Tag Archive for: missions

More than we ask or imagine

“Pastor, we would like to meet with you to baptize our daughter.” That was the message that was left on our church answering machine 22 years ago. I was the first pastor of a brand-new mission church called Faith Lutheran Church in Radcliff, Ky., next to Ft. Knox army base.

Jared was the dad who left that message. He and his wife Cady brought their daughter, Madison, to church to be baptized. I took Jared and Cady through adult instruction classes. Jared had grown up Lutheran in another synod. Cady never really went to church growing up. In her words, I was her first real pastor.

Being in the military, Jared and Cady and their three daughters have moved 15 times around the United States in the past 22 years. Wherever they have moved, they have found the closest Wisconsin Synod church. There were times a church wasn’t close, and they had to drive an hour one way for worship. When they were stationed at West Point, where Jared was teaching as a Colonel, they invited cadets to their home where they set up a makeshift altar and worship space in their living room. They used materials provided by WELS Military Services for worship.

In May, I attended my first graduation service at Martin Luther College – our college for training for the public ministry. 22 years after I poured water over her head and spoke God’s Word into her ears and heart, I watched Madison walk the stage to receive her teaching degree.

Who could have imagined that all this could result from an answering machine message? A family that became a blessing to our mission church – and numerous other mission churches – a family committed to God’s Word, and another servant of the Lord trained at Martin Luther College. God will do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

The Lord of the Church has blessed me with the experience of a home missionary so that I am now serving as a District Mission Board chairman. Now I am working with the people, pastors, and churches of our southeastern Wisconsin district to start new mission congregations and support those that have already been started.

As people, pastors, and churches, let us continue to pray for our established churches, our fledgling churches, and those new churches we wish to start. Together we pray and trust that God will use our combined gifts to bring that family to church. That child to the baptismal font. To leave that message on the church answering machine. Then years and decades later, we will see that God has done and will continue to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

“Now to him, who is able, according to the power that is at work within us, to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20, 21).

Written by Rev. Michael Zarling, Southeastern Wisconsin District Mission Board Chairman.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Still open, and open wide

If walls could talk, I’d be asking the walls of the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible a few questions.

Open Bible? It’s the name of a quaint, white painted wooden church in Whiteriver, Arizona, nestled on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. It was dedicated in April of 1922. That clocks the building at 100+ years old. Like any centenarian, these walls have heard a lot. Imagine all the meetings, discussions, services, studies, classes, and conversations that have taken place inside the church. If these walls could talk, I’m guessing they’d have a lot to say.

Celebrating 100 years of Open Bible

I went to Open Bible on October 15, 2022. It was no ordinary day. We enjoyed a meal and live music; we were blessed with guest speakers, historical videos, and a worship service. It was the 100th anniversary celebration. About 275 gathered that day. Looking around inside the building, some questions about the history of Open Bible came to mind. . . why then? Why there? And why are there holes in the stained-glass windows?

Oh, if walls could talk. But they didn’t. I’m being stonewalled, hey? Well, even though the walls didn’t say anything, some people did.

Why then? Bill Kessel did a masterful and engaging job of explaining the history of Open Bible. I wondered, why was Open Bible built when it was? Bill answered my question with an analogy; God answered it with a Scriptural truth. Picture two local rivers, twisting and turning through the White Mountains. At times, far apart, sometimes near, but always separated by a rocky landscape; but then eventually the two courses of water meet, flow together and form one river. Now picture two lives. Two men, one Apache and one German. Two individuals about as different as two could be. Geographically they were sometimes far apart and other times near, but their paths never crossed. Until one day they did. They found each other. Or, better said, God brought them together. With his own power and his own timing, the Lord set them on a common course. From then on, their lives, like two rivers converging, flowed as one. God had the heart of the Apache Chief Alchesay and the WELS Missionary Rev. Edgar Guenther in his hand. No one could have ever imagined that God used a flu pandemic to bring two “rivers” together to meet at just the right time (1918) to accomplish what he desired. Rev. Guenther did his work, the Holy Spirit did his. The gospel was shared. A faith was born. A friendship formed.

Chief Alchesay

Why there? God not only determined our times, but also the places. . . What was God carrying out in the rocky landscape of Whiteriver? His plans. Plans that no one ever could have imagined. With a newfound faith in Jesus, Chief Alchesay and other Apache desperately wanted a church in their Whiteriver community. Not just any church, mind you. A Lutheran one. One that would faithfully preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. They expressed their desire for a place of worship. God honored the yearning of their hearts. A petition was signed. Permission was granted. Land was given. A church was built. It was a memorable day on April 30, 1922. A key was presented. The door was opened. Open Bible was dedicated.

On that single day, 101 Apache were baptized! Chief Alchesay was the first, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Open Bible currently has a membership of about 900 souls. The message of the anniversary day reflected the promise of God: “Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.” (Exodus 20:24b) God is doing just that. Coming and blessing. Kirk Massey, pastor of Open Bible, is quick to thank the Lord that the members of Open Bible are taking ownership of the ministries there.

But I had one more question: Why are there holes in the stained-glass windows? The answer was honest and straightforward. . . bullets and a bottle. Someone fired a few rounds of a rifle and someone else threw a whiskey bottle. The results were the same. Broken windows. What prompted the shooting and the throwing, no one knows. Probably never will. Frustrating? Yes, because stained-glass windows are a challenge to repair. The cost is high, and repairmen are few. But instead of anger over what we can’t control (or even fix), how about looking at the window holes through a different lens? Broken panes can serve as a reminder of a broken life. Certainly, our own. Who hasn’t seen or experienced a broken relationship, promise, or body? But especially that of Jesus! Ironically, the windows in Open Bible that have been broken are the ones that create the 3-paned picture of Jesus hanging on the cross. If any life was broken, it was Jesus’! Not just his body, but his relationship with his Father. The significance is as astounding as it is life-changing. By way of Jesus’ brokenness, we are made whole! What we can’t restore, Jesus can.

Bill Kessel with members from Cibecue

And he will. If not in this life, then in the next. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10) Broken? Take heart, Jesus is the key to full restoration.

Speaking of a key, just prior to his death, Chief Alchesay had one request. (And it was honored). He humbly asked to be buried with something that was extremely special to him: A key to Open Bible. Why? He came to believe that Jesus Christ was the key that had opened the Scriptures to him and heaven for him. Alchesay was filled with humble joy that he–chief of sinners–was forgiven and chosen by God to be one of his children. He considered it a great honor to help build the church so that the Word could be preached, well, to help build the Church.

The Whiteriver church still stands to the glory of God to share with people that the Father’s heart, Jesus’ arms, Holy Scriptures, and heaven’s door are still open, and open wide.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native American mission counselor




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Happy Thanksgiving from WELS Missions!

Sometimes it takes a bad situation to bring out the best in us.

Medical advances are taken for granted until someone in your family desperately needs help. Peace and prosperity aren’t seen as gifts until a country is plunged into war. A roof over our heads is not given a second thought until a hurricane rips it off. Food on our plates is expected, but that expectation can melt away in an instant where drought or famine hit hard. When help arrives in a desperate situation, thanksgiving can shine. Doctors, soldiers, emergency crews, and aid workers can fill pages with accounts of people filled with gratitude when help arrives.

Help in a bad situation can bring out the best in us. This is why thanksgiving should never be far from our lips. We were all in the most desperate of circumstances. Born into a sinful world and determined from birth to rebel against our Creator, we were in the most horrible situation imaginable. We deserved to be separated from our Maker for eternity. But God intervened. He sent his Son and saved us. He redeemed the entire world from sin by his death on the cross. He proved his success, and ours, by his resurrection from the dead. It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul encourages all believers to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We in the WELS Missions office have the great honor of seeing God’s amazing grace reach the far corners of the world. Aid for families touched by diseases, wars, disasters, and famine are always welcomed with expressions of thanks and joy from our Christian family around the world. That thanksgiving is raised to the highest heights as we rejoice with them in the greatest gifts of all: the gifts of God’s eternal grace, mercy, and peace. Thank you for helping us bring the life-giving gospel to the world. Enjoy this short video that shares how God blessed that work in 2022.

Join with us this Thanksgiving to rejoice at what God has done for us all. Rejoice that many are helped when life in this vale of tears gets tough. Shout praises to God for the blessing of being able to share this good news with the world.

From all of us in WELS Missions, we thank God for you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions

 




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A rich welcome

Dear Heavenly Father,

The hymns have been sung, the Scripture has been read, and the sermon has been preached. The hands have been laid, the verses spoken, the blessing pronounced, and the promises made. Yes, even the cake and other treats have been eaten, the fellowship enjoyed, and the pictures taken. It’s officially done.

Lord, on Sunday, October 2, 2022, in Whiteriver, Ariz., at a historically significant WELS church called Open Bible, Pastor Kirk Massey installed me as the Native Christians Counselor on the Native American mission team. But I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know, Lord. I’m not informing you of something you didn’t already see. The comforting truth, Lord, is that you knew it all before it all even happened. Long before the Divine Call was extended, you saw that this day would arrive and you knew who would be there. You ordained what would happen and that it would happen.

It did.

Lord, thank you for all those brothers and sisters in Christ who were able to join us. The events of the day were humbling, and indeed were a rich welcome into the Native American mission. Thank you, Father, for each one with whom we will now do ministry and do life, both on and off the reservations. Thank you for the many people who stand beside and walk alongside us: our families, our friends, our synod, our co-workers. Thank you for those who have gone on before and for those who will come after. Whether near or far, in person or on Zoom, the family in Christ truly is a gift from you. And so is the work.

Ah, yes. The work.

When we stepped out of the installation service that day, we didn’t just step outside. We stepped into the mission field. One statistic in particular sticks in my mind, Lord. More than 90% of Native Americans aren’t Christian. They don’t believe in Jesus. They don’t know the true and only way of salvation.

As I stood in the open air, it was then that I once again realized: it’s not just the high altitude of the White Mountains that takes my breath away. So does the thought of the mountain of mission work looming before us. The ministry work appears, not just like a solitary mountain on the distant horizon, but more like a sprawling range surrounding us on all sides. Seemingly endless. As far as the eye can see.

Lord God, you were–and are–very much aware of all the ministry opportunities and challenges that lie before us. And around us. Bless our efforts according to your will.

Please hear me, Father. Not just my prayer here, but also the petitions, intercessions, and requests still to come. The ones that I’ll be saying later today, tomorrow, and the day after that. And the ones after that. Yes, Lord, I recognize not just the monumental task before us on the Native American mission field, but also the overwhelming sinfulness within me. It looms large. Mountain large. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” (I hear you, Paul. I feel your struggle).

But by your power, dear Father, I also hear your voice. Thank you for telling me of the rock-solid certainty of forgiveness through your Son Jesus. Because he shed his blood, I’m washed clean! You, a perfect God, in love with a sinner such as I? Yes, shocking, I know. But that’s just it. Your gospel is as surprising as it is real.

So when I step out my door, Lord, or look out my window or drive down the road, let the mountains be a daily and vivid reminder of the one Jesus climbed for me.

For there on that Calvary mountain, as he hung on the cross. He was paying a price too steep for our blood. But not for his. Paid in full. Was it worth it? For us, yes! We get a free gift, though at a high cost. He decided that he’d rather go to hell for us than to live in heaven without us.

Open Bible Ladies Choir

Salvation won.

How richly blessed we are to have a God like you. What a great reason and motivation for us to work while it is day in the Native American mission and beyond. You give us a reason to raise our voices in song! The ladies from Open Bible congregation did just that. How wonderful it was to hear them sing How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace. . . in the Apache language, no less. All glory to you, Lord!

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for inspiring the Apostle Peter to write the text, and thank you for leading Pastor Gary Lupe to preach it. Verse 11 is such a comfort. Thank you for including it in your Word:

“And you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Your Word, Lord, brings to our attention what lies ahead. (And we just got a taste of it). So when it is no longer day and when our faith turns to sight and our prayers to praise, we will be ushered into our eternal kingdom with a rich welcome.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native American mission counselor

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Growth and partnership in Indonesia

In July 2022, WELS Friendly Counselor Rev. Gregory Bey made his first visit to Indonesia since the pandemic began. Bey attended the convention of WELS’ sister synod in Indonesia, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). GLI currently has about 1,650 members in 29 congregations served by 30 pastors and 5 vicars.

The GLI convention was held on the new seminary campus on the island of Java. Construction of this seminary, called Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL), was completed in 2021. Seminary classes are taught by Indonesian pastors with support from Bey. The seminary currently has 27 students, many of whom are graduates of a Lutheran high school that was established in July 2018.

“Walking through the new campus evoked emotions of exhilaration and excitement coupled with thankfulness to God for this beautiful blessing,” says Bey. “But it was interacting with the students, staff, and faculty that brought to mind these words of St. Paul: ‘Entrust the things you heard from me, in the presence of many witnesses, to faithful men who will also be able to teach others’ ” (2 Timothy 2:2 Evangelical Heritage Version).

Bey concludes: “God-willing, STTL will produce a steady stream of qualified national pastors for many years to come.”

GLI continues to grow in number and maturity. In 2015, a plan was set in motion to transition a significant amount of financial support from WELS to GLI. Pastor salaries for men in established congregations will, prayerfully, be fully supported by local members by 2025. In some cases, GLI pastors may need to serve as “tent ministers” who support themselves with secular jobs. WELS would continue to provide funding for seminary professors and possibly the synod chairman. Savings could then be used to support building projects for existing churches as well as exploratory work in new regions. This is a huge step toward self-sufficiency and independence as a stand-alone church body.

WELS’ Asia One Team is in the process of calling for a full-time friendly counselor to support and advise the work in Indonesia. Bey has been filling the role on a quarter-time basis since he retired from full-time work in 2019.

Learn more at wels.net/indonesia.

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

Blessings and answered prayers

431 days. That is the number of days between my first day living in Waco, Tex. (July 7, 2021) and our launch service at Christ Our Refuge (September 11, 2022). 431 days of planning led to a major milestone in the life of our local congregation. While we always viewed our launch service as a starting line and not a finish line, it is still good to reflect on blessings and answered prayers from God. I’d like to share three specific examples from our launch service with you.

Visitors
We had everything set up and ready to go on the morning of our launch service. We were just waiting for people to show up. One member said, “I just pray we have some visitors show up this morning.” God answered her prayer. I was standing outside greeting people when our first visitors arrived. It was a young couple with two little girls. One of the first things the mom said to me was that she had never been baptized, but she wanted to be. She went on to say that they wanted to have their two little girls baptized as well. It’s as if God was telling me, “Look, I’m going to bless the work that is being done here.” In all, we had 15 prospect visitors join us for our launch service.

Worship Facility
Our core group met in a number of different places during the 431 days that led up to our launch service. We met at on the outdoor patio of a pizza place, in member’s homes, and in a smoke-filled VFW Hall to name a few. We spent a lot of time searching for a space where we could hold worship services. The VFW Hall, a school gym, and an event space were a few of the options. Ultimately, God blessed us with a 6,000 square foot building which we were able to lease full-time and make our own. It is such a blessing to have a permanent location in the community and a place to come together and worship our God!

Music
Our initial core group (12 adults and 5 kids) did not contain a lot of musical ability. We prayed a lot for a solution to our lack of music. Enter Lilia. Lilia is a WELS member who just started her freshman year at Baylor. Our launch service had beautiful music thanks to Lilia using her gifts to glorify her God!

A launch service is something to celebrate, and we certainly thank God for all the ways he blessed us in the 431 days leading up to it. However, it is just the starting line. Please continue to pray for the ministry at Christ Our Refuge as we seek to share Jesus with the lost in our community.

Written by Rev. Andrew Westra, home missionary at Christ Our Refuge in Waco, Tex.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The glory is God’s – New beginnings in San Antonio, Tex.

Our grand opening service began months before September with a planning meeting. Our core group (a small group of dedicated individuals that do the work of starting a church) met at pastor’s house to plan the details of a service that we planned the year before. With our goal for worship set, we were able to focus on our mission. The “West Campus” is the second site of Our Savior Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Tex. We are dedicated to finding family, serving our community, and growing in God’s Word. We wanted to make our grand opening service all three.

  • We want to be a place where anyone can find family. The core group had time before our grand opening to plan events and build relationships. We were finding family and giving personal invitations. We had time to plan a service that hosted guests and created conversation. Our approach was simple: food (breakfast tacos and local cookies) and children’s activities.
  • We want to be a church that serves community. Instead of guessing, we took our time before our grand opening to learn about our community. We held community events and engaged with the people we want to serve.
  • We are a church that grows in God’s Word. We held many “preview” services so that our grand opening would go smoothly. As a mobile church it takes a lot of practice to set up and take down an entire worship service. Our hospitality team worked hard to make sure we greeted all our guests in a professional and meaningful way. Our music group put in countless hours of practice so that we sounded great. Our children’s ministry established itself quickly to be ready for the big day.

As a multi-site church we not only invited our community, but we also invited the entire central campus. We wanted everyone to be a part of our first service.

Finally, on September 11, 2022, we held our grand opening service. Thanks to the planning, attention to detail, and by God’s grace, we were ready on time. But we were not ready for what came next. Our core group made it early. Guests from the central campus came pouring in; the support was overwhelming. Prospects and friends brought their families. Guests were coming for the first time because they got our community flier.

As the service was starting, our emergency chair volunteer was hard at work setting up more and more rows of chairs. God blessed us with a grand opening that was larger than the core group imagined. It was a humbling moment.

But the greatest thing that happened that day wasn’t anything that we did. The greatest thing was that we held a service that focused everyone’s attention on the promises of God in word and song. God used us to publicly proclaim his name to people, old and new. The glory is God’s.

I’m going to guess that not many home mission congregations write blogs about the second service they hold. It’s not planned out as much. But the truth is, the best part of any grand opening service happens the next Sunday too. And God willing, every Sunday after that.

Written by Rev. Micah Koelpin, home missionary at Our Savior Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Tex.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Supporting the family of believers

Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Psalm 105:1-3

We have many reasons to thank our gracious Lord. Precisely in difficult times, we recognize his merciful love particularly clearly. The Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) has been part of the worldwide Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) from the beginning. Since then, there have been sometimes more, sometimes less close ties between the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany and the ULC. With the outbreak of the Russian war against Ukraine, the blessings God bestows on people from different cultures through spiritual fellowship became evident. Our history differs, but the unified faith in the common Savior, Jesus Christ unites us.

For members of the ELFK, it was not a question at all whether we will help people who had to leave their homeland because of the war. We were only moved by the question: How can we help? As Christians, we want to thank God for the grace and love he has shown us. Through the Apostle Paul, he let us know how we can show this gratitude in a special way: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galations 6:10) And so we were moved by the question: What possibilities will God open up for us, especially to help brothers and sisters in faith from the war zone in Ukraine? Since then, some refugees have also found refuge in the vicinity of our congregations. God has blessed us richly and prepared hearts to help those who often arrived here with only a suitcase or a few bags. They were warmly welcomed. Bishop Horpynchuk (ULC) and I were in communication to help brothers and sisters in faith and to find lodgings near congregations. God helped us to help. Glory be to him forever and ever!

An idea to say thank you to the helpers and at the same time to support ELFK in proclaiming the Good News among Ukrainian refugees was allowed to become a reality in October 2022 when the Baroque Plus ensemble from Kiev visited Germany. Let me take a little personal look back:

The Baroque Plus ensemble

I look back with gratitude and joyful emotion on a week in which we were able to get to know and love new friends. As president of the ELFK, I am grateful to God. I had the opportunity to experience fellowship with brothers and sisters in faith during these days. Already on the evening of the arrival of the ensemble, there was a joyful reunion for my wife and I. At the end of April this year, we had offered a guest room in our parsonage to an ill parishioner of the Resurrection Church in Kiev. When he went back home on May 11, tears flowed. We knew we would meet him again in our heavenly home, but the war was still a reality in Kiev and so we worried about him and his family. No one had told us that Petro would be one of the drivers who would take the ensemble from Kiev to Saxony. And so on October 11, exactly five months after his departure, we were happy and grateful to see and hug him once again.

Although we did not know the other members of the team beforehand, we became familiar with each other very quickly. Wherever Christians come together, they are united by the same faith. God brings them together and lets them enjoy the fellowship. We were able to experience this clearly. It was also good for us to see the smiling faces. We knew that one day after their departure from Kiev, the attacks with drones and missiles on the Ukrainian capital flared up again. Our guests also knew that. Whenever there was even the slightest thought of home, smiles changed to tears. As the group was on route to Germany, a rocket struck in close proximity to the house where the families of the bishop and a member of the ensemble live. Windows were broken, but God helped and preserved loved ones.

I would like to tell you another short incident. After the ensemble had rehearsed once again in Nerchau, there was an opportunity for a walk. We all enjoyed walking along the narrow river Mulde under the sunshine, blue sky, and colorful trees. Again and again, the conversation partners changed. During one of these conversations, a member of the ensemble told me, “It’s so nice and quiet here.” There was again, the thought of the situation at home: sirens wailing for air alerts, bullets whistling, and explosions thundering. At the same time, by God’s grace, we may live in peace, enjoy tranquility, and go about our work as usual.

Since February 24, 2022, it has been our daily prayer that God will soon give peace to Ukraine. The threatening gestures from Moscow have expanded those prayers. For a few weeks now we have been increasingly asking God to keep peace in our country and give it again in Europe. We know that God is in the regiment. He directs and guides everything. And he is also almighty in this. We can trust in him. As the Apostle Paul says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) It is perhaps not easy for us to see how a war with all its hardship should serve any human being for the best. But let me say this at the end of this unfortunately much too long article: If only one lost person has come to faith in the Savior through the journey of the Baroque Plus ensemble, through the fellowship in the church services, through the proclamation of the gospel and the love connected with it, then it was the best for this new sheep in the flock of our Lord Christ. And then there will also be joy about this sheep in heaven (Luke 15:7).

I would like to close with another thank you. Thanks to God, who made possible and blessed the journey of Baroque Plus. Thanks to the brothers and sisters in Ukraine, who had the idea and the willingness to travel almost 2,000 km by car to faraway Saxony, a part of Germany. But thanks also to all the brothers and sisters in faith in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) for all their support in praying, preparing, and carrying out this wonderful opportunity. We look forward to a healthy reunion – if not here on earth, then certainly in our eternal homeland.

Shared by Rev. Michael Herbst, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Fellowship in Latvia

What does “fellowship” look like?

The Europe mission team is working to strengthen ties between WELS and a dozen confessional Lutheran churches of Europe. These churches believe the same things we do. Now what?

Have you ever heard of the Confessional Lutheran Church in Latvia? Luke and I visited Latvia once in 2002 to apply for fresh Russian visas. Two Latvian pastors (who are brothers) took extra good care of us. Ivo and Ugis Sildegs arranged a place for us to stay, showed off tourist sights, and helped us contact the Russian embassy. They also introduced us to the Latvian church. We met a team of pastors working on a weekly, professional-grade newspaper aimed at the public. We ate birthday cake with their synod president. We had a great time – even though the February weather was rough!

Then we went back to Novosibirsk. For the next 20 years WELS had only limited contact with our brothers and sisters in Latvia. In fact, it has been ten years since anyone from WELS visited them.

This past May 40 participants from CELC sister churches gathered in Albania where Luke and I are currently living. Three representatives from Latvia also attended the conference. One of them was Ivo, the pastor who had cared for us so many years ago. After the conference we kept in touch with Ivo and made plans for a fall visit.

We just finished our second trip to Riga a couple days ago. What did we find?

Rev. Luke and Jennifer Wolfgramm

We found people worried about surviving the winter. We stayed in an apartment in downtown Riga that was freezing cold inside. When we asked the neighbor if her apartment had heat, she said, “No, and we’ll be thankful if the heat ever turns on this winter!” One of the pastors kept busy chopping wood for the church’s wood-burning stove nearly every day of our visit. Another congregation is working to replace its natural gas heater with a geo-thermal system. Leaders repeatedly told us, “We can’t make plans too far in advance. We just need to get through this winter.”

We found people worried about war. A large statue of a woman in downtown Riga commemorates Latvian independence which they won only in 1918 – and promptly lost again during WWII. Latvia has a long history of being controlled by other neighboring countries. They worry that if Ukraine falls, they will be next. Fellowship means sharing each other’s burdens. We listened sympathetically, but we didn’t despair!

Best of all fellowship means studying God’s Word and praying together. The men studied Old Testament “Wisdom Literature.” There was an especially poignant moment when they read Song of Songs: “See how the young man in this book loves his wife? Jesus is our faithful husband who shed His blood for us, His bride. Will He now abandon us to face cold and violence alone? Never!” Those words meant something to those church leaders. What a joy to share God’s promises!

We found opportunities in the church. We met talented, experienced pastors and three gifted seminary students. (That’s huge! There are only 300 people in the Latvian church.) Fellowship means sharing resources, organizing online seminary classes during the year, and in-person courses in the summer. Fellowship means worshiping together on Sunday, drinking tea, and sharing news from Albania, Finland, Germany, and the U.S. Fellowship means rejoicing in our new-found friendships and marveling that this is just the beginning of eternity.

We found opportunities in the community. Everywhere we turned we heard people speaking Russian. Some were from Russia, but many have fled from Eastern Ukraine. They’ve left everything, maybe for a time, maybe forever. They miss home. They miss their families. Fellowship means working together to assist those in physical need. Fellowship means sharing Jesus’ peace with souls groaning for good news.

It was a week of strengthening fellowship. A week of studying, worshiping, and praying together. Visiting, eating, and laughing together. Celebrating our common faith, love, and purpose, and looking forward to the next time we can meet again!

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, world missionary wife on the Europe mission team.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sharing their stories

How did you become a Christian? When did it happen? Were there other people who helped you to know Christ?

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to visit Ethiopia. The main reason for my visit was to teach a course on St. Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus. The course was intended primarily for young men who are preparing to be pastors in the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). There were seven students in the class.

When I arrived, I asked each student to share his story. How did you become a Christian? When did it happen? Were there other people who helped you to know Christ? All of them had interesting stories. One student is the son of the LCE’s one and only pastor. He didn’t ask to be born into that family, but he was. And that is how he became a Christian. Another student was a Sudanese man who came to Ethiopia as a refugee. His mother and father were not Christian, but he learned about Jesus from his uncle, a man who is now a WELS pastor. That’s how he became a Christian.

I shared my story, too. A father who was my seminary professor, who taught me so many “big religious words” and deep truths about the scriptures that I can’t possibly remember all of them. A mother who led me in my bedtime prayers, prayers that were so foundational to my spiritual development that I can’t possibly forget even one of them. And that’s how I became a Christian.

All of us told very different stories, but one thing was the same in every story. We were all so grateful to God for the people who helped us to know Christ.

St. Timothy had a story, too. His father was a Greek who almost certainly did not believe in Jesus. But Timothy’s mother was a dedicated Christian, and his grandmother was, too. That’s how Timothy became a Christian. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you.”(2 Timothy 1:5,6)

How can we thank God for those who shared the word of God with us? And how can we honor those people who have led us to faith in Christ? St. Paul tells us how. “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” (2 Timothy 3:14)

For about two weeks, the students and I studied the word of God in the Letters to Timothy and Titus. We grew in our understanding of the gospel. We honed our abilities to share the word of God with others and to lead people to Christ. That’s the best way to thank God for his blessings.

When people tell their stories and thank God for those who helped them to know Christ, how many people will thank God for you?

Written by Rev. Mark Panning, world missionary on the One Africa Team

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Home Missions highlights

It’s been a busy fall for WELS Home Missions.

  • On Sept. 11, three home mission congregations in Texas—Christ Our Refuge, Waco/Hewitt; Our Savior, West San Antonio; and Amazing Grace, Amarillo—launched their first public worship services. Learn more about these services in Forward in Christ’s November article, “Home missions launch first worship services.”
  • On Sept. 15 and 16, the Board for Home Missions met at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. The Board for Home Missions is made up of the district mission board chairman and one lay volunteer from each of the 14 home mission districts. This fall, board members spent time going through the requirements for any new home mission or enhancement requests the districts are preparing for the full board’s spring meeting. The Board for Home Missions is anticipating requests for about 30 new mission starts and 17 enhancements in the spring.
  • On Oct. 2, Cross of Christ, North Nampa, Idaho, dedicated its new church building. The North Nampa location is a second-site ministry of Cross of Christ, Boise, Idaho.
  • On Oct. 10 and 11, the South Central District held its annual missionaries conference. In addition to 40 missionaries and district mission board members, this year’s conference was also attended by three Michigan Lutheran Seminary students who were participating in the high school’s Taste of Ministry experience.
  • On Oct. 16, Zion, Lodi, Wis., launched its first public worship service. Zion is a second-site ministry of Leeds, Wis. Also on Oct. 16, Bethlehem, Richland Center, Wis. (pictured above), dedicated its ministry facility, which houses an intergenerational ministry center and an early childhood center.

“As WELS Home Missions prepares for the official launch of its 100 missions in 10 years initiative in 2023, it’s exciting to see all the ministry that God is already blessing,” says Mr. Sean Young, senior director of WELS Missions Operations. “We’re committed to aggressively reaching lost souls throughout North America with the gospel—today and in the years to come.”

For more information about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

What matters most

“What can I do for that Christian student when they are away at school?” It’s a question with which parents, pastors, and congregations certainly wrestle. And there are many answers, but can I suggest a starting point based upon experience?

The WELS Campus Ministry at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh was in a tough spot. The 2019-20 school year began with a pastoral vacancy before COVID came and shut ministry down completely through the 2020-21 school year. When a new pastor arrived and began looking at the 2021-22 school year, there were some daunting realities: a building that looked abandoned, no core group, no established relationships, and continued restrictions for on-campus student interaction.

Where to start? Missions always depend upon people, and for the coming school year, finding a core group would be the focus. It would determine whether this ministry could move forward. But how would this group be found? Going door-to-door in a dorm or setting up shop in a student union are not advisable for a middle-aged pastor. Ultimately, it was an online database that would determine if this would work – what else could be used to reach students and determine if there was interest?

Armed with a Google Voice account, the text messages began to fly. . . a hope and prayer that a college student would respond to a text message from a complete stranger and then agree to meet for an open house. And while there were plenty of text messages that received no response, there were many thankful for the invitation. There were others that said they would come. And still others who said they knew fellow WELS members and would invite them too.

The first open house welcomed 19 students! When they were asked what they desired campus ministry to be, the overwhelming response was Bible study. An opportunity to gather and be fed by the Word of God. In fact, it was the only response. As so for each week during the 2021-22 school year, a time to gather for Bible study was offered. And the students came. . . with one big caveat: most needed a personal invitation through text message. When the week got busy or assumptions were made and personal texts didn’t go out, our numbers plummeted. It was a tangible reminder that relationships and personal invitations matter most.

And that takes this conversation back to that database, and with that I repeat an often made request. The online campus ministry student database depends upon home churches and pastors, area Lutheran high schools, parents, and students to provide information crucial for campus pastors to do their work. If you have a connection to a college student, please reach out to the local campus pastor and make sure they have the information (and even better, an introduction) they need to connect with that student. It’s where it all starts, and when you are thinking about what you can do for that student, it’s awesome to think about where it might lead!

The format for Bible study each week was simple: we started by sharing moments from the week that struck them as Christians, then we would study the Word, and finally there was an opportunity to ask any tough “apologetics” questions that were on their mind. Faith was strengthened and relationships were built. There were also numerous times during the year when students invited and brought others (WELS and non-WELS friends).

The majority of that core group is back again for the 2022-23 school year and as they gather this year, they are the ones who are asking what’s next. They want to start to work on the building that needs work both inside and out. They are organizing get-togethers at the house to enjoy fellowship and fun. They are doing together what the Bible tells us will result when Christians form their relationships around the Word of God!

Written by Rev. Thomas Voss, WELS Campus Ministry pastor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The response to free

Sermon illustrations are not always easy to come by. Sometimes you rack your brain for a story, a life-experience, something from a book that you’ve read, but nothing comes to mind. But, other times, you experience something that you just know will be a great sermon illustration someday.

We recently had one of those experiences at Sure Foundation. Each year in Brandon, S.D., there are city-wide garage sales that are widely popular. In each neighborhood, you can see numerous sales going on. People will come from Brandon, Sioux Falls, and even further away just to see what they can find.

As a church, we decided to get in on this event, but not as a fundraiser. We decided to collect things from the members of the congregation to give away to the community. But here was the catch. We weren’t advertising it as free. People would come hoping to find a deal at a garage sale, only to find out that everything was free.

Nearly every member family of the congregation participated by giving their stuff. We even had prospects, neighbors, and people from the community contributing stuff for the sale. Just like that, three big garage stalls were packed with stuff.

Throughout the eight hour event, we gave away almost all of the stuff! Those who attended were shocked to find out that everything was free. It was in that moment of shock that each person received a card from a smiling volunteer that said, “Just like salvation in Jesus is free, so are these. Enjoy this gift from your friends at Sure Foundation.”

What an easy way to share the love of Christ! But we haven’t gotten to the sermon illustration yet. Prior to the event, we instructed our volunteers to insist that everything was free. We figured that some would want to contribute something for what they had taken. So, our volunteers did just that. They insisted that everything was free, but people were so thankful, that they responded in thanks. Sometimes that thanks was obvious by the expression on their faces. But other times, people showed their thanks by giving. They gave and they gave and we put it in a box designated to go to a school district fund to buy lunch tickets, snow pants, and boots for those who can’t afford it.

The response was remarkable. Just shy of 300 people showed up to this event and we raised $1,000 for the school district fund from a FREE event! And there’s the sermon illustration. What’s the response to free? What’s the response to grace? The response to grace is a thankful heart. And our volunteers witnessed example after example of thankfulness overflowing into giving.

What an amazing blessing! It was an event that blessed the community with free things, it was an event that blessed us with an opportunity to share the gospel, and it was an event that blessed and encouraged our volunteers. Oh, and it was an event that blessed me with a great sermon illustration.

Written by Rev. Craig Wilke, home missionary at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in Brandon, S.D.

Subscribe to future Missions Blogs at wels.net/subscribe.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Unexpected booms

We heard that Dickinson, N.D., was booming. A town of 17,000 has grown to around 25,000 permanent residents over ten years. And that doesn’t include some of the oil field workers and their families, which could increase the estimated population to 35,000 depending on the season. My wife and I were expecting that type of “booming” when we nervously arrived to start a new home mission church in North Dakota. We were expecting the housing market to be booming, making finding a house difficult. Thankfully we were able to sign a lease and begin renting a 100-year-old home. The landlord was nice enough to let us paint the place while we waited for our furniture and clothes to finally arrive. There’s plenty to explore. . . new businesses are springing up everywhere, Dickinson is revitalizing its downtown, young families are moving into the peaceful neighborhoods, and church bells ring around town on Sunday morning. The harvest is plentiful in this booming town in the middle of the wide-open grasslands of North Dakota!

All of that booming was expected. The unexpected booms came after the moving truck arrived. Our furniture and clothes had been in the house for only five days when a huge thunderstorm sprang up. The lightning, flashing in the nighttime prairie sky, is truly a sight to behold. We were admiring those magnificent flashes when suddenly the whole window turned white, immediately followed by the loudest boom we had ever heard. A boom so loud that it almost sent my 8-month pregnant wife into labor. We both stood there, stunned as the house went dark. Looking out the back window and seeing the tree shrapnel strewn about our yard, it became apparent that the tree in our backyard had been struck by lightning. Thankfully the power came back on, but the lightning strike had damaged many things. The following two weeks were filled with daily visits by various repairmen, our landlord, tree trimmers, family, and friends. The house was booming with people, and making so many new connections was wonderful. God blessed us with some valuable conversations and connections. Through that lightning strike, some repairmen became mission prospects.

We were preparing the house to host many people after my installation, and several things still needed to be fixed. We were able to host the installation service at the local Veterans Pavilion, which was booming with people. Over 90 people from other WELS congregations came out to show support for the new mission in Dickinson. God blessed us with overwhelming encouragement from the many people who came to the installation. We were able to host the pastors and their families at our house afterward, even with the air conditioner being on the fritz from the lightning strike. After the sewer backed up twice and flooded our basement, everything in the house seemed to have settled down from the booming events of the past month. We were able to start visiting the homes of all the members of the core group. Driving back from one of those visits, another lightning storm sprung up in the beautiful badlands of North Dakota. Then suddenly, another lightning strike hit the ground within 10 feet of our car. Dirt flew up everywhere, and the boom sounded like a gunshot. We were told that Dickinson was booming, but this was not what we expected. All my wife and I could do was laugh. We laughed about it and all that had happened to us since we arrived the rest of the car ride home.

Suddenly the idea of starting a new mission in the booming town of Dickinson, N.D., seemed less scary. We knew we had God on our side, who could work out the expected and the unexpected booms for our good. We have a God who has the power to calm any storm, and that is the God that Amazing Grace Lutheran Church gets to share with the people of Dickinson, N.D. God be praised!

Written by Rev. Joel Prange, home missionary at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Dickinson, N.D.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Family ties

Santo Tomás Lutheran Church is a congregation that serves the Hispanic community in Phoenix, Ariz. It is “family ties” that have brought many people to walk through the doors of our church. This personal invitation from one family member to another to hear the good news that Jesus is their Savior continues to be an integral part of our ministry. “La familia es todo” (Family is everything), was the quote I remember one of our church members sharing with me. What this member was really stating was how important those ties are; as witnessed in the case of Irma and her relatives.

It was 2011 when I first met German (Hehr-mahn) and his family. It was German’s sister, Irma, who introduced them to me. At the time, he and his wife Dallana (Dah-yah-nuh) had three young girls who were not baptized. They were not church going people even though they both grew up in Catholic families. Irma, a member of our church, invited them to accompany her one Sunday so they could hear and understand better what we preach and teach. At first, they did not show much interest as the weeks and months went by. I decided to call them again to see how they were doing. They told me they wanted to baptize their three young daughters. We met at church along with the padrinos (godparents) to discuss how God blesses us through his wonderful sacrament of baptism. On December 24 of that same year, during a special afternoon service, we baptized their three daughters.

German and his family continued to visit our church as their Christian family ties began to grow with fellow believers from Santo Tomás. In 2021 we decided to restart our new youth Catechism classes. I visited German and Dallana to invite them to enroll their daughters in class; they accepted. German also extended an invitation to his sister Mariela to encourage her and daughter to also begin classes. For over a year, Mariela, German and Dallana sat together learning about God’s love while at the same time their children were taking Catechism classes and learning about their Savior.

This journey of faith for German, Dallana and Mariela, all members of the same family, began with a simple invitation from a relative. It was Irma who understood their spiritual need, and more importantly, that family ties have deeper meaning when it involves God’s grace offered freely through faith in Jesus their Savior.

On August 28, 2022, German, Dallana and Mariela were received as communicant members of Santo Tomás. God is good! In October of this year, their four children will also be confirmed along with nine other students from the Catechism class of 2022.

Irma never expected that her personal invitation to her brother German and his family ten years ago would lead to seven relatives being brought into Santo Tomás’ family to grow with fellow brothers and sisters in their saving faith. In the end it really comes down to the fact that by God’s grace, “La familia en Cristo es todo,” (the family in Christ is everything).

Written by Rev. Tom Zimdars, home missionary at Santo Tomás Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Ariz.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

“One Faith, One Family.” – Hmong National Conference 2022

What would lead people to pack into three vehicles at 11:30 p.m. and drive through the night from Kansas City to Wisconsin or catch the 2:00 a.m. red eye flight from Fresno to Milwaukee? The answer is the Hmong National Conference hosted by Trinity Hmong in Manitowoc, Wis., this past July 29-31. After canceling the last two national conferences due to COVID, about 170 Hmong brothers and sisters were finally able to gather together to celebrate with food, fellowship, and the Word of God.

The theme for the gathering was, “One Faith, One Family.” Separate breakout sessions were held in English for the teens and in Hmong for the adults.

Pastor Sam Lor of St. John’s, Minneapolis, Minn., led about 50 teens through the topic, “Cultural Identity through Baptismal Identity.” Why this subject? Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) student and cohost, Semson Lor, said, “In the world today you can identify so many different ways. We wanted teens to see who they are in Christ.”

At the same time the teens met, Pastor Pheng Moua of Immanuel Hmong in St. Paul, Minn., was leading the adults in the Bible Study, “How to Encourage One Another.” “We are living in the End Times and it is important to motivate each other and build each other up in order to let our light shine to the world.”

All the devotions, sermons, and Bible studies of the conference reinforced the theme, “One Faith, One Family.” Pastor Ger Lor of Grace Hmong in Kansas City, Kans., stated, “Unity of brothers and sisters in Christ was what the Savior prayed among his disciples: ‘that they may all be one; as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, and they may also be one in us.’ The gospel creates a unity of faith with our Father, our Savior and our fellow believers.”

Pastor Joel Nitz was also in attendance for the first time since he took the call to serve the Hmong in Vietnam. He reflected, “I had a wonderful experience as I connected with our WELS Hmong members in the U.S., worshiped and learned with them, and practiced my Hmong language skills.”

In addition to feeding the soul, there was plenty of food for the body. The meals reflected the different places Hmong people have called home over the decades. Laotian pho was served for lunch one day and all-American hamburgers served picnic style for dinner on another. In order to work off the extra calories, a sports tournament was held on Friday that included volleyball and corn hole.

The highlight of the conference was at the Sunday morning worship service where the group expressed their spiritual and doctrinal unity at the Communion Service.

And why travel so far? Pastor Xing Yang of Faith in Clovis, Calif., shared, “Jesus. I tell the people it is about Jesus.” The next Hmong National Conference is scheduled for 2024 in Fresno, Calif.

Written by Rev. Leon Ehlert, Chairman for the North America Hmong Committee

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Reaching souls with 100 new home missions

“Go.” It begins with that one word from our Savior as he sends us to carry out the mission he has given us. He wants us to go to our families, to our friends and co-workers, to our communities, and, in fact, to all the world.

But going is not enough. It’s what he gives us to take along when we go that is at the heart of that mission. He sends us to go with a message—a lifechanging and soul-saving message—of a Savior who came to this world to rescue people from guilt, despair, and eternal death. “Go . . . and preach the gospel!” (Mark 16:15).

At our synod’s convention in 2021, delegates heard about an ambitious proposal to further the spread of the saving gospel. Rev. Mark Gabb, chairman of the WELS Board for Home Missions, outlined a plan to establish 100 new home missions and enhance 75 existing ministries in 10 years. It was a breathtakingly ambitious idea, but it was one that the delegates of the convention endorsed without hesitation. Since that convention, the Board for Home Missions has been working to develop plans and strategies for accomplishing that goal—a goal we know can only be reached with the blessing of our gracious God.

Through the collective efforts of WELS and all our congregations, members, and affiliated ministries, we want to aggressively reach lost souls. Here’s how you can help:

Pray: This is no small thing. Pray that the Lord of the church would provide workers. Pray for our WELS Home Missions leaders, our home missionaries, and our worker training schools as they recruit and train future missionaries. Pray that the Lord provides us with the financial support needed to do the work.

Get Involved: Talk with your district mission board to see what you or your congregation might do to get involved in this synodwide church planting effort. Encourage young men and women in your church to consider full-time ministry. Ask your pastor to keep our synod’s work in your congregational prayers and provide updates on a regular basis.

Give: You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was rich, yet he became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). God’s generosity has resulted in the riches of forgiveness, peace, joy, and hope. Let that move you to give generously to your local congregation, to your synod through your church, and to this initiative.

The 100 Missions in 10 Years effort is not about numbers and statistics. Rather, it is simply a concerted effort to boldly take the gospel to people in new locations throughout the country. And when the gospel is preached and proclaimed, the Holy Spirit works in his way and in his time to build his church. Learn more at wels100in10.net.

Serving him,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

See how home missions can impact souls

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

A new approach to African mission work

In May and June of this year, three of WELS’ sister church bodies in Cameroon and Nigeria graduated a combined 25 men after five years of seminary studies. Seven of those men will serve as pastors in the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC); nine will serve Christ the King Lutheran Church of Nigeria; and nine will serve All Saints Lutheran Church of Nigeria.

Graduation in Nigeria

Mission work in Africa looks significantly different now than it did 30 years ago. Gone are the days of American seminary-trained pastors driving out to remote African villages to preach in churches. “Years ago, we had the idea that we were going to bring what we knew from the United States and just transplant that into Africa. It was generally missionary-driven,” says Rev. Dan Kroll, a One Africa Team missionary based in Malawi.

Now the relationship between WELS missionaries and our African church bodies is shifting to one of partnership.

The ministerial training of the recent Cameroonian and Nigerian graduates demonstrates this shift. At the outset of the LCC’s five-year seminary program, Kroll was working in person to hand the worker training program over to the capable, spirit-driven men of Africa. Kroll’s time in Cameroon soon came to an unexpected end, however, when COVID-related challenges and dangerous political unrest made face-to-face contact with the men impossible for the final three years. The situation in Nigeria was similar.

Suddenly, the African teachers in both Cameroon and Nigeria bore the responsibility for completing the seminarians’ training. While Kroll and Rev. Dan Witte, a One Africa Team missionary based in Zambia, worked tirelessly to provide guidance and materials via e-mail, the stunted communication proved challenging.

But the Lord promises us in Isaiah 55:11 that when his Word is preached, his purposes are fulfilled. Kroll explains, “The men graduated, and they’re going to be in ministry. They studied, and the Holy Spirit will strengthen them and encourage them and put out whatever he wants to put out.”

The next seminary class began its studies this month, with the African national pastors now taking the lead in the training. “Now it’s their thing, and we’re going to assist,” says Witte. “It’s important for us to empower people with Holy Spirit-given gospel gifts to do their thing their way, as opposed to us saying, ‘How can they replicate our thing our way?’”

Witte and Kroll recently met in Cameroon with their African brothers to preview course materials and seek feedback as the national pastors work to shape their own ministerial programs. “Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job,” Witte explains. “Our goal is that on the day we need to leave, [this ministry] is in someone else’s hands.”

Learn more about work in Africa at wels.net/missions/africa. Read more about our African partners at forwardinchrist.net/doing-their-thing-their-way.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

Update from Ukraine: Sept. 16, 2022

Rev. Roger Neumann serves as the WELS liaison to Ukraine. He has been able to maintain regular contact with the leadership from the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) and is providing regular updates about how our brothers and sisters in the ULC are doing. WELS has decided to share Neumann’s updates. Please keep the people of Ukraine in your prayers.


September. 15:

There has been a vacancy at St. John Lutheran in Lazarivka.  Lazarivka is located southwest of Ternopil.  Though in a safer area of Ukraine the economy has hit the people hard there as well.  Refugees from Kyiv, Kharkiv and Avdiyivka currently live in Lazarivka.  Pastor Serhiy Somin was able to visit this congregation, he held a worship service, and delivered food aid to them. Plans are being made to have services there once or twice a month.  Thank you, Pastor Somin for your love for these fellow believers, and your efforts to serve them with the Word and sacrament.

Izium was recently liberated from Russian control. We have heard from some of the members of the church, who thankfully are alive, but have not heard from everyone.  We pray for these believers and trust that they are in Jesus’ loving care. Izium is served by Pastor Victor Khaustov.  May God continue to bless his ministry to the people there.

September 14:

While there are reports of Ukrainian forces reclaiming territory, which is true, yet there is now increased rocket and missile strikes against key infrastructure targets.  There are now reports of water shortages, and even a complete cut off of water in a few locations.  In preparation for the cold of winter, and possible heating fuel shortages, many small stoves are being made and sold so that people can burn wood, coal, or peat for the heating of their homes and churches.  It suspected that Russia will continue to try to cut off utilities from the people with winter coming soon.

From gifts that our church gave to the ULC to buy more Bibles, over a year ago, they have now come and some were delivered to Kharkiv.

More Bibles and Catechisms will be needed in the future.  Many of these are being given out to refugees, who receive them with great joy.  Amazing how the Word of God can spread in times of adversity and war.  God’s ways are certainly not our ways.  We simply cast out the seed, God will give the growth.

September 6:

An example of another door that our Lord has opened to his Pastors in the ULC happened recently.  Pastor Yuri Tytski, who serves Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Bereznehuvate, but has moved his family to Kremenets until it’s safe to go back, encountered some people who came to the church in Kremenets for food and aid.  He found out that they were from Snihurivka, not far from Bereznehuvate.  He, along with Pastor Roman Anduntsiv, welcomed them to worship and they have now begun Catechism classes with them.

September 1:

Earlier this week, Pastor Khaustov who serves in Kharkiv was able to travel to some of his members who have moved to Poltava.  Poltava is located about 85 miles southwest of Kharkiv.  He held a worship service with them and delivered some People’s Bible Commentaries.  Many of the ULC Pastors are now serving smaller numbers of worshipers, due to the fact that so many people have moved to safer areas.  Yet, they continue to serve their members who have stayed.  We thank them for their faithful service.  Other pastors who have taken refuge in other areas help serve in those places.  The ministries continue, by God’s grace.


WELS World Missions provided this map to show where major Ukrainian cities are located and, more specifically, where the Ukrainian Lutheran Church has congregations.

 


 

WELS is supporting the Ukrainian Lutheran Church with emergency needs as their country is torn apart by war.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

What does starting a Lutheran seminary look like?

Walking through the central streets of Medellín, Colombia, is sensory overload. Smell the oil from the fried empanadas. Traffic everywhere. Whiny motorcycles. Carts selling some of the most beautiful fruit you’ve ever seen. Hey, is that WELS vicar Zach Satorius with a guitar case slung over his shoulder? Hard-working people scurrying off to their jobs. Others we see are obviously struggling in life. I wonder if people even noticed us. . . A tall professor from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and three short men: a Bolivian, a Colombian, and an American missionary, walking the streets for an hour or two every day, talking as we went. Is this what the start of a seminary looks like?

Followers of Jesus in places as far as Bolivia, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic have banded together to form a new international confessional Lutheran synod in Latin America: Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional. God-willing there will be a representative from this new synod at the 2023 WELS Synod Convention, so you’ll be hearing more about this.

WELS mission efforts in Spanish-speaking Latin America are focused on Academia Cristo. We find people through social media. A mobile app walks people through the basics of the Christian faith. It’s up to each person if they want to continue learning. Those who finish the app are invited to participate in the first level of online discipleship training courses. By the end of level one, some of those who finish will join the Lutheran faith. They’ll also have the desire to teach others and start a core group. In level two we provide training for leading such a group through its early stages, with the goal of forming a church. (By the way, you can share our app with Spanish speakers in the U.S.)

As God blesses the work of the new Latin American synod and WELS mission efforts, groups become churches of the new synod. So how do people get further ministry training? It’s okay to start simple. WELS has been training pastors for almost 160 years. Know how it started? My understanding is that theological training happened inside the school building of St. Mark’s in Watertown, Wis. Humble beginnings. Not so different from the test classes that leaders of the new seminary, Seminario Cristo (Christ Seminary), have already started for more than a dozen group leaders to build on their Academia Cristo training. Participants learn to apply law and gospel, counseling, and biblical interpretation. They get to apply some of what they’re learning with the group they’re teaching right away that same week. Preaching, advanced doctrine, and other topics are coming. The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) and WELS missionaries advise and consult. The new synod leads the seminary in training people for different forms of ministry.

We did work in Medellín. Seminary leaders made philosophical and curriculum decisions. It was clear that we all shared the same faith and values. Everything needs to be Biblical, Christ-centered, and practical. We all knew it.

We preached to each other and prayed together. We played dominos. Shared life stories. We drank tinto (Colombian coffee) several times a day. We walked the streets of Medellín for hours. We laughed and prayed and bonded in Christ. Starting a confessional Lutheran seminary. . . there’s real work to be done. But it’s easy to forget that the love of Christ, walking together and loving one another. . . that’s part of starting a seminary too.

Written by Rev. Joel Sutton, world missionary on the Latin America mission team

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

His plans are best

This past May I graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and was assigned to a mission restart at Calvary in Canyon Country, Calif. That was a surprise! I thought for sure I was staying in the Midwest. I assumed that I was the only student in my class who indicated that cold weather and snow don’t bother me at all. I figured I would be assigned accordingly. But the Lord knows best, and his plans were better.

I received a call to a place that is far removed from snow and freezing temperatures, and it is wonderful! I made the 2,000-mile trek from my home in Wisconsin to California, where I fell in love with my new home almost as soon as I moved in. The beauty of southern California is vast, and there is endless opportunity to enjoy God’s creation here.

Even better though, are the people at Calvary, the greater Santa Clarita area, and California in general. In my two months at Calvary, I have met numerous people who want to help and offer their advice and guidance as I make the transition from the Midwest to the Southwest. I have found people at Calvary and in Canyon Country who are truly warm, welcoming, and caring. Canyon Country already feels like home!

It has been somewhat challenging for me, a brand-new pastor, to navigate church life, Home Missions, and my district mission board. I’d be lying if I told you I’ve got this all down. But God blesses his workers and puts many individuals in their lives to offer assistance. Members of our core group at Calvary are always asking what they might do to help or who they can contact to find answers. The district mission board, mission counselors, Home Missions office, and pastors in my district have also proven to be a valuable resource to orient me to mission work and navigate various boards in our synod. These people are truly blessings from God and have helped me adapt to my new setting.

Our efforts at Calvary these last few months have been blessed and made to prosper by our God. Our core group continues to meet around God’s Word and Sacraments so that we might be strengthened and encouraged for our work in Christ’s Kingdom. We continue to grow in our faith, plan for our future, and are even finding opportunities to share the love of Jesus with our friends, neighbors, and community. God be praised for his many blessings the last few months!

Written by Rev. Barton Cox, home missionary at Calvary Lutheran Church in Canyon County, Calif.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Images of Grace – Partnership between MLP and Bethany Lutheran College

WELS Multi-Language Productions (MLP) is partnering with the Bethany Lutheran College Fine Arts department to produce illustrations of Bible stories and Catechism lessons for use in world mission fields. Fourteen ELS/WELS artists came together alongside Rev. Dr. Terry Schultz, Artistic Development Missionary for MLP, to illustrate 54 Biblical accounts for use in Zambian Sunday Schools. Church leaders in Zambia plan to distribute these illustrations for use as inexpensive, impactful visual aids in Sunday School classes.

The “Images of Grace,” exhibition will be available from August 31-September 27 in the Ylvisaker Fine Arts Center Gallery. A special gallery reception is being held on September 1 at 7 p.m. and will include a panel discussion with Rev. Dr. Terry Schultz; Rev. Larry Schlomer, WELS World Missions Administrator; Professor Andrew Overn, Art Director; and various contributing artists. All are invited to attend.

This exhibit represents the beginning of an ongoing project and partnership between Bethany’s Art Department and Multi-Language Productions. Learn more about MLP and the resources they provide to WELS world mission fields at wels.net/mlp.

Learn more about the exhibit and gallery reception on the Bethany Lutheran College event page.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Backpacks and Burgers in Kalispell, Montana

July 23, 2022. 10:00 a.m. The grill is heating up. Everything is ready to go for Backpacks and Burgers in Kalispell, Mont. People start walking past our pavilion in the park, and the core group kicks into gear. “Good morning! We’re North Valley Lutheran Church, and we’re here trying to show some love for our community. We’ve got backpacks. We’ve got burgers. We have face painting and crafts. Come on in and take a look around!” We’ve come a long way to get to this pavilion in the park.

Our work in northwestern Montana really began over ten years ago. A group of WELS members who had moved to Kalispell reached out to the pastor at Living Savior in Missoula. Missoula is 100 miles away from Kalispell, but out here in Montana, that’s the closest WELS church they could find. From that point on, the pastor from Missoula would drive up once a month to lead a worship service with Holy Communion.

Kalispell has changed a lot in the last ten years. The secret of Montana’s natural beauty has gotten out, and people are moving in. The latest United States census identified Kalispell as the fastest growing “micropolitan” area in the country. The city council is constantly approving new housing developments. Old hotels are being torn down and replaced with apartment complexes. In all of this, God has given us an opportunity!

Over the last couple years, the core group has intensified its efforts. The group meets for weekly worship in a hotel conference room. They also meet online for midweek Bible Study. I drive up two Sundays a month with one overnight stay so that I can spend Monday connecting with prospects. There have been challenges. When the next closest WELS church is 100 miles away, it can feel isolating. But God’s blessing has been immense. Last summer, we welcomed volunteers from four different congregations across the state of Montana for a weekend of canvassing. This summer, a dozen teens came from the Twin Cities to help advertise for Backpacks and Burgers. And it was an absolute joy to see the results that God brought about!

At our pavilion in the park, we gave away 40 backpacks and 80 burgers. We had a chance to welcome all kinds of different people. Fifteen new families expressed interest in learning more about our church. These families are not only from Kalispell, but also from nearby Whitefish and Columbia Falls. Some are new residents to Montana. Others have been here their whole lives, but have never been connected to a church. Still others have been attending big mega-churches, but are looking for a place where they won’t be overlooked – a place where they will be served with God’s Word. What a privilege we have to introduce these people to their Savior!

Way out here in Montana, we are so thankful for the prayers and the support of our brothers and sisters across the country. We are thankful for our partnership in the gospel. As our synod begins its ambitious goal of 100 Missions in 10 Years, we are praying that Kalispell, Mont., will be part of it. Next time you’re planning a vacation to Glacier National Park, make sure you keep Sunday afternoon open. We’ll be so happy to see you.

Written by Rev. Noah Willitz, pastor at Living Savior in Missoula, Mont.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Summer is time for growing

What could you possibly call 60 people frantically (even raucously) scampering around trying to find an only child and a green-eyed vegetarian?

Well, a business meeting, of course. At least, that’s what we call it here in on the Apache reservations. On our Native American mission field, summer time is not just for relaxing, but also for growing! As God grows our ministries in fields ripe for harvest, He also graciously grows our mission team of harvesters. So each summer our teachers pause in their last minute preparations of arranging new desks and sharpening pencils for a new school year and our pastors clear their calendars to gather together. We meet our new team members, study God’s Word together, review ministry plans together, eat together, and even search for only children and vegetarians together. New relationships are formed, and old relationships are renewed and strengthened as we prepare to do battle with Satan and his helpers for the souls that God has entrusted to our care. This year we welcomed teachers Tony Sahatjian and Claudia Meyer to East Fork Lutheran School, and Pastor John and Mindy Holtz to our Native Christians team. They will be carrying on the important work of equipping Native American Christians to lead and serve God’s people.

Missionary John Holtz and his wife, Mindy

But we’re not done growing! This summer we have another reason to rejoice as we look forward to adding another missionary to our Native Christians team and expanding our gospel reach to more locations. More than 500 tribes that are overwhelmingly not Christian are still waiting for the life-changing, future-changing seeds of the gospel to be planted in their fields. And while we never found an only child or a green-eyed vegetarian on our current harvest team, we’re all ready and willing to get to work. Maybe the new missionary will fit that description?

Please join us in prayer that our gracious Lord would bless our team, our plans, and the people we will serve. Ask Him for opportunities to share Jesus, and the courage and love for us to make the most of them.

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, world missionary on the Native American mission team.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Together Video Update – August 9, 2022

Rev. Ben Foxen and Rev. Keegan Dowling were commissioned to join the One Africa Team as missionaries in Zambia, Africa, on June 11. The Foxen family arrived in Lusaka, Zambia, on Aug. 2. The Dowlings are scheduled to arrive at the end of August. See what Missionary Foxen and his wife, Becky, had to say following the commissioning. Learn more about their family, their plans to serve overseas—and how you can help them in their new ministry.

 

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

WELS Missions – 2022 Impact Report

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. . .

Matthew 28:19

God is blessing the efforts of WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions in amazing ways! Your prayers and gifts are making a difference in communities across the U.S. and around the world; we are grateful for your generosity.

Here are some ways your gifts are being used to share the good news of the gospel.

HOME MISSIONS

  • Five new churches were approved in Windsor, Colo.; Wichita, Kans.; Canton, Ga.; Conroe, Tex; and Lodi, Wis. Home Missions also approved enhancements or unsubsidized mission status at seven other locations. Learn more at wels.net/newstart.
  • Campus Ministry provides over 30 campus ministries with financial support and assists hundreds of other congregations in their campus ministry outreach.
  • Plans and preparations are being made to plant 100 new home mission churches and enhance 75 existing ministries from 2023-2033. Learn more at wels.net/100in10.

WORLD MISSIONS

  • Two missionaries are beginning ministry in London this year.
  • Over 500 worldwide gospel ministers are proclaiming the Good News, and more than 90 additional men have graduated from worker training programs this year alone.
  • Building of the theological education center in Vietnam has begun.
  • Plans are being made to welcome a synod in Uganda and an international synod in Latin America into WELS fellowship at the 2023 Synod Convention.
  • Nine new missionary positions have been approved.

JOINT MISSIONS

  • The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) is working with One Teams around the world and providing theological training to immigrants in the U.S. for service to their people groups.
  • Mission Journeys provides opportunities for volunteer trips to WELS mission fields at home and abroad.

Praise God for his mercy and grace and thank YOU for your prayers and support! There is always more work to do, and we are grateful for your continued partnership. Pray for God’s blessing on his Church. Share God’s grace and forgiveness with others you meet. Ask God to give us strength to serve others with love.

Learn more at wels.net/missions and like us on Facebook at fb.com/WELSMissions

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

New seminary class begins studies in India

54 new students just began their studies in the pre-seminary program in India in July 2022. Another seven students returned to start their third year of studies in the seminary. A few additional students were unable to join or were late in arriving because of severe rains and flooding taking place in the region.

Since there is only room for about 40 students in the seminary dormitory space, the incoming students were broken into two groups. Each group will come for one week of classes each month, rather than the two weeks at a time that was scheduled previously. The students all speak Telugu and are from the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Most of them are already serving independent congregations, but few have much in the way of formal theological education. They are all quite eager to learn more about Christ in the Scriptures at the seminary! In their first week, the new pre-seminary students attended classes on the life of Christ, teaching the Small Catechism, and Lutheran worship. The returning seminary students attended classes in pastoral theology, advanced law and gospel, and Christian doctrine.

Please keep these new and returning seminary students in your prayers as they grow in grace and truth found in God’s Word!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[fbcomments num=”5″]

God’s Word lost . . . and found!

Imagine not having the Word of God. This is true for many people in the world.

One people group in the northern part of a South Asian country has wanted the Bible in its language for over 35 years. They began translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew but it was such a slow process that they made no headway.

Another man was determined to translate the New Testament from Bangla—the most common language in this country—into the language of his tribe. He worked night and day. He did nothing else. His wife was angry with him for not working in the fields. He said, “I must bring the words of the Bible into the language of our people.”

When he finished the New Testament he brought his papers to a Bible society in the capital of his country. Two months later he made a second trip to the capital to check on the progress of his translation. The Bible society then discovered they had lost his documents. Three years of work—all gone! The words of the New Testament in the language of his people lost!

Now this man is working with our team to translate the New Testament from Bangla into the language of his tribe. All of the team members are working without pay. We finished the oral and written translation in May. Multi-Language Productions (MLP) is paying for the printing of 5,000 copies of this New Testament.

We are also translating the New Testament from Bangla into the language of three more people groups. Some of these people groups are “unreached.” There are hardly any Christians in these tribes. Those who do convert to Christianity are persecuted and sometimes killed. In one tribe of 200,000 people we know of only three living Christians. All three are workers on our team.

We have also translated Luther’s Catechism from English into Bangla. Oh, how our men worked on this project! They love the catechism. Four different men/groups proofed the translation. This is hard work—but worth it. They went “the extra mile.”

One of our team leaders worked with the publisher so that pages of the Bangla catechism “line up” perfectly with the pages of our English catechism. What is on page 29 of the English catechism, for example, is exactly what you will find on page 29 of the Bangla catechism. Now we will be “on the same page” (pun intended). This is helpful for teaching.

Even the wonderful diagrams in the English catechism are in the Bangla catechism. The color of ink (blue and black), the binding and cover are the same! MLP is generously providing the funds for the printing of 5,000 copies.
MLP is our partner in bringing God’s Word to those who do not have it. Humanly speaking two mission fields in South Asia would not exist without MLP. God’s Word was lost—and now is found!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Unity and peace

The Winter Olympics, you may remember, took place this past February. One highlight of the Olympics is always the opening ceremony. Nearly a hundred nations stream into the stadium waving their flags, people from Asia and Africa, Europe and the Americas all join together under one Olympic banner.

This image of all these countries coming together is a beautiful image of unity, of togetherness. The problem, however, is that these countries do not come together because they’re striving in unity toward the same goal. They come to compete. Once the opening pleasantries finish, it’s time for the fierce competition. It doesn’t take long to see that the supposed “unity and peace” of the opening ceremony, while seeming beautiful, are nothing more than nice thoughts.

Yet for us who belong to the Kingdom of God, unity and peace are more than just “pleasantries.” At a recent East Asia meeting of local leaders and missionaries, brothers from different regions and countries all joined in unity. There were three different languages spoken and many different faces shown on the screen. The brothers gathered not to compete, not for pride of glory as the world sees it, but to spread the good news about Jesus Christ crucified.

A beautiful foretaste, it seemed to us, of what’s waiting in heaven, just as Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . .” What a beautiful scene, the nations gathered together under one banner, in one place, in true unity!

As we continue to reach and train Christian leaders here in East Asia, that multitude John describes in Revelation seems to swell. We thank you for all your prayers for the East Asia missionaries and local leaders as we continue to bring the gospel to the nations.

Written by a missionary in East Asia.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Impactful relationships

Depending on how you count, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs make up about 10-20% of the population of the Greater Toronto area. That’s almost two million people! That percentage is even higher in Mississauga, which has a particularly high population of Muslims. As you can imagine, they are a very difficult population to reach with the good news of Jesus. They don’t respond to typical evangelism programs, law/gospel presentations, etc. They are conditioned to be polite but skeptical of Christians, expecting them to “just try to convert them.”

That is because, much like many Christians in the West, our affluent and entertainment-saturated culture has caused many austere believers in Islam or Hinduism to soften their beliefs into simply “cultural” faith. That means they don’t believe much of what their religions teach, but they also don’t want to convert to Christianity because to them Christianity is a culture, not a religion. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean believing in Jesus as much as it means to stop being Saudi, Iranian, Pakistani, Indian, etc., and become Western/Canadian. Therefore, we cannot bring them to Jesus with simple presentations of the gospel. They see that as close to racism against their culture. Our only chance is long-term relationship investment.

That’s what is happening with Priyanka. Her name is changed, and she isn’t pictured to hide her identity. She is an immigrant from Bangladesh whose husband cheated on her, left her, but because of their culture and religious background, still “owns” her in a sense. Her fear of him is why her identity is hidden. And yet, despite all that, her culture makes it very hard for her to accept that Christianity may have something to offer her.

My wife has been regularly meeting her to take her to the doctor, have her over to make Biryani (a Bangladeshi staple) together, take her grocery shopping, or just keep her company. She is naturally resistant to Christianity, but after almost two years of meeting with her, she agreed to receive a Bible in Bangla, her native tongue, and has come to our house once for a Bible study. She is not a Christian yet, but this is the kind of long-term work that allows people from these cultures and religions to even listen to the gospel.

Missionary Caleb Schultz and his wife Johannah

But this is not limited to people of Middle Eastern or South Asian background. This is becoming more and more true of the non-immigrant population as well. Those who grew up in a Christian culture are also increasingly seeing the church as a social/culture club where people try to get you to behave differently. This has moved our congregation to a model of relationally expensive outreach. Investing in people over time, not to convert them, but just because Jesus loves them. That means expecting that it will take years in some cases for people to know Jesus. But in the end, those people will know a Jesus who didn’t just give them a set of beliefs or culture, but brought them into his life through his body, the Church.

You can do this too. Many white people are intimidated to engage immigrant populations (I was too!), but they really ought not to be. Invite them over for dinner. Ask them about their culture or homeland. Be the type of person they want to call first when something goes wrong in their life, because inevitably something will, and you will have an answer (Jesus!) that is far better than any other.

Pray for this woman and us as we try to reach the many people groups of our city.

Written by Rev. Caleb Schultz, home missionary at, Cross of Life, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Print Friendly, PDF & Email