Celebrating 20 years of Hispanic outreach in Phoenix

On Nov. 25, Santo Tomas, Phoenix, Ariz., celebrated its 20th anniversary. This Spanish-speaking mission congregation averages four baptisms per month and has confirmed more than 18 adults and 13 youth this year. Each month, the congregation welcomes an average of 23 first-time visitors.

“Friendship evangelism is a key part of our growth as family ties and trust form an important bond,” says Rev. Tom Zimdars, one of Santo Tomas’s two pastors. “Most of our members enter the congregation via special celebrations like baptisms, weddings, and quinceañeras.”

Zimdars notes that as visitors encounter the gospel, “they receive the joy and peace of knowing that their sins are forgiven through faith in Christ, and this message continues to work in their lives as they grow in their faith and share their faith with their family and friends.”

Santo Tomas was formed in 1997 by St. Thomas, an English-speaking congregation that saw the growing Latino community and need for a Spanish-speaking ministry. Santo Tomas now has 169 communicants and 360 baptized members. In addition to Zimdars, the congregation has a second pastor, Rev. Frank Cossio, who was born in Cuba. WELS Home Missions and WELS Church Extension Fund help support this cross-cultural mission.

“We want to thank the Lord as he has richly blessed Santo Tomas during the past 20 years to reach countless souls with the precious gospel message of free and full salvation through faith in Jesus Christ,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions.

More than 220 people attended Santo Tomas’s anniversary celebration, which included a special bilingual worship service, a fellowship meal, and traditional Mexican music sung and performed by the congregation’s members.

Read more about WELS Missions at

Home Missions update

The WELS Board for Home Missions met for its fall meeting in September. Board members received updates from many of our home missions. Here are a few highlights.

  • The three new home missions that the board allocated funding for at its March meeting are now staffed by full-time home missionaries. Rev. Doug Van Sice and Rev. Eric Melso were assigned to serve Huntersville, S.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn., respectively, as they graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in May. Rev. Paul Zell, a current professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, recently accepted the call to serve the mission at Hendersonville, N.C.
  • Two home missions celebrated their opening worship services in September. The Way, Fredericksburg, Va., held its first official service on Sept. 10 at the local cinema, where the congregation is currently worshiping. Redemption, Watertown, N.Y., held its launch service on Sept. 17, in the new worship facility that the congregation purchased and renovated thanks to a loan and grant from WELS Church Extension Fund.
  • Grace Hmong Lutheran Church, Kansas City, Kan., dedicated its new church building on Aug. 27. Rev. Ger Lor, pastor at Grace, says, “This was a big opportunity to share the gospel to the Hmong community in the area through this event. Grace believes that if the gospel is preached to them, the Holy Spirit will work through the Word to change their hearts.”
  • Rev. Lucas Bitter was installed on Aug. 27 to serve WELS’ new mission in Atlanta, Ga. Seven WELS congregations are established in the suburbs of Atlanta. This new mission will serve those in the city. In August, core members of this mission staffed a booth at a summer festival and hosted college students from a variety of schools in the city for a back-to-school get-together. These outreach events resulted in approximately 100 people signing up to receive more information about the church and 40 people indicating an interest in Bible information class.

“Home Missions is grateful for the Congregation Mission Offerings that support all this gospel outreach as well as the support that our missions receive from other WELS ministries that partner with us,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions. “In addition, the 115 home missions that WELS supports receive guidance and encouragement from district mission boards and mission counselors.”

On Sept. 15, the WELS Board for Home Missions held a service of thanksgiving for its four mission counselors for their service in the pastoral ministry. Rev. Peter Kruschel, Rev. Edward Schuppe, Rev. Mark Birkholz, and Rev. Timothy Flunker offer support and missions expertise to congregations as they reach out in their communities.

Free notes, “Our mission counselors keep abreast of trends in North America and help keep Home Missions informed as to what might serve our church body. We’re thankful for their service.”

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit While there, you can also subscribe to receive weekly Missions blogs in your e-mail inbox.




A Five Letter Word for Reaching Families?

B-17, I-50, M-7.

No, these are not kinds of airplanes.

Looking across rows and down columns for these letter and number combinations are all part of a game. But, this game does more than connect a line for a win, it leads to connections with families in the community.

The game?

Bingo. Spelled B–I–N–G–O.

Another combination is called.

And, an even a more important call to share the saving gospel message is being heard by volunteers and members who help organize and coordinate Living Savior’s Bingo night.

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’” Mark 16:15.

Living Savior – like many other congregations – has spent time and effort on many outreach events. Some geared toward children, such as Christmas 4 Kids and Vacation Bible School, others aimed at adults, like Bible studies. Our congregation chose to also offer a new kind of event, an event for the entire family and for families from our community. Anyone, everyone is welcome!

Parents and children together? Entire families together outside of Sunday worship service?

Before the first Bingo event, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We had handed out hundreds of flyers two weeks prior during Blair’s Gateway to the West parade, but would we have any takers? I knew some of our member families would attend, but would anyone else?

From behind the scenes, an event like Bingo night might be considered pre-evangelism leading to evangelism. Pre-evangelism is simply meeting people, learning about them, and leveling obstacles that potentially stand in between good communication. The goal of pre-evangelism is to establish some sort of connection with another person, so that evangelism can happen. Evangelism, then, is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus as our Savior from sin. Evangelism happens when you show the real Jesus to an unbelieving person. Whether at your office, or with a neighbor at your annual block party, or with a new friend during Bingo night, Evangelism is sharing the good news of Christ!

The fact is that not all of our pre-evangelism attempts at Living Savior have been successful. Our Easter 4 Kids advertisements were something of a bust. Our city-wide Easter service postcard mailings had yielded no apparent outward fruits.

But, what’s better than a family playing Bingo?

This time the Lord blessed our efforts with visible, tangible opportunities to introduce ourselves to new people living in Blair! Within ten minutes of opening our doors we had to set up more tables to accommodate. We kicked off the evening with the first letter-number call.

No devotion
No presentation about our church.
Simply Bingo.

By nights end, we had set up all of our available tables. It was a full house with half the room filled by new visitors! Folks had fun. Members greeted new faces and enjoyed each other’s company. Near the end of the evening, I invited everyone to come again on Sunday for something even better.

Sunday worship.

We didn’t see any of these folks at worship – our timing is not always God’s timing – but, the warmth of Christ was shared on that special family Bingo night. Credibility and trust took root between member and stranger. The warmth of Christ was shared by the men, women and children of Living Savior as their lights shined brightly in love and joy. God-willing, as we continue to let our lights shine, those that visit may see our good deeds and glorify the Father in heaven together with us someday.

By: Rev. Daniel Johnston
Living Savior, Blair, Nebraska


You fed Jesus today!

Dear Friend,

You fed Jesus today! You brought him medicine and supplies in a time of crisis. You even helped rebuild his home after a tornado swept through the area.

Now you may wonder, “When did I feed Jesus? When did I help rebuild his damaged home?”

Remember what he said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

What a privilege! What an opportunity! In this life we get to serve as God’s hands, helping people in need and reflecting his love through our words and actions. But it’s even better than that! When we act in his name to help others, Jesus says we are actually serving him. He doesn’t need our help, but hurting people do, so Christ encourages us to show our love and gratitude to him by expressing love and kindness to others.

This is also the mission of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. On behalf of WELS members like you, we provide financial assistance, food, medicine, and supplies to people suffering from natural disasters and extreme medical financial difficulties. We also support humanitarian aid projects in our home and world mission fields.

These projects help our missionaries reach out to the people of their communities with love and concern to build bridges to proclaim the gospel. Missionary Ken Pasch greatly values the health clinics that we support in Thailand. He has seen many people come for physical healing who were also touched by the gospel as their pastors shared the love of Jesus with them. He says, “It’s a great strategy we use to connect people to the gospel.”

This year these humanitarian aid projects totaled $327,000, and included:

  • Providing fresh water wells for people in India, Malawi, Zambia, and Nepal
  • Medical equipment and supplies for health clinics in Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Thailand
  • Food, clothing, and medicine for people in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Albania, Mexico, and Indonesia
  • Medical supplies and financial assistance for WELS Central Africa Medical Mission
  • Midwife training in Pakistan and sewing classes in Nepal
  • Teaching English to youth in Vietnam
  • Providing support and encouragement for orphans, widows, widowers, and prisoners in Nigeria
  • Welcome packets and assistance to new legal immigrants through several home mission congregations serving in cross-cultural neighborhoods

Our missionaries look for ways to use humanitarian aid as a bridge to proclaim the gospel. Please consider a gift to improve the earthly and spiritual lives of others. Our ministry is funded entirely by special gifts from people like you. Remember, whatever you do for people in need, you are doing for Jesus!

In Christ,
Pastor Robert Hein
Chairman, WELS Christian Aid and Relief

P.S. For more on how your offerings are helping people in need and to view a Lifeline video, go to Also, “like” us on Facebook at

Hope in North Dakota

I’ll never forget the day I met Dan.  It would have been hard to forget since it was Easter Sunday in 2015.  But it was even more memorable for a different reason.  After an inexplicable struggle with my text, I delivered what I genuinely felt was an excellent sermon.  The law was striking, the illustrations were spot-on, and the gospel hit home with the incomparable message of hope in Christ’s resurrection.  Of course, it helped to have the Holy Spirit’s flawless work through my preaching that Sunday.  It would have been a total dud otherwise.

Yet, when I had a chance to talk to Dan after the service, it felt like a total dud.  On a day where everybody else reflected that Easter joy, you could almost see a storm cloud following Dan.  Can you imagine?  Even after a morning focused on Christ and on the resurrection, Dan felt empty.  Easter’s certain hope was lacking for him.

Dan wasn’t the kind of person in whom you’d have expected to find this.  He grew up in a very church-going, Pentecostal family.   The air force had brought him to Minot, but had avoided ensnarement in the temptations that some young airmen face.  All in all, he was a good kid with a good head on his shoulders.  But somewhere along the way he lost his spiritual moorings.  He completely doubted his faith. It produced an opportunity: one of our members invited him to Easter Service.  While he continued to struggle that morning, I extended a feeble invitation to take Bible information class with him and try to answer some of his questions. Dan was looking for hope, so he came.

It’s one of my favorite classes I have ever taught. Dan started the class unable to answer the question, “How can I get to heaven?”  But every week as we dug into God’s Word, I could see the Holy Spirit working on him.  I remember discussing infant baptism with Dan, assuming this would be a sticking point given his background.  We went through Scripture’s evidence for it.  My jaw dropped when he simply said, “It’s hard to understand because I’ve never heard this before, but it’s pretty clear… this is what the Bible says.”  With this simple approach, Dan found hope in a purer way than he had ever heard before: in Jesus, his full and free Savior from sin.

Hope’s rays finally broke through his dark storm clouds.

At the end of that summer, Dan was baptized.  Then, just as quickly as I came to know him, the air force took him elsewhere.  I’ve stayed in touch with Dan over the last two years.  He’s doing great.  Recently, he met a wonderful Christian woman and is getting married.  Someday, he wants to make it back up here so he can take her to church here.

And I just marvel.  I marvel at how the simple message of God’s grace in Christ dispels life’s darkest storm clouds, even if it does take some time.  I marvel at how hope is still needed even in places like Minot where there are almost 20 Lutheran churches and 80 churches total.  I marvel at how God put Dan in the right place at the right time to find the right hope.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 3:3)

What other hope would have helped Dan?  None, but this!

By: Rev. Nathan Walther, Grace Lutheran Church, Minot, ND


Starting something new in Williston, ND

The City of Williston–the Western Star of North Dakota–is located near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers near the site where Lewis and Clark reunited on their way back to St. Louis. Williston is the hub of a trade area which extends west 18 miles into Montana and north 60 miles into Canada.

Williston most recently has been known as being the center of a major oil boom going on in North Dakota. It was this “boom” that brought many people here looking for jobs. As workers and their families started coming in so did members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The members who have come are energetic and love their Lord. In an attempt to find a church home many of them traveled 93 miles to the west to join the members of Good Shepherd Ev. Lutheran Church in Wolf Point, MT.

As more and more members moved into Williston permanently the need for a church in Williston became more apparent. The Pastor in Terry, MT, being the closest WELS’ pastor (150 miles), was asked to come and serve the members in Williston two times per month. Since the minister in Terry serves three congregations in Montana, the group has been worshiping and meeting for Bible Class on Mondays in the evening.

Not to let those visits be the only contact with God’s Word these members also meet for Sunday worship in a conference room at the Microtel Hotel. Services are streamed online from Redeemer Lutheran in Mandan, ND. Right now, there are about 21 WELS’ members (8 family groups) being served by Pastor Hanneman in Williston.

Therefore, it is the need of a more regular pastoral presence: to care for our members, to offer a more regular worship schedule, and more consistent opportunities for outreach, this group sees the great need for calling a pastor and building a church in Williston by God’s grace.

Our group in Williston, Lamb of God Lutheran Church, has been trying to get help in calling a full-time pastor to serve and lead them in their mission to spread God’s Word. First, the mission board wants to develop the field by calling a semi-retired pastor to serve the area for six months, equipping the members, and collecting contacts.

As with all mission work, the work never goes as fast as one would like. We all would love another “Pentecost” experience where 3,000 members are added after one sermon. Instead, mission work is one soul at a time and often times progress is made after many failed attempts.

But, what a joy it is to be serving the Lord in this great work by making disciples of all nations. We have the great pleasure in being Christ’s ambassadors in everything we do in life for we are in a constant state of worship as everything we do, we do for the glory of God.

The Lord will bless this work for he is the one working through the word and sacraments to change hearts from hearts of stone to believing hearts of flesh. May it always be our joy to share God’s word in our individual mission fields. Thank you for your prayers and continued support.

By: Rev. Jacob Hanneman
Lamb of God, Williston, ND
Trinity, Salem and Good Shepherd, Wolf Point, MT 


The Voice of a Grandmother – Denver, CO

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (1 Timothy 1:5)

The voice of a grandmother is unique. It tends to contain the proper measure of wisdom gained through experience, unconditional love, and uninhibited truth (whether we like it or not). In our diverse community, the voice of the grandmother is also very influential. When grandma/abuela speaks, you do well to pay attention. Our congregation is blessed with several grandmothers grounded in God’s grace and using their voices to point the next generations to their Savior.

Last week we laid to rest one of those unique voices among us. After blessing Lorene Dickey with 84 years of life, the Lord fulfilled his promise to her in Jesus, crowning her with the glory of heaven. She will be greatly missed not only as one of the founding members of our mission, but also as one of the most encouraging and endearing personalities. Better known as “Grandma,” “Great Grandma-ma,” “Granny,” and “La Grandma,” she always had a warm hug for everyone, from the person attending church for the first time to each of her fellow CLC “vets” who have been on the receiving end for years. Her speech was filled with words of praise to God, confidence in His plans, and reassurance of His promises that God used to touch the lives of alcoholics, new Christians, young mothers, and a rookie pastor among so many others.

Three days after the funeral, we celebrated God pouring out his grace in Christ through the baptisms of Davashunique, Ke’arre, Za’Marii, and Ry’Lynn. They are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of our member, Brenda Mosley. Two months earlier, Brenda handed me a slip of paper with her daughter’s name and number with the instructions, “Give her a call and set up a time to meet with her.” I found out later that she had given a similar mandate to her daughter, “Pastor Paul is going to call you.  Answer the phone and let him come over.” If you go back to the first line of this paragraph, you see how the Lord blessed those encounters. Brenda was beaming with joy that Sunday morning of the baptisms, praising God for his grace on her family. I’m sure Brenda is going to keep in their ears about Sunday School and Bible Information Class.

And then it happened again. The phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number or the voice on the other end.  “Hi Pastor. This is Alexandra Navarro. My abuela, Aurelia Chavez, gave me your number. I’d like to talk to you about church and baptism.” We met a few days later at Aurelia’s house and I was able to share the message of sin and grace. By the time you read this, it’s very likely that Xzadian and Yasmine will be covered in God’s baptismal grace.

May the Lord continue to bless the voices of faithful, Christian grandmothers!

By: Missionary Paul Biedenbender
Christ Lutheran Church
Denver, CO.


Earning the Right to be Heard – Myrtle Beach, SC

Seven months into the preschool year and patience pays off. You might be wondering where this is going? Part of the Harvest Strategy for our Preschool Program has these two key principles…

  • We are counting on a long term commitment. Parents enrolling in our preschool are committed to seeing us multiple times per week for 9-18 months. Our outreach work need not be hurried. We have time to build relationships with the families.
  • We build relationships. Through personal contacts, programs and procedures we will seek to build a personal relationship with every parent. After earning the right to be heard, we will clearly speak.

This morning on the way out of preschool a mother said to me, “Pastor, I’d like to take Starting Point Class.” I smiled and told her, “Awesome! There’s one starting up after Easter that you’re invited to attend. When the date is set, I’ll let you know.” How did that happen, I thought? I was simply walking out of my office to use the restroom and she stopped me.

Relationship building takes time and commitment. It involves names and faces, child and parent. It takes work that can be mentally exhausting or emotionally fatiguing. Just ask the Preschool staff after 3 hours of classroom instruction, learning, and play. But then there comes that moment at the end of the day. Children are eager to greet their parents and share what they learned, the craft they made, or the theme for the week. Parents greet their little treasures with smiles and excitement. But there is also the interaction with the staff, specifically the teacher and aide. The classroom work is done. The educating for the day has finished. The classroom needs to be cleaned up and readied for the next day’s session. But  now, at dismissal, it’s that time for relationship building and conversation.

Naturally some preschool parents are in and out. But others like to talk and carry on a conversation. It can be about St. Patrick’s Day and whether or not the leprechaun visited the teacher’s house on March 17th. It can be the innocent question asked by a parent to the teacher about, How are you handling the movie: Beauty and the Beast? The conversation can revolve around health issues that grandpa has faced that suddenly turn spiritual. Suddenly, the right to be heard is revealed. Suddenly all that patience of the past 7 months has opened a door. All the questions of are we ever going to get any possible prospects from preschool disappears. Suddenly, the Lord gives the words to speaks so confidently, lovingly, kindly, and compassionately to a mother who has had some rough weeks about God’s love and kindness, grace and compassion, even in the midst of health issues. Suddenly the invitation, with ease flows out, from the teacher’s mouth, Pastor Zahn has a class called Starting Point that he’d love to have you attend. You can ask questions and you’ll study the Bible together.Long term commitment to build relationships can exhaust patience and cause emotional fatigue. However, a smile soon appears as a preschool staff shares with the pastor the neat conversation that took place prior to this mom’s comment to me, Pastor, I’d like to take Starting Point Class.  Where God will take this opportunity, I don’t know. I’ll let God handle that as we gather around his Word in our next Starting Point Class. But join me, please, in thanking God for…

  • the Gospel we’re privileged to know, believe, and share.
  • the persistence of the preschool staff to a long term commitment to build relationships with the preschool children and their parents.
  • the opportunity God is giving us with this specific mother to take her deeper into God’s Word that she might know more clearly and deeply the breadth, depth, height, and width of the Savior’s love.
  • the promise kept by our gracious God to accomplish the purpose for sending his Word out.

By: Missionary Ben Zahn
Amazing Grace Lutheran Church & Preschool
Myrtle Beach, SC  


Renewal in Castle Rock, CO

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, WI

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, NY

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.



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 worshiping 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
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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