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Confessions of faith: Kalbach

A man shares how Jesus changed his life forever.

Steven H. Prahl

I first met Dave and Connie Kalbach when they walked in the doors for our Christmas Eve service. I introduced myself and welcomed them. Dave replied, “I don’t really go to church; I’m just here with them,” as he pointed to his family.

That’s how my relationship with Dave and Connie started. I didn’t know what to expect, but Jesus knew that this was part of a life-changing experience for them.

Christian influences

Dave would tell you that he always had a sense of a “higher power.” That really started when his father took his own life when Dave was 14 years old. Dave had gone out to find out why his dad wasn’t coming in from the car. Because the car doors were locked, Dave went back into the house, grabbed a flashlight, confirmed it worked, and went back into the night. But when he got to the car, the flashlight didn’t work. Today, Dave is convinced that God was looking out for him, protecting him from seeing his father’s body.

In 1991, Dave and Connie’s youngest son, Sean, met a family at the campground where he worked. This Lutheran pastor and his wife had five daughters, including Tanya, who two years later would become Sean’s wife. While dating Tanya, Sean attended a Bible information class at the church and became a member. As the years went by, Dave and Connie would visit their kids and grandkids every few months. On most of those visits, they would go to church with them, although Dave could not understand why they drove past other churches to go to the WELS church.

Tanya had a big impact on her in-laws. She and Connie began reading through the Bible together, discussing what they had read on the phone. Dave, though, wasn’t very interested, even admitting that he would hold those Bible studies against Connie when they would argue. But through the years, Dave said he and Tanya “would have conversations about the Bible, church, God, and heaven.” He continues, “During one of these conversations I told Tanya that one of us was in for a big surprise since I felt that the fact that I led an honorable life meant that I would go to heaven. Tanya stood by her conviction that I could not get to heaven like that.”

Dave was right that one of them was in for a big surprise—and by God’s grace it was before Dave stood before God.

An aha moment

As Dave tells it: “In 2017, Sean, Tanya, and their entire family decided to visit Colorado for Christmas. This would be the first time in many years we all would be together for Christmas. Tanya told us she wanted to go to Christmas Eve services. Sean and Tanya had been married at a WELS church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and it was the only WELS church I knew of, but it was on the other side of town from us. I thought, Just what I want to do on Christmas Eve—drive across town for church. This is where it gets interesting. A week or so before Christmas, a card for a Lutheran church arrived in our mailbox. The church was named Foundation, and it met in the elementary school three miles from our home. Christmas Eve came, and we all attended church [at Foundation]. Connie and I enjoyed the service and were made to feel welcome by the congregation.”

Two weeks after that December 24 introduction, Dave and Connie came walking through the church’s doors on Sunday. Dave informed me, “In 51 years of marriage, we have never gone to church just the two of us, without our kids.” Dave knew that Connie was interested in going to church, but he had never seen a reason to attend. He thought he was just fine with God on his own. But because of something he heard on Christmas Eve and because he loved his wife, he asked her to go to church with him. Dave says, “You could have knocked Connie over with a feather.”

Dave and Connie started attending worship regularly and decided to go through our FaithBuilders classes. “It was during the section on works that I had an ‘aha!’ moment,” says Dave. “It became clear to me that I could not get to heaven by works. Tanya had been right all along. On that day I realized that the only way to heaven was through Jesus Christ.” Dave admits that this was eye-opening. It was both comforting and scary at the same time—comforting because Jesus had done it all for him and scary because what he had relied on and thought he knew didn’t matter for his salvation.

On May 6, 2018, Dave and Connie were baptized into the Christian faith and became members of Foundation. It was a special day for everyone there as we saw Dave and Connie’s joy as they were washed in the water of Baptism. It was especially exciting for Sean and Tanya, who flew to Colorado for the long-awaited occasion.

As Dave says, “A random postcard; Tanya, a true Christian who never gave up; an ‘aha!’ moment; and Jesus Christ changed my life forever. I have lots to learn, but I am ready for the trip.”

Infectious witness

Since becoming members of Foundation, Dave and Connie regularly help set up chairs and equipment before worship at the school we rent. They hosted one of our Bible study groups this summer. They drop off guest bags to people who have visited our church, because they know what it is like to be on the other side of that door. They aren’t shy about sharing that they are new to the church and they are excited to be here!

Their joy of knowing their Savior is infectious. This summer, they helped with our soccer Bible camp; Dave even did all the drills with the little kids. On the last day of camp, Dave was talking with one of the moms and invited her to church. He told her that he had always thought that he was fine with God and didn’t really need to go to church but now he learned what God had done for him. Her response: “I didn’t know other people felt like that too.” So, Dave invited her to meet “the friendliest group of people” and learn about what Jesus has done for her too.

It hasn’t all been easy. Dave had a health scare, and some of their family has pushed them away because they are now Christians. But Dave and Connie continue to cling to the peace that Jesus gives and hold on to the hope that if it wasn’t too late for them to come to faith in Jesus it isn’t too late for their family members either.

And it’s all because of “a random postcard; Tanya, a true Christian who never gave up; an “aha!” moment, and Jesus Christ.”

Two lives changed, and two souls saved forever.


Steven Prahl is pastor at Foundation, Peyton, Colorado.


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Author: Steven H. Prahl
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The bigger the animal, the more special the feast

The bigger the animal, the more special the feast. Traditionally and culturally in the Hmong community, a cow is reserved for a special occasion. (when a baby boy is born, marriage, etc.) A cow signifies the happiness of the parents. A wedding feast with a cow for the meal is a feast for a family of wealth.

Faith Hmong Lutheran Church in Anchorage, Alaska, had a special meal like this in June. It was a meal to invite the community to, and a meal to share with the congregation for the three days of our annual camp. God’s Word says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

“Out of darkness”, is so true as we were held under the control of Satan and his lies. How wonderful it is to celebrate together with brothers and sisters under the cross and to share this experience with other redeemed children of God, young and old.

Ladies enjoying the beef bone

The question was brought up as to how we could gather and have a special meal – how special of a meal was the next question. Leaders in the congregation had to struggle with this question. Chickens, pig, goat, or even a cow? The price of livestock is not cheap in Alaska. To make it as special as possible, we would need to get a cow.

“Why not?” the leaders asked. $1,500-$2,000 is the asking price for a cow, but it would make this year’s camp very special.

In November 2018, the leaders got the ball rolling as we ended that meeting. The idea was that leaders would start to donate to this meal – $10 a week, $20 a week, even $50 a week, depending on what they were able to donate. Then, at the beginning of June, whatever else was needed, we would ask for a donation from the congregation to cover the cost.

What a blessing it was to see when brothers and sister unite and come together for a purpose. We were able to gather enough funds to cover the cost of the cow for this fellowship event.

Camp devotion

June 20, 2019, the day before our camp was to start, a couple strong youth and myself drove to Palmer, Alaska, to butcher this cow for our feast. We butchered the cow at the farm and hauled pretty much all the parts that were necessary – all of the meat, including the stomach, heart, lungs, and intestine. The phrase “leave nothing behind” was true for us as we only left behind what was not edible.

What a blessing it was to have many hands to help with this process. We were able to bring all the meat back to camp and process it there. Many people are familiar with hanging the meat first, but not in the Hmong community. We process the meat into smaller portions to cook right away, and to make sure we have enough to cook for all our planned meals.

Four meals were planned – one for Friday evening, two for Saturday, and one more on Sunday. We thank a couple of our ladies for taking charge of the meal prep. They are great cooks who really know how to cook this traditional food!

On Saturday afternoon, we held our special meal. Members were encouraged to share personal invitations to the Hmong community to come and join us for this special meal. Though the drive was about 1.5 hours from Anchorage, we had three non-member families come and join us for this special meal. The meal’s menu included Laarb ( fine ground beef mixed with herbs), which can be made raw and cooked, boiled beef bone soup (a very time-consuming dish, where the sauce is made from the intestine), short ribs, lean meats, tripe (stomach), BBQ beef, rice, and pepper to go along these dishes.

Lake games

We thank the Lord for an afternoon filled with laughter, conversation, fellowship, games, songs, and the sharing of God’s Word through devotions.

Three days was not long enough. If only we could hold time still for a moment. To see brothers and sisters in Christ gather together and to have families who don’t believe be able to join us and see the unity, fellowship, love, and care of Christians was a great blessing. It’s not just the planning that made all this come together, but God’s guidance and blessings. This was made possible by everyone involved. We had roughly 70 people throughout the three days, and nearly 100 people at Saturday’s meal. We had enough meat left over to share with the 18 families at Faith Hmong. The fact that each family was able to go home with a portion to enjoy shows us the abundance of God blessings.

We are looking forward to next year already! Maybe it won’t involve butchering a cow (as that’s a lot of work), but maybe something smaller. Any time we get to spend working together, loving each other, and being led by the Lord will be time well spent. May the Lord continue to bless this ministry and lead us to do all things to glorify him alone.

Written by Pastor Pao Moua, home missionary at Faith Hmong Lutheran Church in Anchorage, Alaska. 

 

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Surely the Lord is in this place

It wasn’t anything pretty. Just a small suite in an office building on a busy road in Nampa, Idaho. A gathering space with an office in the back. But it was a place to get started. It was a place to meet. It was a place we could invite people to. It wasn’t pretty when we got there, but surely the Lord was in that place.

Suite 120 in the Legend Building in Nampa is now the 24/7 ministry center for Cross of Christ’s multi-site congregation. After 25 years of God’s rich blessings on our church in Boise, Cross of Christ is branching out to the west in North Nampa to reach more and more souls with the saving and freeing message of Jesus and the Bible.

Who would have thought such amazing things would happen in this little place? One man found out on Father’s Day that his wife was leaving him. He came to our divorce support group where he reconnected with the gospel after not having attended church since middle school.

One couple tragically lost their son in a sudden death. They came to our grief support group where they heard about the resurrection and eternal life for all who believe in Jesus.

One lady stayed after class, apologizing for being so emotional (she didn’t need to apologize). She said our Cross Connections (basic Christian instruction) course was giving her just what she needed at just the right time in her life. The Good News she was hearing was so great it was all just feeling a little overwhelming, in a good way.

All we did was get a little place and open the doors so people could hear the gospel. How is it that lives are changed and people are suddenly connected to God, their purpose, and a Christian community?

Surely the Lord is in this little place.

When he woke up from his angelic dream, Jacob said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16). If Jesus has promised to be with us always, we’re going to try and be alert to all the ways God shows us that he is with us today.

Cross of Christ's new worship location

Cross of Christ’s new worship location

Now we’re gearing up for services to start in North Nampa, and we’ll need a place a little bigger than our suite 120 ministry center. So we’ll be renting a restaurant on Sunday mornings. The opening service will be November 24, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Just a little restaurant on a busy road in Nampa, Idaho. Tables and chairs and salt and pepper shakers. But it’s a place to meet. A place to worship. A place to invite more people to. It might not be a cathedral, but surely the Lord will be in that place too.

Because Jesus has given us his Word. And we will worship in the name of Jesus. And where two or three gather in his name, there he is also.

What sort of amazing things will happen in that little place?

I can’t wait to find out!

Written by Pastor Kurt Wetzel, mission pastor at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Ida.

 

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The Lord, our shield

Glenn L. Schwanke

August 15–17, 1969. Woodstock. Over a half million people flocked to Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York. There they rocked to Joan Baez; the Grateful Dead; Janis Joplin; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; and many more. Jimmy Hendrix’ electrifying guitar work wrapped up the event.

But Woodstock is remembered more for the shocking scenes captured in a 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. The three-day event became little more than a warped respite from the violent protests that were sweeping our nation—protests demanding an end to the war in Vietnam and unfair treatment of blacks as well as demanding full equality for women.

Many of the most violent protests were on college campuses. On May 15, 1969, at the University of California, Berkley, police and 2,700 National Guard troops used tear gas and shotguns in an effort to control the rioters. Then came May 4, 1970. Kent State. Four students were killed and another nine were injured while protesting the bombing of Cambodia by US forces.

Our nation was ripping apart. Yet, in the midst of this chaos, something incredible took place at Michigan Technological University (MTU).

At the beginning of the 1969 fall semester, a Michigan Tech freshman, Martin Jones of Woodruff, Wisconsin, reached out to Dr. J. Michael Skaates, a faculty member at Tech. Jones did not want to organize a protest but rather to get a group started for Bible study and worship. Jones knew that Dr. Skaates was a member of the National Church in Calumet and that Skaates had connections with the Wisconsin Synod.

Jones and Skaates received permission to check the religious preference cards on file in the Dean of Students’ Office. They identified 12 students as Wisconsin Synod members. Then they contacted and invited those students to an initial meeting on Oct. 14, 1969. Seven students came and arranged to meet regularly for Bible study. They organized as a chapter of “Lutheran Collegians,” the national WELS Student organization. Several months later, the Michigan Tech Dean of Students granted a charter to the group recognizing them as a student organization.

In the fledgling years of this campus ministry, communion services were held once a month in a Seventh-day Adventist building in Houghton. On other Sundays, students took a taxi up to Calumet for worship. Later, communion services were conducted in the front room of the Baptist Student Center in Houghton. By 1973, weekly worship

services were held on Sunday evenings at the Christian Science Building. Then on Dec. 3, 1978, the first worship service was held at the University Chapel, the campus ministry’s new home thanks to the efforts of the WELS General Board for Home Missions.

So much has changed since then! Yet, just like 1969, 2019 is rocked by protests in our nation. Today’s protests are over migrant issues, border protection, gender identity, or anger over “white privilege.” Our college campuses remain tinderboxes where issues explode, catching students in the cross-fire.

Thank God we still have campus ministries to serve students living through these turbulent times! Here in Houghton, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary with the theme, “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage.” We’ll have special services on Sept. 1, 2019; Oct. 27, 2019; and Feb. 9, 2020. We’d love to have you join us!

Whether you join us or not, please keep praying for WELS Campus Ministry, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Perhaps your prayer can mirror mine. “Father, steel Christians on campus with a faith that joyfully shouts David’s confession. ‘This God—his way is blameless. The speech of the LORD is pure. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him’ ” (Psalm 18:30 Evangelical Heritage Version).


Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, also serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Kang

The Holy Spirit worked saving faith in a Korean family who claimed, “We are not Christians.”  

Mark A. Eckert

Youngil (Alan) Kang and his wife Sukjeong (Ann) Kim were a typical South Korean couple. They were consumed by their professions—so much so that they had limited family time, which is quite common in Korea. Alan was a government official, working for the Ministry of Science and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). For over 15 years, he has created and implemented policies that foster the development of science and technology and also technology commercialization in Korea. Ann was a plant quarantine officer dealing with diseases caused by insects in imported plants.

Ann had grown tired of her job. She worked and lived in an apartment during the week and only got to see her husband and sons on weekends.

A journey to Michigan State University

About three years ago, they—together with their two sons Gyumin (Tony) and Gyoungmin (Fred)—began quite a journey. Ann quit her job so she could have more time with her family. Then Alan learned that he would be sent to Michigan State University (MSU) in Lansing, Michigan, for two years. In the first year he’d study in the Visiting International Professional Program. Then he’d put what he learned into practice at Spartan Innovations, which provides the educational and financial support necessary to turn MSU research technologies into successful businesses.

This journey to the United States brought many new challenges, including learning English. Fortunately, Alan has a good, dedicated, and organized wife who knew that her family members needed to make the most of their time in the United States. Her priority was to make sure that her family spoke and understood English better after their two-year stint in America. While still in Korea, she searched the Internet for ways to improve the family’s English. She learned about the Friendship House, a place in East Lansing where she and her family could take English classes.

When they arrived in Michigan, the Kang family went to the International Welcome Party at the Friendship House. HaeHee Park, a member of the WELS Campus Ministry in Lansing, met Alan and Ann and invited them to come to the campus ministry. She told them it would be great for them to learn some English and to learn about God. It also would be good for them just to hang around with some Americans, to have fun, and to learn “American.”

First steps in worship

A couple weeks later they came to our Saturday evening worship service. We have Saturday evening services because that works best for our campus ministry. Some of our volunteers attend their own congregations on Sunday, but they also love to worship and fellowship with the WELS students. After our worship service we have a great time together and eat some of the best international—and sometimes even American—food.

That Saturday in September, Ann was planning how often her sons could meet with Doug Tabor, who teaches many of our English classes. Students usually end up meeting with Doug every day except for Sunday and Monday. Doug says he doesn’t really teach them English. He just spends a lot of time talking and doing things (playing Cribbage, basketball, camping) with them so they get more comfortable with English. After two years Doug says their English is definitely better and their ping pong skills have really gotten great!

A few weeks later, the Kangs came again for worship. After that they faithfully attended our worship services, Doug’s English classes, and whatever else we offered them. If they missed, it was usually because they were traveling or experiencing other pieces of American culture.

Soon Alan asked me to record our services so he and his wife could listen to the services again during the week to understand the English better and to understand the sermon message better. So we began posting our recordings online for the Kangs and for other internationals who have returned to their home countries and want to listen to our services.

Learning more about Jesus

Just before Christmas, HaeHee Park convinced Alan and Ann that they should come to my Bible Information Class (BIC). I had talked to them about coming, but it always works better when one Korean invites another. We started a marathon class.

Prior to coming to our campus ministry, the Kangs had no real religious background. Ann had gone to a church for about three years while in elementary school. Tony and Fred had gone with friends to church for a couple years. But they didn’t really know about Jesus. I remember Ann often saying to me, “We are not Christian.”

As the weeks and months rolled by, the Kangs faithfully kept coming to our services and the BIC sessions. I noted how attentive they were in worship. I know that sometimes they were just struggling a bit to understand the English and the message, but I also know that the Holy Spirit was working. Fred and Tony were always the key targets for my youth devotions.

I’m not sure when Ann last said, “I’m not a Christian.” She said it so often. But in the last year when she spoke those words, I would say to her that if she wasn’t a Christian, I didn’t know what a Christian was. I’d ask her and Alan if Jesus was the Savior who lived and died for the sins of the world, and they would say, “Yes, he did.” I repeatedly told them that I believed they really were believers.

I often talked to them about Baptism and encouraged them to be baptized. Finally, at one of our classes, they said they wanted to be baptized. I spent some time talking about Baptism with the entire family, and then they all were baptized. What a journey we had traveled together!

Since then we’ve completed our information classes. I told them that it would be great if we confirmed them as well, but what was more important is that they knew more about Jesus their Savior. When we asked them what they would miss most about Michigan when they returned to Korea this year, they said they’d miss our campus ministry and their Christian friends because here they learned about Jesus.

After the Kangs return to Korea, we’ll stay in contact with them through KakaoTalk (a text/phone app). We’ll also e-mail them our sermons and bulletins. They said they’d continue to go online to find our service recordings. Maybe we’ll get the chance to visit them in Korea. Maybe they’ll come back to the United States for a visit. Whatever happens, we can rejoice because the Holy Spirit worked on the hearts of the Kangs and made them who said, “We are not Christians,” into believing children of God and heirs of heaven.


Mark Eckert is pastor at Calvary, Eaton Rapids, Michigan, and campus pastor in Lansing, Michigan.


WELS Campus Ministry is celebrating its 100th anniversary this school year. A ministry of WELS Home Missions, WELS Campus Ministry provides resources, support, and encouragement to approximately 30 ministries on college campuses (ones like the campus ministry in East Lansing) and many congregations near college campuses in the United States and Canada. Learn more at wels.net/campus-ministry.


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Author: Mark A. Eckert
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Lavished love for loneliness

The absence of familiar things often means feeling alone, but God’s love in Jesus remains sure and certain.  

Jonathan P. Bilitz 

Would it surprise you to learn that the fastest growing problem faced by college students (especially first-year students) is loneliness? Medical services report that more and more students present symptoms of depression and anxiety because they feel alone. Survey statistics from universities convey that as many as 70 percent of college students say they have gone through bouts of loneliness.  

Loneliness in college is certainly not new. But the rate of increase among students has led some to label the issue the “Loneliness Epidemic.” Why? Certainly many factors contribute to its rise. Modern technology has allowed people to be in touch with each other like no other time in history. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook can connechundreds or even thousands! Snapchat streaks promote a daily communication with others. But how many of those relationships go deeper than a surface friendship?  

College students have left behind many of the friends made in high school. A new beginning means new relationships need to be cultivated. The pressure of academic success might isolate the student as studying becomes the top priority. 

Whatever triggers loneliness, God’s people know that the “father of lies” would like nothing more than to convince us that we are all alone. He wants us to think no one loves us or cares about us. He wants us to focus so much on our troubles that we forget about the One to whom we belong. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). We are never alone; our Lord promises he is always with us. 

So when lonely times hit, you have the greatest relief: Jesus, who already defeated Satan. King David experienced bouts of loneliness. He expressed his anguish in Psalm 25:16: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” Though he felt alone, David knew where to turn. He knew his hope was in the Lord. Connect with your Lord through his Word when lonely times visit you. He has lavished his love on you and calls you his child. 

Consider these ideas when you’re lonely:  

  • Don’t panic! What you are experiencing is common.Remember that it takes time for something new to feel comfortable.  
  • Try getting out of your dorm or apartment to meet people.Connect with others through activities and clubs.  
  • Find opportunities to connect with those students who share the same beliefs as you.Search out the campus ministry at your college or university. 

Campus ministry can provide the blessing of connecting you with Christians who are experiencing the same things. Together you will find strength for your faith in the Word of God. You will be encouraged to cast your worries on the One who cares for you. Campus ministry may provide the outlet you need to alleviate loneliness. In his grace, God has provided one hundred years of campus ministry through our church body. (Watch for more information about this anniversary in upcoming issues of Forward in Christ!) Countless students have connected with one another around the promises of God. Campus ministry can provide that for you. 

Most of all, remember God says that you are his child. When pangs of loneliness hit, cherish your status. Reflect on the love he has lavished on you. Trust that he will never leave you or forsake you. Because God is faithful, you will never be alone. 


Jonathan Bilitz is pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Jonathan P. Bilitz 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Learning about God’s timing

In April 2018, WELS Board for Home Missions approved funding for a new mission in Joplin, Mo. In May 2019, Jordan Bence was assigned to serve as the home missionary in Joplin, Mo. What did the core group in Joplin do as it waited for its first pastor?  

“Well, the first thing we had to learn was patience,” says Wendy Wright, a member of the core group. “This was God’s timing, not ours! We learned a lot about the divine call process, as we extended ten calls during this year.” 

Wright adds, “The waiting would have been much harder had we not started a weekly Bible study last July, led by Pastor Aaron Schumann, who serves at Faith, Pittsburg, Kan.”  

The Bible study began as a way for the core group to enjoy fellowship and biblical encouragement together. “But then, several of the group invited guests . . . and they came . . . and they stayed!” says Wright. “We were excited to have three guest families join us, and two have continued regular attendance.” One of the guests even offered space at her real estate office for the group to meet. 

“My role was every pastor’s dream—I showed up and taught them and their friends God’s Word every Wednesday evening for one year,” says Schumann. “The core group took care of all of the details, filled out all of the necessary paperwork, put together the proposal to synod, and invited their friends and their coworkers to the Wednesday night Bible study. They were awesome. My role was to bring them Jesus on a weekly basis and to encourage them in what they were doing. Their motivation to serve their Lord and tell others about Jesus is what has driven this mission.” 

So what was it like to find out that a pastor was assigned to them from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s graduating class of 2019? 

“On Call Day the whole core group was waiting anxiously to find out who would be assigned to our home mission,” says Wright. “We were all watching on our laptops or phones at work and at home. When we saw that at the top of the list Jordan Bence was assigned to our mission, we were ecstatic!”  

And Bence’s reaction? “I guess it was just pure shock,” he says. “You try to prepare yourself for that moment, but you really can’t. When President Schroeder read my name and assignment, I was just overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the fact that God had chosen me for such a task. Overwhelmed with the opportunity that God placed before me to love these people by continually building them up in his unconditional love. It’s truly a humbling moment of God’s grace. It was something I had been dreaming of since kindergarten.” 

Bence continues, “The training program of our synod has given me many experiences to not only build my own faith but also prepare me to serve the Joplin, Mo., (JOMO) mission. I have helped out multiple mission churches throughout the United States going all the way back to high school. 

Finally, Bence says, “When it comes to the JOMO mission, I guess a summarizing statement for this group might beambitious to serve. These people are filled with the spirit and are ready to go out and proclaim the good news!


To learn more about the JOMO mission and other home mission congregations, visit wels.net/missions 


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Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Backyard Mission Work

Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

Isn’t it fun to read or hear the stories of missionaries who live far away? To hear stories of the gospel taking root into hearts in places that are strange to us? When Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world, we often think of such far away places. If we’re being honest, Waukesha, Wis., is probably about the last place that comes to mind. Waukesha is home to four WELS churches, a couple of which were founded over 100 years ago. At first glance you might not expect to find much “world mission work” here.

That wasn’t always the case. There was a time when Trinity Lutheran in Waukesha was a bustling world mission outpost; a gathering place for German immigrants who made their way to America seeking a new and prosperous beginning for their families. As a mission outpost for immigrants, Trinity’s first worship services were held in the immigrants’ native German.

Alma Lopez’s Quinceañera service

Of course, as generations have passed, the days of worship and outreach in German at Trinity are now behind us. And yet, just as Waukesha was once a hot-bed for German immigrants, God has now brought a new group of immigrants to Trinity’s neighborhood, all in need of that same life-giving gospel message.

Immigrants from Central and South America have taken residence in the homes immediately surrounding our church, and just as in the days of Trinity’s founding, mission work is once again taking place in a foreign language, only this time in Spanish.

As part of that mission effort, this past August, Trinity celebrated its first ever Quinceañera service. The Lopez family requested that we help them celebrate their daughter Alma’s fifteenth birthday and transition into adulthood with a special worship service asking the Lord’s blessing. Nearly 30 people, most who had never stepped a foot into our church before, gathered to hear the Word of God preached in their native Spanish! Such days are a victory for God’s kingdom, as God assures us his word never returns to him empty.

No, Waukesha may not look anything like the world mission fields we often imagine, but the work being done here is exactly the type of work our Lord urges his disciples to pursue. World mission work can lead missionaries to travel to distant lands, but sometimes the Lord leads this world’s people to us; planting a ripe for harvest world mission right in our own backyards. God bless our synod’s efforts to carry out our mission to the world.

Yes, even in places like Waukesha.

Written by Pastor Phil Gurgel, home missionary at Trinity Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Wis. 

 

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After 16 years of waiting…

Well, it’s been over 16 years of waiting, but Living Word in Waukesha, Wis., finally broke ground on its first facility on September 15, 2019. In that time, we’ve set up and taken down for worship services nearly 1,000 times.

Living Word members wrote Bible passages and symbols on rocks that will be buried under the altar and in the foundation.

Are the members excited? Absolutely! In their time renting Rose Glen Elementary School, there have been times they couldn’t use the school due to school activities, times when the custodian forgot to open the building (not so good for a Good Friday service), and whole summers where the first thing anyone saw as they drove into the parking lot was a big, ugly dumpster blocking the school entrance. There’s nothing quite like a welcome dumpster that tells visitors, “We follow the theology of the cross.”

But the members have kept things in perspective. Worshiping in a public school for 16 years is nothing compared to dealing with persecution, or worshiping in graveyards, as some early Christians had to do, or having no place at all from which to proclaim the gospel, such as in many of our foreign mission fields.

View from drone with Waukesha West High School in the background, across the highway from where we’ll build. Members are breaking ground on the perimeter of the building.

Are the members excited and happy?  Of course.  But not just because they won’t have to set up and tear down worship each Sunday. Now we get to use a facility as an encouragement to our members in their gospel outreach. We’ll have a coffee shop as the hub of the building that will encourage members to tell their friends, “Come and see what we’re all about—Jesus, our Savior from sin, and your Savior as well.” We plan on partnering with Lighthouse Youth Center to reach out to Waukesha West High School students as well as partnering with Christian Family Solutions so we can provide professional Christian counseling to anyone who needs it. And we’ll continue to invite the community to our Faith Quest for children and our worship services and Bible studies where we know God’s word will do its work to save and strengthen souls.

Above all, we thank our gracious God and so many people he has worked through who have made sacrifices to get us to this point, including the members of our 16 mother congregations. Now we pray that God blesses the construction so we can finally realize our dream of a facility from which the gospel will reach many souls—and we’ve dreamed of it reaching quite a lot!

Written by Pastor John Borgwardt, home missionary at Living Word Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Wis. 

 

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Holy Smoke Ride

There are two things that strike me about home missions. First, opportunities for outreach come up way more often than we’d think— if we keep our eyes open for them. Second, apart from sin, just about any activity we are involved in can be brought into the service of the Savior. Permit me to share with you something that’s a little of both.

I have been a motorcycle guy since I got my driver’s license a whole lot of years ago at age 16. That’s partly because it was a cheap mode of transportation (in the beginning), and partly because motorcycles are just so much fun. My first was a little 50cc scooter my dad bought for me so I could get to my first “off the farm” part-time job in town. (That job was as a lifeguard at the community pool in St. Charles, Michigan. Tough job, I know, but someone had to do it. But I digress…) Over the years since, the motorcycle just got bigger. In 2017, our Treasurer at Ascension, Paul, bought his first motorcycle and became an avid biker. Since I was already riding, it was just natural that we became riding partners. Over the past two years the circle of friends who became part of our riding group grew. The time spent on rides with those guys has been a wonderful way to develop friendships and to recharge my batteries for service. Over the past three riding seasons, I have logged hundreds of miles and had dozens of meals with those guys. On the weekend before last, we rode 300 miles (round trip) for a cheeseburger and deep-friend Oreos. For motorcycle guys, that is completely normal behavior. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination. It’s about the camaraderie, not the cuisine.

Pastor Dan Simons (front) and some of the Holy Smoke Ride group

As those relationship have grown stronger, one of our group suggested that we do a ride that would start with church at Ascension and leave from there for a Sunday afternoon ride. He suggested that since I am the pastor at Ascension, I ought to plan it. I get that black and orange is not a liturgical color and a Harley jacket is a far cry from an alb, but out here in home missions, it might kind of work. The Holy Smoke Ride was planned, guys had the opportunity to sign up, and then we prayed for good weather.

That ride happened on August 25. Of the 8 guys who committed to the ride, 3 of them were in worship on Sunday morning. Ascension, in their usual friendly way, welcomed them, fed them with refreshments after the service, and made them feel at home. No one batted an eye at the row of motorcycles parked in front of church.

The ride was 100 miles of beautiful weather, excellent lunch at a gem of a smoked meats/BBQ joint north of here, and great conversation. After the ride was over, the group was invited back to our house for some “afterglow.” My wife, Maria, provided her crazy-good salsa & chips, tamales, and ice cream. The camaraderie and conversation continued until nearly dark. The Holy Smoke Ride is history, and we are already planning future rides. This one, everyone agreed, was one of the best.

I don’t know what might come of this as far as new members for Ascension goes. Statistics indicate that millennials and generation z are not big into motorcycles. But for late baby-boomers, it’s still a thing, and there are plenty of boomers who still need to get connected to the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I don’t know what God may bring from this. That’s his work in his own time. I do know that there are three guys who heard about the love of Jesus on Sunday morning who had never darkened our doorway before. I do know that I have the privilege of being a Christian friend, salted into a group of guys I count as friends. It will be interesting to see where this road leads. As far now, I’ll just crack the throttle, keep the rubber side down and shiny side up, and enjoy the ride!

P.S. – Over lunch one of the guys asked about the riding jacket I was wearing. He asked where I got it. When I told him that it was a gift from the members of the church I served in Milwaukee on the occasion of my 25th anniversary in the ministry, he was clearly surprised (in a good way). It was clear a paradigm shift had occurred for him about “church.”

Written by Pastor Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich.

 

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Real faces, real lives, real souls

I was nervous this year. This was our fifth year of holding an art camp for children ages 5-10. Some experts suggest that church outreach events have a shelf life. Some say the shelf life is three years. Others say five years. But both say that after a certain amount of time a congregation needs to change the event because it grow stale. This was year five of art camp.

So, I was nervous this year. Between not being able to quickly recruit volunteers and then a slow year for registrations, I was thinking we were going to have as many volunteers as kids. We did everything we had done in the past to advertise, but two weeks out from camp we had less than half the registrations we normally have. I was worried that our volunteers coming from Wisconsin, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, and Ontario would come for nothing. Maybe the experts were right.

I continue to struggle to learn this lesson—the Lord blesses in his own way in spite of my nerves. This year we had 57 kids. Not the most we’ve ever had, but then I took a closer look at the registrations. 52 of the 57 were non-Redemption children. 21 of 57 were returning children. 16 children were registered due to referrals. Maybe most exciting was that this was the first year we had more local children registered (31 of 57) than Ft. Drum children registered. That is important for us as we continue to try to break into a community that one community leader said “lives in relationship silos.” By statistical measure, this was our most successful art camp to date.

Still, I was nervous this year. Rain was in the forecast for our gallery afternoon and barbecue. A time when we try to make connections with parents. Stats are interesting, but they mean little if connections aren’t made and Jesus isn’t shared with people. But the wind moved the clouds and the sun shine was warm. People came. Real faces, real lives, real souls came.

A soul named Danielle brought her granddaughter to camp. She had tattoos down her arms and across her chest, gauges in her ears, a ring in her nose, and a face that could tell two lifetimes of stories. She came to the barbecue with her daughter and their friend, “Aunt” Becky. We talked about Jesus and it was like water for two weary souls.

Another soul was a young mother who thought she should find a church since her daughter was getting older. But she was skeptical and wasn’t sure if there was a church that would value her daughter. “We have a message here just for you and your daughter,” I said, “It’s all about forgiveness given to you by God through Jesus. He loves children and so does our church.”

There was another soul. A mother of three. A burnt out Catholic. She was starved for grace, but Catholicism was in her DNA and she was struggling with what to do. “Are you going to church now?” I asked. She said no. “Bring your kids; come and listen to God’s message of grace,” I said.

I could keep sharing with you the real faces, real lives, real souls that God brought us for three days this past July. This art camp was successful for many reasons, but most of all it was successful because real faces, real lives, real souls came, and the Word was planted.

Written by Pastor Aaron Goetzinger, home missionary at Redemption Lutheran Church in Watertown, N.Y.

 

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A church planter’s checklist

A mission planter has a check-list of items a mile long. We need instruments, people to play the instruments, worship folders, a place to print worship folders, coffee, songs, and on and on it goes!  Perhaps the biggest item on the list of things to accomplish is finding a place to worship. As you continue to invite people and share the gospel, one of the natural questions that arises is, “where are you meeting?” All I could say was…”Aaaaah, we have some options!” It was frustrating trying to find a place we could rent for worship and ministry.

I was called to launch a second campus for Shepherd of the Valley in Westminster, Colo. The target area is to the west about 15 minutes. Hundreds of homes had already been built on the northwest side of the city of Arvada and hundreds more were planned in the coming years. A large space of thousands of acres had been set aside for commercial development. There was only one church in this whole five mile radius, a church a little more than 2 years old. All signs pointed to a ripe mission field. That’s exactly what we found as we surveyed and participated in community events.

People were yearning for connections and longing to be better parents and spouses. As we chatted with them, we shared the gospel and let them know we were planting a church in their area to serve them. There was a lot of interest! However, we lacked one thing. . . a space for ministry and worship. Where do you start?

Ralston’s Crossing Event Center. . . and Shepherd of the Valley’s new worship location

On the advice of other mission planters and friends, I started asking the schools in the area. I was met time after time with a big NO! They didn’t have the staff to open the building, or they just didn’t want the hassle of a renter. We looked for commercial space to rent and convert, but in an area so new there wasn’t any good or affordable commercial space. Lots of people and no places to meet. Where would we meet? What would we do if we didn’t find a place? I feared we would have nothing since it was April 2019 and we planned to start in the fall.

The last possibility was an old Presbyterian church, built in 1911, now a wedding and event center. I hadn’t met the owner, the site was a bit out of our target area, but the location was along a state highway and many local people knew where it was located. It’s worth a try. I sent the owner an email two weeks before Easter, described what I was looking for, and asked about renting. The following Monday as I sat in the car in the Home Depot parking lot, my phone rang. On the other end was the most pleasant, upbeat voice I’d heard in awhile,

“Is this Jeremy? I’m so glad I got a hold of you! I received your message you were looking to rent the chapel. How can I help? I have to tell you, when I heard your message I was ecstatic you asked! I’ve never rented to a church before. This is going to be so much fun!”

What followed was nothing short of God’s gracious hand. The owner, Randy Miller, said to me, “I heard your message and was so excited to have a church meet in the church again! This is going to be exciting.” Randy asked us what we wanted to pay. He opened up his entire property for us to use on Sundays (check out these pictures!) and encouraged us to have as many outdoor services as we wanted to have. He talked about adding us to his main sign. He said to me, “You sound like a really nice guy so I’ll probably just give you a key and you can have access when you need it.”

Since then, Randy has moved schedules around so we have sole access on Sunday mornings. His wedding season goes from May through September, so for the rest of the year we have the place all to ourselves. Randy has said many times, “I’m so excited to partner with you and have your congregation here.”

It was struggle to find a place and extremely frustrating to be turned down by over a half dozen different spots or find nothing to rent within your budget. Ralston’s Crossing Event Center has been a blessing from God. The owner has been inviting people to attend our new church. This was just another reminder that the Lord guides the steps of his people and promises to be with them wherever we go.

Written by Pastor Jeremy Belter, home missionary at Shepherd of the Valley Candelas in Arvada, Colo.


Post-Script: Pastor Belter reports, “Every seat was filled. We counted 140 people in attendance and nearly 70 first time guests! I was also privileged to baptize three little children that day from the same family. That family is currently taking class for membership. We have contact info from 10 families for follow up and lots of positive conversations. Several inquired about next steps for membership. Several people commented, “We’re looking for a church with a more traditional structure and solid sermon from the Bible. We want a church that is true to the Bible.” Lots of people said they’d be back. To say that God is good is an understatement. He did do more than we asked or imagined as he always does. The launch team is excited to continue working as missionaries, inviting and welcoming people to hear the message of Christ crucified!”

 

 

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Faces of Faith – Dana, Kimia, and Harir

At Hope, having first-time visitors is a regular blessing. We are blessed to be in a city made up of 50 percent first generation immigrants and are in an area of the city where many immigrants land. It wasn’t unusual to look out one Sunday and see new faces—Dana and Kimia with their daughter Harir (Dana is pictured holding Harir). What was unusual was the story of how they got there.

Shortly after their visit, I asked them, “How did you come to Hope?” They told me Jacqueline sent them . . . yet no one knows who this Jacqueline is. There is no Jacqueline in our congregation, and the address Jacqueline gave them didn’t exist. However, the fake address was relatively close to our church, so the couple saw a cross and walked in. And then they cried.

Harir (left)

This was the very first time they had ever been able to attend a worship service with fellow Christians. In their home country, they had each began asking questions about Christianity, which led them to secret Bible study gatherings. They were introduced to Jesus and to each other, learned of Jesus’ love, and grew in love with each other and were married. But becoming Christians meant fear of retaliation, even death, for leaving the Muslim faith. They sold all and sought out a new country.

They came to Toronto and, by God’s grace, they found Hope . . . They attended worship services and cried tears of joy as they brought Harir up for the children’s message without fear and sang Christian hymns for the very first time. Then came more tears, for them and the whole congregation, on the Sunday they were all baptized. Kimia (pictured being baptized) spoke to the whole congregation and said, “We came here knowing no one, but trusting God. Now we have a new family and we can worship Jesus together.”

From Mark Henrich, missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto, Canada

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A cross-cultural camping trip to remember

On July 20-21, my church family (Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church) was able to take a beautiful camping trip to the Oregon Coast. With lots of laughter and some incredible food, the weekend was wonderful.

After a nine-hour drive from Boise to a little outside of Newport, my family and many others arrived at our group camp site. The site itself was quite sandy, and many trees guarded it from the wind and sun. Overall, we had a little less than ten tents set up around the large campfire, which was most certainly not the only heat source used to cook.

Peace in Jesus 2019

Over the course of our stay, all the people involved had been to the beach at least twice. As it was about a five-minute walk from our campground, we were able to see it quite frequently. Enjoying its views and doing fun activities there was the highlight of my (and I’m sure many others’) stay at South Beach State Park.

One thing that I would like to highlight is the high quantity of the youth on this trip. On the second night of our stay, all the teenagers went to the beach in the dark to play a very fun card game, strengthening friendships while having a great time. This was not the only activity young people enjoyed, as hacky sack and word games were also incorporated. Overall, the stay was very enjoyable for all ages.

Sunday morning was a service to remember. In the beautiful nature of our campsite, the church body was able to hear a meaningful sermon highlighting God’s amazing creation of the ocean. Not only this, but special hymns were performed and heard by many, leaving a lasting impression in the memory of this church camping trip. Even our church choir sang a meaningful anthem about God’s enduring love.

For every meal of the day, there seemed to be a delicious feast for all to take part in. The Vietnamese culture that makes up almost our entire church family had a heavy impact on the food made during the camping trip-I can assure you, no one complained. Although not specific to the culture, at one point an entirely whole (huge) tuna was cooked for people to eat, followed by spicy grilled squid the next day. One thing that can be said for certain is that hunger never entered our camp!

Peace in Jesus had a wonderful church camping trip to the Oregon Coast. Complete with full stomachs, endless fun, and the beautiful Word of God, this stay was one to remember; and leaving our temporary home was less than easy.

Written by Laura Hope Kramer, member at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church, Boise, Ida. 

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Confessions of faith: Beasley

woman finds true peace after learning about God’s full forgiveness and grace.  

Alicia A. Neumann

“Never have I felt so loved, valued, and taught correctly in my life.” Those are the words of Gina Beasley, member at The Vine, Couer d’Alene, IdahoGina was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and never thought that someday she’d be part of a small, Lutheran mission church. 

Growing up Mormon 

Gina was the youngest of eight kids and went to church every Sunday with her familyShe says she always grew up having faith in God and Jesus, but “there were a lot of morals and standards to live by,” Gina remembers. “I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or do anything bad or wrong.” Based on what she was taught, Gina says that God’s love seemed conditional. “It was, ‘Do this or you won’t live with your family in heaven, ” she says. “And that’s a tough one to swallow when you make mistakes.” 

After high school, Gina moved to Utah to get a job. She met a man who converted to Mormonism, and they got married in the Mormon Temple. However, after three years, they divorced. Around that time, Gina started withdrawing from the Mormon church. “I wanted to go out with my friends on the weekends. I wanted to participate and have a drink. But I felt guilty because drinking was against the LDS Word of Wisdom. It was against their standards, she says. 

Eventually she met Jason, who was Catholic. After they started dating, they talked about religion. “I wanted to see if our religious philosophies matched up; that was critical,” says Gina. So Jason read the Book of Mormon twice and visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to join. “He said he didn’t feel quite right about it,” Gina says.  

Finding WELS 

A few years went by and Jason and Gina hadn’t made any substantial decisions about religion. “We were working a lot, and honestly we wanted to sleep in on the weekends,” says Gina.  

It was around that time that Jason’s longtime boss, a WELS member, invited them to St. Matthew’s in Spokane, Wash. 

Ron was kind of like a father figure to Jason,” says Gina. “We had a really nice relationship with him and his wife, Margot.” Gina says she really appreciated how Ron and Margot invited them to church in a way that didn’t make them feel pressured, so the Beasleys decided to give it a try. “We would go with them every once in a while,” says Gina. “I felt really good in my heart about the messages I was hearing in the sermons. Finally, we decided we should just start going to Ron and Margot’s church. It just felt like it was where we needed to be, spiritually.” 

Eventually they started taking a Bible Information Class at St. Matthew’s, which was about an hour drive for the Beasleys. “I loved how the messages we were learning were straight up from the Bible,” says Gina. Even though I had heard them before, I had never fully grasped and understood them.”  

One of the lessons was especially eye-opening for her. “We were talking about God’s grace. Pastor said it’s like an umbrellayou just step under it, and you’re protected from the rain.” Gina says this was so different from what she’d been taught growing upthat you have to “do” something to receive God’s full grace and be able to go to heaven. She says she had always felt guilty and worried as a result. “But in that moment, I felt truly forgiven; it took off the huge backpack of rocks I felt like I was carryingThe guilt and shame were gone, and I felt peace,” she says. I am so grateful every day that we decided to go to that class.” 

Gina has been trying to share that same peace with her family members, who are all still part of the Mormon church. “I see them once a year, and I try to put my little words of love in there if we are talking about religion,” she says. “In the past when we’ve talked about grace, they’ve said, ‘Gina you are right,’ but they aren’t living that. They are living good works. I think deep down they know what’s right, but they are still on that hamster wheel of trying to get to heaven.”  

Gina hopes that someday her family realizes that they don’t have to be perfect and that God’s grace is not conditional. “I’m trying to help them understand and accept God’s grace and get the ultimate peace, she says. 

Thriving at The Vine 

A few years after the Beasleys got married, St. Matthew’s began a new ministrya mission church called The Vine in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, which was only 20 minutes away from them. “It’s been great being part of a small, mission-style church,” says Gina. She still struggles with Mormon teachings from time to time, and she appreciates being able to talk to her pastor anytime and ask him questions. “I also get to sing with the worship band and really utilize my talents. It makes me feel fulfilled,” Gina says.  

In addition to participating in the church’s outreach activities, the Beasleys now host a Bible study twice a month. “I invite people I’ve established a relationship with,” says Gina. “If you earn peoples trust first, they are more apt to come. She says some people are afraid to come to a class if they feel like they’re committing to something, so the Beasleys use a curriculum from their pastor that makes it easy for people to join in when they can. 

Gina also has had opportunities to share her journey of faith through connections she made with other moms at the local preschool her son attended. A couple of new friends from the preschool have met me and asked if I am Mormon because they used to be Mormon too. It’s been kind of interesting discussing my upbringing with them, she says. 

Gina says her upbringing has made a big impact on how she’s raising her own kids. “When I grew up, I would hear people ‘give their testimony’ at church. And as kids, they would teach us the exact words to say,” remembers Gina. She says it would have been much more helpful to learn why it’s important to pray and how to pray from the heart. “So, really try to be open with my children and talk to them about the reasons we believe what we do and provide them with factual structure, she says. 

Gina says it’s been really amazing to see what God has done for her and her family. “I am just so grateful for how God has orchestrated it all,” she says. “Someday when I’m an old lady in my rocking chair, I will look back at how God has connected all the dots and think, ‘Wow!  


Alicia Neumann is a member at Christ, Zumbrota, Minnesota. 


Learn more about the home mission The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is this month’s edition of WELS Connection. 


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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All about telling people about Jesus

The conversation took place in January. I had just told our leadership team that I didn’t think we should do our outdoor Easter service again this year. I thought my reasons were pretty valid. 1) It was a lot of work on our mission church, 2) it was located somewhere other than on our church grounds, and 3) even though attendance had climbed each year for the past three years, only one person came back to our church for a second visit. In other words, we saw no church growth because of our efforts. So, I had suggested that we have our Easter worship at church this year.

However, they didn’t agree. They thought we should host the outdoor Easter service one more year. So that’s what we did, but this year we decided we weren’t even going to promote our church. With that in mind, we changed up our Easter morning just a little bit. We had a worship service filled with songs, Scripture readings, a sermon, and prayers. However, we didn’t take an offering. We didn’t try and collect people’s information through connect cards or anything else. We all went in with the attitude that we were just excited to have the opportunity to share Jesus with them that morning. If they came back the next week, we’d get their information then. But on Easter, it was all about telling people about Jesus.

Children’s message

And God blessed us! He sent 138 people to worship with us that morning. 77 of them were guests. Just like we planned, we didn’t collect anyone’s information, but we did have great conversations. We didn’t take a collection, but we gave them a brunch and an Easter egg hunt.

Several weeks later, nine people who attended our Easter service for the first time this year are now regular attenders at our church.

It is so easy to fall into the church growth mindset. It’s easy to worry about the numbers and to be only concerned about the statistical growth. But when we fall into that mindset, we are trying to take on the job of Jesus. He’s the one who makes churches grow. Our job is a lot simpler than his. We simply get the joy of telling others about Jesus. That’s all our job is.

We love Jesus. We love people. We love telling people about Jesus. When we have that attitude, Jesus will grow the church.

Written by Rev. Stephen Apt, home missionary at Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Liberty Hill, Tex. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Faces of Faith – Paul and Abigail

Every year the men from our congregation rent a large tent and host an awesome prime rib breakfast after Easter worship. In 2017, more than 200 people showed up for Easter worship and fellowship! That year, a long time WELS member named Helen invited her friends Paul and Abigail. They enjoyed everything – but Paul had not worshiped in a church for quite some time due to some mistrust in the church establishment. After that Easter breakfast, we didn’t see Paul and Abigail for a long time. Fast forward to 2018, and there they were, sitting in the church for worship. After some conversation and pre-marriage counseling, Spirit of Life hosted a small, beautiful wedding for this couple. I had learned that Paul wasn’t baptized in some of our discussions, and so on December 23, 2018, I had the opportunity to baptize Paul. Both Paul and Abigail have finished membership classes and are excited to be a part of Spirit of Life.

It was a long journey, with multiple touchpoints over multiple years. But from a personal invite, to a meal, to a wedding, and then to a baptism we’re shown how God’s Word is living and active and—on his time—works and grows. Stories like this make our members and I excited to sow the gospel seed every day, never knowing when the next Paul and Abigail might show up.

From Allen Kirschbaum, missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Hal and Anna

We both attended church our entire lives. For many years we had a hunger for the truth. We knew there was more, but we could not grasp what we were unaware of. While attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church we found what we were missing. We became aware of how sinful we are and how much we need a Savior. Since joining Grace we have become spiritually alive, feasting on God’s Word and truth!” – Hal & Anna Thorson

Hal and Anna’s story is simple, yet remarkable. It started with their friend Holly, who found the same thing while attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church in Tucson, Ariz. When visiting her friends in the frozen north, spiritual discussions led Holly to invite Hal and Anna to Grace in Minot, N.D., because Holly didn’t want to miss a single week in church.

That’s all the Holy Spirit needed to work with. Hal and Anna quickly found Christ in a way they hadn’t before, even after a lifetime in church. Sometimes the gospel creates stories with massive, unbelievable details. More often, it’s simply one person sharing it with another, who then shares it with another. Today, Hal and Anna are “paying it forward” by bringing Christ to their friends and family, hosting Bible Studies in their home, and sharing answers with their loved ones for the first time in a lifetime.

From Nate Walther, missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

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Faces of Faith – CJ

“My pastor is always smiling.”

That was CJ’s take on me. He was talking with his friends at school about their pastors. He told his friends that his pastor was always smiling and in a good mood. God be praised for this perception!

CJ is a sophomore in high school. He joined Amazing Love with his mother over a year ago. As a high school student, it would be easy to pick different priorities—he’s a rising baseball star at his high school. But he’s in worship every Sunday. On our teen trip to downtown Chicago, he was so excited to share what God was doing in his life. He said he used to be more negative, but now he strives to see things in a positive light.

The work God is doing in CJ’s heart is nothing short of remarkable. In our conversations about life and church he told me he has signed up for four different volunteer positions, and he’s hoping to make it to five. You’ll find him greeting, ushering, helping with kids, at the tech table, and with his attitude, I’m sure we’ll find a fifth position. He uses our church app to listen to the sermon a second time during the week, and he’s used the app to catch up on the last five years of gospel proclamation.

God gives us so much to smile about, and CJ’s story is one reason it’s easy for me to smile.

From Dustin Blumer, missionary at Amazing Love Lutheran Church in Frankfort, Ill.

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Faces of Faith – Lindsey

In the spring of 2018, I pulled out of my garage to make a few informal visits in anticipation of Easter. My motivation really needed to be compelled by the Holy Spirit that night. As the daylight faded, I wondered if it would be wise to knock on the next door.

Lindsey answered. I knew she had young children, so I didn’t intend to stay long. I gave her the invitations and wished her a good night. The next day I opened an e-mail from Lindsey. In it she wrote, “You came to my house last night and unfortunately saw me at the end of an extremely long day in my bath robe and probably at my worst! For some strange reason, that did not bother me so much because it got me thinking. . . I haven’t been to church in almost 20 years and it is very difficult for me to know where or how to come back. . . I just need some reassurance to get over the awkwardness I feel about coming back.”

Thankfully, Lindsey didn’t stop with an e-mail. She joined us in worship that Sunday and has been joining us since. She had been encouraged by friends who attend a different WELS church to investigate our congregation more fully. I am so thankful for their collaboration on her heart. In November of 2018, Lindsey was welcomed as a member and her children Karlee and Korie received the washing of rebirth and renewal in Baptism. I am so glad I knocked on her door.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – The Almarales Family

They were in tears for nearly the entire service the first time they visited. After opening up to their neighbor about the sleepless nights, the overwhelming worry, and constant wondering where they had gone wrong, the neighbor invited them to join her at church on Sunday to hear some much-needed good news.

As always, God’s Word did not disappoint. Alexis and Maria came to church with heavy hearts as their son was waiting on his sentencing in the city jail. They walked out of church refreshed and restored by God’s love and forgiveness for them in Jesus. Later that week through a jail video visit, their son was taken to the same cross of Jesus for peace and comfort even while facing the consequences for his actions.

About three months later, Alexis and Maria publicly confessed their faith in Jesus. Their teenage daughter, Roxana, was baptized in the same service. Several family members were in attendance that day and have seen the difference Jesus has made for them. They are eager for their oldest son and his family from Cuba to join them at church.

It will be a few years yet before their son is able to join them in a worship service on a Sunday morning, but all have been able to find true rest and peace in God’s grace.

From Paul Biedenbender, missionary at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo.

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Faces of Faith – Angel

The Lord of the Church continues to be with and bless the work carried out through Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wisconsin. Angel Ayala, an eighth-grade student at Wisconsin Lutheran, expressed to his mother that he wished to be baptized and confirmed at Epiphany Lutheran Church. In January 2019, Epiphany observed The Baptism of our Lord Sunday with the baptisms of Angel and his whole family as his mother Alicia joined the church. In February 2019, a Hispanic family from the school joined First Evangelical Lutheran. Due to language challenges, the daughter served as translator during the instruction classes as well as during the rite of membership in church – the church’s first bilingual confirmation since the years when First Evangelical was a German speaking congregation.

From Mark Blauert, school chaplain at Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Trace and Alissa

We first met at a church event for the community that offered free Easter pictures with a 1916 Model T. Trace and Alissa came by to take a picture and stayed to visit with some of our members. We invited them to church and an off-campus Bible Study, and they came! We are so grateful to remind them of Jesus’ love and forgiveness every week. Our growing mission benefits from their kind hearts and enthusiasm for Bible Study. We often thank God for bringing us together and pray for more in our community to come to our campus for the free message, family atmosphere, and bright future through our Savior Jesus.

From Gunnar Ledermann, missionary at Divine Peace Lutheran Church in Rockwall, Tex.

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Faces of Faith – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Our congregation wanted to think of more ways to get involved in our community. Being right along a parade route, we entered a float in the Coeur d’Alene Christmas parade and set up a tent and bonfire right in front of our church, along with free hot chocolate, so that parade-goers could warm up by the fire and enjoy a friendly conversation with our church members. We also had a free raffle prize which allowed us to get important contact information for follow up. Several people along the parade route who saw our float ended up coming to our Christmas Eve service.

After the parade, we selected the winner of our raffle prize, and I went to their house to deliver it. When I got there and told the person who I was, he remembered seeing our float in the parade and the tent along the parade route. He immediately invited me in and asked if he could talk with me “for a few minutes.”

Over the next two hours, he told me about the challenges and stresses he was facing in his life. He said, “I think God must have known that I really needed to talk to a pastor tonight, and that’s why you’re here.” It’s experiences like this that make being a pastor so wonderful. And God used our church float and tent in a parade to make it happen.

From Kevin Schultz, missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

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Faces of Faith – The McFadden Family

At our very first Easter Egg Hunt in 2013, Tony walked in to the building. Tony is a big guy. He served in the Marines. He’s a mechanic who works on jets and helicopters. Some might say he’s an imposing figure—but he has a soft heart, especially for his daughter, Brooke. As the pastor of the congregation, I didn’t know that. . . yet. He asked if their family could participate in the Easter Egg Hunt.

Using the information from the registration card, I was able to follow-up with them and personally met Brooke her mom Mary. On the next visit he opened up more about his struggles with faith. He grew up in a Roman Catholic family but had left the church long ago. While he continued to sense how “God placed people in his life to call him back,” he still admits he “struggles to find his faith again.” The relationship I have been able to continue with Tony, Mary, and Brooke has continued for the last six years. Mary and Tony asked me to officiate their wedding in October 2018 and to meet with them for premarital counseling beforehand. Since then, I’ve seen increased attendance at worship. Brooke, now 11, was so excited when she was invited to participate in Beautiful Savior’s Christmas Program, led entirely by members. She practiced her parts and spoke them with conviction. When she witnessed a baptism in worship, she personally approached me and asked if she could be baptized too. I currently have the privilege to work with their family to schedule the baptism and instruct Mary and Tony for welcome into membership.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Cherie

Cherie shares the story of her connection to Beautiful Savior:

“Over eleven years ago I nervously entered the doors of Beautiful Savior. I had everything I could ever imagine wanting: a brand-new home, all new furniture, proximity to all the conveniences of shopping, work and friends. Something was missing. I continually felt a void. I had passed by Beautiful Savior many times on my way to various places and felt a strong urge to investigate. I was a non-practicing Catholic due to a divorce and had not been in a church for well over 20 years. Would a Lutheran church accept me? Yes, yes and yes! I walked into the church, was immediately greeted in such a genuine way that I have continued to enter those doors for over eleven years.”

Cherie demonstrates an incredible heart for our congregation and its ministry. She is extremely faithful and dedicated and has become a consistent aid in our Mornings with Mommy program – she even stepped in to lead sessions this year when our director was unavailable. Cherie relates well with the 5th-8th graders of her Sunday School class, which she began leading two years ago. Recently Cherie took the lead to organize the Sunday School children for a Christmas program (the first in 5 years.) She also wants to create a children’s choir – stepping even more outside of her comfort zone because of limited musical experience herself. She is such a blessing to our congregation.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Brian and Jen

Brian and Jen Larson began attending Beautiful Savior in the fall of 2016. Brian says,

“Finding a new church can be hard, but Beautiful Savior made it easy. When my wife, a Southern Baptist, and I, a Roman Catholic, were married, we shared a common Christian faith, but had trouble reconciling the differences in practice between the denominations. Moving to La Porte with our two small kids, we knew we had to seek a new church that focused on our common beliefs.

We are so glad to have found Beautiful Savior. The entire congregation was warm and welcoming on our first visit. Pastor Boushek met with us to explain the practices of the church and how they were well grounded in the Bible. This erased the difficulty and confusion of walking into a new church. Now we enjoy being part of a friendly faith community that supports our family’s beliefs and spiritual growth.”

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Paul

“I have been to every church in Detroit. I’ll tell you what, one thing’s for sure—this place has the truth.” Paul Moronczyk grew up in Del Ray, a desolate and dangerous part of Detroit. He got into trouble early on, and even left the faith for a while. Then God brought him back. By his 30s, he was walking around the violent Del Ray and Springwells neighborhoods, visiting churches and getting to know pastors and priests. He studied and trained with various ministries around the city and had been ordained or licensed by many of them.

Then, he came to Palabra de Vida. In fall of 2016, he pounded on our church’s front door because he saw the light on. Shortly after, we began studying together. He peeled through the Catechism and was blown away by the doctrinal precision and proof passages. He started to study Martin Luther himself and delighted in the Reformer’s perseverance for the truth in the face of danger. He could relate to that! He professed his faith publicly at our church in fall of 2017.

From that point on, Paul has done everything—from helping to set up the Christmas decorations to passing out flyers to leading Bible studies in prospects’ homes. He’s found the truth—and he’s dedicated himself to getting it out there!

From Ryan Kolander, missionary at Palabra de Vida Lutheran Church in Detroit, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Spenser

Spenser hadn’t been to church in years. He found himself wandering in faith and unsure of his beliefs. Moving to the city of Atlanta had provided him with a great job, but it did nothing to fill the spiritual void in his life.

Then, one weekend in August, Spenser attended a free community festival. As he walked through a long line of booths, he saw something that caught his eye: a booth sponsored by volunteers from Intown Lutheran Church. Spenser spun their prize wheel and won a free pair of sunglasses. He also received an invitation to their grand opening worship service in just 2 weeks. Spenser had been Lutheran at one point in his life, and the people at the booth seemed friendly enough. He decided to come.

On September 9, Spenser stopped by our rented facility, with nearly 60 other people, to kick off worship. He enjoyed the pre-service coffee and fellowship time. He enjoyed the worship service and the Bible-focused sermon. During the post-service announcements, Spenser heard about a new “Bible Basics Class,” which would be offered in a local coffee shop. He decided to give it a try.

3 months later, Spenser joined our church as an adult confirmand. Through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in Bible Basics Class, his faith was built and strengthened to the point that he is now excited to be a part of this family of believers and help us reach out to the city of Atlanta with the gospel. By God’s grace, Spenser has found a spiritual home in the city.

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

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Seeds are small. But they grow.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

It began with just a small group of WELS military personnel and civilians gathering once a month in Minot, N.D., and a WELS pastor from Bismarck, N.D., being willing to travel the 110 miles north to serve them. For years. And then our Lord gave us a seminary graduate named Nathan Walther and his wife Heather to serve this field. Pastor Walther was installed at Grace Lutheran on July 13, 2014. Since then—in spite of crazy high building prices that prevented us from pursuing early childhood ministry as an outreach strategy, and in spite of many difficulties finding available space for our mission, and in spite of the long cold winters—our Lord’s Word has not returned void, but has accomplished the purpose for which he sent it. Today, Grace Lutheran is a congregation of 54 members. And they keep moving forward. In fact, even as I write this, they are closing on a deal to purchase and move into their own worship facility.

It began with just a small group of WELS members meeting in the living room of the city planner and his wife. This was in 2008, in Williston, N.D., a small town that had a regular influx of transient WELS workers who were part of the oil patch. Then our pastor in Circle, Wolf Point, and Terry, Mont., started making regular trips to serve them, driving 120 miles one way. Then came the oil boom. This small town went crazy, more than doubling in size, as oil companies raced in to drill wells. And through it all, our group continued to meet and mature, so that now they aim to be what our Lord has made them—to be the church in their corner of our Lord’s vineyard, as we await the time a full-time missionary can be called to that field.

Home mission church in Dickinson, N.D.

It began with just a small group composed of members from our two sister congregations in Sioux Falls, S.D. Their small city, which had always felt more like a town than a city, had become a community of a quarter of a million people living in and around it. It was time to plant a mission in an area that was always just beyond the reach of their evangelism efforts. And so it is that, on July 21, Craig Wilke will be ordained and installed as our missionary in Brandon, S.D.

It began with just a small group of WELS members, ten adults and five children, gathering at a community center in Dickinson, N.D., to live stream worship from the next closest WELS church—Redeemer, Mandan, N.D., 92 miles to the east. Then Our Saviour’s in Bismarck, which is next to Mandan, got involved as well. In the spring of this year our District Mission Board was able to put in a request for a full-time missionary for that field. Though there were not enough funds to grant our request, this group has no intention of just sitting on their 15 pairs of hands. They know there is work to be done while it is day.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

Written by Rev. Jonathan Werre, Chairman of the Dakota-Montana District Mission Board

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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