost an hour. By the end of the conversation I was confident that Bryan and his wife were believers. I was also certain they’d never come to Living Hope. They were happy at their Baptist church. I was right. They’ve never been to Living Hope.

Fast forward two years. I’m sitting down for a Bible Information Class with a 90-year-old man named Dag from Germany. He even fought in World War 2. . . not for the Allies. Dag was baptized and confirmed Lutheran, but I quickly found out he doesn’t know anything about what Lutherans teach. He says he believes in God but struggles to believe in Jesus as the Savior. But God is working. Dag is hearing the law and gospel like he never has before. He’s starting to understand the depth of sin and God’s amazing love. God is giving Dag one last shot. He’s told stories of his scrapes with death during the war, and he’s already had some scary hospital visits since I’ve met him. But God’s not done with Dag.

I have Bryan, the pajama man, to thank for that. When Dag and his wife moved to the area they visited their daughter’s church: the same Baptist church where Bryan attends. Dag made it clear he wanted to go to a Lutheran church though. Bryan heard this and recalled talking with me. He gave Dag and his wife information about Living Hope. It’s awesome how God can use one seemingly fruitless conversation with a man in his pajamas to get a 90-year-old former Nazi solider an audience with the gospel.

From Eric Melso, missionary at Living Hope Lutheran Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Faces of Faith – James and Emelia

James and Emelia are originally from Nigeria, but because of difficult life situations had moved to Mexico before finally immigrating to Canada. During those years of transition, James led his family in God’s Word, even serving the Lord’s Supper to his family, but they still longed for a church home. A couple years after moving to Canada, they found Cross of Life and immediately loved it. They were thankful for a church that taught from the Bible and loved them and have since joined and become active members of our congregation. In a heavily immigrant-saturated area of Canada like the Toronto area, being an advocate for immigrants, refugees, and those in need is a huge way for us to bless others like Jesus did. We get to do “world missions” without leaving our city by simply loving and supporting the many immigrants and refugees that end up in Canada. But the truth is that God has blessed us just as much, if not more, by giving us James, Emelia, and their sons. We thank God for them and pray for many more opportunities to “defend the cause of the fatherless and the widows, and love the foreigner.” -Deuteronomy 10:18.

From Caleb Schultz, missionary at Cross of Life Lutheran Church in Mississauga, ON

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Faces of Faith – Chuck

Earlier this winter I stopped in to pick up our church trailer from our storage unit. While I was there, I met an older man in the unit next to ours who was working on his RV. I walked over, introduced myself, and started a conversation. After some small talk, he shared that his wife of 60 years died two months ago, and he was still grieving her loss. I was able to share comfort from God’s Word, and then I invited him to come to The Vine to learn more about our God who gives comfort in all our troubles, especially when we lose a loved one. He told me that he had been thinking about coming back to church after being away for many years, but just needed a little “push” from God to do it. I said to him, “Well, God might have orchestrated our meeting each other today so that I could be his little ‘push’ for you.”

The next Sunday, he showed up in church and said to me, “Thanks for taking the time to talk with me last week. God must have known that I needed to be here. I just need a little ‘push.’” I’m grateful that God allowed me to meet this man and be there for him when he really needed it. And I’m thankful that he has continued to worship with us on Sundays and hear more about our God who will always be there for him.

From Kevin Schultz, missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Coeur D’ Alene, Ida.

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Faces of Faith – Trina

Last summer, my neighbor’s furniture was delivered to my house by mistake. I carried the furniture down the street (while grumbling under my breath at the ineptitude of the mailman), but thankfully I got to meet a new neighbor. I mentioned that I was the pastor of a new church in the area. She was not particularly interested, but she just happened to have a friend over that night whose mother-in-law (named Trina) was looking for a church. Trina attended one of our next worship services and enjoyed it so much that she signed up for Bible Basics Class. After the first two lessons, however, life took over. Trina was diagnosed with breast cancer. She dropped out of Bible Basics and stopped coming to church. By the grace of God, she responded well to chemotherapy and her health began to improve. When spring came, Trina restarted Bible Basics Class at the beginning and completed all 12 lessons. She joined our church and is now a familiar face on Sunday mornings who is beloved by all her Sunday School students!

Trina says, “Intown Lutheran has become my second family. I was newly diagnosed with cancer when I started coming to this church. I received so many prayers and genuine concern that it blew me away. I was looking for a new church home and I truly have found it here!”

So my neighbor’s friend’s mother-in-law is now a member of my church. And why? Because a box of furniture just happened to be dropped off at the doorstep of a local pastor, on the very night that her daughter-in-law just happened to be visiting that pastor’s neighbor for dinner. Of course, we know that things don’t just happen, do they? God is always working. Next time I see the mailman, I have to tell him “thank you.”

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

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Faces of Faith – Cordale Jr.

Several years ago, I baptized a baby boy in our church. Later I was introduced to the baby’s grandfather, who is a Lutheran pastor and missed his grandson’s baptism because he was preaching that morning. He shook my hand and asked me one question: “Did you get the boy wet?” I replied, “Yes, sir. I got the boy wet.” A smile came over his face and he said, “That’s all I wanted to know.” Then he walked away.

In January 2019, I learned that one of our Wisconsin Lutheran School families had their baby three months early. Cordale Jr. was born at 25 weeks and weighed only a single pound. I went into the NICU of the hospital with Cordale Jr.’s mother, father, grandmothers, and nurse. The nurse gave me a bottle of sterilized water to use for the baptism. I put three drops onto his head – one drop for each person of the Trinity. Three drops. . . but I got him wet. It was a waterfall of God’s grace!

That waterfall of grace continued in February 2020 when Cordale Jr.’s mother stood before the baptismal font and altar at Epiphany Lutheran Church to make her vows of adult confirmation. Lord willing, Cordale Jr.’s older step-siblings will be baptized in the coming months, so they too can experience a waterfall of God’s grace.

From Michael Zarling, missionary at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Racine, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Elena

“Are you the pastor?” were the first words I heard from Elena, over the phone on a Sunday morning as I was preparing for worship. “Yes,” I replied. She said, “I need to go to your church today. But I need a ride.” I picked Elena up that morning in July. She’s a long-time resident of Michigan, originally from Panama, and a former medical doctor. She sat through church alongside several other guests who came for our special bilingual service. It was clunky, going back and forth between English and Spanish. After the dust settled and I said goodbye to the last person, I took Elena back home. “Well, Elena, what did you think?” She turned to me and replied, “I loved it.”

Late that night, she called me. I was almost asleep, so I let it go to voicemail. She called me again as soon as the sun was up the next day. I answered with a groggy “hello,” and she exclaimed, “Pastor, I was up all night reading about Luther and the hymns. I have been looking for a church like this my whole life. How do I become a member?”

Elena had called me that Sunday morning because her friend kept getting texts from me inviting her to church. Finally, her friend told her, “One of us has to go or he’ll keep bothering me!” Elena bit the bullet, called me, and went. And God, by his miraculous Word, drew another sheep into his Church.

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

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Campus Ministry 100th anniversary

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ (Colossians 2:6-8).

Dear Friend,

It is no secret that the world is no friend of Jesus or his disciples. We see it throughout the pages of Scripture and we continue to see it today. While hollow and deceptive philosophies crafted by worldly human beings are certainly prevalent throughout our lives, a time of particular vulnerability is when young adults are away at a secular college or university. Pilate’s question “What is truth?” echoes in a young Christian’s ears. Many college students are exposed for the first time to a constant anti-Christian worldview.

The answer to the question “What is truth?” is Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as revealed through his unchanging Word. WELS Campus Ministry helps students grow in their faith so that they can remain in and share Christ’s love while they are in school and after they graduate. Campus Ministry supports full- and part-time campus pastors and provides financial assistance for many WELS congregations as they reach out to college students in their area.

Generous offerings from congregations and individuals currently support about 30 campus ministries throughout the U.S. and Canada, serving and equipping hundreds of WELS and countless other collegians with the gospel. This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of WELS Campus Ministry and have an opportunity to glorify God for this blessing through a special thank offering that will help continue and expand the work being done.

Sharing Christ Jesus as Lord in campus ministry brings immeasurable joy. There are many stories to tell of walking with God’s young people through the minefield of Satan’s deadly traps while on campus and equipping them with the armor of God. There are so many reasons to praise God for the baptisms, adult confirmations, and weddings. We get to see students go on to hold leadership and service roles in WELS congregations after they leave college.

There is much work we can do together, and your prayers and special gifts will help many. Please consider supporting this important ministry with a gift today. These anniversary offerings will go a long way as Jesus leads us into the next 100 years of Campus Ministry. In particular, we would like to gather seed money for new campus ministry programs. To help in this expansion, a full-time mission counselor is being called to serve Campus Ministry.

Let’s be grateful that we are able to serve the Lord by encouraging and uplifting the next generation! The future will be filled with opportunities to help even more congregations serve the collegians in their cities and towns by keeping them rooted and built up in Christ.

Overflowing with you in thanksgiving,
Pastor Scott Wolfram
Chairman, WELS Campus Ministry Committee

 

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All creatures great and small

We are just like you. We know the mental load these past few months have had on everyone—especially you. We know you are hurting. We know you are sick of everything feeling so muted and bland with this pandemic nowhere close to being over. We are right there with you. We get it.

But you know who doesn’t? Korra. Who’s Korra? She’s my dog. Well, one of my dogs. I have 3 dogs, and 2 cats. (All thanks to my wife, Laura. . . more about her later.) Korra is the nicest, sweetest, wiggliest dog you could ever meet. It’s amazing how happy she gets when I walk in the door. It’s literally the best part of my day. Sometimes I just come home for a few minutes when I’m having a bad day to have Korra cheer me up.

Wouldn’t it be great if during this pandemic you could have your own little ray of sunshine to cheer you up when you’re feeling blue?

That’s why we at Good Shepherd decided to start a branch of the Living Creatures Ministry (LCM) Therapy Animal program at our church. LCM is a therapy animal training and placement program that supports compassionate outreach and encouragement at churches throughout the WELS/ELS. Laura (that wonderful wife of mine that I mentioned earlier) is a LCM’s lead trainer, so she spends her free time providing free training to therapy animals across the WELS (when there isn’t a pandemic going on).

Assisting in Midland, Mich.

We’re taking this time during the pandemic to train up a new therapy dog, Stella the Australian Shepherd. When it’s safe to start visiting people again, Stella and Korra can help us show Christian love and compassion to people in our community.

Korra had a unique opportunity to do that this May when she and Laura volunteered with Christian Aid and Relief in Midland, Mich., to help with flood relief efforts. Korra was able to comfort those that had lost their homes and belongings as well as bolster the spirits of the hard-working volunteers.

When it is safe to do so, Korra and Stella will be visiting the high school next door to our Cedar Rapids campus, volunteering with us at events at the North Liberty Community Center, visiting nursing homes and shut-ins, serving as Sunday morning greeters at church, helping at our annual Trunk-or-Treat, and whatever else we can find for them to do! Until then, they are still spreading love, happiness, and God’s Word through their Facebook pages: facebook.com/korratherapydog and facebook.com/StellaLCMTherapyDog.

The therapy dogs serve as an easy way to strike up a conversation with people in our community and give us a chance to explain why we want to show love to others around us—because Christ first loved us! While we might not see someone that interacts with one of the therapy dogs in church next Sunday, we know we are still fulfilling our calling to show love and compassion to our neighbors. We’re still laying the foundation in our community to foster love and trust between the members of Good Shepherd and the members of our community—and we’re doing that with two wiggly, happy dogs that are certain to put a smile on the face of anyone they greet. These days, that’s something we all need!

Written by Billy King, home missionary at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids and North Liberty, Iowa

 

 

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Connecting campus to Christ

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him (Colossians 2:6).

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

WELS began its first campus ministry in 1920 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One hundred years later, WELS campus ministries have grown to reach students across the country and even around the globe. We thank God for his blessings as we celebrate this 100th anniversary!

I invite you to learn from a panel of students about how campus ministry has impacted their lives. We travel to the University of Florida, where we see campus ministry can be done even by congregations of modest size and with minimal WELS student populations. The panel discusses several interesting topics including:

  • What are some unique opportunities and challenges to ministering to college students?
  • In what ways can college students bless local congregations?
  • In what ways can local congregations be a blessing to college students?

Thank you for your congregational and individual gifts that support the work of Campus Ministry! Please pray for our Campus Ministry Committee as they continue to plan, assist congregations with seed money for new programs, and call a Campus Ministry mission counselor. Prayerfully consider giving a special offering today as we celebrate together one hundred years of God’s blessings.

Serving together,
Pastor Scott Wolfram
Chairman, WELS Campus Ministry Committee

P.S. Read more about how students can serve, learn, grow, and stay connected to their faith through campus ministry—and how these connections can be a tremendous blessing to our churches and members—at wels.net/cm100.

 

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57th annual LWMS convention goes virtual

Since 1964, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) has faithfully hosted annual conventions, gathering to joyfully praise God and support WELS mission work. The year 2020 was to be no exception. Plans were well underway for the 57th annual convention in Athens, Ga., in June. The theme, “2020 Vision for Missions,” was chosen, and hours of planning were already complete.

Then the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, and for the first time in 57 years, LWMS made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel its in-person convention.

“The decision to cancel was agonizing,” recalls LWMS president Mrs. Cynthia Natsis. “But by the end of April, it became obvious that travel and staying in hotels would be dangerous to our members.”

Despite its deep disappointment, the LWMS team adapted to the situation. If people couldn’t come to the convention, LWMS would bring the convention to them—by way of technology.

Through a partnership with WELS Missions, the LWMS convention was combined with WELS Taste of Missions—another in-person event that was cancelled due to the pandemic. “Taste and See,” the combined virtual event, was born. LWMS and WELS Missions staff brainstormed how to offer key elements of both events in an engaging and interactive online format.

On June 27, the Taste and See virtual event launched. For two weeks, thousands of WELS members worldwide tuned in to view the opening and closing worship services, “Moments with Missionaries” videos, recipe tutorials from around the globe, the commissioning of new missionaries, and the inspiring LWMS flag presentation. Viewers even hosted “watch parties” for the opening and closing services.

Natsis is simply in awe of how God blessed the event. “Due to the new format, we were able to reach so many more people than if we had held it in person,” she says.

Mr. Sean Young, director of WELS Missions operations, was also thrilled with the number of Taste and See website visitors, totaling over 9,300. He says, “I thought we’d get a few thousand views. But from the opening service to the final day, God again demonstrated that we can’t pray audaciously enough! He continues to be glorified in the work his church on earth is able to do.”

Even during a pandemic, God advances his kingdom. Through Taste and See, God moved the hearts of his people to contribute the largest service offering to date for an LWMS convention: $72,925.

“I am blown away at the generosity of my fellow believers and their love for spreading the good news about Jesus,” says Natsis. She and the LWMS board extend their gratitude to all who participated to support WELS mission work: “Thank you for making this time of uncertainty about the virus a time of rejoicing instead. God is good!”

Visit welstasteandsee.com to view more than 80 videos and additional resources from the event. The website also includes a handy checklist of available videos, which will remain online for at least a year.

 

 

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God opens another door

The proclamation of the gospel is a commission that applies to all of God’s churches. As a new mission start up, opportunities for evangelism are always on our mind. We trust that the Lord will produce occasions for the good news to be shared. We do everything that we can to build bridges for outreach opportunities. We pray for them and we excitedly wait for them day after day. When those opportunities arise, it’s hard to contain the excitement.

God has offered many moments for the gospel to be shared in Joplin. Some of those doors were opened as people literally opened their doors during group canvassing. This happened on one occasion during our November group canvass when one of our members came into contact with a woman who had been out of church for some time but looking to get back into the Word. When the member brought up the opportunity to join a Bible Basics class, the new contact was super excited. We planned to meet late Monday nights for class to accommodate her busy work schedule. Everything was going great! The excitement was overwhelming! But just as quickly as it began, it started to dwindle.

It wasn’t long before it became evident that this contact wasn’t planning to attend class. Calls went straight to voicemail. Texts were never answered. Her communication with myself and our member stopped. Things went completely silent the weekend before we were supposed to get class started on Monday. Instead of canceling class, we decided to invite as many people as we could and see if anyone would show up. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t expecting much.

On Monday night I got in the car and drove over to a member’s house who was hosting the Bible Basics class. When I arrived, I walked downstairs expecting an empty room. To my surprise, the room was completely full. There was excitement and conversation. The room was full of members and non-members that were eager and ready to grow together in God’s Word.

Kannika

One of the first non-members that I met that night was a woman named Kannika Killion. As we introduced ourselves, Kannika asked me two questions: “What’s your name, and what do you do for work?” I said, “My name is Jordan, and I’m actually a pastor. I’m going to attempt to teach this class.” We had a good laugh about it and we knew we were off to a good start.

Kannika approached Bible Basics with a unique perspective. Kannika was not born in Joplin. She is from Thailand. She met her husband, Dana, as he was traveling through. The two moved to the U.S. and now live right outside Joplin. But her uniqueness does not end there. When Kannika entered the class, the Bible and its message were totally foreign to her. She heard about Jesus but had no idea who he was or what he has done. But from the very start, Kannika had such a passion to learn more about the Bible. She never missed a class and was always the first one to show up. She now knows where all the books of the Bible are and can call out page numbers for the rest of class very quickly. She is one class away from completing Bible Basics. Once COVID cases begin to go down in our area, she wants to be baptized! I also sat down with Kannika to talk about Bible Basics in order to see what she liked, didn’t like, or what she would change. She immediately said, “The only thing that I would change is longer lessons and more lessons. I want to know more.” This is after Kannika has been meeting for six months of class. She can’t get enough of the beautiful gospel.

COVID has changed ministry for all churches in a number of ways. It has closed many doors and presented a number of challenges in regard to sharing the gospel. We know that long after COVID is gone, other challenges and obstacles will arise. So, what can we do? Trust. Trust that the Lord will overcome. Trust that God will continue to open doors that we didn’t know existed. Trust that the gospel will continue to spread to the ends of the earth.

Written by Jordan Bence, home missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Joplin, Missouri

 

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Adapt

Adapt. That’s a word that you will not find in Scripture. When you look for sections about spiritual gifts, you will not find the word “adaptability.” Yet, even though you will not find this word in Scripture, this is a word that has a direct application in people’s lives.

Sure Foundation, the new mission in Brandon, South Dakota, decided to take a year to plan, to organize, and to reach out to the community before launching worship every week. We met regularly to talk about how to accomplish these things and to put a plan in motion. A verse that we held close was Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

We had a plan, a good plan. Enter Covid-19. So many of our plans changed. Our ideas to reach the community were not doable anymore. The rental space that we secured was now unavailable. The people that we had were unable to meet together in person. Everything changed.

We planned our course, but the Lord was determining our steps. We knew that God was in control, we knew that God is the one who builds the church, and we knew that God’s plans are higher than our plans, but change is still difficult.

Pastor Wilke with Jayme from Anytime Fitness

What we as a church have learned is to hold our plans loosely and adapt, because we don’t determine our steps—God does.

Allow me an example. Sure Foundation was planning to partner with a local gym, Anytime Fitness, in a program called “The 21-Day Transformation.” In this program, the gym puts people through workouts with a personal trainer and gives them diet plans to follow for 21 days. It is a well-thought-out program with accomplished leaders. Sure Foundation was added to the program as the spiritual component for the event. It was an exciting opportunity to partner with a community member and to reach people with the Word. Covid-19 changed our plans, but it didn’t stop our ability to reach people. We recorded videos and put together devotional materials to help people grow in their spiritual lives. Participants learned how to read the Bible correctly and devotionally, and participants read through an entire book of the Bible while answering questions along the way. By God’s grace, Sure Foundation was able to get 32 new people involved in this program and many of our own members too. The 21-Day Transformation didn’t result in just physical transformation, but spiritual ones.

We planned. Things changed. We adapted. God blessed. There are going to be more changes and challenges ahead that have nothing to do with Covid-19, but we can always trust that the Lord will determine our steps—he is in control, he does build his church, and his ways are higher than ours. So, we will continue to trust our God and to hold our plans loosely, always prepared to adapt.

Written by Craig Wilke, home missionary at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in Brandon, South Dakota

 

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Hope is alive!

Just like every other church, plans for our Holy Week and Easter services were well underway when our economy, schools, and society shut down in mid-March. We had picked out all the songs and lined up the musicians. We had ordered the invitation postcards and started to plan the social media posts.

But then the pandemic made all of those plans more or less pointless. So what’s a church to do as the most important week and most important day on the Christian calendar quickly approaches? It might as well be the word of the year for 2020: Pivot!

I was amazed as I watched churches of all types, including those in our church body, look for ways to spread the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection during circumstances that none of us would have ever expected. As Holy Week and Easter approached, we decided to focus our gospel proclamation on one word. It was a word that seemed especially powerful as the number of new cases and deaths from COVID-19 continued to rise each day. It was the word hope.

Working with a local print shop, we designed and ordered yard signs that conveyed a clear simple message: “Hope Is Alive!” Through social media, we invited anyone in the community to order a sign and put it in their yard as a way of encouraging their neighbors at a very difficult time. We asked for a small donation with each sign order to cover some of the expenses (a grant from the Board of Home Missions helped too!). We promised to give half of what people donated to a local non-profit program that was providing free meals for families in need.

We could tell that the message resonated with people right away. All told, nearly 200 signs were ordered. In a smaller town like ours, that means you couldn’t drive far without seeing one in someone’s yard. We were also able to pass along over $900 to the non-profit free meal program. Finally, the effort was a great opportunity for our members to be involved in Easter outreach, even during the shutdown. They helped deliver the signs and place them in people’s yards.

The message on the signs was then the focus for our online services, not only on Easter but on the Sundays that followed: Hope Is Alive! The signs definitely drew more attention to our website and social media pages and brought lots of new eyeballs to our online virtual services. The effort created new avenues for us to share the gospel with people we may not have seen had our doors been open on Easter.

Just like every other church, we would have loved for all of our initial Easter planning to have paid off. This year was a good reminder that, even when all of our plans turn out to be pointless, the message of Easter can be contained no more than Jesus could be kept in his grave. Because Jesus is alive, our hope is too.

Written by Jonathan Bauer, home missionary at Good News Lutheran Church in Mt. Horeb, Wis.

 

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We kept meeting, more people kept coming

Mark and Sonya are wonderful neighbors. The crackle of evening fires in their yard invites friends to stroll over for conversation. Sonya takes morning walks with several people from their street. Mark helps in the community with yard work and snow removal. They are terrific neighbors and great friends. Their friendliness combined with their openness about their faith in Jesus and belief in his Word creates amazing evangelism opportunities.

Church basement Bible study – a tiny home can only fit so many people!

Sonya asked about a Bible study with one of her friends: “One of my neighbors has some questions about creation. Pastor, will you lead a Bible study at our house about how God created the world?” About a week later, three of us sat in the yard on lawn chairs studying Genesis 1. The Holy Spirit explained through the Word how God made all things out of nothing in six days. The Holy Spirit revealed in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the Word and that all things were made through him. That first study answered some questions, but also brought up more questions. We decided to meet again next week for more Bible study.

As we kept meeting, more people kept coming. Other neighbors, family members, co-workers, friends – they had questions too, and the answers were in the Bible. Mark and Sonya were inviting everyone they met to Bible study at their house. Their daughter Michelle joked, “Whenever Mom meets someone new, she says, ‘Hi, I’m Sonya. I have a Bible study at my house, would you like to come?’”  As fall got cold, we moved inside Mark and Sonya’s tiny house (about 400 square feet). Almost 30 people were meeting for weekly Bible study. Children sat in the loft and on the stairs up to it. Adults cozied up on couches and folding chairs. We had a box of Bibles and a group of people growing in their understanding of the Word and their love for Jesus.

Worship in Stockbridge, Wis.

We continued meeting for Bible study in Mark and Sonya’s house for about 2 years. They live about 20 minutes from church, and we discussed the possibility of starting worship services in their town of Stockbridge. On paper, Stockbridge doesn’t seem like a great place to start a church. Stockbridge has a population of about 630 people, many who’ve lived in that area their whole life. But the folks of Stockbridge needed Jesus. Mark and Sonya and their children had filled their home for weekly Bible study. We wanted to share God’s Word with as many people as we could. When another small church in town allowed us to use their building on Sunday evenings, we excitedly planned to begin worship services there. On September 22, 2019, we held our first worship service in Stockbridge. We thank Jesus for every one of the people with whom we’ve been able to share God’s Word, and we look forward to continuing to share the gospel with as many people as Jesus brings us!

Written by Jesse Johnston, home missionary at Mt. Calvary in Menasha and Stockbridge, Wis. 

 

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Taste and see Christ’s love around the globe

The WELS Missions office is partnering with the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) to host an online event called Taste and See from June 27–July 11. This first-of-its-kind event will combine the very best of Taste of Missions and the LWMS convention to provide all WELS members an opportunity to be an important part of gospel outreach occurring in the synod.

WELS Missions and LWMS have launched a new website, welstasteandsee.com, that will host all of the videos and activities for the two-week event. Visit the website today to register to participate and subscribe for e-mail updates regarding the online festivities. Anyone who registers will be entered to win a gift certificate for the 2021 LWMS convention in Cincinnati, Ohio (a $195 value). The certificate can also be gifted to someone if the winner is not able to attend.

Save the dates for the following livestreamed events, which provide opportunities for WELS members to come together and encourage one another. Join on the WELS Missions or LWMS Facebook pages or on the Taste and See website at the following times:

Saturday, June 27, 11 a.m. CDT: Opening worship service immediately followed by the LWMS flag presentation

Wednesday, July 1, 7 p.m. CDT: Home Missions Q&A panel

Wednesday, July 8, 7 p.m. CDT: World Missions Q&A panel

Saturday, July 11, 6 p.m. CDT: Closing worship service featuring the commissioning of three world missionaries and one home missionary, immediately followed by a Q&A panel with the newly commissioned missionaries

The LWMS Awareness Committee has put together ideas and resources that people can use to host a Taste and See watch parties at their congregations, LWMS circuit gatherings, or even in their homes.

Visit the Taste and See website to get a flavor of what kinds of missions presentations, devotions, cooking tutorials, and other activities you can expect to see June 27–July 11. WELS Missions and LWMS are excited to join with you and other brothers and sisters around the world as we together say, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”

 

 

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Starting a church during a pandemic

Folsom is in northern California, between Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s a beautiful place to live and an exciting place to start a church. I arrived in Folsom in in the fall of 2019, with an energetic family ready to meet a fantastic core group. We had a year before we were scheduled to launch public worship. The next twelve months would be spent doing the important foundational work of starting a church.

The first phase would focus primarily on building strength and trust within the core group. The second phase was to unleash the group on the community. Invitations, canvassing, community service projects, etc. would all lead up to a grand worship launch with many new faces from the community.

Things were moving right along. We met regularly to plan. A logo was chosen, and we ordered all kinds of swag. The website was coming along and God provided a great place of worship to rent for our launch. We even had several prospects in Bible information class. Momentum was building. We were all set for phase 2, and then it happened. . . COVID-19.

How do you canvass when you can’t leave the house? Can you publish a launch date when your rented worship facility is indefinitely closed? How do you volunteer at community events when they’ve all been cancelled? Are we losing momentum? Questions were mounting. Frustration was building. Discouragement was a daily companion. How do you start a church during a pandemic?

Zoom calls with the core group

Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah who was to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The work was going great at first, and then there were obstacles. Zerubbabel was no doubt frustrated.

Here’s what God had to say to his frustrated servant, “‘Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord Almighty.” Zerubbabel’s task would not get done by inner courage or fortitude, nor would it get done by the power of a huge army or a well-coordinated core group. No, to do the Lord’s work, human strength and wisdom alone would fail. God says, “My Spirit must do it; my Spirit is able to overcome all hurdles no matter how large they loom. By my Spirit’s power, any obstacle will become an opportunity.” And of course, that’s exactly what happened. God’s Spirit, molding and moving human hearts, got the work done.

There was the answer to my question. The Lord will get his work done no matter what the obstacle. His Spirit works through the Word read in e-mailed devotions, just as well as spoken in person. His Spirit builds the church through Zoom bible studies, just like he does in a classroom. Words of comfort carry the same Spirit over the phone, as they do spoken face-to-face. The Spirit can get work done through “shares” and “likes” on Facebook, just as well as knocking on doors. Serving our community with the love of Christ from six feet away is still serving our community with the love of Christ. God’s Spirit molds and moves human hearts, and he’ll get the work done.

How do you start a church during a pandemic? The same way you start a church when there isn’t one. “Not by power, not by might, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.”

Written by Dave Koelpin, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Folsom, Calif.

 

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God’s been training you to do his work

Remember going to school and taking classes that you assumed you’d never use again in your life? Remember that summer job you hated, but it was at least some income to pay for school the next year? Remember that random encounter you had with a stranger asking you some very pointed questions about your faith that you felt you didn’t answer well? Remember that tragedy you went through as a young person and how hard it was to process and understand?

There are many times in our lives that we have wondered why this happened or how is God going to use this for good. I’m guessing this might be hitting home right now as we ponder how COVID-19 is for good. Especially in a mission field it is hard to make connections with people to spread the gospel, when “stay at home” orders are extended across the country. We are used to sharing the gospel in a personal way with people and connecting them to the Word through worship. Events that bring the community together and outreach to show our community we care are all difficult to host at this time. While we might be trying to expand our digital reach, that can be hard too. The members we have are struggling and finances might be difficult during these times.

Trust me, God has been training you this whole time to do his work. I never envisioned the mission work I’ve been privileged to lead in Sahuarita, Arizona, to look like this. Accepting the call four years ago to lead mission efforts at a multi-site congregation at Grace in Southern Arizona looked very different on paper than in reality. But the way that God has used my past training and experiences to further his kingdom, even in such difficult times, is amazing.

Our community research led our congregation to buy new property and build a church and child learning center to serve our neighbors with the gospel. The process was slow and tedious, the delays were many, and just when things were really moving forward, COVID-19 hit. What appeared to (potentially) be a major set-back has been a blessing. Builders for Christ was pulled from our project, but previous experience in the construction industry has allowed my time to be used as a project manager to lead our local volunteer crew. I’d already learned many lessons on patience at the start of the mission work here, and the delays aren’t causing extreme stress. The pandemic came just soon enough that we aren’t open yet and don’t have to navigate a very difficult situation with children under our care. In all of this we’ve still been able to connect to our community through the workers on the job site. We are grateful that construction work is considered an “essential” business so the delays haven’t been drastic. We look forward to serving the child care needs of our community once our building project is completed this summer. We are hopeful that we can invite guests to our new worship space to hear the gospel once the buildings are completed.

Sure it isn’t what we might expect as “normal” mission work at this time, but God has been training us our whole lives for this moment to take his gospel to our community. We can even rejoice in our past sufferings because they have trained us for this moment. We put our hope in Christ during these difficult times as the Lord of the Church. God’s been training you this whole time to do his work.

Written by Rev. Ryan Heiman, home missionary at Grace Lutheran Church and Child Learning Center in Sahuarita, Ariz.

 

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New mission online event scheduled

WELS Home and World Missions and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) are partnering to offer Taste and See, a first-of-its kind free online mission event from June 27–July 11.

This new opportunity to learn about and support WELS home and world mission fields came about after two in-person summer events—LWMS’ national convention and WELS Missions’ Taste of Missions—were canceled due to COVID-19 uncertainties.

“Yes, it does make us sad, but we have to be responsible. We didn’t feel it wise to put our members at risk,” says Mrs. Cynthia Natsis, LWMS president. The LWMS convention, originally scheduled to take place in Athens, Ga., this year, usually draws almost one thousand attendees. She continues, “I pray that this new online event will fill that void of not being able to go and meet with your sisters in Christ.”

Taste and See will begin and end with livestreamed worship services hosted at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. Opening worship is scheduled for 11 a.m. (Central), June 27, and will be followed by the LWMS flag presentation, a mainstay at its conventions. Closing worship at 6 p.m. (Central), July 11, will feature the commissioning of new missionaries.

In between, free consume-at-your-own-pace content will be offered online, including

  • daily mission-themed video devotions;
  • recorded missions presentations that had been planned for the live events, including updates from WELS home and world mission administrators;
  • short video updates from home and world missionaries;
  • a live question-and-answer panels;
  • cooking tutorials and recipes from missionary families; and
  • family-friendly activities such as missions-themed scavenger hunts; coloring pages; and create-a-card opportunities.

Event organizers are encouraging people to participate in challenges and activities on Facebook and the event website. Participants also can submit mission questions for the live panels.

“While we are certainly saddened that the physical events have been canceled, we know that God’s plan is unfolding just as he’s planned,” says Mr. Sean Young, director of Missions Operations. “We are looking forward to an even larger audience than we could have hoped for out of a live event!”

Learn more at wels.net/event/taste-and-see.

 

 

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God’s kingdom is still coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A COVID-19 Baptism blessing

“That’s awesome!”

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

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

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

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

CAMERA 1 –

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

CAMERA 2 –

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

CAMERA 1 –

Pastor:  “That’s awesome!”

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

That’s awesome!

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

 

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Faces of Faith – Hany Guzmán

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

Hany and her siblings in Guatemala

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

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

Hany at Camp Luther in Anchorage, Alaska

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

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

 

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