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Faces of Faith – Sebastian

It was a moment parents dread: an early morning phone call from the hospital.

“Your son has been in an accident. It’s critical. The doctors don’t think he’ll make it. Come right away.”

Sebastian had always struck me as a responsible teen. Respectful, polite, hard-working, active in the church – the kind of child that makes parents proud. One night he and a friend were riding Sebastian’s motorcycle home from a party. A different motorcycle blew through an intersection and struck the vehicle Sebastian was driving. He and the friend riding behind him went flying. Sebastian’s body cushioned his friend’s fall, but the pavement cracked Sebastian’s helmet and caused severe head trauma.

Sebastian’s parents, Henry and Eliana, are good friends of mine. Pastor Henry is a missionary in our sister synod in Medellín, Colombia. He is called to help others start churches in Colombian and Venezuelan cities. I heard of the accident from Henry and immediately left for the hospital. What do you say when a brother in the faith and his family are going through a severe test? We lived in different cities. I was unsure whether Sebastian would be alive when I arrived.

Sebastian presenting at his new church in Ibagué

After hours of travel, I got to see the family and shared my favorite Psalm with them: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord…” – Psalm 121. I assured them, “The Lord is with you. He is watching over you.”

“The first three days were critical,” recalls Pastor Henry. When he arrived at the hospital, Sebastian’s skull was cracked and his brain was visible. “After a few days they disconnected him from the machine to see what would happen.” He began to breathe on his own.

After a week, with a bandaged head, the medical team sent Sebastian home. He spent another month in bed, with his mom serving as his primary care provider. The next months his parents retaught him how to dress, eat, speak, and carry out basic skills.

Prior to the accident, Sebastian was studying to be a motorcycle mechanic. However, the trauma his brain suffered made school impossible. His mind found it hard to focus. Nearly three years passed. No longer a teenager, Sebastian grew more and more frustrated. He felt like a burden to his family. He began to struggle with depression.

Then one week, Pastor Henry was making his regular rounds and dropped in on a mission congregation in Ibagué, Colombia, which is about seven hours away from where he lives. Worship there is held in a hotel. Victor and Paulina work at the hotel and are leaders in the new church. Chatting after church, they mentioned to Pastor Henry that they were looking for someone to help them manage the hotel. “As a joke,” Henry recalls, “I told them, ‘You should hire my son.’” What a surprise when Victor and Paulina made the trip the next week to interview Sebastian for the position!

Arrangements were made, and in March of this year Sebastian moved away from home to live and work at the hotel with Victor and Paulina. “It’s been a huge blessing for everyone,” Pastor Henry says. “Sebastian is able to help start a church and stay close to God.”

Sebastian at his new church in Ibagué

I asked my friend, Henry, if a particular Bible passage brought them comfort during these past three years. “Yes brother, it was the one you read to us during the most difficult moments, Psalm 121.”

When David wrote those words some three thousand years ago, he had no idea how they would comfort a Colombian called worker family during their most difficult challenge. But God knew. Sebastian may never fully recover from the injuries he suffered during that early morning accident, but he can know God is watching over him, just as he watches over all his children.

Written by Missionary Mike Hartman, field coordinator for the Latin America missions team

 

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Faces of Faith – Carlos

Carlos Fernandez could have been called a highly successful church planter within his denomination in Argentina—once planting six churches in a year. But when his church body sent out a notice, which included no Biblical support, that forbid its members from watching TV or playing sports, Carlos decided that he could no longer take the legalism of his church body. He went looking for something else.

Carlos found Bible-based, Christ-centered teaching through Academia Cristo, the WELS online effort for outreach and training. Through it he was able to take online classes taught by WELS missionaries.

After several classes, Carlos received visits from WELS missionaries. He took off work from his finance company, used his motorcycle to shuttle the visiting missionaries around his town of Machagai, Argentina, and spent as much as 14 hours a day studying God’s Word. God willing, Carlos will be visited again soon when he will be welcomed into fellowship and the church-planting will begin.

From Mike Hartman, missionary and field coordinator in Latin America

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People group ministry

Dear Friend,

We call it “people group ministry.” Immigrants who have joined our fellowship in the U.S. and Canada take the gospel back to friends and family in their countries of origin. We praise God for so many opportunities!

This month’s WELS Connection shares the story of Dr. Paul contacting WELS for ministry resources for Pakistan. Eventually God brought Dr. Paul to the U.S. where he became a WELS pastor. He now plants International Friendship Centers that reach out to the local South Asian population through fellowship, educational, and faith-related activities.

Maybe you’ve heard of the opportunity God has given us in Vietnam. When the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) found online sermons posted by WELS Hmong pastors, which clarified their understanding of law and grace, they asked WELS for training. WELS began working with them and, by God’s grace, their church body has grown from 55,000 to 100,000. The HFC hopes to eventually reach as many as two million Hmong in the greater area!

Here are some other examples of “people group ministry”:

  • More than a hundred WELS churches serve a Hispanic population and are working with the Latin American missions team to bring the gospel to Latin American countries.
  • Eight WELS congregations have assisted South Sudanese refugees, which has led to outreach to refugee camps in Ethiopia, Kenya (pictured), and Uganda.
  • Various WELS congregations provide devotional materials to East Asian members to share with family and friends locally and back in East Asia.
  • Two Liberian refugees (in Las Vegas, Nev.; and New Hope, Minn.) are training to become WELS pastors. These men lead congregations in the U.S. and have strong connections to congregations in Liberia, Africa.
  • Two WELS congregations serving Korean members are partnering with WELS’ sister synod in South Korea as people reach back to their home country.
  • A congregation in the Boise, Idaho, area serving Vietnamese immigrants is sending individuals to Vietnam to teach English and share the gospel while also assisting students in the country with coming to the U.S. to study at our schools.
  • We have been contacted by a Detroit-based immigrant from a predominantly Muslim country in Asia who has become a WELS member. He has experience instructing Muslim refugees in the Christian faith. He operates three Christian schools in Asia and is looking for doctrinal guidance.

Funding for these efforts comes primarily from the WELS Missions Endowment Fund. Member gifts of cash, appreciated assets, and planned gifts (through a will, trust, beneficiary designation on a retirement account, or insurance proceeds) go into this permanent fund designed to make steady annual distributions that increase as the fund grows.

At this point the WELS Missions Endowment Fund distributes about $480,000 each year. I am asking you to give to this endowment to increase these annual distributions so that we can keep up with the amazing people group ministry opportunities our Savior is providing.

Chenna was reached through the International Friendship Center when Dr. Paul and his wife saw him unloading luggage from a U-Haul and offered to help, introduced themselves, and invited his family for dinner. This kindness led Chenna to Bible study and then confirmation. Chenna is an example of the ultimate goal—reaching souls with the good news of Jesus. Please pray for these efforts and consider a gift today to fund people group ministry through the WELS Missions Endowment.

Cordially in Christ,
Rev. Paul T. Prange
Chairman, WELS Joint Mission Council

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How great is the need?

No, you are not looking at people wearing purple Ku Klux Klan robes.

It’s Good Friday in the center of Quito, Ecuador. Two thousand people line up for a procession that winds through the streets from noon to 3pm. Almost all of them wear purple. Some carry huge wooden crosses with beams the size of telephone poles. Some carry statues. Some strap cactus crosses to their bare backs. Others whip themselves or have others whip them. Others clamp chains to their feet and drag them along.

Why are they doing this? I asked a lady who had participated in 11 of these events. She eagerly told me that there are many reasons someone might choose to participate. You may have some big sins to pay for or you might want to ask God a really big favor. In that case, you would need to participate 7 years in a row.

I was sad.

Good Friday in Quito, Ecuador

She actually said “pay for your sins.” All days are bad days to try to pay for your sins, but the irony of trying to do so on Good Friday was hard to hear. Equally disturbing was the attempt to convince God to answer prayers on the day when Jesus won for us complete access to our loving Father who always is eager to hear us. If one thing was certain from my observation of this Good Friday procession, it is this: many hurting people who are desperate for relief live here.

About halfway through the procession I saw a young woman who had been carrying a cross. She had collapsed by the side of the road. A team of Red Cross paramedics was attending her.

I was sad.

I thought about all the reasons the girl may have chosen to carry that cross. I thought about the guilt and the deep desire she had. She wanted something so badly. She was hurting. Even worse, I imagine her failed attempt will probably heap even more guilt and shame on her.

I was sad.

I wish that I could have been able to talk to her. I wish I could sit down at a coffee shop and just listen. To her and to all of them. I wish I could have had the opportunity to talk about Jesus. But at that moment, I couldn’t. Not with her and not with many others. I didn’t have the opportunity.

But maybe I’ll have the opportunity someday.

Traveling around Quito (not to mention all the rest of Latin America), I pass many apartment buildings. “How can I get in them? How can I talk to those people?” I ask myself. In most instances, I can’t.

I might not be entering, but the Word is. Through social media, thousands upon thousands of people learn about Jesus and have opportunity to sign up for online classes (or on-the-ground classes in some cases like Quito). Then I get to talk to them. Then I get to tell them about Jesus.

I am happy. The Holy Spirit is working.

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador 

To learn more about mission work in Latin America, visit wels.net/latin-america.

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Swords and Selfies

Less than thirty years after Martin Luther’s death, in the town of Riobamba in the Spanish territory known as the viceroyalty of Peru, and at the foot of what was then considered the world’s highest mountain, a man simply known as “the Lutheran” arrived. The story goes that he was suspected of being Lutheran because he talked about being saved by Jesus without a word about the Virgin Mary or any of the saints.

Coat of Arms in Riobamba

“The Lutheran” didn’t last long in Riobamba. The townspeople’s suspicions quickly turned into hate, and then into action. With the fervor that accompanied the festival of Saint Peter, the man who represented salvation by grace alone was dragged into the town square in front of the cathedral and hacked to death with swords. When word of the action reached Philip the IV of Spain, the king he was so impressed with the enthusiastic execution carried out by the people of Riobamba that he granted them the great honor of a royal coat of arms for their town. The year was 1575.

443 years later, fellow Lutheran missionary Nathan Schulte and I walked into the town square of the same village (now in the country of Ecuador). We saw the same facade of the church in front of which “the Lutheran” had been executed (the rest of the building was destroyed in an earthquake, but the ornately carved stone facade that presided over the martyrdom in 1575 still stands today). High on the municipal building at the center of the town’s coat of arms, a Lutheran face looks out over the square with two swords pointed towards it.

And we took selfies.

But I didn’t go all the way to Ecuador for a selfie. I made the trip (I live with my family in Mexico) to take part in a little of the work there in Ecuador and join Nathan and Phil Strackbein (the other missionary who lives in Ecuador) in a full day of planning of how the precious message of salvation by grace alone would be taken to the people of Ecuador. Our missionaries have only been in Ecuador for six months, but, so far, they are being met with more open doors than swords.

Carlos Fernandez and his wife Graciela study the catechism with Missionary Johnston in Argentina

My trip last month not only took me to Ecuador, but also to Paraguay, Argentina, and southern Mexico. At those stops I met people who, as they take classes online or in-person, were sharing it with others. I spent two entire days studying with a man in northern Argentina who, at the end of my last day, showed me the lot he owns where he plans to build a church and where the pure gospel will be shared. I visited the humble home of a man in southern Mexico who filled his small living room with family and friends so that we could talk about Jesus.

As I had the privilege to move freely and study the Bible with people in Latin America, I couldn’t help but think of “the Lutheran” of Riobamba, perhaps the first Lutheran in this part of the world. How could I complain about staying in an accurately-priced $13-a-night hotel room or spending half a day in a Paraguayan bus station when I compared what I had to go through to those who have gone before? By God’s grace, 501 years after the Reformation, we have an open door for the gospel in places where once we did not. Through online classes, on-the-ground missionaries, occasional visits and, above all else, by the power of the life-changing gospel, people are telling people, disciples are making disciples who make disciples, and the name of Jesus is being shared in Latin America.

Written by: Rev. Andrew Johnston, Missionary in Latin America

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Gospel Networking in Latin America

Sorry, I know “networking” went from being a trendy word to cliché a while ago… but we’re not talking social networking or business networking. We’re talking about GOSPEL networkingIt’s connecting people to the gospel and to each other as much as possible. These partnerships mean we can get more done together than we could as isolated, separate ministries.

Yes, it’s true that many of the connections start online here in Latin America. Academia Cristo has 1.1 million Facebook followers. 1,800 people have asked to receive Bible-based training to share Jesus in the past three months (June-August 2018)… but the end goal is not a virtual, online church. The goal is to see more people trained to share Jesus wherever they’re living. This social and digital networking leads to on-the-ground ministry – aka local gospel networking.

Gospel networking in Venezuela

Ideally, that eventually means new churches are planted with Seminary-trained pastors in worship buildings that serve as tremendous blessings. We pray that gospel networking leads to that.

But in many cases, it doesn’t start like that. A guy finds himself the de facto spiritual leader of a few families. He works a full-time job. They meet wherever they can to study the Bible, pray, praise, and enjoy a meal together as Christian brothers and sisters. No budget, no church building, no ordained pastor. Is that a church? Trained by Academia Cristo, he then passes this gospel message and training on to his group. They take that message of Jesus’ sweet love out to their ‘colonias’ (neighborhoods). The gospel is being proclaimed, taught, and connections are being made for the kingdom. Is it okay if gospel networking leads to that?

From L to R – Jackson, Henry, and Tonny

In August, two Lutheran missionaries traveled to Venezuela for ten days to assist and advise Venezuelan pastor Jackson on the mission opportunities there. Only this time the missionaries are not American WELS missionaries – they’re Colombian: Tonny and Henry. Venezuela is a complicated place right now… There are stores with no food. Want a taxi ride?  You need a suitcase full of cash, since the money there is almost worthless (if you can find money at all). Most ATM’s in Venezuela are empty right now. Transporting ten pounds of food or more is considered “drug-trafficking.” Missionaries saw state police rob people of basic necessities – flour, food, etc… The three-man mission team went almost two days without eating. Pastor Jackson tries to break up a dispute and a guy draws a pistol. Why would Jackson, Henry, and Tonny get in the middle of that hot mess?

Gospel networking. The gospel of Jesus Christ.

People are hungry for something solid. When they meet Bible-based, Confessional Lutheran teaching, they want to connect their own network of people to that treasure. The chain of disciples continues. Pastor Jackson has a gospel network now, consisting of several groups that he is training and influencing via the internet and visiting in-person whenever possible.

This week in Academia Cristo ¡En Vivo! (Christ Academy Live), our online leadership training program, we have over 200 people participating in live online courses from 21 different countries.  With many of them, we say, “Who knows where this will lead?” But we trust that God’s Word will not return to him empty.

Gospel networking in Venezuela

In Guanajuato, a small city in central Mexico, Academia Cristo Facebook publicity grabs people’s attention to find those who want to be part of a church plant that only studies the Bible. Two families turns into seven families pretty quickly in Mexico. Why? People hear the gospel of eternal life in Jesus and want their family and friends to know about it – gospel networking on a local level.

In Quito, Ecuador, missionaries partnered with WELS members through short-term mission groups (WELS Mission Journeys) to launch a Christian Training Center and make initial on-the-ground gospel connections in the area.

Latino leaders meet to talk international Seminary-training. Can we do this work better together across borders in Latin America?

Gospel networking.

Gospel networking, both digital and local, leads to more people to heaven and the eternal network where we will be forever connected to our Savior and to each other. That’s what we’re doing in Latin America. Thank you for your prayers and support, brothers and sisters in WELS.

So just a thought for you… It’s pretty great, the clear gospel message we have as Christians and as Lutherans. Wouldn’t it be awesome to try something like Academia Cristo to reach the almost two billion English-speakers on the planet, most of whom live outside the U.S.?

Jesus said he would be lifted up, and he would draw people in to himself. It’s fun to see Jesus keep his promises.

Written by: Rev. Joel Sutton, Missionary for the Latin America missions team

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The Good News does not stop with you!

Mexico City – 8.9 million people.

Bogotá, Colombia – 7.8 million people.

Buenos Aires, Argentina – 3 million people.

Quito, Ecuador – 2.6 million people.

These are just four of the many cities in Latin America. Many, many more are scattered around the two continents. Many, many, many people live in them. How do you reach them all?

I pray the answer lies in men like Rolando Mena.

Missionary Nathan Schulte

At the end of May, Rolando came to Quito, Ecuador, as our guest presenter in our first on-the-ground event to begin mission work in the country. The workshops highlighted the movie, My Son My Savior, the Samaritan woman in John 4, and included a detailed presentation of the law and gospel. Rolando’s passion shone through as he explained the hope we have guaranteed in Christ.

Interestingly enough, that weekend in Quito was also the first time I had met Rolando face-to-face.

Rolando Mena is a leader at our church in La Paz, Bolivia. Before joining the Lutheran church about seven years ago, Rolando had been growing increasingly bothered by Pentecostal and Calvinist congregations and teachings. He had also been warned about the Lutheran church, “The Reformation only reestablished a bit of the main teachings of the Bible. There is a lot more,” his friends had told him. In addition, he was wary of Lutheranism because of the influence of its most liberal branches. Not a good start.

However, Rolando is a classical musician who plays viola and God decided to use that talent to get him through the doors of the church. Through his years at the university, Rolando really appreciated studying Bach. He also knew that Bach was a Lutheran. So, one day he visited a Lutheran church and met Missionary Phil Strackbein and Pastor Julio Ascarrunz.

The rest is history, as they say… but not really.

Just as Barnabas worked with Paul and Paul worked with Timothy and Timothy worked with many others (2 Timothy 2:2), the Latin American missionary team focuses on “chains of disciples.” The good news must not end with us! From the very start, just like the Samaritan woman in John 4, we can tell others about Jesus. Each and every one of us.

Dan and Joyce invite people to the outreach event

That’s the message we focus on and that is one of the reasons we invited Rolando to present in Ecuador. We want to involve others. We have to involve and train others. Unless more people tell more people about Jesus, Latin America won’t hear about her Savior. We need people like Rolando…

… and Dan, Joyce, Peg, Matt, Greta, and Steve. Rolando wasn’t the only foreigner in Ecuador that weekend. Mission Journeys, the new WELS short-term mission program, also sent a group from St. Matthew’s in Oconomowoc, Wis., to help prepare, promote, and host the event. This new initiative is meant to let congregations visit and help mission fields, both home and abroad, and to bring a little piece of mission zeal back to their lives and congregations.

The good news does not stop with you!

Written by: Missionary Nathan Schulte, Latin American Missions

Want to learn more about WELS Mission Journeys and how you can get involved? Visit wels.net/missionjourneys.

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New start in South America

This summer two missionaries from the One Latin America (1LA) mission team—Nathan Schulte and Phil Strackbein—will be moving to Ecuador. This will be the first time WELS will have an active mission presence in this South American country. Schulte currently serves in Mexico, and Strackbein serves in Bolivia.

“In the beginning of November all the 1LA missionaries met in Mexico City to discuss a major training program we are developing and the relocation of different missionaries to best accomplish our goals as a team,” says Schulte. “We want to reach as many people as possible and to train people to be leaders in their own multiplying groups. The team had done extensive research on a number of major cities in Latin America. Quito, Ecuador, eventually came to the top of the list.”

One of the main contributing factors to the decision was the large number of Facebook users in Ecuador who follow Academia Cristo online—more than 60,000. Academia Cristo is a Spanish-language website that offers video and audio Bible studies and live online training to reach out to non-Christians as well as to teach Latin American church members how to share their faith.

This location in Ecuador also puts the missionaries closer to other countries in South America where WELS can’t permanently locate a missionary for safety or political reasons but where interest in the gospel message has been demonstrated through active use of the Academia Cristo website.

A third reason is, while WELS has never officially had a mission in Ecuador, Martin Luther College Spanish Professor Paul Bases has been taking groups of students there for years to teach English, and, through that work, valuable connections have already been made.

Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions, says the main goal of the missionaries is to “facilitate the planting of small group churches in Quito and beyond.” He says, “The idea is to connect Ecuadorean Christians to the online materials and relationships so that they’re able to keep the ministry rolling even after our missionaries might leave.”

Schulte says, “I love the fact that, from the start, we are focused on training Ecuadorians to study God’s Word and to share it with others. They know their culture and situations better than I ever will, and God has already placed them in their own unique contexts with their own connections and opportunities. I’m really looking forward to working to help them to do just that—share God’s grace with others.”

The missionaries’ first priorities will be finding a location for a Christian training center and doing boots-on-the-ground work—meeting their neighbors and learning more about the community. To help this effort, two congregations—St. Matthew, Oconomowoc, Wis., and Goodview Trinity, Goodview, Minn.—will be sending volunteers in May and June to host introduction workshops open to the Quito community. These two volunteer groups are the inaugural groups for the new WELS Mission Journeys program, which coordinates opportunities for WELS members who want to volunteer in a mission field.

“Ecuador, like all Latin America, is in desperate need of God’s grace. It is grace-starved. Even in many churches and Christian groups, the emphasis is not on Jesus and what he has done for us in our salvation,” says Schulte. “We want to bring people to the source of that grace—the Bible—and to teach them to learn from it and share it with others.”


Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missionsCheck out Academia Cristo at academiacristo.com. Find out more about WELS Mission Journeys in the upcoming June issue.


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Volume 105, Number 4
Issue: April 2018

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Latin America Mission Updates

When you think of Academia Cristo, think of Luther’s Catechism. Martin Luther developed his catechism after coming to recognize the extreme lack of basic biblical understanding among church leaders and heads of families. He describes visiting churches in Saxony that didn’t have the Bible or whose leaders had not memorized the 10 commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. A similar lack of basic Christian knowledge is what led to and guides Academia Cristo’s ministry efforts to help more people plant and lead churches that faithfully proclaim God’s Word. WELS Latin America Missions has been busy sharing the good news of Jesus – here are some updates:

New WELS Presence in Puerto Rico

Rev. Larry W. Schlomer has accepted the call to serve for one year as a disaster response coordinator for Puerto Rico. In this role he will work with the national pastors of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico to identify and prioritize specific needs, plan construction and repair projects, and coordinate volunteer efforts. He will also help to coordinate continuing theological training for two men whose training was interrupted by Hurricane Maria last fall. Schlomer has already begun efforts to connect interested Latino members of stateside WELS congregations with the outreach and hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

Rev. Larry W. Schlomer with his wife Marlene

Besides assisting in disaster response, Schlomer hopes to establish an enduring and close connection between the Puerto Rican church and our Latin America Missions team. These connections will help strengthen fellowship ties and allow for the continued sharing of ministry ideas and encouragement.


Academia Cristo – Training course interest remains high

Latin American woman shares Academia Cristo with her family

There are currently 150 people studying online in the Academia Cristo Catechism level training program. Here are examples of three courses:

  1. The Bible: In The Beginning – In this course, students learn the first Genesis Bible history courses and how to teach them to others using a teaching methodology based on Luther’s simple way to pray.
  2. The Word Grows: Multiplying Disciples – In this evangelism course, students study the lives of Paul and Barnabas, Mark the Evangelist, and early church leaders such as Priscila, Aquila, and Apollos. Those who successfully complete the course are invited to personally connect with a mature Lutheran leader who will be responsible for guiding and mentoring them as they learn to faithfully proclaim God’s Word to others.
  3. Spiritual Identity – In this course, students learn why there are so many different church bodies, the importance of making a clear confession, and connecting with those who make a clear confession while avoiding those who do not.

In addition to online courses, live Academia Cristo face-to-face workshops have been taught in Colorado, Florida, Mexico, Colombia, Paraguay, and Venezuela so far this year.


WELS Missionaries relocating to Ecuador

This summer two missionaries from the One Latin America (1LA) mission team will be moving to Ecuador. This will be the first time WELS will have an active mission presence in the South American country. Rev. Nathan Schulte and Rev. Phil Strackbein have begun making arrangements to make the move. Schulte currently serves in Mexico, and Strackbein serves in Bolivia. Read more wels.net/new-world-mission-start-south-america.


Making Disciples in New Locations

The Apostle Paul was Timothy’s teacher and mentor. He instructed Timothy that he should take “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Note the four generations of disciples mentioned here: Paul, Timothy, reliable, qualified people, and others. Academia Cristo seeks to emulate this model – chains of disciples, training others with the goal of planting new churches, and reaching new areas. It maximizes everyday means of communication to make initial connections.

The strongest of these online connections lead to face-to-face visits. So far this year, missionaries have visited Academia Cristo contacts in central and Eastern Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Argentina. Many are studying to become members in our fellowship. There are now 21 men who are being mentored by WELS missionaries and national church leaders. These men are in turn sharing what they’re learning with those they know as they begin gather groups around the Word of God.


Blessings in Colombia

The Lord continues to bless mission efforts of our brothers and sister in the Colombian Lutheran Church. Two of the first churches planted by men who came into contact with the Colombian Church via Academia Cristo are working to move out of homes and into larger facilities. Please pray God continue to bless these new Lutheran churches in Ibagué, Colombia and Isla Margarita, Venezuela.


To learn more about other outreach opportunities the Lord has provided in Latin America, watch the Academia Cristo Spring 2018 Update Video. 

 

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Serving pure grace in grace-starved Latin America

Just like the shepherds couldn’t stop themselves from sharing the good news of their Savior’s birth, Jackson, a new Lutheran living in Venezuela, can’t keep the peace he found in the gospel to himself. 

“You fill them up with the gospel and its hope and peace and comfort, and it starts to spill out,” says Mike Hartman, field coordinator for Latin America. “[Jackson] is inviting people into his home to worship.” 

What’s amazing is that less than a year ago, Jackson didn’t have that peace. Living in a country that economically and socially is falling apart—and where there aren’t any churches that faithfully share God’s true Word—Jackson was looking for hope. He saw a Facebook post from Academia Cristo that shared the gospel message and invited him to join a Whatsapp (texting) group that discusses a daily devotion. As he learned more, Jackson began peppering the group leader Henry Herrara, pastor at Most Holy Trinity, Medillín, Colombia (a sister church to WELS), with questions. Herrara invited Jackson to take an online class that he was leading through Academia Cristo. Jackson joined all Herrara’s classes, went through Bible information class, worshiped online with Most Holy Trinity, and within months was confirmed.  

But that wasn’t enough for Jackson. He began inviting people into his home in Venezuela and teaching them what he had learned. He also started offering weekly worship, using the website Iglesia Luterana  Cristo for his worship resources. Just this past summer, he visited people he knew in five different Venezuelan cities and invited them to learn about Jesus and start churches in their communities. 

Jackson is just one example of the people Academia Cristo is reaching. Since its launch almost three years ago, Academia Cristo has reached Spanish-speaking people in different countries with the life-saving message of Jesus. And some of those people, people like Jackson, are sharing that message with others.  

According to Hartman, the goal of this joint effort between World Missions’ One Latin America team and Multi-Language Publications is to “help empower Spanish speakers to know Jesus, to share Jesus, and to go with Jesus.”  

The field is ripe. Hartman says that very few people in Latin America know the basic gospel message, and very few churches teach it. “People are looking for peace because there isn’t peace [in Latin America]. There isn’t peace in their consciences either,” he says. “We serve pure grace in grace-starved Latin America.” 

The use of Facebook helps spread the word about the ministry. With more than 780,000 followers and a reach between 1 to 2 million people a week, the Academia Cristo Facebook page shares daily messages of grace and directs people to the website. At academiacristo.com, people can download free video Bible classes and resources to learn more about their Savior.  

Those who want to dig deeper can register for the Heme Aqui (Here I Am) five-week live online course, which teaches them the essential truths of God’s Word and how to share them. The class’ final project has students videotaping themselves sharing a Bible story with someone else. More than 150 people are active in this course now. 

The final stage is another set of courses, En Vivo (Live), which works through the Old and New Testaments and Luther’s Catechism, again with an emphasis on how to teach law/gospel truths to others. Participants are connected with a missionary or national pastor who will mentor them and help them plant churches in their communities. House churches have already opened in Mexico, Colombia,  and Venezuela.  

“It’s disciples who are discipling disciples,” says Hartman. 


Know Spanish speakers who wants to learn more about Jesus? Direct them to academiacristo.com.


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Author:
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

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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Mexico – Not Quite Potlucks and Pipe Organs

I’m a pretty WELSie (WELSy?) guy. I could bore you with details, but suffice to say I feel pretty connected to a lot of people in our synod. And I don’t consider that to be a bad thing of course! I truly enjoy seeing how God has woven together people to do his work. I enjoy a good potluck with a long line of Midwest-made casseroles. I enjoy a pipe organ blasting out the old Lutheran favorites.

But I live in Mexico and I serve as missionary in Latin America. My background and what I enjoy might not matter all that much.

In this part of the world very, very few people share my commitment to potlucks and pipe organs. Much more troubling is this: very few people share my Spirit-given understanding of God’s commitment to mankind in his Son Jesus Christ.

While the souls of men are dying (to quote a favorite hymn), you’ve got to ask yourself again and again and again:

Is the most effective way to share the Gospel the way I/we are doing it? Maybe it doesn’t need to be said again (but probably should be stated anyways) that the message will not change. Pure grace is non-negotiable… as is every other stroke of the inspired Scriptural pen.

A fellow missionary on our Latin America Missionary team, Terry Schultz, recently came to Mexico. Terry is a Doctor of Ministry with coursework in Ethnomusicology. Until his recent visit, I wasn’t 100% what that was.

As we toured around Mexico, celebrating the Reformation with a few of the widely scattered Lutherans in this country, Terry shared his songs. Songs designed to share the unchangeable message in ways that make sense to the people who are hearing them.

The confession of sins is there. The song of praise after the absolution is there. The Song of Simeon. Even a Kyrie. Many of the hymns have lyrics ripped directly from the pages of the Bible. To a pretty WELSie (WELSy) guy like me, the music was unfamiliar. Prior to spending the last 11 ½ years in a couple different countries thousands of miles south of the “WELS heartland”, to be honest the beat pounded out on a conga drum probably would have made me at least a little bit nervous.

It did not make the people in Mexico nervous at all. Most of the people who attended the workshops were long-time and/or lifetime Lutherans. They love the message of pure grace in Jesus. It is not an exaggeration to say that they were overjoyed when they heard that precious message expressed with music that makes sense to them and makes sense to the people outside their small gatherings whom they have an overwhelming desire to reach.

At first, Terry tried to get me to play a drum so that I could provide a little supporting rhythm as he played his music on our short tour. Me. The very WELSie (WELSy?) guy with an affection for casseroles and pipe organs. Wrong guy. Putting me on the conga is like putting habanero pepper in your 7-layer salad. But it’s not about me, is it? And if putting the Gospel to a cumbia beat gives our brothers and sisters the opportunity to share Jesus with just one more person, then by all possible means.

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:22

By: Missionary Andrew Johnston – Leon, Mexico

P.S. – Want to learn more about how World Missions and Multi-Language Publications are using ethnomusicology? Check out this video.

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Catechisms to Haiti

What’s the connection between Luther’s catechism, small airplanes, and 23,000 Haitian children? Layman John Kramer, a member at Crown of Life, New Orleans, La., and retired airline pilot, shares the story:

Raphael is the regional director of education for much of northern Haiti. He is also a Christian. He knows the value of learning to read and is particularly concerned that the 23,000 school children in his district learn how to read the Bible. Through our native Haitian missionary, Rona Abraham, Raphael has asked WELS Multi-Language Publications to supply 23,000 copies of Luther’s Catechism translated into Creole for his voluntary after-school programs throughout his district. What an opportunity to share God’s Word!

Now how do we get the materials there? In Haiti, transporting and importing humanitarian items is difficult. Those that import by shipping container or boat experience issues at the docks when customs officials and workers demand exorbitant fees. However, in the northern part of the island, at a place called Cap Haitien, customs allows eight bags of whatever size to be imported free of importation charges as long as they arrive by air.

In September 2016, in two trips by air, WELS Multi-Language Publications delivered the first 3,000 copies of Luther’s Catechism to Cap Haitien through Alas Para Los Niños, translated “wings for children.” This non-profit organization was organized for the purpose of moving catechisms and other humanitarian items to Haiti for the furthering of God’s kingdom. It has an aircraft, a pilot, and motivated helpers who receive shipments in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and store them until an upcoming flight. Missionary Terry Schultz and I made the first two flights before Hurricane Matthew ravaged the island in September. Each shipment of 1,500 books weighed 645 pounds, fit in eight duffle bags, and passed through customs without additional fees. We added about 150 pounds of clothing with each trip, tucked around the books in the duffle bags.

This marked the first delivery of the 23,000 catechisms that Raphael has requested for his school kids. We anticipate more flights early in 2017. What a blessing to be helping God’s kingdom by putting Luther’s catechism right in the hands of Haitian children!

 


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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 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

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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A New Way to Reach Spanish Speakers: From home, reaching thousands

FROM HOME, REACHING THOUSANDS

Rachel Hartman

After serving as a Lutheran pastor in Mexico for 10 years—a role he treasured—Carlos Cajas retired.

Before stepping away from the ministry, Cajas’ health wavered and then faltered. He was diagnosed with heart troubles and diabetes. “Sometimes I had to sit down while preaching a sermon,” he recalls.

The future for Cajas in his retirement looked as bleak as his health conditions. Over time, however, he saw God still had a plan for his life and, better yet, he saw an opportunity to reach thousands with the gospel message from his own home.

Cajas had always had a strong desire to share God’s Word with others. After working in a factory in Mexico for 15 years, he decided to leave his position as supervisor behind to be a pastor.

He completed his seminary training and went on to serve in various places in Mexico City and Puebla, about 60 miles southeast of Mexico City.

As his years of service drew to a close, Cajas faced a debilitating heart condition and also open heart surgery. Then diabetes struck his eyesight, leaving him legally blind.

Today, he can see a little on some days; other days, nothing at all. “When my sight darkens—these are the worst days for me,” he explains. “I am, as they say in Mexico, ‘on the knife’s edge.’ At any time, I could have a heart attack due to my artery problems.”

Cajas lives with his family in Puebla, where his wife, two grown children, and other relatives help oversee his medications, doctor visits, and daily activities.

Not long ago, his son gave him a tablet. Cajas found that by holding the tablet inches from his face and using a magnifying glass, he could read the words on the screen.

Cajas saw this gift as a tool to share God’s Word. He started posting Bible verses and images on his own Facebook page. “Today there are lots of Facebook addicts,” he explains. “Everybody has a smartphone.”

His efforts coincided with those of Academia Cristo, a site that offers free Christ-centered resources to Spanish speakers around the world. Those involved with Academia Cristo’s Facebook page spotted Cajas’ efforts and asked him to participate.

Today, Cajas volunteers as an administrator of this page, which shares God’s Word every day and has more than 285,000 followers. “The little that I can see is enough to create posts with texts and images about appropriate topics,” says Cajas. “It is a wonderful opportunity to share the message of salvation with thousands of people.”

Cajas’ messages uplift and inspire those who follow Academia Cristo’s page. At the same time, the chance to serve encourages Cajas and reminds him of his purpose. “I am a disciple of Christ,” he says. “And God has given me certain abilities—he hasn’t taken them all away.”

Instead of feeling anxious about the coming days and health issues he may face, Cajas finds confidence in his new role. “God hasn’t retired us,” he says. “God wants us to serve him until the end of our days, and to serve him with joy. We already have this wonderful gift—eternal life in paradise—waiting for us after our time here.”


Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in León, Mexico.

MISSION STORIES

Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.

 

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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

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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A New Way to Reach Spanish Speakers: Serving both sides of the border

SERVING BOTH SIDES OF THE BORDER

Rachel Hartman

Many Hispanics in the United States have close ties to other areas in Latin America. For Hispanic Lutherans, the desire to share Christian resources with relatives and friends in other areas is often strong. Occasionally, Hispanic members are even looking for a new church home as they head back to Central or South America.

In the past, sharing gospel resources with those south of the border was frequently a challenge. Congregations are spread out, and travel distances between them are often great, making it difficult for those interested in attending worship.

Today, through online resources such as academiacristo.com, which offers free Christian materials to Spanish speakers everywhere, that is changing.

“We have such a diverse congregation,” notes Abe Degner, pastor at Christ the Lord, Houston, Texas, which serves a Spanish-speaking population in the area.

With members from more than ten different Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, when it comes to the opportunity to use sites like Academia Cristo, “there’s a lot of potential,” he explains.

Twice when members moved back to areas south of the border where there were no nearby Lutheran churches, Degner directed them to these online resources.

Two women involved at Christ the Lord lived in El Salvador during their early years. Now in Houston, they have used Academia Cristo as a way to share the gospel with family members back home.

Not long ago, one of the ladies pulled Degner aside and asked how to do a baptism if there wasn’t a Lutheran church. “I talked her through it,” notes Degner. “That’s an example of where those resources can be so useful.”


350x263-Dalila

Dalila Campos

Meet Dalila Campos, originally from El Salvador, now living in Houston. She attends Christ the Lord in Houston and appreciates the resources from Academia Cristo, as seen in her Facebook post: “Thank you, Academia Cristo, for your faithful work in preaching the gospel to all people. Having you has been a big blessing for me. As I meditate on your publications, I renew my faith in Christ my Savior, but I also review things I learned as a girl and thought I knew but am now remembering. In this way I am ready, every day, for the work of spreading the gospel to others through this fresh and simple method, which is easy to understand. May God continue blessing you. I truly love you in the love of Christ our Lord.”


Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in León, Mexico.

MISSION STORIES

Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.

HELP WELS REACH THE WORLD

Your offering to WELS Missions will help more missionaries go to more places and share the gospel with more people.

700x150-Ad-MissionsAd

 

Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

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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A New Way to Reach Spanish Speakers: Online resources present new opportunities

ONLINE RESOURCES PRESENT NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Rachel Hartman

Latin America is expected to have approximately 246 million smartphone users by 2019, compared to 182 million in 2016.*

This growth has led to new opportunities for outreach and training in Latin America. “We are using online means of communication God has given us to empower more people to do on-the-ground ministry,” notes Mike Hartman, field coordinator for Latin America.

Three main online resources reach out to Spanish speakers:

Academiacristo.com (Christ Academy) offers free Spanish video and audio resources. The WELS movies Come Follow Me and My Son, My Savior are the most popular downloads.

350x263-AcademiaCristo

Christ-centered resources from Academia Cristo are reaching Spanish speakers around the world. In 2016, an average of 480 videos a day are being downloaded, with a total of more than 320,000 views.

Visitors can ask questions and chat online with national pastors and missionaries. Local lay leaders can access guides for Bible studies and materials to use in their own communities.

“We want to help people start churches that faithfully teach Christ,” explains Hartman. “Our main focus is working with contacts who reach out to us.”

Academia Cristo also has a Facebook page, which is used to help spread awareness about Lutherans in Latin America. It reaches an average of 400,000 people a day with Christ-centered messages and links to the Academia Cristo website.

Iglesialuteranacristo.com (Christ Lutheran Church) hosts weekly livestreamed Christ-centered worship. Based out of the Lutheran church Most Holy Trinity in Medellín, Colombia, services are broadcast each Sunday by pastors and leaders in Latin America.

In addition to viewing the services, visitors can download the liturgy and hymns for their own use. The service also includes a live chat window so online viewers can interact.

Cristopalabradevida.com (Christ Word of Life) serves as a digital newsletter for Spanish speakers. The site, which is geared toward Lutherans in our fellowship, contains daily audio devotions, Christian resources in Spanish, and news about confessional Lutheranism.


Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in León, Mexico.

MISSION STORIES

Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.

HELP WELS REACH THE WORLD

Your offering to WELS Missions will help more missionaries go to more places and share the gospel with more people.

700x150-Ad-MissionsAd

 

Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

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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A New Way to Reach Spanish Speakers: Online resources lead to on-the-ground mission work

ONLINE RESOURCES LEAD TO ON-THE-GROUND-MISSION WORK

Rachel Hartman

Once a week, nine individuals gather in Ferney Santofimio’s apartment. They come to study God’s Word and learn more about the Bible, and they are thankful for the opportunity: there is no Lutheran church in their city of Ibagué, Colombia.

For the study, Santofimio uses resources he has gathered through his time studying through academiacristo.com, which offers free Christian materials for Spanish speakers everywhere.

Academia Cristo is great for both new and experienced Christians that don’t have a nearby church,” explains Santofimio.

In addition to opening his home once a week, Santofimio attends weekly online worship through the website iglesialuteranacristo.com.

Santofimio first learned of these resources when he was going through a difficult time in his life and was searching for a source of truth. In 2014, Santofimio, who has a wife and three children, left his government job after a number of disagreements. “At first, this brought on an economic crisis in my life, as well as family and emotional issues,” he recalls. “Due to this, I decided to look for a place or website that taught the Word of God.”

He diligently searched online and also visited different churches in Ibagué, a city of about 500,000. “Many of these preached God’s grace and salvation by faith, but they also emphasized things we had to do, such as fast and tithe,” he says. “They said in order to have God listen to us and offer his help, we had to obey certain things. I didn’t understand this.”

Then he saw a Facebook message that had just two words: “Academia Cristo.” It caught his attention, and after looking at the site, Santofimio signed up to learn more. About a week later, Henry Herrera, a Lutheran pastor serving eight hours away in Medellín, Colombia, called Santofimio to talk more. Then Herrera visited Santofimio to give him some materials to study.

After the visit, Santofimio started studying once a week with Herrera and became a member of the church. “I am so blessed to have found people who encourage me to read and study the Bible in its truth,” says Santofimio. “This was one of my goals, and in the past, it was frustrating for me to not find a place that taught the Bible as it is.”

Today, Santofimio, who has a degree in education, teaches at a number of schools in his area. He also looks for ways to share the message of salvation with others. “I have been able to recognize God’s immense mercy in my life,” he notes. “And I have the chance to share God’s love and mercy as well.”


Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in León, Mexico.

MISSION STORIES

Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.

HELP WELS REACH THE WORLD

Your offering to WELS Missions will help more missionaries go to more places and share the gospel with more people.

700x150-Ad-MissionsAd

 

Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

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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