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Hitting a homerun

Jesus was relational. And he probably would have liked baseball too. I mean, his ultimate goal is getting us home, right?

Harvey helping out around church

I follow Jesus’ example in being relational and loving baseball. My 14-year-old son, Jackson, is quieter; but he shares my love of baseball. He’s played select ball since he was 8 years old with a young man named Gavin. Gavin’s father, Harvey, has coached the boys for 6 years (12 seasons between spring and fall)! About five months ago, Harvey came to check out our new church building as he knew that if I wasn’t at the ballpark, I’d be there. He knew our family very well outside of church and decided he was ready to find out what it was that made us church folks different. Now he only misses an opportunity to be at church if we have an early game on a Sunday morning. He’s known to wear coaching gear to Bible study or service so he can head right to the fields from church so he misses as little as possible. He’s a fixture around Christ the Rock and will soon finish instruction classes and, God-willing, we will welcome him into membership.

Baseball is a team sport. So is mission work. My family and I witness by our behavior and attitude at church and at the ballpark. Now Harvey is really on our team too. Baseball can appear to some as a slow sport. But the good news is, there’s always a new day with plenty of second chances. Jesus is like that too. He sometimes takes six years to work in the heart of a friend we see all the time. But when someone you care about finds that second chance. . . WOW!

In baseball, often times you fail. But you never give up. Not every friend I develop a relationship with will come to church. But I know that if I keep following the example Jesus set, his will is done. Every biblical “hero” struck out at some point. Except Jesus. He’s our ultimate Hall of Famer! I don’t have to hit a home run every time because at the gates of heaven, God will see Jesus’ perfect record instead of my own sad and pathetic failures and stats. And Harvey will be right there too, holding up Jesus’ perfect game as his when we play together for the Bethlehem Braves. Or maybe the Jerusalem Giants? Who knows.

Written by Rev. James Skorzewski (Pastor Ski), home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Hutto, Tex. 

 

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This is Eleanor

If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. (1 Peter 4:11b)

As I would greet people before and after worship, I often heard a phrase that always brought a smile to my face: “This is Eleanor”. Very often that phrase would be used as a group of college students would gather to visit after worship or in the Fellowship Hall for a meal. She is not a college student. She has never attended one of the Bible Studies held on the local college campus. But she was a servant to her Lord and Savior who utilized the strength that God provided her. I would like you to meet Eleanor.

She was a model of the Christian faith in her personal life. She understood our sin and the need for our Savior. She was faithful in her worship and Bible study attendance. She knew her Bible and read it daily. When college students came into the church building, her congregation knew she was a good person to introduce them to. And so the phrase, “This is Eleanor. . .” is one that sticks in my mind as I visit congregations, high schools, and campus ministries. I think of how Eleanor humbly did some things to encourage college students to be faithful to their Savior. Eleanor also encouraged her family this way. She was very thankful for the campus ministry that served her grandson in Texas. She would regularly write to the college-age students from her home congregation of St. John’s in Minneapolis, Minn., who were away at school. When they came home, she was always happy to see them and greeted them with both a welcoming face and encouraging conversations. When St. John’s was deciding whether or not they should be the place that serves college students in the Twin Cities, Eleanor spoke up both publicly and privately, “We have an opportunity to serve young adults at a crucial time in their lives. I think of my grandchildren and our college students here.” As I remember her encouragement, there are more people just like her spread across our synod.

Eleanor with her grandson, Adam, who attended Texas A&M

This is Eleanor. . . She was a model of the Christian faith. She encouraged her family members to stay faithful to their Savior during their college years (and beyond). She did the same with students in her church family. At the age of 85 she encouraged her pastor and congregation to be the place that would serve as the location for campus ministry in the Twin Cities. In the eight years that followed, the Lord continued to provide her with the strength to serve young adults. The Lord Jesus shepherded Eleanor home to heaven in June of 2020 at the age of 93. She was a tremendous blessing to those that knew her. We rejoice that she’s with her Savior in heaven.

Just as COVID has forced individuals and congregations to pivot, the same can be said for college students and our campus ministries. In these last few months, I have been able to visit with various congregations, high schools, and called workers. I have met people who are just like Eleanor. They love their Lord and they love their church and/or school. They show that love with their service. They are individuals who understand that their learning and growing is ongoing as they hear God’s Word and gather around the sacraments. They have family members who have college-aged children and grandchildren. There are young adults in their own congregation who spend some very formative years at locations of higher education. For quite a few places, there is a college, university, or trade school nearby.

The Lord gives you opportunities to serve just as Eleanor did. If you are a current college student, utilize the time God gives you to not only grow in your knowledge and understanding of your course of study but also use this time to grow in God’s Word. For those not in college, continue to be encouragers to your own family members who are either approaching are already in their college years. Encourage the young adults in your own congregation. If your setting is one where there is a college campus nearby, consider ways that the Lord may allow and equip you for serving students with what God has entrusted to you.  God’s blessing to all of you!

Written by Rev. Dan Lindner, WELS Campus Ministry Mission Counselor 

Learn more about WELS Campus Ministry and how you can get involved at wels.net/cm100.

 

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Communicating the power of the gospel cross-culturally

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

Romans 10:14

When Jesus came to earth, he preached the good news. According to the four gospels, the amazing thing Jesus did during his three years of ministry were not the miracles, but the communicating and ministering done with the power of the gospel. Clear communication of the gospel is a necessity for a minister or an evangelist. When Jesus preaches the good news, he uses a simple and easy to understand way to communicate the gospel to the people to whom he is speaking.

One question we ask ourselves at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church is, “How do we communicate the gospel to the unbelieving Hmong people? Especially people who believe that inanimate objects have souls?” When Paul and Barnabas communicated the gospel in Lystra (Acts 14:8–23), they spoke to people with these beliefs in a clear and understandable way.

It is the power of the gospel that brings wonderful news to the whole world, including the Hmong community! God sent his Son into the world to die for sinners. Our sins are forgiven. That is awesome! That is the good news! That is the powerful message of the gospel God has given us, and we pray that the power of the Holy Spirt will guide us to communicate this message to others clearly and understandably. This is SO important, especially in cross-cultural ministry.

New members at Grace Hmong

This past January, 11 prospects of Grace Hmong completed the membership course and were confirmed into the Christian faith. The members of Grace Hmong or I had no power in converting these people into faith. It only happened by the working of the Spirt through the Word.

But how did we meet them so that we could share the gospel with them? It was a short conversation between one of our members and the head of their family. Then they came to our 2019 Thanksgiving Service. After the service they were invited to join the meal. At mealtime, Grace members and I had the opportunity to talk with these families about their faith and presented the pure gospel to them. They were interested! They told me that they never heard that sinners are saved through faith in Christ – they had been taught that sinners are saved only through good works. A couple weeks later, they came to our Sunday morning service and continued after that. Three months later, they decided to take the membership course.

During the membership course, they learned the theology of the cross. Every time we met, I tried to communicate the gospel in a clear and simple way for them to understand. The power of the gospel slowly penetrated and created faith in their hearts. We cleared up misunderstandings they had from the past. Now they are baptized and confirmed into the faith and are members of WELS!

What changed their hearts and turned them to the saving power of Christ? It was not the wonderful meal Grace prepared for them. It was not the money Grace spent on that day. It was not the power of the members or Pastor Lor that penetrated their hearts. It was the Holy Spirit working through the gospel.

That is why it is important for the church, the members, and the pastor to communicate clearly the simple message of the gospel. In the Great Commission, Jesus declares his authority over all things, and then he commands us to go and communicate the good news to others. Jesus wants us to share the power of the saving gospel with other people the way he taught. To God alone be the glory!

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

Learn more about Hmong ministry at wels.net/hmong.

 

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The first spiritual decision I’ve made for myself in my adult life

“This is the first spiritual decision I’ve made for myself in my adult life.”

I wasn’t expecting her to say that. I met her in the parking lot before church. She had finished going through basic Christian instruction and said she wanted to become a member of our church. This was the day she would join us as the newest member of our church family. I love those days. SO much.

Worship at a local restaurant in North Nampa

So when I met her in the parking lot, I was all smiles and congratulations. But she was more serious. She’s been through a lot in life. Men have been awful to her. Churches have made her feel guilty and confused. She’s been living with a lot of emotional and spiritual pain. It was all on her face that morning in the parking lot. And that’s when she said it: “This is the first spiritual decision I’ve made for myself in my adult life. I’m really glad to be here. This church is where I belong.” And then she smiled.

Cross of Christ in Boise, Idaho, began services at our multi-site in North Nampa in November of 2019. It had been tough to find space to meet, but a local restaurant is closed on Sunday mornings, so we meet there for church. It’s worked so far, but it’s getting tight.

We had no idea who we’d encounter in the coming months and how God would guide our ministry. We certainly weren’t planning on canceling in-person services only months after starting because of COVID-19. But God has his plans. We anticipated needing a larger space to rent as we grew out of the restaurant, but we weren’t expecting to have every opportunity fall through or prove too expensive. Yet God still has his plans. We definitely weren’t expecting to suddenly have the opportunity to purchase our own 5,300 square foot building during the global pandemic, and be scheduled to hold services on our church’s second campus this summer. Go figure. . . God has his plans.

Cross of Christ’s new location in North Nampa

That woman in the parking lot is one of many souls we’ve been privileged to meet in the past year. Who knows who God will bring our way in the years ahead? How exciting to have a new and bigger building for even more gospel ministry in Nampa, Idaho! How exciting to discover what further plans God has for us!

I still smile when I see her every Sunday. She’s glad that she’s here. I’m glad she is, too. Every new face, every new opportunity, every new day of God’s mercy, and every great spiritual decision new friends make as they start following Christ—it all just makes me smile.

Written by Rev. Kurt Wetzel, home missionary at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Idaho

 

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Hope remains

What thoughts come into your mind these days when you think of Portland, Oregon? In the midst of a pandemic, Portland has been in national headlines many times for its 100 days of protests. When I first arrived in the area, I visited near the downtown area to grab some of Portland’s famous donuts and coffee. I was greeted at the donut shop by a bouncer wearing a bulletproof vest, and I was served at the café from behind two layers of bulletproof glass by a barista wearing a full-face mask. It was eerie, it was scary, and it was intimidating.

The Hope core group at work

It is true that the challenges of starting a church in the midst of pandemic, unrest, wildfires, and mistrust are very real. And yet, there is incredible opportunity amid the challenges. In a dark time, the light of Christ shines brightly! In a time when hopelessness threatens all of us, the hope that lives because Jesus lives lifts us up. This message of hope is a powerful message for the people of Tigard. As a city, we have watched as so many of the things that give us comfort be removed. We’ve been forced to ask the question: “What can I possibly put my hope in that will not disappoint me?” The only thing that will not disappoint us is the hope that we will live eternally with Jesus!

We, as a core group of believers in Tigard, have had the incredible privilege of sharing that hope with the people of our city. We have experienced opportunity and success in the most unlikely places! I’ll share two of these unique opportunities.

Boarded up business during the protests

Over the last two months, we have been putting on our masks and knocking on people’s doors while holding a freshly baked loaf of banana bread with just one simple message: “Hi! I’m from Hope Lutheran Church – a brand new church here in Tigard. We know that times are hard right now, so we are here to share some hope and banana bread with you!” It wouldn’t seem like knocking on people’s doors to share food and conversation would be the most successful tactic during a pandemic, and yet the gospel opportunities we’ve had have been astounding.

In the first days of January, a riot took place in downtown Tigard. Small businesses already struggling to stay afloat were damaged and were forced to board up their windows. In the aftermath, we were able to talk with some of the business owners and help clean up. We were able to share the hope of Jesus in yet another situation where it might seem that hope could not thrive. We were even given the opportunity to witness this hope to the mayor of Tigard and the chief city councilor!

Pastor Bourman’s son, Theo, packing Hersey’s kisses for prospects

The challenges are real. Yet, instead of the dwelling on the challenges, I ask you to pray with us for opportunities for the Holy Spirit to create faith in people’s hearts. The unrest is real. Yet, instead of struggling with the unrest, I ask you celebrate with us the forgiveness that Christ won for us on the cross. Whether in peace, pandemic, or protest, only one thing can remain certain: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! In this we place all of our hope.

Written by Rev. Paul Bourman, home missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Tigard, OR


 

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New opportunities to offer pandemic relief

WELS Christian Aid and Relief has set aside $200,000 to help WELS congregations offer pandemic relief to their communities. Congregations can receive up to $2,500 in matching grant money to provide aid to those who are struggling in their neighborhoods.

“Like no other time in most of our lives, people are hurting—both in our churches and in our communities. And we can help them,” says Rev. Daniel Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “God has blessed us with an abundance of daily bread and with the good news of the Bread of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a tremendous opportunity to bring relief to those struggling during this challenging time.”

WELS Christian Aid and Relief already has distributed pandemic relief funding this year when it teamed up with WELS Home Missions to offer more than $160,000 in matching grant money to 24 mission congregations.

These home missions were creative with their ideas, offering plans to provide food and supplies to families in need and counseling and support groups for those struggling with their mental health. Many are partnering with other community organizations, working closely with local homeless shelters and schools in their area.

“We’re glad this grant program came up—not only for the resources—but just to spur us on to come up with an idea to help our community,” says Mr. Mark Hartman, lay member at Hope in the Heights, a home mission in Houston, Texas, that received one of the grants.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief will offer these new matching grants to congregations until June 1 or when designated funds run out.

“What an opportunity to shine the light of Christ’s love into our communities,” says Sims. “May God bless our efforts in his saving name.”

Learn more about WELS Christian Aid and Relief and these grant opportunities at wels.net/relief.

 

 

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2020 hindsight

Well, that didn’t go according to plan.

We began 2020 with a well thought out strategy, a good mix of outreach and in-reach efforts. We’d pull together with four big seasonal events to attract the community and engage our members. In the off months we’d look for quick wins – joining in the next 5K, hosting a game night, perhaps even bowling (as embarrassing as that would be for me). We met as a church to identify coordinators and volunteers. Everything was falling into place. Ready, set, go!

We never got to “go.”

Survive & Thrive after Quarantine webinar

Like churches across the country, the unexpected sidelined our plans. No community Easter brunch. No door-to-door introductions and invitations. No 5K’s, no concerts, no strawberry socials. Our focus shifted from the myriad of possibilities before us to managing the practical concerns of simply worshiping together. One step forward, two steps back.

But would you believe the Lord still brought blessing?

By necessity, our live-streaming capabilities matured rather quickly as online worship services moved from the confines of our website to the open spaces of Facebook. With our in-person events canceled, we pivoted into the all-digital event arena and hosted our first ever webinar: Survive & Thrive after Quarantine, an online event intended to help our community see COVID through a Christian lens. We got used to fellowship on Zoom and, in time, to worshiping six feet apart. Simply put, we shelved our big plans and rolled with the opportunities God placed before us.

And the Lord brought blessings – unplanned, unexpected, unforeseen blessings. Our online worship allowed us to connect with prospect families we might never have met otherwise. Zoom Bible studies kept us growing together even from a distance. Phone calls, text messages, email, and even snail mail were tools for mutual encouragement.

Ascension’s Christmas Festival

And as in-person events came back, the Lord gave us more opportunities. We swapped our planned indoor family Christmas event for an outdoor, socially-distanced Christmas festival, complete with individually packaged cookies, free raffles, and live music. Long-time members of Ascension and new friends rolled up their sleeves and donned their masks to enjoy the Christmas season with a much-needed sense of semi-normalcy. The Lord gave us good weather, a good turnout, good fun, and good contacts.

2020 was a challenging year to try to hit the ground running as a home mission restart. It’s humbling to so quickly shelve your first-ever ministry plan. But it’s far more humbling—and inspiring—to see the blessing the Lord Jesus pours out apart from our planning. We’re excited to bring several families into membership early this year and begin classes with several more, all blessings realized in the chaos of COVID.

Last year didn’t go according to plan—well, not our plan. And as it turns out, that’s a good thing.

Written by Rev. Ben Berger, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania


 

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Mission congregations offer aid during the pandemic

WELS Christian Aid and Relief and WELS Home Missions have teamed up to offer more than $160,000 in pandemic relief matching grants to 24 mission congregations that are offering aid to those in their communities who are struggling. Grants were allocated in January.

“Our mission is to relieve suffering, to reach out to those who have been hit hard by something and help them through it, while we reflect the love of Jesus and gain opportunities to share the good news of Jesus as their Savior,” says Rev. Daniel Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “It’s easy to look at the pandemic as a problem—and it is—but it’s also a tremendous opportunity to do exactly what our mission is set to do.”

These home missions were creative with their ideas, offering plans to provide food and supplies to families in need and counseling and support groups for those struggling with their mental health. Many are partnering with other community organizations, working closely with local homeless shelters and schools in their area.

Hope in the Heights, Houston, Texas, a home mission that started in 2019, is supporting its local Chamber of Commerce’s Adopt-a-Teacher program, which provides teachers with needed supplies, personal gifts, support, and prayers during these trying times. “With all the stress that teachers have been under, we thought it would be a nice thing to help them out,” says Mr. Mark Hartman, a lay member at Hope. The congregation decided to support teachers from two of the schools in the congregation’s target area.

Besides helping the teachers, Hope asked each teacher to nominate two families who are struggling because of the pandemic so that Hope could provide groceries to those families.

Hope was so excited about the program that it decided to get started even before the grant money came through. “I just bought groceries for our 18th family since we started [last November],” says Hartman. “We’re glad this grant program came up—not only for the resources—but just to spur us on to come up with an idea to help our community.”

He continues, “When a program like this comes along, it gives you the opportunity to say, ‘I don’t have to worry about my budget, I can just go and bless these people in my community.’ ”

And people are appreciative of that help. One local elementary teacher e-mailed, saying, “I have had the pleasure of hearing the cheerful stories from my students that you purchased groceries for. I wish you could see the look on their faces! I wanted to thank you for your generosity and kindness. This is definitely what this world needs more of.” Another said, “I am truly humbled and blessed that a church and its congregation wanted to help teachers—and especially me.”

Learn more about Christian Aid and Relief at wels.net/relief. Learn more about Home Missions at wels.net/missions.

 

 

 

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SEIZE and HOLD FAST the gospel and our great privilege

Dear Christian Friend,

Greetings in Jesus, the Light of the world!

Martin Luther once encouraged fellow German Christians not to take for granted the presence of the gospel of Jesus and the opportunity to share God’s good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life:

Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt. Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s Word as it is hearing today . . . O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and Word while it is there! For you should know that God’s Word and grace is like a passing shower of rain . . . Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year (Luther’s Works, Vol. 45, pp. 352,353).

By the gracious Spirit of Christ, today’s Christians seize and hold fast the gospel of salvation from sin through Jesus that is still impacting precious souls in our communities and around the world. God has put us in a great position for service to Jesus in his church and the world. As the Epiphany reading describes: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn . . . the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come” (Isaiah 60:3,5). In other words, God gives us the opportunities and resources we need to bring his Word to more people.

It’s amazing what the Lord Jesus has recently done through our church body:

  • We are serving 40 countries around the globe and exploring outreach opportunities in 17 additional countries. In these countries, 39 missionaries partner with more than 400 national pastors to conduct outreach and train more than 380 students for service in Christ’s kingdom.
  • WELS Home Missions approved three new missions in 2020. Overall Home Missions assists 114 congregations across North America in various stages of development.
  • Enrollment is steady at our ministerial education schools with 1,433 students preparing for possible service as pastors, teachers, staff ministers, and missionaries.
  • WELS Congregational Services is guiding our congregations in conducting enthusiastic gospel ministry. Some of this year’s resources provide help with evangelism, youth ministry, worship, military support, family, marriage, and ministry during COVID-19.

I know that you seize and hold fast the great privilege we have received in knowing and sharing Christ. Even as we see the apparent decline of Christianity in America and the challenge that believers face around the world, it’s clear our window of opportunity for sharing Jesus is not closed. Thank you for praying that our heavenly Father will bless WELS ministry and for supporting gospel outreach through your offerings at church as well as your direct gifts to WELS. We thank God and you for your partnership! Please consider donating today to help support all that we will do together in this new year. I know you are as excited as I am to work while it is day (John 9:4) to proclaim the glory of our Savior throughout the earth.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Kurt Lueneburg
Director, WELS Ministry of Christian Giving

A head-start on the restart

Our mission in Wesley Chapel chose to get a head-start on the restart that every church is experiencing right now. Two years ago the members of Emmanuel in Zephyrhills, Fla., decided to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. They chose to sell their property and everything but the hymnals, font, and communion set. They chose to work with their District Mission Board, call a home missionary, and spend time as a wandering church. . . a restarting church that would find a way to evangelize nearby Wesley Chapel, Tampa’s booming northern suburb.

I accepted the call to the Wesley Chapel home mission a week before the March shutdown. We knew back then we were joining a church choosing to restart. The group had taken this leap of faith and was seeking a shepherd for their next steps. Members dreamed of the future, but first we needed to answer some fundamental questions: What is the Bible’s blueprint for a church? What’s absolutely critical, and what can we let go? What ministries and programs should we offer? How will we invite the community? As 2020 wraps up, our group is still studying God’s answers to those questions, and we’re still studying our Wesley Chapel mission field. We plan to spend 2021 setting up our primary ministries.

What’s changed since March is that every church is now forced to answer similar questions: Why do we gather? Are we essential? What will we offer online? Is it worth restarting that program or not? See! Our group was just ahead of the pack!

Home missionary Phil Hunter’s installation – poolside!

Our Wesley Chapel home mission has navigated the same practical puzzles as all other churches (meeting location, online worship, safety measures, etc.) Again we just happen to be very flexible–for such a time as this! We didn’t own a building anyways, so we were prepared for simple services in unusual locations. We met in a family’s yard. We held a poolside installation service. We now lease space from a beautiful new school and meet on their covered patio. We adjust the sound system for each new space, laugh at ourselves when the candles won’t light, and consider it all part of the adventure. We’ll likely own another facility soon, but for now we enjoy a camaraderie with Christians across the ages and the globe who worship outdoors or meet in houses.

The pandemic has not hindered our home mission start. However, it has slowed down our communication. In normal times, we could all gather for a meal and an open forum or brainstorming session. Now it’s an in-person forum for some, a Zoom meeting for others, an e-mail and online form for others who can’t Zoom, plus letters and phone calls for the few beautiful souls who have managed to avoid the internet. It is still possible to gather input and distribute info. . . but it takes more time and effort. In the big picture, that’s a pretty easy yoke for us to bear.

A final bit of news: A new name for this new church year. We spent a month gathering name suggestions. Our leaders discussed them, compared them to other area churches, and narrowed them down to a final four. We took those finalists and surveyed area WELS school kids, core group members, and dozens of people at parks and stores around Wesley Chapel. The result of that research is a name that’s both fresh and iconic, appealing to WELS kids and unchurched families, and connects well with Biblical imagery and local geography: Citrus Grove Lutheran Church, launching in late 2021 here in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Jesus bless your church’s restart. . . and ours!

Written by Rev. Phil Hunter, home missionary at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Fla. 


 

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Growing God’s garden

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

– Galatians 6:9,10

Not everything grows down here. This past quarantine, my wife and I, like millions or other amateur gardeners and do-it-yourselfers, decided to plant a garden. After a few weekends, several hours, and countless trips to Lowe’s, we had our own budding garden, with okra, raspberries, zucchini, tomatoes, and grapes.

But not everything grows down here. The peonies failed to thrive. A dogwood tree and an elephant ear rotted in the boggy clay. A few berry bushes withered; one snapped at the base with a gentle pinch.

It’s easy to grow weary of that kind of work, isn’t it? To toss the gloves in the garage and ignore the yard. All that caring, feeding, and nurturing, only to have the fate of a crop slip from your hands. What went wrong? The soil? The seeds? Did I do something wrong? Could anything grow here? Could anything grow now?

A little amateur gardening experience leads us to appreciate some of God’s great truths about his kingdom and how it grows: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” – Mark 4:26,27

Have you felt the same way? Pastors and members alike have spent time maintaining interpersonal bridges; exploring mysterious livestream glitches and problems; calling, texting, and brainstorming to find some way of hanging onto everyone. At times, church work can feel like starting a broken lawnmower. Bursts of energy trying to get something going, only to puzzle over what the problem could be.

Worship at May River

Not everything grows down here. What grows near you? Do you feel fatigued? Perhaps a creeping sense of futility? Frustration?

There’s a reason Paul says not to get weary. Because while not everything grows immediately, some things do. And they grow. . . and they grow. . . and they grow, bearing far more fruit than one might imagine. As I write this, we are currently on our second crop of Okra. The first grew to a height of four feet. After we chopped them down in September, another crop appeared.

How much more wonderful to see what God is doing with souls here! Even in the midst of a pandemic, God blessed us with the opportunity to finish teaching Bible information class to seven adults and two of their teens now enrolled in catechism classes.

Beyond that, God’s people continue to bear fruit. New members step up into service and longtime members keep serving. God’s people still make it a priority to clean, decorate, coordinate, serve, and pray for one another. After church, you overhear members building one another up. In the midst of uncertainty and tension in our nation, generosity holds strong. In uncertain times, God still works in beautiful ways.

No, not everything has grown. The new, thoughtful sermon series, your friendly invite, the hours spent tweaking the tech may not have yielded results (yet). But God still promises—yes, even in a pandemic—that his Word produces fruit.

Just as every hardship is an opportunity to gain a better grip, a deeper appreciation of God’s promises, so he nurtures and tends a young home mission congregation. He draws us closer and closer to his Word. He shapes our hearts, gently tugging us from our own strength and capabilities, laying us back on his shoulder for his grace every day. And in our Savior Jesus, we regain a fresh sense of optimism and hope. As we turn, again and again, to his promises, we catch our breath and make our way back out to the fields, ready for the harvest.

Written by Rev. Erik Janke, home missionary at May River Lutheran Church in Bluffton, South Carolina

Want to learn more about the ministry at May River? Watch Pastor Janke’s Moments with Missionaries video update from Taste and See.


 

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WELS Home Missions team expanding

Over the past several months, the WELS Missions team has expanded, welcoming three mission counselors to support the work of our home missionaries, mission congregations, and campus ministries across North America.

Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions, says, “Home Missions is excited that these three men recently accepted counselor calls. Each pastor—Neil Birkholz, Dan Lindner, and Wayne Uhlhorn—provides years of ministry experience in his respective field. We pray the Lord will use their unique gifts to enhance and expand the ministries they support.”

In June 2020, Rev. Neil Birkholz accepted the call to serve as the WELS Asian ministry consultant for WELS Joint Missions, after serving as a missionary in East Asia for six years. Birkholz’s new role is based out of Reformation, San Diego, Calif., where he serves as an associate pastor in addition to his position in WELS Missions.

In this newly created role, Birkholz assists North American congregations in designing and implementing outreach programs to reach their Asian community members, in addition to working with individuals to improve their personal Asian intercultural witnessing skills. Another key part of his work is equipping international high school and university students to share the gospel when they return to their home countries.

Birkholz also supports the mutual work between world mission efforts in Asia and home mission efforts to Asian people in North America. He says, “When I visit WELS churches, there exists a desire to answer the call of the Great Commission by making disciples of all nations. With God’s blessing, our churches and schools will be places where people from all backgrounds are welcomed to know their Savior. We pray that through these efforts God would use our Asian brothers and sisters in the faith to take the gospel to places and peoples in Asia that we cannot reach at this time.”

Rev. Dan Lindner recently accepted the call to serve as campus ministry mission counselor, starting in his new role Nov. 1. He previously served as a parish pastor at St. John’s, Minneapolis, Minn.; campus ministry pastor at True North (the WELS campus ministry at the University of Minnesota); and as vice chairman of the WELS Campus Ministry Committee.

In this brand-new role, Lindner will work to strengthen and support existing campus ministries, encourage high school students (both domestic and international) to connect with a campus ministry, work with congregations to start and maintain active campus ministry programs, and equip domestic and international students to share their faith with family and friends wherever they call home.

“The Campus Ministry Committee wants the young adults from our synod who attend college to continue to walk faithfully with their Savior,” notes Lindner. “We also want all people to know about their Savior. College and university campuses are vast mission fields.” Lindner is grateful for the privilege of helping called workers and congregations with campus ministries as an encourager and equipper with tools, resources, and a listening ear. “My hope is that the Lord blesses the partnership in the gospel that we have across our church body as we work together to serve our WELS students and those they encounter on their campuses.”

Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn (pictured at top of page) accepted the call to serve as a home mission counselor in late October 2020 and will begin his new position Jan. 1, 2021. Uhlhorn is currently a parish pastor at Beautiful Saviour, Carlsbad, Calif., and previously served as the Board for Home Missions chairman. He will be one of four home mission counselors who assist home mission congregations throughout North America.

In his role, Uhlhorn will work with four district mission boards to find, evaluate, and develop new home mission locations. In addition, once new home mission congregations are established, Uhlhorn will provide onsite assistance to the congregations and counseling and training to the new missionaries who are called to serve them. This support is crucial in guiding mission congregations on the way to becoming self-supporting congregations.

“I’m no church expert or mission guru, but I have served WELS congregations from coast to coast, and I have been on the ‘other side’—the mission board side of things,” says Uhlhorn. “And so whatever a pastor or a congregation or a district mission board needs, I am willing to do that to help them find souls who do not know Christ as their Savior and give them every opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with those people.”

Free concludes, “Opportunities continue to abound to share the gospel. Looking to capitalize on ripe fields in North America, the WELS Missions team is thankful that the Lord has provided these three men to serve in counselor roles. May their respective ministries be blessed so more souls hear about our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Learn more about WELS Home Missions at wels.net/missions.

 

 

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How long does it take to build a church?

How long does it take to build a church?

182 years. It took 182 years to construct the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.

182 years is a long time. It probably felt like a dreadfully long time to workers in Year eight or nine of the project. It must have seemed like it was going to take forever. By the time Year 50 rolled around, how many of the original workers had retired? How many lifetimes did it take to complete this church-building work? Finally, the people in 1345 AD got to see the completed structure.

How long does it take to build a church? Not the church-structure, but the church-church. The people. How long does it take to build a congregation?

One year to explore the field. Another year to plant the first seeds and assemble a core group. A third year to plan and execute a launch. By year five, that mission is off and running. By year 6 or 7 or 10, that mission is standing on its own two feet. Time to move on to the next one.

Mission core group in 1993

Praise God when that timetable works out! Praise God for the mission starts that “catch” quickly like a spark in tinder and flare up into a roaring fire!

Praise God also for the “slow-burning” missions. Praise God for the church-building work that follows a cathedral-like timetable. Praise God for the missions that take lifetimes to grow.

But how?

If you are building a cathedral, stopping to measure your progress every few minutes only makes the goal feel out of reach. The row of stones set in place seems pitifully small. The edifice pictured in the building plan seems impossibly large.

Instead, let the builders just keep building. Let gospel work proceed at a steady pace. Let each living stone built on the foundation of Christ and his Word be set in place carefully and lovingly, yet urgently. Let the pace of the workers be diligent and energetic. And then…let the progress of the work rest in the hands of God.

Finally, in God’s good time, after all the halting human labor by frail human hands is finished, we will get to see the completed masterpiece that God himself constructed.

To Him alone be glory!

Home Missionary David Boettcher serves the dual-parish mission of St. John’s, Wetaskiwin, and Mighty Fortress, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, which plans to become self-supporting in 2022. For the many years of mission subsidy, these Christians are grateful for the patient and generous support through WELS Home Missions and the many members who have donated to Christ’s church. Thank you! 


 

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Eight years of blessings in Lafayette, Indiana

The weatherman said that Saturday, October 3rd, was going to be a beautiful, sunny 70 degree day in Lafayette, Ind. He also said that about Monday, October 5th. But Sunday, October 4th was predicted to be a rainy, cold, and windy 45 degree day. That was the day our leadership team had chosen for our outdoor service and picnic lunch at Prophetstown State Park to celebrate our eight year anniversary as a congregation. People texted, “Pastor, are we going to postpone this? Weather doesn’t look good.” We didn’t have a contingency plan because we figured, “It’s a large covered shelter with space for 150. We’ll be fine!” I texted back, “Bring your jackets and blankets.” When we arrived it was colder than 45 degrees. The wind was blowing across the prairie grass of the state park with nothing to stop it. . . and it was raining.

They say that Lutherans are hearty people, and I guess “they” are correct. Keep in mind that we average about 40 on a Sunday morning in our storefront worship space. That morning, 55 people showed up with jackets and blankets, including 11 students from our Purdue campus ministry group and 7 prospects. Three of our young people played brass, and three others played violin to lead those gathered in the hymns. I did feel bad for the instrumentalists, barely able to keep their lips and fingers warm enough to play, but they sounded great in spite of the circumstances.

That Sunday I preached the final part of my sermon series, “Why we do what we do in the Divine Service” and focused on Numbers 6:22-27, “The Blessing.” For the past eight years the LORD has put his name on his people at Lamb of God Lutheran Church. For the past eight years the Lord has blessed Lamb of God by shining his face on us and looking on us with favor. The past eight years the Lord has given us peace. Now, we need his name to be on us more than ever as we look to the future of our ministry. God-willing, by the end of this year, we will close on an existing facility in West Lafayette and move out of our storefront sometime in 2021.

In February 2020, the pastor of Immanuel Reformed Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette called my office and said, “Hey, I heard you’re looking for a new piece of property or existing facility. We’d like to sell our property to you!” Our leadership team, members of the church, and the district mission board toured the facility. The members agree to pursue the purchase of this property.  We are currently in the negotiating stages of our purchase. I ask for your prayers, that this new facility will be a great location for us to better reach out and serve our great Lafayette/West Lafayette community and Purdue University. Stay tuned!

Written by Rev. Paul Horn, home missionary at Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Lafayette, Ind.           


 

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Home missions faithfully moving forward

Two young WELS mission congregations launched their first public worship services in September.

“Even in the face of the difficulties of COVID-19, our home missionaries and members are faithfully sharing God’s Word in weekly worship following appropriate health guidelines,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions. “Extra efforts are worth it so that we have more opportunities to tell people about Jesus Christ.”

On Sept. 13, Hope, Houston, Texas, held its opening service in a local dance studio. WELS Board for Home Missions authorized funding for this new mission in a growing urban neighborhood in Houston in May 2019. Rev. Andrew Nemmers was assigned to serve the congregation, which is made up of a dedicated group of core members that have been meeting monthly for Bible study since 2015.

Nemmers notes, “Even though this was not how we anticipated starting worship—several core group families unable to join in person, everyone wearing masks, and social distancing—our first service was definitely successful! After months of not being able to gather in person, it was incredibly uplifting to be able to gather together around the Word again. We are excited to see what God has in store for us as we continue worshiping together and reaching out to our community.”

Members of Sure Foundation, Brandon, S.D., opened their ministry center on Sept. 18 and then held their grand opening worship service at a local hotel on Sept. 20.

“After a year of meeting, working, connecting, and planning, there was a great deal of excitement from the core group of Sure Foundation as well as some prospects from the Brandon community,” says Rev. Craig Wilke, Sure Foundation’s home missionary. “We are incredibly excited to continue to reach out to the community of Brandon and to proclaim the comforting message of our Sure Foundation, Jesus.”

Two other home mission congregations celebrated milestones on Sept. 27. Christ the Rock, Hutto, Texas, and St. Paul, Adams-Friendship, Wis., both dedicated their new worship facilities. WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc., helped provide funding for both locations.

For more information on WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

 

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Good bones

I don’t know about you, but one of the most dangerous things I did during this pandemic was to turn on Home and Garden Television (HGTV). I know, I live on the edge, but hear me out. HGTV is dangerous because it gave me ideas, and ideas led to trips to Harbor Freight, and trips to Harbor Freight led to purchasing 28-foot scaffolding, and scaffolding may have led to teenagers performing front-flips onto giant bean bags. I told you that HGTV was dangerous!

In spite of the great dangers involved in watching home improvement shows. . . I still do it. I try to quit, but there is an allure to seeing a project take shape. In all the shows, I love the phrase, This place has good bones.” Good bones means you have something solid to work with. It means you know it is going to be incredible in the end.

About two years ago, the members of Carbon Valley Lutheran in Firestone, Colorado, started our own rehabilitation ride. After years of searching, we found some good bones”  at a former plant nursery—an all-steel structure, 3 ½ acres, commercial zoning, sewer, water, parking lot, street lights, landscaping, and water tap all were there. We could work with this.

But there’s another reason HGTV is dangerous. It inspires you to take that leap of renovation faith without really showing all the time and work that goes into the final project. And yet that work is really what gets you to the big reveal. Don’t worry, we didn’t stop being a church. We continued worshiping in a local elementary school, strengthening the faith of our members. We reached out to our community through service projects and local festivals. We raised money through the generosity of our people. We asked the right questions and walked through the loan and town processes. We rolled with the twists and turns and ultimately stepped out on faith.

Outdoor worship at their new location

And when the pandemic took our public school location, the bones of our building became our impromptu worship location. We worshiped outdoors in the middle of our steel structure. We watched as the roof and walls were stripped. We saw the foundation piers being dug. We heard the concrete slabs being cut. And the big reveal hasn’t happened yet. But it’s coming.

God does amazing things with bones, even more amazing than transforming an old plant nursery into a sanctuary. God brings bones to life through the perfect life of his son Jesus, and he builds up believers to make an impact on communities. He’s doing that very thing in us at Carbon Valley Lutheran and through our new building that will be used for generations to come. And he still builds up the body of believers to share Christ with their community. So much so, that we’ve even had five families visit us in the “bones” of our new building.

Written by Tim Spiegelberg, home missionary at Carbon Valley Lutheran Church in Firestone, Colo.

Want to watch Carbon Valley’s building progress? Check out Carbon Valley’s Facebook page to see pictures.


 

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Home Missions funds three new missions

WELS Board for Home Missions met at the end of September and authorized funding for three new missions as well as two restarts. An additional congregation will receive support from Home Missions but no funding.

“Moved by the love of our Savior, Home Missions wanted to move forward because we know the Lord hasn’t directed us to just share the gospel when life is humming along but to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in difficult times as well,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Board for Home Missions. “Regardless of the circumstances in this world, God’s people know what their Lord has directed them to do—tell more people about the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. We ask the Lord to bless us to do just that.”

The new missions being funded include:

  • Amarillo, Texas: Located 130 miles from the nearest WELS church, a group of 15 WELS members form the core group reaching out in Amarillo, Texas. The WELS pastor from Lubbock, Texas, comes to Amarillo twice a month to serve the members with God’s Word and his sacraments.
  • North Liberty, Iowa: North Liberty, Iowa, is a multi-site ministry with Good Shepherd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A dedicated core group of 20 members began worshiping in July 2017 at the North Liberty Community Center. Home Missions funding will allow Good Shepherd to call a second pastor to help its outreach efforts.
  • West San Antonio, Texas: Ten families from Our Savior, San Antonio, Texas, make up the committed core group at this new mission, which began worshiping together in March 2020. They held three in-person services at an elementary school with an average of 40 people in attendance before the pandemic hit.

“My heart goes out to our young mission churches because they lost some momentum in reaching out to people who had shown interest in learning more about their Savior,” says Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn, chairman of WELS Board for Home Missions. “But our missionaries are resourceful and persistent and found ways to stay connected to them and reach out in creative ways with the gospel.”

The three restarts that Home Missions is now supporting include Dix Hills, N.Y.; Santa Clarita, Calif.; and Burlington, Iowa (unsubsidized).

For more information, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

 

 

 

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Upside down

We’ve probably all heard it a number of times these last few months: the disruptions of COVID-19 have left us feeling like things have been turned upside down.

If you happened to say something along those lines while you were sitting next to Christopher, a young man who just recently joined our church, he’d understand exactly what you mean. In fact, he may even understand that truth better than you.

Because there was a time in Christopher’s life when God literally turned him upside down. It was only a few years ago, while he was living in Michigan. He was driving to visit his girlfriend when the combination of slick roads, high speeds, and a sharp turn left him upside down in a ditch. And if you asked Christopher about it, he’d tell you that being upside down in his car was a monumental—and wonderful—turning point in his life.

Looking back on it now, he sees God’s gracious hand in that pivotal moment. He sees a loving God bringing him even closer to the family of the girl who is now his wife. He sees a patient God using a life-threatening moment to teach him to re-prioritize the truly important parts of his life. He sees a gracious God directing all things—even a car on a slippery road—so that an undeserving sinner would be rescued from real spiritual danger. When he thinks about those moments upside down in his car, he can’t help but give thanks to the God who used them to bring him into contact with his Word.

That’s where Christopher found out just how gracious and loving his God is. He joined our church family at Living Shepherd in Laramie, Wyoming, a few weeks ago, after eagerly studying that Word. He’s still learning, of course. He’s daily rejoicing in the amazing miracle that took place on the cross, where Jesus paid for his sin; and at the empty tomb, where God declared him not guilty for all eternity. He’s soaking it up, relishing the beauty of a God who works all things for the eternal good of his people.

There’s a lot more to Christopher’s story—he could probably write a long and fascinating book about his life. Before God flipped his life upside down, he was fighting a daily battle against the demons of alcohol, the persistence of guilt, and the darkness of Satanism. That is what made his upside down experience so pivotal. He would describe it as the key chapter in the book of his life, so far. And he’d likely tell you that even these “upside down” times of COVID-19 are opportunities for God to work amazing miracles in the lives of his people.

Written by Adam Lambrecht, home missionary at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming 


 

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Faces of Faith – Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Faces of Faith – Katherine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Campus Ministry: My second family

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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His message always finds a way

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

Isaiah 55:11

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

Interior remodeling at Risen Savior

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

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

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

Risen Savior’s church set-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Outreach to the not so lost

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

Kaitlin (left)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Here I am Lord, send me

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

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

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

Getting to know the members of Divine Peace

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

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

Fun at the Fort Worth Stockyards

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

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


 

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Campus ministry is in my blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Faces of Faith – Campus Ministry Alumni

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

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Faces of Faith – Dag

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

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

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

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

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Faces of Faith – James and Emelia

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

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

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Faces of Faith – Chuck

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

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

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

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Faces of Faith – Trina

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

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

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

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

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