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Faces of Faith – Dia

On February 14, 2020, we hosted a Lego Night event at Christ Lutheran Church in Pewaukee, Wis. My wife Aneela and I were there to welcome any South Asian souls who might be in attendance. I didn’t see any South Asians when we got there. I was feeling a little disappointed, since no South Asians came to the last Lego Night. Suddenly I saw one South Asian father and his daughter enter. We greeted them and invited them to sit with us. Pastor Warnecke came by with a basket of small toys, and she chose a dinosaur. Soon after, we saw another Hindu family walk in. We knew this family well because we invited them to our home for dinner. I began playing with the Legos with their daughter Dia, and a few minutes later Pastor Warnecke stopped by again with the basket of toys. He offered his suggestion, but she still wasn’t sure what to choose. Finally, she picked up something which shook me from top to bottom: a small green cross. I was stunned for few seconds. When I asked her mother about it, she told me that she prays every day, calling Jesus “Jai Jai”. I also asked how she came to learn about Jesus, which I discovered was through our Lambs of Christ preschool.

Many in Pakistan began believing in Christ through school ministries such as these, and some have been killed for their faith. Please pray for the persecuted Christians all over in the world and thank God that Dia lives in a country where there seed of the gospel that has been sown in her heart can continue to grow!

From Pastor Paul, South Asia ministry coordinator for WELS Joint Missions

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Faces of Faith – Rachel

The first time I met Rachel, it was because she wanted to know who Jesus was. She had never heard of Jesus before. Her son was in our preschool and was bringing home Bible stories. Rachel was curious, so she and I met for more than ten months to go through a Bible Basics course.

Rachel is Chinese and her entire family is Buddhist. When we met to study on the Chinese New Year, I asked her if she was going to the Buddhist temple with her family for a meal and traditional Chinese family events. She responded: “Why would I do that, pastor? I’m a Christian. I don’t have anything to do with the temple any longer.”

Currently, we are eagerly waiting to baptize Rachel and her two children. They are excited to receive the blessings of baptism, but I am confident that the Holy Spirit has worked a firm faith in Rachel’s heart! From nothing to everything—how our God works his wonders!

From Dan Burgess, missionary at Water of Life Lutheran Church in Las Vegas, Nev.

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Faces of Faith – Andre

Our world missionaries work hard for a day when they can pass the pastoral baton to a national leader. This ultimate dream and daily prayer will soon be accomplished in Iskitim, Russia. Missionary Luke Wolfgramm has served this congregation for ten years and is now working with Andre Gydkov in the seminary training program. Andre is not just taking classes to learn how to be a pastor. He is already serving the congregation in Iskitim in many ways that are giving him experience in the tasks and functions of a pastor. The PSI is working closely with the Russian Lutheran synod to provide curriculum, consultation, and instructors to assist them in Andre’s training. The relationship between Andre and Luke goes beyond that of student and teacher or even co-workers in a congregation. They are close friends. Andre was introduced to his Savior through the WELS mission in Russia, where Luke has been his pastor and counselor for three years. Since Andre has committed to preparing for the pastoral ministry, his relationship with Luke has grown even stronger. Andre’s life before he became a Christian was difficult in many respects. Through daily support and encouragement from Luke and the other Russian pastors (Pastor Alexei and Pastor Arkady), the congregation in Iskitim will soon receive a strong Lutheran shepherd who is eager to proclaim Christ to his community.

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Love is the answer

Haris (named changed due to the sensitive nature of his work) spearheaded an effort in a large Midwest city to distribute food and face masks in the midst of COVID-19. Haris is originally from a Muslim nation in South Asia and now lives in America. He is enrolled in our WELS Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Haris shares:

When the coronavirus started, I was thinking. . . how can we reach out to the large Muslim population in our community to show the love of Christ? I was talking to my friend, and he said, “I know of WELS churches that are making face masks! They will make masks for you to share with the Muslims.” So we started distributing food to our Muslim neighborhood along with the face masks. People in the community donated groceries and money to buy food. We delivered food and masks on more than 20 different occasions. People drove up in their cars, and we put the groceries in their vehicles. We also dropped off food on people’s porches. Counting only the early drive-thrus, we helped 504 families and assisted 64 families who had a family member with coronavirus.

We made so many friends, and received a lot of feedback from the community. They said, “You risked your life and distributed food and masks even in the rain and snow.” Everyone knows I am a Christian, and they know this help comes because of the love of Jesus for all people. I told the mayor of this community, “These Christians made these masks. They did this because they care for these people. The people who live hundreds of miles away don’t know who will be getting it. It is impossible. Only the love of Christ causes them to do this.”

One WELS District President wrote to the churches in his district about this opportunity. Several churches and many individuals responded. One family made 2,000+ masks for relatives, neighbors, and for Muslims in this large city. Some of the face masks had Bible verses inside the plastic bags. A pastor at one of our rural WELS churches said, “Our people understood that this was an opportunity to reach out to others in a time of crisis. They wanted to serve their fellow man and to serve Christ as he served them.”

During the pandemic, four close friends of mine (not involved in the distribution effort) died from the coronavirus. All four had converted from Islam to Christianity in the last few years and were assisting me in ministry to the Muslim community. One was a former economics professor from Asia, another was a young father with a wife and two children, another was a young man at a nearby university who assisted with apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith), and the last was a very close friend who had lost everything when she converted to Christianity. Her new family was my family. My wife and this woman were as close as sisters. While sorrow grips our hearts, we have the assurance that our friends are now with Jesus.

Love was the answer for reaching out to our community–and love was the answer for conquering death and hatred. “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35).

 

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Faces of Faith – Hany Guzmán

As the morning mist mixed with the bright beams of the sun’s first rays over Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, ten-year-old Hany Guzmán would stand out on her earthen porch to greet the day. With a mug of atol de elote in her hand, she watched the cool fog slowly dissipate and the shadows silently disperse as they gave way to the scorching heat and piercing light of a Sunday morning. The sweet, corn beverage brought warmth to her body and strength for the day as she helped get her family ready for church. Slipping through the front door, she would wake her three younger siblings with whom she shared a single bed. They would march off together to attend their local congregation’s misa. Sometimes her parents would accompany them and other times they went alone, but Hany wouldn’t miss a mass for the world.

Hany and her siblings in Guatemala

Once they found their customary spot in the back of church, although the sun still shone brightly through the stained-glass windows of the cathedral, it seemed as though an even denser fog settled in. Hany and her siblings heard the priest read the Bible and give short talks about how they were to pray to the right saints to find fame and fortune, but it just didn’t seem to make sense. There was a spiritual haze that never seemed to lift, a darkness that just wouldn’t disappear. Hany wondered to herself, “Is there any way I can go to heaven?”

Five years later, darkness defined the day as Hany woke up on a frigid December morning in Anchorage, Alaska. A glance outside at the thermometer showed twenty-five degrees below zero as the first hints of daylight slowly revealed the silhouette of the mountains beneath a cloudless sky. It was Sunday morning and it was still her job to wake her younger siblings for church, but they could wait a while to brave the cold. The short trip to church was less than a block. She started to make some hot chocolate as she waited for the sun to creep over the Chugach Mountains. In a few short hours, she and her siblings would be on their way to Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo. She still wouldn’t miss a service for the world.

Hany at Camp Luther in Anchorage, Alaska

Although the sun barely skimmed the tops of the peaks outside, inside her church one thing was clear—the light of the gospel had changed her life. The same sun that warmed her face in Guatemala now shone through the stained-glass windows of her new church, but here the mystery of salvation had been revealed. Here she heard the unobscured gospel that brought clarity to her mind and comfort to her soul. Hany and her sisters and brother—Brianna, Alegría, and David—found their spots in the back pew. From her vantage point, Hany could see many people she had invited to church herself. In fact, she was personally responsible for seeing her church’s catechism class grow from a dozen kids to over thirty. Later in the service, the congregation would confess its faith together using the familiar words of the explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “All this he did that I should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just has he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally.” There was no longer any doubt; the darkness had dissipated and the fog had lifted. Wiping away a tear, Hany chimed in with confidence and conviction: ¡Esto es ciertamente la verdad! This is most certainly true!

Written by Rev. Christopher Ewings, home missionary at Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo (Faith Lutheran Church) in Anchorage, Alaska

 

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Faces of Faith – Richard

On Christmas, Richard, his wife, Sabrina, and daughter, Martina, were baptized by our vicar Qiang Wang. As the first family of the new Chinese mission in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, to be baptized, their baptisms are special enough. But how God brought this to happen is even more remarkable. Richard and Qiang were school classmates in the early 1980s in communist China. At the time, neither one of them knew or believed in God. Years later after losing touch, they both immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, and by chance reconnected in 2014. God worked faith in Qiang’s heart, and he began training to be a pastor. In 2018, Qiang and Richard reconnected again. “I could not believe what a huge change I saw in Qiang,” Richard commented. Qiang shared the good news with Richard and even asked for his help to start a new Chinese mission where Richard lived.

After Qiang and his wife moved to Coquitlam in July 2019, they started studying the Bible with Richard and his family. The Spirit worked. God brought that unlikely scene to pass—one classmate baptizing another. Richard now sees God’s hand in all of this, “I believe God sent Qiang to give us the gospel. It’s an amazing story. God used my classmate to cross oceans and continents just to share the good news with me. We met again in Canada and became Christians. Now it feels like we are family.”

From Geoff Cortright, missionary at Saviour of the Nations in Vancouver, B.C.

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Partnership in a new reality

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1: 3-6

How do we bring the gospel message to a billion people living in East Asia? This a question on the hearts of many in our synod as we look beyond our American borders.

God heard our prayers and for over a decade allowed WELS pastors and their families to live and serve in East Asia. This approach, however, has been adjusted as our WELS missionaries and families have been relocated out of East Asia for security reasons. But a change in a home address does not mean we change our mission.

Christian churches around the world are developing and enhancing their online approach to sharing Jesus. Our East Asia team is no different. We are revamping how we train, disciple, and mentor the national leaders who can take the gospel to places where we cannot go. By God’s grace our WELS seminary in Hong Kong has adapted to adversity and continues to serve their students and support national congregations.

The security risks that WELS missionaries faced also caused local East Asian leadership to reevaluate their approach for worship and Bible study. God has not been surprised by any of the issues facing our mission field and is blessing these new and innovative efforts. Each week our brothers and sisters in the faith are meeting in small groups or joining together online to hear the same message of God’s truth and God’s love for his beloved creation.

Baptism at Reformation in San Diego, Calif.

Our East Asia team is making every effort to build up the church leadership in East Asia. But with certain doors closed, we are exploring how God might use us to build up the church in East Asia from within our American borders. Every year a large number of students from East Asia attend our WELS high schools or are involved in our campus ministries. As God blesses their hearing and study of the Word, how might we equip them for sharing the gospel when they return to their home country?

As our WELS congregations continue being God’s salt and light in their local neighborhoods, visitors from East Asia come into our churches, admire the quality of our schools, and are looking for community and relationships. The WELS Joint Missions is very eager to offer support to any school or congregation that have these opportunities. How can we meet the spiritual needs of these visitors where they are at right now in their walk with God? And if they do call on Jesus as Lord, how can we support and equip them to reach others in East Asia?

These are not just theories and hopeful planning. God is blessing our WELS churches right now in these areas. WELS members are making contact with people from East Asia and inviting them to study God’s Word in our homes and churches. God is revealing new partnerships for us, both locally and worldwide, to carry out our gospel mission to East Asia.

Written by a missionary from East Asia

 

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When are you going to visit us?

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. – Romans 1: 8-10

How many people do you know have been born in their native country, but war forced them to escape their homeland? More than a decade ago, a member of Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn., reached out to a congregation in the far east of Thailand. The leader of this Hmong congregation contacted me, and we became friends. Soon after that, a couple of young men came to study at our training center in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Once I met them, a question was often raised, “When are you going to visit us?” I reassured them that when the right time comes, the Lord will lead me to visit. However, that vivid picture was long gone and a decade passed. Almost two years ago, this congregation approached us for financial support. We didn’t know what to expect because none of our Christian brothers in Thailand, whom we have fellowship with, have been into this new country. We also understood that there were security reasons and restrictions that prohibited us from visiting.

For us to have a better handle on this situation, we knew we needed to make a visit. In reality, you shouldn’t listen to stories or words without boots on the ground. Ears are for hearing, and eyes are for seeing towards better evaluations. And so we went.

My heart was always yearning to see and walk the dusty roads my parents once lived. I wondered how the fresh air of the village smelled, what the green mountains looked like, and what an organic banana tasted like. I questioned how lifestyles and living standards had changed since I left more than four decades ago.

I heard all the good and horrible stories as I grew up. I vividly remember when my family ran from jungle to jungle for survival during the Vietnam War. It grieves me to think of all the defenseless people when I think of this war-torn country. Deep inside of me, no words can describe the pain many of my people once faced. I’m disappointed that I was born during the war; this country robbed me of my childhood and education. Toys and school never once crossed my mind as a child. Only fear, hunger, and endurance provided me with experiences and stories to tell my children.

I was sitting in a plane flying from Bangkok, Thailand, crossing into my destination country, when the flight attendant announced that we would be landing soon. The plane started descending lower and lower to the ground I longed to see. I felt a chill down my spine amidst my mixed emotions. How was I going to get through this trip?

When I arrived, the congregation I was visiting still required a whole day’s journey by land. In this country, freedom of speech and the use of the Bible, or as some people called it “The New Way,” is not allowed in public. I realized how much we must treasure the gospel. When a group of people does not have the privilege to speak or share what they firmly believe, it is like having eyes but no vision. As a visiting missionary, I observed everything from start to finish without saying anything. It created a different yet pleasant experience. When I speak, I only return what I already know. When I listened, I discovered something new. I will never take the gospel for granted and the liberty of the United States, which I live.

Although the country I visited restricts Christianity, there is always hope. Some people have the opportunity to worship and conduct Bible study privately. We pray that as the country is beginning to develop along with chasing after economic prosperity, that the Lord opens doors for the gospel. One thing we can be sure this country needs most is the promise of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

As Isaiah said, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40: 31

Written by a visiting missionary from St. Paul, Minn. 

 

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Spanish Pastors Conference meets in Puerto Rico

The 8th gathering of the Spanish Pastors Conference met in Guayama, Puerto Rico, for four days in January. Fifteen men (plus two wives) gathered for study, worship and fellowship. We tackled Christian Stewardship, focusing on the Biblical truths and the cultural realities that exist. Discussion was lively–and everyone commented that is was a good study. Beside the study, we heard a report of the work of the Latin America missions team and Academia Cristo along with a report from the Board for Home Mission’s Hispanic Outreach Consultant.

God’s power was displayed by the many earthquakes that occurred while we were on the island – several were 5.7 and higher! God’s grace was equally displayed as no damage occurred where we were staying. All the members of the local congregation reported nothing more than frayed nerves. Many of us awoke on Tuesday morning to the second of four large tremors. All of us experienced the last large quake on Wednesday as we traveled to the second largest city on the island, Ponce, to view local culture and take in local cuisine.

Even though the power was out for almost 24 hours (all of Tuesday), we still enjoyed the opening worship, singing everything loudly in A Capella fashion. Cell phones batteries were drained to the last remaining bar of power as news was relayed to family members that everyone was not only okay but also enjoying the quiet night, staring at the stars near the equator with no light pollution!

As the conference drew to a close, someone asked how many of the attendees had worked in Puerto Rico. Five of the 15 men raised their hands! We give thanks to God that this mission has been a vital part not only of sharing God’s Word on the island, but also of preparing men who are sharing the same message in the United States. A big thanks to the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico who hosted the conference!

The conference meets every other year (on the even years), and it has been determined that our 2022 conference will be held in Tucson, Ariz. We ask our gracious God to continue to bless the efforts of these men and the many others who are sharing the gospel with the lost in Spanish and English.

Written by Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant for the WELS Board for Home Missions

 

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Spiritual unity in South Asia

The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in partnership with WELS Joint Missions, guides and assists spiritual leaders around the globe through their pre-seminary and seminary training. The PSI connects with these spiritual leaders through WELS world mission work and through outreach to immigrants and refugees in the United States and Canada. They are able to evaluate and serve these international groups and synods that want support, training, and a connection to a church body that shares the gospel message in its truth and purity.

E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, traveled to a country in South Asia in December to teach Ephesians and 1 Peter. Read more about his experience: 


For two and a half weeks, I had skated over icy sidewalks in Novosibirsk, Russia. I was looking forward to my next teaching assignment in a country in South Asia. Average temperature? 85 degrees! As we drove from the airport to the seminary facilities, I was second-guessing my choice of wool socks for this day of travel between Siberia and South Asia.

Seminary in South Asia

Later that first day, I got to sit in on a staff meeting with the WELS friendly counselor and the three spiritual leaders that serve with our friendly counselor to administer the seminary training program. The meeting began with a wonderful reflection on a passage from Scripture that featured deep insights and highlights from the Greek text. This was not a hasty “let’s-open-with-a-religious-thought” devotion! Everyone sitting around that table was clearly enjoying time in God’s Word, mutual encouragement, and a partnership in the gospel. The meeting that followed displayed an excellent partnership between local leaders and our friendly counselor. These men impressed me!

It will be challenging to describe the South Asian leaders who work with our friendly counselor in this place; security realities won’t allow familiarity. But here are three men who obviously hail from the same continent. After that, commonalities are more difficult to see. These guys have strong and independent personalities. Their differences were clearly evident to me when they took their turn translating my lessons for the 25 students before us.

One of these guys didn’t just translate. He ran the class. I mean he allowed only one speaker at a time. Side conversations was strictly forbidden. And the amount of time he took to convey my sentences in his language was about the same length of time it took me to say my sentences in English.

WELS Friendly Counselor (left) with the three South Asian leaders and E. Allen Sorum (right)

The second chap relished in the kind of class mayhem that I rather prefer myself. When I placed a question before the men, it seemed their natural style was to all answer at exactly the same time at an above average volume. Somehow, this translator was able to synthesize a group answer and share it with me in a way that was both entertaining and helpful. This leader/translator used my English sentence as a launching point for additional points that he wanted to add to my original point. At least that’s what I think was going on when my one sentence in English became his one paragraph in Telegu. He was greatly enhancing the learning that was going on in that room, I am sure.

The third man took my wimpy, timid English sentences and turned them into powerful oratory. He wasn’t content to merely instruct. He wanted to encourage, rally, and motivate his co-workers. All of my translators were themselves pastors. They know the challenges these men face back home in their young congregations. Most of the students were already pastors. They were, in general, just getting started at ministry, trying to establish a Christian movement in a hostile environment.

These three spiritual leaders who were also pastors, partners with our friendly counselor, seminary administrators, and translators share another attribute: they care deeply for their students. Spiritual unity is a hard thing to establish and maintain in any place. But when there is a bond of peace and love in Christ, and a good dose of humility, unity has a chance. We talked a lot about this unity: unity of faith, unity of love, and unity of purpose.

The friendly counselor who is blessed with the task of overseeing this ministry asked me to teach Ephesians and 1 Peter; fitting texts for these men and their ministry settings. When we got to the spiritual warfare portion of Ephesians 6, I asked the men to raise their hand if they dealt with demon possession. Almost every man raised their hand. We enjoyed, therefore, a spirited discussion on a Lutheran approach to exorcisms; Lutheran as opposed to Pentecostal. The students agreed that the Pentecostal approach common among them seemed more interested in ascribing glory to the exorcist than to serving the (possibly) possessed individual.

The Lutheran approach acknowledges the obvious. It is Jesus who has power and authority over the universe including the spirit world. So we ask Jesus to remove demons, we see ourselves as his agent carrying out his mission to rescue people, and we give him all the glory.

I was impressed by these men who must carry out their mission in these circumstances. I was impressed by their thirst for truth and their gratitude for partnership with their fellow Christians of WELS. They articulated their appreciation for WELS Christians many times. I assured them that their WELS brothers and sisters appreciated our partnership with them. I articulated that many times. May God strengthen our unity through the bond of peace and love in Christ. May we be a blessing to each other.

Written by Rev. E. Allen Sorum, Director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI)

To learn more about the Pastoral Studies Institute, visit wels.net/psi.

 

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Faces of Faith – Mrs. Tri

We take prayer requests verbally from our congregation and then pray about those very things in the moment. About four months ago, Mrs. Tri (pictured above 4th from right), raised her hand and went off on how her whole family is in chaos and disharmony, and how there is lack of respect and discord throughout the family. Her adult children’s families are all members of our congregation. Following that, our congregational president, Mr. Hưu-Trung Lê, and I visited members of the family, and Mrs. Tri, and prayed with them, shared key passages with specific members of the family over the following days and weeks. Later on a different Sunday, the same Sunday at Mrs. Phước’s baptism, Mrs. Tri raised her hand once again at the time of prayer requests. Internally I’m thinking, “Oh boy, here we go again…” Mrs. Tri then went on to say how thankful she was to God for bringing restored peace and harmony to her family. She is happy deep in her heart for what God has done to bring all the family members together again in harmony. Trung said Mrs. Tri came up to him after the service during fellowship time and said, “God has real power. To do what he did in my family—God’s power is real.”

From Dan Kramer, missionary at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church in Boise, Ida.

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Faces of Faith – Phước Thị Trần

The picture above is Phước Thị Trần, who lived her first 85 years without God. She actively campaigned for her family members not to be Christian or attend services at our church. When she found out family members were in a Bible basics course, she told them to stop.

Over these last few years, Mrs. Phước has been more open, even open to attending worship services over the past months. On the last Sunday of September, after much witnessing, prayer and her daughter’s faithful devotion in bringing her to attend services, this lady was happy to be baptized. Everyone applauded at the conclusion of the baptism. One of the family members rushed over to her as she was sitting down and said congratulations. The daughter wanted to do the baptism in the first service so the great-grandsons who attend the first service could see the baptism. They both recorded it on their phones. After the second service, since we had the baptism banner up, I explained what had happened during the first service and everyone applauded again. Mrs. Phước’s name means “blessing.” She is a blessing to us just as she has been richly blessed by God.

From Dan Kramer, missionary at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church in Boise, Ida.

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South Sudanese missionary commissioned

Another chapter of South Sudanese ministry began on August 11, 2019, as Simon Duoth was commissioned at Divine Peace Lutheran Church in Renton, Wash., as missionary to the Nuer people of the Pacific Northwest mission district.

Pastor Tom Voss commissions Simon Duoth as Neur missionary

He was commissioned in a joint worship service with both the Anglo and Sudanese members of Divine Peace in attendance.

The Sudanese service lasted three and a half hours and was followed by a meal. This is definitely the longest my wife and I have ever spent at a church service! It was truly an experience of a lifetime, to share the love and warmth these brothers and sisters share in their love for their God. Towards the end of the service, one of the members brought a couple from the airport that just arrived from South Sudan. He had told them that the church family wanted to meet them. They are starting a new life in America and have two young children still in South Sudan whom they hope to join them soon.

Sudanese choir

In addition to Sudanese outreach in the community, Missionary Duoth will lead special services in the Nuer language twice a month. He is also continuing his studies to become a pastor through the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), with Pastor Tom Voss from Divine Peace serving as his “adjunct” instructor. Please continue to pray for Missionary Duoth’s studies and outreach in the Pacific Northwest, and all Sudanese ministry happening in North America and around the world!

 

Shared by Mr. Mel Kam, member of the Pacific Northwest District Mission Board

To learn more about Sudanese ministry, visit wels.net/sudanese.

 

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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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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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Be strong and courageous

My name is Qiang Wang, a Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) vicar of Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Canada. I immigrated to Canada with my wife Susan and my son Ricky in 2013. At that time, Susan and I were Buddhists. Thanks be to the Lord that he sent Chinese Christians preaching the gospel to us almost immediately. At first I rejected their efforts. Later I decided to read the Bible on my own in order to argue with them. The Spirit created faith in my heart through the Word. On the Thanksgiving day in 2014, Susan and I were baptized into Jesus. Shortly after my baptism, I started to read the People’s Bible Commentaries which I borrowed from Pastor Geoff Cortright, who is the pastor of Saviour of the Nations. Since November 2015, after a 3-day trip to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, I have been studying in the PSI program full-time almost 4 years. God willing, I will finish PSI training at the end of this year and graduate from the Seminary in May 2020.

With funding from WELS Joint Missions, WELS-Canada, and Saviour of the Nations, I moved to Coquitlam as a missionary on July 1, 2019, in order to start a new Chinese mission.

Why Coquitlam?

Right now, the population of the city of Coquitlam is about 170,000. Coquitlam is one of the fastest growing Chinese areas in North America. In 2016, the local Skytrain expanded to include Coquitlam. As a result, the city is projecting explosive growth as commuters can now live in a more affordable community and easily connect to the amenities of Vancouver. City planners estimate that by 2026 the population will reach 200,000, an increase of 60,000 people in a 10 year span. Of that 60,000, half are Chinese people. The city of Coquitlam has plans to build up a larger core centre, with high rise towers and dense urban living. In the neighborhoods surrounding Coquitlam Town Centre, 23% to 49% of the homes speak Chinese. An increasing number of Chinese businesses and restaurants have moved in, catering to first generation immigrants. Additionally, what makes Coquitlam potentially the best regional choice to plant a Chinese church—it is currently under-served by Chinese churches.

Vicar Qiang Wang, his wife Susan, and their friend Richard (standing) after a long day of moving

When I received the final decision from our congregation that I would start a new Chinese mission in Coquitlam, I was excited and a little bit intimidated. To start a mission from scratch is not a small task for anyone. Our Lord is good! The first date of our moving, July 1, is Canada Day. God blessed us almost immediately through different ways. After a whole day moving and cleaning, I was exhausted and hungry. All our stuff was unpacked. We didn’t know where to have our dinner. Richard Yu, my friend and schoolmate from back in China and who now lives in Coquitlam, brought food and drinks to our new apartment. We enjoyed the food and shared the gospel with Richard. Suddenly and unexpectedly, an excellent fireworks show started, which we enjoyed from our new balcony.

We kept giving thanks to the Lord. Through Richard, God told us that we are not alone! He uses everything around us to bless us. Through the fireworks, God gave us a warm welcome! He is with us!

“Be strong and courageous!” Three times the Lord encouraged Joshua to be confident to succeed Moses in leading God’s people into the Promised Land. I believe that God will lead us to a wonderful future in North American. We pray that God establish a vibrant Chinese Lutheran worshiping community of believers in Coquitlam through our ministry. It will be a blessing not only for Coquitlam, but also for North America, and perhaps even for as far away as China.

Written by Vicar Qiang Wang, Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) student and Chinese missionary to Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada

The Chinese ministry in Coquitlam was approved to receive partial funding from WELS Joint Missions in May 2019 (with financial assistance also coming from WELS-Canada and Saviour of the Nations). To learn more about WELS Joint Missions, visit wels.net/jointmissions.

 

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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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Faces of Faith – Ron

Ron Kelly’s passion is to serve the families and young people at his congregation, St. Marcus in Milwaukee, Wis. “The youth and children of my community have so few role models showing them what a Christian man looks like,” Ron told me the first time we met. Ron wants to be such a role model.

And he is. Supervising Pastor Dan Leyrer reports that Ron is friendly, helpful, outgoing, faithful, and always looking to give. Ron is involved with youth discipleship, chapel devotions at St. Marcus school, ministry to school families, Bible information classes, and assistance at the Lord’s Supper. Ron also serves the church at large. He is a member of the Urban Advisory Board in Milwaukee and will represent St. Marcus as a delegate to the 2019 WELS Convention in New Ulm, Minn.

In addition to his work as a realtor and his many hours of service at St. Marcus, Ron is working his way through the PSI curriculum, one class at a time. He and Pastor Leyrer set aside time every week for these studies. Already these classes are equipping Ron for ministry. Ron is a rare gift from our Risen and Ascended Savior!

From Rev. Brad Wordell, member of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team

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Faces of Faith – Chenna

I was standing outside some apartments near our church, talking with some Hindu friends of mine who lived there. We noticed a young man and his father unloading some luggage from a U-Haul. My wife and I wanted to see if they needed help; we introduced ourselves and met Chenna and his father.

Often, we invite our friends to our home for dinner and to get to know them better. As we got to know Chenna, we learned that his father was a former Hindu and his mother used to be a Missouri Synod Lutheran. Chenna had been attending church services through a variety of Christian denominations and was looking for a church home in Pewaukee, Wis. My wife and I invited him to join us at Christ Lutheran.

Eventually, Chenna became more like a son to us than just a friend. We walked with him as he grew in his knowledge of the Bible through the course of a Bible information class hosted in our home with one of the pastors. Once he completed the course, Chenna was confirmed and can now join us as we receive assurance of sins forgiven during the Lord’s Supper.

Chenna’s story is a great example of how simply saying hello to someone can lead to a family-like friendship and impact a person’s faith. We pray that as Chenna continues to grow in his faith that he can let the light of Christ shine to his family so that they too can share in the joy of Jesus.

From Pastor Paul, South Asia Ministry Coordinator for WELS Joint Missions

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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 – Bidit

On occasion, I have met WELS members who imagine that the work of a cross-cultural missionary involves learning exotic languages or traveling to far flung places to share the gospel. Usually when people imagine cross-cultural ministry this way, they also imagine that they could never do. At least for me, the reality has been quite the opposite. Let me share an example through the recent work I have been able to do among the Nuer people from South Sudan who live near Vancouver, British Colombia. I don’t have to go anywhere, and I don’t speak the Nuer language (except for one word). I don’t deeply understand the culture. I have never been to South Sudan. Yet God has enabled me to reach a group of about 60 people in this culture. How? By giving to me special gifts in the form of Nuer leaders like Bidit (pronounced Bi-deet).

Like many of the other South Sudanese in our area, Bidit came to Canada as a refugee when he was a young man. He hopes someday to return to his country and serve his people. But for the time being, he has grown up to be the father of five, a leader in his community, and the kind of servant of God who makes my life as a missionary easy. The gospel clearly flows from his heart.

For the sake of his family and their cost of living, Bidit lives over an hour away from our Sudanese mission in a bedroom community of Vancouver. Yet every Sunday, he leaves his house 3 hours before church begins to first bring his family to church. Then he drives around the community picking up other South Sudanese people who need rides to church. He always comes prepared with a case of water and beverages to make people feel welcome at our South Sudanese mission service. After he arrives, Bidit is often the one leading the service in his Nuer language. When the people are talking in Nuer, he will come sit next to me and interpret so I can understand what they are talking about. After the service is over, Bidit will discuss with me who we should visit this week—for example, we came together twice this week to visit a gentleman who was hospitalized with a serious illness. Later, after our weekly chats on the phone, Bidit messages everyone in the South Sudanese community by Facebook to invite them to come to worship again next Sunday. If that weren’t enough, Bidit also just volunteered with Kingdom Workers to spend a month in Ethiopia to advance our gospel ministry among the Nuer people living in refugee camps there.

Do you see how easy this work becomes when God gives you a leader like Bidit? Instead of spending years to learn Nuer culture and language, my job is instead to equip leaders like Bidit,  through programs like the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Instead of trying to organize a congregation in a foreign culture, I only need to prepare a sermon with clear law and gospel. Instead of traveling to Ethiopia, I only need to connect leaders like Bidit with our WELS partners. Through Bidit, hundreds more people are reached with the gospel than if I tried to do this myself. Please keep the lay leaders like Bidit in our cross-cultural ministries in your prayers! For it is through men and women like Bidit that God truly opens doors for the gospel across different languages and cultures.

Written by Rev. Geoff Cortright, home missionary at Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

To learn more about South Sudanese ministry, a WELS Joint Missions ministry, visit wels.net/sudanese.

 

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Many languages, one family

Families who transition languages in their own home are common today. As immigrants continue to come to the United States, their families will experience language transition. The overwhelming presence of the English language in school and public media leads the youth in those families to learn and use English as soon as they can. That is happening as we speak! Often, homes are bilingual, but the languages used are simple phrases remembered or learned, so that children can communicate with parents.

But what do you do when the family wants to worship together? How do you foster the family atmosphere in the church when the older generation loves to hear the gospel in their heart language, but their children desire to hear it also in their heart language, and that language is different?

The confirmands

Congregations throughout WELS are wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas Lutheran Church, in Phoenix, Ariz., is also wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas was established as St. Thomas in 1964. In 1997, the congregation realized that to reach its community, it needed to work in the Latino culture and use Spanish. Men have been called and have served that family of God faithfully, sharing God’s Word from house to house in Spanish. God has blessed those efforts, and over 120 Hispanics worship weekly at Santo Tomas.

Over 10 years ago, the pastor realized that as he was teaching his catechism class to the adolescents in the congregation, more and more of them didn’t understand his Spanish. He was using terms and vocabulary that were foreign to his students. The students overwhelmingly wanted to hear and learn God’s Word in English. Yet, the ministry at Santo Tomas is in Spanish. Worship, counseling, outreach and fellowship all enjoy the frolicking tones of Spanish. How do you keep the family together?

Santo Tomas determined that God’s Word needs to be clearly understood–so they teach the catechism class in English. One of the current pastors, a native from Cuba whose English is not fluent, has the assistance of his wife, who is fluent. When it is his turn to teach Catechism, he prepares the lesson and his wife teaches and translates into English those words, phrases, and concepts that are not understood in Spanish.

The children learn in their heart language. But what about Confirmation Day? Imagine this: you have a church full of families who speak Spanish and wrestles with their English fluency watching and listening to a group of adolescents who are fluent in English and struggle with their Spanish fluency. Talk about an intercultural nightmare!

But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Their confirmation examination doesn’t have the back-and-forth series of questions that many of us experienced in our confirmation. They elected to have the adolescents prepare short essays that answer the questions pertaining to the chief parts of the Catechism. The adolescents take time to prepare those essays. The pastors use the technical means available to them–projectors and screens–to put up outlines in Spanish of what the children are saying in English. They also hand select a few children, whose Spanish is more fluent, and then work with them so that they can deliver those essays in Spanish.

By the grace of God, on Palm Sunday this year, Santo Tomas had 16 adolescent confirmands. The congregation experienced both languages in worship. Everyone was enriched by the essays on God’s Word. Faces beamed with confidence in their heart language. Above all, God was praised–and God’s family grew in faith.

May God continue to bless the congregations who work with many languages under one roof!

Written by: Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant for WELS Board for Home Missions

To learn more about Hispanic ministry, visit wels.net/hispanic.

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Short-term Mission Trips that inspire a lifelong journey of service and outreach

QUITO, ECUADOR 

Greta Pagels,  junior at Luther Preparatory School

Six members of St. Matthew’s, Oconomowoc, traveled to Ecuador in May to help one of the new WELS missionaries in Quito invite locals to attend a Bible study workshop as well as promote a future new Bible training center in the downtown area. St. Matthew’s member Greta Pagels, a junior at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., says, “I was really excited to see what we could do in a week, but I was also worried that any impact we would make would be minimal due to the fact that we only had one week and none of us spoke Spanish. We basically just walked up to people in parks and tried to spark a conversation with them, show them a video, hand them a flyer, and invite them to our event. It was very difficult for me at first, but it gradually got easier—having in the back of my mind exactly why we were doing it. It makes you a lot less scared to walk up to someone and talk to them when you think about how your conversation with them could ultimately lead to them hearing the gospel for the very first time. That’s what really pushed me to step out of my comfort zone.”  


Learn more about Mission Journeys and how you can be involved at wels.net/missionjourneys. 


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Author:
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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Gospel Seeds Continue to Multiply

Ger Yang was one of the first Hmong men home missionary Rev. Loren Steele met in St. Paul, Minn. in 1988. Ger Yang and Loren Steele worked together to share the message of salvation with the Hmong in the Twin Cities area.

Ger Yang (left) at Village 9 in Thailand

After Ger Yang was trained to be a pastor, he went to Thailand for mission a trip in village 9, Tak, Thailand, where he unexpectedly passed away. After Ger Yang died in December 1995, the Lord brought me to study in the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program. I was ordained on October 16, 1999, and was called by the Minnesota district to serve Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn.

The seed of the gospel is still working at Immanuel Hmong today! Immanuel Hmong was started by two strong missionaries: Ger Yang and Loren Steele (both of whom are now in heaven). After I was ordained two decades ago, Immanuel Hmong started off with only a few orphans and widows. From then on, the Lord has continued to bless his church to grow to over two hundred members. The Lord is kind and he took care of his church. Today, Immanuel Hmong’s worship attendance every week is around 110 with 200 souls in our membership. Our congregation is working hard to reach out to one of the largest Hmong populations in the United States. More than 70,000 Hmong people live in the Twin Cities area.

Although Immanuel Hmong is a mission church itself, we have a heart for mission work even outside of our own community. Immanuel Hmong continues to reach out to Thailand, following the footsteps of Ger Yang, to Village 9 and many other villages throughout Thailand where Hmong people can be found. Village 9 now has Hmong men serving as evangelists and pastors. Pastor Vang Toua Moua (Joe Saema) now serves as the main pastor for Village 9. The seed of the gospel didn’t die with Ger Yang. Once the gospel seed was planted in St. Paul, Minn., it spreads to the different parts of the United States and Southeast Asia. I was even asked to baptize ten people during my recent visit in December 2018!

Pastor Vang Toua Moua baptizes a newborn in Village 9

The seed of the gospel continues to spread to different villages. There are many nearby villages by Pastor Vang Toua who need the seed of the gospel. Pastor Vang Toua Moua and his congregation are equipped to bridge the gospel seed for those villages. We trust that the Holy Spirit will turn more hearts to faith in Jesus Christ.

Only the Lord can water the planted gospel seed to grow and multiply. I ask that you remember the Hmong ministries in the Minnesota district and around the world in your prayers. Together, the Lord will accomplish his purpose when he sends his gospel seed to the lost world. As Isaiah said, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” May the seed of the gospel continue to grow!

Written by: Pastor Pheng Moua, Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn. and member of Joint Mission’s Global Hmong Committee

To learn more about Hmong ministry in the United States and around the world, visit wels.net/hmong.

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Thanksgiving Evangelism

What is thanksgiving? Why does this country celebrate Thanksgiving in November each year? Many Hmong in the Kansas City community celebrate Thanksgiving each year, but do they really understand the meaning of Thanksgiving?

The answer is no!

Each year during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Hmong people celebrate Thanksgiving by preparing a big meal to enjoy with family members and friends like other American people do. In the non-Christian Hmong community, Thanksgiving is just a holiday for eating and drinking. They only enjoy the abundant foods and drinks on their table, but they don’t know the true meaning of Thanksgiving – the appreciation and thanks for the saving grace and blessings God provides to mankind.

Thanksgiving is one of the most effective events Grace Hmong uses to attract Hmong people in the community to hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a huge piece of our evangelism calendar. Each year during the Thanksgiving holiday, Grace spends a lot of time, effort, and money to be able to host a successful event. Grace prays and hopes to bring the Hmong community to attend the event and to hear the message of God.

Grace Hmong Lutheran Church – Kansas City, Kans.

At our 2018 Thanksgiving service, the members of Grace again had the opportunity to share with our guests why we say thank you for the blessings and love we receive from God. We shared the message of why we find ourselves having a reason to celebrate. There’s never a time NOT to express our gratitude to God for what he has done for mankind! Psalm 140:13 declares, “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name.” Giving thanks is what Christians do. We were so happy to share that message with our community during the service and meal time.

I was blessed and amazed to see all of the attendees enjoying their time eating up God’s Word during the service. And again during meal time, everyone enjoyed the tasty foods Grace provided. As I looked at their smiling faces, nothing was more enjoyable than spiritual feeding with God’s word and physical feeding with well-prepared Thanksgiving food.

All of the effort, time, and money Grace Hmong put into the event was well worth it. All of our guests enjoyed the message and food. The overall turnout of the event was around 102 people, many of whom were visitors from the community and nearby neighborhood.  From this event, there were two families who were interested in joining the church. The sweetness of the gospel warms their hearts and compels them to join us and come back next time.

The congregation’s outreach efforts are focused on our evangelism program, a Facebook advertising campaign for the weekly sermon series, and events such as thanksgiving with a potluck meal to follow.

Grace’s outreach to the Hmong community is not easy, and we have been experiencing many challenges. However, God continues to remind us that the mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel for the Holy Spirit to win the lost souls.

We are very excited about the gospel outreach opportunities within our community and we hope to share that excitement with the Lord’s people who are supporting that work with their prayers and with their offerings. Let’s keep on sharing the message of saving grace in Jesus!

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

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Connecting congregations to Hispanic communities

Julie K. Wietzke

Different histories, one future

When we talk about reaching out to other cultures in the United States, we can’t ignore the amazing opportunities God is providing for us to share the good news of Jesus with Spanish-speakers.

Consider these statistics:

  • Hispanic people are the largestminority in the United States, with an estimated 54 million Hispanic people comprising over 17% of the population (2015 Census).
  • More than75 percent of WELS congregations are located in areas of concentrated Hispanic populations (more than 1,500 Hispanics who live within three miles of the church).

But how do we reach out to people who speak a different language than we do?

“You just need to have an open heart and a willingness to change, and be willing to love,” says Timothy Flunker, WELS National Hispanic Consultant.

Exploring opportunities

Having an open heart may help you see the opportunities God has placed in front of you. A few years ago, Greg Pope, pastor at Trinity, Liberty (rural Manitowoc), Wis., began noticing more and more Hispanics as he made his door to door visits. “I would come across Hispanic families who didn’t know a lot of English. They seemed interested in my message, but I couldn’t communicate,” he says.

He discovered that half of the workforce of the large local farms was Hispanic. He also found out his members had connections with these Spanish speakers—some as employers and some as fellow workers in the fields.

Pope contacted Flunker to find out how he and his congregation could reach this new mission field. Flunker suggested offering English Improvement Opportunity (EIO) classes as a way to meet their neighbors and build a base.

According to Flunker, most of the more than 100 WELS congregations doing Hispanic outreach started with offering English classes. These classes fill a need for the Hispanics who want to learn English, as well as create friendships and connections with congregation members that lead to witnessing opportunities. Gospel seeds are also sown when later classes begin with devotions in simplified English.

Eighteen months after Pope contacted Flunker, the congregation offered its first English class in October 2017. Much work happened during that time. Members were inspired to see this new opportunity. Neighboring churches were alerted. Volunteers were recruited and trained. The classes were advertised.

And yet, despite the interest shown in the community, only one person came.

Most likely, this is because the classes started during harvest-time, when many Hispanics are working long, hard hours. But Flunker says it also can take time to break into the community. “I encourage congregations not to think in large, bold, success numbers [when starting],” he says. “Think one to two families. Just be content to get to know them, and they will be the conduit into that community.”

Says Pope, “I’m very eager and excited for it to develop and gain momentum. Only God knows the result of it.”

Making connections

Four years ago, Immanuel, Waukegan, Ill., a congregation that has just celebrated its 125th anniversary, also saw an opportunity. Waukegan had turned into a Midwest hub for Hispanic immigrants, with more than 65 percent of the community being Spanish speakers. Immanuel’s school was drawing heavily from the Hispanic community and was growing steadily.

Wanting to reach out further into its community, Immanuel began English as Conversation Outreach classes. Over the course of four years, the classes grew, sometimes having 35 to 40 adult students a night. These students expressed interest in the church, but since the pastor didn’t speak Spanish, the congregation couldn’t offer Spanish services or dig deeper into the Word with them.

The congregation approached the Board for Home Missions, and this past spring, the board funded a bilingual pastor for the next three years to cultivate relationships with Immanuel’s Hispanic prospects. Then Immanuel’s current pastor plans to retire, and the bilingual pastor will take over the entire ministry.

Seth Haakenson, Immanuel’s new bilingual pastor, is now connecting with the parents of school children and starting Spanish language Bible studies in peoples’ homes. Talking about faith in the Hispanic culture is not considered taboo, according to Haakenson. “They have grown up in a culture that is very religious, but they don’t know who Jesus is,” he says. “Once they know who Jesus is, the light turns on.”

Haakenson says he probably will start Spanish-language worship in six months to a year, depending on the interest of the people. Some Hispanic families already attend the English services, but other newer Christians want to worship in Spanish. “They want the Spanish services not because they don’t want to integrate but because it’s the language they understand the most for learning the Bible,” says Haakenson.

That being said, he is quick to note that Immanuel is one church. “We have different histories, but we have one future,” he says. “It’s not languages and cultures that unite us; it’s a common faith in Christ.” To celebrate that connection, he says that the congregation will have purposeful bilingual events and bilingual worship in the future.

Expanding ministry

Christ, Milwaukee, Wis., has been reaching out to its Hispanic neighbors on the southside of Milwaukee for more than 10 years. Its 200 members are evenly divided between Spanish speakers and English speakers. Its joint school with St. Peter, Milwaukee, even more so represents the community makeup, with 60 percent Latino students and between 30 to 40 percent Anglos.

The congregation has had a bilingual pastor since 2009, and just this year Nixon Vivar, a 2017 Pastoral Studies Institute graduate originally from Ecuador, was assigned as the congregation’s second bilingual pastor. While Vivar will focus more on Hispanic outreach and Chad Walta, the congregation’s other bilingual pastor, will focus more on the English side, they are working to overlap their ministries so that members, whether Hispanic or Anglo, see them both as their pastors and see the ministries as one.

According to Flunker, having pastors who speak both English and Spanish can make it easier to integrate Spanish-speaking families into the congregation, especially considering that children in these families often use English more than Spanish. With eight confirmands from the Spanish-speaking side of the congregation last year, involving this younger generation in church life is an exciting challenge. “They are the future of the congregation,” says Vivar. “But how do we use their talents and energy to serve the Lord?”

Being mindful of the Hispanic culture can provide opportunities for reaching this community. Through offering baptisms and quiñceaneras, two important religious events in the Hispanic culture, the pastors make connections within the community and can share the life-saving gospel message of faith alone. “Hispanics are very family- and friend-oriented,” says Walta. “If one or two start coming to faith in Jesus and start coming to church, they’re going to bring others.”

Vivar, who grew up Catholic, says he feels blessed and privileged to share the gospel message. “If I can put in their hearts what Jesus put in my heart—the joy of salvation—if I put it in one heart at a time, I would be so happy.”


Julie Wietzke is the managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine.  


This is the fifth article in a series about cross-cultural outreach in the United States and Canada. Learn more at wels.net/missions.


Did you know? 

Twenty WELS congregations hold worship in both Spanish and English, and more than 100 locations have some sort of Hispanic ministry, ranging from English classes to simplified English worship to Spanish language services.


 

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Introducing Ourselves – One Taco at a Time

“What restaurant are you from?” a man asked me.

I said, “We’re not a restaurant. We’re a church!”

For three years running, Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, WI has set up a small taco kiosk during community festivals. This year’s Latinofest turned a beautiful Fall weekend into a mission opportunity.

Both Anglo and Latino members make plans months in advance. Still, the week before the event always sees a flurry of activity – marinating the pork in a bright-red blend of chilies and spices, buying and chopping bulk onions, cilantro, and limes, reigniting the friendly debate over the best size and brand of corn tortillas to get from the Mexican grocery store.

Everything must be fresh and authentic!

The night before the event, a salsa-making party fills the church kitchen with the smells of a creamy salsa verde (green) and an eye-watering salsa roja (red). Finally, it’s show-time: The meat is stacked with great care on a vertical spit called a trompo and then fire-roasted until crispy. No one can resist watching the taco meat go ‘round and ‘round as it cooks on our two machines – or the delicious smell that floats through the festival and brings in a long line of curious gringos and Latino families.

The food is simple, and the price is kept low – just enough to cover our costs. (Any additional proceeds are reinvested into supplies for future Hispanic outreach events.) The reason we’re there is not to make money. We’re there to tell our Latino neighbors that Iglesia Betel (Bethel Church) is a church that loves them, offers many free services to them, wants them to hear God’s Word in their native language, and proclaims salvation through Jesus alone.

That’s why every plate of tacos is served up with a small invitation to join other Spanish-speakers for worship every Sunday at noon or for bi-weekly English classes, which wrap up with a prayer or Spanish Bible Study.

Each year so far, our kiosk has been staffed by an even blend of Anglos and Latinos, and the group always works together like a well-oiled machine. Those volunteers gave up a beautiful Fall afternoon to serve tacos, all because they wanted to introduce their neighbors to our bilingual church. Their work made it possible for me to spend the day talking with the folks who passed by, answering their questions, and inviting them to worship – whether in English or in Spanish.

Written by: Pastor Phil Hunter, Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, WI

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