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“I am with you”

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

Dear Friend,

The Holy Spirit has comforted Christians with these words through the centuries. Whether in times of personal hardship, persecution, or other difficulty, hearing Jesus’ promise to be “with” us gives us peace in God’s abundant love and his plan for us. This peace God gives us is a peace the world needs.

Thank you for your partnership with WELS as we work together with Home, World, and Joint Missions to spread the gospel in the U.S. and throughout the world through the new Mission Journeys volunteer program. This program is designed to help congregations and schools prepare and go on short-term mission trips. To learn more about Mission Journeys, visit wels.net/missionjourneys.

Does Jesus’ promise to be “with” us apply as we share our faith with other people? Of course. “Always” means all the time and in all circumstances. Will we get nervous? Maybe. What will we say? What if I don’t have all the answers? Jesus says in Luke 12:12, “the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Read how the Spirit enabled Greta Pagels, a Mission Journeys team member to Ecuador, to step out of her comfort zone. Watch a team member from Rochester, Minn., tell how our Lord impacted her life through a Mission Journeys trip to Escondido, Calif.

Mission Journeys is giving WELS members another way to be a part of the Great Commission. Would you be interested in joining a Mission Journeys team? Would you consider supporting the program through your prayers and gifts? However you participate, we appreciate your partnership.

In Jesus,
Shannon Bohme
Coordinator, WELS Mission Journeys

P.S. “Like” WELS Missions on Facebook for more stories and updates on Mission Journeys and WELS mission work around the world.

Let the word dwell in you richly as you teach

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19).

Dear Friend,

Jesus gives believers the Great Commission to “go” and “teach” the gospel. Thank you for your support of WELS that allows home and world missions to do this. Our new program, Mission Journeys, gives WELS members the opportunity to go on short-term mission trips where they can help a congregation or mission field in their ministry. Watch this video from a Mission Journeys team in Ecuador to follow one church’s Mission Journeys experience. Go to wels.net/missionjourneys to learn whether your church might be able to participate in Mission Journeys.

Before the mission team leaves, they go through training materials to prepare for the trip. The most important part of the preparation is time in God’s Word. Paul says in Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach” (3:16). Before teams “go” and “teach” others, they are spiritually filled up. Mission Journeys training gives teams devotions, prayers, and a focus on personal discipleship. Our prayer is for the Holy Spirit to “teach” each team member through the Word to prepare them for the mission trip.

God-willing, the team will have opportunities to “teach” others about Jesus while on their journey. This could be through a vacation Bible school devotion, a personal witness, joyfully serving the community and letting the light of Jesus shine, or any number of other opportunities.

The world needs Jesus. The consequences of this message are eternal. Would you be willing to make a gift today to WELS Mission Journeys to “teach” mission teams as they go out and “teach” others? Together, we have a “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:4).

In Jesus,
Shannon Bohme
Coordinator, WELS Mission Journeys

P.S. “Like” WELS Missions on Facebook to learn more about Mission Journeys trips and to get exciting updates on current WELS missions throughout the U.S. and world.

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. 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author:
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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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God Can Turn Setbacks into Blessings

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

Acts 8:4

The book of Acts shows us that the Lord used even the persecution of his church to further the spread of his Word. What seemed a setback actually resulted in added blessing to the church as the scattered believers brought the message of salvation to those whom they might not have otherwise encountered.

South Asian Fellowship at Christ in Pewaukee, WI

When our World Missions contacts in Pakistan, Dr. and Mrs. Jordan, were forced to leave their country and come to the United States for safety reasons, it seemed a significant setback to the efforts to share the gospel in that country. A small but growing Lutheran church had been established. Christian literature had been provided in the Urdu language for tens of thousands of Christian school children, for adults who desired instruction, and for hundreds of low income Christian households that wanted Bible materials for the spiritual instruction of their families.

Yet as happens so often in mission work, our Lord used these unforeseen developments to further his work rather than hinder it. Through the miracle of modern technology in communications, the departed leaders were able to continue to advise, encourage, and train those left behind in their church in Pakistan. Plans for in depth Bible training of the next generation are being carried out and a new wave of leadership has begun to emerge. In fact, outreach through household churches is being done on a scale greater than thought possible.

The Lord’s blessings are not confined to Pakistan alone, but are also evident in the United States. Extended time in America enabled the Pakistani couple to accelerate and complete courses with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), a partnership between WELS Joint Missions and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. After graduating from the PSI program, the Jordans began to use the advantage of their Asian background and language to establish a network of Asian immigrant friends who were living in the Pewaukee, Wis. area, where they reside. Their membership at Christ Lutheran Church in Pewaukee prompted the congregation to work with the Jordans to establish an International Friendship Center (IFC) to reach out to these immigrants with Christian love and the message of salvation.

Activities of the IFC over the past months have included meals, gatherings at church, and numerous visits to homes that have involved over 60 immigrants. In all of these activities, the gospel has been shared and relationships between American mid-westerners and people from India, Pakistan, and Nepal have begun to form. This summer, Christ Lutheran volunteers are providing activities for Asian children in a nearby park leading up to the church’s Vacation Bible School in July. Joint trips to farms, businesses, and places of interest in the community are being planned; and classes helping these immigrants to adjust to U.S. culture and life are being developed.

We don’t know where all of this comparatively new outreach effort will lead, but the Jordans and the volunteers at Christ Lutheran do know that God has provided an unexpected opportunity to be his people in a unique way, perhaps showing again in the 21st century that setbacks in man’s perception often become blessings that are part of God’s master plan.

Written by: A volunteer with the Christ Lutheran South Asian Task Force

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A Recipe for Intercultural Outreach

As the horizon of cultures expands in the United States, we ponder a simple question: How do we share God’s Word with everyone? Now that culture, language, and social-economic status are barriers used by the opponents of the gospel to limit contact and connection with other people groups, a congregation that surveys its community and desire to reach out interculturally needs to find the right recipe.

Fellowship event at Immanuel

Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waukegan, Ill., is a congregation that has followed a recipe for Intercultural Outreach. Over four years ago, the leaders at Immanuel observed that their Christian day school reflected the community, with over 55% of their student body from other people’s groups. They also noticed that their congregation didn’t reflect that same percentage. A simple demographic study revealed what most already knew – over 57% of the 84,000+ community members identified themselves as Hispanic. Many of them still spoke Spanish at home, even though the children are fluent in English.

How could Immanuel reach them?

The recipe uses several ingredients. You need a strong spiritual leader who can help identify and lead the congregation through the cultural barrier. You would like to have a couple of members who can navigate the language barrier. It would be a blessing to have everyone understand that membership in the visible church isn’t just to increase local offerings, but to answer God’s call of making disciples for now and eternity.

God has blessed Immanuel with those ingredients. So, they went to work on the recipe. They marinated an EIO (English Improvement Opportunity) class, to which the non-English speakers could be invited, thereby creating contact. They set the oven for three years – during which they mixed the ingredients of the plan to call a bilingual man now, so that after three years the English-speaking pastor will retire (his choice!) and the bilingual man would take over the entire ministry. They added the toppings of a relationship with WELS’ Board for Home Missions, which helped them call that bilingual man right away.

Home Bible study

The recipe is proving to be a good one! God has blessed this location with a bilingual pastor, Rev. Seth Haakenson, who started reaching out to the community in September of 2017. He has made contact with hundreds of people, held Bible classes in prospects homes, invited them to his own home, instructed for baptism, and has begun to introduce Biblical culture to their own.

That is why we call it “Intercultural” outreach: we introduce the culture of the Bible to their own culture and allow the two to mix, so that which pleases God will become everyone’s culture. Lord willing, in a few months, worship will be held at church at which the current members, alongside of the new prospects, will together praise God.

The recipe is not difficult to follow, and as most packages will tell you, it requires some changes from place to place. You may have to adjust for altitude or strength of the oven, but the ingredients remain the same: Identify the barriers, use God’s Word to overcome them, and bring peoples together under one roof to praise God.

Now that is a recipe we all can follow.

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

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Reaching the Vietnamese

Have you heard about Friends of Vietnam?

Friends of Vietnam, Inc. (FOV) is the international outreach arm of Peace In Jesus Lutheran Church (a predominantly Vietnamese congregation) in Boise, Idaho. FOV endeavors to reach out through educational opportunities by supplying English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers to Vietnam in order to witness about Jesus in private settings. FOV also strives to bring students into the United States to study at WELS schools. FOV is building bridges for the gospel between Vietnam and the U.S. through education. The FOV Board was established in August 2016 and has an aggressive plan to bring the gospel to Vietnamese souls. There are some exciting things happening in Vietnam! What follows is an interview with Mr. Hưu Trung Lê, President of the Friends Of Vietnam Board:

Q: What are the goals of FOV?

Friends of Vietnam is an exciting and new ministry striving to accomplish two main goals: 1) prepare and send individuals to Vietnam to teach English and also share the Good News in private settings, and 2) assist students in Vietnam to come study in schools of our fellowship in the United States. The vision includes bringing students from Vietnam to study at WELS elementary schools, high schools, and colleges. In pursuit of fostering friendships and understanding between Vietnamese and American cultures, Friends of Vietnam endeavors to connect more Vietnamese souls to the gospel.

Q: Why is FOV important, in your view?

FOV is really important because we are striving to share the gospel with some areas still in the dark. We would like to share the correct teaching about Jesus with Vietnamese people. The bridge of the gospel is important, so FOV is trying to build many such bridges.

Q: What FOV success stories might you be able to share?

Our first FOV teacher is in Vietnam right now! He had a very difficult time at first in Vietnam due to the challenges of living in a new country, the language barrier, etc., but now he is settled in and has a good job teaching English at ILA English center in Saigon. He continues teaching four classes a week, on Saturday and Sunday. Our teacher’s manager at the school did an evening classroom observation and he was really impressed with the class, and he thought our teacher was doing a good job. Our teacher plans on continuing his contract with this school through October 2018.*

*name withheld due to security concerns

FOV President Hưu Trung on a survey visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Q: What is your dream for FOV?

My dream is that we bring more students to our WELS schools so the young generation of Vietnamese people can know more about the gospel, and to place more teachers in Vietnam. Maybe someday we will have our own Lutheran high school in Vietnam! And more importantly, I dream one day we will have a Vietnamese Lutheran Church in fellowship with WELS in Vietnam, so we could have regular worship. My dream is that more people in Vietnam will hear the gospel and believe in God. We try our best to follow what Jesus taught us in Matthew 4:19: “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’” That is what FOV is trying to do.

To learn more about Friends of Vietnam, visit their website at www.friendsofvietnam.net or check out their Facebook page.

If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved with Friends of Vietnam, please call the general line at (208) 912-8283, or Hưu Trung Lê at (208) 891-5344.

Interview conducted by Rev. Daniel Kramer: Peace in Jesus Lutheran Church – Boise, ID

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Building Up the Body of Christ

While it is rewarding to write about victory stories of a new member’s confirmation or a prospect’s baptism, I would like to share with you a recent little moment in our mission that gives me even greater joy seeing God’s people at work.

For the last few months, a Chinese woman named Tina has been coming to a conversational English class we have every Friday morning. And every Friday at this class we invite Tina, and all who come, to study the Bible further with us or come to Sunday worship.

Tina and her daughter Crystal

Tina finally came.

And when she walked into our church door on Sunday afternoon, something remarkable happened. Tina isn’t a Christian, and neither is her daughter, Crystal – they came mostly out of curiosity. And they were instantly welcomed by a small horde of eager Chinese members at our church. At first I thought somehow they all knew each other already, which is normally the case when we have Chinese visitors. A few ladies sat down next to Tina and her daughter. They helped explain our English worship and whispered what is going on. They invited Tina and Crystal to our Chinese language Bible class after worship.

Towards the end of our Bible class time one Sunday in January, I snuck into our Chinese language Bible class to find Qiang Wang, our Chinese evangelist, and five of our Chinese members actively witnessing to Tina and Crystal. I admit my Chinese is only good enough to follow the topic, but my heart swelled with joy listening to them sharing the good news of Jesus with Tina and Crystal in Chinese. These Christians were not long ago playing the role of the Ethiopian and asking Philip, “What does this mean?” Now they were sharing the message and explaining God’s Word in their own language to Tina. I saw in all their faces how deeply their love for Jesus was driving them to share with Tina and her daughter the news that so changed their lives also.

Tina helping out at the Chinese New Year event (Pictured holding the baby)

In Ephesians, Paul says that God gave pastors, teachers and missionaries to his church, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:12) In other words, if our mission is training our Chinese members to be missionaries themselves, we are going to be reaching people that I myself cannot reach. It has now been a month since that brief moment in Chinese Bible study, and Tina and Crystal are still coming to church – every Sunday. In fact when we celebrated Chinese New Year two weeks ago, Tina was in the kitchen with the other ladies preparing food for the meal. She still won’t say “I am a Christian”, but she wants to know more. She wants to hear the stories of Jesus. God is working in her heart.

And thanks to our other Chinese members, Tina is experiencing the love and joy of the body of Christ that welcomes her and importantly, reinforces the truths of Scripture in her own language and culture. Perhaps most importantly, God is giving more Christians their own moment to play the role of Philip and grow his kingdom in new ways.

Written by: Rev. Geoff Cortright, Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church – Vancouver, Canada

To learn more about this home mission, visit their Facebook page.

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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.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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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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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Hmong Ministry Grows

“The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)

In 2002, Neng Lor, a WELS evangelist from a Hmong congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota, visited his extended family in Kansas City. The purpose of his visit was not only to connect with his family, but also to share the gospel with his relatives.

The Lors had belonged to a Christian church in the country of Laos since 1950. They were among the very first families in Laos to join Christian churches. In fact, many members of the Lor family had been serving as pastors and elders in the Christian Mission Alliance Church for decades. Something very big had been missing, however.

During his visit to Kansas City, Neng shared with his relatives what they had been missing. It was something they had never heard before: we are saved by grace, not by works. After the Lors heard that gospel from Neng, they were moved by the Holy Spirit to believe that sinners are saved by Christ alone.

The Lors of Kansas City felt the need to reach out to WELS for Christian fellowship. What they found was a church body excited to welcome and serve them. One congregation in particular, Rock of Ages of Kansas City, opened their arms to the Lor family. The Lors were like sons and daughters in Christ to the members of Rock of Ages. Bounkeo Lor remembers one member of Rock of Ages who gave up his “normal” church pew for the Lors. Bounkeo recalls that man saying, “I want to make sure that you feel warm and welcome in this church.”

In 2003, four of the Lor brothers began to study for the ministry through Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), a gospel training program developed for non-traditional students. In that same year, Bounkeo Lor traveled to Thailand to visit and to share the gospel with the members of his father’s church. Bounkeo was so excited to know that sinners are saved by grace.  He wanted his friends and relatives to know the peace and joy of the gospel. In 2006, one of the Lor brothers, Pastor Dewid Lor, was called to serve as a pastor in Thailand after graduating from the PSI program.

Through the generosity and outstretched arms of Rock of Ages, the Lord has tremendously blessed the Lors and many other Hmong families. The gospel has been spread from a few people, to hundreds, and from hundreds, to thousands. The ministry is extending to more parts of the United States and Southeast Asia.

The sweetness of the gospel compels more people to want to learn from WELS. They want to learn the unconditional gospel, so that they can bring the sweetness of the gospel back to their own people. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (Luke 10:2)

Hmong believers now have their own WELS congregation in Kansas City. Grace Hmong has grown from a church of fifteen to just over one hundred members.  Through mission offerings from WELS congregations and other grants, Grace Hmong was able to purchase its own church building. The ministry center will be dedicated on August 27, 2017.

May the Lord continue to bless the mission work of WELS so that more lost souls may hear the Word of God and may believe that Christ is their Lord and Savior!  To God alone be the glory!

By Rev. Bounkeo Lor
Hmong Asian Ministry Coordinator

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