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Different mission field, same mission

Joey’s last day in the office

Last year, my husband and I decided to emigrate from Hong Kong to England after much discussion and prayers. One of my struggles is that I must leave the Hong Kong office of Multi-Language Productions (MLP) and my lovely colleagues. I had been working for Multi-Language Productions (MLP) as a full-time staff in Hong Kong for around 10 years, mainly translating, editing, and proofreading the layout of various books and Bible resources in the Chinese language. I enjoy the work very much and I would like to continue to serve God in this way. After discussing with Yvonne, my supervisor, and Nate Seiltz, director of MLP, and getting MLP’s approval, I continue working for MLP in the form of Contract Service.

Joey and her husband in the countryside of England after quarantine

My husband and I finally boarded the plane at the end of June this year. Due to COVID-19, we had to spend 10 days in a home quarantine after arriving in the United Kingdom. This was my first time in a quarantine. Thank God, a local friend gave us great help and made it easy for us to get through the 10 days.

Although the Hong Kong people used to receive British education and are familiar with the British culture, there are big differences between the East and West. I have also experienced various cultural differences. The most significant is the language. Not only are Chinese and English different, but British English and American English are also different, including pronunciation, spelling and the meaning of certain words etc. Besides, some people here speak in strong accents and even the local people can hardly understand.

In terms of food and drink, the choice of food, cooking methods, and serving ways are different. Bread is the staple food of Westerners while rice is our staple food. The food we often eat in Hong Kong may not be found in the United Kingdom.

In terms of housing, residential houses in the United Kingdom are generally larger than those in Hong Kong. When the United Kingdom people want to rent or buy a house, they will check how many rooms in the house, whereas Hong Kong people will check the saleable size of the house.

In the United Kingdom, pedestrians can cross the road first (in the circumstance without a traffic light), but it is the opposite in Hong Kong. In the early days after we arrived at the United Kingdom, we would stay on the pavement waiting for the car to pass. We were surprised that the car stopped, and the driver would give us a signal to ask us to go first.

After a month for settling down in the United Kingdom, I started to work in August. My job duties are translation and editing, and since we experienced work from home last year, I was able to perform my work as long as I have a computer and internet access. I thank God, who lets me continue to serve Him.

I’m now working on updating the Chinese Catalog and editing the People’s Bible – John. One of our goals is to produce good materials for the Christians in East Asia to help them understand the Bible better. To produce the Chinese version of the People’s Bible Series is one of the projects we want to achieve. May God give me strength to continue contribute on this big project.

Written by Joey Chow, translator and editor for Multi-Language Productions (MLP)


More than 20% of members (including Joey Chow and her husband) and two pastors from WELS’ sister church in Hong Kong, South Asia Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), have moved to the United Kingdom. Read more about the plans WELS World Missions is pursuing to place a missionary in London in this article from the Together e-newsletter.

 

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New home mission plans approved

The WELS Board for Home Missions met Sept. 16-17 and approved financial support for three home mission locations.

A new home mission plant was approved in Collinsville, Ill. Christ Our Savior in Collinsville has served as a preaching station of Martin Luther in St. Louis, Mo., since 2002. The core group has maintained an average of 25 to 30 people attending worship through the years. The core group is increasing its outreach efforts, including reaching students at a local college and workers on a nearby military base, as well as offering services for the deaf in their community. Martin Luther has committed time, manpower, and financial assistance to help Christ Our Savior grow and become its own congregation. Home Missions funding will allow Christ Our Savior to call a full-time pastor to assist in this effort.

Home Missions is also providing financial support to two existing ministries:

  • Crossville, Tenn.: Crossville is a growing area of eastern Tennessee that is attracting many retirees thanks to the retirement communities and activities in the area. A core group at Ascension Lutheran Church is committed to restarting the church and expanding gospel outreach. More and more visitors are coming to church, and its Bible information class had six people in it this past year. Home Missions funding will allow the congregation to call a full-time pastor to help kick-start this ministry.
  • Las Vegas, Nev.: Summerlin Lutheran Church was originally approved to receive three years of financial support in spring 2021 to restart its congregation, which already owned a large facility in a growing suburb of Las Vegas. Situations have changed, and a number of leaders within the core group have moved away. Home Missions is providing the congregation additional funding with the optimistic anticipation of great blessings from the Lord.

Home Missions also approved unsubsidized mission status for Good Shepherd in Beloit, Wis. Home Missions provides assistance to unsubsidized mission congregations through its district missions boards, mission counselors, synodical support staff, and special project funds, but does not provide direct financial support. Learn more about all of WELS Home Missions work at wels.net/homemissions.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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New mission opportunities in Europe

A new mission in London is one step closer to reality. After a trip to England earlier this month, Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of the Board for World Missions, is recommending that the board call a full-time missionary to London.

During his trip, Schlomer met with a group of WELS families in London to talk about the possibilities. These members will serve as the “core group” for this mission and its work. “They are more than excited,” says Schlomer. “A couple of the members even shared with me that they have been praying for a pastor.”

In the past, this group in London—about 30 people—has been served with the Word and sacraments by the WELS European chaplain, who travels monthly from Germany where he is based. The chaplain, part of WELS Military Services, ministers to WELS military personnel on large bases in Germany as well as serves civilians and troops in Germany, England, Switzerland, and scattered throughout Europe. Currently Rev. John Hartwig fills that role.

According to Schlomer, besides serving current members weekly with the Word, a new missionary will be able to explore opportunities for reaching out to the many immigrant populations that settle in London. WELS already has connections with several groups, including members and pastors from WELS’ sister synod in Hong Kong who have recently relocated to London. Once initial exploration has been completed, a second missionary may be called to work specifically with these immigrant groups. Funding has already been approved for both positions. “Right now our priority is to get someone there with this group of believers, and we’ll let the Spirit guide it as the Spirit will,” says Schlomer.

Phil and Sandy Parker, who have been members of this group in London since 2000, are excited about the possibilities. “London is such a multicultural area, and we think that the field amongst these immigrant populations will be particularly ripe because we can offer useful services, such as English as a foreign language classes, that can benefit them as they try to integrate into their communities,” says Sandy.

They also recognize the need for their English friends and family to hear the pure gospel message, something that is in short supply in London. “We know that the Holy Spirit is stronger than even the most stoic Englishman, and so, with a missionary here to help us with these conversations, we might be able to rest assured that our loved ones know God’s salvation too,” says Sandy.

During Schlomer’s visit, Hartwig led worship in person for the group for the first time since he arrived in Germany in June 2020. COVID-19 had made it impossible for him to travel to England, so the group had been worshiping through Zoom video meetings.

“It was such a happy experience,” says Hartwig about the service, which included communion and a baptism affirmation. “And on top of that, seeing that we may have an opportunity to have a permanent pastor—we’re definitely excited about that.”

He continues, “The European Chaplaincy has been thankful to have the opportunity to work with the military and the civilians in the U.K. for many years. We’re excited about the new turn this is taking and want to do everything possible to help that to happen.”

London is one of five new world mission opportunities being explored by WELS Missions. Learn more.

 

 

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Starting a mission church

The prospect of starting a new mission church, while certainly exciting, can also lead to a lot of questions, not the least of which is simply how? That’s what we at Trinity in Crete, Ill. are going through right now. The town of Cedar Lake, right across the border in Indiana, is a fast-growing town with more and more housing developments popping up. We know it’s a great place to begin a new church to be able to tell more and more people about Jesus. Now, we get to start the process of trying to start one.

If this describes a similar situation for you, the first place to start is to contact your District Mission Board. They will be able to guide you in the right direction and provide you with the next steps to take, essentially walking you through the process. They’ll also put you in contact with a District Mission Counselor who will even be able to meet with you and check out the potential mission field and encourage you throughout the entire process.

But the next step is equally as important: gather a core group. These are the people who are committed to turning potential into reality. Before you have a location, before you have hard prospects, before you have a building, have a core group of people who are already actively doing ministry activities in the area. If you don’t have a location, start meeting in someone’s homes for group Bible studies. You’ll not only grow in the word, but your group will start to grow closer to one another as you bond to one another.

The smile bags Trinity Lutheran assembled and donated to the Cedar Lake Police Department for kids of all ages who are in difficult situations.

Start group activities like outreach events in the area or finding some way to actively get involved in the community. Maybe you’re able to do some sort of onsite worship – do it! Whether it’s time in the word, fellowship activities, service in the community letting your light shine, or whatever else you can come up with, have your core group do it and before you know it, they’ll be owning the ministry and mission church idea. Have them invite their neighbors, their friends, be involved in the community inviting them to any event you do because the stronger the core group is, the easier the next steps in the mission process come.

The Mission Board and the Mission Counselor will be able to guide you through the necessary steps to take after this, but the biggest thing you can spend your time investing in is your people – your core group. They’ll be the seeds that, God-willing, he’ll use to reap a new harvest in a new location as he continues to use us to advance his kingdom.

Written by Kendall Cook, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Crete, Illinois.

 

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Finding a way to gather

David works in a sausage factory in Finland. Ingvar delivers the mail in Sweden. Artur teaches history in the local university in Portugal. Not only are the European CELC (Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Synod) pastors scattered across a dozen countries, many serve as “tent ministers.” They preach and teach on weekends and support themselves with secular work during the week. (St. Paul was the original “tent minister.” See Acts 18:3.)

Tent ministry saps time and energy for serving souls. It also limits face-to-face meetings for professional growth and encouragement.

Early this past spring, Pastor Holger Weiss (Germany) and Pastor Ingvar Adriansson (Sweden) were struggling to organize logistics for study and fellowship. By tradition European pastors gather for a regional conference and/or Summer Quarter study. But this year borders were closed. Travel was nearly impossible. So, Holger and Ingvar proposed a workaround: “Let’s organize an online study with time to share news and pray for each other!”

Using the theme: “Worldwide Judgment and Deliverance: Then and Now,” local pastors supplied four Bible studies on the early chapters of Genesis. About twenty different participants prepared for online meetings by viewing videos ahead of time. Then we gathered to share observations and discuss practical application for life and ministry. The format was so interesting that small-group discussion time came to be known as “The Fastest Fifteen Minutes of the Week.”

After small group and plenary discussion, we shared news and prayed for each other. It seems Pastor Artur Villares from Portugal is dealing with the greatest blessings and challenges.

First the good news. After years of dialogue with an LC-MS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) trained pastor from Brazil, the Portuguese church finally colloquized Rev. Denício Márcio Godoy and received him into fellowship. Denício (pictured in photo above) lives in Belo Horizonte, population 6 million, the 18th largest city in the Americas. What an outreach center! The pastors in our Zoom meeting welcomed Denício and wished him well before our connection was cut. Please pray that God will soon reopen travel to Brazil!

Please keep Pastor Canoa in your prayers as he recovers from the stroke and God-willing continues to serve the flock in Lisbon

We have another reason to pray for our brothers and sisters in Portugal. Antonio Canoa, the only other pastor in the Portuguese church, recently suffered a crippling stroke. At this point Antonio is unable to serve his congregation in Lisbon. Artur, who lives four hours north in Porto, is doing his best to keep in touch with church members online. Please pray that God would care for Antonio and his people in Lisbon. Please pray also for the Portuguese speakers Antonio was befriending in Europe, Africa, and South America.

Travel restrictions might prevent us from seeing each other, but nothing can limit our Savior’s mighty gospel call! Help us, Lord! We trust in You.

Written by Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary in Europe

 

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Pakuwa Pakhawa (Hope Realized)

Originally appears in the One Africa Team blog, from September 7, 2021. 

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end so that what you hope for may be fully realized (Hebrews 6:11).

In November 2019 I was ready to pack my bags and move to Nairobi. Then COVID-19 ended all international travel. One Africa Team Missionaries canceled all their planned trips to Uganda, Liberia, and other parts of Africa – full stop. But the global pandemic didn’t stop God’s kingdom or the gospel ministry of the LCMC (The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) Kenya from moving forward.

The LCMC (The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) Kenya declared fellowship with the WELS in the summer of 2019. Due to the pandemic, no WELS representatives paid them a formal visit. Some LCMC Kenya members wondered if they truly enjoyed a relationship with other confessional Lutherans outside of Kenya. They had to hope that their leaders were telling them the truth.

For 21 months, I kept in touch with One Africa Team’s ministry partners in Kenya from a distance. I helped coordinate ministry support from 1,200 miles away in Malawi, using e-mail, instant messaging platforms, and online teleconferencing. I received regular updates and phone calls. I taught Biblical Greek to students I had never met in person. Since I’ve always believed that “the house going pastor makes a church-going people,” I questioned my own effectiveness. I had to hope that God was in charge.

There was evidence of activity: photos of church building projects, expense reports, and videos of joyful church dedications. There was evidence of progress. There was evidence of financial support. But can a long-distance relationship last without meeting face to face?

In August 2021, One Africa Team leader Howard Mohlke and I visited our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Kenya. We wanted to solidify our partnership. We also wanted to give the members of the LCMC Kenya a chance to say, “Thank you” in person. There is a phrase in the Luo language that captures the goal of our visit. “Pakuwa pakhawa” means, “Our hope has been realized.”

Masaai Land

The area around Nairobi is the homeland of the Masaai people, who traditionally were hunter-gatherers and raised livestock. Near the Masaai town of Ngong, Pastor Frank Koyo serves a Masaai congregation at Olissi Lutheran Church. The church building is located at the end of a dirt path on top of a mountain. It is a most beautiful, if not remote place from which you can see the surrounding countryside. A Finnish Lutheran missionary helped the congregation put up a simple tin shack. Built a decade ago, it is still in pretty good shape. Pastor Koyo works as a plumber and has to walk down a steep hill to catch a bus to town. During the rainy season, the road is so slippery that it is impassable even on foot.

About 45 minutes away by car is Kibiku, the location of another Masaai congregation that is currently inactive.

Masaai members of Elkimasek LCMC Kenya

Since there’s no road, we made our own path up a hilltop. We found a Pentecostal church put up next to the Lutheran chapel. Pastor Koyo was serving the church but eventually stopped since the congregation’s offerings didn’t cover the cost of his transportation. The harvest is great, but the workers are few.

We then drove about two hours to another Masasi congregation in Elkimasek. Before his death, a member of the LCMC Kenya donated his land for a church building. A dozen or so adult men and women greeted us under a shade tree. The arid land sits on a volcanic plain where sheep and goats graze on scrub grass. The closest elementary school is 6 km away. Students occasionally encounter elephants and hyenas on their morning walk to class.

Western Kenya

God Miaha LCMC Kenya

There is a large concentration of LCMC congregations in Western Kenya. We drove seven hours from Nairobi to the town of Sondu. We passed through mountain forests, deserts, and huge fields of wheat and corn. We saw lush tea plantations and hills covered with cultivated farm plots. Some parts of Kenya are in the rain shadow and receive little or no rain throughout the year. Other areas are perpetually dripping with rain.

God Miaha is a beautiful chapel in the woods. Patrice Omolo recovered from a near-fatal illness in 2014. He vowed to finish constructing a church building for the congregation that his parents founded. Such thankful giving is evidence that gospel hope produces real fruits of faith.

Mr. Mzee donated the land for St. Peter’s LCMC Kenya

The members of Ramba Lutheran Church worship in a metal shack they constructed by themselves on rented land. It’s located next to a noisy indigenous Africa Christian congregation. Their whose members were banging on drums and metal bars the whole time we were there. But the Kenyan Lutherans didn’t seem to notice their next-door neighbors. They hope someday to buy land and build their own permanent structure.

One of the churches that WELS funds helped to build is St. Peter’s in Kindu town. The congregation began meeting under a shade tree. They started building on land donated by Mr. Mzee, who was in attendance along with a dozen or so of his relatives when we visited. WELS helped the congregation put a roof on their sanctuary, just in time before the rainy season begins.

Former Zambia Missionary Dan Sargent wrote a blog post that featured Nyang’un Lutheran Church. The congregation has 120 members, half of which are widows. Many men age 25-45 died in the AIDS/HIV epidemic, leaving their wives and families behind. But the WELS has not abandoned LCMC Kenya. Our visit proves that LCMC Kenya has fellowship with Lutherans outside of their country.

WELS funds helped complete the construction of a chapel for the members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in the village of Ponge. The owner of the land where they were intending to build their church refused to join the LCMC Kenya. The majority of the members left and began building on another piece of land donated by an older woman. Samson Mambo, one of my Greek students, serves as their evangelist.

Preaching in Luo

I miss the privilege of preaching to a congregation every week. I was overjoyed and grateful that the members of St. Peter’s LCMC invited me to present a message from God’s word at their Sunday worship service. LCMC Kenya treasurer Paul Mboya picked me up from my bungalow in his Honda Odyssey. It’s not a vehicle built for dirt roads. He wound around in a corkscrew pattern to avoid the worst parts of the route. We left the minivan safely parked a quarter of a mile away from the sanctuary.

Othoro LCMC Kenya

The congregation conducts its worship services in the Luo language, so the pastor translated my English sermon sentence by sentence. I spoke on the gospel lesson from John 6. Jesus told his followers they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to live forever. The text goes on to say that most of the people abandoned Jesus after hearing this. So many people hope that God will perform miracles and shower financial blessings on them. This is a false theology of glory. True hope is found on the way of the cross, with real suffering and a real reward at the end. Jesus will remain with us forever.

After the service, we passed by the LCMC Kenya congregation in Othoro. These people started meeting on a rented piece of land. Then the owner forced them off of it when they joined the LCMC Kenya. They have made a down payment on a plot of land. It sits in the middle of a cornfield, where they have erected a simple chapel. They want to build a permanent structure after they finish paying for the land.

Leaders’ Workshop

We met with local LCMC Kenya leaders for a workshop at Kadie Lutheran Church. I presented a Bible study on Biblical principles of stewardship. Missionary Howard Mohlke gave a presentation on Church and Ministry. LCMC Leader Rev. Mark Onunda summarized what we said in Swahili because many of the older attendees did not speak any English at all.

Richard Ombuyi serves Erandi LCMC Kenya

The leaders’ workshop was a perfect opportunity to share God’s Word digitally. We gave each attendee a microSD memory card with audio Bibles and the JESUS film in both Swahili and English. Most of the people had either a phone or a tablet with a memory slot. Some of the card slots were under the phone battery. Other phones had a tray that ejects when a metal pin is inserted into a hole. I improvised with a staple that I straightened out with my pocket tool.

Immediately after we installed the cards the room was filled with the sounds of the Bible and the JESUS film. Each card came with an 8 GB memory capacity, of which half was taken up with the prerecorded content. That allowed users to download other digital content that I had brought with me on a separate device. It’s a local wifi hub that serves as a digital library with 160 GB of Bible commentaries, movies, and music. WELS Multi-Language Productions made these gifts possible.

On the way back to Nairobi we stopped at Nyamarimba church. The building is a simple brick structure with mud daubed walls and iron sheet roofs. It is located on the property of one of the members. We also swung by Erandi, Rev. Mark Onunda’s home village. He started a congregation because the local Lutheran pastor wouldn’t let them use the church for his son’s funeral.

Nairobi

Mwingi LCMC Kenya future sanctuary (left) and current chapel (right)

We held a second leaders’ workshop in Nairobi. The attendees knew English so Rev. Onunda didn’t have to translate into Swahili. Their spiritual maturity about the opportunities and challenges of raising support for church work made an impression on me. They understand that stewardship is a matter of the heart, not technique.

Mwingi village is located about 3.5 hours east of Nairobi. It is a dry and dusty place where water is precious. WELS is helping the local congregation of 80 families complete a permanent structure. By themselves, they had laid the foundation and built up the wall about 3 feet off the ground.

I finished my visit to Kenya the same way I finished my first visit in 2019. I preached at the LCMC congregation in the town of Kitengela. A lot has happened since then. Three church leaders, including the pastor, went home to heaven. Because of COVID, the Kenyan government stopped churches from meeting for seven months. Because the congregation in Kitengela did not meet, they were in arrears in their rent payments. The landlord placed a padlock on their front door. After two months, the members came up with the money they owed. They hope to purchase a plot of land and put up their own building.

The members of the LCMC Kenya have great hope for their church body’s future. They have taken advantage of their own members’ resources. They also enjoy the assistance of their ministry partners in the WELS. The members of the LCMC Kenya are working hard to turn hope into reality.

Written by Rev. John Roebke, world missionary on the One Africa Team.

To view more photos from the trip to Africa, you can visit the Flickr site.

 

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A ripe mission field right next door

In Racine and Milwaukee, Wis., the school voucher program has opened many new and exciting opportunities to connect children and families to Means of Grace ministry. WELS Home Missions and the Southeast Wisconsin District Mission Board are helping in these efforts! Mount Lebanon Lutheran School in Milwaukee received funding from WELS Home Missions for a full-time School Pastor. A year later, Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine received funding for a full-time School Chaplain.

At Mount Lebanon Lutheran School in Milwaukee, Pastor Paul Krueger serves as the school outreach pastor. Pastor Krueger spearheads the efforts of the faculty and members of the congregation to reach families in the school. Similar work is taking place at Wisconsin Lutheran School where school Chaplain Mark Blauert leads efforts to connect children and families to Water of Life and First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Racine.

Mount Lebanon Lutheran School, Milwaukee, Wis.
“Our mission field is right next door across the parking lot in our school building; they are parents and grandparents in cars waiting to pick up their children from school,” says Pastor Krueger.

Over half of the school families at Mount Lebanon do not have a church home.

“We have children who are hearing everyday in classrooms about their Savior in devotions, Catechism classes, and in chapel. The children are excited and love to learn Bible stories and about their Savior! Mount Lebanon‘s congregation has its eyes on expanding this mission field to include the whole family – the moms and dads, aunts and uncles, the grandparents, and the siblings of our school children. Volunteers from church spend many hours in the school, church members plan outreach events, pray for, and adopt school families as they engage in great commission work. It is truly awesome to see the excitement for outreach ministry in the heart of Milwaukee.”

This excitement can be seen as members of the faculty and volunteers from the church come together for Bible study. After the study, they make calls to each family in the school. These conversations with parents of the school build relationships, lead to prayer, and include an invitation to church, small group Bible studies, and church outreach events. Outreach is truly a church and school effort.

Pastor Nate Bourman, lead pastor at Mount Lebanon, highlights this church and school joint effort, “Mount Lebanon church and school are really one community – a community with many parts but with one faith, one ministry, and really one family.”

Wisconsin Lutheran School, Racine, Wis.
In Racine, Chaplain Blauert focuses on building bridges from the school to the church. “We are always looking for an excuse to invite families of the school to church. Whether it is before or after school, at sporting events, or at parent teacher conferences, we are seeking to connect school families with our church and its members.”

Wisconsin Lutheran School offers Christian parenting Bible classes as a bridge to Bible information classes, baptism, and church membership. The brief Bible study takes place in the morning and allows parents to drop off their children and stay to study and be in God’s Word. “There is great excitement in seeing how the Holy Spirit works – parents and children are being baptized,” says Chaplain Blauert. With one-third of school families not having a church home, the mission field is ripe in Racine.

Where is the next ripe mission field?
The school voucher program has opened up new opportunities for outreach in Racine and Milwaukee. These unique gospel opportunities are why WELS Home Missions and the District Mission Board exist. Both boards seek to help churches and schools reach more people. If you see a ripe mission field, contact a member of your District Mission Board to explore a partnership in reaching more with the life-changing gospel!

“Every one of our Lutheran elementary schools is a ripe mission field that’s right next door,” comments Mission Board chairman, Pastor Michael Zarling. “Our Southeastern District Mission Board is excited to partner with churches and schools to develop a strategy to harvest these precious souls for Christ’s Kingdom.”

Written by Ryan Finkbeiner, principal at Mount Lebanon, in Milwaukee, Wis.

 

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Faces of Faith – Diosnel

Diosnel Castro Perez is from Curuguaty, a small town in rural Paraguay. He works as a security guard in a ceramic factory just outside of the capital, Asunción. Like many Paraguayans, he can speak Spanish, but his first language is Guaraní. In 2019, Diosnel was searching online to learn more about God. He tried four different Bible training programs, but he didn’t like that their teaching wasn’t based on the Bible. Then he found an Academia Cristo video on YouTube. He signed up for live classes in October 2019. Over the next year, Diosnel finished all 13 courses of the first level of the training program. At times, he was enrolled in three courses at once, “They taught in a way I could understand. It was like a light went on”.

Diosnel was also sharing what he was learning with others: family, friends, coworkers. It even got him in trouble: “My boss told me not to talk religion at work,” he said, “but that didn’t stop me.”

Now, Diosnel is receiving training to plant a church. “What I like about Academia Cristo is they don’t just teach you the Word. They teach you how to teach others.” He already has a group of about ten people that regularly study with him, but he wants it to grow. And he has more plans: “I want to be a missionary one day, to teach God’s Word in other countries.”

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Faces of Faith – Irina, Olga, and Alisa

Irina Yevpak was shocked. She was a young girl growing up in the Soviet Union when she first learned that people die. “Why? Surely science can cure old age and death!” Deep philosophical questions drove Irina through her high school and university years. She studied chemistry and even visited a local church. But she never found peace.

Irina married and had a daughter, Olga. Later, Irina got sick with cancer. The enemy she so dreaded stared her in the face. While standing in line at the clinic, Irina noticed our church’s invitation: “Come study the Bible!” She brought her questions, and God told her everything she wanted to know, and more! Meanwhile, Olga was getting ready for college. She remembers hearing, “You might have three university degrees, but if you’ve never studied the Bible, you’re not educated!” She boldly opened a Bible and began reading, but nothing made sense. Irina noticed Olga’s frustration. “Why not come with me? We can study together.” In December 2002, mother and daughter were both confirmed. Years passed. Olga married and had a daughter, Alisa. Today twelve-year-old Alisa declares, “I don’t even remember becoming a believer!” She has known Jesus her entire life.

The Yevpaks are the first three-generation family in our Russian Lutheran Church. What a blessing when young and old worship together! Irina no longer fears death. Olga treasures God’s mercy. Alisa loves her Savior. The Yevpaks have good news to share with others – including the next generation!

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Faces of Faith – Mike

When Mike first commented “Good morning!” in the Facebook comment section, none of us knew who he was. It was the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic when we were doing online-only worship. Somehow Mike had found us while scrolling through Facebook. He didn’t respond to any of my follow-up messages, but he did continue to log in to our services on a regular basis.

Nine months later, Mike finally sent me a Facebook message. It had been a hard year. His brother had died, his mom was sick, and Mike himself had just been diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. It was time to figure out his faith. The first time I met Mike in person, it was to give him a binder for Bible Basics class. I learned that he had a vague Mormon background, little church experience, and had never been baptized. Through Bible Basics class (taught online over Zoom), Mike had a great opportunity to grow in the grace and knowledge of his Savior Jesus.

The second time I met Mike in person, it was to baptize him—during a private ceremony at church. Just two days later he began chemotherapy treatments for his cancer. After his baptism, Mike sent me another Facebook message: “I really liked coming to the church building—I’m so glad we did the baptism there. I look forward to tuning in to tomorrow’s service online. I’m going to start the book you gave me right away. (“Prepared to Answer,” by Mark Paustian) There is just so much more I want to learn.”

Praise God for the gift of technology, the gift of baptism, and the way he brought it all together to give Mike a powerful dose of spiritual comfort at the time of life when he needed it most!

From Lucas Bitter, home missionary at Intown Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga.

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Faces of Faith – Ali

Ali was the imam at a mosque for a village in a Muslim nation. He chanted the Koran (the Muslim holy book) for the five daily calls to prayer over the mosque’s loudspeakers and conducted worship services. Two Muslim-background Christians came to him and shared the first verse of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Later they shared Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Ali said, “When I listened, I became excited. There is a person who forgives sins? Who is this? In the Koran I do not see a Savior.” In Jesus, Ali found rest for his soul.

Soon the people learned their imam had converted to Christianity. People became angry, and a mob of 300 came to the mosque to burn him alive. Before they arrived, he went behind the mosque and prayed with his face to the ground, “Jesus, if it is your will, save me. If it is not, I know you will take me to heaven.” Inexplicably, the mob changed their mind and allowed him to live. However, they cast him out of the village and took his property. Today Ali is a pastor studying with us in our Bible Institute. He loves the clear Biblical teaching WELS provides.

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Faces of Faith – Allen and Rosalind

An invitation to blueberry pancakes. That is all it took. A friendly gesture, the simplest thing, led my wife and I down a path to God that we never knew we would take.

I am the youngest of my family and the only son. My wife is the youngest of six. I am originally from Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and she is from Houston, Tex. Our backgrounds are remarkably diverse and vastly different at first appearance. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she was raised Baptist. Our paths were filled with many losses and obstacles, just as many Christians have experienced. So how did an invitation to blueberry pancakes change things? My wife met a genuinely nice man by the name of Jim Bruland. She invited him over for pancakes. During conversation he mentioned Cross of Christ, and she mentioned something about it to me. It was a small gesture, one that did not even come to fruition for an entire year. As an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, it was taboo to even go to another church. We searched for churches for many months after that conversation, but nothing materialized. One day the Holy Spirit motivated me to ask Mr. Bruland if we could go with him to church. The genuineness of the people and God’s grace culminated in our confirmation on my 52nd birthday on April 18, 2021.

From Allen Braun, new member at Cross of Christ in Liverpool, N.Y.

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Faces of Faith – Levi, Jennifer, and Cameron

Levi is a young, single dad living in urban Milwaukee who wanted nothing more than for his young son Cameron to get a good education. So, he enrolled Cameron in our church’s school confident his son would get not only a good education but a good Christian education. Levi also was convinced he wanted to become a member of our church, completed Bible information classes, and was preparing for membership. Then tragedy struck.

On January 27, 2013, Levi and Cameron were riding in a car with Levi’s best friend, Mark. There was an accident. Mark died, and Levi was left in a wheelchair. There were many pieces to pick up—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But God brought good out of this tragic situation. After the accident, Jennifer, a mutual friend of Levi and Mark, became caretaker for Levi and mom for Cameron.

The ensuing years were challenging for this young family. But God’s grace was persistent and there have been some amazing victories as well. Cameron graduated with honors in 2018 and is now attending Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis. In 2019, Levi once again took Bible information classes and became a member of our church. In August 2020, Levi and Jennifer were married (despite the pandemic). And just this year, Jennifer started Bible Information Class for membership in our church.  We all at Mt. Lebanon are truly thankful for all that God has done for this special family!

From Nate Bourman, home missionary at Mt. Lebanon in Milwaukee, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Greg

One Sunday after church Steve asked me, “Hey Pastor, will you visit Greg?” I said, “Sure! Who’s Greg?” Turns out, Steve had come from New York and had become a member of Greg’s Jiu Jitsu gym here in Texas. Over time Steve had talked to Greg about Jesus and his new church, Christ Alone. Greg was intrigued, but he had no background in Christianity. He had moved to Texas from Los Angeles and did not know his Savior.

So I went. I met Greg at his Jiu Jitsu gym on a cold February day in 2019. I didn’t even know what he looked like! We met at a local restaurant, and I got to know him and his family a little. I went back the next week and met him at that same restaurant. There I explained God’s law and gospel to him. At 45 years old, it was the first time he had ever heard it. He was blown away. Greg came to faith in Jesus that day. He was baptized later that year, and he recently became a member. I know who Greg is now. He’s not only a fellow believer, but a dear friend in Christ.

From Paul Seager, home missionary at Christ Alone in Keller, Tex.

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Faces of Faith – Bruce

Most people move to the South Carolina low country to slow down. They move to escape the snow and find the famed hospitality of the south. They move to escape the frantic work pace of the cities. They move to spend their days on the golf course or the water, as opposed to the desk.

But when Bruce moved here, he didn’t stop moving. When he moved from Wisconsin to South Carolina, he planned to retire within a few years. But, finding Bluffton ripe for mission work, he found a whole new role in helping plant a church. With the help of a mission-minded mother church (Risen Savior in Pooler, Ga.) and the Board for Home Missions, May River Lutheran Church was born.

From renovating a worship space, to canvassing new neighborhoods, to faithfully serving throughout a pandemic, members like Bruce have helped bring a young church through the pandemic in better shape than before.

From Erik Janke, home missionary at May River Lutheran Church in Bluffton, S.C.

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Faces of Faith – Christopher

“I was literally upside-down.” Christopher wasn’t exaggerating. He was talking about a time when he was driving to visit his girlfriend. The combination of slick roads, high speeds, and a sharp turn left him upside-down in a ditch.

Looking back on it now, he sees God’s hand in that pivotal moment. He sees a loving God bringing him even closer to the family of the girl who is now his wife. He sees a patient God using a life-threatening moment to teach him to re-prioritize what’s truly important in his life. He sees a gracious God directing all things—even a car on a slippery road—so that an undeserving sinner would be rescued from real spiritual danger. When I first met Christopher, he told me how thankful he was that God turned him upside-down.

Christopher joined our church family at Living Shepherd in Laramie, Wyo., a few months ago. And he still draws a direct line from being upside down in a ditch years ago to his joyful growth in faith now. He sees all of it as the work of his good and gracious God. There’s a lot more to Christopher’s story—he could probably write a long and fascinating book about his life. But the greatest chapter is the one yet to come: the eternal joy of heaven that he will experience, all because God turned him upside down!

From Adam Lambrecht, home missionary at Living Shepherd in Laramie, Wyo.

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Faces of Faith – Luke

By God’s grace, Luke was born into a Christian family in East Asia. His grandparents were Christian missionaries, and both his parents were involved in gospel ministry. Luke looks back at the church of his youth and says, “God blessed me so richly there!”

After college and four years of work, Luke came to the United States in 2009 and entered a seminary training program on the east coast. In 2011 he married Wenjing, a WELS Lutheran from Minnesota. They moved to North Carolina where Luke learned two things: the importance of sound doctrine and the need for faithful pastors for Chinese churches. Luke and Wenjing and their two children moved to the Des Moines, Iowa, area in 2016 and joined Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church. A year later Luke began studying with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Throughout his studies, Luke has continued to grow in his love of sound doctrine and gospel-centered ministry. And the family has grown to five.

At the beginning of 2021, Luke accepted a part-time call to serve in a WELS-affiliated organization that is equipping ministry leaders in East Asia. Luke is scheduled to graduate from the PSI program in May of 2022. Anticipating full-time ministry, Luke says, “I feel compelled to preach the gospel. God has prepared me for serving in his glorious church.”

From Bradley Wordell, Pastoral Studies Institute professor

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Faces of Faith – Belachew

I am Belachew Ensermu from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I believed in our Lord, Jesus Christ, as my Savior when I was in high school. After I graduated from the university with a degree in educational psychology, I joined the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekan Yesus (EECMY) to work in child and youth care ministry. I have worked in various levels in the church’s youth ministry for more than 20 years. Beside my work, I am serving my Lord in my congregation as an elder and preaching the gospel. I am married and have four children.

These days many go against the Holy Scripture, and that is why I was searching for confessional Biblical teaching. I found that the TELL method is the best way to understand the learn the work of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I was first introduced to TELL through Missionary John Hartmann on the One Africa Team, and I then participated with TELL live courses, which were taught by TELL Missionary Dan Laitinen and Pastor Nate Seiltz. The TELL courses are very helpful for Christian maturity and mission, and I highly recommend them to all Christians.

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Faces of Faith – Brother Liu

Jonathan Liu was once a blackbelt in Taekwondo and a master with the num-chuks. He was so good at it that he ran his own dojang (Taekwondo school) and taught nun chuck lessons to other dojang owners. Now his num-chuks collect dust in a corner, and he sold his dojang. Why? He has found a new passion (or rather it found him): the gospel. Just as Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” (Matthew 6:21) so young Jonathan left behind his future in Taekwondo to share with others the treasure he has in Christ. He is now a leader in a growing church and a full-time Asia Lutheran Seminary student. The East Asia Missions team has the privilege of serving over a dozen men like Jonathan. We praise our Lord for such an honor!

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Faces of Faith – Kue

In 2002, Kue heard from a villager that there was a God who was more powerful than the shaman and any other gods. She had so many questions and wanted to know more, but no one could really explain this God to her. She knew nothing about being saved by grace through faith in Jesus. A few years later, she married the son of a church leader in a village nearby. She was able to read the Bible in her own language for the first time, as owning a Bible was illegal in her village. She began to understand more, but she still had many questions about her faith and eternal salvation in Christ. All she understood was that doing good would please God. She knew she wasn’t perfect. She was frustrated, but she never gave up. She kept reading her Bible and praying to God daily.

In 2013, church leaders selected her to attend WELS training in Hanoi, Vietnam. They wanted her to bring back the message they had heard from other students: sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not through good deeds. This was very strange compared to what other pastors had said.

Today Kue is very strong in her faith and knows she is saved by God’s grace alone. The women from nearby villages seek her guidance in the Scriptures. Because of this she has been appointed to be a leader of the motherhood in her district. She and her husband have traveled to many villages to conduct training for the Hmong ladies in Northern Vietnam. Through her dedication, many people have been moved by the Holy Spirit to believe that Christ is their Lord and Savior. Kue said, “I thought I chose God, but instead he chose me. I am happier now that I know that. I ask God to give me the strength to serve him, my family, and my congregation faithfully.” She also asks the brothers and sisters in the WELS to keep her family in their prayers. “Thank you for bringing the true Christ to the people in Vietnam,” she added.

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Faces of Faith – Marietta

Marietta Chapman is the lead Kindergarten teacher at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School located on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. She grew up in Bylas, Ariz., and attended the East Fork Lutheran School her freshman and sophomore years of high school. She was planning to pursue a business degree in college, but God led her in a different direction. Throughout college she remembers returning home to help with her local Sunday school classes and vacation Bible school. At that time, although she didn’t know it, God had put a spark of joy in her heart to work with children. This led her to change her major to education and she was able to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Out of love for her community, she decided to move home and put her degree to use. After working 10 years in a public-school system, God opened a door for her to teach at Peridot-Our Savior’s. She says that she loves teaching children about God’s Word and is happy to be a part of making a positive impact in a place she’ll always consider home. Marietta considers herself blessed to be able to pursue her passion in her everyday life. Sometimes we don’t know what our passion is in life; but if we put it in God’s hands, he will guide us on the right path. Her story is a clear example of how being faithful to the Lord will give you a prosperous life.

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Faces of Faith – Julius

Civil unrest between the English-speaking regions and the French-speaking government in Cameroon has caused chaos the past four years. Many churches have closed as members have run from their homes and begun life in the forests, and COVID has added to the difficulties.

But opportunities always exist. A little over a year ago, Dr. Julius Nkwetta reached out to the WELS One Africa Team for training and mentoring. He has been studying Catechism lessons online with Missionary Dan Kroll. Dr. Nkwetta lives and works inside the French-speaking region to where many English speakers have fled. He has started an English-speaking congregation, but he has also opened a French-speaking church where he is helped by a dictionary and translators to share the gospel. In addition to starting small groups in nearby villages, he is also working on plans to teach students from the local high school and university on the topic of morality, with the aim of sharing Christ as the Savior from sin.

Other local churches are surprised with his success. They hand out rice and soap to bring people into their churches. They asked Dr. Nkwetta what he is using to convince the people. He tells them, “The answer is simply that the people are converted by the true Word of God.”

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Faces of Faith – Tsamzo

Tsamzo Lubwe has served as a maintenance worker at Mwalaulomwe clinic in Malawi since 2011. He was born into a Christian family in 1980 in a village near Lilongwe, Malawi. He attended an African church until 1994 when he started attending the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) when it opened a church in Mwalaulomwe.

As an elder of his church, he often provides a Bible lesson, prayer, and blessing before clinic opens. What a joy it is to hear God’s praises before the clinic opens each day! His daily duties include organizing patients into clinic space and weighing patients. He ensures visitors are socially distanced and wearing masks, and he cleans our clinic building and church areas used for malaria testing each clinic day to ensure these spaces are organized, clean, and ready for next week’s clinic. He is the adventurous one who climbs on and off the ambulance to load and unload all the supplies each clinic day. When asked what gives him joy in his work, he stated that people can come for medical services at a low cost compared to other private clinics. He enjoys that he can let his Christian faith to show in his work, and that people see Christ’s love in action through the care received at clinic. His favorite Bible passage is Hebrews 13:6, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

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Mission Journey to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”- Matthew 28:19-20

The eight teens that attended the Mission Journey trip

This passage tells us as believers what we are to do. This summer, eight teens and two adults from Immanuel in Gibbon, Minn., and St. John in Fairfax, Minn., did just that. Our Mission Journeys team volunteered to go door to door in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to help The Vine Lutheran Church, a home mission congregation that started in 2016.

The teens’ goal was to spread the gospel and see if people were aware of The Vine. They received two hours of training and then were sent out door to door with “a free pasta dinner” from The Vine.

One lady was so grateful for the large bag of groceries that tears fell down her face. With three children surrounding her, she told our team that she recently had a miscarriage and was struggling emotionally. They came at the perfect time. Another lady told a team that their family was struggling financially. She was so touched by the gesture, that she asked to be invited to participate the next time they delivered free bags of food.

One team came across a lady who expressed great concern about her brother who has pancreatic cancer. She asked the teen group if they could pray for him. Two teens immediately accepted and led a prayer at the door on behalf of her brother. Amazing!

Dave Malnes from Praise and Proclaim Ministries training the teens

An elderly woman greeted another team at the door. Once she found out that the team was from a church, she excused herself to find her boyfriend inside. A man came out and quickly sat in a lawn chair to tell a captivating story of how he was in a bad motorcycle accident and almost died. They were very interested in coming to The Vine and appreciated the personal invitation.

At the last house of the day, a team knocked on a door that looked a bit suspicious. Since they had an adult with them, they decided to go and knock on the door. A man answered the door, and it turned out to be a very positive conversation. It was apparent that he had a religious background but had probably not stepped inside a church for a long time. He expressed great interest in The Vine and gave the team his contact information. Things are not always as they seem!

Whitewater rafting

In addition to going door-to-door, the teens got to enjoy some of the things that northern Idaho has to offer. They hiked in the evenings, swam at Hayden Lake, ate “googys” (ice cream sundaes big enough to feed five people), visited Silverwood Amusement park, whitewater rafted in Montana on the way home, and saw bison in Yellowstone.

The teens visited over 500 houses and had 75 opportunities to share the gospel with the people they met. All around it was a great trip for our teens to grow in faith, share God’s Word, and see a different part of the United States.

Written by Anna Endorf, Mission Journeys team chaperone

 

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Growing God’s children

I blame Adam and Eve.

Among all the problems that sprung up when they just HAD to listen to Satan instead of God were thorns, literally. The ground was cursed. The thorns grow with no help from anyone, and they can make life miserable for everyone.

Here in Arizona, we are home to approximately 1.2 million different varieties of thorns. The worst are what my children and I not-so-affectionately call “goat heads.” When we go through months without rain, you can forget about them as you stare at the hard, bare ground. But at the slightest hint of rain, they come back with a vengeance. They are tricky, luring you in with little yellow and purple flowers, begging you to let them grow for a day. But they’re hiding a terrible secret. Those little flowers can seemingly overnight multiply by a thousand, filling every square inch of ground with devilish balls of thorns that look like a goat’s head. They go through bicycle tires, shoes, and pants, and then they sneak in your house to feed upon rich targets of bare feet. Worst of all, they’re nearly impossible to kill. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)

From growing plants to growing children

On the other hand, trying to grow something good here requires a great deal of the sweat God promised. Hours and hours can be devoted to preparing poor soil, shading plants from the burning sun, and watering every single day.

It’s just as hard to grow God’s children. Our Native American Mission Field is unique in that we operate schools. August marked the beginning of another school year where our teachers are going to battle and sweat and nurture and grow the children entrusted to their care. Covid restrictions make it harder than ever, and not being able to have in-person education over the last year has put many of our children far behind. The goat heads of frustration, anger, depression, social awkwardness, and lack of confidence spring up without any effort on our part. They stab and hurt and threaten to choke the joy and learning out of the lives of our students. Our teachers work tirelessly to weed, water, fertilize, and nurture those growing children with God’s Word, love, patience, and perseverance.

In a moment of levity before the start of the school year, staff members at one of our schools were all given capes so they could do the work of superheroes to help their children this year.

Their strength will come from the Lord! Pray for our teachers, parents, and students as they begin another year sharing Jesus!

Written by Pastor Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator for WELS Native American mission field

 

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Beyond the dinosaur phase

Many little children go through a dinosaur phase. Even before they can read, they have that ability to pronounce and identify dinosaurs that are skipped over by many of us adults. For fun try these: Huehuecanauhtlus, Thililua, Protoceratops, and T-Rex. The last two were thrown in to help build your confidence in the reading of dinosaur names.

This past May I had the opportunity to visit with a few people in Laramie, Wyoming. Part of the visit included a tour of the University of Wyoming. On that campus there is a building that houses “Big Al”, an Allosaurus fossil. We didn’t get to see it, but it had me thinking of the children I’ve met who have gone through those dinosaur phases. Most of them have all grown out of it. They have pursued other interests. Yet it’s still cool that the Geological Museum on that campus has the bones of this much easier to pronounce dinosaur.

More came to mind that day as we walked around campus. I was with the pastor from Living Shepherd Lutheran Church, one of Living Shepherd’s members who works at the University of Wyoming (and a graduate), and another one of our WELS Mission Counselors. It was the week before our celebration of Pentecost. If you happen to read a few chapters ahead you hear that the early church went through some phases where the Lord saw to it that his Word continued to spread (Acts 6:7 and 12:24 to name a few).

With the phases connected to the congregation in Laramie and its campus ministry, the Word of the Lord continues to spread too. As it spreads, more phases are happening. For that congregation they found a new space to worship. Previously, they only had access to a building one day a week (Sundays) and now they found a location where they have 24/7 access. Pastor Adam Lambrecht has been able to build upon the work done prior to his arrival about two years ago with both the congregation and with the campus ministry connected to it. There are members connected to the university that can help with some ins and outs for this location of higher learning.

As there is excitement for the congregation, there is some excitement as they serve and reach out to college students. The college years are another phase. For most, when it comes to looking at fossils like “Big Al”, marveling at our Lord God as the Creator of all things is not what is taught. For many it’s a time to marvel at science, reason, and the “greatness” of human beings. Because of that, we realize that during that phase of life, Laramie’s mission field includes the college campus. As the Lord God puts people in various places at set times and set locations, he’s provided a congregation and campus ministry named Living Shepherd to reach out to those who do not know their Savior.

We, as a synod get to support this location through our prayers and offerings. Living Shepherd is one of our home mission locations with a campus ministry connected to it. Please continue to pray for Pastor Lambrecht and his congregation there in Laramie.

Written by Rev. Dan Lindner, Campus Ministry Mission Counselor

Visit wels.net/college to learn more about WELS Campus Ministry and sign up!

 

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With great joy!

“Come in, come in! I want to show you something!”

His pride and joy
Pastor Willard Chipembere emphatically invited us into the parsonage at Chisomo, Thyolo. He was excited. He couldn’t wait to show us something in the house. Because I had been there before, I had an inkling of what it was going to be. Walking down the hallway, we came to a room from which came a lot of chirping. Chickens! Not just one or two but 100! Pastor Chipembere picked up one tiny chick in his hand and presented it to us with great joy. He then continued to explain more about his chicken business, and with a wave of his hand he showed us all that were under his roof. Mind you, these were not just in an outbuilding, they were in his home. His face shone. Eyes glimmered. Voice, exuberant. He was filled with great joy.

I have known about his passion for chickens for years now. Though I didn’t get a picture of him that day with the little chick in his hand, I did some years ago with ones that were much bigger and more mature than chicks at the time.

After showing us his pride and joy, we then hit the road and were on our way to a four-day professional development class at the base of Mount Mulanje in the Southern Region of Malawi.

The Word and his work
Five of us got together to work on learning about and designing engaging Bible studies. Along with the other participants, Pastor Chipembere designed and presented his draft Bible study to our pastors’ group.

As eager and joyful as Pastor Chipembere had been to tell us about his chickens, he was even more excited to eventually present his newly crafted Bible study to the church councilmen of his three congregations. He had something especially important and relevant to share. And he took it seriously. In fact, at the class, he wrote on paper what was already inscribed on his heart: “It is my responsibility as a pastor to teach Bible studies!”

He took his work and responsibility seriously but also joyfully. As he was working on designing his Bible study, he dug into 1 Timothy 3:1-10 and Ezekiel 11:1-12. He wanted to highlight the godly qualities and lifestyle of a leader in the church.

Pastor Chipembere presenting his Bible study

Pastor Chipembere looked forward to reviewing our course material, reading deeper, and reworking his draft Bible study; he especially was excited to finally present it to the congregation elders. In his hands was not a chicken to eat—but a Bible study to digest and share. After the class was over, we drove to Pastor Chipembere’s house and dropped him off. No doubt his family—and his feathered friends—were excited to see him.

The news and the questions
Several days later, on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, the news was spreading as quickly as it came:

Pastor Chipembere was called home to heaven. On that day he had taken his motorcycle for a ride. He was suddenly killed in a terrible traffic accident. A head-on collision.

The funeral was the next day (June 10, 2021). This time when I saw him, I was actually viewing him, as were the other funeral attendees. This time his face was lifeless. Eyes, closed. Voice silenced. But the church? Deafening with the sounds of grief. I can only imagine the questions swirling around in the pained hearts of the family, friends, congregation members, and community:

Was this God’s will? (Did God will him to die this way?)
Why him? (He was a pastor, ordained in 2006, who devoted his life to the full-time gospel ministry!)
Why now? (He was only 51 years old and was supporting a family.)

Chisomo LCCA Church in Thyolo

I don’t know all the questions the family and others were asking, but don’t we too wonder how to answer all the questions that get asked by people who have endured similar grief and pain? How does one offer comfort?  The same way Pastor Chipembere would have: with the Scriptures and the sure promises of God.

JESUS CHRIST: The answer and the comfort
Though at times in the church and at the outside funeral gatherings there were sounds of mourning and pain, there were also words and hymns of hope and promises and Good News:

Jesus was the Answer and the Comfort!

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57). “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).

God’s pride and joy
During the funeral it hit me: While we were grieving the loss of an LCCA pastor and while the family was mourning the loss of a husband/father, heaven was celebrating a homecoming! Not a loss but a gain! I can just imagine Jesus enthusiastically ushering Willard Chipembere into his House with a wave of his scarred hand: “Come in! Come in! I want to show you something . . .” Or better yet, “someone.” Here’s Paul. And here’s Elijah. Meet Lydia. And, oh, let me introduce you to James and John. And here’s . . . “well, here’s . . . my Father!”

Pastor Chipembere on Mount Mulanje on June 3, 2021

Or maybe with every newcomer to heaven Jesus will begin with his Father! “To him who is able to . . . present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24)! Stunning. Jesus presenting us before the Father. “Father, here’s Willard Chipembere!” Look at Jesus. His face shining. Eyes glimmering. Voice exuberant! Jesus filled with great joy presenting yet another one of his blood-redeemed brothers. This time . . . Willard Chipembere.

Presented without fault. (Sins paid for by Jesus)
Presented with great joy. (What an introduction!)
Presented by God himself who knows what it’s like to die a terrible death. And did so willingly, taking our own faults upon himself.

What Jesus achingly uttered about Jerusalem years ago he still desires today:
“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). One day it will be your turn and your time to finally reach home. To join the ultimate gathering. A longing fulfilled. Ushered in by Jesus. And as Jude verse 24 assures, Jesus will . . . present you . . . with great joy.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, world missionary on the WELS One Africa Team

 

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What to do when they’re knocking at your door

Nearly every day, somewhere in the world, a pastor from another denomination contacts a WELS pastor. Usually the pastors from other denominations are looking for some kind of collaboration. You might think that WELS pastors patiently explain to them what the Scriptures say about unity in doctrine before collaboration in fellowship—and they do! But some WELS pastors have added an invitation to their explanation. They have asked, “Would you like more instruction?” When the pastors of other denominations have answered, “yes,” great blessings have resulted.

The WELS Joint Mission Council (JMC) has examined the cases where the Lord has blessed contacts like this and have noticed a pattern. In the most successful cases, the WELS pastor enrolls the other pastor in his WELS Bible Information Class. That way the man finds out how everything we teach comes from the Bible. He is often exposed to clear law and gospel for the first time, with Jesus at the center of everything we teach in the power of the Word and sacraments. The Holy Spirit does his work, and the pastor from the other denomination begins to teach the truths of Scripture to his own flock. At a certain point, that pastor usually becomes a member of a WELS congregation.

A PSI training visit

At that point, the Joint Mission Council recommends that the WELS pastor enlist the aid of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. A member of the PSI Team interviews the pastor who was formerly a member of another denomination and determines the best course of studies so that the man can become a fully trained WELS pastor. The PSI team member also arranges appropriate contact with local district officials, Home Mission counselors, or members of World Mission Teams, depending on the background of the new man and his flock. Sometimes the PSI team member helps the WELS pastor see that the relationship should develop in a different way than planned. With their many experiences and contacts, the PSI Team members can be very helpful in planning the best use of our resources.

Because many of the pastors who contact us have networks inside and outside of the United States, the Joint Mission Council takes great interest in new opportunities for outreach that they provide. Because the world is a complicated place, the patterns often diverge here, but one similarity remains: love for the truths of Scripture, as taught by Lutherans, leads men from many diverse places to bring people to Jesus.

Written by Rev. Paul Prange, Joint Mission Council chairman

 

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While we were waiting

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7a

Missionaries are doers. We thrive on rolling up the proverbial sleeves and getting stuff done. We like to be “out there” in the field with people. We want to be active and interactive. But when COVID hit last year, borders closed, and travel ceased. Asia was closed for business, and that is still largely the case today. As the usual list of accomplishments (sometimes measured in flights logged, people met, or classes taught) was stripped away, it chipped away at our doer identities. We found ourselves sometimes pacing pensively and pondering, “What do we do now? What will we do if we can’t do mission work?” We found out doers don’t do waiting well.

Driven by necessity and lack of options (sadly, not always driven by expectant faith), we were reduced to waiting – waiting on God. I don’t mean reduced in a diminutive way, but in the way that Psalm 37 reduces all our objects of hope, help, confidence, comfort, and salvation to only the Lord. The drum beat of Psalm 37 is those “he will. . . ” phrases. He will grant. . . He will act. . . He does. We wait. We know this is true. But it still feels frustrating when we really can’t do what we want.

The missed flights, cancelled workshops, and tweaking plans (again) has sometimes been excruciating. But while we were waiting, we have seen God be faithful and active. He has answered prayers. He has helped a time of trouble. Let me tell you some of the things he has done for Asia.

  • While we were waiting, God built a strong, supportive, growing relationships between missionaries, partners old and new, an amazingly supportive Administrative Committee, and national church leaders, even though the Asia One Team has not yet met together in person (not even once). 15 months ago, we wondered how we would grow together as a team. I can point to Zoom and a few other tools, but I prefer to point to God answering daily prayers and doing it while we happened to be on Zoom.
  • While we were waiting, God did open some borders. Our friendly counselor to South Asia and national contact, Haris, have been able to travel to a predominantly Muslim country in South Asia. Asia One Team missionary family Guy and Linda Marquardt made it to Thailand, and newest missionary Mark Zondag and his family are on the way too.
  • While the Wiesenauer family sometimes bemoaned missing a furlough this year, being “stuck” in Thailand built strong local relationships and opened new doors. God worked through everyone else in all the places they were “stuck” too. Just ask any missionary about the doors God opened in their locations.
  • The Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam grew by 12,000 members and planted new churches. In Indonesia, our sister church forged stronger relationships, built a seminary, and strengthened worker training programs. In India, the brothers there plowed their way through challenge after challenge – growing together in the process. In a predominantly Hindu nation in South Asia, our national church partner got through travel restrictions to deliver relief items, gain the trust of local officials, and open new doors for the gospel. Go tell it on the mountain happened literally in South Asia, one mountain after another. And in one of the most restrictive parts of Asia, two dozen members were recently confirmed.

A Confirmation class in Asia

  • While we were waiting, the Holy Spirit was faithful to strengthen and work through national Christians – sometimes with and often without WELS missionaries. This is a poignant reminder that God delights in working in all his children.

I could go on. But the point. . . While we were waiting, the Lord did stuff. He was our stronghold in a troubling time. He helped. He acted. He is still on the move. God also continues to prepare good works for us to do and blesses the work of our hands, but how comforting and joyful it is to know that our identity and success is in his hands, no matter what happens to our plans.

Waiting on the Lord is hardly an endorsement for laziness or fatalism. Indeed, none of us ran out of work to do. But someday when we are in a post-covid world, borders are open, and missionaries are flying all over the world again, I hope we will not forget what we have learned. Waiting on the Lord is never a last resort or the thing we do when nothing else works. It is the first and best resort of missionaries and God’s children in any walk of life in every circumstance. It is based on the enduring promise that God will be faithful. We only need to behold the cross of Christ and the empty tomb to be reassured that this is true.

Written by Stephen Wiesenauer, world missionary on the Asia One Team.

 

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God’s work across the globe

Things are slowly starting to get back to normal. There are less restrictions on social gatherings. There are more opportunities to return to usual activities. This is also true in our world mission fields. In June, Missionary Andrew Johnston got to spend ten days meeting face-to-face with believers throughout central Mexico. The goal of this trip was to encourage Academia Cristo students who are currently gathering groups of people around God’s Word. Check out the timeline below to see what Missionary Johnston did during his trip.

Bible study group with Javier (second from left)

Saturday, June 12. After arriving in Mexico City in the early afternoon, I journeyed to the far southern edge of Mexico City to visit Javier. Javier is a furniture salesman who gathers four different groups of people to study God’s Word. After meeting one group at his home, I was asked to lead a Bible study. This group has already finished an Academia Cristo course called “The Four Concepts.” This course provides an overview of sin, grace, faith, and works.

Sunday, June 13. I traveled to a factory in the northeastern edge of Mexico City where Artemio, an Academia Cristo student and now confirmed Lutheran, gathers a group of about eighty people. I was asked to preach and participate in the confirmation of nine members. In the afternoon, I joined Javier at Ricardo’s house where I got to meet Ricardo’s family and friends. Ricardo owns a small pharmacy. He and his wife had questions about the validity of their baptisms (they were baptized as infants in Catholic churches). We took the opportunity to study baptism as a group and reaffirmed their baptisms by repeating the promises of God. Afterwards, we returned to Javier’s house where we met with another one of his groups who are studying online.

Monday, June 14. Meeting early at the bus station,and I took the five-hour bus ride to Zacapoaxtla, Puebla, a small city in the mountains. At the bus station in Zacapoaxla we were met by Pastor Samuel. He drove us to Huitzitlan, a small town about two hours from Zacapoaxtla. It turns out that Samuel is also a taxi driver. At a church with a big Luther seal outside, Artemio and I met with Samuel and church president Pedro, and we heard their story. Samuel’s father-in-law had been the pastor. When he died, Samuel was named pastor, but had received very little training of any kind. Samuel was interested to hear about Academia Cristo and wants to give it a try. After being invited to eat at Samuel’s house and meeting his wife Rebeka, we headed back to Zacapoaxtla. On the way, we stopped in Huahuastla to visit a man named Floriberto, the pastor of the Lutheran church in that village. Floriberto seemed interested in Lutheran training with Academia Cristo.

Tuesday, June 15. Artemio and I spent the morning with Pablo Tamanis, the pastor at the Lutheran church in Zacapoaxtla. Pablo and his wife kindly received us in their house and made us breakfast. Saying good-bye to Pablo, Artemio and I retraced our steps back to Mexico City having a good conversation on the way.

Arturo, Maricruz, with their daughter, Romina, holding her baptism certificate

Wednesday, June 16. After using some free time in the morning for two online meetings, I visited Arturo (vice principal of a school) and his wife Maricruz (a teacher). We talked late into the night, working through several doctrinal questions. When the discussion of baptism came up, they shared that their 13-year-old daughter Romina hadn’t been baptized. They asked what would stop us from baptizing her. I almost felt like Philip with the Ethiopian Eunuch. . . So, we studied baptism with Romina and baptized her that night. We are praying that, God-willing, we will recognize doctrinal agreement with them in September and talk about steps to gather a group.

Thursday, June 17. Today, I headed to visit Javier again. We walked through a goal setting process that we use with advanced students to help them grow in their faith and start a Lutheran group. I also officially presented Javier with a doctrinal agreement certificate.

Friday, June 18. I boarded a bus to San Martin Texmeluchan, Puebla, in the morning. There I met Gabino Sanchez Sanchez (yes, that is a double Sanchez). We enjoyed a couple hours of conversation over coffee and parted ways agreeing that we would spend more time together during my next visit. On this visit, we plan to work through our doctrinal agreement process.

Marli holding her doctrinal certificate

Saturday, June 19. On Saturday, we got to gather several Academia Cristo students together. Pastor Carl Leyer was also present to help with these meetings. It was very encouraging to get to meet with students from different backgrounds and with different stories all in one day. In the evening, Pastor Leyer and I traveled to Cuernavaca to meet with Marli, her husband Luiz, Edna, and Maricela (and their driver Roberto). Marli is a very active Academia Cristo student. We were graciously received by Luiz and Marli in their home.

Sunday, June 20. After breakfast, we went to work on setting goals with Marli. She is working on sharing Jesus with lots of people. She has two children’s groups, she meets with groups of police to share the Word, and other things. Marli is now committed to starting a women’s group.

Monday, June 21. We had an early appointment at a police station near Cuernavaca. The department psychologist has asked Marli to share the Gospel. We met with a group of 16 people, including at-risk kids, moms, and police officers. We led a Bible study on the story of Zacchaeus, It was a great opportunity to share the Gospel with a very engaged audience. After a meal at one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to, Carl and I prepared to fly out the next day.

What do a pharmacy owner from Mexico City, a taxicab driver in a rural mountain village of Huitzilan, and a woman from Cuernavaca have in common? They, along with many others throughout Mexico and Latin America, are receiving training through Academia Cristo to gather a group and teach that group the truths of God’s Word. They are being equipped to share the gospel. They are being encouraged to share the peace that only comes from Jesus. We thank God for these students, and we thank God for the opportunity to visit them.

Written by Matt Behmer, world missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador.

 

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