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Planting the seed of the gospel in sunny Southern California

Crown of Life is a multi-site church in the Inland Empire in Southern California. It has three congregations in the growing cities of Corona, Riverside, Yucaipa, and Victorville. Corona is a city of commuters. Many people come through this area for various reasons: going to work, heading to the beach, etc. Riverside is a developing area. Many young families are moving into the older neighborhoods and are making these areas a more desirable place to live as the neighborhoods are revitalized. Along with this, new restaurants and stores are moving in. Yucaipa is a growing city with many young families. There is a strong desire here for community and a place they can feel safe raising their children. Each location has a unique set of opportunities to connect with the community to proclaim the gospel.

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students canvassing

This past January we were blessed to have a group of seminary students come to help canvas in our communities. This group was comprised of juniors, middlers and seniors and was led by Professor Allen Sorum. For many of these men, it was their first time going door-to-door. Many started out with trepidation and doubts as to how effective door-to-door ministry would be. At the end of the trip there was a sense of excitement, having met many of our neighbors. The group interviewed people to find out about their beliefs and what they are looking for in a church. The goal of these seminary students winterim trip was to answer the question, “What is the most effective way to start a church in these communities.”

In order to prepare the community for this canvassing event, we prepared flyers to invite our community to Financial Peace University and a Marriage Enrichment seminar. This pre-canvassing flyer resulted in not only great conversations, but a few enrollments in our Bible information class. Only a short while after the seminary students were here, Praise and Proclaim Ministries came out. They also carried out canvassing in three communities and found the people in these areas generally friendly and approachable. Many were open to talking about Jesus and expressing their needs and desires.

This is a ripe mission field as Southern California continues to grow and, along with it, the number of people looking for somewhere to belong. People want to learn about the Bible. Many expressed concerns that they were not learning enough about the Bible in the churches they are currently attending. There are two Evangelical mega-churches in the city of Riverside. Please pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to water the seed of the gospel our church is planting in Southern California!

Written by Rev. Dean Ellis, missionary at Crown of Life Lutheran Church in Inland Empire, Calif. 

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

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Starting a new church: Why we do it

Rev. Keith Free, Administrator for WELS Home Missions, serves full-time out of the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. The Home Missions Administrator is an advisory, non-voting member of the Board for Home Missions (BHM) and is responsible for executing the decisions of the BHM. 


Perhaps you know a family that drives many miles to worship at the nearest WELS church. Growing up, there was a family who drove over 75 miles one way to worship at the church where my father was pastor. Think about an unchurched family or an unbeliever. . . To my knowledge, when growing up or during the many years serving as a parish pastor, I can’t recall any unchurched person making a specific effort to travel any great distance to worship with us.

Why do we plant mission churches? We do so in order to have another outreach center; another location from which God’s Word can go out to people who need the message of sin and grace and law and gospel. We do so in order that folks blessed with faith in Christ Jesus can invite their neighbors, co-workers, or friends to join them in worship at a convenient spot.

If you’re skeptical of church planting or believe the widespread myth that new church plants just “steal sheep” from other flocks, that simply is not the case. Yes, there are going to be people who start attending a new church who were part of a different church. There is no denying that it does happen. Generally speaking though, when a new church plant is engaging its community, is persistent in inviting the folks in their vicinity to worship, and encourages its members to invite their unchurched friends, typically there are going to be people reached who either have no church background or haven’t been in a Christian church in years. They’re lost in their sins! They need to hear about Jesus Christ; his perfect life, his Good Friday death, and that incredible resurrection on Easter Sunday that was done to save all those lost in their sins.

Yes, established WELS churches engage the unchurched and lost just like mission churches do. Yet, by their very nature, established churches do a lot to serve the already reached—which is vital! There are more hospital visits, more counseling sessions, more meetings. There can be more worship services and Bible classes. A lot of time is spent feeding God’s people with the Means of Grace, just like it should be.

By its very nature, a mission church focuses most of its time and energy to reach the unchurched. A mission church looks to share God’s truths in Holy Scripture with the lost. The reality is that planting new churches is most often the single greatest way to reach any culture far from God: that is the intent and purpose of the mission church.

When someone tells you, “We already have a lot of churches. . . we don’t need to plant another”, remind them that we need thriving bodies of gospel-motivated people hearing Jesus’ directive who gather and then scatter to very intentionally and assertively fulfill the Great Commission. You can never go wrong supporting and praying for the people who are a part of a church plant. You can never go wrong in giving to WELS Home Missions so that church planting can continue in WELS. New churches make a difference—an everlasting difference. God bless our synod as we keep on planting mission churches.


This is the fourth article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies.


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

 

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Sharing the risen Christ across cultures

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Risen Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing the Easter joy of the risen Christ,

Pastor Ryan Kolander
Palabra de Vida, Detroit, Mich.

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

Starting a new church: What’s next?

Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn is the pastor of Beautiful Saviour Lutheran Church in Carlsbad, Calif., and also serves as the Chairman of the WELS Board for Home Missions (BHM). The BHM counsels, directs, and supports all the districts in their home mission activities, including campus and multi-cultural ministries. The BHM Chairman is elected at Synod Convention to serve a four-year term. 


In last week’s article from the four-part series about WELS Home Missions, you read more about a core group that is beginning to form a new mission church near Sacramento. You learned what a core group is, how often they meet, and what they do when they meet. You’ve also read about how the area District Mission Board, along with the Mission Counselor, helped that fledgling group bring a request for a new mission start to the Board for Home Missions (BHM).

Now what happens once that request is brought before the WELS Board for Home Missions?

BHM Chairman Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn reading the recognition of retirement for Home Missions Counselor Rev. Ed Schuppe earlier this month

Since the WELS Board for Home Missions is 29 men strong, we elect from within our Board two pastors and two laymen who work with the chairman of the BHM in carrying out funding decisions with all of our Home Missions.

This five-man Board for Home Missions Executive Committee is charged with two important tasks: 1) spreading the gospel through starting new mission churches and 2) being wise stewards of the resources God has made available through his people. And so we delve into the mission requests and look for the following things:

  • How strong is the core group of a mission? What spiritual gifts do they possess? How many are committed to being active in the new mission?
  • What are the demographics of the community where the new mission will try to locate? Is the population growing? Is industry thriving?
  • What percentage of unchurched are in the community? Are there a number of people there who are not connected to a church and/or do not know Jesus as their Savior?
  • What do the projected finances of the mission look like? How long until this mission might be able to become self-supporting, under God’s blessing?
  • What does the ministry plan look like for the new mission? Have they given some serious consideration to how they plan to bring the Good News of Jesus into the hearts and lives of the people in their community?

Each spring, the BHM Executive Committee looks at anywhere from 15 to 25 new start requests. We evaluate each request based on the criteria listed above. We interview the District Mission Board chairman and Mission Counselors prior to meeting to get a better feel for the mission. We discuss among ourselves each new mission start. Most importantly, we pray for God’s wisdom to make best decision for the good of his Kingdom.

There are three things that can happen to a new mission request.

  • Deferred: We may feel that the new mission is perhaps a year away from being started. The core mission group needs to do a little bit more work to build itself up and determine its ministry plan.
  • Denied: A mission request may be denied if we feel it doesn’t fit the criteria of what WELS Home Missions is commissioned to do.
  • Prioritized: The new mission start requests that we feel are ready get prioritized (or ranked) from top to bottom. Depending on how much funding is available, the missions prioritized at the top are able to be authorized and may begin calling a mission pastor and working their ministry plan. Some years its as many as 6-8 new missions, maybe more! Other years it may only be 2-3.

Sadly, this spring we were only able to authorize three new missions–and only because they were able to come up with their own local funding for the first year or more. Two more were prioritized, but we have to wait to see if we have the funds later on in the fiscal year to give them the green light to call a mission pastor and move forward. Declining congregational mission offerings (CMO) subscriptions affect WELS Home Missions and that’s why it’s looking like we can’t approve as many as previous years. Let’s join in praying that God not only send workers into his harvest field, but that he also sends gifts to support starting new missions. The harvest is ready in many fields across North America!


This is the third article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for an additional blog from the Administrator for Home Missions.


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

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The risen Christ is the hope we can share

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“Pastor, I’m losing my faith . . . quickly.” He was slouched in a kitchen chair after almost everyone had left worship that Sunday. “What’s the point to it all—why?”

This young man’s desperation is shared by many. Lack of financial stability, dependency on drugs, spousal abuse, and societal neglect are some of the challenges that are amplified in an impoverished area as a result of our broken, sin-filled world.

They’re right to an extent. There is no hope, even for a self-proclaimed believer who strolls into church. That is, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If this poverty, misery, fear, and hatred is it, and then we die . . . well, then I’d join the club of wallowers!

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20a). And that changes everything.

The risen Christ is the hope that we can share with the hurting. He is the best answer we can give to the “whys?” in life. Jesus rose, and that means you and I will rise to a new life too! This Easter joy elevates a soul from the shadows to the heavens.

This is the gospel we are privileged to preach through WELS Home Missions to countless hurting people from many ethnic backgrounds and diverse cultures all over North America.

So, friend in Christ Jesus, be bold with your witness! You have something precious to offer a hurting soul this Easter season. And please consider a gift to Home Missions Multi-Cultural Outreach today. Together we will watch the Holy Spirit change lives.

Happy Easter, friends. Rejoice! Because Christ indeed has been raised from the dead! Alleluia!

Pastor Ryan Kolander
Palabra de Vida, Detroit, Mich.

Starting a new church: You’re never alone

Rev. Steven Hillmer is the pastor of The Springs Lutheran Church in Sparks, Nev., and also serves as the Chairman of the Arizona/California District Mission Board (DMB). The Arizona-California DMB has been working closely with the core group who are starting the new mission church in Folsom, Calif.


In last week’s article from the four-part series about WELS Home Missions, you heard about the front-line, boots-on-the-ground work that is helping establish a mission near Sacramento, Calif.— specifically The Rock Lutheran Church in Folsom. Starting new home missions is no easy or small task, but you’re never alone. In WELS, this holds especially true in the area of home missions.

Now bear with me, WELS really loves our acronyms.

At the synod level is the WELS Board for Home Missions (BHM). The BHM looks for and financially supports mission opportunities across the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. At present, there are over 80 WELS home mission congregations receiving financial assistance. We call these subsidized missions. This funding comes from your Congregational Mission Offerings (CMO) sent to synod from your church, as well as through individual special gifts. There are also over 30 unsubsidized missions, which means they do not receive direct funding from Home Missions, but receive assistance through their district mission board, mission counselors, and synodical support staff.

Pastor Steve Hillmer – AZ/CA District Mission Board Chairman

The Board for Home Missions (BHM) is made up of the pastor chairman and lay member from each District Mission Board (DMB). There are 14 District Mission Boards—which includes WELS Canada. These DMB’s are comprised of both pastors and laymen. The two main tasks of the DMB’s include supporting existing mission congregations and identifying potential mission fields. Members of the DMB’s are assigned to the existing missions as “shepherds” to offer encouragement and guidance to the new mission pastor and members. They do this through face-to-face meetings and other personal contacts throughout the year.

When it comes to identifying new opportunities, the DMB works with a core group or a local congregation—like St. Mark’s in Citrus Heights, Calif.—to bring forward a mission request. What happens next is perhaps unknown to many WELS members. Usually in February of each year, all fourteen DMB’s work through the requests for new mission starts, enhancements to current ministries, and any other special requests (including Vicar in a Mission Setting requests) from their district. Each of the mission requests include a 3-year budget and 12-year subsidy projection form that incorporates estimates on buying land and building a facility. With demographic forms and more, each request can have 30-50 pages to work through. At the end of some pretty intensive meetings, these requests are prioritized locally by the DMB and submitted to the BHM by March 1.

These forms and budgets not only provide a tool for each mission to complete very thorough and due-diligence work, but they also give the Executive Committee of the Board for Home Missions a good picture of the ministry potential and anticipated costs. In any given year, there are between 15 and 25 new requests! For three to four weeks, all requests—along with all renewal requests for continued mission support—are reviewed by the Executive Committee members who call up the local missions and DMB’s for any clarification.

At the beginning of April, all the requests are prioritized; and that’s when it really gets tough because of limited funding. Next week’s article will talk about what happens at the Board for Home Missions level and how they make their decisions.

What is most certainly true is that the work of reading and reviewing all these new requests demonstrates so clearly that the harvest is ripe. The Lord is opening doors for the gospel to be proclaimed across our country every day. We are thankful that he gives us a dedicated team of pastors and laymen who are actively looking for ways to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. We are thankful to gifts you give to support this work. We are also bold to encourage all WELS members to see that the harvest is ripe and to support mission work at home and abroad with our financial blessings.


This is the second article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for additional blogs from the Board for Home Missions Chairman and the Administrator for Home Missions.


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

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Lessons for a Home Missionary

Third Thirsty Thursday. I looked forward to it every month. Being able to sit around with a dozen brothers in the ministry on a social level was a highlight, but it wasn’t only the colleagues I looked forward to seeing. Each month I counted how many members or community acquaintances I could walk by on my way to the usual corner tables reserved for our party. “Hey Coppersmiths! Hey, Todd & Patti! Hey Keith!” It wasn’t too tough. With a congregation of 2,500 in a town of just over 10,000, chances were pretty good there’d be at least one familiar face who’d say hi.

Pastor Heckendorf’s installation at Light of the Valleys Lutheran Church – Reno, Nev.

Then I moved. I soon realized how thirsty I was for that interaction with a familiar face. Will I ever be recognized? Will I ever recognize someone else? Funny how lonely one can be in a city that has forty times more people. Then it happened. After being somewhat down that there were no new faces in worship that morning, my wife and I went out to breakfast. As I walked by a booth, I heard it. “Hey!”  It was “Ray”, somebody I just umpired with the day before.

There was no “God’s Great Exchange” drawn out on the napkins at Peg’s Glorified Ham N Eggs that day. (Although after seeing me in a suit, Ray did ask, “You comin’ from church?”) But more than one missionary lesson was learned:

1.) The value of being part of the community to reach the community. I could sit in my office all day and write the best sermons, craft the best blogs, and design the most eye-catching postcards. But nothing beats meeting guys like “Ray” where they are at. To be able to walk into an umpire-training session and hear, “Preacher, you need a crash course on this?” is a tremendous blessing. Who cares that the instructor can’t remember my name – he just let everyone else know I was a preacher. (Coincidentally, the day after our breakfast encounter, Ray and I met at an umpire-training session. He didn’t know I was the preacher when we met at breakfast. Now he wants to ask some questions.

2.) People thirst to be recognized. It’s not just me. Unless you’re running from the law, people long to be known by people. God created us to be relational. I’m not the only one who moved to Reno this last quarter. Hundreds have moved in, so how can we position ourselves to say “hey” to them? (I’m thankful we have a realtor lady as a core member who’s going to help us reach the new movers.)

3.) God’s timing is always right. As mentioned above, it was a little bit of a downer day. We were on a good streak of having visitors in worship, but not that day. What tremendous timing on God’s part to pick me up when I needed it. In all things, but especially in home missions, what a reminder that God’s time isn’t always our time. But God’s time is always better.

4.) Peg’s eggs really are glorified.

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

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

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Starting a new church built on The Rock

Mr. Noel Ledermann is a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Citrus Heights, Calif., and a member of the core group exploring mission work in Folsom, Calif. He is also a lay member on the Arizona/California District Mission Board and represents the AZ/CA District on the Board for Home Missions.


Sacramento is the capital of California, and the greater Sacramento area has a population of just over two million people. WELS has three congregations in this area. Over ten years ago, members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church—a church of about 500 members and a school of about 100—-began to talk about establishing a daughter congregation 15 miles away toward the growing community of Folsom. Those talks died due to other congregational concerns at the time; but, as the local economy and population grew, the opportunity began to be discussed again in 2017. After encouragement from the Arizona-California District Mission Board (DMB) and with the leadership of Pastor Kolander, the lead pastor at St. Mark’s, a newly formed Sacramento Area Mission team met in December 2017. Pastor Kruschel, our Home Missions Counselor at the time, and Pastor Vogt, the Chairman of the Arizona/California District Mission Board, were in attendance and helped guide our discussions.

We got started by exploring the potential of a home mission congregation in the Folsom community. Local drive-arounds were completed by interested members of St. Mark’s, our Home Missions counselor, and Pastor Kolander. Initial demographic research was also completed using Mission Insites, a program provided through WELS that helps us understand the community make-up. Some canvassing of the area was also completed by two Martin Luther College students in the summer of 2018. We also had conversations with other mission pastors and laypersons in our mission district.

We made the decision to move forward after several small core group meetings. Our core group was made up of over 20 members from St. Mark’s that had shown a dedicated interest to move forward with this mission effort, and—with at least a two-year commitment to this mission—to work on a mission request to synod to establish a new mission church. We decided on a name late in 2018. In the short term we will be The Rock Lutheran Church, but we also want the new pastor to have some input.

Then, late in 2018, a local WELS member came forward and wanted to make a gift of $500,000 toward this new mission effort. What a blessing! That financial commitment was not only a blessing in terms of monetary value, but it was additional encouragement to our core group as we continued to move forward with our outreach plans.

Over a dozen meetings took place over the next 18 months with our core group members and smaller sub-committees. During that time, Pastor Kolander and I worked on putting together a new mission start request to be submitted to synod by early March 2019. That information required detailed financial estimates, demographics of the area, the names of members committed to this mission effort, and a planning timeline covering the first 18 months of operation. That included plans on what needed to be done and how the group would be involved in the community through events, canvassing, and Bible studies. Early in 2019, we found a Hampton Inn where we could begin a monthly Bible study. The first Bible study was held in March 2019, even without formal synod approval to open a new mission. This was all accompanied by excitement and some healthy anxiety. Within weeks of that first Bible study, the new mission start request was submitted to the WELS.

Looking back, it has been a whirlwind being part of this exciting new mission effort! At the same time, it has been filled with both highs and lows, some hic-ups and speed bumps, and a whole lot of trust in the Lord. We’re anxious to know what the future will bring, but our faith and hope in God makes it a lot easier knowing that everything is in His almighty hands!


This is the first article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for additional blogs from a District Mission Board chairman, Home Missions Counselor, the Board for Home Missions Chairman, and the Administrator for Home Missions.


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

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Proclaiming Easter hope through WELS Home Missions

Dear Friend,

“Pastor, I’m losing my faith . . . quickly.” The young man was slouched in a kitchen chair after almost everyone had left worship that Sunday. “What’s the point to it all—why?”

Nathan (not his real name) battles with a heroin addiction. He has tried to overdose multiple times. He’s been locked up in prison. His wife was killed while crossing the street. He doesn’t have custody over any of his four boys. He can’t find regular work, and he sleeps in burned-out houses around the neighborhood. His sinful past haunts him day and night. “What’s the point?” That’s a plea of hopelessness, and maybe you can understand why he’s asking it.

Many people in our church’s diverse southwest Detroit neighborhood share the questions and hopelessness that Nathan has. People from many other neighborhoods around the U.S. and Canada are truly hurting and looking for respite from hunger and hatred. People from every culture struggle to find hope in life, and they ask, “Why?”

You know, they’re right to an extent. There is no hope, even for a self-proclaimed believer who strolls into church. That is, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If this poverty, misery, fear, and hatred is it, and then we die . . . well, then I’d join the club of wallowers too!

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20a)! And that changes everything.

This truth drives me as a pastor to get out of bed in the morning. The risen Christ is the hope that I can share with the hurting. He is the best answer to the “why” I can give! Jesus rose, and that means you and I will rise to a new life too! This Easter joy elevates a soul from the shadows to the heavens. And that’s the gospel we preach!

At my congregation, Palabra de Vida, and many other home mission congregations, we work to connect the Nathans and others of our neighborhoods to the living Christ. Like so many WELS congregations, we reach out to meet people where they’re at. We coordinate numerous programs to help those in need. We work through connections and centers of influence to get into homes. But even all this scuttling around would be meaningless if it weren’t done for one sole purpose—to connect people to the living Christ, who alone gives hope of a new life.

In addition to the nearly 50 member families and hundreds of contacts around Detroit, there are countless other hurting people from many ethnic backgrounds and cultures that hear the Easter gospel message through our WELS Home Missions in diverse communities all over North America.

Your offerings help pastors and members to share this Easter hope with people like Nathan, to answer their “why” questions.

Please consider making a gift to Home Missions Multi-Cultural Outreach today, and together we will watch the Holy Spirit change lives. Churches all around our synod have this rare gem of hope—hope in Jesus. And many congregations, whether they’re just starting out or are in impoverished areas, need your financial support. Your support doesn’t just help our church body grow; it lifts up a young man or woman’s face to see their risen Savior.

Happy Easter, friends. Rejoice because Christ indeed has been raised from the dead! Alleluia!

Sincerely,
Pastor Ryan Kolander, Palabra de Vida, Detroit, Mich.

P.S. To learn more about the many multi-cultural programs supported through Home Missions, go to WELS.net/missions.

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A rare and precious gospel

There were already a lot of churches in Morristown. In this medium-sized manufacturing town in the hills of East Tennessee, it seemed like there was a different church on every corner.

When I arrived at Living Promise almost eight years ago, there were 153 churches already in Morristown. With a population of less than 30,000 this meant that there was more than one church for every 200 people. I had to wonder what sort of future lay in store for us at Living Promise and would there be any need or room for us in Morristown. . . How would the community take to another church, this time started and pastored by outsiders? Would anyone care what our church had to say when there were already so many churches saying so much?

There was a lot that I found that didn’t seem all that remarkable as we began to introduce ourselves to the community. Morristown was a lot like most of Appalachia—most people grew up pretty familiar with a church. Most people believed that Christianity was a good thing. Most people, at least at some level, believed in God.

Community event at Living Promise

What still amazes me, however, is the impact that the truth and the gospel would have in our little community. As we continued to preach and teach the Word of God, people showed up. Even in a town where most people had never heard of a Lutheran, people walked through the doors of a Lutheran church. As we knocked on doors, followed up with people, and planned kids camps and events to meet our community, God blessed our efforts. While during our first year most of our worship services had attendance in the single digits, this last year we have crept over 100 more often than not—all of this by the grace and power of God.

God sent souls to us who had been hurt by other churches. He sent souls to us looking for an answer to quiet a guilty conscience. He sent souls to us looking for Biblical answers to some hard questions. As God sent us these people, we realized how rare and precious the gospel truth that God had given us to proclaim is. While there were already a lot of churches in Morristown, the true gospel in many ways was still rare. People in our community were still crying out for the gospel we had to share.

All of this has encouraged us all the more in our gospel proclamation. We still know that there are a lot of churches in Morristown. Even more, we know that the gospel we have is rare and precious and that God will use it to gather his people.

Written by Rev. Matthew Westra, missionary at Living Promise Lutheran Church in Morristown, Tenn. 

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

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“I am with you”

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

Dear Friend,

The Holy Spirit has comforted Christians with these words through the centuries. Whether in times of personal hardship, persecution, or other difficulty, hearing Jesus’ promise to be “with” us gives us peace in God’s abundant love and his plan for us. This peace God gives us is a peace the world needs.

Thank you for your partnership with WELS as we work together with Home, World, and Joint Missions to spread the gospel in the U.S. and throughout the world through the new Mission Journeys volunteer program. This program is designed to help congregations and schools prepare and go on short-term mission trips. To learn more about Mission Journeys, visit wels.net/missionjourneys.

Does Jesus’ promise to be “with” us apply as we share our faith with other people? Of course. “Always” means all the time and in all circumstances. Will we get nervous? Maybe. What will we say? What if I don’t have all the answers? Jesus says in Luke 12:12, “the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Read how the Spirit enabled Greta Pagels, a Mission Journeys team member to Ecuador, to step out of her comfort zone. Watch a team member from Rochester, Minn., tell how our Lord impacted her life through a Mission Journeys trip to Escondido, Calif.

Mission Journeys is giving WELS members another way to be a part of the Great Commission. Would you be interested in joining a Mission Journeys team? Would you consider supporting the program through your prayers and gifts? However you participate, we appreciate your partnership.

In Jesus,
Shannon Bohme
Coordinator, WELS Mission Journeys

P.S. “Like” WELS Missions on Facebook for more stories and updates on Mission Journeys and WELS mission work around the world.

Let the word dwell in you richly as you teach

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19).

Dear Friend,

Jesus gives believers the Great Commission to “go” and “teach” the gospel. Thank you for your support of WELS that allows home and world missions to do this. Our new program, Mission Journeys, gives WELS members the opportunity to go on short-term mission trips where they can help a congregation or mission field in their ministry. Watch this video from a Mission Journeys team in Ecuador to follow one church’s Mission Journeys experience. Go to wels.net/missionjourneys to learn whether your church might be able to participate in Mission Journeys.

Before the mission team leaves, they go through training materials to prepare for the trip. The most important part of the preparation is time in God’s Word. Paul says in Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach” (3:16). Before teams “go” and “teach” others, they are spiritually filled up. Mission Journeys training gives teams devotions, prayers, and a focus on personal discipleship. Our prayer is for the Holy Spirit to “teach” each team member through the Word to prepare them for the mission trip.

God-willing, the team will have opportunities to “teach” others about Jesus while on their journey. This could be through a vacation Bible school devotion, a personal witness, joyfully serving the community and letting the light of Jesus shine, or any number of other opportunities.

The world needs Jesus. The consequences of this message are eternal. Would you be willing to make a gift today to WELS Mission Journeys to “teach” mission teams as they go out and “teach” others? Together, we have a “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:4).

In Jesus,
Shannon Bohme
Coordinator, WELS Mission Journeys

P.S. “Like” WELS Missions on Facebook to learn more about Mission Journeys trips and to get exciting updates on current WELS missions throughout the U.S. and world.

People take their time

I was practicing my sermon on a recent Sunday morning, preaching to the empty chairs, when I got a phone call from an unknown number. Doris wanted to confirm what time the service was. “I can’t come to church today, Pastor. I’ve got a family commitment. But I’ll be there next Sunday for sure.” I vaguely recalled a conversation with Doris from when Ron and I were out canvassing. She and I had talked in her driveway for so long, Ron was wondering what had happened to me. But how long ago had that one previous conversation with Doris taken place? I had to scroll back a bit through my calendar. . . ten weeks!

It takes a while.

Keith and his wife Shawn brought their eight-year-old to our soccer camp in June. Each sweltering afternoon they would find refuge under a shade tree, keeping an eye on Bryce and chatting with the church members who were prepping snacks and handing out water. The three of them came to our worship service at the end of the week. We never saw them again. Not until the first Sunday in January, when they came to worship a second time. Six and a half months later!

Few folks seem to be in a hurry to get connected to a church.

I stopped at Jane’s front door three days after she attended a worship service with her niece. The conversation was pleasant and brief. I gave her a “welcome gift” and was on my way. That seemingly was the end of Jane’s interest in what we have to offer. Until there she was, sitting next to her niece and worshiping with us on Christmas Eve. Ten months later!

What is it that keeps individuals from responding more quickly to our invitations? I suppose I could spin all sorts of theories in response to that question. I realize the experts have offered their own, well-researched explanations as well. But it’s hard to get beyond the unholy trinity so often referenced by Luther. People are slow to respond to our visits and encouragements because they are constantly being delayed by the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh.

Worship at Living Savior in Hendersonville, N.C.

I don’t want respond to this phenomenon with cynicism, or become callous to it, or even accept it as inevitable. I would rather commit myself and our members to a more aggressive follow-up schedule. In addition, Jesus invites me to frequent prayer on behalf these blood-bought souls. Mostly, however, I want to be mindful that even the Son of God himself found his most frequent listeners to be “slow to believe” (Luke 24:25). If Jesus’ ministry is the model for outreach, then why should I ever be discouraged when people take their time responding to my church’s outreach ministry?

I’m pleased to announce that after her ten-week delay, Doris actually did worship with us the following Sunday. And starting that first Sunday in January, Keith, Shawn, and Bryce haven’t missed a Sunday. They’re already signed up for our next “Foundations” class. And Jane just wrote me a heartwarming note about how much she loves the class she’s been taking and the services she’s been attending. Now she says she “can’t wait” to become a communicant member of her new church.

What do you think? Someday should I ask each of them why it took them so long? Nah! I’d rather keep telling them how grateful I am that our church can serve them with the gospel of our merciful, patient, long-suffering Savior and of the timeless life he’s won for them and for me.

Written by Rev. Paul Zell, missionary at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Hendersonville, N.C. 

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Gospel Seeds Continue to Multiply

Ger Yang was one of the first Hmong men home missionary Rev. Loren Steele met in St. Paul, Minn. in 1988. Ger Yang and Loren Steele worked together to share the message of salvation with the Hmong in the Twin Cities area.

Ger Yang (left) at Village 9 in Thailand

After Ger Yang was trained to be a pastor, he went to Thailand for mission a trip in village 9, Tak, Thailand, where he unexpectedly passed away. After Ger Yang died in December 1995, the Lord brought me to study in the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program. I was ordained on October 16, 1999, and was called by the Minnesota district to serve Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn.

The seed of the gospel is still working at Immanuel Hmong today! Immanuel Hmong was started by two strong missionaries: Ger Yang and Loren Steele (both of whom are now in heaven). After I was ordained two decades ago, Immanuel Hmong started off with only a few orphans and widows. From then on, the Lord has continued to bless his church to grow to over two hundred members. The Lord is kind and he took care of his church. Today, Immanuel Hmong’s worship attendance every week is around 110 with 200 souls in our membership. Our congregation is working hard to reach out to one of the largest Hmong populations in the United States. More than 70,000 Hmong people live in the Twin Cities area.

Although Immanuel Hmong is a mission church itself, we have a heart for mission work even outside of our own community. Immanuel Hmong continues to reach out to Thailand, following the footsteps of Ger Yang, to Village 9 and many other villages throughout Thailand where Hmong people can be found. Village 9 now has Hmong men serving as evangelists and pastors. Pastor Vang Toua Moua (Joe Saema) now serves as the main pastor for Village 9. The seed of the gospel didn’t die with Ger Yang. Once the gospel seed was planted in St. Paul, Minn., it spreads to the different parts of the United States and Southeast Asia. I was even asked to baptize ten people during my recent visit in December 2018!

Pastor Vang Toua Moua baptizes a newborn in Village 9

The seed of the gospel continues to spread to different villages. There are many nearby villages by Pastor Vang Toua who need the seed of the gospel. Pastor Vang Toua Moua and his congregation are equipped to bridge the gospel seed for those villages. We trust that the Holy Spirit will turn more hearts to faith in Jesus Christ.

Only the Lord can water the planted gospel seed to grow and multiply. I ask that you remember the Hmong ministries in the Minnesota district and around the world in your prayers. Together, the Lord will accomplish his purpose when he sends his gospel seed to the lost world. As Isaiah said, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” May the seed of the gospel continue to grow!

Written by: Pastor Pheng Moua, Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn. and member of Joint Mission’s Global Hmong Committee

To learn more about Hmong ministry in the United States and around the world, visit wels.net/hmong.

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An Unexpected Missionary

During their fall 2018 meeting, the Board for Home Missions approved funding for three new missions starts. One of the new home mission starts is in Richland Center, Wis., which is part of a multi-site effort being supported by St. John, Hillpoint, and Trinity, Lime Ridge, both in Wisconsin. St. John and Trinity share one pastor, who has been exploring the viability of a mission in Richland Center. On January 1, retired Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Professor James Korthals began serving this new mission site as a part-time, second pastor.

To learn more about new home mission starts and enhancements that were approved in 2018, visit wels.net/newstarts.


Aveline

The best missionaries, more often than not, are not the ones you see in the pulpit.  This past fall, I—with the help of core group members in Richland Center, Wis.—started a new Mornings with Mommy program. Meeting once a month in the story time room of the local library, this program has provided a wonderful opportunity to meet and foster relationships with young families in the community. Many hands helped to make this new opportunity possible. Members of our multi-site congregations, nearby congregations, and pastoral support all have had a hand in reaching out with the gospel. But the best missionary for Mornings with Mommy has much smaller hands.

Meet Aveline. She is 2 ½ years old. Aveline first came to Mornings with Mommy in November, along with her mom, Shannon, and her 1 year old brother Emerson. Aveline is many things, but shy isn’t one of them. She jumped right into all of the activities and had a lot of fun! She was unable to make it to our December session, but we learned that she was the reason they returned in January.

Shannon and Emerson

Shannon grew up in the church but had drifted away over a number of years. But it was Aveline that reminded her of her need for her Savior. One of the circle time songs that is sung at each session is “Jesus Loves Me.” Shannon mentioned to one of the Mornings with Mommy helpers that at the November session, it was Aveline’s first time hearing “Jesus Loves Me.” But it wasn’t her last time singing it. Despite only hearing it once, over the next several weeks she was singing it in car rides, at home, and even remembering most of the sign language signs they were taught. Aveline’s enthusiasm reminded Shannon of what has been missing in their life and expressed a desire to return to church and join Sunday School and Bible classes. Not because of a dynamic pastor or welcoming member . . . but because of the joy of a two-year-old singing a simple song of our Savior’s love.

Aveline not only served as a missionary in her family, but a reminder to our volunteers and core group. She is the example of why we started this program, so that children and families may be connected to the love of Jesus and what he has done for them. It has made our volunteers want to reflect that child-like joy with whomever God brings to us each month.

Sometimes the best missionaries are not the ones you see in the pulpit. Sometimes it is a two year old sharing the love of Jesus with her family!

Written by: Pastor Dan Lewig, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Hillpoint, Wis. and Trinity Lutheran Church, Lime Ridge, Wis. 

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Thanksgiving Evangelism

What is thanksgiving? Why does this country celebrate Thanksgiving in November each year? Many Hmong in the Kansas City community celebrate Thanksgiving each year, but do they really understand the meaning of Thanksgiving?

The answer is no!

Each year during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Hmong people celebrate Thanksgiving by preparing a big meal to enjoy with family members and friends like other American people do. In the non-Christian Hmong community, Thanksgiving is just a holiday for eating and drinking. They only enjoy the abundant foods and drinks on their table, but they don’t know the true meaning of Thanksgiving – the appreciation and thanks for the saving grace and blessings God provides to mankind.

Thanksgiving is one of the most effective events Grace Hmong uses to attract Hmong people in the community to hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a huge piece of our evangelism calendar. Each year during the Thanksgiving holiday, Grace spends a lot of time, effort, and money to be able to host a successful event. Grace prays and hopes to bring the Hmong community to attend the event and to hear the message of God.

Grace Hmong Lutheran Church – Kansas City, Kans.

At our 2018 Thanksgiving service, the members of Grace again had the opportunity to share with our guests why we say thank you for the blessings and love we receive from God. We shared the message of why we find ourselves having a reason to celebrate. There’s never a time NOT to express our gratitude to God for what he has done for mankind! Psalm 140:13 declares, “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name.” Giving thanks is what Christians do. We were so happy to share that message with our community during the service and meal time.

I was blessed and amazed to see all of the attendees enjoying their time eating up God’s Word during the service. And again during meal time, everyone enjoyed the tasty foods Grace provided. As I looked at their smiling faces, nothing was more enjoyable than spiritual feeding with God’s word and physical feeding with well-prepared Thanksgiving food.

All of the effort, time, and money Grace Hmong put into the event was well worth it. All of our guests enjoyed the message and food. The overall turnout of the event was around 102 people, many of whom were visitors from the community and nearby neighborhood.  From this event, there were two families who were interested in joining the church. The sweetness of the gospel warms their hearts and compels them to join us and come back next time.

The congregation’s outreach efforts are focused on our evangelism program, a Facebook advertising campaign for the weekly sermon series, and events such as thanksgiving with a potluck meal to follow.

Grace’s outreach to the Hmong community is not easy, and we have been experiencing many challenges. However, God continues to remind us that the mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel for the Holy Spirit to win the lost souls.

We are very excited about the gospel outreach opportunities within our community and we hope to share that excitement with the Lord’s people who are supporting that work with their prayers and with their offerings. Let’s keep on sharing the message of saving grace in Jesus!

Written by: Rev. Ger Lor, Pastor at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Kans. 

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Ashley’s persistent witness

Jeremy (pictured far left) with Ashley standing right behind him

This story begins with Ashley. Ashley will be the first to tell you that she did not have an easy childhood. So when she heard about Jesus for the first time, about his love for sinners like her, she was all in. She went to church, witnessed in the streets, and memorized Scripture. She would scrap and scrounge to get to church — even in the cold Detroit winters!

However, Ashley eventually lost that spark and entered what she calls her “slip and slide” period with God. She started dating, eventually had a child, and when her second was about to be born, she decided it was time to get them baptized. That’s when she came to Palabra de Vida. She got married, and by God’s grace, her husband, son, and daughter were all baptized. Then, Ashley started her mission.

Jeffry

In January of 2017, she got me access to her sister’s house where her nephew and two nieces were living. I got to teach them all about how baptism is God’s way of adopting us into his family. Jeremy (pictured above)— whose parents are both dead and who has bounced around from home to home — perked up, and asked with tears in his eyes, “So, I get to be in God’s family?” The three were baptized that month.

Then in December of 2017, Ashley and her husband Andrew’s friend, Jeffry (upon insistence from Ashley), approached me about getting baptized. After pouring over the Catechism, Jeffry couldn’t believe how good God was, and finally blurted out in excitement, “Wait, so God saves me through baptism? Wow! I gotta get baptized!” He was baptized in January of 2018.

Hollie holding her daughter Kaelie

Jeffry and Ashley both started encouraging their friend and cousin Hollie to baptize her little daughter, Kaelie. Kaelie was baptized in April of 2018.

The lesson? Don’t underestimate the power of your gospel persistence! God worked through Ashley to bring eight people into his family, with more to come! Many people have heard the gospel in worship or Bible study or their own homes because of Ashley’s witness. Just look at this group of people (pictured in the cover photo) so affected by her gospel witness — nearly half of them have come to faith through her persistent gospel witness!

“To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”

Romans 2:7

Written by: Pastor Ryan Kolander, Palabra De Vida Lutheran Church – Detroit, MI

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Every member a missionary

At Spirit of Life, our mission statement is “Every member a missionary reaching out across generations with Jesus.” It’s a statement designed to say that all of our members will reach out with Jesus to everyone. God has blessed Spirit of Life over the last few months to live that mission statement to the full.

When we hear the word “missionary,” we often think of a pastor in some far distant land. We might even think of a pastor inviting people to worship right here in the United States. But for Spirit of Life, God used a pastor AND a ladies group to bring about two amazing adult baptisms.

It was a normal office day for me. I spent my day preparing for my sermon that week as well as confirmation class. And then I heard the phone ring. On the phone was a grandmother named Pat. Pat was calling Spirit of Life hoping to find a church that might serve her grandson who has learning disabilities.

It was a large burden for Pat to carry . . . taking care of her husband who has Parkinson’s, her middle-aged daughter, and her 15-year-old grandson Kenny while she herself is in her 70’s. I agreed to meet the young man and speak to him once a week. He had never set foot in a church before, and for Pat it had been many years.

Kenny on his baptism day

Through my many conversations with Kenny, I had the opportunity to teach him about Jesus through the new stained glass windows in the church. I talked about sin and grace and saw some amazing changes in Kenny. Kenny and I talked about baptism, and I had the awesome opportunity to baptize this young man at worship.

But the blessings didn’t stop there. I would regularly talk with Pat and say, “Pat, you carry so many people, but who is going to carry Pat?” And that is where our church’s ladies group went to work.

At Spirit of Life, we have a small group called Wise Women’s Coffee group. It’s a group of about eight ladies that get together once a month for prayer and fellowship. It’s different than our Sisters in Service group. It’s a group where ladies rely on each other and talk about things they share in common. Pat attended those coffee sessions for months.

During my visits with Kenny, I discovered that Grandma Pat wasn’t baptized. Though I spoke to Pat about baptism, she was hesitant to join the church. She would worship. She would come to groups – but baptism and membership was still seemingly far off. Until I approached the leader of this small group, Judy Clifton. I asked her, “Would you talk to Pat about baptism for me?” That connection the ladies developed, by God’s grace, accomplished something that I was struggling to find.

Pat agreed to be baptized and join the church – so long as her baptism could happen during the small group coffee hour. A group of these wise women assembled the next month ready to celebrate this special day for Pat. It’s not every day that I get to baptize a 76-year-old woman. What an experience! Tears were shed along with many smiles. God worked through a very difficult situation to bring about two adult baptisms and two of Spirit of Life’s most excited new members.

Spirit of Life is a growing home mission congregation that could write a bunch of blog posts about God’s exciting work in Michigan. We do Easter for Kids. We have young professionals. We do awesome community work, all by God’s hand actively working through us. However, the most amazing things in our home mission church is when our members carry out the Great Commission all by themselves. A pastor and one of his small groups of ladies receiving this privilege together: this might not be the first thing someone thinks of when we think of  “missions.” But taking an unchurched family through the means of grace is the reason we are all here – no matter which group does it, or for what age. Every member a missionary reaching out across generations with Jesus. Now Spirit of Life has a new member of its youth group and a new wise woman that share Jesus everywhere they go.

Written by: Pastor Allen Kirschbaum, Spirit of Life Lutheran Church – Caledonia, MI

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Conference digs into developing multi-site congregations

More than one hundred pastors, teachers, staff ministers, laypeople, and other ministry leaders from across the country gathered in Pewaukee, Wis., Nov. 12-14, for the 2018 WELS National Multi-Site Conference. Attendees met to engage in discussions and activities about developing multi-site churches throughout WELS.

Multi-site churches preach, teach, and carry out other ministry work from more than one physical location. These additional sites can help the congregation share the gospel message with new people and underserved communities. In many cases, they can also gather and use resources with increased efficiency.

Rev. Ron Koehler, pastor at Grace, a multi-site church in Tucson/Sahuarita/Benson/Vail, Ariz., led the conference’s first keynote presentation. He highlighted key reasons why a congregation may launch a multi-site effort. Rev. Jon Hein, director of the Commission on Congregational Counseling , then spoke about the potential of multi-sites to expand ministry work beyond their current reach. Rev. Nathan Strutz, conference planning committee chairman and pastor of a multi-site congregation, Resurrection, Verona/Monroe, Wis., closed the conference with a final keynote presentation reviewing what multi-site strategies are and can be for WELS.

Four sessions of workshops gave attendees opportunities to hear about experiences with multi-site development directly from project leaders. Pastors, church elders, and lay leaders spoke about reaching specific audiences, managing multi-site finances, uniting under one mission, and more.

Rev. Brad Snyder, Mt. Olive, Suamico, Wis., appreciated the fellowship among attendees at the conference: “We get together, enjoy and encourage each other, and stay minded on the mission.” Mt. Olive has called a second pastor to serve at a site it is developing in Hobart, Wis.

Rev. Paul Schupmann and Rev. David Brandt serve at St. John’s, Juneau, Wis., which is officially expanding to Horicon, Wis., in June 2019. They look forward to implementing what they learned from the conference at this new multi-site.

“The key concept is to grow the kingdom and continue to enable our people to share Jesus,” Schupmann explains.

“We all struggle with limited time and resources, but I see multi-site as a way to do more with what we’ve got,” Brandt continues. “I’m excited for the possibilities.”

Rev. Jeffrey Mahnke, St. Peter, Schofield, Wis., led a workshop at the conference to share what he is learning from an ongoing merger with Salem, Wausau, Wis. For any WELS church leaders considering undertaking multi-site initiatives with their congregation, he suggests, “Think big. Start talking about what could be done for the kingdom of Christ.”

The conference was partially sponsored by an Antioch II grant. For more information about multi-site churches and other home mission work, visit wels.net/missions.

 

 

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Open Doors

“…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you … Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:7

Ascension Lutheran Church is the newest polling place in Macomb Township. On November 6, 2018, we had the wonderful opportunity to serve our community, to get to know our closest neighbors better, and to share information about our mission and ministry! A chocolate chip cookie is always more well received than that little “I Voted” sticker… Our sanctuary was open for those who wished to take a moment to pray before or after voting, and we even supplied a suggested “Prayer for the Nation.” We had so many nice conversations as our preschool director, Rachel Frost, and I greeted people as they arrived and left.

Pastor Simons and Early Childhood Director Rachel Frost greet voters

We’ve also gotten very favorable comments from the poll workers about how hospitable Ascension has been. Election officials have stopped by, found everything running smoothly, and have enjoyed some of our cookies. One of the poll workers who served in April’s primary election told us that she’s been pitching Ascension to all the unchurched people she knows – even though she is life-long Roman Catholic. On election day she took one of our informational packets with her to share with someone who’s looking for a church.

To think that Macomb Township approached us with the request that we be a polling place, in effect asking if they might be allowed to send several hundred of our neighbors to our campus at each election. That was a very easy “Yes!” Team Ascension has embraced this as a community service effort that has huge potential to help our neighbors see Ascension as a vital part of the community.

When we open our doors to the community, God can use that to open doors for the gospel, too!

Written by: Pastor Dan Simons, Ascension Lutheran Church – Macomb, MI


Pastor Dan Simons also reports: 

New members at Ascension

Jesus did not call his church to be big; he called us to be faithful. He will decide how big it is. It is ours to faithfully proclaim the Word and be thankful for his blessings on it. And those blessings do come! What a remarkable day at Ascension as we received into membership the 15 souls who came to us over the past quarter on October 28. We had five new first-time visitors too: Tara and her two children and Jacky & Vince. What an awesome way to wrap up our October sermon series: Four Really Important Reformation Treasures That Changed Our Lives!

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I’m really glad to be here

“I got baptized on Friday… and I’m really glad to be here.”

Those were the words Ed spoke after his confirmation in August. I wasn’t sure I would ever hear them.

I met Ed, his wife Lis, and their daughter Michelle on Christmas Eve. They had received our Christmas postcard invitation that we sent to every home in our community, and they came to worship with us.

Over the following weeks, Lis and Michelle came back on Sunday mornings – but Ed wasn’t with them. After a couple of months, Lis and Michelle started our FaithBuilders (Bible Basics) class. Lis had grown up in the Lutheran faith in Germany and Michelle had been confirmed in another Lutheran church body after they moved to the U.S. But Ed had never joined.

I began meeting with Lis and Michelle. The first week we met, Ed hung around the table where we were sitting. The second week, I brought an extra copy of the class and invited him to follow along.

He did.

After a few more weeks, he slowly started to chime in with answers and some questions. The one that was the most difficult for him had to do with worship, “I know lots of people who go to church on Sunday. They don’t act any different than anyone else the rest of the week. Why should I give up my day off?” He asked that several times. We continued to study how God works through his Word to create and strengthen faith. And as we studied God’s Word, he did just that for Ed.

Michelle, Lis, and Ed on their confirmation day

When we got to the lesson on baptism, I asked Ed if he had been baptized. He said that he didn’t think so because his parents didn’t go to church when he was a kid. And while he had attended a church with Lis and Michelle when they moved to the States, he had never actually been part of a church. I asked if he wanted to be baptized, and he said he needed some time to study it a little more.

In the following weeks, we completed the class and Ed expressed interest in being confirmed, but again, he wanted to think it over. Lis and Michelle chose to temporarily wait so that they could encourage Ed and, hopefully, be confirmed and join our church with him.

Six weeks later, Ed walked through the doors on Sunday morning. “I want to be baptized,” he said. He requested a private baptism, so we set a date for the following Friday afternoon. Friday came and God worked through the water connected to his Word in the sacrament of Holy Baptism for Ed.

Two days later, Ed, Lis, Michelle and several others were confirmed and became members of Foundation Lutheran Church. And Ed said with a smile, “I was baptized on Friday… and I’m really glad to be here.” Since then, Ed has been in worship with his family every Sunday (except when his job takes him across the globe). He often has a thoughtful comment or question after worship. And he doesn’t even miss his day off.

Instead, he’s “really glad to be here.”

Written by: Rev. Steve Prahl, Foundation Lutheran Church, Falcon, Colo. 

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Changing community, unchanging grace

Change.

There is a large billboard on Interstate 15 that says, “Change is good. Especially when it’s in your pocket.” In the midst of one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, I suppose they would know a bit about change.

Good News was blessed with 64 people in grand opening worship

In the short time we have lived in Lehi, Utah, very little has remained the same. City planners can barely keep up with the booming needs and extreme growing pains of Lehi. New construction is so common, nobody bothers to wonder what the new buildings are anymore. And in the midst of all the change and chaos, God has called a few of his faithful servants to start Good News Lutheran Church.

We are a small group that occupies a small space in the middle of a predominately LDS (Latter-Day Saints) community. In many ways we are praying for our quickly-changing community to be a vehicle through which God grows this new mission. Each day we are reminded of constant change, all of which is completely out of our control. In the midst of all the change around us, we change and try new ways to let people know about us and the good news of peace and forgiveness. There are the sidewalk signs, Internet advertising, door-hangers, and activities with the nearby schools. And yes, there are days when we wonder, “How will our church ever thrive in such an area?”

The sun over the mountains on the morning of our first service

Less than a month ago we had our first official worship service. We now meet every Sunday for regular worship services and Bible study. Every week at 9 a.m., we are reminded not of change, but of our Constant. Our Eternal. We offer our thanks and praise to the One who is steadfast and unchanging. We are given Jesus and his unwavering plan for each of us: eternal life through Him. While everything else around us rages with the questions and doubts that come with worldly shifts and plans, we know Jesus remains the same. This is the message we all need.

Yes, we are most certainly a small group, in a small space, in a big, fast-changing city. It seems at times like we will never be noticed in our community, and we will surely get lost in the crowd. However, our constant prayer is the Light who shines brighter than any mountain sun, the one who is our Rock, will soon be the constant, solid foundation our community needs.

Please join us in prayer as we give thanks to our gracious God for the group of faithful saints he has given us at Good News Lutheran, Lehi. Thank our loving Savior along with us for His patience, love, and unchanging grace!

Written by: Rev. Dan Heiderich, Good News Lutheran Church, Lehi, Utah. 

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God used the church to save Grandma

Grandma Barb started worshiping with us at Epiphany in Racine about two years ago. When Barb came for Wednesday night worship, she brought her son, Keith; her daughter-in-law, Chrissy; and their three children, Michael, Matthew, and Katelynn. The three children had been baptized in 2014. That’s when Chrissy took our adult instruction classes to join Epiphany. Her husband, Keith, had no interest in church, though.

Then, God in his grace and providence got Grandma involved.

Barb was ecstatic that her grandchildren had been brought into God’s family through Holy Baptism. She was very disheartened, though, that her son did not want to be a part of that same family of God.

So, Barb started worshiping at Epiphany. She picked her family up on the way to church, to ensure they would all be there. Then, she sent Chrissy and the kids home in her car, while she and Keith stayed for adult instruction classes. Chrissy came to pick them up when class was over. Barb and Keith stood before the Lord’s altar in January 2017 to profess their faith in and their faithfulness to the Lord of the Church.

Then, God in his grace and providence called Barb home to himself this past May.

Michael, the oldest grandchild, was very close to his grandmother. Yet he found comfort in God’s timing. As he told his mom, “I’m so grateful that God used the church to save Grandma Barb.” He then added, “And I’m also grateful that God used Grandma Barb to save Dad.”

Pastor Zarling installs staff minister Mark Blauert

God also used the Racine Parental Choice Program to bring Michael, Matthew, and Katelynn to our Wisconsin Lutheran School, which is jointly operated by Epiphany and First Evangelical Lutheran Church. God used the Choice Program to bring this family into our school, and then into our church, and then to bring their grandma into the Church Triumphant. Forty percent of the 171 students at Wisconsin Lutheran School are unchurched. The mission of our churches and school is to reach the lost and teach the found with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

This spring, Epiphany, First Evangelical, and Wisconsin Lutheran School were granted funding from the WELS Board for Home Missions to call a school chaplain to reach these unchurched families within our school. Staff Minister Mark Blauert was installed on Aug. 19, to serve as that school chaplain.

We pray for God’s grace and providence to bless our school chaplain’s ministry in our school and churches so that more of our children can be grateful that God used the church to save Grandma, and then God used Grandma to save more of their family members.

Written by: Rev. Michael Zarling, Epiphany Lutheran Church, Racine, Wis. 

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Great news for Home Missions

The WELS Board for Home Missions is celebrating a number of milestones this September. During its fall meeting, the board approved funding for three new missions starts.

“The significance of Home Missions authorizing three new missions is that we now have three more dedicated locations where first and foremost the gospel of Jesus Christ will be proclaimed,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of the Board for Home Missions. “The mission pastor and mission members will have as their first objective to reach more people with the message that makes all the difference now and in eternity—Christ crucified for the sins of all.”

New congregations are being supported in:

  • Bluffton, S.C., which has developed through the efforts of Risen Savior, Pooler, Ga. The new mission in Bluffton is likely to be part of a multi-site ministry effort with Risen Savior. This effort is spearheaded by Eric Janke, a 2018 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., who deferred an assignment due to his wife’s three-year residency to become a doctor. Janke has worked with Risen Savior’s pastor and members to develop a strong ministry plan for this new mission site.
  • Mansfield, Ohio, where a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregation is closing and contacted WELS to see if our synod might be interested in opening a mission in this area. The new mission will be buying the land and building of the former LCMS church. Some of the church’s members are planning to join the new WELS mission and are working with WELS members in the area to launch this new WELS congregation.
  • Richland Center, Wis., which is part of a multi-site effort being supported by St. John, Hillpoint, and Trinity, Lime Ridge, both in Wisconsin. St. John and Trinity currently share one pastor, who has been exploring the viability of a mission in Richland Center. The area seems well suited for a WELS mission start, and members of St. John and Trinity are excited to support this effort.

These new starts are being supported by a $1 million special grant from the WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc. (CEF). CEF helps provide financing so mission congregations and established congregations with mission-focused initiatives can purchase land and either build or renovate a worship facility. CEF funds its loan program through individual WELS members’ and congregations’ investments in CEF financial products. CEF’s grant program is funded primarily through operating earnings of the CEF portfolio of loans and investments.

“CEF’s financials are strong,” says Mr. Scott Page, executive director of CEF, “allowing the board to approve this special grant while continuing to provide a sound investment vehicle for WELS members and congregations.”

As Free notes, “Over and above its loan and grant program, since August 2015 CEF has given more than $4.3 million to Home Missions’ operations budget. This has helped fund many of our new mission congregations and helped enhance outreach throughout the United States, Canada, and the English-speaking Caribbean.”

Free is also excited to announce that many mission congregations launched their first public worship services in September, a milestone for these young churches. Launch services were held by Living Hope, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Intown Lutheran, Atlanta, Ga.; Good News, Lehi, Utah; Huntersville Lutheran, Huntersville, N.C.; and Grace in the Ward, Milwaukee, Wis.

Rev. Doug Van Sice, pastor at Huntersville, says, “As I sat in my office the day before the launch, I prayed that God would bless our launch regardless of who or how many showed up. At the end of the day, numbers are not what is most important. What is most important is that the changeless message of the gospel is preached in its truth and purity and that God’s people are edified by that very truth. Not only did God bless our worship with his Word, but he blessed it with people. He brought 62 people through Huntersville Lutheran’s doors. It was incredible! More than I could have asked for or imagined.”

For more information on WELS Home or World Missions, visit wels.net/missions. For more information on WELS Church Extension Fund, visit wels.net/cef.

 

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Home Mission congregations hold grand opening worship services

On Sunday, September 9, 2018, four different home mission congregations held grand opening worship services.

Huntersville Lutheran Church – Huntersville, NC

Huntersville was approved as a new mission start by the Board for Home Missions in April 2017. In May 2017, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduate Rev. Doug Van Sice was assigned to serve this new congregation. This entire summer Huntersville focused on outreach – hanging 10,000 door hanger bags and sending out another 5,500 mailers on top of their other evangelism efforts. God brought 62 people through their church doors at their grand opening worship service. Pastor Van Sice commented, “I think the most memorable thing for me was standing before the altar and confessing my sins with 62 other people. And, in turn, facing those same 62 people (some of whom have never heard the gospel) and announcing with gospel-certainty that their sins are forgiven. It’s truly amazing that God gives sinful men, men like me and all the other missionaries, the privilege to proclaim his “arrow-pointing-down love” to people in our community.

Living Hope Lutheran Church – Chattanooga, TN

Living Hope currently worships in a movie theater

Similar to Huntersville, Chattanooga was also approved to be the site of a new mission start in April 2017. Before Rev. Eric Melso was assigned to serve the area in May 2017, there wasn’t a WELS presence within 100 miles of the city. Pastor Melso followed the “3 P’s of Church Planting”: preparing, planning, and previewing. Living Hope held their first public service with 68 people in attendance, of which 20 were new faces from the community and 18 were returning prospects. Pastor Melso shared: “One of the best moments for me personally was seeing a family from our street walk through the doors. We’d been inviting Cody, Brooke, and their children since we started preview services at Easter. Brooke kept telling us Cody had no interest in attending church. But they showed up. After worship, Cody came up to me and said, ‘We’re in. We’ll be back next week.’ Wow. God’s Word and Spirit work.”


Good News Lutheran Church – Lehi, UT

Grand opening fellowship

Prince of Peace in Salt Lake City, UT, daughtered this mission south of the city, receiving funding from the Board for Home Missions in Spring of 2016. Mission pastor Daniel Heiderich accepted the call and arrived at Good News in early 2017. After taking a year to acclimate to the community, Pastor Heiderich and his core group began their outreach and previewed their new church with three services over the summer. At their grand opening, Good News was blessed with 64 people in worship. Many of their new visitors also stayed for fellowship and a cookout meal.

Intown Lutheran Church – Atlanta, GA

While this new mission start in the heart of the city was approved for funding in Spring of 2016, the call for a new pastor was not accepted until the middle of 2017. Pastor Lucas Bitter arrived in August 2017 and began working with this core group – preparing, planning, and previewing for their grand opening worship. 60 people attended the service, which included 18 new visitors. Pastor Bitter also reported that after church, four of their first-time visitors signed up for an upcoming Bible Basics class. Praise God for continuing to give Intown Lutheran opportunities to share Jesus with the people of Atlanta! Click here to view a video from their grand opening worship service.


Besides these four home mission congregations, Grace in the Ward, Milwaukee, Wis. and Living Savior, Hendersonville, N.C. also celebrated milestones on September 16, 2018. Grace in the Ward had over 90 souls gather together for their Grand Opening worship service, and Living Savior made the switch from Saturday evening to Sunday morning services.

Please keep these Home Missions in your prayers as they continue to share the pure message of the gospel with more people in their communities. To stay connected with these and the other 128 home mission congregations scattered throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, follow WELS Missions on Facebook at fb.com/WELSMissions.

 

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