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Home Missions approves new mission starts

On April 13, the Board for Home Missions approved support for seven new mission congregations as well as support to enhance mission-minded ministry at seven other congregations.

“Being a part of the process that determines which new starts and enhancements to support is challenging but rewarding,” says Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn, chairman of the Board for Home Missions. “Our Home Missions Executive Committee takes a thorough look at each request to prayerfully determine which requests give us the best opportunity to reach more souls with the saving gospel of Jesus. We also try to determine which requests are ready and which ones might need a few more months of preparation. That is the challenging part. The rewarding part of the process is when we leave our meeting and know we’ve been blessed to start 14 new ministries that give us ways to spread God’s life-giving Word.”

Reno, Nevada

The ministries receiving financial support for a new mission include:

  • Reno, Nev.—Two area congregations are partnering to start this congregation in the Northern Valleys area of greater Reno. On March 25, the first worship service was held; 63 people attended.
  • Phoenix, Ariz.—Crosswalk, Phoenix, is opening a second site to reach out into downtown Phoenix.
  • Joplin, Mo.—A strong core of WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod members from the two nearest churches are helping support this mission.
  • Brandon, S.D.—Near Sioux Falls, this new congregation includes core members from two WELS churches and an Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregation.
  • Milwaukee, Wis.—Grace in downtown Milwaukee, one of WELS’ original congregations, is establishing a new location in the area known as the Third Ward.

Two new multi-site starts are being subsidized by their original congregations. Home Missions will provide assistance through its district mission boards, mission counselors, and synodical support staff but not provide direct funding. These include:

  • Hobart, Wis.—Mount Olive, Suamico, Wis., is starting a second site in Hobart. The congregation is calling a second pastor to begin this new ministry.
  • Horicon, Wis.—Members of St. John’s, Juneau, Wis., see an opportunity to reach out in nearby Horicon, where 90 members of St. John’s live. Saturday worship services are scheduled to begin in Horicon in June.

Home Missions is also financially supporting mission-minded enhancements to these existing congregations:

  • Crown of Life, Corona, Calif.;
  • Faith, Anchorage, Alaska;
  • Grace, Seattle, Wash.;
  • Ascension, Harrisburg, Penn.;
  • Shepherd of the Hills, Knoxville, Tenn.;
  • Trinity, Waukesha, Wis.; and
  • Epiphany and First, Racine, Wis.

“It is our prayer that through these new starts and enhancements more souls will be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ and be brought to faith in Jesus as their Savior from sin,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions.

For more information on WELS Missions, visit wels.net/missions.

Cameroon mission update

Cameroon Missionary Jeff Heitsch and his wife, Stephanie, will be leaving Cameroon and be temporarily relocated to the United States due to internal political unrest in the country. They arrived in Cameroon in October 2017.

Conflict between the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Cameroon began to intensify about the time of the Heitsches’ arrival, and the security situation has deteriorated significantly since then. By mutual decision of the Heitsches and the WELS World Mission Board, the Heitsches will remain in the United States for the time being.

Missionary Dan Kroll and his wife, Karen, who also serve in Cameroon, were already planning on being back in the United States on furlough until mid-July.

The decision when and if to have a missionary return to Cameroon will be determined as the security and safety situation is monitored.

“It’s always a difficult decision to remove missionaries from their field, but it is also important that we keep them safe as well as pray for our brothers and sisters in Cameroon who live in the midst of the strife. We have faith that the Holy Spirit will continue to bless the gospel-sharing work of the national church body, and if it is his will, that one day we will, once again, be able to serve this mission field in person,” says Mr. Sean Young, director of Missions Operations.

The Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC) serves more than 650 baptized members in 32 congregations and two preaching stations. Due to various reasons, the LCC has not trained any new pastors since 1999. With the Lord’s blessing, 13 students are now enrolled in pre-seminary studies. Both Kroll and Heitsch worked with the LCC to further develop this worker training program. Currently, the LCC is served by eight national pastors and 12 evangelists.

Exciting ministry opportunity in Vietnam

Since 2015, WELS has consistently been sending members of the Global Hmong Committee and the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) to train leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam in sound, Lutheran doctrine. While much needs to be done before fellowship can be declared with this church body, its leaders have expressed a desire to learn Lutheran doctrine and to become a confessional Lutheran church body. Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry coordinator, has been leading these efforts, making multiple training visits per year.

In the three years WELS has provided training, the Hmong Fellowship Church has grown from 65,000 to 100,000 members and formed 53 new churches. The message of free grace received from Jesus Christ has replaced their old law-based preaching and leadership, and their churches are expanding as a result. Church leadership has stabilized, and the communist government in Vietnam has noticed this positive change.

Thanks to the Lord’s ever-guiding hand and blessing, the Vietnamese government has invited WELS to build a theological training facility in the capital city of Hanoi. This is an amazing and unexpected opportunity for our synod. As the HFC looks to the future of their church body, they realize the importance of equipping the next generation of pastors with the truth of the gospel. WELS will continue to provide HFC leaders with theological instruction and pastoral training.

This opportunity for further gospel ministry is great, as WELS is currently the only protestant church with official governmental permission to work with the Hmong in Vietnam. Our Home and World Missions team, the Synodical Council, and the Conference of Presidents are working tirelessly to fully evaluate and explore this opportunity, in addition to securing the funds needed for land acquisition, construction costs, and initial operating costs of the training facility. Watch for additional updates about this effort in the coming weeks and months.

As this opportunity lies before us, you may want to support Hmong ministry in Vietnam with a gift that will help to purchase land and build a training center in Hanoi. You can also continue to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters across the globe as they learn more about the freedom that comes through God’s grace. Pray for continued blessings on the training that Rev. Lor and the PSI team are providing to the church leaders of the HFC.

You can donate online to support this effort. Select “Vietnam-Hmong Outreach” from the drop down menu.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

New World Mission start in South America

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

Rev. Nathan Schulte

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

One of the main contributing factors to the decision was the large number of Facebook users in Ecuador, more than 60,000, following Academia Cristo online. Academia Cristo is a WELS Spanish-language website with videos and audio Bible studies to reach out to non-Christians as well as to train Latin American church members how to share their faith.

A second contributing factor is that with a location in Ecuador, it puts the missionaries closer to other countries in South America where WELS can’t permanently locate a missionary for safety or political reasons, but where interest in the gospel message has been demonstrated through active use of the Academia Cristo website.

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

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

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

Rev. Phil and Kathryn Strackbein

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

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

Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions and check out Academia Cristo at academiacristo.com.

Growing opportunities in the Philippines

In February, Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team members, World Mission Seminary Professor Rev. Bradley Wordell and International Recruitment Director Rev. Jon Bare, joined Rev. Robb Raasch, the chairman of the Asia Pacific Rim Administrative Committee, on a trip to the Philippines. The purpose of the trip was to work with Rev. Alvien De Guzman of Law and Gospel Lutheran Church in Manilla on a plan for a pastoral training program.

A year ago, De Guzman didn’t see the potential of needing a pastoral training program for the near future. But just in the past few months, three men, who like De Guzman had left another church body for doctrinal reasons, contacted De Guzman, wondering if they might join his congregation. He discovered that all three had begun pastoral training in their original church but left when they became convinced by Scripture that they were not receiving the truth of God’s Word. Each of the men has a group in front of them ready to be led, but the men need pastoral training to be prepared to serve them.

That began a conversation with World Missions and the PSI team, leading to this visit. “It was a privilege to meet these three men and to hear their stories,” says Wordell. “Their patience and determination are inspiring. They have been waiting to see what the Lord’s plan is for them, and each of them has a strong desire to serve among Christ’s people.”

The training program will be specifically designed to meet the needs for pastoring churches in the Philippines. “Our goal is to provide the training that these men need in their own culture and context,” says Bare. “This visit allowed us to work with Pastor De Guzman to design the best program for this growing church in the Philippines.”

The courses will be offered in a variety of methods. De Guzman will teach some courses on the ground. Others will be conducted online or through intensive courses offered on short-term visits.

WELS first got involved with De Guzman in 2014, when De Guzman contacted WELS World Missions looking for help after he discovered WELS online. In early 2015, WELS determined that De Guzman was in doctrinal fellowship. His congregation is using videos and printed materials from Multi-Language Publications to reach out to the unchurched in its community.

Read more about the visit. Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions.

Celebrating WELS Missions

On Sunday, Jan. 28, St. John, Jefferson, Wis., celebrated WELS World Missions by hosting a church mission festival and corresponding school cultural fair.

Rev. Tim Dolan, chairman of the Native American Administrative Committee for WELS World Missions, preached two mission festival services and gave a presentation about Apache mission work during Bible class. Activities moved across the street to St. John’s elementary school after the second service, where a cultural fair then took place.

Principal Peter Lemke, who organized the fair, has a personal connection to WELS Missions: “When I was a young child my father accepted a call to teach at East Fork Lutheran High School, located on the Apache Indian Reservation, where we lived for seven years. I was also blessed to visit our missions in Malawi and Zambia when my parents served as missionaries there. Once you personally experience this work, you can’t help but come away with a better understanding of the need to continue mission work. It is truly a life changing experience.”

In an effort to include parents in the learning experience, each family worked together to create a display from one of the countries where WELS is currently conducting mission work or is in fellowship with a sister church body. “Passports” were handed out at the door to encourage everyone to visit other displays to receive a sticker for their books. The children sang songs in different languages, and each family brought a potluck dish specific to their country.

Kinsley, a first-grader at St. John’s, was excited to share about her world mission field. She noted, “I learned that missionaries in Mexico sometimes have to communicate through the Internet to share Jesus with other people. It was super fun to work on my project with my mom and dad!”

Megan, mom to a second-grader, was also impressed with the event. “This project was a great way to not only learn with my kids but open my eyes to all of the mission work our church body is actually doing.”

For an event guide to host a cultural fair along with your next mission festival, visit the WELS Missions Resource Center. To request a mission speaker for your event, visit wels.net/speaker-request. In addition to mission festivals and cultural fairs, mission speakers are also available for school assemblies, women’s and men’s conferences, and Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society rallies.

View photos from the event:

 

New counselor will help support mission outreach

In January, Rev. Matthew Vogt accepted the call to serve as a mission counselor. He is replacing Rev. Peter Kruschel, who is retiring after serving in that position for almost 10 years.

Vogt previously served as pastor at Water of Life, Las Vegas, Nev. He also was chairman of the Arizona-California Mission District.

“He’s going to bring a fresh perspective to the mission counselor role since he’s been serving as a mission pastor and dealing with cross-cultural ministries right in his own backyard,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions. “He will have that practical understanding as he works with others in the mission fields.”

Kruschel has been a fixture in Home Missions, not only serving as a mission counselor but also as a mission pastor in Florida and as the associate administrator of Home Missions from 1988–2000. A special service of thanksgiving for his years of ministry will be held at Beautiful Savior, Las Vegas, on Feb. 19.

“We in Home Missions appreciate the dedicated approach Peter displayed as a mission counselor,” says Free. “His gifts, organizational skills, ministry experience, and passion for the lost will be missed.”

Four mission counselors—one of whom consults with churches on Hispanic outreach opportunities—work with the Board for Home Missions and district mission boards to develop “big picture” strategies to reach more people in the U.S. and Canada. “They’re the voice of the lost—the people who are unchurched or who don’t have faith in Jesus Christ—in that they keep the focus on reaching more people with the saving gospel message,” says Free.

The mission counselors also stay on top of current cultural trends, help district mission boards explore new opportunities, provide training and counsel for new missionaries, and work with mission congregations.

Rev. John Dorn says the counselors have been “indispensable” in his work as chairman of the Northern Wisconsin District Mission Board. “Not only working with the counselors on the board level but also having the privilege of working with them in establishing a congregation, I would have been lost without them,” says Dorn, who serves as pastor at Living Water, Oshkosh, Wis. “The counselors share ideas that have worked and not worked in other churches. The mission counselors bring experience in working with the Board for Home Missions and a special expertise in church planting. No price tag can be given to the time the counselors save our boards and the congregations.”

Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions.

Celebrating 20 years of Hispanic outreach in Phoenix

On Nov. 25, Santo Tomas, Phoenix, Ariz., celebrated its 20th anniversary. This Spanish-speaking mission congregation averages four baptisms per month and has confirmed more than 18 adults and 13 youth this year. Each month, the congregation welcomes an average of 23 first-time visitors.

“Friendship evangelism is a key part of our growth as family ties and trust form an important bond,” says Rev. Tom Zimdars, one of Santo Tomas’s two pastors. “Most of our members enter the congregation via special celebrations like baptisms, weddings, and quinceañeras.”

Zimdars notes that as visitors encounter the gospel, “they receive the joy and peace of knowing that their sins are forgiven through faith in Christ, and this message continues to work in their lives as they grow in their faith and share their faith with their family and friends.”

Santo Tomas was formed in 1997 by St. Thomas, an English-speaking congregation that saw the growing Latino community and need for a Spanish-speaking ministry. Santo Tomas now has 169 communicants and 360 baptized members. In addition to Zimdars, the congregation has a second pastor, Rev. Frank Cossio, who was born in Cuba. WELS Home Missions and WELS Church Extension Fund help support this cross-cultural mission.

“We want to thank the Lord as he has richly blessed Santo Tomas during the past 20 years to reach countless souls with the precious gospel message of free and full salvation through faith in Jesus Christ,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions.

More than 220 people attended Santo Tomas’s anniversary celebration, which included a special bilingual worship service, a fellowship meal, and traditional Mexican music sung and performed by the congregation’s members.

Read more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions.

MLP continues to work in South Asia

The bag weighed almost as much he did.

But that didn’t stop a pastor from South Asia from hoisting the almost 100-pound bag of Multi-Language Publication booklets onto his back and walking for hours back to his hometown. What’s even more amazing is that in the past his church had been destroyed and he had been beaten and imprisoned for worshiping his Savior and sharing his faith with others.

“It’s really a privilege and a great honor to help [people like this],” says Rev. Nathan Seiltz, director of WELS Multi-Language Publications (MLP). “Printed publications are a wonderful tool for them to reach out and do some discipleship among the people there.”

Seiltz conducted his first field visit of the area in September. While there, he was able to help conduct a leadership workshop in which 75 men and women learned more about the prison epistles Philippians and Colossians, discussed the Lutheran Reformation, and went home with self-study booklets explaining Lutheran doctrine to distribute in their communities.

This field in South Asia wouldn’t exist if not for these MLP publications. “Multi-Language Publications is the parent of these fields. It was a seed-sowing ministry and they planted so many seeds the church grew,” says WELS’ field coordinator for South Asia. “It’s a tremendous tool for our church in outreach and in discipleship training.” The church body in this area currently has 42 congregations and 14 seminary students.

Seiltz and the field coordinator also visited several local congregations and met with our national contact to discuss future plans. One idea is to develop a radio station that would include programming to teach people about Jesus. MLP also will continue to provide printed materials like these self-study booklets and The Promise, a 16-page brochure that presents the basic biblical message from the fall into sin to life in heaven. “These are the tools that people are using to share their faith with other people,” says Seiltz. “That was really encouraging to hear.”

Seiltz visited South Asia after catastrophic flooding hit the region in August and September. While he didn’t visit any of the areas affected by the flooding, he says the leadership workshop was moved and delayed a day because the flooding delayed many of the workshop attendees who had to travel. WELS Christian Aid and Relief has granted almost $20,500 to provide flood relief in South Asia. Funds will be used to purchase and deliver supplies like mattresses, blankets, and mosquito netting to people in the affected areas. Our contact says providing this help gives the opportunity to show Christ’s love in action to the different communities.

Learn more about Multi-Language Publications, which has printed more than 2.9 million items in 47 languages, at wels.net/mlp. Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions.

 

 

Home Missions update

The WELS Board for Home Missions met for its fall meeting in September. Board members received updates from many of our home missions. Here are a few highlights.

  • The three new home missions that the board allocated funding for at its March meeting are now staffed by full-time home missionaries. Rev. Doug Van Sice and Rev. Eric Melso were assigned to serve Huntersville, S.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn., respectively, as they graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in May. Rev. Paul Zell, a current professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, recently accepted the call to serve the mission at Hendersonville, N.C.
  • Two home missions celebrated their opening worship services in September. The Way, Fredericksburg, Va., held its first official service on Sept. 10 at the local cinema, where the congregation is currently worshiping. Redemption, Watertown, N.Y., held its launch service on Sept. 17, in the new worship facility that the congregation purchased and renovated thanks to a loan and grant from WELS Church Extension Fund.
  • Grace Hmong Lutheran Church, Kansas City, Kan., dedicated its new church building on Aug. 27. Rev. Ger Lor, pastor at Grace, says, “This was a big opportunity to share the gospel to the Hmong community in the area through this event. Grace believes that if the gospel is preached to them, the Holy Spirit will work through the Word to change their hearts.”
  • Rev. Lucas Bitter was installed on Aug. 27 to serve WELS’ new mission in Atlanta, Ga. Seven WELS congregations are established in the suburbs of Atlanta. This new mission will serve those in the city. In August, core members of this mission staffed a booth at a summer festival and hosted college students from a variety of schools in the city for a back-to-school get-together. These outreach events resulted in approximately 100 people signing up to receive more information about the church and 40 people indicating an interest in Bible information class.

“Home Missions is grateful for the Congregation Mission Offerings that support all this gospel outreach as well as the support that our missions receive from other WELS ministries that partner with us,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions. “In addition, the 115 home missions that WELS supports receive guidance and encouragement from district mission boards and mission counselors.”

On Sept. 15, the WELS Board for Home Missions held a service of thanksgiving for its four mission counselors for their service in the pastoral ministry. Rev. Peter Kruschel, Rev. Edward Schuppe, Rev. Mark Birkholz, and Rev. Timothy Flunker offer support and missions expertise to congregations as they reach out in their communities.

Free notes, “Our mission counselors keep abreast of trends in North America and help keep Home Missions informed as to what might serve our church body. We’re thankful for their service.”

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/missions. While there, you can also subscribe to receive weekly Missions blogs in your e-mail inbox.

 

 

 

A Five Letter Word for Reaching Families?

B-17, I-50, M-7.

No, these are not kinds of airplanes.

Looking across rows and down columns for these letter and number combinations are all part of a game. But, this game does more than connect a line for a win, it leads to connections with families in the community.

The game?

Bingo. Spelled B–I–N–G–O.

B-29!
Another combination is called.

And, an even a more important call to share the saving gospel message is being heard by volunteers and members who help organize and coordinate Living Savior’s Bingo night.

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’” Mark 16:15.

Living Savior – like many other congregations – has spent time and effort on many outreach events. Some geared toward children, such as Christmas 4 Kids and Vacation Bible School, others aimed at adults, like Bible studies. Our congregation chose to also offer a new kind of event, an event for the entire family and for families from our community. Anyone, everyone is welcome!

Parents and children together? Entire families together outside of Sunday worship service?

Before the first Bingo event, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We had handed out hundreds of flyers two weeks prior during Blair’s Gateway to the West parade, but would we have any takers? I knew some of our member families would attend, but would anyone else?

From behind the scenes, an event like Bingo night might be considered pre-evangelism leading to evangelism. Pre-evangelism is simply meeting people, learning about them, and leveling obstacles that potentially stand in between good communication. The goal of pre-evangelism is to establish some sort of connection with another person, so that evangelism can happen. Evangelism, then, is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus as our Savior from sin. Evangelism happens when you show the real Jesus to an unbelieving person. Whether at your office, or with a neighbor at your annual block party, or with a new friend during Bingo night, Evangelism is sharing the good news of Christ!

The fact is that not all of our pre-evangelism attempts at Living Savior have been successful. Our Easter 4 Kids advertisements were something of a bust. Our city-wide Easter service postcard mailings had yielded no apparent outward fruits.

But, what’s better than a family playing Bingo?

This time the Lord blessed our efforts with visible, tangible opportunities to introduce ourselves to new people living in Blair! Within ten minutes of opening our doors we had to set up more tables to accommodate. We kicked off the evening with the first letter-number call.

No devotion
No presentation about our church.
Simply Bingo.

By nights end, we had set up all of our available tables. It was a full house with half the room filled by new visitors! Folks had fun. Members greeted new faces and enjoyed each other’s company. Near the end of the evening, I invited everyone to come again on Sunday for something even better.

Sunday worship.

We didn’t see any of these folks at worship – our timing is not always God’s timing – but, the warmth of Christ was shared on that special family Bingo night. Credibility and trust took root between member and stranger. The warmth of Christ was shared by the men, women and children of Living Savior as their lights shined brightly in love and joy. God-willing, as we continue to let our lights shine, those that visit may see our good deeds and glorify the Father in heaven together with us someday.

By: Rev. Daniel Johnston
Living Savior, Blair, Nebraska


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A growing Lutheran family

On Wednesday, the synod in convention had the joy of officially welcoming three Lutheran synods from around the world into our fellowship. All three synods were unanimously voted into fellowship with a standing ovation.

Representing the synods were Rev. Dr. Kebede Yigezu from the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE), Rev. Titus Tse from South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM) in Hong Kong, and two pastors from the East Asia Lutheran Synod.

After growing up in a Christian church in Ethiopia and having an opportunity to study at a Lutheran seminary in the U.S., Kebede knew he wanted to take the solid Bible-based doctrine back with him to Ethiopia. He founded the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia in 2012 and, at the same time, added a seminary, the Maor Theological College, so that he can teach other Christian pastors, in addition to Lutheran pastors, the pure Word of God. Today, the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia has nearly 400 members and has already seen graduates from its seminary.

Kebede says the declaration of fellowship is a historic moment for the LCE. “It is by God’s grace and we are very happy; it is meaningful for us because faithfulness to Scripture is a very important matter of life and death. Jesus says ‘If you hold to my teaching . . .’ So, faithfulness to what he says, what the Scriptures say from Genesis chapter 1 to the last chapter of Revelation, is very important. We are very happy because we know that WELS is faithful to the Scriptures and is a confessional Lutheran church.”

The East Asia Lutheran Synod was established in February 2017. It was formed from five Lutheran groups and has 280 baptized members. The synod is just getting started but is already looking ahead to how it can expand and grow as well as begin international mission work.

One of the pastors said, “It’s a numerous number of people who come to convention, and it’s a blessing to see there’s a huge church group at our back to support our church even though we are very far away and in a very different situation.”

Rev. Titus Tse from the South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission in Hong Kong attended the convention to participate in the declaration of fellowship on behalf of SALEM. Founded in 1977, SALEM has 10 congregations and six pastors. The synod’s history is tied closely to Asia Lutheran Seminary, the WELS ministerial training school located in Hong Kong.

Tse said, “We recognize that it’s important that we’re keeping the faith, and we can share with future generations the importance of keeping the faith because of this relationship with WELS, a church that shares our faith.”

To learn more about all of WELS’ sister synods around the world, visit celc.info.

 

 

God’s expanding kingdom

On Tuesday evening, the synod convention delegates had the privilege to listen to presentations from four WELS missionaries serving around the world, including Rev. Paul Nitz, Malawi; Rev. John Hartmann; Zambia; Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, Russia; and a missionary from East Asia.

Nitz is based in Malawi and is the coordinator of the newly formed One Africa team, which is working to coordinate mission efforts across the continent for more cohesive programs and worker training.

Nitz has seen the Lutheran Church of Central Africa grow and become increasingly independent in the two decades he’s been there. Now, with the One Africa team, the mission efforts there are being taken a step further. He says, “What gets me excited is that we’re going to do work better, improve together, we’re going to know more about what each other is doing in different fields, and we’re going to collaborate and cooperate a lot more.” He says that after years of WELS missionaries helping the national churches in Africa, the missionaries and the national churches have reached more of a consultancy stage.

Wolfgramm appreciated the opportunity to present the gospel work happening in Russia to the convention. “This is the body that called me to go out and preach God’s Word on behalf of WELS, kind of like how Paul went back to Antioch after his first missionary journey to report on what was going and the believers rejoiced. That’s what it felt like last night, to come back and share all the good things God is doing in Russia,” he says.

Wolfgramm says that when WELS started mission work in Russia 25 years ago, it was a planting effort. There was no Lutheran church in Russia. Today, there are four Russian national pastors and the missionary’s role has changed to be more of a partner with the Russian church.

A missionary from East Asia talked about the growing gospel work there. “It’s really important to have an opportunity like this to speak in person, because we can’t share a lot of information digitally or online. To have an opportunity to present our work to people who can go back and share it with their congregations is really important. The important thing to know about East Asia is all the progress that has been made there. We have a synod there; we have national pastors that have graduated from the seminary and are leading their churches.”

On Wednesday morning, World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer gave an overview of expanding opportunities to spread the gospel around the world. Since the last synod convention in 2015, WELS has made contact and been involved in some capacity with 14 new mission fields around the world. With these new fields, there are close to 50 world fields, ranging from places where WELS sends missionaries to locales with contacts from national churches to groups that are using the multitude of confessional Lutheran materials from Multi-Language Publications available.

Schlomer says, “What the Lord is doing around the world—the way he’s lining up some of these opportunities—is something I don’t think we’ve seen in our synod in a while, if ever. So it’s a real challenge for us to take a look around and see where God has placed us in the world, look at the resources he has given us, and see what we might be able to do to get the gospel to more people.”

While there are many exciting and new opportunities around the world, one of WELS’ most prominent mission fields is right here in the U.S. Chairman of the Board for Home Missions Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn says, “There’s a lot of really good mission work that’s happening right down the street in our neighborhoods and cities across America and in Canada where we can reach out with the gospel in an increasingly secular world. We’ve heard that in some of these neighborhoods, people just aren’t going to church anymore and they’re confused on what the truth is, so we can do a lot of mission work by starting new missions, expanding congregations to have a second site, and reaching people who don’t know Jesus so they can learn about salvation.”

To learn more about WELS Missions, visit wels.net/missions.

 

 

 

Starting something new in Williston, ND

The City of Williston–the Western Star of North Dakota–is located near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers near the site where Lewis and Clark reunited on their way back to St. Louis. Williston is the hub of a trade area which extends west 18 miles into Montana and north 60 miles into Canada.

Williston most recently has been known as being the center of a major oil boom going on in North Dakota. It was this “boom” that brought many people here looking for jobs. As workers and their families started coming in so did members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The members who have come are energetic and love their Lord. In an attempt to find a church home many of them traveled 93 miles to the west to join the members of Good Shepherd Ev. Lutheran Church in Wolf Point, MT.

As more and more members moved into Williston permanently the need for a church in Williston became more apparent. The Pastor in Terry, MT, being the closest WELS’ pastor (150 miles), was asked to come and serve the members in Williston two times per month. Since the minister in Terry serves three congregations in Montana, the group has been worshiping and meeting for Bible Class on Mondays in the evening.

Not to let those visits be the only contact with God’s Word these members also meet for Sunday worship in a conference room at the Microtel Hotel. Services are streamed online from Redeemer Lutheran in Mandan, ND. Right now, there are about 21 WELS’ members (8 family groups) being served by Pastor Hanneman in Williston.

Therefore, it is the need of a more regular pastoral presence: to care for our members, to offer a more regular worship schedule, and more consistent opportunities for outreach, this group sees the great need for calling a pastor and building a church in Williston by God’s grace.

Our group in Williston, Lamb of God Lutheran Church, has been trying to get help in calling a full-time pastor to serve and lead them in their mission to spread God’s Word. First, the mission board wants to develop the field by calling a semi-retired pastor to serve the area for six months, equipping the members, and collecting contacts.

As with all mission work, the work never goes as fast as one would like. We all would love another “Pentecost” experience where 3,000 members are added after one sermon. Instead, mission work is one soul at a time and often times progress is made after many failed attempts.

But, what a joy it is to be serving the Lord in this great work by making disciples of all nations. We have the great pleasure in being Christ’s ambassadors in everything we do in life for we are in a constant state of worship as everything we do, we do for the glory of God.

The Lord will bless this work for he is the one working through the word and sacraments to change hearts from hearts of stone to believing hearts of flesh. May it always be our joy to share God’s word in our individual mission fields. Thank you for your prayers and continued support.

By: Rev. Jacob Hanneman
Lamb of God, Williston, ND
Trinity, Salem and Good Shepherd, Wolf Point, MT 


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A Water Festival at Easter Time, Thailand

In Thailand the month of April is often considered to be the most unpleasant month of the year because as the impending summer heat mounts, the humidity levels rise, and the air becomes heavy with moisture.

April is also the month in which the Thai celebrate the traditional Thai New Year.  It is based upon the Buddhist calendar and the date of the Buddha’s birth.  In Thailand, the official calendar year is 2560, though 2017 is also used.

During the New Year observance known as “Songkran,” the Thai set aside three days to officially ring in the new year though the festival usually stretches out to a week. The actual new year date is tied to the lunar calendar, but for the past century, it has been fixed to April 13-15.  Throughout the country, most businesses, schools, and government offices are closed. People travel to their home towns and villages for large family gatherings (similar to our Thanksgiving traditions) and religious observances.

Many people visit the Buddhist temples during this time to make merit and seek forgiveness for their past sins.  Water is poured over the Buddha statues as an act of purification.  Food and offerings are given to the monks.  In the home, everything is cleaned and washed.  We might call it a thorough Spring cleaning.  Children pour water on the hands and over the shoulders of their elders as a sign of respect and a wish for good luck in the coming year.

Over time, the festival evolved into what has become a country wide water festival.  The hot, humid April days have no doubt contributed to its development.  People young and old gather on the streets with hoses, water blasters, buckets, and pails of water to douse anyone and everyone that passes by.  Those riding on motor scooters are often soaked to the bone before they arrive at their destination.  In the cities, pickup trucks patrol the streets filled with party revelers and garbage pails of water.  Anyone within reach as they pass by is likely to be doused with water.

It’s all done in fun and is an accepted (and expected) part of Songkran.  For many, it is a time to stay off the streets, not just to keep dry, but to avoid the long traffic jams that inevitably accompany the water festival.

It is also a time to reflect upon the deep seated history and beginnings of the festival.  Westerners and those who are not of the Buddhist faith may find it to be a fun-filled holiday, but underscoring the festivities are the sad tenants of work righteousness and merit-making that are carried out in an effort to appease the conscience, cover one’s sins, and seek good luck for the future.  For Christians, joy is found in the fact that Jesus has covered us with his merit and righteousness, granting us full and complete forgiveness of sins.  Luck does not play a part in our lives for we walk hand in hand with our Savior who guides us each step of the way on life’s path.

Pray for our work among the Thai people as we reach out with the gospel of Christ to bring hope to those whose lives are guided by superstition and the teachings of work righteousness.

By: Ken Pasch, Thailand


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Funding approved for new and enhanced ministries

In late March 2017, the Board for Home Missions approved funding for four new Home Mission starts and three ministry enhancements for existing congregations.

Every winter, the board reviews proposals for funding and, based on how much money is available, determines where these gifts to ministry can best serve the Lord’s church. The $554,000 of new project funding for fiscal year 2017–18 is possible through a portion of Congregation Mission Offerings, an endowment payout from the WELS Church Extension Fund, and gifts to the “Every Neighbor, Every Nation” mission campaign.

Shepherd of the Valley, Westminster, Colo., received funding to call a second pastor to start a second campus in the new growing community of Candelas. The multi-site concept, a growing model for congregations around the synod, allows a church to expand its ministry footprint but keep both sites under one financial budget and one leadership team.

Rev. Phil Kieselhorst, pastor at Shepherd of the Valley, says, “The second site campus pastor will focus on organizing and leading consistent outreach efforts, training and coordinating the core group, following up on prospects, teaching and preaching, and providing pastoral assistance to new members.” Current Shepherd of the Valley members already have been canvassing and reaching out to new residents for two years. The congregation is positioned to be one of the first neighborhood churches in this growing area.

At Mt. Lebanon, Milwaukee, Wis., new funding will help with calling a second pastor, allowing Rev. Aaron Bublitz, the congregation’s current pastor, to focus on the pastoral needs of Mt. Lebanon’s elementary school students and their families. The school is part of Milwaukee’s School Choice program, and many of the students come from unchurched families in the neighborhood. Since 2011, 128 people have been baptized through the school, including students and their family members.

“Up until now we have been trying to serve a congregation of 400 souls and a school of 220 (many of whom are unchurched) and, at the same time, aggressively reaching out to our neighborhood with one pastor and one part-time staff minister. The Lord has blessed us with a vibrant ministry and a ripe mission field, but it has been difficult to take advantage of all the opportunities God has placed before us because of resources,” says Bublitz. “This support from the Board for Home Missions will allow us to double our pastoral staff to share the means of grace and equip our congregation to serve, allowing us to reach more people with the life-saving and changing gospel.”

Three additional new mission starts will be funded in Hendersonville, N.C.; Huntersville, N.C.; and Chattanooga, Tenn. In multicultural ministry, Immanuel, Waukegan, Ill., will receive funds to assist with a growing Hispanic ministry. King of Kings, Little Rock, Ark., also received funding to call a full-time pastor.

“Home Missions is about reaching as many of our neighbors as possible with the gospel,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator for Home Missions. “This can be through starting new churches, expanding multicultural outreach, or reaching more families through enhancing existing ministries. This year, Home Missions has been blessed to be able to support different types of ministry work that all have the same goal—sharing God’s Word with our neighbors.”

To learn more about WELS mission work, visit wels.net/missions.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

Peace in Jesus, Hong Kong

When I was a pastor in the States, I often encouraged our members to go into all the world and make disciples of all peoples. God gave me the chance 33 years ago to go to Taiwan to be a missionary. Every day I learned the native language and culture. Every week I had a chance to share the good news with East Asian people. Every year I got to see how God loved the East Asian people and wanted them to believe in Jesus and receive eternal life.

Thirteen years ago, God called me to Hong Kong. There I was able to go into East Asia and start meeting even more people.  Through contacts made by American Christians who served as English teachers, we had a chance to meet together with East Asian people to study the Bible. Some were already Christians, but many were not. For some of them, it was the first time they had ever seen a Bible. Adults and children had the chance to get to know Jesus.

East Asian children are like all children. They like to run around. They like to play with friends. The children in this picture are blessed because their parents bring them to church. But most of their friends don’t know Jesus yet. We are making some Sunday school books in in their native language so they can hear and see Bible stories in a language they can understand.  We are training pastors and teachers who can teach them and their parents to know the Bible better. With your encouragement, prayers, and support we are able to share Jesus with them.

Do you see their fingers? Everyone in East Asia likes to pose for pictures like this. I don’t think they know what the “V” means. Maybe it’s “Peace.” I like to think of it as “V”ictory in Jesus.  Whatever it means, our mission is to help children and adults in East Asia know that Jesus has won peace with God for us. He’s the Savior of all the people in the world – wherever they live – whatever language they speak!

God be with you in the New Year!

By: A missionary in East Asia

 


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Registration open for 54th annual LWMS convention

The 54th annual convention of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) will be held June 22-25, 2017, in Orlando, Fla.

The convention kicks off Thursday evening with an opening worship service led by WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder. Friday and Saturday feature speakers from various WELS mission fields, including Rev. Daniel Sargent, who serves in Africa; Home Missions missionaries; WELS Home Missions Administrator Rev. Keith Free; and WELS World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer.

This year, the Thursday night opening worship service and the Friday and Saturday missionary presentations will be streamed live at livestream.com/wels.

In addition, attendees can choose to attend workshops about the LWMS kids c.a.r.e program, evangelism, and the multi-site congregation model.

For recreation, attendees can opt to visit the Holy Land Experience, a biblical-themed museum, or an airboat ride for Florida wildlife viewing.

The conference will conclude on Sunday with a closing worship service led by South Atlantic District President Rev. Charles Westra.

Registration information can be found at lwms.org. This year, mail-in and online registration is available. Early bird registration ends April 1 and is $190. After April 1, the convention fee is $210. There are special rates for students and children.

Visit lwms.org for complete convention information and registration.

 

 

 

Home mission connections lead to world mission opportunities

“The Lord is opening some pretty big doors around the world,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of Home Missions.

Why is the home mission administrator talking about world mission opportunities? Because the two areas are coming together in an exciting way. “When leaders in the late 1980s and 1990s began working with cross-cultural ministries, little did they know that what we would do in the United States would have impact and ramifications around the world,” says Free.

When men like Rev. Peter Bur, a South Sudanese refugee who settled in Omaha, Neb.; student Matthew Cephas, a Liberian in St. Paul, Minn.; and Rev. Bounkeo Lor, a Hmong pastor in Kansas City, Kan., hear and learn confessional Lutheran teachings, they want to share it—and not just with their neighbors next door. “What drives us so much overseas are Pastoral Studies Institute graduates who want to go back home,” says Prof. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI).

This fall, PSI team members, who work to train, mentor, and equip confessional Lutherans around the world, visited Africa and Asia to further explore new mission opportunities and how best to serve the people in these areas.

Kenya

Bur and Sorum have made multiple trips to Ethiopia and Kenya to train South Sudanese pastors and spiritual leaders who are serving South Sudanese refugees. “We are training trainers to train trainers,” says Sorum. In 2015, they distributed copies of Bur’s translation of a simplified version of the Small Catechism, complete with artwork by Rev. Terry Schultz, a member of the WELS Multi-Language Publications team.

This fall, Sorum, Bur, and Schultz spent three weeks in Nairobi, Kenya, furthering the training of men living in refugee camps in Kakuma, Kenya.

But are these men really taking what they learned to heart? As Sorum puts it, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

Or in the worn-out catechism.

On this trip, Sorum asked the group how they used the catechisms they received in 2015. James Machar, who leads a flourishing church in what Sorum calls “one of the most rugged spots to try to even survive let alone start a church,” said, “I handed out 150 certificates of completion to the people who completed every lesson in the catechism course.”

Then Sorum saw the catechism of Evangelist Michael, one of the men who had been trained by Machar. He had traveled three days to continue his training in Nairobi. His catechism was worn out.

“I asked him, ‘Do you have it memorized?’” says Sorum. “He said, ‘Almost.’”

Sorum continues, “These people are starving not only literally but also spiritually for a lack of resources. They come to us for materials and training and then they go home and do incredible things with them in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Liberia

Sorum also traveled to Liberia with Rev. Robert Wendland, a missionary in Malawi, to see what the opportunities were for ongoing training and for working with the Confessional Lutheran Church of Liberia. Connections had been made through PSI Bible Institute graduate Isaac David and Rev. Matthew Vogt of Las Vegas, Nev., and WELS pastors had already traveled to Liberia to start training congregational leaders.

“We talked to many congregations and met stunning leaders and committed men,” says Sorum. “In one village they said I was the first American to set foot in their church. It was one of the most intensely foreign feelings I ever had. But they are a warm and friendly people, who are anxious and eager to become more Lutheran.”

Vietnam

Jon Bare in Vietnam

In November, Rev. Jon Bare, international recruitment director, and Sorum traveled to Vietnam with Rev. Bounkeo Lor and Evangelist Vicar Hue Thao to meet with 60 leaders of the Hmong Christian Fellowship, a church body with 600 pastors and more than 70,000 members. These men were contacts made through Lor, who has been traveling to Vietnam for the past three years to lead similar workshops.

Besides conducting training classes in Hanoi, they traveled to several village churches in the mountains. Bare, who has visited Vietnam on vacation, says, “You look at it in a completely different way than just seeing it as a tourist. They want our training, and their lives have been changed by the gospel message of Jesus. It’s just a beautiful thing to be able to experience that.”

Sorum says the church has grown since the leaders have been teaching the law and gospel lessons they learned from Lor, adding 2,400 members and 40 churches in the last six months. “It was one of the most inspiring, uplifting trips I’ve ever made,” he says.

Says Free, “Who would have thought a step Home Missions took many years ago to reach more cultures in the U.S. would lead to the opportunities we have today? These blessings are just another encouragement that we need to remain faithful in sowing the seed and then watch in amazement as God blesses the sharing of the gospel where and when he wills.”

Learn more about these opportunities at wels.net/missions.

 

 

 

Conference highlights multi-site strategy

A recent conference highlighted a rising strategy for expanding mission work—multi-site ministry, in which a congregation carries out gospel ministry at more than one physical location.

“More and more congregations as they’re looking to find new places and reach more people with the gospel are considering a multi-site ministry as a viable option,” says Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn, chairman of the Board for Home Missions. “It allows them to establish a new spot and reach new communities that otherwise they wouldn’t think of doing.”

A growing number of WELS congregations are using this approach to expand their gospel outreach, and five of the eight new mission starts authorized by Home Missions in 2016 are multi-site ministries.

Divine Peace in Garland, Texas, was one of those congregations that received funding. Rev. John Hering, pastor at Divine Peace, says that three years ago the congregation noticed a community across the lake (about 20 minutes away) growing by 160 new families a month. Six families in the congregation already lived in that area. “We saw the opportunity,” says Hering. “We started dreaming and thinking, but we really didn’t know what it would look like.”

When the 180-member congregation applied for funding to call a second pastor, it was just learning about multi-site ministries. Gunnar Ledermann, a 2016 graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., was assigned to serve as Divine Peace’s second pastor and help establish its second site.

Right away Ledermann noticed the benefits of having one congregation with multiple sites, including built-in congregational leadership, structure, volunteers, and shared resources. “It allowed me to come in and not have to worry about these things because they were already taken care of,” he says. “It has freed me up to meet people . . . and allowed both of us to do more evangelism work at both locations because we are one congregation.”

Yet Divine Peace still had questions. “We had a ministry plan in place and we have been laying groundwork, but it was the multi-site conference that helped us connect all the dots,” says Hering. Ten people from that congregation attended the WELS Multi-Site Conference, held Nov. 14–16 at Grace, a multi-site congregation with four locations in Benson, Sahuarita, Tucson, and Vail, Arizona. The conference was made possible by an Antioch II grant.

Conference workshop topics focused on key multi-site components including communication, staffing, volunteers, budget and finances, merging two or more congregations, and organizational structure. Attendees also had a chance to hear firsthand from others at all different stages in multi-site ministry. “We didn’t want information to come from a book,” says Rev. Daron Lindemann, chairman of the conference planning committee and pastor at Holy Word, a multi-site church in Austin and Pflugerville, Texas. “[Attendees] had a chance to rub elbows with about 50 churches represented by 144 people and hear the stories of multi-site churches.”

The conference also gave attendees time to process what they’ve learned and start making plans about how to incorporate it into their ministries. “We wanted to help people clarify and crystallize what [multi-site ministry] involves so that they can go into it thoughtfully,” says Lindemann.

Hering says the conference answered his congregation’s questions and offered different suggestions of ways to minister to multiple locations as one congregation. “We’re trying to remain appropriately flexible in both locations while at the same time make use of the gifts people have on both campuses,” says Hering. “It helps the congregation stay united in their vision, seeing that they are doing outreach as a whole rather than dividing up between locations.”

Though Divine Peace has been having worship services in Rockwall since March, it held its grand opening for the community Dec. 4.

According to Uhlhorn, while establishing multi-site ministries is popular right now, it is not replacing the traditional new starts authorized by Home Missions. He does, however, see advantages. “It’s a new mission, but it’s also got some real live partners that are working every day together to spread the gospel in new places.”

For more information about multi-site ministry, contact conference planning committee members, Rev. Nathan Strutz, pastorstrutz@rlcverona.com, or Rev. Peter Kruschel, peter.kruschel@wels.net. Learn more about home mission opportunities at wels.net/missions.

 

 

 

Graduation at Asia Lutheran Seminary

Six men from East Asia were among 27 students who received a degree or certificate Oct. 30 from Asia Lutheran Seminary (ALS), Hong Kong, at the school’s seventh graduation since its establishment in 2005.

According to Dr. Steven Witte, ALS president, this is the first ALS graduation that includes pastors who do not live in Hong Kong. “These six students planted eight groups and five local churches during their student years,” he says. “Now they are no longer full-time workers and full-time students—just-full time workers. So things should pick up in terms of planting additional groups in East Asia.”

Ten men—including the six men from East Asia—received Master of Divinity degrees (which means that they are fully trained to serve as pastors); eight received Bachelor of Theology degrees. Others received degrees in Christian Studies as well as certificates for Greek and Hebrew.

Witte says ALS graduates serve in various ways. Some are full-time workers in the nine established congregations in South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), our sister synod in Hong Kong; others are starting groups that will eventually turn into local congregations. Many are laypeople who are looking for a deeper understanding of confessional Lutheranism as they serve in leadership roles in their local congregations.

Special guests at the graduation included Rev. Larry Schlomer, Board for World Missions administrator, as well as the members of the East Asia Administrative Committee. Dr. John Lawrenz, who was instrumental in establishing ALS, and Rev. Karl Gurgel, who served as a long-time visiting professor, also attended.

WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder traveled to Asia Lutheran Seminary the week before graduation to visit with the students and staff and meet with SALEM leaders. “It meant a lot for the students to see President Schroeder at ALS,” says Witte. “It helped them know that WELS values ALS and the work they are doing as students—and especially the work they are doing in the kingdom. We tell the students that there are many in America who know about them, pray for them, and support them, but seeing President Schroeder really helped put weight to those words.”

Schroeder says he was greatly encouraged by the graduation of fully-trained pastors from East Asia and by the work ALS is doing to train future workers. “It is especially encouraging for me to see the work that is being done through the faithful and generous support of WELS members, who through their gifts are taking the gospel to places they will never visit and to people they will never meet until they gather with them around the throne of the Lamb.”

Currently 53 students are attending Asia Lutheran Seminary, most part time or for single subjects. Another 11 full-time and 24 part-time students are taking courses through a satellite seminary in East Asia. ALS also works closely with Multi-Language Publications to provide theological courses to equip current and future translators of Christian literature. It has also developed an online course in Chinese called “Bible Background” that has reached more than 20,000 people in East Asia. Plans are in place for future online courses.

Learn more about WELS mission work at wels.net/missions.

 

 

 

 

Redefining home

“How can I help you?”

“Thanks for visiting; feel free to show yourself out.”

To Americans, the above phrases are part of polite, everyday dialogue. To WELS missionaries, who have spent years, sometimes decades, in their mission field, these phrases can be not only foreign, but rude.

Rude? In Zambia, according to retired missionary Rev. Stephen Lawrenz and his wife, Lori, who spent nearly 30 years in Africa, “How can I help you?” implies you’re being inconvenienced and is a major insult.

“You can show yourself out.” For former missionary Rev. Brad Wordell and his wife, Andrea, who spent 17 years in Japan with five children, this social practice is much too casual. After a year back in the U.S., they still prefer to bow to their guests when they leave, per Japanese customs.

WELS missionaries are sent around the world and asked to acclimate and integrate themselves into a foreign culture. They learn the language, customs, culture, social practices—they truly become part of the country as they work to share the gospel.

In August, a group of former WELS missionaries, some retired and some returning to the U.S. for new calls, met at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, Waukesha, Wis., for a two-day “repatriation retreat.”

Administrator for World Missions Rev. Larry Schlomer, who has been through this process more than once in different phases of his life, says, “The retreat is a recognition that people, once they live overseas for an extended period of time, really change in their worldview. When they come back to the United States, they’re actually not coming back to their home country, because they know their home country from 7, 10, 20 years ago. Things will have changed drastically in that time. What they expect is what they left however long ago.”

Seemingly routine things like going to a grocery store and trying to decipher what products are a good value, ordering at a fast food restaurant, and navigating retirement benefits can be frustrating for returning missionary families. On top of day-to-day tasks that are now foreign, they have left people, friends, a home, and a ministry that they loved.

“You get to where you don’t know how to do things in the States anymore, and you feel like an outsider. Nobody is really like you, and people don’t understand you,” says Andrea Wordell.

For Rev. Adam Gawel and his wife, Sherri, the roles are reversing. Adam met Sherri while serving in East Asia, and after more than seven years of living and starting a family in East Asia, the Gawels and their three children moved to Chicago after Adam accepted a new call. This time, it is Sherri moving to a foreign country.

Adam has noticed how the ministry work is different. “Being a foreigner in East Asia, it was very easy to talk to people. They’re very willing to engage with you in conversation, even religious conversation. But here in the U.S., people are a little more hesitant to talk about religion and maybe more suspicious if you approach them.”

The Wordells have also noticed there is fervor in non-Christian countries to spread the gospel that isn’t as strong in the U.S. where Christianity is still the dominant religion.

When the Lawrenzes left for Africa 30 years ago with two small children and one on the way, they treated the experience like an adventure. Stephen says, “Now I look at America like a foreign country, and I have to figure it out too.” They say they know to put their trust in God as they face each new chapter.

Stephen returns with a worldview only someone who has shared his family’s experiences can have. He says, “People throughout the world do not all think the same way. They do not always have the same way of looking at things. And I’m not talking about the differences between sin and righteousness. I’m talking just different ways that they handle life and how they observe things.” He says that while it’s only natural for people, from any country, to view the world through their own cultural experiences, there isn’t always a right or wrong way to view or handle daily life.

Schlomer says, “The retreat is to get several people who have gone through this experience together so they learn from each other and realize there are some common themes they will be facing.”

Two speakers—one a former child of a missionary (also known as a “third culture kid”) who has training in counseling and the other a counselor from Christian Family Solutions—came to offer counseling, insight, and expertise to the former missionaries and their wives.

Brad Wordell says, “We’re very thankful for what happened here over the last couple of days. They did a nice job of setting up the retreat.”

 

 

 

Forward in Christ produces bonus mission issue

Forward in Christ, the synod’s official publication, has created a special bonus issue highlighting WELS Missions under the theme “Every neighbor, every nation—WELS Missions and you.”

“This special issue shares the stories of how the Holy Spirit is still adding to the church, just as he did at the beginning,” says Rev. John Braun, executive editor of Forward in Christ. “I hope these pages will bring you joy and encouragement.”

The issue focuses entirely on new mission opportunities at home and abroad. “More than 200,000 people are growing in their faith and understanding through the efforts of WELS World Missions. No human plan could have foreseen the incredible ways God has used us in his kingdom,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator for WELS World Missions. “And I know we are not done. Opportunities that were hard to imagine a decade ago are a growing cry for help before us.”

Articles feature topics like worker training, cross-cultural outreach, online resources, publications, and campus ministry, besides introducing you to some of the people WELS Missions are reaching with the message of salvation. The issue also includes a pullout map showing Home and World Mission locations.

“Through your gifts, WELS is undergirding almost 80 home missions with financial support,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator for WELS Home Missions. “So many active ministry partners are aiding mission congregations to share the one thing needful—the precious Word of Truth. Thank you, Lord, for these blessings.”

Most articles from the issue can be found at wels.net/missions along with blogs, videos, and downloadable maps. You can also request a poster-size version of the map insert.

Regular subscribers to Forward in Christ will receive the bonus issue automatically. If you are not a subscriber but would like to receive a free copy/copies of the issue for yourself or your congregation, contact Northwestern Publishing House at 1-800-662-6093, ext. 5613; nphperiodicals@nph.wels.net. Or order online at nph.net/fic.

 

 

Moments with Missionaries: Castries, St. Lucia

CASTRIES, ST. LUCIA

Thomas C. Spiegelberg II

As pastors, we feel confident that we have the one thing needful at our disposal—the Word of God. It will not return to the Lord empty but will carry out the purpose for which he has sent it.

Maybe what we are most ill-prepared for is the particular context to which God has called us—a new culture. Most home missionaries don’t have to learn a new language, but we sometimes need to empty ourselves of what we know and enjoy so we can share Jesus with a different culture. Sometimes we push back like Jonah. More often we swim in a mixture of the unknown, the intimidating, and the exciting world that we call home missions.

My calling is to an island that in and of itself is a unique place. The Denver Broncos is a household name in only one household—mine. Beef is a luxury. People here dance—and it is not the chicken dance. I have as much rhythm as a jellyfish. Every day I wake up and convince myself that I know nothing but Christ crucified and this is my calling to share.

Bringing the gospel to others comes at a personal cost—giving up your own familiar culture to understand and bridge the gap to what is unfamiliar. My challenge is the families whose circumstances and lives are different. Eighty-three percent of St. Lucian children born in 2010 were born into a single-family home. This speaks volumes on the family dynamic.

Ricky lives up the street from Trinity Lutheran Church. He lives in a small house made of two-by-fours and plywood. His family makes less than $5,000 a year.

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Ricky (pictured in the green hat), Castries, St. Lucia

Ricky is like most 12-year-old boys. He loves sports, especially soccer. He hates school and has fallen behind. The after-school programs at Trinity provide the educational help his family can’t afford elsewhere. He has few male role models, except for one of Trinity’s pastors, Bramdeo Ramgolam, who has a way of connecting with kids like Ricky. Ricky is nominally Catholic, which means he was baptized and goes to Christmas Eve Mass.

Typical to St. Lucia, he has a one-in-five chance of graduating high school with passing marks. He is back and forth between his mother’s house and his father’s house. His mother’s current boyfriend has been accused of molesting Ricky’s older sister. One afternoon, Ricky hid in church to avoid the domestic violence in his house. Such conflict is the rule rather than the exception.

Statistically speaking, Ricky will be unemployed until at least 24. He will not have enough academic background to hold a middle-class job. He will be related to someone who is murdered. He will know what a church is but not who Jesus is. He will father children but struggle at being a father.

That’s according to statistics.

We have a greater power than culture or statistics: Christ crucified and him alone.

What does a day in the life of a home missionary look like? Simply put, it means emptying yourself of everything you know except Christ crucified. It means figuring out how to bring the gospel to a kid like Ricky.

My job is personally challenging. I feel equipped with the Word but grossly inadequate in personal traits. My job is exciting, exotic, frustrating, challenging, and sad on any given day.

But my calling is filled with joy: “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1).

My calling in Christ is confident: “The righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).

I love being a home missionary.


Tom Spiegelberg serves as a home missionary at Trinity, Castries, St. Lucia.

 

MISSION STORIES

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

ST. LUCIA

Learn more about WELS mission work in St. Lucia.

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Author: Thomas C. Spiegelberg II
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Expanded Efforts to Produce Christ-Centered Materials: The crown jewel of World Missions

THE CROWN JEWEL OF WORLD MISSIONS

Adam M. Goede

“I like to call Multi-Language Publications the crown jewel of World Missions and also one of the best kept secrets,” says Phil Koelpin, former chairman of the Board for World Missions.

Multi-Language Publications (MLP) produces confessional Christian literature and other mass media in different languages for the purpose of mission work. Its history goes back to 1975 when the synod began producing Spanish materials for work in Latin America. MLP was started in 1996 with the vision of working in many languages worldwide.

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In years past, MLP reached out to Spanish-speaking people through the Spanish Correspondence Program, in which Spanish self-study books were distributed in places like Colombia, South America.

God’s hand has been evident in the expansion of MLP’s efforts. In 2002, two countries hostile to Christianity, reached out to WELS for help within months of each other. Working with these contacts, MLP distributed biblical literature that has reached thousands of people. “We virtually established fields without ever having personnel there,” says Koelpin. “That was pretty significant, especially at a time with declining resources.”

Other steps forward have included utilizing the popularity of the Internet in Latin America to offer resources, training, and worship through a website called Academia Cristo and calling regional coordinators for Spanish and Asian publications, which provides the benefit of working more closely with target audiences.

Currently MLP has 700 publications in 47 different languages. It has printed more than 2.9 million items. Its goal is to reach 100 million people with the gospel in the next ten years.

Future efforts will expand on what has worked well, like providing more digital materials through the successful Academia Cristo model. Nathan Seiltz, MLP director, says, “It is great to see how much success it has had. We want to duplicate the idea in other cultures.”

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Now MLP has moved from sending physical books to developing online video courses on the Academia Cristo website.

“Overall, this is an economical way to do missions because there is no missionary on the ground there,” he says. “It also encourages the nationals to take ownership in the mission and figure out how to spread the gospel where they are.” He hopes that online connections lead to relationships with potential workers.

National workers are also helping MLP develop a new frontier in their publications—worship materials. “Church planting is what triggered the idea,” says Seiltz. “Worship resources are part of the gathering of the group around the Word and sacraments.” MLP’s focus is developing music and hymns for different people groups. “It’s going to match their culture a lot better,” says Seiltz. “They can have something that appeals to them, applies to them.”

Koelpin summarizes how God has richly blessed MLP: “The Lord has just kept opening doors and blessed everything we have done, so the work keeps multiplying.” He just hopes that WELS can keep up with God’s pace. “My biggest concern is that we need more resources if we’re going to get done all the challenges that God has put before us. We’re only limited by our resources.”


Adam Goede, supervisor for the Ministry of Christian Giving, is a member at St. John, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

MISSION STORIES

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

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Author: Adam M. Goede
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us