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Christmas outreach in the Philippines

In a predominantly Roman Catholic country like the Philippines, is there a “better time” for a community gospel outreach? By “better time,” I mean that time of the year when people are generally more receptive to gospel conversations and church invitations. While Filipinos are generally receptive to gospel conversations, we find that a “better time” to do community gospel outreach is the Christmas season. How did we make use of this opportunity?

Christmas Day worship at Law and Gospel Lutheran Church

One of the Filipino Roman Catholic traditions associated with the Christmas season is holding a nine-day “Simbang Gabi” (evening mass) which begins on December 16 and ends on Christmas Eve. These evening masses (some conduct them on early dawn) are one of the few times when some nominal Roman Catholics would be in attendance. Since most of our current prospects are Roman Catholics (at least by association) we found it a golden opportunity to make use of this tradition to share with them the true meaning and purpose of Christ’s birth. For the very first time since our mission congregation’s inception, we held our own nine-day Simbang Gabi or “evening services.” A few evangelical churches in the country have also been holding their own Simbang Gabi, but only for selected nights–we did it for nine straight nights!

Edmar’s baptism

One of the incorrect thoughts Filipino Roman Catholics attribute to Simbang Gabi is that some form of “novena” needs to be completed so that their personal petitions would be granted. That is to say, their attendance in these nine-day evening masses are works that they must do in order to get something from God. What a contradiction of the Bible’s message that we cannot offer anything to God in exchange of anything! Millions of souls in our country are living with the yoke of the law still on their shoulders. These people need to know the real meaning and purpose of the tradition they have been religiously observing. They need to understand what St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

I would say the highlight of our observance of the Christmas season was bringing four young souls to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism at our Christmas Day worship. These four young souls are children of our active prospects in what is known here as Villareal area, an area which is not very close to our base in de Jesus Compound. Nine evening services plus one morning service (Christmas Day) equals ten straight days of preaching! It was physically exhausting, but spiritually refreshing. I wouldn’t mind doing it again next Christmas season. After all, the baby who was born on the first Christmas Day came in order “to seek and to save that which was lost”.

Written by Alvien de Guzman, Pastor at Law & Gospel Lutheran Church in the Philippines

To learn more about mission work in the Philippines, visit wels.net/philippines.

 

 

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Spanish Pastors Conference meets in Puerto Rico

The 8th gathering of the Spanish Pastors Conference met in Guayama, Puerto Rico, for four days in January. Fifteen men (plus two wives) gathered for study, worship and fellowship. We tackled Christian Stewardship, focusing on the Biblical truths and the cultural realities that exist. Discussion was lively–and everyone commented that is was a good study. Beside the study, we heard a report of the work of the Latin America missions team and Academia Cristo along with a report from the Board for Home Mission’s Hispanic Outreach Consultant.

God’s power was displayed by the many earthquakes that occurred while we were on the island – several were 5.7 and higher! God’s grace was equally displayed as no damage occurred where we were staying. All the members of the local congregation reported nothing more than frayed nerves. Many of us awoke on Tuesday morning to the second of four large tremors. All of us experienced the last large quake on Wednesday as we traveled to the second largest city on the island, Ponce, to view local culture and take in local cuisine.

Even though the power was out for almost 24 hours (all of Tuesday), we still enjoyed the opening worship, singing everything loudly in A Capella fashion. Cell phones batteries were drained to the last remaining bar of power as news was relayed to family members that everyone was not only okay but also enjoying the quiet night, staring at the stars near the equator with no light pollution!

As the conference drew to a close, someone asked how many of the attendees had worked in Puerto Rico. Five of the 15 men raised their hands! We give thanks to God that this mission has been a vital part not only of sharing God’s Word on the island, but also of preparing men who are sharing the same message in the United States. A big thanks to the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico who hosted the conference!

The conference meets every other year (on the even years), and it has been determined that our 2022 conference will be held in Tucson, Ariz. We ask our gracious God to continue to bless the efforts of these men and the many others who are sharing the gospel with the lost in Spanish and English.

Written by Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant for the WELS Board for Home Missions

 

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Reaching souls for Jesus in West Texas

In the vast region of the high plains of West Texas lies great promise for the gospel to reach many new souls. Amarillo, Texas, is a growing city of over 200,000 people. Two hours to the south is Lubbock, Texas, an even faster growing city with a bustling 300,000 people. Lubbock is home to the only full-time WELS congregation, Shepherd of the Plains, within a five hour radius. Our ministry area in West Texas is as vast as the beautiful sunsets rest on the horizon.

Due to the far reaches of Shepherd of the Plains, many people from long distances have contacted me to find out if Shepherd of the Plains is the closest WELS church to them. When looking at the membership list, nearly 20% of our members live two hours away in several different directions. It was over five years ago when Shepherd of the Plains had it’s first contacts in Amarillo. Since then, strong relationships have formed and we have now grown to five families. This all without a resident pastor in Amarillo.

Currently our group in Amarillo has a worship service once a month. Because of the distance, we worship at 2:30 to allow my family and I to make the two hour trip after the morning service and Bible study finish in Lubbock. At each of our worship services in Amarillo, we set up worship in a large shop; where we house a makeshift altar, set up twenty chairs, have a digital piano, and have full projection for worship. It was just a year ago when we worshiped in a living room with couches and some folding chairs, until one of the families purchased a new home with the large shop area in mind to be able to use as our worship space.

Since Shepherd of the Plains also has a full-service livestream of every worship service (and now Bible study), the Amarillo group has begun to schedule once a month gatherings to livestream together. Each time the group gets together they have fellowship and bring food for a meal to follow their worship.

The Amarillo team has charged themselves with the goal of reaching many more with the gospel of Jesus, but they also recognize the importance of a full-time pastor to help in that effort. Because of this, they are in the process of researching and filling out a detailed request to call their first home missionary. The process to obtain home mission status is not a process the group takes lightly. They recognize that with regular prayer and guidance from the Lord, he will bless their work.

This is where the prayers of the brothers and sisters in faith through our synod comes into play. Please pray for the mission work in Amarillo and all of West Texas. If you know of anyone who lives in West Texas, the Texas Panhandle, or even two hours an any direction from there, please contact me at 806-794-4203 or through e-mail at jecares1@gmail.com.

Through prayer and your help in spreading the word about the gospel work in West Texas, we will walk together as a synod and reach many more souls for Jesus.

Written by Rev. Jeremy Cares, pastor at Shepherd of the Plains in Lubbock, Tex.

 

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Spiritual unity in South Asia

The Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in partnership with WELS Joint Missions, guides and assists spiritual leaders around the globe through their pre-seminary and seminary training. The PSI connects with these spiritual leaders through WELS world mission work and through outreach to immigrants and refugees in the United States and Canada. They are able to evaluate and serve these international groups and synods that want support, training, and a connection to a church body that shares the gospel message in its truth and purity.

E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, traveled to a country in South Asia in December to teach Ephesians and 1 Peter. Read more about his experience: 


For two and a half weeks, I had skated over icy sidewalks in Novosibirsk, Russia. I was looking forward to my next teaching assignment in a country in South Asia. Average temperature? 85 degrees! As we drove from the airport to the seminary facilities, I was second-guessing my choice of wool socks for this day of travel between Siberia and South Asia.

Seminary in South Asia

Later that first day, I got to sit in on a staff meeting with the WELS friendly counselor and the three spiritual leaders that serve with our friendly counselor to administer the seminary training program. The meeting began with a wonderful reflection on a passage from Scripture that featured deep insights and highlights from the Greek text. This was not a hasty “let’s-open-with-a-religious-thought” devotion! Everyone sitting around that table was clearly enjoying time in God’s Word, mutual encouragement, and a partnership in the gospel. The meeting that followed displayed an excellent partnership between local leaders and our friendly counselor. These men impressed me!

It will be challenging to describe the South Asian leaders who work with our friendly counselor in this place; security realities won’t allow familiarity. But here are three men who obviously hail from the same continent. After that, commonalities are more difficult to see. These guys have strong and independent personalities. Their differences were clearly evident to me when they took their turn translating my lessons for the 25 students before us.

One of these guys didn’t just translate. He ran the class. I mean he allowed only one speaker at a time. Side conversations was strictly forbidden. And the amount of time he took to convey my sentences in his language was about the same length of time it took me to say my sentences in English.

WELS Friendly Counselor (left) with the three South Asian leaders and E. Allen Sorum (right)

The second chap relished in the kind of class mayhem that I rather prefer myself. When I placed a question before the men, it seemed their natural style was to all answer at exactly the same time at an above average volume. Somehow, this translator was able to synthesize a group answer and share it with me in a way that was both entertaining and helpful. This leader/translator used my English sentence as a launching point for additional points that he wanted to add to my original point. At least that’s what I think was going on when my one sentence in English became his one paragraph in Telegu. He was greatly enhancing the learning that was going on in that room, I am sure.

The third man took my wimpy, timid English sentences and turned them into powerful oratory. He wasn’t content to merely instruct. He wanted to encourage, rally, and motivate his co-workers. All of my translators were themselves pastors. They know the challenges these men face back home in their young congregations. Most of the students were already pastors. They were, in general, just getting started at ministry, trying to establish a Christian movement in a hostile environment.

These three spiritual leaders who were also pastors, partners with our friendly counselor, seminary administrators, and translators share another attribute: they care deeply for their students. Spiritual unity is a hard thing to establish and maintain in any place. But when there is a bond of peace and love in Christ, and a good dose of humility, unity has a chance. We talked a lot about this unity: unity of faith, unity of love, and unity of purpose.

The friendly counselor who is blessed with the task of overseeing this ministry asked me to teach Ephesians and 1 Peter; fitting texts for these men and their ministry settings. When we got to the spiritual warfare portion of Ephesians 6, I asked the men to raise their hand if they dealt with demon possession. Almost every man raised their hand. We enjoyed, therefore, a spirited discussion on a Lutheran approach to exorcisms; Lutheran as opposed to Pentecostal. The students agreed that the Pentecostal approach common among them seemed more interested in ascribing glory to the exorcist than to serving the (possibly) possessed individual.

The Lutheran approach acknowledges the obvious. It is Jesus who has power and authority over the universe including the spirit world. So we ask Jesus to remove demons, we see ourselves as his agent carrying out his mission to rescue people, and we give him all the glory.

I was impressed by these men who must carry out their mission in these circumstances. I was impressed by their thirst for truth and their gratitude for partnership with their fellow Christians of WELS. They articulated their appreciation for WELS Christians many times. I assured them that their WELS brothers and sisters appreciated our partnership with them. I articulated that many times. May God strengthen our unity through the bond of peace and love in Christ. May we be a blessing to each other.

Written by Rev. E. Allen Sorum, Director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI)

To learn more about the Pastoral Studies Institute, visit wels.net/psi.

 

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Christmas Presence

Many people in our world think of Christmas as a time for presents. In fact, not only has “Black Friday” become an accepted holiday in the vocabulary of most Americans, but this year it also graduated from a singular to a plural. It seemed like every Friday from October until December became “Black Friday” so we could buy even more presents at a discount.

Here in Native America in our missions to the Apache people in Arizona, we used Christmas as an opportunity to focus on presence instead of presents. After all, Immanuel arrived–God himself came into our world to live like one of us! And we had no shortage of excited volunteers eager to announce his presence to our communities!

Children from East Fork Lutheran School share the story of our Savior’s birth

In the month of December, more than 325 children in Apacheland put on their fanciest Christmas dresses and best clip-on ties and were proud to announce loudly and clearly that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. The students at East Fork Lutheran School were able to tell the Christmas story to several hundred people in the school gymnasium under the theme, “Did you Know?”  Meanwhile, the students of Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School rented a community hall to fit everyone in to hear their program focused on sharing the story of Christmas, using the theme of “Savior of the Nations.”

It was a memorable night on both the Fort Apache and San Carlos reservations, as each school was able to use its ever-growing presence in the community to share the glorious presence of Jesus. These Christmas programs are well attended by our local communities, including many who would not normally walk into one of our churches. And our students were ready! All of the students had been practicing for more than a month under the direction of dedicated teachers, and it showed. They certainly made their parents and teachers proud as they spoke clearly and sang loudly about this miraculous and glorious event.

With approximately half of the population on both of these Apache reservations under the age of 18, our schools continue to have real opportunities to share Jesus. Our pastors and teachers have the chance each day to continue training hundreds of eager evangelists who share Jesus with the youthful exuberance and blunt simplicity of childhood. Pray that they will continue witnessing as they grow up and that they will become leaders in service to their newborn King!

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Native American mission field coordinator

Learn more about world mission work on the Apache reservations in Arizona at wels.net/apache.

 

 

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A lot to love and a lot to work on

As we walked out of the shopping mall, Missionary Abe Degner looked at me and said, “There’s a lot to love. . . There’s a lot to work on.”

That pretty much summed up not just the visit we had just made with a potential church planting partner in that mall, but visit after visit we made in Missionary Degner’s first couple weeks on the ground as a missionary in South America.

Missionary Degner with Pablo, an Academia Cristo contact in Paraguay

There was a lot to love. Visit after visit turned up people who had come to us through our Academia Cristo online classes in Paraguay and northern Argentina and had already gathered groups around the Word that they heard in their classes. Humberto’s group in Capiibury had already investigated a church building. Pablo’s group just east of Asuncion had taken a stand for the truth and separated from a group that taught falsely. Carlos in Machagai, Argentina, had a group that had studied the “Key’s and Confession” from the Catechism, and he had a number of other former pastors who had come out of other churches who were searching with him for the truth. In addition to these students who found us online, we visited a group of new Christians in rural Paraguay who were meeting in a mission house built by a WELS congregation in Sarasota, Florida. There was a lot to love.

There was a lot to work on. There were economic struggles threatening to distract from gospel work. There were some major gaps in biblical understanding. Missionary Degner and I constantly discussed how to tip-toe through the minefield that is planting and building churches that are dependent neither on the missionary nor a constant flow of foreign funds.

There is a lot to love. . . There is a lot to work on.

Missionary Degner (left) and Missionary Johnston (right) studying with Carlos, an Academia Cristo contact in Argentina

I think this likely describes not just our work in Paraguay and Argentina, but throughout Latin America. As 2019 comes to a close there is a lot to love, so much to thank God for. Our more than a million Academia Cristo Facebook followers have translated into thousands of opportunities to make disciples who make disciples of others. We have had students in live, online classes from every country in Latin America. In addition to groups we were already working with, this year we saw new, on-the-ground gospel opportunities in Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. By the end of the year and by God’s grace, we will have three teams of two Latin American missionaries established in strategic locations—north (Miami, Florida), center (Quito, Ecuador) and south (Asuncion, Paraguay)—so that we can take advantage of all the opportunities which are being placed before us throughout the region.

There is a lot to love. . . There is a lot to work on.

Although we see things trending in the right direction, not just in the amount of new contacts but also in the growth of groups we have been working with for decades, will we realize our plans to see gospel-focused, biblically-sound churches planting churches throughout Latin America? Will those who have that incomplete understanding of biblical doctrine cast aside false teaching and embrace the truth? Will our new app allow us, as we hope, to better respond to the thousands who are coming to us for biblical instruction? Will our team in Paraguay be able to figure out life in a place where no WELS missionary has gone before?

Our Latin American mission team moves forward, ready to work to answer these questions in 2020 comforted by the fact that we are loved (a lot) by our gracious Lord. Please thank God for all he has given us to love. Please ask that the Lord of the harvest blesses that which we have to work on.

Written by Rev. Andrew Johnston, Missionary for the Latin America missions team

Learn more about mission work in Latin America at wels.net/latin-america.

 

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Plot Twist

One of the things I love most about being a pastor is hearing the stories people tell. Each person that sits in the pew has a unique one, a fascinating account of the working of God’s grace.

Christina certainly had an interesting story. I met her only one week after I was installed as the pastor at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming. She had a connection to our church previously, when her infant son Leo was baptized. But she hadn’t been to church in a while, mostly because it was difficult for her to come with her infant son, whom she was raising while her husband was deployed in Kuwait.

After sitting down with Christina, she told me her story. She was born and raised in Minnesota, but moved to Wyoming when she was 16 years old. She graduated from high school in Meeteetse, Wyoming, a town with a total population of about 300 people. She attended the University of Wyoming and graduated with a degree in Education. She began teaching at a special school for at-risk children in Laramie. And along the way, she got married and celebrated the birth of her first child.

But the bigger story is the difference God’s grace has made in her life. It may seem like a strange plot twist that Christina and her family ended up in Laramie, but this is how God again brought her into contact with the good news of her Savior Jesus. It may seem like a difficult plot twist that Christina and her husband are raising their child together even though they are miles apart, but God is using it to strengthen their relationship, and to drive them even deeper into his promises.

And then, in what may seem like another amazing plot twist, God brings his gracious blessings through Christina to others gathered here at Living Shepherd. He gives a new, inexperienced pastor the blessing of a prospect eager to learn more about God’s Word and grow in faith. He gives a congregation the opportunity to put God’s love into practice by helping and supporting a military family. And he gives all of us fresh reminders of the power of his Word working in the hearts of his people.

Christina was officially welcomed as a member of Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming two weeks ago. Before she joined, I asked her to answer a few questions which we could use to share with the congregation so that we could get to know her better. One of the questions I asked was, “What title would you give to your autobiography?” She answered, “Plot Twist.”

It’s a fitting title to Christina’s story. She’s eager to see what else God has in store for her family, and she’s excited to see how God’s grace will sustain her through all the plot twists that may be ahead.

Written by Rev. Adam Lambrecht, home missionary at Living Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming

 

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Funding secured for theological education facility in Vietnam

Through the support and prayers of WELS members, WELS has surpassed its goal of receiving $2 million to support a theological education facility in Vietnam. This funding will pay for the land, building construction, and the first two years of operating expenses.

The communist Vietnamese government invited WELS in 2018 to build this facility in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi to train leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC).

“Since I became Christian in 1994, I’ve been searching and praying for a church body that would bring me the true Word of God,” says Rev. Zang, one of the HFC leaders who is receiving training. “I have been to much training in the last several years, but none like WELS. Finally, God sends a church that teaches the true Word of God to Vietnam. The Word of God has brought peace to our community, and we are sure that our salvation is only found in Christ Jesus.”

WELS first had contact with the Hmong Fellowship Church in 2011, when a leader in that church got in touch with Rev. Bounkeo Lor, a Hmong pastor who then served in Kansas City, Kan., after reading his online sermons. Lor made his first training trip to Vietnam in 2012. Members of the Pastoral Studies Institute began to accompany Lor on some of these trips starting in 2016. Since that initial trip, the church has doubled in size—now with more than 120,000 members—and discovered the true message of God’s grace.

“The members of the HFC have been grateful for the message of the gospel, that they are saved by God’s grace alone,” says Rev. Xiong, one of the HFC leaders receiving training. “Now they are eager to have the opportunity to use the center in Hanoi for training pastors in the Word of God, especially in law and gospel.”

Lor, who now serves as Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, says the training center is important for the ministry in Vietnam so that Hmong leaders can continue to grow in their understanding of God’s Word. “Nowadays, many churches call themselves Christian, but it is sad that they don’t teach the true Word of God anymore,” says Lor. “One of the brothers in the HFC told me that before they met WELS, they thought that every church taught the truth from the Bible, but now they know the differences between true and ideology teaching. They praise God for the teaching that WELS extends to their church body. They are eager to bring whatever they’ve learned from WELS to their leaders and members.”

So far, land has already been purchased in Vietnam, and plans are being made for construction to begin on a new campus that will include a worship space, dormitories and kitchen facilities, ministry offices, and four classrooms.

To date, more than 550 WELS congregations have given offerings to this campaign, and another 2,300 individuals and groups have offered special gifts or commitments. “While we trust our Lord to lovingly provide resources for the work we do together in his name,” says Rev. Kurt Lueneburg, director of WELS Christian Giving, “we marvel at how our Savior moved his people to give so quickly and generously to this unique opportunity. We praise Jesus and thank his people for their joyful, heartfelt participation!”

Lor asks for WELS members’ continued prayers on the ministry: “Please continue to ask God to bless the center so that it may serve more people, not only Hmong but also other minorities in Vietnam.”

Learn more about this opportunity at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

 

 

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Alive and active

His body language was speaking loud and clear. Arms crossed. Slouched down. A toothpick pursed between his lips as he stared at the floor. Avoiding any sort of conversation with others. Refusing a bulletin to follow along. He didn’t want to be there, but somehow his girlfriend had convinced him to join her in church that morning. Perhaps she was buying lunch on the way home. Maybe if he went once she’d leave it alone for a while. Whatever it was, it sure didn’t seem like we’d see him again.

And then he came back the next week, this time looking up a couple of times during the sermon. The following week, he followed along in the bulletin. The week after that, he left the toothpick in the car. A few months later, he was asking about some classes where he could learn more about the Bible and ask some questions that have been on his mind.

Fast forward to mid-November 2019. His brother is on life support, making it hard to finish up his classes for church membership. He asks his other two brothers if it would be okay for him to invite the pastor to stop in at the hospital for a visit and prayer. It takes a week of convincing, but they finally give in. Their body language was speaking loud and clear. They didn’t really see the need or want this big, goofy, Spanish speaking, white guy in their brother’s hospital room. It seemed like they were paying more attention to their phones than to this stranger in the room. The conversation was short and God’s Word was shared.

On the way home I got a message: “Thanks. They’d like you to come again soon.”

For the word of God is alive and active.

Hebrews 4:12

Written by Rev. Paul Biedenbender, home missionary at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo. 

 

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From decision to grace

My name is Agus Prasetyo. I am a dosen (lecturer or professor) at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL) which is the seminary of Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI).

Before learning true doctrine, I very strongly held the position of “decision theology” and saw the sacraments as symbols rather than as means of grace.

I falsely thought that I:

  • decided to believe in the Lord Jesus when I was 12 years old;
  • decided to accept baptism at the age of 13 years old;
  • decided to study at a heterodox seminary where I received a Bachelors and Masters degree of Theology;
  • decided to serve in a place where I wanted to live and work;
  • decided to reach out to people with the gospel in order to make them decide to believe in Jesus;
  • decided to teach people to make decisions to believe in Jesus and also make the decision to accept baptism.

I was (falsely) taught that baptism:

  • is a symbol or confession of faith and that anyone who has been baptized is considered to have been legally accepted as a Christian;
  • requires the ability to make faith decisions in Christ before it is administered, so baptism is for adults only;
  • is a proof of the growth of the church quantitatively;
  • is a way to make people legal members of Christianity so that they can support the work of the church. That is why I used to only baptize teenagers and adults who were able to make a decision.

NOW I AM VERY GRATEFUL, because I know that those statements are false theology.

First, I am grateful because God gave me the opportunity to learn the right doctrine through Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI). GLI is a sister synod of WELS and a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). After I finished my Master’s program, I had the opportunity to study Christian doctrine with Professor Gregory Bey who has served as an STTL dosen and WELS Friendly Counselor in Indonesia. Together, we began our studies of basic Christian doctrine using “New Life In Christ” and “Luther’s Catechism” – both of which are produced by Northwestern Publishing House and translated into Bahasa Indonesia with funding from WELS Multi-Language Publications. I needed about two years to complete our initial studies because my mind was still influenced by the theology that I had previously learned. After continuing to study doctrine at a deeper level by auditing classes in exegesis and Christian dogmatics at STTL, and with much prayer, I finally understood the true biblical doctrine, even though it could not always satisfy my human reason and logic—something I had relied on heavily in the past rather than faith alone.

Secondly, I am grateful because I received a great blessing, namely, an understanding of baptism in the true sense: A means of grace, given by God, for all people, without the need of man’s ability to make a decision for faith. “A sacred act in which Christ offers, gives, and seals to us the forgiveness of sins and thus also life and salvation.” (Luther’s Catechism) My children were also baptized as soon as I became a Lutheran. I am grateful to have received that great blessing.

Thirdly, I am grateful to have been ordained as a pastor by GLI and called to serve as a dosen at STTL. I know there are many mistakes in the Indonesian Bible translation. Accordingly, I feel that it is very important to teach the original biblical languages to our seminary students. Therefore, I continue to study and teach Greek and Hebrew to our students at STTL so that they can become workers in GLI “who rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and teach the Bible correctly.

I am grateful for my calling which permits me to help guide the seminary students of GLI and prepare them to be workers who have the right doctrine from the Bible. My former training and experiences outside of confessional Lutheranism have given me some unique insights which allow me to anticipate things which our young pastors will face that are not in accordance with the orthodox teachings of the Bible. My personal walk of faith has helped me to discern errors. This has been an aid in helping to formulate a curriculum for STTL that can meet the needs of GLI both now and, God-willing, for many more years to come.

As we move into the future, please keep us in your prayers!

From someone who was lost but now is found,

Professor Agus Prasetyo, dosen at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL) in Indonesia

 

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African music by African composers for African worship

One of the exciting highlights of this year’s WELS synod convention was the welcoming of the LC-MC Kenya into full fellowship. The relatively new Kenya synod is currently producing its own hymnal and worship music accompaniment recordings for use in Sunday services. One of the goals of the hymnal committee is “to encourage the creation of African music by African composers for African worship.” The hymnal project has set a target of having 90% of the worship songs composed by Africans.

At the request of LC-MC Kenya leader Pastor Mark Onunda, Multi-Language Publications (MLP) of WELS World Missions hosted a music workshop in Nairobi from November 4- 15 to assist in moving the hymnal project forward. Fifteen individuals from throughout Kenya participated in the workshop.

The music workshop took on a formidable number of tasks. Consider the following factors regarding the current worship music situation in the Kenyan church:

  1. Many of the churches do not have musicians or instruments for Sunday services.
  2. A Kenyan Lutheran hymnal does not exist. A few of the congregations make use of songs from a Lutheran hymnal from Tanzania, produced several decades ago.
  3. There is no organized system for recording, sharing, and storing worship songs and liturgies among Kenyan congregations.
  4. There are many church year events and many biblical doctrines for which the LC-MC has no worship music resources.
  5. The LC-MC does not have a musical setting for a common service or communion service based on the historic Lutheran liturgy that they find attractive for use in Sunday services.
  6. There are virtually no worship music resources in a contemporary Kenyan music style for use in evangelism campaigns among the unchurched youth.
  7. There is a desire among the LC-MC members to have a particular contemporary music style that would be identified as “Lutheran church music.” In Kenya, most church denominations have specifically identifiable music styles.
  8. There is a desire to make greater use of technology in recording, distributing, and implementing professional recordings of accompaniment music for Sunday worship. Some congregations are already using accompaniment files during worship.

At the same time, the LC-MC Kenya has the following extraordinary musical assets at their disposal as they address their worship music needs:

  1. There is an astounding availability of composers for the LC-MC. I counted at least seven composers at the workshop. The compositions of the seven were so well received that every composer will have one or more songs included in the first group of recorded accompaniment files.
  2. Among the workshop participants, two had completed three-year music degree programs at a prestigious church music school in Tanzania. Two of the young women had completed vocal studies at a premier music conservatory in Nairobi. Having such trained musicians available is a huge asset in producing quality accompaniment tracks for use in Sunday worship at churches that do not have musicians.
  3. Steve Onunda (son of Pastor Mark) is a brilliant professional musician (guitar, bass) with arranging and studio recording experience. His professionalism has created confidence and excitement in the entire group that quality recordings will be produced.
  4. Steve has contacts with many professional musicians (vocalists and instrumentalists) in Nairobi, several of whom are assisting us with these recordings. Four of the workshop participants are pursuing careers as professional musicians.
  5. We are able to make professional recordings in Nairobi at very reasonable rates at a studio staffed by Christians who specialize in contemporary African worship music.

Among our workshop participants there is an extraordinary level of energy, excitement, and commitment to this worship music project. There is a deep awareness that the Lord is blessing the LC-MC with an historic opportunity to create African music for African worship. May our Lord Jesus Christ continue to bless our efforts to create worship music to his glory and for the furthering of his Kingdom throughout Africa!

Written by Rev. Dr. Terry Schultz, Artistic Development Missionary for WELS Multi-Language Publications

 

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ThanksGIVING

Our nation recently celebrated Thanksgiving. As most people enjoyed time with family, cooked the turkey, and ate too much pie, they were reminded of the many reasons they have to be thankful. In the strong middle class community of Falcon, Colo., it isn’t difficult to see most people through that lens: multiple new(er) cars in the driveway, name-brand clothes, nice houses.

As our mission church prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2018, we wanted to find a way to give to those who weren’t as financially fortunate or materially blessed. We could have donated to a food bank in nearby Colorado Springs or volunteered at a food kitchen for the homeless, but we wanted to impact people in our community – people that lived down the street. We wanted to provide everything for them to make and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner – a turkey, potatoes, vegetables, rolls, pies. But how would we find them?

For the last three years we have held worship services at an elementary school in our community. Over that time, we have developed a strong relationship with the school staff and leadership. So, we asked the principal if she had a way to identify families in need. She connected us with the school counselor, who connected us with other school counselors in the community. Due to privacy concerns, the counselors had to contact the families and ask if they would take us up on our offer and if their contact information could be shared with us so we could arrange to drop-off the food. In a matter of days we had five families lined up!

Our members and prospects rallied around the project by donating the food and wrapping it all up in boxes to be dropped off. They wanted to give so that others would have an extra reason to be thankful.

As we dropped off the boxes of Thanksgiving dinner supplies,

  • one of the school counselors asked if we could stop by her office before we delivered the food because the boy needed shoes and the staff had pitched in and bought him a pair.
  • one family invited us in and the mom shared how much they were struggling, even as they lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. The dad had left and refused to pay child support. The teenage kids were working jobs to help support the family. She broke down crying as we put all of the food on her counter. I asked if we could pray for her and she said, “Yes, please!” And right there in her kitchen I prayed for them.

As November loomed on the horizon this year, several members of our church family asked if we were going to line up families to bless with Thanksgiving dinner again. It helped them appreciate what they had by giving to others. Working through the local schools, we were able to donate to eight families that were struggling this year. And, not only did our members step up to donate the food, several of them were excited to knock on the door of one of these families and give them a box of food. Just because they wanted to give out of thanks.

Written by Rev. Steven Prahl, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Peyton (Falcon), Colo. 

 

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Confessions of faith: Fleck

A long journey ends with faith in Jesus and a desire to serve him.

Amanda M. Klemp

At age 66, Daryl Fleck is retired and lives in New Ulm, Minnesota. He likes to spend his time volunteering. Now he’s getting his feet wet helping with WELS Prison Ministry.

But his journey wasn’t exactly down a straight and narrow path.

Fleck grew up in Minnesota, in a poor family with an alcoholic father. Despite his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s tendency to enable it, he says, “There was love in our family. My dad didn’t express his love outwardly so much, but we knew that he loved us. And my mother would always show her love.” His father was Catholic, and his mother Lutheran. His mom made sure he and his two younger siblings were baptized, attended church, and were confirmed.

After graduating high school, Fleck worked in construction and eventually met his first wife. They got married and had a son and daughter. Fleck had always considered himself a Christian and would, at least periodically, attend church services. But that was a cause of conflict. He says, “She didn’t believe in going to church. She wasn’t a Christian woman, which was a big mistake I made. She wouldn’t even let me hang a picture of Jesus on the wall. I tried bringing my kids to church, but because their mother wasn’t going, they didn’t want to go either.” It was a rocky 22-year marriage.

The spiral downward

He eventually left the marriage and moved back to his hometown, where he could be closer to his mom and an old friend. “I had so much guilt and shame for leaving my marriage,” he says. “I felt I had let God down and started drinking very heavily.”

Then his mother died. “It all happened at the same time. I lost my mother and my wife and family,” he says. “Emotionally I was a wreck. I had so much guilt and remorse. I would try to drink my troubles away. Physically and financially I started going downhill. And, spiritually I gave up on everything. I gave up on God. I was pretty lost.”

He started racking up DUIs and stays in the county jail. Each subsequent DUI led to more time in jail. He moved to North Dakota, but the dependence on alcohol moved with him. One morning, he woke up in his car. A neighbor had called the police, and he was charged with another DUI. This time, he went to prison.

A temporary lull

During his prison sentence, he pored over Christian materials that were available to him. He says after he was released, he felt he was back on his feet and doing well. He remembers feeling like he was getting a fresh start; he even had a good job that he liked. “The biggest mistake I made at this time was saying ‘Okay, God, you can go help someone else now; I don’t need you anymore.’ I pretty much abandoned [God],” he recalls.

His life soon took a downward turn. A woman he went to high school with got in touch with him. She lived in Massachusetts, and he moved east to marry her. He admits, in hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have jumped into that relationship, but he was looking for something he felt was missing after his first marriage ended. After three years in Massachusetts, they moved back to Minnesota, but things weren’t going well. After one big fight, he got his last DUI. This time, he spent 5 months in county jail and another 29 months in prison.

The beginning of a new life

While in prison, one day, Fleck felt compelled to pick up and open a Bible. He doesn’t recall why he did it, but he remembers exactly to what passage he opened the Bible: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). It’s a Bible verses he still cherishes every day.

Later he also saw WELS Prison Ministry booklets that were available for inmates.

“They have these little tests at the end of them, so I did the test and mailed it to Prison Ministry. They mailed it back to me and then sent me another book,” he says. Fleck ended up completing level one and level two. “I have the certificates hanging on the wall at my apartment,” he says. “They mean a lot to me.”

Fleck says he was excited to keep getting the new booklets and tests, because it was nice to get mail in prison. He stresses the simplicity of the materials is really important, because many people in prison don’t have an education. To have something that’s simple but still teaches the love of Jesus is very valuable. He says that the notes from the volunteers and the pictures from school children also really mean a lot to an inmate who doesn’t hear much from the outside world. One of the notes he received encouraged him to find a WELS church after his incarceration. He did just that, joining Good Shepherd, Burnsville, Minn., when he was released from prison.

More opportunities

While his time in prison brought him closer to God, there are still family relationships that need to be healed. He says his daughter and brother don’t speak to him anymore, and his son, who like his father and grandfather seems addicted to alcohol, isn’t interested in a close relationship. Fleck wonders if this is a blessing in disguise. He hasn’t had a drink since 2015, and perhaps the distance from his family also keeps him away from alcohol. But he’s praying that the relationship with his children will be mended and that they too will come to know their Savior like he does.

Fleck says, “For an inmate, living in the inside like that, it’s important to have something to give you hope, something to look forward to when you’re released. That’s what the WELS Prison Ministry gave me. I couldn’t wait to get out to find a WELS church. It gives you hope. I’m still hanging on to that hope that I’ll reconcile with my family. I believe that’s going to happen because WELS keeps me in a relationship with Christ by attending their church services and Bible studies.”

Now a member at St. John, New Ulm, Minn., Fleck hopes to be able to help share God’s peace and love with other inmates and with those who are released from prison so that, with God’s help, they can fight their addictions and demons, stay out of prison, and stay in the Word. He remembers the Savior’s message. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).


Amanda Klemp is a member at St. Peter, Savanna, Illinois.


Hear more about WELS Prison Ministry and Daryl Fleck in this month’s edition of WELS Connection.

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Author: Amanda M. Klemp
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Pursuing a Kingdom culture

As my friend Bo and I watched our kids play together on the playground, Bo turned to me and said, “I’m not afraid to lose my culture.”

Bo is an important member of a successful business, owns his home, is blessed with a wonderful wife and 2 kids, is well-liked by his neighbors, and finds many joys in the life he has been given. Bo and his family have invited us to celebrate their cultural holidays and festivals with them. Bo has been a quality language partner who genuinely wants me to learn his native language. His hope is that we can continue to be neighbors for a long time.

What would cause a man like Bo to be at peace with losing his culture? Especially considering this man has many visible blessings and opportunities from growing up in his culture. He has not been turned away or forgotten by his own people. Instead he is respected and enjoyed by many.

Bo spent a few seconds smiling at the surprised look on my face before explaining the joy he has in his heart from his family pursuing a new culture: a Christ-centered culture.

My friend has no plans to stop speaking his native language or befriending his fellow countrymen. He will continue to celebrate local holidays and enjoy the unique foods that accompany the festivities. But Bo simply has bigger things on his mind and in his heart. He is pursuing a Kingdom culture. His family reads the Bible together, prays together, worships together, and enjoys living life with their Christian friends.

Many of our contacts in East Asia initially pause when presented with the teachings of Christianity, because to them Christianity is a cultural way of life in the West. Bo would say you could count him as one of those skeptics in the past. In the present, Bo is quick to speak on how Christianity isn’t pursuing a Western culture at the expense of losing an Eastern culture, but instead it’s a new culture altogether. In a Kingdom culture, God reigns supreme in the hearts of God’s people, the followers of the Way speak truth from Scripture and build each other up in love, and we all walk together with our Good Shepherd on the narrow path to eternal life.

Bo’s way of thinking has moved away from being set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19) and is now pursuing his citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

Only the Good News of our Savior Jesus can change a human’s heart to pursue God and want to follow His Word. My prayer is that we keep our eyes fixed on our Savior as he desires to lead us to our true home and citizenship in heaven.

How might that affect our own cultural practices? Does our way of thinking in our earthly culture ever cause us to lose focus on the life God calls us to lead?

Ask God in prayer to help you know the way in which you should go. Listen to him as he speaks to you through your Bible reading. Surround yourself with brothers and sisters in the faith who are willing to walk with you home to heaven. Invite others to join you and enjoy the warmth of a Christian community.

Jesus calls us to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). May God bless you with his peace and joy as you pursue a Kingdom culture.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

 

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Recently announced changes in East Asia mission field

Recently the Board for World Missions decided to pull our East Asia Team missionaries and families out of their focus country because of security concerns. The government of their focus country is now regularly detaining, interrogating, and deporting any Westerner or group suspected of religious activity. Many mission organizations, large and small, have already pulled their operations out of the country over the past few years.

The East Asia missionaries and their families are being relocated to a nearby country from which they hope to continue their work in the focus country through online teaching, through distance mentoring and coaching, and through regular monthly visits back into the focus country. Over the next few months, the team will be working hard to acquire new visas and adjust to the new reality in the relocation country.

The Board for World Missions and the East Asia Administrative Committee have been monitoring this situation for the last few years and had been preparing for this contingency for months. As a result, the team is not in a state of panic, and everyone is safely out of harm’s way. Most important, the team is humbly confident that the Lord works even through these difficult times to advance his kingdom’s work.

The leadership also continues to closely monitor the political situation in Hong Kong where Asia Lutheran Seminary is located.

Please keep this situation in your prayers. Pray that our heavenly Father would protect the brothers and sisters of the focus country and give them courage to continue to stand upon the gospel and share it. Pray that our missionaries and families would be encouraged in this time of upheaval. Pray that the Lord would continue to keep the professors, staff, and families of Asia Lutheran Seminary safe.

Serving in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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MLP hosts translation expo in Africa

WELS Multi-Language Publications (MLP) sponsored a conference in Lusaka, Zambia, in August to equip and inspire representatives from our partner synods in Africa. The MLP Expo 2019 brought 17 Africans from 6 countries and 3 American missionaries together for 4 days. The two main objectives of this event were to give participants linguistic tools to translate confessional Lutheran literature from English into their local languages and to produce a prioritized list of the publications needed in each sister synod.

Missionary John Roebke of the One Africa Team, says, “Our partners in Africa are looking for the essential tools needed to conduct gospel ministry. Thankfully translations of the Bible in their native tongues already exist. But how confidently can someone call himself ‘Lutheran’ if he never read anything written by Martin Luther?”

Both the Ethiopian and Kenyan Lutheran synods want to translate the Small Catechism into a total of seven languages between them. Other goals include adapting MLP’s “Bible Stories in Pictures—Expanded Version” for Sunday schools in the African churches as well as creating doctrinally sound hymnals, evangelism tracts, and prayer books for special services such as funerals and church dedications.

Roebke reports, “Our African brothers and sisters in Christ want to walk with us in the same faith, yet they have a much more difficult path to follow than we can even begin to understand. In Cameroon, armed rebels shut down the country every week on Mondays and are threatening to make this a permanent arrangement until they get independence. Pastor Mathias walks six hours to preach at one of the congregations he serves and then another six hours to get home. Pastor Mweete struggles to increase attendance at Bible class and to keep from losing his members to the Pentecostal church. Pastor Onunda tries to communicate the Bible’s timeless truth to the youth of his church, even though they don’t understand his Lutheran style of worship and he doesn’t speak their ‘Sheng’ (a type of slang that is popular among Kenyan youth).”

Reading materials printed on paper are still the primary method of receiving information about the world in these regions of Africa. Although some older smartphones and social media apps are starting to appear in the capital cities of Africa, internet access remains an expensive luxury for most people.

“WELS congregations across the United States make use of hymnals, Sunday school lessons, and other educational books without any thought of where those materials come from. Each one of our sister synods in Africa also has a great need for high-quality, scripturally faithful materials printed in at least two or three of the languages spoken by their members. God’s servants work diligently for months and even years before their manuscripts come into print. Tight budgets, untimely illnesses, and armed conflict stop publications projects in their tracks,” says Roebke.

To learn more about the work of WELS Multi-Language Publications, visit wels.net/mlp.

 

 

 

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Out of the blue

If you can believe the internet, the modern idiom “out of the blue” refers to a flash of lightning that jumps out of a clear, blue sky. It’s something completely and totally unexpected. Sometimes mission work is just that—out of the blue. Maybe this congregation and its pastor were a little frustrated. Perhaps it seemed no one was interested in members’ personal invitations to worship. Who knows? Ministry moved slowly. Energy lagged and motivation struggled. Mission pastors and mission congregations face these things too.

Then, out of the blue, a bolt of blessing that energized the mission once again. I checked the messages on the church phone. I had missed a call from Alyssa. She wanted to talk baptism. I called back as soon as I could. Alyssa desired her 3-month-old son, Stetson, to be baptized, and she hoped Beautiful Savior would be the place, and the time would be soon. We set up a meeting. We discussed the wonderful truth that baptism is all about what God does for us in the gracious waters of life, as he forgives our sins and gives us a new birth into the living hope. We discussed the importance of continued contact with God’s Word in worship, and I expressed my hope they would consider our congregation as their new church home. Alyssa’s husband shared that he had never been involved in a church and had never been baptized. Another opportunity!

Stetson’s baptism was scheduled for the next worship service. It happened so fast that it came at the congregation out of the blue too! Nearly twenty-five guests in worship with us that Sunday! A front row seat at the miracle of faith as God allowed us to witness Stetson’s entrance into the kingdom of God! His soul, in desperate need of forgiveness (as are all of us) plucked, not out of the blue, but out of the pitch, black darkness of sin and ushered into the wonderful light of God’s grace! The opportunity to meet, greet, welcome, and celebrate with the family! A time scheduled to follow up with Alyssa and Dustin and encourage them further in their contact with God’s powerful Word! How incredible!

To be honest, I don’t know that there was anything that we had done “right” as a mission to create this opportunity. Maybe it was important that we had a solid website that shared solid information. Maybe not. Maybe the pastor’s personality, kindness, and careful instruction helped them feel comfortable at Beautiful Savior. Maybe not. But we are here. In La Porte. The right place at the right time for Alyssa, Dustin, and Stetson. We are serving. We are proclaiming God’s grace. God chose to bless us abundantly. . . a little out of the blue.

To be honest, I had been sitting, waiting, and wondering on what I would write this article. Then out the blue, mission work was placed in my lap, and a beautiful blessing to celebrate was given our congregation. Maybe in God’s planning and timing it wasn’t so out of the blue anyway. Thankfully, the energy it has infused into this missionary and his congregation is something like a lightning bolt.

Written by Rev. Kevin Boushek, home missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

 

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Faces of Faith – Mrs. Tri

We take prayer requests verbally from our congregation and then pray about those very things in the moment. About four months ago, Mrs. Tri (pictured above 4th from right), raised her hand and went off on how her whole family is in chaos and disharmony, and how there is lack of respect and discord throughout the family. Her adult children’s families are all members of our congregation. Following that, our congregational president, Mr. Hưu-Trung Lê, and I visited members of the family, and Mrs. Tri, and prayed with them, shared key passages with specific members of the family over the following days and weeks. Later on a different Sunday, the same Sunday at Mrs. Phước’s baptism, Mrs. Tri raised her hand once again at the time of prayer requests. Internally I’m thinking, “Oh boy, here we go again…” Mrs. Tri then went on to say how thankful she was to God for bringing restored peace and harmony to her family. She is happy deep in her heart for what God has done to bring all the family members together again in harmony. Trung said Mrs. Tri came up to him after the service during fellowship time and said, “God has real power. To do what he did in my family—God’s power is real.”

From Dan Kramer, missionary at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church in Boise, Ida.

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Faces of Faith – Phước Thị Trần

The picture above is Phước Thị Trần, who lived her first 85 years without God. She actively campaigned for her family members not to be Christian or attend services at our church. When she found out family members were in a Bible basics course, she told them to stop.

Over these last few years, Mrs. Phước has been more open, even open to attending worship services over the past months. On the last Sunday of September, after much witnessing, prayer and her daughter’s faithful devotion in bringing her to attend services, this lady was happy to be baptized. Everyone applauded at the conclusion of the baptism. One of the family members rushed over to her as she was sitting down and said congratulations. The daughter wanted to do the baptism in the first service so the great-grandsons who attend the first service could see the baptism. They both recorded it on their phones. After the second service, since we had the baptism banner up, I explained what had happened during the first service and everyone applauded again. Mrs. Phước’s name means “blessing.” She is a blessing to us just as she has been richly blessed by God.

From Dan Kramer, missionary at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church in Boise, Ida.

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There is not just one way

There is not just one way. . .

. . . that people come into contact with the gospel. There are lots of different ways, and we are seeing many of them in play at your home mission congregation in Macomb, Michigan. The picture above proves that. From left to right, we begin with Bill and Amanda. Bill was an inactive WELS guys engaged to Amanda, who had no church home. They came to us because they wanted to get married, but also because they wanted God in their marriage. They took our pre-marriage course, then took our adult instruction course, and are now every-week worshipers and regular volunteers. Next to them is Bill’s mom, Andrea. She came because she now has family ties to the mission. Next to Andrea is Kay. Kay is a solid, life-long WELS lady who transferred in because she and her husband moved closer to Ascension. Her husband, Paul, has now completed our adult instruction class and, together with Kay, is a valued member and volunteer. Next to Kay is Gary and a few folks to right of him is Mary, one of our most senior members. They came to us because their WELS church in Detroit closed. Along with them came several others – all who know what it is to stay and serve to the end. Gary’s wife, Gloria, came along, too! Gloria is now our organist – on the very organ that their former congregation donated to our mission. The little girl next to Gary is Jillian, and that’s her mom, Joanne, next to her. They are other-Lutherans who moved into our neighborhood, visited us, liked what they heard, and stayed. Joanne’s husband (Jillian’s dad) is Jason who has also taken our adult instruction class and become a member. Behind silver-haired Mary is Mike, ex-military and one who has been – quite literally – battle-tested in the good fight. He lives in the neighborhood, too. The four folks to the right of him are Rod and his three children. They are former-WELS who bounced around for a while before visiting Ascension and enrolling those three great kids in our confirmation instruction class. Rod’s wife Cori has also taken our adult class and established membership.

What’s the point of all of that backstory? There is but one gospel that the Holy Spirit uses to gather people to Jesus, but there are lots of different ways that he brings that gospel to people. Did you hear them in all that backstory? Proximity to a church that proclaims that gospel, family members who become transmission lines for the gospel to others in their family, people who have had a long association with the gospel and who knew exactly where to find it and serve it in their new community, people searching for a place where they can have a meaningful relationship with God through Word and Sacrament, people drawn by authentic friendships to hear the gospel, and people reached through outreach efforts by one of your WELS home missions. If you look, you will find those same ways at work in your congregation, too. That is what makes every WELS church a mission!

P.S. – The guy in the back row under the cross is your home missionary, Dan Simons. I have the best seat in the house to watch the Holy Spirit reach out with the gospel in many ways, but with the same result: souls are added to the kingdom!

Written by Rev. Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich. 

 

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Unrest in Ethiopia affects WELS and sister churches

Recent political unrest in the country of Ethiopia caused some frightening moments for missionaries and pastors of WELS and our sister church bodies in Africa.

Last week, two events scheduled to take place in Ethiopia had to be canceled when riots broke out in several cities. Representatives of the African churches belonging to the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference had planned a meeting in the city of Bishoftu. That meeting was to conclude with the dedication of a new building to house a theological training school operated by the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia.

When the rioting broke out, the U.S. State Department issued a strong advisory that all U.S. citizens should return, if possible, to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, by air travel or take shelter immediately. After some rather close encounters with armed mobs, World Missions Administrator Larry Schlomer and Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens, who were already in Ethiopia for the planned events, were able to follow WELS Risk Management’s plans and make their way safely out of the country. WELS President Mark Schroeder, who arrived in Ethiopia just as the rioting began, was also able to return safely to the United States. All representatives from other African countries and WELS missionaries were also able to depart safely.

News reports indicate that the decision to leave was a wise and necessary one. More than 60 people were killed and more than 200 injured when the rioting spread to Addis Ababa.

We pray for the safety of our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia and for the end of the violence in a normally peaceful country.

 

 

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Confessions of faith: Kalbach

A man shares how Jesus changed his life forever.

Steven H. Prahl

I first met Dave and Connie Kalbach when they walked in the doors for our Christmas Eve service. I introduced myself and welcomed them. Dave replied, “I don’t really go to church; I’m just here with them,” as he pointed to his family.

That’s how my relationship with Dave and Connie started. I didn’t know what to expect, but Jesus knew that this was part of a life-changing experience for them.

Christian influences

Dave would tell you that he always had a sense of a “higher power.” That really started when his father took his own life when Dave was 14 years old. Dave had gone out to find out why his dad wasn’t coming in from the car. Because the car doors were locked, Dave went back into the house, grabbed a flashlight, confirmed it worked, and went back into the night. But when he got to the car, the flashlight didn’t work. Today, Dave is convinced that God was looking out for him, protecting him from seeing his father’s body.

In 1991, Dave and Connie’s youngest son, Sean, met a family at the campground where he worked. This Lutheran pastor and his wife had five daughters, including Tanya, who two years later would become Sean’s wife. While dating Tanya, Sean attended a Bible information class at the church and became a member. As the years went by, Dave and Connie would visit their kids and grandkids every few months. On most of those visits, they would go to church with them, although Dave could not understand why they drove past other churches to go to the WELS church.

Tanya had a big impact on her in-laws. She and Connie began reading through the Bible together, discussing what they had read on the phone. Dave, though, wasn’t very interested, even admitting that he would hold those Bible studies against Connie when they would argue. But through the years, Dave said he and Tanya “would have conversations about the Bible, church, God, and heaven.” He continues, “During one of these conversations I told Tanya that one of us was in for a big surprise since I felt that the fact that I led an honorable life meant that I would go to heaven. Tanya stood by her conviction that I could not get to heaven like that.”

Dave was right that one of them was in for a big surprise—and by God’s grace it was before Dave stood before God.

An aha moment

As Dave tells it: “In 2017, Sean, Tanya, and their entire family decided to visit Colorado for Christmas. This would be the first time in many years we all would be together for Christmas. Tanya told us she wanted to go to Christmas Eve services. Sean and Tanya had been married at a WELS church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and it was the only WELS church I knew of, but it was on the other side of town from us. I thought, Just what I want to do on Christmas Eve—drive across town for church. This is where it gets interesting. A week or so before Christmas, a card for a Lutheran church arrived in our mailbox. The church was named Foundation, and it met in the elementary school three miles from our home. Christmas Eve came, and we all attended church [at Foundation]. Connie and I enjoyed the service and were made to feel welcome by the congregation.”

Two weeks after that December 24 introduction, Dave and Connie came walking through the church’s doors on Sunday. Dave informed me, “In 51 years of marriage, we have never gone to church just the two of us, without our kids.” Dave knew that Connie was interested in going to church, but he had never seen a reason to attend. He thought he was just fine with God on his own. But because of something he heard on Christmas Eve and because he loved his wife, he asked her to go to church with him. Dave says, “You could have knocked Connie over with a feather.”

Dave and Connie started attending worship regularly and decided to go through our FaithBuilders classes. “It was during the section on works that I had an ‘aha!’ moment,” says Dave. “It became clear to me that I could not get to heaven by works. Tanya had been right all along. On that day I realized that the only way to heaven was through Jesus Christ.” Dave admits that this was eye-opening. It was both comforting and scary at the same time—comforting because Jesus had done it all for him and scary because what he had relied on and thought he knew didn’t matter for his salvation.

On May 6, 2018, Dave and Connie were baptized into the Christian faith and became members of Foundation. It was a special day for everyone there as we saw Dave and Connie’s joy as they were washed in the water of Baptism. It was especially exciting for Sean and Tanya, who flew to Colorado for the long-awaited occasion.

As Dave says, “A random postcard; Tanya, a true Christian who never gave up; an ‘aha!’ moment; and Jesus Christ changed my life forever. I have lots to learn, but I am ready for the trip.”

Infectious witness

Since becoming members of Foundation, Dave and Connie regularly help set up chairs and equipment before worship at the school we rent. They hosted one of our Bible study groups this summer. They drop off guest bags to people who have visited our church, because they know what it is like to be on the other side of that door. They aren’t shy about sharing that they are new to the church and they are excited to be here!

Their joy of knowing their Savior is infectious. This summer, they helped with our soccer Bible camp; Dave even did all the drills with the little kids. On the last day of camp, Dave was talking with one of the moms and invited her to church. He told her that he had always thought that he was fine with God and didn’t really need to go to church but now he learned what God had done for him. Her response: “I didn’t know other people felt like that too.” So, Dave invited her to meet “the friendliest group of people” and learn about what Jesus has done for her too.

It hasn’t all been easy. Dave had a health scare, and some of their family has pushed them away because they are now Christians. But Dave and Connie continue to cling to the peace that Jesus gives and hold on to the hope that if it wasn’t too late for them to come to faith in Jesus it isn’t too late for their family members either.

And it’s all because of “a random postcard; Tanya, a true Christian who never gave up; an “aha!” moment, and Jesus Christ.”

Two lives changed, and two souls saved forever.


Steven Prahl is pastor at Foundation, Peyton, Colorado.


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Author: Steven H. Prahl
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Gospel outreach opportunities in Africa

Opportunities for gospel connections are flourishing across Africa. Christian groups in Uganda, Liberia, Mozambique, and more are learning about WELS and Lutheran doctrine and reaching out for fellowship. One of these church bodies, Lutheran Congregations in Ministry for Christ in Kenya, reached out to WELS and was officially welcomed into fellowship at this summer’s synod convention. More small and scattered church bodies that hold true to confessional Lutheran doctrine are working toward that same possibility.  

The One Africa Team, working under WELS World Missions, assesses the teachings and validity of these groups and how WELS may help. They work closely with the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) in Zambia and Malawi, which started as WELS world missions decades ago and are now independent church bodieson this process. 

“The One Africa Team appreciates the cultural insights that our brothers in the LCCA have,” says Missionary John Hartmann, member of the One Africa TeamComing from the United States, we may not so easily pick up on some nuance, or understanding, or misunderstanding, which comes naturally to them. When we are visiting new places and new groups of people, we appreciate taking a pastor from one of our established church bodies in Africa along so that we can more adequately assess the situation. To be honest, not all groups come because they want Gods Wordsome are only interested in social programs and money. African Christians help see through what is being said to help assess true motives. And in teaching, they might be able to share an African story that helps illustrate a point. 

Representatives from the One Africa Team and the Pastoral Studies Institute met with leaders from the two church bodies in Liberia earlier this year to offer training and to discuss how to combine the two church bodies into one group for training in the future.

The genesis of theschurch bodies and their initial contact with WELS differsbut mostly they are seeking a larger organization with which to partner to share in the truth of God’s Word and to gain insight beyond the training they have access to locally. 

I am sure there are a combination of factors that God is using to build his church,” says HartmannOne thing is the Internet, which makes communication so much easier than ever before. More interested people know about WELS and its insistence on holding onto the Bible as Gods Word as the basis for our faith and lives. There are so many Christian churches out there that do not offer the comfort and certainty of God’s love and forgiveness as we have in the Lutheran churchThese groups [that are contacting WELS] are looking for the truth and appreciate finding and fellowshipping with a like-minded church body that holds onto something sure and stable.” 

He continues, Along with that, many of these groups are new to good biblical teaching and want training for their pastors in the firm Bible foundation that we have and have had for so many years. 

From Uganda, Pastor Makisimu Musa of the Obadiah Lutheran Church first contacted WELS via the Internet in December 2017. WELS and LCCA representatives have visited twice, following e-mail and phone correspondence. They are planning a third visit this year. Obadiah Lutheran Church comprises more than 700 baptized members, 7 pastors, and 11 churches.  

Mozambique has an entirely different story. Over the years, pastors of the LCCAMalawi and LCCAZambia started mission churches across the border into Mozambique. However, since the start of these missions, the Mozambique government has demanded official registration for churches, and the mission work has been suspended until registration is completed. The One Africa Team is working with the LCCAMalawi to register as a church body in Mozambique so work can continue. 

Liberia also has its own unique beginning. Two men from Liberia immigrated to the United States almost 15 years ago. Over the years they joined WELS churches and then studied under the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), a program of the Wisconsin Lutheran SeminaryMequon, Wis., to become pastors serving fellow immigrants in their local areas. In time, they were summoned by their own people in Liberia to bring God’s message back home. Since then, two Lutheran church bodies have been registered in Liberia, and numerous trips have been made in the past few years for trainingAbout 5,000 Liberian Lutherans worship in these two church bodies. 

Hartmann says that the One Africa Team and LCCA leaders hope to have three face-to-face visits a year with these emerging Lutheran groups if funding is available for travel. During these visits, they present the basic teachings of the Bible found in Luthers Catechism, which serves as the basis for fellowship discussions. 


Learn more about outreach work in Africa in this month’s edition of WELS Connection and at wels.net/africa. 


Working with refugees 

WELS has declared fellowship with two new African church bodies in the last two years: the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia in 2017 and the Lutheran Congregations in Ministry for ChristKenya in 2019.  

Left to right: Grace and Mark Onunda and Martha and Peter Bur

These connections are offering new opportunities to work with members of the Nuer tribe from South Sudan who live in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. Five Nuer men from Gambella, Ethiopia, are studying with Dr. Kebede at Maor Theological Seminary in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, and Pastor Mark Onunda from LCMC–Kenya is assisting with visiting and training refugees living in Kakuma, KenyaThis ministry is being coordinated with the work being done by Pastor Peter Bur, a Pastoral Studies Institute graduate who serves as the South Sudanese ministry coordinator for the Joint Mission Council. 

Onunda and Bur were able to meet to talk about ministry plans at the 2019 synod convention in New Ulm this summer. 

Learn more about Sudanese ministry in North America and around the world at wels.net/sudanese.


Central Africa Medical Mission update 

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) has been operating a clinic in Mwembezhi, Zambia, for almost 60 years. Part of its mission is to turn much of the operations over to Zambians. CAMM recently hired Alisad Banda as clinic administrator, an important step in nationalizing the clinic.  

The Banda family

Banda first came to the clinic in 2005 in conjunction with work he did in health & development. He was impressed how the clinic worked so closely with the Lutheran church and enjoys knowing that Christians are showing compassion, care, charity, and integrity in a hospital and clinic setting. Both his mom and dad were Lutherans and instructed Alisad and his siblings in the teachings of the Lutheran church. Alisad lives in Lusaka with his wife, Cecilla, and their two children.  

Besides the clinic in Zambia, CAMM operates a mobile clinic in Malawi. Medical services include preventive health care for children and expectant women, as well as treatment of patients with illnesses such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, parasitic infections, and tuberculosis. The clinics in Zambia and Malawi serve over 80,000 patients a year.


Learn more about CAMM at wels.net/camm.


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author:
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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South Sudanese missionary commissioned

Another chapter of South Sudanese ministry began on August 11, 2019, as Simon Duoth was commissioned at Divine Peace Lutheran Church in Renton, Wash., as missionary to the Nuer people of the Pacific Northwest mission district.

Pastor Tom Voss commissions Simon Duoth as Neur missionary

He was commissioned in a joint worship service with both the Anglo and Sudanese members of Divine Peace in attendance.

The Sudanese service lasted three and a half hours and was followed by a meal. This is definitely the longest my wife and I have ever spent at a church service! It was truly an experience of a lifetime, to share the love and warmth these brothers and sisters share in their love for their God. Towards the end of the service, one of the members brought a couple from the airport that just arrived from South Sudan. He had told them that the church family wanted to meet them. They are starting a new life in America and have two young children still in South Sudan whom they hope to join them soon.

Sudanese choir

In addition to Sudanese outreach in the community, Missionary Duoth will lead special services in the Nuer language twice a month. He is also continuing his studies to become a pastor through the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), with Pastor Tom Voss from Divine Peace serving as his “adjunct” instructor. Please continue to pray for Missionary Duoth’s studies and outreach in the Pacific Northwest, and all Sudanese ministry happening in North America and around the world!

 

Shared by Mr. Mel Kam, member of the Pacific Northwest District Mission Board

To learn more about Sudanese ministry, visit wels.net/sudanese.

 

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The gospel produces fruits… upon fruits

Koilo Vidal lives about a 5 hour drive from Quito, Ecuador, in the city of Quevedo. He has a small farm—about 9 acres of different fruit trees.

I’ve never been to Quevedo, and I’ve not met Koilo face-to-face yet. A few months ago, Koilo signed up for our online courses through Academia Cristo. He connected to the classes twice a week and absolutely loved them. He was so overjoyed about the classes that he said he wanted to send me a gift of fruit. I didn’t think he was serious. . .  but he was! He sent the packages and I picked them up at a distribution center in Quito . . . two boxes filled with 66 lbs of oranges, watermelon, and papaya (pictured above)! What a tasty gift! And from someone I have never met. The gospel produces. . . fruits!

The gospel is producing other fruits in Koilo too. I sent him a digital copy of the Catechism, and he stayed up until the middle of the night studying it. “I just love these classes I’m taking,” he told me, “and I knew from the very first sessions when the teacher kept repeating, ‘Let’s go to the Bible for the answer.’ I knew I was in the right spot.” He told me how the classes were already helping him in his conversations with neighbors. “When my neighbors press me on issues such as tithing, fasting, and other issues, I can defend myself more and more with the Bible. I never knew that before. I also love how the teachers always pray ‘in Jesus’ name’. That way of praying was completely new to me, and I loved the explanation.”

By God’s grace, Koilo continues in the classes. We pray that they be a great benefit for him, his family, and his neighbors.

The gospel produces fruits . . . upon fruits. 🙂

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, missionary in Latin America

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

 

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