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Out of your comfort zone

How do you feel about talking with a complete stranger? How do you feel about sharing the joy of the gospel with a complete stranger? How do you feel about sharing the joy you have in your heart with a family member or a friend?

I would imagine answers to those questions will vary. One response could certainly be that it would be one of the most frightening conversations to carry out.

Risen Savior in Mansfield, Ohio, was looking for ways to share the gospel in the community, surrounding the church. The church enlisted the help of “Praise and Proclaim” and speaker Mr. Dave Malnes. A weekend was set aside to learn some techniques that might open the door to being able to share the message of our Savior Jesus – with strangers, family, and friends.

A total of 20 people attended the Friday night training and role playing session. Besides those from Risen Savior, members from four other WELS churches made the hour-long drive to be part of the  seminar.

One of the groups that went out to share the gospel

Saturday rolled around and it was time to put the training into practice. Practicing and having fun in the basement of the church is one thing, knocking on a stranger’s door is a whole different ball game. Eight groups, of two people each, were ready to head out Saturday morning (after the rain stopped). Anxiety, fright, sweaty palms, and plain terror filled the room.

A sampling of statements that could be heard before heading out the door:

“I’ll hold the clipboard. You can do the talking.”

“If you need me, I’ll be right behind you.”

“Do I have to talk?”

After an hour or so of walking the neighborhoods, we gathered back at church for a debriefing. The fear and anxiety was replaced with excitement and joy. Now you could hear  phrases like:

“After stumbling through the first couple, it became easier.”

“My heart started beating again after a couple of doors.”

“People were actually nice.” and

“It really wasn’t as bad as I anticipated.”

Excitement was in the air as people shared their stories. The goal was not to simply invite people to church but actually share the  gospel.

Adding up all the groups, the message of our Savior Jesus was shared with over 50 people. Five additional people were interested in getting even more information. Over 300 doors were knocked on during the day and information about the church was handed out or left at the door.

When I look back at the weekend, I know some people were praying for the rain to continue all day so they could stay in the warm confines of the church basement. However, after the event, the thrill of sharing the gospel overruled the previous fear and anxiety. The final phrases spoken that hit home:

“When are we able to go out and do this again?”

“I am able to share this with family and friends.”

Mr. Malnes put it best when he said, “Witnessing is more about God than about us.”  May God continue to bless our efforts.

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

 

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Taste of Missions starts July 11

Taste of Missions starts this Sunday, July 11, and runs through July 17! Get to know our synod’s home and world missionaries and get a closer look at their mission work through short video updates, activities and recipes for the entire family, daily devotions, and multiple live events during which WELS members can come together online and interact with missionaries. Make sure to register for this free event at tasteofmissions.com!

Here’s everything you need to know about Taste of Missions:

Join us for these live events

  • Sunday, July 11, 1 p.m. CT: Event kick-off and introduction from WELS Home and World Missions administrators
  • Tuesday, July 13, 7 p.m. CT: World Missions Q&A webinar (registration required)
  • Thursday, July 15, 7 p.m. CT: Home Missions Q&A webinar (registration required)
  • Saturday, July 17, 6 p.m. CT: Closing worship service, featuring the commissioning of five new missionaries immediately followed by a Q&A with new missionaries

Access the live events.

Watch on-demand video updates from missionaries

Enjoy daily video devotions from WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions representatives, and use the personal reflection questions provided as you consider how to be a missionary in your own backyard.

Get to know some of your synod’s 123 home missionaries and 44 world missionaries that are dedicated to sharing the gospel message around the globe in short Moments with Missionaries video updates.

Check out the on-demand videos.

Have fun with the entire family

Have you ever made Dal Bhat from Nepal? Tasted Pen Patat from Haiti? Savored Doro Wot from Ethiopia? Try your hand at making one or more of the ethnic recipes shared by missionary families and national church partners.

You can also get the entire family involved in learning about mission work through coloring pages, word searches, and more. By completing a Taste of Missions scavenger hunt (coming soon!), kids can be entered to win a Taste of Missions t-shirt, and we’ll mail all who participate a Taste of Missions sticker.

Join the activities.

Help us reach our offering goal

WELS mission work is happening in new communities in the United States and around the world every day. WELS Missions appreciates your prayers, special gifts, and congregational offerings. There is always a need to help the hurting, and together with God’s blessing, we can do more.

As part of this year’s Taste of Missions event, it is our goal to collect $25,000 in offerings to support future mission work. A generous group of sponsors has pledged to match every dollar up to $10,000! A gift of $100 will translate to $200 for ministry tomorrow, doubling your impact. This Taste of Missions offering will be divided evenly between Home and World Missions on July 31. Learn more about this special offering and how you can support it at tasteofmissions.com/give.

We are excited to join you as we connect with brothers and sisters in Christ from around the globe and learn how we can all play an important part in the gospel outreach occurring through our synod!

 

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Faces of Faith – Roy

Roy Mendoza was born in Detroit, one of 10 children. From an early age, his parents tried to get rid of him. Twice they took him to Mexico and left him there. They took him to California and other states and purposefully left him behind. He always managed to find his way back, but his distrust and hatred grew.

He soon began to take lives. People in Southwest Detroit called him a vigilante. Neighbors would ask him to take out an abuser, a thief, or some other untouchable, and he would. He became good at killing—he boasted about it—and he didn’t think twice about doing it. He felt no remorse, until he accidentally took the life of his own son.

Shortly after that horrific event, Roy landed in prison. He didn’t want to hear anything about God or forgiveness because he’d killed his own son. But then he heard a verse from Luke where Jesus said, “They will be divided—father against son and son against father.” By the Spirit’s power alone, these words piqued his interest, since he had been wrestling with guilt for the first time in his life. Within months of being in prison, God grabbed hold of his heart through his Word, and Roy cried. Tough guys weren’t supposed to cry, but Roy did. . . and it felt good.

Roy Mendoza

As he reflects on the 25 years he spent behind bars for his life of crime, Roy says, “I didn’t go to prison. I went to school—God’s school.” He hadn’t known how to read, but he somehow started to learn by reading an old King James Bible someone gave him. He poured over Scripture day and night. At one point, he taught 14 men the Bible every day—many of whom had worked to destroy his own family because of things he’d done against their families on the outside. Roy came to know Christ and God’s grace for him, and with a humble, penitent spirit, he brought the gospel to his own enemies.

Since 2017, Roy has been out of prison—by God’s grace, a changed man. One fall day in 2020, after church, a member of Palabra de Vida bumped into him on the sidewalk and told him to check out our church. He did. He walked inside, and I met him. He’s been coming faithfully to worship and Bible study ever since. After studying with me in Bible information class, he was received into membership. Now, Roy is training to be a leader at Palabra de Vida. He encourages others who are just starting out in their faith. He applies the Word to hurting hearts. We pray that God continue to use Roy to give life to others—a big change from a few decades ago! All thanks to the Holy Spirit.

In awe of God’s mercy, Roy sees the famous hymn as his own: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound—that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found—was blind, but now I see.”

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

Hear more from Missionary Kolander in the presentation he gave as part of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) annual convention that occurred this past weekend: vimeo.com/566224349

 

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Worth the wait

The wait is over! After a long 14 months of the pandemic, we are finally able to enjoy many of our favorite activities again. Whether it’s flying to visit family, going to a baseball game, or simply giving someone a hug … as we finally get to enjoy these activities, we realize that we appreciate them more than ever. They were “worth the wait.”

The same thing holds true at church.

2020 was an unusual year for Intown Lutheran Church. The pandemic forced us to cancel most of our events and limit most of our gatherings. For nearly 6 months straight, we held “online-only” worship. It was all very unusual and unexpected. But as it turned out, something else about 2020 was unusual and unexpected too: the tremendous opportunities for outreach.

You might think that with extremely limited options for either gathering at church or going out and meeting new people in the community, our congregation’s outreach ministry would slow to a crawl. But surprisingly, we saw the exact opposite happen. The year 2020 turned out to be by far the strongest year of outreach that we have ever had, in 4 years of existence as a congregation!

How does something like this happen? Only by God’s guiding hand. It seems that during 2020 God used all the chaos and turmoil in our society brought about by the pandemic, politics, social justice issues, etc. to create a real spiritual hunger in many of our city neighbors who had previously been uninterested in church. Even though we were unable to do any of our normal outreach events, again and again God kept leading people to us “out of nowhere,” searching for spiritual guidance. During 2020 we brought more prospects through Bible Basics Class than ever before, and we confirmed more new members than ever before!

But nearly all of it took place online. The Bible Basics Classes were taught over Zoom.  The “New Member Sundays” took place over Facebook Live. Although many people were studying God’s Word and joining our church, in many cases they had yet to meet a single church member or come to a single in-person worship service. The blessings of Christian fellowship were sorely lacking.

But in the past few months, we’ve been able to gather again. The blessings of fellowship have come flooding back. And it has all been “worth the wait!”

On May 16 and May 23, we held back-to-back New Member Sundays, during which we officially welcomed 6 new members from 2021, as well as 10 of our new members from 2020 (most of whom had only been able to participate “virtually” up to this point.)

New member Sunday at Intown Lutheran Church

As new members stood before their congregation and heard the words “Welcome to the family, and welcome to the team…”

as they shared the Lord’s Supper with their brothers and sisters in Christ for the very first time…

as they experienced the smiles, friendly handshakes, and warm hugs of Christian fellowship…

as they watched excited kids sink their teeth into a celebratory post-church donut…

it was clear that all of this had been “worth the wait.”

So what comes next?

Members at Intown Lutheran

There is no fast-forward button in ministry. We can’t “skip ahead” to the next episode. Only God knows what special friendships will grow between old members and new. . . what growth will occur in the hearts of all the new people who have already enrolled in Bible Basics Class for summer. . . or what additional new people he plans to bring our way this fall, when we can finally start doing outreach at community festivals once again.

There are many things we don’t know, but there is one thing that we do. Wherever God decides to lead our growing congregation next – it will be “worth the wait.”

Written by Lucas Bitter, home missionary at Intown Lutheran Church, Atlanta, Ga.

 

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Plans A,B,C,D…

We were ready to take Minot by storm with a new, innovative approach for starting a church. It was 2014, childcare was a massive need in a still-booming North Dakota, so we were going to start an early childhood ministry through which we would grow a thriving mission church. What could go wrong?

A failed land deal, a collapsed oil economy, and one year later we were onto “Plan B.” It was the start of a trend. The past seven years have been filled with plan after plan to reach out to our community. During much of that time we were on the lookout for a more suitable location for our ministry than a hotel conference room. Yet, whether it was an appealing land purchase, a building that would lend well to a renovation, or just leased space where we could get our footing, every plan seemed to fall through and result in a change of plans. We met at that hotel far longer than we ever envisioned.

Grace Lutheran’s church service.

Until one day, one of our members was speaking with a friend from a local Baptist church. They were looking to sell their building, we were looking to buy, and finally, that meant we had a plan that would work. We moved into the building right before Christmas and took a couple months to get it ready. We started up a Mornings with Mommy program shortly thereafter. For the first time it felt our ministry had reached a fifth gear, since we were able to engage in ministry programs that the limitations of the hotel had not allowed!

That was a month before COVID.  You can guess what happened next. Fast-forward to 2021 and I couldn’t tell you what “plan” we’re on. (By now, we have probably run out of letters in the English alphabet.) But all the while, God accomplishes his plan. It has taken me a while to see it because it has never quite matched my plans, but when I remember what God told his people through the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (29:11); yet, plans that would somehow endure when the nation was about to get deported to a foreign land and the temple destroyed? If God could still turn that plan into a Savior and life and salvation, he can do the same for us.

Indeed, this is what I have seen in seven years in Minot: the message of a Savior bringing life and salvation to souls who crave it, even when my own plans have fallen apart. Christian baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals that would stop for no one. Grace from God that didn’t care what “plan” we were on.

I never saw myself as a home missionary, but when I started in Minot I set my mind to work hard and took comfort in the fact that the church would either take off in a “couple years” or it wouldn’t, but then I would be on to something else. It has been seven years now, and I have no idea how long it will take to reach that first “couple of years”, but I know that God’s plan will endure. As long as we continue to preach Jesus, nothing can stop it.

This is mission work. It is infuriating, and it is beautiful.

Written by Rev. Nate Walther, home missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

 

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Member roles from scratch

“My name is _______ and I’m the official _______ at my church.” How easy is it for you to fill in that second blank?

God the Holy Spirit gives gifts, talents, responsibilities, and roles to every believer in Jesus. We’re like parts of a body (Romans 12 and Corinthians 12). We depend on each other’s gifts to build each other up.

Unfortunately, an old phrase echoes around churches: “20% of the members do 80% of the work.” Why? I doubt anyone would say, “I don’t sign up because I’m lazy and afraid of commitment,” or “I don’t think my church’s ministries are worthwhile.”

More likely, a member who isn’t serving in any organized way in his or her church has more sympathetic reasons, like, “No one ever asked me directly,” or, “I think other people are already doing that,” or “I would like to serve, but the roles they offer just aren’t interesting to me.” Rather than thirsting for law or gospel, that Christian might be craving guidance toward a clear ministry role that suits his or her gifts and passions.

We at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Florida, are novices at everything, including member ministry. But as a new mission, we have the opportunity to organize all our ministries from scratch.

We decided to make Member Roles an early priority. They’re one of only four programs we offer (with weekly worship, Bible study groups, and quarterly mission outings). We want to make those roles obvious and official, so that every member with a role, has a title, understands the value of that role, and does it really well.

The “big board” that members put “pen to touchscreen”

On Ascension weekend, we renewed our confirmation vows—all members of all ages. On Pentecost, the members of Citrus Grove chose their ministry roles. These roles are the manpower for our four ministries: Gather, Grow, Give, and Go. Names were already filled in for the Pastor and Ministry Council, but 75 other blanks waited on the Big Board for any confirmed member to claim.

Some people had already found “their thing” during our early months of loosely-organized gatherings. They simply made it official by putting pen to touchscreen: Musician. Coffee Brewer. Women’s Bible Study Host. Others felt torn between two or three possible roles, so friends helped them pick the best one for their gifts.

Be careful if you’re thinking, “One? I serve in a whole bunch of roles at my church!” The right number of roles for each member is somewhere between zero and too many. Wearing too many hats can lead to its own problems: Pride, burnout, or guilt over unfinished or low-quality work.

We also started at one for another reason: None of these roles have job descriptions. (See how brave the members of this mission church are!) Over the next few weeks, members and leaders will work together to clarify the details of each role: Why is mine so valuable? How does mine connect people to Jesus? What exactly do I do, step-by-step? How long is the commitment? What if I run into an issue? What about substitutes? And anything else that will help the next member who serves in that role.

Earlier, I mentioned 75 blanks. Citrus Grove doesn’t have 75 members. That means the unfilled blanks await God’s timing. Those are the talents of people we haven’t met yet, but we’re already praying for them and looking forward to their fruitful service here. Until then, it’s a joy to see current members committing to serve Jesus, his church, and our mission field in roles so clear they can write them on their nametags.

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

 

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Seven new missionaries assigned

Seven pastoral graduates from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary were assigned on May 20, 2021, to serve WELS home and world mission fields:

  • Callies, Lucas – Good Shepherd, North Liberty, Iowa (Multi-site)
  • Hayes, Isaac – St. John on the Hillside, Milwaukee, Wis. (Unsubsidized)
  • Schaewe, Caleb – Shepherd of the Lakes, Linden, Mich.
  • Thomford, Hans – New Mission, Amarillo, Tex.
  • Walsh, Timothy – Grace of God, Dix Hills, N.Y. (Restart)
  • Westra, Andrew – New Mission, Waco, Tex.
  • Zondag, Mark – Asia One Team, Chiang Mai, Thailand

May God bless these men and their families as they transition to their new roles and reach out with the saving gospel message in their communities and the world! For the full assignment list, visit wisluthsem.org/about-wls/assignment-list/.


 

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Equipped to welcome

Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis., is a proudly bilingual congregation. Members from all backgrounds are happy to point to their two bilingual pastors as evidence that we are a bilingual family of believers. Whether I speak English, Spanish, or both, as a member of Bethel, I have Christian brothers and sisters who speak English, Spanish, or both. And I, as a member of Bethel, love that.

Now, when that’s a thing to be proud of, and when that’s a thing that brings joy to your membership, and when I love having brothers and sisters from a totally different culture and language, what you have is a place where anyone from any culture feels welcome. That’s what Jenny Chang and her kids found at Bethel.

Jenny is a second-generation Hmong immigrant. Her sister is married to a member at another WELS congregation in our area, but Jenny, herself, has no background in Christianity at all. Still, her sister and brother-in-law encouraged her to get herself and her kids baptized. Where does a person like that go? Where do you go for something your minority culture doesn’t provide, but when you’re not fully a part of the majority culture? Where do you go when you’re a child of Hmong immigrants and all you know that baptism is good?

Bethel Lutheran Church, Menasha, Wis.

Jenny came to Bethel. Her sister and brother-in-law encouraged her, but she took the initiative and spoke to Pastor Raasch and arranged for her baptism and the baptisms of her kids. She came to worship on Maundy Thursday (maybe one of the most intimidating services there is for someone with no background in Christianity) and then came back for the Sundays of the Easter season. She’s working around her and her kids’ schedules to get into Bible Information Class. Jenny found a place that welcomed her, not because they had the specific equipment to welcome second-generation Hmong immigrants, but because they had the equipment to welcome anyone from anywhere. And they learned to have that equipment—to be that welcoming—because they learned to take righteous pride and joy in their diversity as one family of believers from many cultures and two languages.

This pandemic has stripped away a lot of the distractions of Christianity and has left us with little else than our identity as Christians. What a blessing! What a blessing to be forced to celebrate who we are as believers more than what we have materialistically or what we do habitually. What a time to welcome people to celebrate that with us. What a perfect time for Jenny to hear her family’s encouragement and find the Means of Grace at a church that has nice things and does good stuff, but more importantly is proud of who Jesus has made us to be: his family from many cultures and at least two languages.

Written by Rev. Ethan Cherney, home missionary at Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis.

 

 

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Gifts for God’s glory

One of the things you realize very quickly in the new mission process is that no two new mission churches are the same. It makes sense that a new mission in Texas is going to look a little different than a new mission in South Dakota. Your regional context has an effect on what that mission church looks like. But there is another factor to consider besides the location…the people.

God blesses each mission (and every church) with a group of believers that work together to serve their Savior. The Apostle Paul talked about this most memorably when he described the believers in a congregation as a body of which Christ is the head. In this body, there are different parts that serve different functions. The hand is vital, but it serves a different purpose than the ankle, which is also vital. You need both, but you wouldn’t expect the hand to do what the ankle is supposed to do or vice versa.

When we take to heart what Paul wrote, it gives us great comfort that we don’t need to have the same gifts as other people. In fact, we won’t have the same gifts as other people. My gifts are unique and they serve God’s unique purposes. And in this comfort, we find an awesome way that God works among a group of believers (specifically, a new mission) to reach people with the gospel.

The ornaments Sure Foundation gave out at their Christmas service.

We may picture the ideal mission church member as a person who is incredibly outgoing and able to have conversations with just about anyone, anywhere. This kind of person certainly serves a new mission (or any church) well. However, there are tons of ways to serve in a new mission church and reach people with the gospel.

You might be able to use your gifts of woodworking to make guest gifts for all those who attend your Christmas service. At Sure Foundation, we were able to give out nearly 60 Christmas wooden ornaments with our logo on it.

You might be able to use your gifts of craftsmanship to construct a lectern from which the Word will be preached to many, or you might be able to build a cross. A cross that will hold the nails that are put there on Good Friday as a remembrance of what our sins did to Jesus. The nails that are turned to white on Easter to show the forgiveness that Christ won through his resurrection.

The handcrafted cross that holds the red nails that turn white for Easter.

The unique talents and skills that you bring to your mission will shape and form your mission. It will make your mission look like your people, and it will make your mission look like your community. Which means, that every mission will look different and will reach people in different ways.

In this way we can harmonize two beautiful passages from Scripture. Matthew 28 gives us our charge to make disciples of all nations. 1 Corinthians 10 gives us our purpose that everything we do is to the glory of God. We can reach people to the glory of God by using our unique gifts.

Whatever your gifts are, don’t rule them out. Get creative on how you might use your talents and gifts to serve the body of Christ. But also get creative on how you might use your talents and gifts to reach people with the gospel.

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

 

 

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Witness to all

Dear Christian Friend,

I love detective shows. I am always trying to figure out who did it before the characters on the show reveal it. A key element to any detective’s case is eyewitnesses. A particular scene might involve several eyewitnesses, each with their own account of what happened.

Jesus asked his followers to be his witnesses right before he ascended into heaven. He was talking to those who had seen it all: the miracles, the rejections, the suffering, the cross, and the empty tomb. They had seen him!

Jesus had another reason for asking them to be witnesses. He wanted his followers to not only believe what they had seen and heard but also to share what they had seen and heard.

What have you seen and heard? Certainly, after participating in another Holy Week and Easter season, you have seen the cross and the empty tomb. You have heard that sin has been forgiven, death defeated, and heaven won for all believers.

What about your audience? If you glance quickly at your neighborhood, you might see exactly what Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waukegan, Ill., saw: a growing community of people who are new to the U.S. and who speak a different language. Look closer! What else do you see?

You see lost people—people who have not heard that sin has been forgiven, death defeated, and heaven won.

Immanuel has done something unique. They adjusted their ministry plan to serve their changed community. We praise God for blessing the work of that congregation! Before this, the congregation saw the need but didn’t know what to do. They requested guidance from WELS Home Missions. As the WELS Hispanic Outreach Consultant, I was able to assist that congregation by . . .

  1. providing demographic information on the community.
  2. training members to lead English Improvement classes to help their immigrant neighbors.
  3. directing the congregation on their best approach to ministry.

More than 70 percent of our WELS congregations have Hispanic and Latino people living in their communities. Like Immanuel, they might also be considering how to adjust their ministry plan according to the changed audience. At times this can seem quite daunting, but it isn’t! WELS Home Missions is pleased to help.

Thank you for your past contributions and your continued commitment to supporting WELS Home Mission work through your congregation and directly. With God’s blessing, your prayers and generous offerings help numerous congregations witness the love of Jesus to Hispanic and Latino people in our neighborhoods. Consider making a gift to WELS Home Missions today knowing that your partnership will serve many for Christ.

May we be witnesses to everyone of what Jesus has done for us!

En Cristo,
Pastor Tim Flunker
Board for Home Mission’s Hispanic Outreach Consultant

Optimistic outreach

You’ve no doubt experienced it in your congregation. Nearly all of our ministry and outreach events for the last year have been canceled, postponed, or altered. We canceled worship for about six months. Human contact was greatly reduced. All this has certainly threatened our outreach efforts. However, in spite of these setbacks, God has given us many blessings amid the COVID-19 conundrum.

Necessity propelled us deeper into the digital age and further into social media outreach. This has prompted us to continue providing weekly video devotions, sermons, and a children’s message for both preschool and elementary age children. We used the “down” time to upgrade our equipment and video efforts as well as our website in order to help people connect with us and to find the information they were looking for.

Inside Redeemer’s new worship facility

COVID postponed our Jesus Cares Ministry and “Worship at the Cross.” We had hoped to begin this past fall (2020), but our special needs community remains under isolation. So, while they remain in quarantine, we have begun to record our Worship at the Cross service, which we post through our website and social media content once a month. Our contact and leader in this community has shared this information with the people who are members of her group and has encouraged them to check us out. We hope that by mid-summer 2021 or fall 2021, we will be able to “Worship at the Cross” face-to-face.

While our Easter egg hunt and other service events like a food drive were canceled, we were able to offer online worship and weekly Bible study. We kept in contact with our prospects and members, some of whom checked us out online and appreciated the gospel they heard. This past summer we were able to worship face-to-face for about six weeks before we had to close again.  However, this time it was for a good and positive reason.

Inviting people to the Easter for Kids drive-through event

Three and half years ago, we had begun worship and ministry inside a large professional building. While the management staff was friendly and accommodating, the location hindered our efforts. In July 2020 and in answer to our prayers, God provided us a stand-alone building for lease which is located on a major road and near an elementary school and one of the largest grocery stores and retail areas in the city. While the building required about $30,000 to renovate, God blessed our people so that we were able to raise all the money within our multi-site congregation! We did not ask for or need additional synodical or outside support.

Additionally, God blessed our members with many gifts. In addition to their offerings, many of them donated time and energy to make the remodel of our new facility a reality. People both within our congregation and in our community have commented on how nice it looks and how well it functions. This new space with the opportunities it gives us have invigorated our members and we are happy to report that, since we have moved into our new facility, we have seen a notable increase in guest attendance. We prayerfully hope to welcome five new members within the next two months!

There are still more reasons for our optimism. Under some restrictions, we held a drive-through “Trick or Treat” where we handed out bags filled with candy, crafts, Bible lessons, and invitations to our Thanksgiving and Christmas services. We handed out over 300 invitations. We did much the same at Christmas with our drive-through Christmas for Kids, and we did the same for Easter instead of our annual Easter egg hunt.

We recently resumed our door-to-door, face-to-face efforts to invite neighbors to our Easter for Kids drive-through event and our Easter worship. Like so many, we pray by summer of 2021 we will be able to return to more normal social conditions. We remain optimistic that our efforts will continue to see more visible measures of blessing. Thank you for all you do in your words, actions, attitudes, and offerings to support the efforts of WELS Home Missions in WELS! We truly appreciate it.

Written by Rev. Aaron Glaeske, home missionary at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Victoria, Tex. 

WELS Home Missions just approved funding for seven new home mission locations! Read more about these new mission plants in this article from this week’s Together e-newsletter.

 

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Seven home missions to receive funding

At its meeting last week, the Board for Home Missions approved funding for seven locations, including funding for four new home mission starts and three existing mission congregations.

New home mission plants include:

  • Waco, Texas: The Heart of Texas mission core group has been meeting regularly since March 2020. They are active in the community and participate in family-friendly activities around town while representing their new church plant. This mission is being supported by Trinity in nearby Temple, Texas.
  • Durham, N.C.: Gethsemane, the WELS congregation in Raleigh, N.C., is launching a second site in nearby Durham. The three universities in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill are creating jobs and drawing a diverse group of young professionals and families to the area. The gospel is especially needed in this area, as studies show that 75 percent of people in the area do not know their Savior.
  • Parrish, Fla.: Risen Savior in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., a previous home mission church that recently became self-supporting, as well as Ascension, Sarasota, Fla., are starting and supporting this new mission plant. Parrish is located in a growing area; 20,000 to 30,000 homes are expected to be built there in the next 10 years. This new mission will be reaching out with the gospel to a community that is 85 percent unchurched.
  • Dickinson, N.D.: A committed core group has been meeting regularly for livestreamed worship and monthly gatherings since 2012, served by pastors from WELS churches in Mandan and Bismarck, N.D. Those two congregations, as well as Salem, Circle, Mont., will be supporting this new mission start named Amazing Grace. Dickinson, the hub of the area, has seen recent economic growth alongside the oil industry, which is drawing new young families to the community.

Home Missions is also providing financial support to three existing ministries:

  • Willoughby, Ohio: King of Kings in the suburbs of Cleveland is one of only two WELS churches in northeast Ohio, where 2.8 million people reside. It will be calling a new pastor to reach out to young professionals and families who have moved from downtown Cleveland to the suburbs.
  • Hutto, Texas: Located north of Austin, Christ the Rock has been an unsubsidized mission since 2016. It recently started worshiping in a new facility and is aggressively serving its community. Financial support will assist with ministry expenses.
  • Summerlin, Nev.: Summerlin Lutheran Church owns a large facility in a growing master-planned community on the west side of Las Vegas. Three years of Home Missions financial support will allow the congregation to call a pastor and partner in outreach with nearby home mission congregation Shepherd of the Hills, whose pastor has been serving as Summerlin’s vacancy pastor.

“What a blessing district mission boards and mission counselors are. Their service allows Home Missions to plant missions so missionaries can proclaim the gospel,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of the Board for Home Missions. “As these new missions are planted, we pray more souls will hear how Jesus Christ is their Savior from sin, their Lord in life, and has secured their future home in heaven.”

Home Missions also approved unsubsidized mission status for Redeemer, Fallbrook, Calif., and St. John’s Hillside, Milwaukee, Wis. Home Missions provides assistance to unsubsidized mission congregations through its district missions boards, mission counselors, synodical support staff, and special project funds, but does not provide direct financial support.

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

 

 

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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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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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