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Entertain strangers!

Dear Friend,

Hebrews 13:2 is a mysterious Bible verse. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” This verse may refer to the accounts in Genesis where the Lord visited Abraham with two angels or where Lot welcomed angels into his home. It’s not likely that we will ever entertain an angel under cover, but the point remains: don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers.

In gratitude for the love and compassion Jesus has shown to us, we are eager to show love and compassion to others, even total strangers. In fact, Jesus said that whatever kindness we show to others we are also showing to him.

One way you can show hospitality to strangers is by supporting WELS Christian Aid and Relief’s humanitarian aid projects. These projects help our home and world missionaries meet community needs and open doors to sharing the good news about Jesus. Here is an example from a missionary in South Asia:

Being an orphan or a widow is a curse in Hindu society; people blame them for the deaths of their loved ones. They look down on them and don’t treat them fairly. Orphans and widows struggle to survive. They can’t get enough food or clothes to wear. Some freeze to death in the cold winter. It’s hard for them to find work. Our mission workers invite these precious souls to our household prayer groups and share Jesus with them by telling them how much God loves all people. The gifts from Christian Aid and Relief allow us to also care for their physical needs. It’s a great way to put Christ’s love into action. Thank you!

This past year your gifts totaling $466,212 enabled humanitarian aid projects such as these:

  • Medical equipment and supplies for health clinics in Africa and South Asia
  • Fresh water wells for people in Malawi and Ethiopia
  • Food and medicine for people in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Albania, Mexico, and Indonesia
    Financial assistance to WELS Central Africa Medical Mission
  • Mosquito nets, sewing classes, and textbooks for higher education students in Nepal
  • Welcome gifts and assistance to legal immigrants through several home mission congregations in the U.S. and Canada

In addition to coordinating humanitarian aid, WELS Christian Aid and Relief helps victims of natural disasters and those facing extreme medical or financial difficulties. Thanks to your special gifts, we have been well-positioned to assist people in a variety of situations including hurricane relief efforts in Florida and the coronavirus pandemic.

Would you make a special offering today to fund humanitarian aid projects for the 2020-2021 fiscal year? In this way you will show hospitality to the strangers Jesus calls us to love—and to Jesus himself.

In Christ,
Pastor Robert Hein
Chairman, WELS Christian Aid and Relief
wels.net/relief | facebook.com/WELSChristianAidandRelief | 262-334-7881

April cancelled

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive future updates directly in your inbox, visit oneafricateam.com. “Like” the One Africa Team on Facebook at fb.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS

 

There’s an unusual quiet on the campus.

The Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi, is normally in session; there’s usually a beehive of activity that makes the campus hum: Classes, homework, study hours, work detail, classroom learning and break out group discussions.

But now?

No power point presentations, no lectures nor recitations, no storytelling, no professor jokes nor student laughter. No opening day devotions or communicative Greek dialogue. No break-time chatting, checkers, or chess. Student houses stand menacingly vacant. The campus church building stands eerily quiet. No one is kicking up dust on the football pitch. No one tending to the maize in the fields. No students or their families to be seen. Gone without a trace. It’s as if they all vanished. Disappeared.

Well, in a way they have. In fact, I might add, rather quickly. Due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the Lutheran Bible Institute has also been affected. Just like every other school in Malawi, and most in the world. On March 20, Malawian President Mutharika declared Malawi a State of Disaster and ordered that all schools be closed as of March 23.

That mandate turned into a mad scramble for the faculty to quickly get the students back to their home villages. It wasn’t an easy doing, especially for the Zambian students. It first meant countless hours in the immigration office to sort out remaining issues with passports, student permits, and for some, birth certificates for kids recently born in Malawi.

And to think…

This was the final year for the Lutheran Bible Institute students. The three-year program was coming to a close at June’s end. The fourteen students and their families and the Lutheran Bible Institute faculty had anticipated a joyful–and eventful–graduation service. How things can change and change quickly! There was just no time for a special “cap and gown” service; there was no class speaker, no class song, no diplomas received, no gifts given. It wasn’t that there were COVID-19 cases in Lilongwe. In fact, at that time, there were no officially confirmed cases even in all of Malawi! This comparatively tiny country stood with few others as having zero infected people. So why cancel the classes if the virus wasn’t evident?

Because the fear was.

Maybe you’re seeing–or experiencing–something similar. Panic buying. Anxious thoughts. Worrisome nights and troublesome days. Some are struggling with lost jobs and new-found questions: Do I wear a mask or not? Quarantine or not? Do I have it? Did I give it to someone else? Do I get tested? Can I get tested?

The fear and the questions spread as quickly as the virus itself. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Price hikes, long queues, and empty shelves. And it’s not just schools that have been cancelled. Flights? Cancelled. Hotel bookings? Cancelled. Long-awaited vacations? Cancelled. Cruise? Rally? Convention? Even an election? Cancelled with a CAPITAL C.

A red-letter disappointment.

But despite the cancelled classes and graduation service, this class will still proceed onto the Lutheran Seminary in Zambia in September 2020. Each of the 14 students have met the qualifications and the faculty recommends them. And so there were still hopeful smiles on the campus. Before the 14 students parted ways, with a hoe they parted the earth and made time to do one last class activity:

They planted a tree.

With a lighthearted touch they hung a sign on the tree. More than a sign, it was the name that they gave the tree; a name that you could probably guess considering these times:

Corona.

Did you know that corona means “crown”? The virus, presumably so named, because in a way it resembles one. The coronavirus has brought a lot of sickness and death to our world. But it looks like we are adjusting to the situation: masks, social distancing, hand washing, working from home, and studying at home.

What a golden opportunity we also have been given: to fix our eyes on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Stop and pause this week. What a week it is!

Whom do we see?

  • A Palm Sunday donkey-riding servant king making triumphal entries, not just into cities like Jerusalem, but into hearts like ours.
  • A Maundy Thursday Passover lamb that offers, not just bread and wine, but body and blood.
  • A Good Friday center-cross “criminal” who, even as people taunted and mocked, still was breathing out forgiveness.
  • A Devil Destroyer who went to hell to proclaim his victory.
  • An Easter morning Death Defeater who came out of the tomb fully alive and victorious, guaranteeing our own resurrection and life. And victory!
  • A Powerful Ruler sitting at the right hand of God controlling all things.

And by faith, what Paul the Apostle knows is also what we know: “in ALL those things (even in a State of Disaster) God is working for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

THAT you know. What you maybe didn’t know was where on the campus the Lutheran Bible Institute students planted the tree. They dug the hole and placed the tree right next to the campus church where they worshiped most every morning and every evening. The place where law and the gospel was preached. The house of God in which name of Jesus was held high. The location where forgiveness was proclaimed and where the sacraments were administered. Where they learned to preach devotions and lead the service with liturgy.

Perhaps what you also didn’t know was the name of the church: Crown of Life.

What a paradox! A tree of death. A Crown of Life. Or is it a Crown of Death and a Tree of Life? As you’re thinking about that, think about this: There is another tree that comes with the same paradox. The tree on Golgotha. A tree of life or a tree of death? A crown of life or a crown of death?

Actually, both. It’s the place where law and gospel meet. The epicenter of God’s full wrath and full love. A converging torrent of anger over sin and love for the sinner. So, when God gives you the opportunities this Holy Week and beyond, sing your hosannas! Feast at the Lord’s table! Answer the hymn writer’s question: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” (CW #119)

Remind yourself that Satan has been defeated. Peer into the tomb and find it for what it is: empty.

And the next time your sins trouble you and you wonder if God has forgiven you, remember that the written code was nailed to the cross. (Colossians 2:14)

And the debt you owe because of your sins?

Cancelled.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, One Africa Team missionary

 

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Memories in Malawi

Recently I’ve been digging through old photos, looking over the 25 years I’ve lived in Malawi as a missionary wife. There are an amazing amount of memories that come to mind looking over those pictures. My husband, Paul, was assigned to Malawi when he graduated from the Seminary in 1993. In remembering those early years, and comparing them to our life here today, several things came to mind.

The early years – Malawi, Africa

We didn’t know much about Malawi when we arrived in 1993 with our one year old son. Paul was called to serve rural congregations in the North of Malawi. We knew he was called to teach God’s Word to the people there. We had something valuable to share and were willing to do it. What we didn’t know at the time was that Malawi, and the millions of people who live here, had something valuable to teach us. Reflecting back, I can clearly see how God provided for us in big and small ways.

Our second child was born in 1995 while living in the small town of Mzuzu. When the doctor who delivered my baby asked if I had packed a flashlight, I realized that I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. Power cuts and dim lights are common. I learned to be ready for scenarios I hadn’t had to think about living in the U.S.

After our daughter was born, we had planned to travel throughout Malawi. I learned that some items, like disposable diapers, were impossible to find in Mzuzu. I was resigned to traveling for 10 days with a toddler and a newborn with only cloth diapers. It was then that I learned that God is much better at planning ahead than I am. Weeks before I even knew I would need them, a group of Christian women in the U.S. had a baby shower for me and shipped an enormous box of disposable diapers to Malawi. The diapers arrived two days before our trip. God’s timing was the best.

Nitz Family – Christmas 2018

As Paul and I met the people of Malawi, we saw that many Malawians struggled with the effects of poverty. Shortages of food, water, medical care, and jobs impacted people’s daily lives. As the needs of Malawians were made known to us and we sought ways to help, Paul and I were learning a lesson about giving and hospitality that Malawians had to teach us.

From our early days of language learning and visiting people in their homes, to traveling to remote villages with Paul to greet people who had never seen a “European” woman and her  baby before, we were welcomed with clapping, singing, and smiles. Chairs appeared out of no where for us to sit on while our Malawian hosts sat on the ground. If possible, a bottle of Coca Cola or Fanta was procured for us. We never left empty handed. Mangoes, green maize, sweet potatoes, a live chicken – these people were happy to share with us. Not because we needed theses things, but because they wanted to show their love to us. Malawian’s have a phrase, Tikulandirani ndi manja awiri! We welcome you with both hands!They welcomed us not just with their hands, but with their hearts as well.

Yes, I’ve learned a lot during my years in Malawi. I’ve learned to drive on the left hand side of the road. I can navigate muddy, rutted roads that look impassable to the uninitiated. I’ve treated our neighbors’ dogs who had venom spat in their eyes from encountering a huge spitting cobra. I learned it’s not really a good idea to pick up a giant horned chameleon on the side of the road and try to to take it home in the car. These are all good things to know to live well in Malawi.

But most of all, I’ve learned that God’s people love each other no matter where they are in the world. God’s people in Malawi have shown their love to me and my family for 25 years, and by God’s grace we’ve been able to join with them in worship, Bible study, English classes, Sunday School, weddings, funerals, births, and graduations. While my own family is growing up and moving away, and I can’t physically be there for them in all the ways I wish I could, I am learning God provides for all our needs, big and small, in ways that I never even imagined He would.

Written by Susan Nitz, missionary wife in Malawi, Africa

To learn more about mission work in Malawi, visit wels.net/malawi.

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God’s eternal dwelling place

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive future updates directly in your inbox, visit oneafricateam.com. “Like” the One Africa Team on Facebook at fb.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS


Come along with me. . .

I’m weaving through villages and fields, traipsing down narrow foot paths and trudging through muck. I’m jumping over mud puddles and broken bricks. I’m skirting around fallen walls, bent roofing sheets and twisted trusses. I’m stepping over soggy blankets and dirty clothes.

Malawi 2015 revisited. What happened? A deluge of rain: rivers overflowed, Maize fields flattened, Bridges demolished, Roads cratered.

Different year, different people, different location, same result: devastation.

Rains are a double-edged sword. Just enough and wells fill, fields drink, crops grow and the land produces.Too much and houses collapse leaving them useless; pit latrines overflow rendering them a danger. It all happened in Malawi.

Again.

People are reminiscing that this same thing happened just four years ago. The Malawi 2018/2019 wet season had a great start. A great balance of rain and sunshine. Crops were looking good.  Tobacco. Maize. Groundnuts. Farmers were ecstatic!

It’s going to be a bountiful harvest! We can sell our cash crops, our granaries will be full, we will harvest plenty to eat good, our bellies satisfied. . . no hunger this year!

Then came the March 6, 2019. Ash Wednesday arrived, and so did another rain. Well, not just another rain, but a downpour. The heavens opened. Water fell by the bucket. Cats and Dogs. Didn’t let up for 3 solid days. This time the land and the areas most affected are quite flat so the water didn’t have a natural run off. When rains fall that rapidly and that powerfully, mud houses just don’t stand a chance against such force and pressure of water. The torrent was enough to bring down the roof.

It did.

LCCA-Malawi member’s home destroyed by flooding

Many houses were destroyed. Families are displaced. Women and children are sleeping in church buildings. Husbands and fathers are staying in any manageable place that they can find in what is left of their houses. A makeshift shelter. A tiny covered corner of a room. Some are sleeping under the stars. All who are affected are trying to pick up the proverbial pieces. And lurking right around the corner? Disease. It’s what happens when outhouses collapse and the holes brim over. It’s a stream you don’t want to be near. But there is a stream you do. A river actually. A river of living water.

“Though the earth give way. . . though its waters roar and foam. . . there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” (Psalm 46:2-3)

The one who wrote those words also wrote these: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) 

To the people who are sitting in the rubble, asking themselves questions and trying to make sense of it all, the pastors in the Lutheran Church have been able to bring this kind of message: God indeed is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Though many people have many questions, there’s another question that rises above all the others. It stands tall and strong like a beacon in the storm:

“Who or what can separate us from the love of Christ?” We know what is written in Romans 8:35. A bunch more questions that answer that first one. (If you’re not sure, check it out). But what about the questions on the minds of the homeless people in Malawi who are wondering how they are going to start over and rebuild?

What can separate them from God’s love? Rains? Floods? Unusable toilets? Obliterated fields? Collapsed houses? Lost property? Can these things remove God from their world of broken walls and caved-in roofs?

NO.

Paul, what do you mean, “NO”?  Tell us more!

“NO, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. None of these things shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

Ah, yes. Good words, Paul. The people need to hear those words. So do I. . . when things in my own life collapse! You, too? For three days we surveyed the destruction and assessed the damage. So much rain, so much ruin. With such incalculable devastation I could only imagine incredible loss. What I didn’t imagine–or even think about–was the incredible gain.

Incredible gain? 

Members from the LCCA-Malawi rejoice in their Lord

As the people shared their stories, I noticed that they had gained something: a new appreciation for the goodness of the Lord. A renewed indebtedness to the grace of God. Gratitude for something bigger than earthly comfort. Heavenly blessings! When we arrived, they not only spoke of the rains that came down from heaven but of the promises of God that do, too! They shared with us how God spared them, protected them and saved them. We paused here for a prayer. Sat there for a devotion. Spent time with the families in meditation and thankfulness. We were invited to so many places we didn’t have time for everyone. We brought our phone cameras, but took more than pictures and videos.

We took heart! (The people encouraged us!)
We took assurance! (The presence of problems doesn’t mean the absence of God!)
We took with us a renewed sense of joy! (Our Lutheran members know the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus despite the trials that come)

After seeing one collapsed house after another, what falls like rain upon my heart are the words of Moses: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. . . from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:1,2)  Like Paul said, “. . . we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1) His is a house that will never fall. The roof won’t leak and the walls won’t collapse. The foundation is strong and the rooms are safe.

Meanwhile, here on earth, whether in Malawi or the USA or somewhere in-between, we groan and are burdened. All creation, too. Apparently, that includes the rains. And the mud from which many houses are built. But we look forward to a time when all those in Christ Jesus we will be safe and secure in . . .

God’s Eternal Dwelling Place.

Your Malawi Mission Partner,

Missionary John Holtz


Dear Mission Partners,

Maybe you know and maybe you don’t, but our beloved WELS is showing faith in action by getting involved with both prayer support and financial aid.

The Lutheran Church of Central Africa–Malawi Synod (LCCA), the WELS Board for World Missions, and WELS Christian Aid and Relief (CAR) have been working hard at evaluating the immediate needs of those in our Lutheran congregations who are greatly affected by the floods, especially in the southern region of Malawi. (It was the southern region that was affected in 2015, too). Through funds made available through CAR, the LCCA members affected by the floods will receive some much-needed practical items. Things like buckets for clean water, blankets for warmth, and plastic sheeting for temporary roofing can meet immediate needs. A church building that has collapsed can be rebuilt.

Your Africa Missions team would like to encourage anyone whose heart is moved to give a gift to help people in need (due to flooding or other disaster) to please donate to WELS Christian Aid & Relief. 

 

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Worship Wrestling

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive updates, visit oneafricateam.com.

Written by Rev. James Aderman, a pastor who has served congregations in Florida and Wisconsin and is currently retired. Pastor Aderman recently went to Malawi to teach continuing education courses for pastors from Malawi and Zambia.

The topic was familiar. If I had closed my eyes I could easily have imagined myself in a group of WELS pastors in the United States.

But I was 8,500 miles from Wisconsin. I was south of the equator in Malawi, Africa.

The Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) hosts an annual continuing education week for its pastors at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi. I had the privilege of leading the 40 LCCA pastors who attended the 2018 conference in a discussion of Bible interpretation principles and of Christ-centered worship. It was the worship material that launched this discussion.

“My people think liturgy-based worship services are dull,” one pastor said. Others nodded in agreement. “That’s why some of my members slip off to Pentecostal churches on Sunday,” another said. “We Lutherans have so much to celebrate because of God’s grace,” said someone else. “Why can’t our worship be more lively?”

“But the liturgy reflects our teaching about grace,” another pastor countered. “Everything about it points us to Jesus. We dare not lose that.”

The discussion volleyed for some time. At the end there was consensus.

  • God’s grace in Jesus motivates us to worship him in the best ways possible.
  • Lutheran liturgy provides a solid structure on which to build our worship.
  • Liturgy doesn’t have to be dull or repetitive.
  • Our excellent hymn texts can be placed into music that is more familiar to African ears.
  • Pastors can do a better job teaching the Lutheran approach to worship.
  • The liturgy offers the freedom to help Christians of any culture fully rejoice in God’s grace.
  • We pastors can improve the way we lead God’s people in worship.

“I applaud you, my brothers,” I told them, “for your willingness to wrestle with developing worship services that bring praise to God and best benefits God’s people. You’ve given me new encouragement to keep my eyes open wide, so I do the same for fellow Christians in America.”

Written by: Rev. James Aderman, Retired pastor and volunteer professor in Malawi

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Evangelism in Malawi

The answer was surprising.

At first… only at first.

I had asked a rather straightforward question of some of the pastors in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) in Malawi. I had been requested to teach a course on Evangelism so I figured that it would be good to first find out what evangelism was currently being done in our geographically small, but extremely populated country. So my question?

“What evangelism program do you currently carry out?”

That word: “program.” Do you like it? Mind it? Or cringe a bit when you hear it? I don’t know, maybe it’s not the best word to use. I suppose it can sound like we are talking about something merely mechanical or canned. Maybe it sounds too much like a staged performance or show, a theatrical technique.

I don’t mean it in that way at all.  Would another word be better?

Approach?
Effort?
Method?

We know that the Lord Himself gave us the “Great Commission” at the end of the Gospel of Matthew.We see Jesus himself engaged in evangelism throughout his life. As Luke wraps up the story about Jesus bringing salvation to tree-climbing, branch-clinging Zacchaeus, he includes Jesus’ own words to that short man: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” 2

Jesus reached out with the gospel message to needy people, but he wasn’t the only one. So did his disciples. We find them on various occasions talking, sharing, telling, and inviting.

“Come and see!”3

It wasn’t so much about a program but a person. And that person is Jesus.

When you think about your own congregation, how would YOU answer that same question? Whatever word you prefer to use, how are you personally and and as a congregation reaching out to the lost?

Knocking on doors?
Hanging flyers?
Mass mailings?
Telephone surveys?
Travel canvass witness teams?
Friendship Sundays?
TV? Radio? Websites?
Personal invitations?
Chats over Coffee and doughnuts?
Breakfast meetings? Luncheons?

The answer every Malawian pastor gave me was none of the above, but each said the same thing. Their answer?

Funerals.

Funerals? Yep, funerals.

Was that even one of your top answers for your congregational gospel outreach? Had funerals even crossed your mind?

A surprising answer, but only at first.

Attend just one funeral in Malawi and you will understand. You see, everyone attends the funeral. EVERYONE.

It’s not just family and friends and congregation members who come to the funeral. So do people in the work place. The neighborhood. The whole village. The entire community. Even those who didn’t even know the person well, or even at all, will come to the funeral to show respect. It’s just an unwritten rule inscribed in every Malawian heart: you just don’t NOT attend.

Recently I did attend a funeral in May. The dear wife of retired Pastor Akim Daile was called to eternal glory. Jean had had a long and fierce battle with cancer and finally, the Lord said, “enough.” To say there was a “crowd” at Mrs. Daile’s funeral is an understatement. Pockets of people were everywhere. The funeral house was jam packed. Hundreds gathered around the coffin, viewed the body, followed in procession and sat at the gravesite.

Choir sang.
Women danced.
Men shoveled.
Wreathes were laid.
Speeches made.

My, oh my, were there people! Everyone was there – including our pastors. Each one knew what it meant… among the hundreds and hundreds of people, there in the crooks of the trees are perched the Zacchaeus’ of our world. They are people with a great need, and that great need is Jesus – the One who walked out of his own tomb. The pastor takes his place in the center of the crowd. He stands near the coffin and offers a silent prayer; he opens his Bible and reads the text. He begins to share the Word of Life.

That’s what evangelism looks like in Malawi.

By: Missionary John Holtz, Malawi, Africa 

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Put your heads down

This month’s article is written by Rachel Holtz, daughter of Missionary John and Mindy Holtz

“Put your heads down! Put your heads down!”

This is what the crew shouted at the passengers aboard the South African Airways aircraft, flight SAA 204, going from New York, USA to Johannesburg, South Africa. Sophia Weisensel, my roommate and good friend, and I were among those passengers.

We were on our way to my home in Lilongwe, Malawi. I was SO excited. Indescribably excited. I hadn’t seen my family for the whole of my first full school year at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota.

But just as the plane was about to takeoff, we were told to put our heads down and assume the brace position. At first we didn’t know what was going on. There were lots of questions running through my mind.

What happened? Why are we stopping? Will we make our connection flight? How will I let my parents know what’s going on?

 It turned out there was a malfunction in one of the engines and we had to abort the takeoff. We sat on the plane for an extra two hours waiting for the problem to be solved. It was eventually, but the delay caused us to miss our connecting flight from Johannesburg to Lilongwe. Sophia and I spent two nights at the airport hotel in Johannesburg, waiting for the next SAA flight to Lilongwe.

I was so close, yet so far away.

Fast forward the two days of wandering around the airport, watching movies in the hotel room, and eating at the same restaurant with food coupons. My indescribable excitement had been put on pause because of the two day delay, but during the flight to Lilongwe it continued to grow.

Finally, FINALLY, we landed and got through customs and sorted out the luggage.

What was it like to finally be home? When I saw my dad, mom, and sister, Heather, the anticipation and happiness that built up inside of me let itself out through a burst of tears. I hugged them all as I cried.

My initial excitement lessened to a more normal level during my first few days at home. I was happy to be back. It felt SO good. Yet…

…something also felt weird.

Something was different and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I felt a slight sadness after coming home that I didn’t expect. Talking to another good friend about it helped me understand what was troubling me. It was a certain undefinable change.

I had been apart from my family for about nine months. I changed during that time. They changed during that time. But we didn’t change together as a family unit. There was no specific big change that I could point out, but it was there. And it made me sad. I longed for how it used to be. More questions were running through my mind. God, what do I do? How do I make it feel like it used to? Before I left?

 Thankfully, it only troubled me for a little while. All I had to do was remember to be grateful and remind myself of God’s promises.

I need to be grateful for God’s presence in my past and be assured of His presence in my future. There’s no point in wishing for what once was. God gives us what we need at the proper time and everything that happens to us is for our eternal good. God also promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us. Though I’m still comparably young, I can see how God has always been with me.

And looking back on my freshman year at Bethany, I don’t understand how I managed it. How did I make it through all those changes? Being away from my family, adjusting to an American culture, a different school system, and a Minnesota winter, to name a few.

Well, obviously it was my plenteous determination, cultural adaptability skills, and superior intellect.

Not so much.

God was with me, and He gave me strength when I needed it. Sometimes I didn’t even ask for it. Sometimes I didn’t even realize He was giving it to me.

Pretty soon my family and I will be experiencing more big changes: I’m going to leave Malawi again to start my sophomore year of college, my sister will be going to Wisconsin Lutheran College for her freshman year, my parents will be alone at home for the first time. Now our family will be separated and stuck in three different directions of change. When we reunite, it might feel more different than ever.

I KNOW I don’t have to worry about tomorrow, next week, or next year, but I’m sinful and I worry anyway. I KNOW that God will carry me through anything, but I’m sinful and I rely on my own abilities. I KNOW that God has plans and purposes for me, but I’m sinful and I think I know what’s best for me.

The only thing I can do is continuously run back to God and his promises.

Going back to one of my dad’s favorite hymns always gives me comfort.

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;

Leave to your God to order and provide;

In every change he faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul; your best, your heav’nly friend Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end. (CW 415)

When the crew aboard flight SAA 204 told us to put our heads down, I only grasped the physical meaning at the time. I only thought to put my head down to assume the brace position, but I should have also put my head down in prayer.

Of course, we shouldn’t only pray in the case of airplane emergencies. But always. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, pray continually. And we can pray with the assurance that God will answer us with what we need. With what He knows is best.

Change can be especially hard, but God has a plan. Pray for strength, patience, courage, and guidance. God will give you what you need, even if you forget to ask for it.

So tiyeni. Let’s go.

Let’s follow the SAA 204 crew’s advice. Let’s put our heads down…

…in prayer.

Your Mission Partner’s Daughter,

Rachel Holtz

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Don’t let go until He blesses

I never have fully understood Genesis 32:24. “…a man wrestled with Jacob till daybreak.” Read the whole context1 and you come to find out that the “man” was God!

God in a wrestling match?

I can’t help but picture an angelic announcer with a microphone and a note card: “Ladies and Gentlemen…welcome to the Jabbok Arena for the match of the century. In this corner, contending for the crown, weighing in at 178 pounds, Jaaaaaaaacob! (Applause); And in this corner, weighing in at…well, I don’t know how much He weighs…the undefeated and undisputed reigning Champion of the universe…God! (Applause)

What is this? The Old Testament version of World Wrestling Federation? Not Hulk Hogan verses Da’ Crusher, but the Deceiver vs the Destroyer.

No four-sided ring and no leather bound turnbuckles; no folding chairs to slam or ropes from which to jump, but an under-the-stars night time match of grappling, rumbling and tumbling. Jacob putting God in a “half nelson?” I still can’t entirely understand how it all took place but maybe I grasp it a bit more now than I did before.

Like Jacob, I too, have been in a strenuous wrestling match. Not a physical bout but a spiritual one. Not just for one night but for one month. A Call put me in the ring.

John Holtz, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Bylas Arizona, together with the Administrative Committee for the Native American Mission is extending this Call to you to be their shepherding pastor on the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Like a ring-side bell, that announcement began the match. I wasn’t wrestling with the Calling body but with the real CALLER Himself: God. Clay Jar vs The Blesser. Four weeks of grappling in prayer. Agonizing, arduous, exhausting prayer.

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”2

He did.

God blessed me immeasurably through time in the Word. The LORD has blessed me through talks with Christ centered, mature-in-the-faith people. He’s given me a new look at the gospel work He’s calling to be done. He’s has called to mind once again that we are to walk by faith and not by sight. Christ has reminded me again and again through His Word what He displays through my jar-of-clay weakness: His victory-of-the-cross strength! To be sure, in both Malawi and the San Carlos Reservation, the needs are so great, the work is so important, the people so precious and the message so valuable. Consequently, the wrestling match was so strenuous. But through all the straining and struggling, He led me to a decision. I returned the Call that I had received to Our Savior’s Church on the Apache Reservation. I believe the Lord led me to continue to serve in Malawi. The BLESSER blessed me with assurance that He will be with me and not forsake me.3

Dear Mission Partners, I write to you these thoughts to thank you for your prayers, emails and phone calls. Perhaps not everyone who reads these communiques knew about the Call, but many of you did. And when you found out, you prayed for me and my family, for Our Savior’s congregation and for the Malawi mission field. In your own way, you stood outside the ring and offered prayers for the one in it.

As far as I know, there is always some Called Worker in WELS some place in the country or in the world who is wrestling with a Call that has been laid upon his/her heart. Might be a teacher or pastor, a missionary or lay minister. If ever you do hear about such Calls that are extended, even if you don’t know the person well, and especially if you do, might I ask that you also say a prayer for that person? I’m sure he or she would appreciate that kind of support. “Mission Partner” in the true sense of the words.

Though Call decisions may come easier for some than others, there is still is an important decision to make. Because a Call is from God, the wrestling is with God.

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Jacob didn’t until God did. Through the strenuous process, like Jacob, we are blessed to see God “face to face.” We do so by faith through His Word. We see God as Jesus has made Him known.4

We know Him. He is both Destroyer and Blesser. By His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave He destroyed the power of sin, death and the devil and blesses us with life and eternal salvation. Though, like Jacob, we all have been deceivers, we too have all been justified.

Clay jars have overcome.

Unlike He did for Jacob, God didn’t change my name after the match.5 But sometimes I think I’m limping a bit more. Did he touch my hip? Not sure, (maybe it’s just arthritis) but He did touch my heart. He once again touched it with His grace and love and mercy.

He’s given me a wife worth far more than rubies,6 two children who love me far more than I deserve and family members who accept God’s will even when it doesn’t match theirs. He’s already blessed me with a cloud of witnesses that has gone on before me7, a mission family presently surrounding me and leaders currently guiding and encouraging me.

Whoever He Calls, He blesses. Wherever He Calls, He equips.

Dear Mission Partner, you too have a calling, a vocation to serve and glorify the Lord who has called you to the position and place in which you find yourself today. And if today the one in the ring wrestling with God is YOU, you may very likely discover that the match is long and strenuous. But…

“Don’t let go until He blesses.”

Tiredly but sincerely,

Your Mission Partner,

John Holtz

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  1. Genesis 32:22-32
  2. Genesis 32:26
  3. Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20
  4. John 1:18
  5. Genesis 32:28
  6. Proverbs 31:10
  7. Hebrews 11
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Outside the Comfort Zone

Amanda Oswalt is getting what she prayed for: an experience outside of her comfort zone. It certainly is all that…and much more. Amanda stepped out of the sparkling and sanitized hallways of St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin one day and into the handmade brick and mortar, dark and dusty clinics in rural Malawi the next. Could there be a more stark contrast in health care and facilities? Not from Amanda’s perspective: “It was such juxtaposition from where I came from and into what the medical reality is here.”

BWM-Malawi-AmandaOswaltJust what are the medical realities in Malawi?

Well, to name a few…

• Limited medications
• Long queues
• Little/no electricity
• Outdated equipment
• Insufficient funds
• Staffing shortages
• Cramped quarters
• Overcrowded rooms
• Minimal/no pain management

With such circumstances just what is Amanda, the Nurse-in-Charge, to do? Lots, actually. Though she is seldom called upon for direct patient care, Amanda has a full
plate. As the Nurse-in-Charge, she makes sure that everything with the staff and clinic management medically runs smoothly. She purchases the majority of the clinic’s medications and works with the Malawian Government to procure others. She also reports back pertinent statistical data of the Lutheran Clinics to both the Malawian Government (which gets the lion’s share of the data) and the Central Africa Medical Mission Committee (CAMMC) in the States. Because the national staff can adeptly do the hands-on care of the patients, Amanda isn’t really needed for that work. Instead, she is needed and responsible for a lot of the behind the scenes work. In her terms, she is “almost exclusively a manager.” Amanda, however, recalls one unique situation where she was literally hands-on with patient care:

“I had to hand-ventilate a child that was intubated for over an hour. I then had to teach the child’s mother how to do it; then her and her family would then be responsible for breathing for that child.”

As recent as December 2013, when Amanda interviewed for the job, she would not have guessed – or even dreamt – of finding herself in such situations in a developing country! Even after interviewing for the position, she actually thought that – for one reason or another she wouldn’t get the job.
But she did. She got the job and we got the blessing!

The Lord had plans of His own. The Lord knew we needed Amanda “for such a time as this.” (I stole those words from the book of Esther1). Amanda is bringing to our Lutheran Mobile Clinic (LMC) what Esther brought to the palace: her God-given personality, strengths and unique set of skills. A wonderful combination that the LMC in Malawi needs at this time. Isn’t it grand that the Lord determines not only our times but also the exact places for us to live?2 For Amanda, it’s in Area 10, Lilongwe, Malawi. As the crow flies (if it dares over the ocean) a mere 8,490 miles3 from home!

Though sad that Amanda is so far away from her Wisconsin home, her parents are also both proud and supportive of their daughter. They realize that Amanda hasn’t just moved clear across the globe to pursue a dream, but more-so to follow the Lord’s calling in her life for these 3 years that she’s signed up with the CAMMC. (2015 – 2018).

“Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this…I appreciate you and your support so much! Thank you!” – Amanda

Amanda admits that living and working in a country such as Malawi does not come without its tough and challenging days. Even BWM-Malawi-AmandaOswalt1though it is called the Warm Heart of Africa, it doesn’t always give a person the warm fuzzies. Amanda treasures her “go-to” Bible verse that she’s kept close to her heart and mind since she was young:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5,6.

Amanda shares this comment:

“These verses were my confirmation passages and whenever I’m having a rough day or moment I tend to meditate on this passage. It always reminds me that He has the plan and I need to let go of my attempt of control and just trust.”

Ah, yes….trust. Blessed is the one who trusts, not in faith itself but in the object of our faith, our Lord Jesus Christ! We are weak but HE is strong. Strong enough to lean on. As you lean on Him, Amanda, know that we (your “family” in Malawi) are tightly wrapping you up in prayer. May I assume that there are many people in the States praying for you as well? Word has it that WELS has a lot of prayer warriors in LWMS and supporters of the Central Africa Medical Mission! I’m sure that many of them, like your parents, are impressed with your courageous spirit and very proud of what you are doing. Yes, what you are doing is indeed admirable. Thank you for working hard to make the clinic a blessing for thousands of patients as well as an opportunity for others to follow in your footsteps.
Thank you for humbly yet boldly serving the Lord and His people with dedication, commitment and love. But every now and again, Amanda, take a break from your work. Do what you enjoy in a country not your own:

Play a little rugby (have you told your Dad and Mom?) Hit the volleyball around. Watch a local soccer game or two. Taste the local cuisine. Hang out with newly made friends. Take time for tea time. Travel a bit. Oh, and do all these things – as well as your work – while leaning on the Lord! And while you’re leaning on the Lord and talking with Him, be careful for what you pray. You might just get again what you got when you came to Malawi: an experience …outside the comfort zone.

Your Mission Partner,

John Holtz
Malawi


1. Esther 4:14
2. Acts 17: 26
3. Calculated as great circle distance on the surface of the spherical Earth.

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Food for Malawi

Greetings from Malawi!

These are bags of maize. A full one weighs 50 kilograms, which is just over 110 pounds.

Yesterday, we bought a bit of maize… about 881,500 pounds of it, which is about 441 tons, or roughly 8,000 of the bags you see pictured here. I’d love to show you what 441 tons of maize looks like, but I don’t think that I have ever seen that much maize collected in one place.

Maize is the staple food of Malawi. Grind it into flour and boil it into a stiff porridge and it is called nsima (NSEE-mah). You can eat it with your hands for lunch and supper. Or make it a little runnier and people will call it phala (PAH-lah). You can eat it with a spoon for breakfast, or just scoop it with your fingers and feed it to the baby.

I said, “Yesterday, WE bought maize,” but actually, I should be more precise. YOU bought all this maize… 441 tons of it for the members of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA).

Earlier this year, the southern region of Malawi was hit by very severe flooding. Thousands of LCCA members had damage to their homes, and many lost their homes entirely. Some fields were completely eroded. Others were buried under several feet of sand. Fertilizer was washed away. Crops failed. Even in other areas of the country, the harvest was very small. Everybody in Malawi knew what this would mean. These people are subsistence farmers. They depend upon their harvest to survive. But for many Malawians, this year’s harvest did not come. There will be hunger in the coming year. Malnutrition. Even some starvation. Nsima

So “we” went out and bought some maize. Mr. Mark Vance, the Director of Operations for WELS Christian Aid and Relief, was the one who manned the pen. He signed both copies of the contract and initialed every page. So did Mr. Lawson Tewesa, the Malawian maize vendor with whom we made our agreement. Mr. Stefan Felgenhauer and I were looking on as witnesses. So was our lawyer, Mr. Elton Jangale.

Hundreds of hours of work had preceded the actual signing of the document. The WELS Christian Aid and Relief committee tirelessly discussed the various options for relief together with the leaders of the LCCA. They considered all the possibilities. Kingdom Workers gracious donated Mr. Stefan Felgenhauer’s time and considerable expertise. We grilled the vendor with questions and inspected his warehouse. We hired the lawyer and hammered out a contract. Stefan, almost single-handedly, arranged the complicated logistics of buying, storing, treating and shipping almost 450 tons of maize to something like 20 different distribution sites. LCCA national pastors were assigned to oversee the handouts and to conduct devotions and prayers at the time of distribution. There were many, many planning meetings, personal visits and conference calls. Gradually, a plan came together that almost 4,000 families in the LCCA would receive 20 kilograms of maize each month for the months of September, October, November, December and January. It was a ton of work… actually, more like 441 tons.

Yesterday, we signed the contract. But we have never forgotten that none of this could have happened except that hundreds just like you donated thousands and thousands of their own hard-earned, personal dollars to make this project possible.

Some surly and unhappy people might wonder why you did that. But as for us over here in Malawi, I think we all know why.

Thank you.
Missionary Mark Panning Lilongwe, Malawi, Africa

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Malawi flooding update and Easter greetings

Hello to all,
I pray you had a meaningful Holy Week.
I wanted to send a brief update out now that the flooding in Malawi has subsided. Thankfully the rains have let up and the ground has been drying out. Progress is slow. The good news is thatdyeeggs-04132015-350 with many special gifts and support and help from Christian Aid and Relief our church has been able to extend help to many members who were seriously affected from the flooding. People are slowly rebuilding. They are used to a hard life and carry on amid the difficult conditions. Rob’s farthest church in Southern Malawi in the Elephant Marsh is still inaccessible. He is hoping by the end of April perhaps the roads will be dry enough and he could visit it again. For now the ground is too muddy and many people have not returned to the area after being evacuated by boat. Our rainy season total is around 60” with nearly 2 feet of that water coming in just 4 days in January. The subsistence lifestyle relies heavily on personal fields and the yield of the crops. Some people can’t plant again. In some areas where the flooding swept through the topsoil has been washed away and only sand is left behind. In other areas there isn’t enough time left in this year’s rainy season to plant again and new crops won’t have the chance to get watered any other way. So it is very helpful that some programs have recognized the longer term struggles and are continuing to offer supplies as needed. It will be a long road to recovery until the heavily affected areas are back to normal. Once people are settled again the plan would be to rebuild the many churches that were damaged as well. EasterEgg-04132015
Here in Blantyre city I organized a special Easter Bible group this week and held it at our urban church—Beautiful Saviour. We had the biggest turnout ever with nearly 30 kids attending along with their moms (Nathanael snapped some pictures while I was teaching and helping so I’ll share a few). Some of the kids were unchurched and hearing about God’s love, sin and the Easter story for the first time. We had an Easter egg hunt and hard boiled nearly 60 eggs for decorating and dying. It was amazing to see the enthusiasm and excitement that lit up the room…and hopefully that will carry on into their homes and hearts.
Our family wants to wish you a blessed Holy Week as the Holy one became weak for sinner’s sake.
God’s blessings for a wonderful Easter celebration on Sunday.
Missionary Robert, Rebecca Wendland and family

A heart for the people

Next month we will resume with an article on an LCCA Called Worker. This is a special edition article.  This month’s focus:  Lawrenz Family

In your mind, picture a bovine herd grazing on an African plain: cattle or Cape Buffalo or Wildebeest – doesn’t matter which animal you imagine.  Now narrow your sights just to the calves.  The ones born around the same time of year are similar in size, roughly the same in height and weight. But do you see that one that is a bit taller, bigger and bulkier than the rest?   Notice that it is also more solid and muscular than the others.  Tough as nails. According to Ngoni culture and language, that one is called the Jere.  In every herd of animals, or even in a gathering of various species of animals, there is always one that stands out by its sheer size and bulk. That one is Jere. Now look at another crowd in Africa.

Pastor Jere and Malawian children in a fishing village

Pastor Jere and Malawian children in a fishing village

This time, not animals, but people. See the one that stands out above the rest?  The one that is a bit taller than most?  Solid and robust? That’s Jere. Some know him as Steve Lawrenz.  Many, however, in Zambia and Malawi, know him as Jere. Pastor Jere. Jere is his African name, given to him by a man from the Ngoni tribe in Zambia. The name stuck. He carries the token Ngoni name well!  A bit taller than most of the rest of us.  Tough as the calluses on the feet of Ngoni warriors.  Strong as an ox. Steve used to pick up missionary kids by the ankles and swing them around upside down.  They loved it (until they turned 18 years of age).   Some people have commented that Steve doesn’t know his own strength.  Why would he?  After all… he’s Jere. Interestingly, Jere is also the name of the Ngoni Chief of chiefs sitting on the throne in Malawi.  Jere is the surname of the royal family.  The Chief of chiefs will always be a Jere. Chief Jere stands tall, not only in his home village but in the whole country.  The name and the position is so highly honored that a late Chief Jere has been pictured on the 20 Kwacha monetary note of Malawi: Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa II Lazalo Mkhosi Jere.  (Whew!  How would you like to write that name every time you had to sign a check!?) Ironically, some have stated that Steve Lawrenz even looks like Chief Jere. But these are not the reasons why so many people know Steve Lawrenz as they do.  The Africans in Malawi and Zambia know Steve Lawrenz, not for his name nor his height but for his… heart. Like David of old, a man after God’s own heart. A heart for the people Pastor Jere and Malawian children in a fishing village But Steve will be the first to point out that it’s best to look at God’s heart and not his. After all God’s heart is filled with a love for the people that is as unfailing as it is eternal.  God’s heart beats with a passion to touch the hearts of people, filling them with forgiveness and faith and love. He who is loved much has much reason to show it. Jere does. When God called, Steve came.  He came to Africa with energy and enthusiasm and determination.

Child wearing a cross sticker

Child wearing a cross sticker

Only the Lord knows how many sermons Steve preached, babies he baptized, and people he confirmed and communed.  Over Steve’s ministry of 28 plus years in Africa, how many Gospel seeds were planted, watered and nurtured?  How many hearts were encouraged, lives changed or faith renewed? It wasn’t so much the fruit of his work that encouraged him as it was the promises of God.  The Word fed his faith and the people fueled his passion. His heart beat for the people. It was easy to tell. One can just hear it in his voice and see it on his face.  If Steve will allow me and if you’ll indulge me, may I say that I see a special verse in Scripture that has Jere written all over it: 1 Thessalonians 1:8.  It reads…”We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because you had become so dear to us.”
If I didn’t already know Paul had written those words to the Thessalonians I would think that Steve had penned it to the Zambians and Malawians. Jere’s life and style of ministry revealed his heart for the people.  He truly shared not only the gospel but his life as well.

Steve and John

Missionary John Holtz with Steve Lawrenz

The people indeed had become dear to him.  Oh, so dear. Find Steve in Malawi and you’ll hear him with people: chatting in Chewa, rehearsing people’s names, delighting children with his much loved antics.  Jere loves to put cross stickers on the foreheads of African children and tell them about Jesus. Locate Steve and you’ll notice that he’s chumming with the national pastors, working on building relationships and looking to do the good works that the Lord has already prepared for him to do. But no more. No more?  Well, I should clarify those words a bit better: he will be doing these things in Africa no more.  America, yes.  Africa, no. Steve and his wife Lori are leaving Africa.  They are bidding farewell to the land of Malawi in which they hung their hat for the last seven years.  From their home in Blantyre, Malawi and from 10,000 feet in the air, on 2 March 2015 they will wave good bye to neighboring Zambia where they raised their three children, Scott, Diana and Adam. What’s it like to get rid of most of your things, pack the rest and move back to a place you left almost 3 decades ago? “Exciting!” Steve says with enthusiasm.  “I love adventure!  In fact, for me, going to America now is like going to a foreign country.  Yes, I grew up in the USA and served as a parish pastor for 4 years in Minnesota and 6 years in Pennsylvania.  Except for furloughs, however, I’ve been away from the USA for almost 30 years. So many things have changed.  Lori and I will need time to transition back into American culture.” Steve agrees wholeheartedly that the time is right for their move: “About my position being eliminated and I going back to the USA, I agree with it totally!  I support the idea of going back to the USA with no missionary to replace me because it is the right thing to do in the development of a mission.” Steve recalls the time when there used to be 13 missionaries in Malawi and 11 in Zambia.  At this time there are now but four mission families in Zambia and with Steve’s and Lori’s departure from Malawi there remains but four also. Dear Steve and Lori. We will miss you.  Many many Malawians and Zambians will miss you. Thank you, Steve and Lori, for sharing both the gospel and your lives with us in Africa.  You have become dear to us. You have touched the lives of countless people in these two countries and left an indelible mark upon them…God’s indelible mark!  God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the cross has found its mark not on foreheads but in hearts. Dear Mission Partners, if you ever see Steve in America, call him by his African name. Call him…Jere. He’ll be glad you did.  You’ll be glad you did. If he starts reaching down to pick you up by the ankles to swing you around upside down, either let him show you his strength, or you can ask him to instead share with you a story or two of his experience in Africa.  In Chichewa or English or both. You’ll be in for a real treat.  He not only has a flair for a good story, but a passion for the greatest one ever told.  The story of how God has… a heart for the people.

Missionary to Malawi, John Holtz, gives a great send off to Missionary Steven Lawrenz as his time in Africa comes to an end and he returns to the United States.

God bless Malawi

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

(1 Thessalonians 3:9)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Greetings from Malawi in Jesus’ name! In the past few weeks, many of you have heard about the severe flooding in Malawi. Unusually heavy rains have caused extensive damage, especially in the Southern Region of Malawi. About 80% of our LCCA churches are located in this area. Thousands of our Lutheran members have been affected by these floods. Many have lost their homes. Others have lost their fields and gardens. Many have been injured, and some have even lost their lives. With one united voice we cry to our gracious God in heaven that he may have mercy on all who are suffering from this disaster.

But how can we thank God enough for you, our brothers and sisters in America! You have poured out your earnest prayers like a mighty flood before God’s throne. You do not know our names and we do not know yours, yet you have come to our assistance with your generous gifts and offerings. Even now, the affected congregations of the LCCA are receiving disaster relief from the WELS – warm blankets, plastic roofing sheets, nails, and a bucket to carry water. These gifts of love do more than warm our bodies in the cold hours of the night. They warm our hearts, for now we know that you are one with us in Christ!

We thank the WELS Christian Aid and Relief Committee for their generous and ongoing financial contributions. We thank the Kingdom Workers for supplying manpower to assist in the distribution of relief. Most of all, we thank everyone who has offered heartfelt prayers and generous gifts to help us in our need. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

God is always good to us, but these hardships in Malawi will continue for some time. We humbly ask that you will continue to hold us up in prayer, just as we will always pray for you. We ask that you will continue to support us with your financial contributions, just as you have been doing right up to this time. May the God who loves us and who has washed us of our sins in Jesus’ blood bless you for your kindness.

Your brother in Christ,
Rev. Riphat Matope, president, LCCA Malawi Synod

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The tree of life: Malawi flood update

The rains were no surprise.

The floods were.

River banks can hold only so much.  Land can soak in only so much.  Sand bags can stop only so much.

Then the inevitable happens.

When floods come, fields go.  When a cyclone hits, everything is hit.  Soil erodes.   Roofs cave.  Houses collapse.  Bridges break.  Pit latrines become unusable.  Dirt roads become impassable.

In November and December Malawians were praying for rain.   Now they are praying for help.

Sabina certainly was.

One minute she was taking inventory of her fish, the next she was taking refuge in a tree.

Perched like a bird on a branch she helplessly watched anything and everything imaginable flow past in a muddy, churning torrent:  household items, livestock, clothing, baskets, garbage, crops, grass and logs.

Even bodies.  Human bodies.

Oh, she has an amazing story to tell.  And tell she did.  In a face–to-face interview with Missionary Paul Nitz of Lilongwe, Malawi, she told it. You can find her story at  WELS Missions Blog Both Sabina and Paul can tell it better than I ever could.

But one thing I can say: She survived.  Hundreds didn’t. Could she ever forget that tree?

When the elders of our Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) congregations took me on a trek through their lands in Malawi’s Central Region, to my shame, at first I didn’t see it.

What I saw was only the destruction left in the wake of the floods.

I saw collapsed houses and piles of broken bricks and useless rubble.  I saw the obliterated fields and newly cut river channels.

I saw the bent over corn stalks.  Each flattened one was like the needle of a compass, pointing out the direction that the flow of water had taken.

I saw clumps of grasses, sticks, branches and uprooted trees trapped and wrapped against clusters of banana trees.

As I saw incalculable devastation I could only imagine incredible loss.  I witnessed so much ruin that had come with so much rain.

But the elders of the congregations saw more than I did.

Even when the rains first began to fall, they knew exactly where to go.  As they helplessly watched the waters rise and the floods sweep away so much of what they had or owned, they sought refuge and safety in the one thing strong enough, the one thing big enough and the one thing close enough: the tree.

Yes, that tree.

The Cross of Christ.  And, by faith, they climbed up into it.

The Tree of Hope.

At some point along our trek through the devastated land, the conversation turned.  We stopped talking about what was lost and instead talked about what was found: Opportunities to serve!  Moments to share God’s comfort and blessings in the middle of a flood of problems.

The elders shared with me how people were coming weekly and faithfully to the church to hear the Word.  One elder informed me that he was now the elected lay preacher.  He was full of joy that he had the privilege of leading the worship and giving the sermons.

I had thought all along that what I was going to come back with was but a report and an assessment of the flood damage.  More than that, however, I came back with sharper eyes and a stronger message:

Though the destruction was great, God’s love in Christ Jesus is greater still!

Thousands of Malawians are displaced and struggling to put back together the life they once had.  Among them are many Lutheran church members.  Some are grieving the loss of family and friends or both.  Others are trying to scrape together the means to rebuild a house or prepare a meal.   Most fear the hunger that will hit even harder when there is little or nothing to harvest in a couple of months.

But they are not without hope.  In Christ, hope is as certain as it is comforting.

There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off    — Proverbs 23:18

Mpemba-Beni-02032015-350The WELS Board for World Missions (BWM) and Kingdom Workers (KW) are working hard at addressing the immediate needs of those in our Lutheran congregations who are greatly affected by the floods.  Through funds made available through Christian Aid and Relief, we are handing out much needed practical items that our LCCA members need now: buckets for clean water, blankets for warmth, plastic sheeting for temporary roofing and nails to fasten bamboo together for framing temporary shelters.

May I take this opportunity to thank you for your gospel and prayer partnership.  It’s a partnership, not only with me, but with them: our brothers and sisters in Malawi who share the same faith in our wonderful Lord Jesus.

As partners, please stay and linger with us for a while at the tree.  That tree.

The Tree of Hope.

Missionary John Holtz, Malawi