Renewal in Castle Rock, Colo.

In Castle Rock, Colo., getting under contract is super-exciting and super-scary at the same time. On the one hand, after 5+ years of searching (and setting up for worship more than 300x), is awesome to find a location that we love. And there is good reason to love it. Here are a couple of highlights:
  • The location is great. It is right off of one of the main streets in our historic downtown.
    • One block north is Festival Park (undergoing a $6,900,000 renovation as you read this!
    • It is next to the public library!
    • It is only 2 blocks from the new $40,000,000 River Walk project.
  • It is where people like to go.
  • There are over 200 public parking places right around it (public lot to the north, library and street parking). This means we don’t have to maintain a full-sized parking lot (that saves us roughly $200,000 over the next 20 years!)
  • We can “build to the edges” of the lot. The lot is less than one acre, however, we could (in the future) more than double the size of the existing facility (current building is 8500 sq/ft.
  • It has existing infrastructure we can work with.  The lot has a totally open 8500 sq/ft building.  It is pretty basic, but the taller end has over 20 ft ceilings.  This can possibly save us hundreds of thousands of dollars on the final project.
  • We can move forward quickly-there are a lot of moving parts to make this happen, but it is very conceivable that we could be worshipping in our new location in less than a year

That all said, the former auto repair garage is, well, ugly.  To say that it will need some work is an understatement. You are going to have to use your imagination (like imagine that it is not mustard yellow).  We know we have to change the outside and the inside to make things work for worship, classrooms and a gathering space.  Is it worth the trouble and expense?

To be honest, I kind of like the idea of renewing a tired, old building.  As a believer, I can’t think of a better metaphor for the work that will be happening inside. Not the building of walls, but the building of souls.  We come to God’s house spiritually tired, and spiritually ugly. Yet, the Holy Spirit renews us through the simple message of the Gospel.  God thought you were worth fixing, worth forgiving.  God thought you were worth the expense. How beautiful that the Bible calls the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit renewal, new life and rebirth because that is just what we needed.

By: Rev. Jared Oldenburg, Castle Rock, CO 



Encouragement in Watertown, New York

On-going ministry in Watertown, New York.

Not too long ago Redemption would sometimes worship with only 7 people. This past Christmas, Redemption moved into a new ministry center and had about 60 people in worship! For us 60 people is amazing. Talking growth trajectory, worship attendance, and other metrics might give the impression, however, that growing a church is easy work. As if by following a pattern or focusing on the right things a church will grow.

But no matter where you live, I have to tell you something: I know it’s not always easy telling people about Jesus. We always have to fight against our sinful nature to tell a friend or co-worker about Jesus. Then when we do and don’t see a result we have to fight our sinful doubts about the power of the Word. Evangelism is a fruit of faith and requires patience, perseverance, and trust that God will provide.

Waiting and trusting that the Lord will bless your work is difficult. At a meeting of New York WELS pastors we share some of the blessings and challenges each of our congregations face. I shared that we had an all time worship attendance high of 52 people and then I lamented that I wasn’t sure how we got to 52 in worship since none of my personal evangelism efforts had come to fruition. One of my fellow pastor friends said jokingly, “I guess MLC won’t be calling you up to speak at Evangelism Day any time soon.” We all laughed.

But in all seriousness I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “Yeah, I think we’ll see you on Sunday” only to notice some missing faces in the congregation. I can’t tell you how many conversations have ended seemingly unproductively in the moment. Each year I have been here we have had to nearly rebuild our prospect list from the ground up. Through those failures the Lord teaches us to value each individual who walks through our church doors and to see them as a blessing from him.

Gospel work certainly requires patience, perseverance, and trust, but along the way God will provide a catch which will give you the encouragement to keep doing work. In July 2016 Josh and Stephanie Bone and their five children dropped in for Sunday worship. The family had been thinking about going back to church, did a google search, found us, and decided to check us out. I invited them back. “Yeah, I think we’ll see you on Sunday,” they said. I didn’t hold my breath. Sunday came and their faces weren’t missing in the crowd. Amazing. I invited them to our annual Art Camp which was coming up. They not only came, but donated food for snacks!

I made several visits to their home and soon we were talking membership. But first they asked me to baptize four of their children on one Sunday. Shortly after that we started a membership course together. The week before Christmas we celebrated our first two adult confirmations in our new ministry center.

A few weeks ago Josh and I met for lunch at a local sandwich shop and he began talking to the cashier about our church. A few hours later he called me up, “Pastor, I think we missed an opportunity. I think we should go back to that shop for lunch so we can invite him to church.” I agreed. That’s the way it is with gospel ministry. You sow, sow, sow, and sow. And every once and a while the Lord will bring you a harvest like the Bone family.

By: Rev. Aaron Goetzinger
Redemption Lutheran Church
Watertown, New York



Ground breaking in Las Vegas

​After nearly eight years meeting in a strip mall worship facility, Shepherd of the Hills is reaching milestones on its path to building its first ministry center for worship and education.

Rev. Tom Unke accepted the call to serve the mission and arrived in June of 2016. The congregation had already purchased land and were well into the planning of the new facility. The Lord has clearly blessed the congregation, even in the midst of the disappointment of the first property purchase falling through. The land that Shepherd of the Hills will build on this winter is located along a freeway and will be seen by thousands of commuters every day.

Rev. Unke says, “Many businesses pay lots of money to be seen by that many people every day. We pray that the high visibility of our new property will translate into lots of visitors and countless opportunities to share the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus.”

On January 29, Shepherd of the Hills broke ground for their construction project which, Lord willing, will be completed by October, 2017. In the mean time, the members and pastor will continue to reach out to all the people who are moving in to northwest Las Vegas each month.  The harvest is truly plentiful!
By: Rev. Thomas Unke
Shepherd of the Hills, Las Vegas, Nev.


Funding approved for new and enhanced ministries

In late March 2017, the Board for Home Missions approved funding for four new Home Mission starts and three ministry enhancements for existing congregations.

Every winter, the board reviews proposals for funding and, based on how much money is available, determines where these gifts to ministry can best serve the Lord’s church. The $554,000 of new project funding for fiscal year 2017–18 is possible through a portion of Congregation Mission Offerings, an endowment payout from the WELS Church Extension Fund, and gifts to the “Every Neighbor, Every Nation” mission campaign.

Shepherd of the Valley, Westminster, Colo., received funding to call a second pastor to start a second campus in the new growing community of Candelas. The multi-site concept, a growing model for congregations around the synod, allows a church to expand its ministry footprint but keep both sites under one financial budget and one leadership team.

Rev. Phil Kieselhorst, pastor at Shepherd of the Valley, says, “The second site campus pastor will focus on organizing and leading consistent outreach efforts, training and coordinating the core group, following up on prospects, teaching and preaching, and providing pastoral assistance to new members.” Current Shepherd of the Valley members already have been canvassing and reaching out to new residents for two years. The congregation is positioned to be one of the first neighborhood churches in this growing area.

At Mt. Lebanon, Milwaukee, Wis., new funding will help with calling a second pastor, allowing Rev. Aaron Bublitz, the congregation’s current pastor, to focus on the pastoral needs of Mt. Lebanon’s elementary school students and their families. The school is part of Milwaukee’s School Choice program, and many of the students come from unchurched families in the neighborhood. Since 2011, 128 people have been baptized through the school, including students and their family members.

“Up until now we have been trying to serve a congregation of 400 souls and a school of 220 (many of whom are unchurched) and, at the same time, aggressively reaching out to our neighborhood with one pastor and one part-time staff minister. The Lord has blessed us with a vibrant ministry and a ripe mission field, but it has been difficult to take advantage of all the opportunities God has placed before us because of resources,” says Bublitz. “This support from the Board for Home Missions will allow us to double our pastoral staff to share the means of grace and equip our congregation to serve, allowing us to reach more people with the life-saving and changing gospel.”

Three additional new mission starts will be funded in Hendersonville, N.C.; Huntersville, N.C.; and Chattanooga, Tenn. In multicultural ministry, Immanuel, Waukegan, Ill., will receive funds to assist with a growing Hispanic ministry. King of Kings, Little Rock, Ark., also received funding to call a full-time pastor.

“Home Missions is about reaching as many of our neighbors as possible with the gospel,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator for Home Missions. “This can be through starting new churches, expanding multicultural outreach, or reaching more families through enhancing existing ministries. This year, Home Missions has been blessed to be able to support different types of ministry work that all have the same goal—sharing God’s Word with our neighbors.”

To learn more about WELS mission work, visit

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder




New Campus Center and Church, Stevens Point, Wis.

On January 29, 2017, approximately 175 people gathered in a morning grand opening service and 200 people gathered in the afternoon at The Word in Stevens Point to give glory to God on the day of its dedication. “The Word” is a new multi-site location which sprung from Divine Word in Plover, Wis. The University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point (which ranks near the top of WELS student attendance at a public university) is less than a mile away from this former American Legion Hall, turned bar, turned night club turned into a place where Christ crucified and risen will be proclaimed to young and old alike!

The idea was born back in 2011 at the School of Outreach in Little Chute, Wis. As our congregation pondered its next steps moving forward in reaching the lost and nurturing the found, the reality became clear that Stevens Point was the largest city in Wisconsin without a WELS church and the University could be a congregation all to itself with the amount of WELS students who attend.  This led to many surveys and meetings and committees which culminated in the calling of a second pastor to focus on campus ministry and outreach (which God answered in May of 2015 through the assignment committee at the Seminary with Pastor Jim Roecker) as well as the start of a search for property in Stevens Point near campus.

In fall of 2015 we were presented with the opportunity to purchase the current property in downtown Stevens Point, which had been abandoned for nearly five years. While certainly much work was needed, the potential was definitely there to turn a 10,000 square foot night club into a worship area and campus center. Partly through a gracious grant from the WELS Campus Ministry Committee, the building was purchased and renovation began in July 2016.

Many thanks need to also go to our partners at WELS Church Extension Fund and the Board for Home Missions. The one time and ongoing grants and subsidy we have received have helped immensely to make this vision a reality. Our collegians now have a beautiful new space to call their own. They are taking on roles in Sunday morning worship and are enjoying their campus center where they come to study, do laundry, make some pizzas, have a cup of coffee, relax and watch a movie or the big game.

Finally, we thank God for YOU, the members of the WELS, for your well wishes, prayers, and congregational mission offerings. Here in Stevens Point is a small glimpse of how and where those dollars are put to work for the present and future of our Synod. If you’re ever in the area, feel free to stop in and look around! Join me in praising God from whom all blessings flow!

By: Rev. Scott Wolfram
Divine Word, Plover, Wis. and The Word, Stevens Point, Wis.



Renovation Complete, New Goals in Stevens Point, WI

January 29, 2017, was the date chosen for our new mission church and student center’s Grand Opening and Dedication. The Word in Stevens Point, Wis., needed to be ready for that special day. To me, the amount of work ahead of God’s people at Divine Word in Plover seemed insurmountable. I can only assume others had similar feelings. Would we be ready to welcome guests and visitors into a completed worship facility? Only time would tell.

On New Year’s Day, our core group started attending The Word for a set of four preview services. The community was welcome to join us as well. After each of those four services we set aside time to evaluate what had just happened in worship. Evaluation forms helped guide our discussion each week under the following categories: Worship, Sermon, Interior Feel, and Exterior Feel. The goal was improvement from week to week as we geared up for our Grand Opening and Dedication services.

Slowly, new interior items began to be delivered. Basic metal folding chairs were replaced with new, padded chairs. Lighting fixtures were installed, an improvement over bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Steady progress was being made toward January 29.

Getting the word out about The Word was also important to the core group. Radio ads about our upcoming opening aired on local Portage County stations. Facebook events were created and shared again and again. A local reporter from the Stevens Point Journal was contacted to run an article about the exciting launch of a new church and student center in downtown Stevens Point. Fifteen different individuals helped to distribute about 4,000 postcards to the communities around The Word, which invited them to join us for our Grand Opening and Dedication.

One week before the big day we recognized the amount of work that needed to be put in to make The Word presentable for visitors. Our core group, other Divine Word members, and UW-SP collegians set aside time every evening to sweep and mop floors, paint doors, clean bathrooms, set up the worship space, and prepare thank-you-for-coming gift bags for all first-time visitors at our January 29 celebration of God’s blessing on our efforts to reach our community with the good news of Christ our Savior.

What seemed like a workload too overwhelming at the beginning – was accomplished by so many individuals that volunteered their time and ability to make sure everyone’s first impression of The Word was a positive one. All that was left to do was to wait for January 29 to come.

No one had a crystal ball to tell us how many people God would lead through our doors that Sunday morning and evening. 161 people came to The Word’s Grand Opening at our 10:00 a.m. service. At least three family units worshiped with us for the very first time. 198 people came together for our dedication service at 4:00 pm in the afternoon. Numerous families from area WELS congregations were in attendance, as well as a handful of first-time and second-time visitors. UWSP collegians and their families attended our services on that Sunday as well.

Recognizing a completed project such as this one in Stevens Point is a great blessing God has granted to Divine Word, The Word, and our Wisconsin synod. Stevens Point is no longer the largest Wisconsin city without a WELS presence. But, we also recognize this renovation project is not the end goal. With God’s blessing, we will strive to proclaim the Word, the good news of Jesus as Savior, to the people of Portage County until Jesus comes again. We implore our Heavenly Father to keep us focused on the only two numbers that matter: the total number of people who are in God’s family versus the total number of people who aren’t.

By: Rev. James Roecker
The Word, Stevens Point, Wis.



Registration open for 54th annual LWMS convention

The 54th annual convention of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) will be held June 22-25, 2017, in Orlando, Fla.

The convention kicks off Thursday evening with an opening worship service led by WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder. Friday and Saturday feature speakers from various WELS mission fields, including Rev. Daniel Sargent, who serves in Africa; Home Missions missionaries; WELS Home Missions Administrator Rev. Keith Free; and WELS World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer.

This year, the Thursday night opening worship service and the Friday and Saturday missionary presentations will be streamed live at

In addition, attendees can choose to attend workshops about the LWMS kids c.a.r.e program, evangelism, and the multi-site congregation model.

For recreation, attendees can opt to visit the Holy Land Experience, a biblical-themed museum, or an airboat ride for Florida wildlife viewing.

The conference will conclude on Sunday with a closing worship service led by South Atlantic District President Rev. Charles Westra.

Registration information can be found at This year, mail-in and online registration is available. Early bird registration ends April 1 and is $190. After April 1, the convention fee is $210. There are special rates for students and children.

Visit for complete convention information and registration.




New Ministry Center in Watertown, N.Y.

On December 11, 2016 we celebrated an amazing milestone for our small congregation up in Northern New York. After nearly two and half years of working together to proclaim Jesus and the free forgiveness of sins in Watertown, our congregation finally moved into our own ministry center. That’s the happy ending (or maybe better put  “happy interlude”…since our work isn’t done), but in order to understand how joy filled we were, you also have to know the story of how we got there.

When I first arrived in Watertown the core group that would become Redemption had already been gathering for bi-monthly worship services in a Ramada Inn conference room. Walking into that room was like stepping back to 1992: floral carpeting with a black background covered the floor and dimly lit mirrored wall sconces surrounded the room. Consider also that in those days it was an exciting Sunday if worship attendance was in the low double digits. Sunday worship would be a tough invite both for our members and our friends. I knew we had to move out and quickly.

We began researching several options for a ministry center, and we began looking for a suitable facility to purchase in November 2014. By the end of November we narrowed the field down to the building we wanted to purchase: a bar turned furniture store which was preparing to close. With the help of the Board for Home Missions and The Church Extension Fund we thought within a few months we would be owners of a building.

But first, we had to come up with a down-payment of $50,000. I swallowed hard, “How are we going to get money like that?” God answered that question through congregations in our District who in a Spirit-driven gesture of love, fellowship, and mission mindedness raised the funds for us. Now we could get the loan processed, papers signed, and the sale closed. But what we thought would take a few months turned into a year of working with CEF and the building owners. The final months were nerve-wracking. After the owners nearly walked away and some last second maneuvering we were able to close on the building around Christmas 2015. What an amazing Christmas present from God!

Finally we could get the building renovated so we could start using the building for ministry. Over the past year we had been working with an architect and a contractor to get our renovation plans ready. We were all ready to get the renovations under way. Then we found out through CEF that the New York State Attorney General requires his office to approve all non-mortgage loans for not for profits. We were connected with a law firm which specialized in non-profit law, and they told us that the approval should come through in four weeks. Four weeks turned into eight. Eight turned into sixteen. Finally, nearly six months later in July 2016, in the height of construction season, we received approval from the Attorney General. Renovations would move forward later in September.

By the beginning of December 2016 renovations were completed, just in time for Christmas. The process was long. It took patience that only our God can give. It took trust that can only flow from the Father who graciously gives all things. We even got to celebrate Christmas in our new facility, and all glory to God we had about 60 people in attendance. That too is a story of God given patience and grace, but that one is for another time.

By Rev. Aaron Goetzinger
Redemption Lutheran Church, Watertown, N.Y.



Let’s share the gospel together

Dear Faith Family,

How would you solve this riddle: “What can survive stoning, fire, deep cuts, and displacement?” You guessed it: our congregation, Peace in Jesus in Boise, Idaho! A vandal threw a rock through our front glass door, deep financial cuts put our funding in question several years ago, and we were displaced by a two-alarm fire in 2010. Yet the Lord has not only allowed Peace in Jesus, a Home Missions start, to survive but to thrive!

We give all glory to God for the tremendous blessings he has poured out on our efforts to share the gospel to Vietnamese souls in the Boise, Idaho, area and beyond. This past December was tremendous, including three baptisms and a record Christmas Day attendance. Our Vietnamese church leaders strive to build up the saints as well as reach out to the lost of the Vietnamese community locally and across the world. We share an important message of “investing ourselves” in the work of the kingdom so our congregation can grow in their lives of service. We are humbled as so many of our brothers and sisters in the faith throughout other areas of our country and world have “invested” in Home Missions ministries like ours through their offerings.

This is why I am writing to you today. I am asking you to help bring the gospel to Vietnamese souls and souls of many other cultures throughout the U.S. God has opened some remarkable doors of opportunity to help accomplish these goals. Through numerous Home Missions efforts we can share what Jesus so powerfully taught about himself: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” These words changed the heart of the man who was an unbeliever and now serves as our congregational president! This man shared a tremendous word of encouragement with me when he first began serving at our church: “I just want you to know, Pastor, you don’t walk alone.” Will you walk with us as we strive to share the gospel with more souls?

Here’s my sense of urgency in writing: There are opportunities in missions we are missing because we lack the funding. Let’s share the gospel together. Please consider giving a generous gift to support the vital work of Home Missions today.

There is a Vietnamese saying: “Fire refines gold; difficulty refines strength.” Our congregation has gone through fire damage as well as the fires of adversity following other challenging events in our short history. Yet our security rests in the promises of the Lord of the nations who said he will never forsake or desert us . . . or you. We have been taught to be thankful in all circumstances and we are. We are not alone in this. Other home missions have experienced challenges and would greatly benefit from additional support for their gospel efforts.

We are not alone because we are a faith family—we have each other. Please know you are loved and appreciated by your Vietnamese sisters and brothers in the faith at Peace in Jesus. Thank you also for the prayers you offer up to the Lord on our behalf. I thank God for you and the partnership we share in the gospel. Please accept our thanks as we, together with you, strive to build up the saints and earnestly reach more souls for Jesus, making known among nations what great things God has done.

God bless and keep you always,
Daniel F. Kramer
Pastor, Peace in Jesus, Boise, Idaho

A Sudanese Christmas in Ottawa

I received a phone call on December 2nd from a Jacob Luk asking if he could make an appointment with me to speak about an issue that he didn’t want to discuss over the phone. All he would say is that he was currently a member at another Lutheran church in Ottawa, and that he would not take more than an hour of my time. Cryptic and intriguing.

I met with Jacob and his wife Elizabeth on Saturday, December 10. They explained that Jacob was the leader/Evangelist of a group of 10 Sudanese families currently worshipping at another Lutheran church not in our fellowship. The church had rented out its fellowship hall to a for-profit daycare operation and the Sudanese had no place to meet and fellowship. In addition, the current pastor was unwilling to serve the group at their Sunday afternoon Nuer service, insisting that they join the core group of the church at their Sunday morning service. The pastor just did not want to risk having two congregations within the same building. As Jacob explained it to me, it was not their goal to have two congregations. On the contrary, most of the English speaking Sudanese attended the Sunday morning worship as a way to be a part of the core group. “We’re looking for one body with two communities.”

Jacob asked if it would be possible to use our facility on Christmas afternoon in order to hold their worship and fellowship meal. Whatever our answer would be–it was the intention of the Sudanese to leave their current congregation and hopefully join St. Paul. After meeting the St. Paul pastors and experiencing our facility, they would make a decision as to their future. Well, I’m not always the quickest study, but this seemed to be a huge Christmas gift opportunity that the Lord was dropping in our lap!

The St. Paul Council approved the use of our building for a Nuer service on Christmas day. We began at two o’clock with a hymn sing while the group gathered. At approximately 2:30 the service began. The service was a simplified worship format of hymn, Old and New Testament readings, opportunity for individuals to arise and either make prayer requests for some event occurring in their life, or, to make a biblical application of a Bible text to their own or the groups spiritual situation. I was asked to preach my Christmas day sermon. Afterwards Pastor Thompson and myself were asked to address the group. They even asked my wife Karen to address the group as one of the “female leaders” of the congregation. We closed with more hymn sing, the Apostles’ Creed and a final blessing.

There were approximately 65 in attendance and the service lasted approximately two hours. Now, onto the potluck meal, delicious! That’s the best way to summarize my Christmas dinner of 2016. There was ample opportunity to meet and speak with several of the leaders over a leisurely meal.

The next step is that Jacob’s leadership will meet and decide what their future will be. Then a meeting will be called between their leadership and the St. Paul pastors. We look forward to where this exciting opportunity may take us. We pray that the Lord blesses this opportunity for a new phase of gospel ministry at our downtown Ottawa congregation.

What a blessed gift we received for Christmas 2016.

Written by: Rev. Harland (Skip) Goetzinger, St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Ottawa, OntarioChairman, WELS-Canada mission district.


Conference highlights multi-site strategy

A recent conference highlighted a rising strategy for expanding mission work—multi-site ministry, in which a congregation carries out gospel ministry at more than one physical location.

“More and more congregations as they’re looking to find new places and reach more people with the gospel are considering a multi-site ministry as a viable option,” says Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn, chairman of the Board for Home Missions. “It allows them to establish a new spot and reach new communities that otherwise they wouldn’t think of doing.”

A growing number of WELS congregations are using this approach to expand their gospel outreach, and five of the eight new mission starts authorized by Home Missions in 2016 are multi-site ministries.

Divine Peace in Garland, Texas, was one of those congregations that received funding. Rev. John Hering, pastor at Divine Peace, says that three years ago the congregation noticed a community across the lake (about 20 minutes away) growing by 160 new families a month. Six families in the congregation already lived in that area. “We saw the opportunity,” says Hering. “We started dreaming and thinking, but we really didn’t know what it would look like.”

When the 180-member congregation applied for funding to call a second pastor, it was just learning about multi-site ministries. Gunnar Ledermann, a 2016 graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., was assigned to serve as Divine Peace’s second pastor and help establish its second site.

Right away Ledermann noticed the benefits of having one congregation with multiple sites, including built-in congregational leadership, structure, volunteers, and shared resources. “It allowed me to come in and not have to worry about these things because they were already taken care of,” he says. “It has freed me up to meet people . . . and allowed both of us to do more evangelism work at both locations because we are one congregation.”

Yet Divine Peace still had questions. “We had a ministry plan in place and we have been laying groundwork, but it was the multi-site conference that helped us connect all the dots,” says Hering. Ten people from that congregation attended the WELS Multi-Site Conference, held Nov. 14–16 at Grace, a multi-site congregation with four locations in Benson, Sahuarita, Tucson, and Vail, Arizona. The conference was made possible by an Antioch II grant.

Conference workshop topics focused on key multi-site components including communication, staffing, volunteers, budget and finances, merging two or more congregations, and organizational structure. Attendees also had a chance to hear firsthand from others at all different stages in multi-site ministry. “We didn’t want information to come from a book,” says Rev. Daron Lindemann, chairman of the conference planning committee and pastor at Holy Word, a multi-site church in Austin and Pflugerville, Texas. “[Attendees] had a chance to rub elbows with about 50 churches represented by 144 people and hear the stories of multi-site churches.”

The conference also gave attendees time to process what they’ve learned and start making plans about how to incorporate it into their ministries. “We wanted to help people clarify and crystallize what [multi-site ministry] involves so that they can go into it thoughtfully,” says Lindemann.

Hering says the conference answered his congregation’s questions and offered different suggestions of ways to minister to multiple locations as one congregation. “We’re trying to remain appropriately flexible in both locations while at the same time make use of the gifts people have on both campuses,” says Hering. “It helps the congregation stay united in their vision, seeing that they are doing outreach as a whole rather than dividing up between locations.”

Though Divine Peace has been having worship services in Rockwall since March, it held its grand opening for the community Dec. 4.

According to Uhlhorn, while establishing multi-site ministries is popular right now, it is not replacing the traditional new starts authorized by Home Missions. He does, however, see advantages. “It’s a new mission, but it’s also got some real live partners that are working every day together to spread the gospel in new places.”

For more information about multi-site ministry, contact conference planning committee members, Rev. Nathan Strutz,, or Rev. Peter Kruschel, Learn more about home mission opportunities at




We are the messengers

I walked back to my car disappointed. Another one of my contacts told me that they belonged to a different church. I had been in Liberty Hill for around two months, and those first couple months were dedicated to following up with contacts that Pastor Patterson had made before I arrived. He had met about 40 people in the Liberty Hill area who signed up to receive a daily e-prayer. So when I arrived in Liberty Hill the first thing I did was visit all these contacts in order to introduce myself and let them know I’d be taking over the daily prayers and holding Sunday worship services. One of those contacts was Ben—who had just told me his family attended church elsewhere.

messengers-libertytx-102016-350For the next month or so, I continued to send out the daily prayer. One day, Ben’s wife, Kendra, emailed me back. She explained that she loved the daily prayers, that they spoke to her, and they were looking for a closer church home. Just before Christmas, Kendra attended a worship service to test it out. Shortly after that, she was consistently bringing both her 2-year-old son and her husband. They joined our Bible 101 class and began to dig into the truths of God’s word. We made it to the baptism lesson and I let Scripture explain how baptism is a gift from God. We explored how in baptism God makes us his child, and he offers us forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we finished the lesson, Kendra exclaimed, “Baptism is awesome!”

It turns out Kendra had been baptized, but their 2-year-old son and Ben had not.  We scheduled a date and their 2-year-old son was the first baptism at our new church. Ben wasn’t quite ready at that time. So I continued to be patient and let God’s Word work on his heart. When he was ready, we met at the church and I baptized him in a private ceremony. It was an incredible experience for both me and the family.

You never know how God will bring people to him and you never know when. People coming to faith has nothing to do with our own work and our own timeline. We simply get to be the messengers and faithful servants, and what a privilege that is.

Rev. Stephen Apt is the pastor for Peace Lutheran Church in Liberty Hill, Tex.


Using programs to spread the gospel

Aymee and her husband Adam had just moved all the way from Canada down to Tyler, Texas. Adam had taken a job with the salt industry and Aymee was a stay-at-home mom with three children. She was looking to connect and make friends in the area and that’s when she came across our Facebook post offering our new session for Mornings with Mommy.

Pastor Daniel Schmidt participating in the puppet show

Pastor Daniel Schmidt participating in the puppet show

Originally, our congregation used this program as a way to get to know the moms with the hopes that they would eventually check us out on Sundays and hear more about Jesus, but none of the ladies had taken that next step. So, we decided to become more proactive and give the moms and their children the opportunity to learn about Jesus the same day that we offered the program. We have a puppet show for the kids based on a Bible passage and a song that points them to Jesus. After the class, we invite all the mothers to stay for a fifteen-minute devotion. Some of our volunteers watch the children while the moms, another volunteer, and I gather in a classroom.

In our context, a lot of the moms are already very active in their own churches. So what I say at the end of every session is, “Ladies, we offer Mornings with Mommies because we want to pour into you and your children emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We know that many of you have your own church home and that’s great! Our goal is not to steal you away from your church but to supplement what you’re already hearing and give you a spiritual shot in the arm. So please join us for a 15-minute devotion where you can ask any questions you’d like and hear what God has to say to you in his word.”

That little introduction has proved to be very disarming and what we’ve found is that many of the moms tend to stick around. When the churched moms start coming to the classroom, some of the unchurched ones feel more comfortable to check it out.

The first time Aymee came to Mornings with Mommy, she saw a large group of ladies heading to the classroom and she decided to follow along. At that time, we were doing a series based on a book called “The Lies We Believe”. We identified different lies that we all tell ourselves and then we replaced them with God’s Truth. The Holy Spirit did his thing. Aymee was hooked. God’s word came alive and she kept coming back. Later, Aymee told me that she had grown up attending Catholic school and that she had learned more in our fifteen-minute devotions than she had in all of those years in parochial school. Ever since, she and her family have been making Sunday morning worship a regular part of their week.

Aymee reminded us that if people are coming to what we’re offering, we might as well give them the gospel while they’re there.

My encouragement to those that are offering any kind of program hoping to make a connection with their community is to remember what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

Pastor Daniel Schmidt serves Faith Lutheran Church in Tyler, Tex. 


You have made our year

Each trimester (4-month period), Illumine Church in Rock Hill, S.C., partners with a local organization. We choose organizations that, by design and mission, benefit the community in one way or another. This past summer, we chose Rosewood Elementary School.

illumine-rockhill-09222016-350-2The partnership took several forms. We did some special projects for them (the kind you can’t quite get to but wish would get done). We hosted a Teacher Appreciation Luncheon, which they enjoyed quite a bit, due largely to the fact that we served Chick-Fil-A. Another South Carolina congregation got involved (Beautiful Savior in Summerville) and collected 20+ backpacks filled with age-appropriate supplies for the students. We had an in-house school supply drive as well, which was “teacher focused,” meaning we gathered the kinds of things teachers end up purchasing throughout the year: Kleenex, hand-sanitizer, pencils (we spent one Sunday morning after worship just sharpening pencils!), paper towels, and wet wipes.

As we were delivering the truck full of supplies, the excitement was palpable. The teachers and administration staff started to line the halls as they watched cart after cart of supplies go by. “How big is this church?” “How long did they collect?” “What do we owe you?” Of course, they owed us nothing, we’d collected for a couple months, and we are a small mission congregation. But being small doesn’t mean that much when God’s people set their minds and hearts on a generous goal.

As we were leaving, the school administrator was offering her and the faculty’s thanks for the gifts, and she said, “You’ve made our day…no, you’ve made our year!” It was a kind thing to say, and the looks of pride and happiness on Illumine’s member’s faces when I told them all this story reminded everyone of a crucial truth. When we serve others, they certainly benefit. How much more, though, do we, who go about gospel-motivated service, benefit as we see the encouragements of Jesus – to care for, to feed, to love – yield the heart-warming rewards he promises they will bring.

Each trimester, we choose a local organization, working to encourage them with gospel-motivated service – and each trimester, God’s people at Illumine grow in contentment, love, compassion, and kindness as they do their work as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Rev. Kent Reeder, Illumine Lutheran Church, Rock Hill, S. C.


We are all the same

I drove into a premiere retirement community last night. It recently gained recognition as an Inspired Community for a brand called Southern Living. It is too. Inspired, I mean. The golf courses are gorgeous. The homes are sprawling Southern marvels. The eateries and clubhouses with their manicured lawns and fine dining are affairs right out of a Southern dream. I’m a fan. A big one.

I remember interviewing others pastors about the spirituality in Aiken when I first got here. Without prompting they all said the same thing about the community. “It’s tough to reach,” they said. “The people are too comfortable. They’re too highly educated and affluent.” I was new. I had no idea if those were unfair stereotypes or realistic generalizations, so I mentally filed the comments.

Until I unfiled them last night. You know why I did? I checked in at the gatehouse of the community, and I drove to meet a group of people who were affluent, highly educated, and driven people who are loving the Lord’s Word. I drove past manicured greens and blooming magnolias to a home where the Shepherd was making souls lay down in the green grass of his Word and rest in the flower of the gospel. And I unfiled those comments and decided the Lord has gracious plans that we can’t foresee.

The fantastic and talented woman who designs and builds all those magnificent homes I was driving past? I’m her pastor now. Those two homes over there? They held families I now pastored. And why was I driving past them? I was headed to the home of the top real estate agent for the whole community to teach her and eight of her best friends the gospel. When I drove up, I just about lost it with joy because a noted interior designer handed me a crucifix she had bought in Jerusalem. She wanted me to have it because I was her pastor who taught her everything she knows about Christ. I was filled with joy. Then I sat down next to a retired Bostonian to begin the class and listened as she explained with tear rimmed eyes how the gospel was releasing her from years of crushing guilt.

We’re all the same. All of us. We’re all suffering the wreckage of our sin. Glittering, so-called success doesn’t minister to it. Ambition doesn’t either. Not even the beauty of magnolias or the so-called rest of a premiere retirement can. No, only the otherworldly beauty and supernatural success of Christ’s cross can deliver real and lasting peace to the soul. And it does. In spades. Forgiveness, love, hope, and peace bloom in its shadow.

I drove away last night with that crucifix and I rejoiced at what it meant as a gift to me. It was more than a token. It was a soul formerly oppressed in ways nobody could see announcing to me that she’d been freed by the gospel. I found joy in that. But you know what I was even more joyful about? That the message of that crucifix is true for me too. He’s my Christ. He’s yours too, dear reader.

Written by Rev. Jonathan Bourman, Peace Lutheran Church, Aiken, South Carolina.


Moments with Missionaries: Castries, St. Lucia


Thomas C. Spiegelberg II

As pastors, we feel confident that we have the one thing needful at our disposal—the Word of God. It will not return to the Lord empty but will carry out the purpose for which he has sent it.

Maybe what we are most ill-prepared for is the particular context to which God has called us—a new culture. Most home missionaries don’t have to learn a new language, but we sometimes need to empty ourselves of what we know and enjoy so we can share Jesus with a different culture. Sometimes we push back like Jonah. More often we swim in a mixture of the unknown, the intimidating, and the exciting world that we call home missions.

My calling is to an island that in and of itself is a unique place. The Denver Broncos is a household name in only one household—mine. Beef is a luxury. People here dance—and it is not the chicken dance. I have as much rhythm as a jellyfish. Every day I wake up and convince myself that I know nothing but Christ crucified and this is my calling to share.

Bringing the gospel to others comes at a personal cost—giving up your own familiar culture to understand and bridge the gap to what is unfamiliar. My challenge is the families whose circumstances and lives are different. Eighty-three percent of St. Lucian children born in 2010 were born into a single-family home. This speaks volumes on the family dynamic.

Ricky lives up the street from Trinity Lutheran Church. He lives in a small house made of two-by-fours and plywood. His family makes less than $5,000 a year.


Ricky (pictured in the green hat), Castries, St. Lucia

Ricky is like most 12-year-old boys. He loves sports, especially soccer. He hates school and has fallen behind. The after-school programs at Trinity provide the educational help his family can’t afford elsewhere. He has few male role models, except for one of Trinity’s pastors, Bramdeo Ramgolam, who has a way of connecting with kids like Ricky. Ricky is nominally Catholic, which means he was baptized and goes to Christmas Eve Mass.

Typical to St. Lucia, he has a one-in-five chance of graduating high school with passing marks. He is back and forth between his mother’s house and his father’s house. His mother’s current boyfriend has been accused of molesting Ricky’s older sister. One afternoon, Ricky hid in church to avoid the domestic violence in his house. Such conflict is the rule rather than the exception.

Statistically speaking, Ricky will be unemployed until at least 24. He will not have enough academic background to hold a middle-class job. He will be related to someone who is murdered. He will know what a church is but not who Jesus is. He will father children but struggle at being a father.

That’s according to statistics.

We have a greater power than culture or statistics: Christ crucified and him alone.

What does a day in the life of a home missionary look like? Simply put, it means emptying yourself of everything you know except Christ crucified. It means figuring out how to bring the gospel to a kid like Ricky.

My job is personally challenging. I feel equipped with the Word but grossly inadequate in personal traits. My job is exciting, exotic, frustrating, challenging, and sad on any given day.

But my calling is filled with joy: “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1).

My calling in Christ is confident: “The righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).

I love being a home missionary.

Tom Spiegelberg serves as a home missionary at Trinity, Castries, St. Lucia.



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


Learn more about WELS mission work in St. Lucia.



Author: Thomas C. Spiegelberg II
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Sharing The Good News With Every Neighbor: Home Missions: Indiana

God is richly blessing the work of WELS Home Missions. Missionaries and their members are finding ways to share God’s good news with friends, relatives, neighbors—and sometimes even strangers at local fast food restaurants. Here are some of their stories.

Nicole R. Balza

Michele is a member of Beautiful Savior. She stopped at McDonald’s one night and happened to have on her T-shirt from our soccer camp the year before. As she was eating, she heard some children debating whether the imprint on the shirt was, in fact, a soccer ball. Michele seized the opportunity to tell them that it was a soccer ball. She then told them about Beautiful Savior’s soccer camp and gave them our website so that they could register and participate. And they did. They attended and proudly wore their own shirts imprinted with a soccer ball logo on the front and the 2016 theme on the back: “I press on toward the goal in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 3:14.

Kevin Boushek, home missionary at Beautiful Savior, La Porte, Ind.

Nicole Balza, a staff writer for Forward in Christ magazine, is a member at Bethlehem, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. 


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




Author: Nicole R. Balza and various writers
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Sharing The Good News With Every Neighbor: Home Missions: South Carolina

God is richly blessing the work of WELS Home Missions. Missionaries and their members are finding ways to share God’s good news with friends, relatives, neighbors—and sometimes even strangers at local fast food restaurants. Here are some of their stories.

Nicole R. Balza

Beautiful Savior, Moncks Corner, S.C., dedicated its first church in May. “Our partnership with the WELS Board for Home Missions and WELS Church Extension Fund has provided us with a wonderful facility, built to God’s glory,” says Jonathan Quinn, home missionary at Beautiful Savior. “We are already starting to see the fruit of the gospel proclamation we have been able to do in our church building. We held vacation Bible school here this summer, and registrations are coming in for preschool in falljust two more opportunities to connect with the community and connect those souls to Jesus through the gospel!”


Illumine, Rock Hill, S.C.

Twice a year, Illumine holds a free yard sale. We prepare food and coffee for all who visit. Hundreds of people stop by, some in great need, all encouraged by the thought that churches can still be generous.

During our first sale, a young family who had worshiped with us a couple of times came to peruse the goods. They had a one-year-old boy and another child on the way. During the sale, the mother asked me what she needed to do to get her little baby boy baptized.

My answer was simple, “You just need to ask! When should we do it?”

The family was eagerthey wanted to have the baptism right then and there, We gathered up everyone who was shopping and volunteering, brought them all into the sanctuary, and laughed and applauded as this little boy was washed clean of his sins through the precious gift of baptismal grace. It was a great day to be a mission church!

Kent Reeder, home missionary at Illumine, Rock Hill, S.C.



Mornings with Mommy, Amazing Grace, Myrtle Beach

The Mornings with Mommy program, developed by WELS member Jessica Panitzke, is used in many home mission congregations. The community program offers classes with age-appropriate activities for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. As Panitzke notes, “Each class is a little different because each one has its own theme, but the basic structure is consistent. We begin with language and literacy activities. Then the instructor explains the different stations set up in the room, which the children can explore at their own pace. At the end of the hour, a snack is served.”

Congregations like Amazing Grace, Myrtle Beach, S.C., appreciate the well-organized curriculum that Panitzke has developed because it opens the door to a pre-evangelism
opportunity to their neighbors. As Ben Zahn, pastor at Amazing Grace, explains, “Mornings with Mommy (pictured) exists to welcome the members of our community into our building, to build relationships with members of our church family, and to build a bridge with those who may be looking for a church home. Anywhere from 7 to 16 moms (as many as 23 kids) attend our twice-a-month sessions. We’ve been blessed to have five families join the congregation since we began offering this program six years ago.”

David and Kris Hart and their kids became members at Amazing Grace, Myrtle Beach, S.C., in January 2015. Across the cul-de-sac from their home, Nick and Angel Santangelo lived with their son, Gavin. David and Kris’ son, Ryan, played frequently with Gavin and invited Gavin to come to church with him.


David and Kris Hart and family. Ryan Hart pictured in front left.

As Angel Santangelo explains, she and her husband felt it was important to raise their son in the Christian faith but wanted to look beyond the Catholic and Baptist churches in which they’d been raised. Ryan helped them take the next step with his invitation to visit Amazing Grace.

“Gavin wanted to attend on Easter 2015,” says Angel. “However, we had family in town and ended up going to the Catholic Church. Gavin took it upon himself to tell the Harts that he would go with them the following Sunday. Since we had been looking for a church, Nick and I decided that we needed to go as a family. We immediately felt welcome and knew that Sunday that we had finally found our church.”


Rev. Ben Zahn baptizes Gavin

Ben Zahn, home missionary at Amazing Grace, followed up with the Santangelos the next week. They asked about Baptism since Gavin had never been baptized. After digging into the Scriptures and talking about Baptism, the Santangelos asked Zahn to baptize Gavin the next Sunday. Soon Nick and Angel attended Amazing Grace’s Starting Point class, where they learned more about God’s Word and how to apply it to their lives.

Angel notes, “Once we started attending [Amazing Grace], Jesus became the center of a lot of our daily conversations. We began to see our family grow in Christ’s love, and we have become stronger as Christians and as a family.”

Zahn says, “Nick and Angel have been active participants in the ministry at Amazing Grace. Their story is a testament that children are sometimes the best evangelists.”

Nicole Balza, a staff writer for Forward in Christ magazine, is a member at Bethlehem, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. 


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




Author: Nicole R. Balza and various writers
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Mission Updates





Pastor Alvien De Guzman, a native Philippine missionary, serves a small flock of faithful believers in a suburb of Manila. They are using videos and printed materials from Multi-Language Publications to reach out to the unchurched in their community and are looking to begin ministering to prospects in outlying areas. WELS supports De Guzman and Law and Gospel Evangelical Lutheran Church with monthly contact and additional resources.




Iliyan Itsov, a pastor in the Bulgarian Lutheran Church, has a new mission project in Europe: outreach to Roma (gypsies). A Roma himself, Itsov has a unique understanding about how to share the gospel with the western world’s most mistreated ethnic group, a group numbering about 10 million people. He ministers to the Romani in five villages in Bulgaria, including training leaders in each village to conduct worship. Pictured is a new group in Zlataritsa, Bulgaria, where a core group of 17 Roma worships weekly using sermons Itsov provides. Itsov is also working with WELS sister churches in Europe to gather groups of Roma workers and immigrants whom these sister churches will then serve.


Liberian spiritual leader Isaac David is reaching out to legal immigrants in Las Vegas, Nev., as well as working to establish the Confessional Lutheran Church in Liberia. He opened a church in Las Vegas—the Chapel of Improvement Christian Fellowship—and is working closely with Water of Life in Las Vegas. He also is studying with local WELS pastors. David and several WELS pastors traveled to Liberia in April 2016 to train leaders and members (pictured in top photo) and to attend the church body’s first convention.

United States

The Board for Home Missions authorized eight new mission starts in 2016, five of which are second sites for established congregations. The new ministries include:

Rockwall, Texas: Connected with Divine Peace in Garland, Texas, this multi-site mission will have two locations for worship, but one leadership team and budget. More than 20 members from Divine Peace are living in the target area.

Victoria, Texas: A second pastor will be needed to serve this new multi-site mission outreach by Redeemer, Edna, Texas, as the pastor at Redeemer offers both English and Spanish worship each Sunday.

Stevens Point, Wis.: In 2015, Divine Word, Plover, Wis., called a second pastor to focus on campus ministry at UW–Stevens Point as well as reach out in the community. Recently, Divine Word purchased a building for a campus center and second worship site.

Meridian, Idaho: Cross of Christ, Boise, Idaho, is starting this multi-site mission to serve families living in the neighboring city of Meridian.

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: Members of St. Matthew, Spokane, Wash., will support this new mission, located about 35 miles away. More than 25 adult members will make up the launch team that will work with the mission pastor.

Lehi, Utah: Prince of Peace, Salt Lake City, is starting this mission south of Salt Lake City in an area that has a strong Mormon presence.

Fredericksburg, Va.: Members from Trinity, Woodbridge, Va., are eager to start a mission in this growing community about 40 miles away.

Atlanta, Ga.: The city of Atlanta is ringed by seven WELS churches. Over the past two years, WELS members have been holding Bible studies in the city, and a core group has been established.


For 53 years, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) has been increasing awareness of, interest in, and support of WELS mission outreach. More than 1,100 women met at the recent 2016 national convention in St. Charles, Ill., to learn more about missions and to show their support. About $53,000 was gathered during the convention for mission projects, and more than $143,000 was received throughout the year.


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


Get missions updates and other ministry news with the Together e-newsletter and video updates. Subscribe today!



Author: Various Authors
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Moments with Missionaries: Sparks, Nevada


Steven M. Hillmer

Growing up in the mid-1960s, Greg said his mom would drop him off at church on Sunday, but she did not attend. Greg learned about Jesus in a general way, but inconsistencies made it difficult for him to connect with Jesus in a personal way.

Things changed when he was 14. The offering was taken, and the plates were brought forward. The pastor received them and announced, “You can do better,” so he passed them back to the ushers for a second round. That was the last time Greg attended church.

Fast-forward 42 years. Greg’s wife, Joloyce, began attending The Springs, a WELS home mission in Sparks, Nevada. At first Greg did not attend. He drove her to church but stayed in the car to read. Eventually Greg joined her for worship and attended congregational meals.


Joloyce and Greg, The Springs, Sparks, Nevada

About six months passed. It was time to invite Greg to join the new Bible information class, but Greg wasn’t feeling well. He was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer.

But while cancer was doing its thing, the Holy Spirit was at work doing what he does. At the services Greg attended, he heard the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit created faith in his heart. Greg now warmly welcomed visits and devotions. He discovered the love of other believers, expressed through their phone calls, cards, and compassion.

On Pentecost Sunday, Greg was too weak to come to worship, so an afternoon visit was in order. I began by reading the Pentecost account. We talked about how Peter didn’t sugarcoat his message. When I asked Greg if he knew how many people were baptized that day, he instantly replied, “Three thousand! We just read this in our morning devotion.”

Then Greg said, “I want to get my house in order. I want to be baptized.”

We filled a bowl with water and rejoiced. With God’s Word, the water became a wonderful water of life. The Holy Spirit bestowed upon Greg the blessings of Baptism—forgiveness of sins, salvation, and the assurance of eternal life. It was an incredible moment.

Greg’s health declined rapidly. One morning, we stood by Greg’s bed reading Scriptures, praying, and singing hymns. Then we sat around the kitchen table. A few minutes later, Joloyce walked back to Greg, and his labored breathing had ended. His eyes were closed. Greg was home with Jesus.

I stayed with Joloyce into the afternoon. We closed with a devotion on Psalm 130, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope” (v. 5). Greg’s waiting was over. Now Greg’s new day had dawned. No more cancer. No more pain. Just Jesus and the joy he promises.

I left with several bags of pennies. A few weeks earlier, Greg had mentioned that he wanted his coins to be put in our congregation’s building fund. My sons counted the rolls—9,650 pennies, or $96.50. The next day, Joloyce said that they found the rest of Greg’s coins. This time it wasn’t just pennies, but nickels, dimes, and quarters too. The total rose to $516!

The following Sunday’s Gospel lesson was the story of the sinful woman who poured oil on Jesus’ feet. She knew she had been forgiven much, and she wanted to express her love. Near the end of the sermon, I shared Greg’s story and placed his envelope in the offering plate. Greg had been forgiven much. Greg loved much, and he wanted to share what he had to help others know of Jesus’ love.

This is why we plant missions and share the gospel. Some might say this happened just in the nick of time for Greg, but it was all in God’s timetable. We at The Springs were privileged to be God’s instruments, sharing his love and grace.

Steven Hillmer serves as a home missionary at The Springs, Sparks, Nevada.



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




Author: Steven M. Hillmer
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Sharing The Good News With Every Neighbor: Home Missions: Michigan

God is richly blessing the work of WELS Home Missions. Missionaries and their members are finding ways to share God’s good news with friends, relatives, neighbors—and sometimes even strangers at local fast food restaurants. Here are some of their stories.

Nicole R. Balza


Residents and caretakers of a local adult care home join members at Spirit of Life, Caledonia, Mich., for worship every Sunday. As Allen Kirschbaum, home missionary at Spirit of Life, reports, “Our members love to walk out to the cars and guide the residents into our sanctuary. Each month we have activities for those residents, such as making decorations for our Christmas trees and a Christmas play. Their faith is a massive encouragement to a young mission congregation.



Crown of Life, Cadillac, Mich.

When I was assigned to Crown of Life as a home missionary, I knew that a major part of my job would entail sharing the gospel with the unchurched. But after my first nine months and no one interested in Bible information class, I was pretty down on myself and on the work.

But the Lord had a plan.

On the day my daughter was baptized, a young couple visited our church. They were expecting twins and looking for a church home. After the service, I talked to the couple and invited them to our potluck. They talked to more people and decided to enroll in Bible information class.

Four months later, I confirmed the parents (my first confirmands) and baptized the twins in the same service. Three years later, they are faithful in worship and Bible class. This fall, they will be part of our inaugural preschool-aged weekly Bible camp.

Jeff Sonntag, home missionary at Crown of Life, Cadillac, Mich.

Nicole Balza, a staff writer for Forward in Christ magazine, is a member at Bethlehem, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. 


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



Author: Nicole R. Balza and various writers
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Using Cultural Connections to further Outreach: St. Paul, Minnesota


Julie K. Wietzke

With 230 members, Immanuel Hmong, St. Paul, Minn., is the largest US WELS Hmong congregation. But it’s not only concentrating on spreading the gospel message in Minnesota. Since fall 2015, Immanuel Hmong has been livestreaming its worship services to broaden the spread of the gospel to Hmong people around the world. “This will help us to share the gospel to places where we are not able to go or where our people do not have a church,” says Pheng Moua, pastor at Immanuel Hmong. WELS Hmong members also can tell their loved ones around the world about this opportunity for weekly worship. About 50 people watch every week from places such as Thailand, Vietnam, France, Australia, East Asia, Laos, and the United States.

Immanuel Hmong also was the site of the recent WELS Hmong National Conference (pictured), in which Hmong pastors and laymembers from around the world strengthened their faith through worship and Bible study and learned more about each other’s ministries.

More than 165 people came from Hmong congregations such as

• Grace Hmong, a home mission in Kansas City, Kan., that recently obtained its own worship facility through a special grant and loan from WELS Church Extension Fund.

• Faith Hmong, Anchorage, Alaska, which shares a building with Faith Anglo, a congregation reaching out to Spanish-speakers.

• Mount Calvary Hmong, a congregation supported by La Crosse, Wis., area WELS churches.

• Trinity Hmong, Manitowoc, Wis., a congregation that grew out of a 30-year mission of First German to reach an immigrant community in Manitowoc.

• Christ’s Gospel Hmong, Clovis, and Faith Hmong, Fresno, two newer California congregations reaching out to family and clan members in the area.

One pastor and his wife from Thailand also attended.

“The encouraging moment is when I see members who live in places where we do not have a church or the church is very small come and see that we have many people worshiping and praising the Lord,” says Moua, who helped plan the conference. “The gathering is uplifting to the members and will encourage their walk with Jesus Christ.”

Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


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




Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Using Cultural Connections to further Outreach: Combining Home and World Mission outreach efforts


Julie K. Wietzke

“Around 15 million Hmong are living in darkness. They are oppressed, not only by the power of the devil but also by the power of men,” says Bounkeo Lor, a native Hmong man trained as a pastor through the Pastoral Studies Institute of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

Lor has a passion for reaching out to his Hmong brothers and sisters. With a foot in outreach in both the United States (pastor at Grace Hmong, Kansas City, Kan.) and abroad (teaching leadership workshops in Vietnam), he is a natural pick as one of two Hmong pastors serving on the WELS Global Hmong Committee, a group that oversees Hmong ministry around the world.

Started as a pilot project in 2015 by the Joint Mission Council, this four-person committee allows the Hmong to have a greater input and responsibility for outreach to their people group. This includes weighing outreach opportunities—both domestic and international—and determining where funds should be spent. “It’s not a bunch of white guys making a decision of what’s best for Hmong ministry, but it’s guys on the front lines who know the culture,” says Robert Raasch, World Missions representative on the Global Hmong Committee. “You get the best of both worlds: men with a strong theological foundation and a passion for outreach—and it’s their culture.”


In January, the Global Hmong Committee met with Hmong national pastors and lay leaders in Thailand to share ministry developments and to discuss further opportunities for working together.

Worldwide in WELS, 25 Hmong pastors serve 8 ministries in the United States and 15 congregations and preaching stations in Thailand and the surrounding area. In addition, there are new opportunities for further Hmong outreach in Vietnam and East Asia and potential for new ministries in the United States.

Lor shares that family, or clan, connections are strong in the Hmong culture, tying these world and home mission fields together. This, he says, makes a joint committee all that more important. “We need each other for the growth of the Hmong ministry,” he says.

He continues, “Sometimes the gap of doing ministry across cultures is so wide that without Hmong representatives, we may lack insight into the best way to do Hmong ministry.”

Both he and Pheng Moua, the other Hmong pastor on the committee, are thankful to be part of a group that is working to further Hmong outreach around the world.

“It is an honor to serve the Lord in this capacity and to touch the lives of the Hmong in different locations and walks of life spiritually,” says Moua. “I serve them to the best of my ability as a bridge builder, to connect and to share their concerns and to walk alongside them. It is not my intention to enforce programs and plans for the mission field; it is my intention to let them grow and take ownership of the mission and ministry.”

He continues, “Hmong outreach is a part of the Great Commission inside the Lord’s church. We will do as much as we can to reach out to them so that their souls will be saved.”

Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


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




Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

A New Way to Reach Spanish Speakers: Serving both sides of the border


Rachel Hartman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dalila Campos

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

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


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


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



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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Sharing The Good News With Every Neighbor: Home Missions: More Home Missions

God is richly blessing the work of WELS Home Missions. Missionaries and their members are finding ways to share God’s good news with friends, relatives, neighbors—and sometimes even strangers at local fast food restaurants. Here are some of their stories.

Nicole R. Balza



Santo Tomas, Phoenix, Ariz.

Santo Tomas, Phoenix, Ariz., has been reaching out with the gospel since 1997. Every week Jorge and his wife, Gaby, along with their daughter visit homes throughout the west valley of Phoenix. They lead adult and children’s Bible classes and activities, all with the goal of bringing Jesus and his love into their lives. Jorge is a volunteer evangelist for Santo Tomas and serves on its church council.

As Tom Zimdars, home missionary to Santo Tomas, explains, “These home group classes break down the barriers and fears that some may have about attending a church at first. It is an informal setting as they gather in living rooms and at kitchen tables growing and learning about their Savior.”


Dan Kramer, home missionary at Peace, Boise, Idaho, in Jesus, says, “As the ministry and opportunities our congregation is given to continue to become broader and more global, we keep clear and primary our call to reach out to the Vietnamese souls in the greater Treasure Valley (Boise, Idaho, area)with the true treasure, which is Christ and his gospel.”



Blair, Neb.

Dan Johnston arrived in Blair, Neb., in July 2015 to open a new WELS home mission congregation, Living Savior. The congregation’s first services began taking place this summer. Johnston says, “Living Savior is trying to create an environment—both individually and corporately—that fosters personal evangelism excitement. There is a coffee bar in our leased space that is open to the public during office hours. The members are also being instructed in reaching out to people in their personal lives. Friendship evangelism and forming real connections are where the rubber hits the road for us.”



Redemption, Watertown, N.Y.

Gunnar, the son of a member family, goes to a university about an hour-and-a-half away. While away, Gunnar began dating Holly. When Gunnar would come home, he came to church. Holly came too. After the first couple of visits, I noticed that Holly was really attentive during the sermons. Since Gunnar would usually stay for Bible class, she would too.

After a while, she approached me and asked what it would take to get baptized. So I told her, “Let’s begin a Bible basics class. We’ll go through a few lessons and see if you still want to be baptized and then finish it and you can take communion.”

She would come with Gunnar almost twice a week to study Bible basics. She would ask insightful questions like, “Why do some teach this when Scripture obviously says this?”

So we got to celebrate an adult baptism—one more 20-something the Lord added to our small group. As a congregation, we were ecstatic.

I know that the “nones” (those who say their religion affiliation is “none”) are on a rise, but I have evidence in our small congregation that the Word of God is still powerful enough to change people. We are a congregation meeting in a conference center with digital music and with a small group of people, Who would want to come? On paper, it doesn’t make sense. But it doesn’t have to, because our message is the power of God for salvation.

Aaron Goetzinger, home missionary at Redemption, Watertown, N.Y.

Nicole Balza, a staff writer for Forward in Christ magazine, is a member at Bethlehem, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. 


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




Author: Nicole R. Balza and various writers
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us