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Real faces, real lives, real souls

I was nervous this year. This was our fifth year of holding an art camp for children ages 5-10. Some experts suggest that church outreach events have a shelf life. Some say the shelf life is three years. Others say five years. But both say that after a certain amount of time a congregation needs to change the event because it grow stale. This was year five of art camp.

So, I was nervous this year. Between not being able to quickly recruit volunteers and then a slow year for registrations, I was thinking we were going to have as many volunteers as kids. We did everything we had done in the past to advertise, but two weeks out from camp we had less than half the registrations we normally have. I was worried that our volunteers coming from Wisconsin, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, and Ontario would come for nothing. Maybe the experts were right.

I continue to struggle to learn this lesson—the Lord blesses in his own way in spite of my nerves. This year we had 57 kids. Not the most we’ve ever had, but then I took a closer look at the registrations. 52 of the 57 were non-Redemption children. 21 of 57 were returning children. 16 children were registered due to referrals. Maybe most exciting was that this was the first year we had more local children registered (31 of 57) than Ft. Drum children registered. That is important for us as we continue to try to break into a community that one community leader said “lives in relationship silos.” By statistical measure, this was our most successful art camp to date.

Still, I was nervous this year. Rain was in the forecast for our gallery afternoon and barbecue. A time when we try to make connections with parents. Stats are interesting, but they mean little if connections aren’t made and Jesus isn’t shared with people. But the wind moved the clouds and the sun shine was warm. People came. Real faces, real lives, real souls came.

A soul named Danielle brought her granddaughter to camp. She had tattoos down her arms and across her chest, gauges in her ears, a ring in her nose, and a face that could tell two lifetimes of stories. She came to the barbecue with her daughter and their friend, “Aunt” Becky. We talked about Jesus and it was like water for two weary souls.

Another soul was a young mother who thought she should find a church since her daughter was getting older. But she was skeptical and wasn’t sure if there was a church that would value her daughter. “We have a message here just for you and your daughter,” I said, “It’s all about forgiveness given to you by God through Jesus. He loves children and so does our church.”

There was another soul. A mother of three. A burnt out Catholic. She was starved for grace, but Catholicism was in her DNA and she was struggling with what to do. “Are you going to church now?” I asked. She said no. “Bring your kids; come and listen to God’s message of grace,” I said.

I could keep sharing with you the real faces, real lives, real souls that God brought us for three days this past July. This art camp was successful for many reasons, but most of all it was successful because real faces, real lives, real souls came, and the Word was planted.

Written by Pastor Aaron Goetzinger, home missionary at Redemption Lutheran Church in Watertown, N.Y.

 

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A church planter’s checklist

A mission planter has a check-list of items a mile long. We need instruments, people to play the instruments, worship folders, a place to print worship folders, coffee, songs, and on and on it goes!  Perhaps the biggest item on the list of things to accomplish is finding a place to worship. As you continue to invite people and share the gospel, one of the natural questions that arises is, “where are you meeting?” All I could say was…”Aaaaah, we have some options!” It was frustrating trying to find a place we could rent for worship and ministry.

I was called to launch a second campus for Shepherd of the Valley in Westminster, Colo. The target area is to the west about 15 minutes. Hundreds of homes had already been built on the northwest side of the city of Arvada and hundreds more were planned in the coming years. A large space of thousands of acres had been set aside for commercial development. There was only one church in this whole five mile radius, a church a little more than 2 years old. All signs pointed to a ripe mission field. That’s exactly what we found as we surveyed and participated in community events.

People were yearning for connections and longing to be better parents and spouses. As we chatted with them, we shared the gospel and let them know we were planting a church in their area to serve them. There was a lot of interest! However, we lacked one thing. . . a space for ministry and worship. Where do you start?

Ralston’s Crossing Event Center. . . and Shepherd of the Valley’s new worship location

On the advice of other mission planters and friends, I started asking the schools in the area. I was met time after time with a big NO! They didn’t have the staff to open the building, or they just didn’t want the hassle of a renter. We looked for commercial space to rent and convert, but in an area so new there wasn’t any good or affordable commercial space. Lots of people and no places to meet. Where would we meet? What would we do if we didn’t find a place? I feared we would have nothing since it was April 2019 and we planned to start in the fall.

The last possibility was an old Presbyterian church, built in 1911, now a wedding and event center. I hadn’t met the owner, the site was a bit out of our target area, but the location was along a state highway and many local people knew where it was located. It’s worth a try. I sent the owner an email two weeks before Easter, described what I was looking for, and asked about renting. The following Monday as I sat in the car in the Home Depot parking lot, my phone rang. On the other end was the most pleasant, upbeat voice I’d heard in awhile,

“Is this Jeremy? I’m so glad I got a hold of you! I received your message you were looking to rent the chapel. How can I help? I have to tell you, when I heard your message I was ecstatic you asked! I’ve never rented to a church before. This is going to be so much fun!”

What followed was nothing short of God’s gracious hand. The owner, Randy Miller, said to me, “I heard your message and was so excited to have a church meet in the church again! This is going to be exciting.” Randy asked us what we wanted to pay. He opened up his entire property for us to use on Sundays (check out these pictures!) and encouraged us to have as many outdoor services as we wanted to have. He talked about adding us to his main sign. He said to me, “You sound like a really nice guy so I’ll probably just give you a key and you can have access when you need it.”

Since then, Randy has moved schedules around so we have sole access on Sunday mornings. His wedding season goes from May through September, so for the rest of the year we have the place all to ourselves. Randy has said many times, “I’m so excited to partner with you and have your congregation here.”

It was struggle to find a place and extremely frustrating to be turned down by over a half dozen different spots or find nothing to rent within your budget. Ralston’s Crossing Event Center has been a blessing from God. The owner has been inviting people to attend our new church. This was just another reminder that the Lord guides the steps of his people and promises to be with them wherever we go.

Written by Pastor Jeremy Belter, home missionary at Shepherd of the Valley Candelas in Arvada, Colo.

 

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Faces of Faith – Sebastian

It was a moment parents dread: an early morning phone call from the hospital.

“Your son has been in an accident. It’s critical. The doctors don’t think he’ll make it. Come right away.”

Sebastian had always struck me as a responsible teen. Respectful, polite, hard-working, active in the church – the kind of child that makes parents proud. One night he and a friend were riding Sebastian’s motorcycle home from a party. A different motorcycle blew through an intersection and struck the vehicle Sebastian was driving. He and the friend riding behind him went flying. Sebastian’s body cushioned his friend’s fall, but the pavement cracked Sebastian’s helmet and caused severe head trauma.

Sebastian’s parents, Henry and Eliana, are good friends of mine. Pastor Henry is a missionary in our sister synod in Medellín, Colombia. He is called to help others start churches in Colombian and Venezuelan cities. I heard of the accident from Henry and immediately left for the hospital. What do you say when a brother in the faith and his family are going through a severe test? We lived in different cities. I was unsure whether Sebastian would be alive when I arrived.

Sebastian presenting at his new church in Ibagué

After hours of travel, I got to see the family and shared my favorite Psalm with them: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord…” – Psalm 121. I assured them, “The Lord is with you. He is watching over you.”

“The first three days were critical,” recalls Pastor Henry. When he arrived at the hospital, Sebastian’s skull was cracked and his brain was visible. “After a few days they disconnected him from the machine to see what would happen.” He began to breathe on his own.

After a week, with a bandaged head, the medical team sent Sebastian home. He spent another month in bed, with his mom serving as his primary care provider. The next months his parents retaught him how to dress, eat, speak, and carry out basic skills.

Prior to the accident, Sebastian was studying to be a motorcycle mechanic. However, the trauma his brain suffered made school impossible. His mind found it hard to focus. Nearly three years passed. No longer a teenager, Sebastian grew more and more frustrated. He felt like a burden to his family. He began to struggle with depression.

Then one week, Pastor Henry was making his regular rounds and dropped in on a mission congregation in Ibagué, Colombia, which is about seven hours away from where he lives. Worship there is held in a hotel. Victor and Paulina work at the hotel and are leaders in the new church. Chatting after church, they mentioned to Pastor Henry that they were looking for someone to help them manage the hotel. “As a joke,” Henry recalls, “I told them, ‘You should hire my son.’” What a surprise when Victor and Paulina made the trip the next week to interview Sebastian for the position!

Arrangements were made, and in March of this year Sebastian moved away from home to live and work at the hotel with Victor and Paulina. “It’s been a huge blessing for everyone,” Pastor Henry says. “Sebastian is able to help start a church and stay close to God.”

Sebastian at his new church in Ibagué

I asked my friend, Henry, if a particular Bible passage brought them comfort during these past three years. “Yes brother, it was the one you read to us during the most difficult moments, Psalm 121.”

When David wrote those words some three thousand years ago, he had no idea how they would comfort a Colombian called worker family during their most difficult challenge. But God knew. Sebastian may never fully recover from the injuries he suffered during that early morning accident, but he can know God is watching over him, just as he watches over all his children.

Written by Missionary Mike Hartman, field coordinator for the Latin America missions team

 

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A cross-cultural camping trip to remember

On July 20-21, my church family (Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church) was able to take a beautiful camping trip to the Oregon Coast. With lots of laughter and some incredible food, the weekend was wonderful.

After a nine-hour drive from Boise to a little outside of Newport, my family and many others arrived at our group camp site. The site itself was quite sandy, and many trees guarded it from the wind and sun. Overall, we had a little less than ten tents set up around the large campfire, which was most certainly not the only heat source used to cook.

Peace in Jesus 2019

Over the course of our stay, all the people involved had been to the beach at least twice. As it was about a five-minute walk from our campground, we were able to see it quite frequently. Enjoying its views and doing fun activities there was the highlight of my (and I’m sure many others’) stay at South Beach State Park.

One thing that I would like to highlight is the high quantity of the youth on this trip. On the second night of our stay, all the teenagers went to the beach in the dark to play a very fun card game, strengthening friendships while having a great time. This was not the only activity young people enjoyed, as hacky sack and word games were also incorporated. Overall, the stay was very enjoyable for all ages.

Sunday morning was a service to remember. In the beautiful nature of our campsite, the church body was able to hear a meaningful sermon highlighting God’s amazing creation of the ocean. Not only this, but special hymns were performed and heard by many, leaving a lasting impression in the memory of this church camping trip. Even our church choir sang a meaningful anthem about God’s enduring love.

For every meal of the day, there seemed to be a delicious feast for all to take part in. The Vietnamese culture that makes up almost our entire church family had a heavy impact on the food made during the camping trip-I can assure you, no one complained. Although not specific to the culture, at one point an entirely whole (huge) tuna was cooked for people to eat, followed by spicy grilled squid the next day. One thing that can be said for certain is that hunger never entered our camp!

Peace in Jesus had a wonderful church camping trip to the Oregon Coast. Complete with full stomachs, endless fun, and the beautiful Word of God, this stay was one to remember; and leaving our temporary home was less than easy.

Written by Laura Hope Kramer, member at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church, Boise, Ida. 

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My Mission Journey: Gail

Grace Lutheran Church in Falls Church, Virginia, sent a Mission Journeys team to Ukraine this summer to assist with four separate Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs hosted by WELS’ sister synod, the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC). Gail Kelley was a member of the team and shares her experience: 

Our trip to Ukraine started with a conversation on possible evangelism or mission trips our congregation could participate in, somewhere with a culture different than our own. We were looking for an opportunity for our members to visit and serve with fellow believers in another culture, as well as to learn new evangelism ideas for our own community in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Within a year, God opened the door to an incredible opportunity–the chance to visit and assist the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) with four separate Vacation Bible School’s at several local congregations.

We gathered up a team from our congregation and were blessed with many prayers, financial gifts, and words of encouragement from members who could not travel with the group. Four of us headed to Ukraine in June with a few other WELS members from other congregations and began the trip of a lifetime!

Our group split into smaller teams and headed out to the four different VBS’s over the course of two weeks. Each volunteer taught English lessons, Bible lessons in Ukrainian (with the help of local translators), a craft lesson, and music. Each town and congregation we visited was very different, but it was quickly evident that we were all united in the most important way–through our shared faith and love for God’s Word and his people!

The first Sunday in Kiev we attended church with the Bishop of the ULC. The Bishop pointed out several photos on the wall of the church’s lobby. These photos were taken during the early 20th century and reflected one of many vibrant, growing congregations hosting many festivals and worship services. The Bishop explained to our visiting group the history of the church in the past century, and the terrible trials they endured throughout the second World War and Soviet era. The Bishop also pointed out a large wooden cross hung on the wall, covered in a beautiful, traditional Ukrainian embroidered cloth. This cross was hidden in a congregation member’s home during a time when religion was strictly forbidden throughout the country. The Bishop explained that corruption and bribery are current trials the country is facing; asking our group directly what they would do when presented with a bribe and fighting persecution. Recognizing and understanding the depths of the trials the ULC has endured for the sake of the cross was incredibly humbling and filled me with a new sense of awe regarding God’s enduring promise to “never leave us or forsake us” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Meeting various members of the ULC and experiencing their hospitality and deep faith was humbling and inspiring in so many ways. And then of course there were the children and translators we were working with–all so very special and many eager to learn about Christ and his message (both in Ukrainian and English!). Most translators were not ULC members and spent the week translating lessons, Bible stories, and prayers for our group. I pray that the conversations we had and Bible verses we reviewed planted a seed in many hearts!

One of the many miracles from trips such as this one is the personal growth and impact on the volunteers–our entire group agreed we came back to our homes learning much more and growing in our faiths in more ways than we could have imagined.

Lord, give us the strength to stay courageous through trials and fix our eyes on your cross (Hebrews 12:2)!

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First Taste of Missions a success

On July 13, more than 400 WELS members gathered for the first Taste of Missions hosted by WELS Missions. Held at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., the event gave WELS members an opportunity to hear firsthand from WELS home and world missionaries, sample food from around the world, visit mission displays, and participate in a worship service during which three new world missionaries were commissioned.

“It was really wonderful to be able to meet and talk with so many people involved with missions as well as people who are so passionate about missions,” says Mr. Mark Blauert, school chaplain at Wisconsin Lutheran School, Racine, Wis. “The commissioning service was powerful and such a wonderful way to end the event. It was great to be able to see three missionaries being sent off to begin their ministries.”

The three missionaries who were commissioned include Rev. Bounkeo Lor, who is serving as the coordinator of Hmong Asia Ministry and is focusing on training the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam; Rev. Abram Degner, who is joining the Latin America missions team and will be serving as a missionary based in Paraguay; and Rev. Dan Witte, who is joining the One Africa Team and will be serving as a theological educator based in Zambia.

Witte’s wife, Debbie, says, “The overwhelming encouragement and sense of support Dan and I got from that day has really served as a ‘booster shot’ for our resolve to embark on this new ministry opportunity.”

Mr. Sean Young, director of WELS Missions Operations, notes, “We wanted to invite our entire family in Christ for an opportunity to learn more about the exciting mission opportunities they’re supporting, and it was so encouraging to see how well received it was. Experiences like these remind our missionaries that their synod cares for them and is praying for them and at the same time puts a face and a name to those prayers for WELS members. We can’t wait to build on the success of this year’s event for the 2020 Taste of Missions.”

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

 

Taste of Missions 2019 

 

 

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New seminary planned for Indonesia

Groundbreaking for a new seminary facility for Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI), WELS’ sister church in Indonesia, took place in May. This will replace the current seminary, which is on the island of Java.

“It is one of many steps in the process of indigenization and coming of age as a daughter denomination of WELS and a member church of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference,” says Prof. Gregory Bey, professor at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (STTL), GLI’s seminary. “It gives GLI a sense of stability and permanence.”

The new location will offer other advantages, including space for the students and professors to live on campus. Currently students commute back and forth from the dorm to the seminary classrooms, and the professors rent places to live. “A new campus will allow for one location with all the facilities in one place,” says Bey. The local community and its government officials also have approved this new building project.

Bey says that they pray construction will be completed in the next two years.

The new campus will be located close to one of GLI’s oldest congregations, which started nearly 30 years ago. “Initially the small band of believers met as a ‘house church’ as in the days of the apostles,” says Bey. “Eventually, nearby land was purchased, then a worship facility was erected, and finally a small ‘pastori’ or parsonage was added.” One of the sons of the congregation even served the church as its called worker. Having this congregation nearby will allow students to have a place for worship while they are away from home and a support group of like-minded Christians. It also will give them opportunities to gain practical ministry experience.

WELS first established a seminary to train Indonesian called workers in the mid-1980s. Classes were temporarily suspended in the mid-1990s for various reasons, but the seminary was reopened in 1998. Now almost all the classes are taught by national pastors, with Bey being the only full-time foreign professor. Currently seven students are enrolled, and three new students will potentially start in August.

WELS declared fellowship with the GLI in 2003. Twenty-five national pastors serve 1,239 people in 6 congregations and 23 preaching stations. This includes four pastors who teach full-time in the seminary.

Learn more about the work in Indonesia at wels.net/missions.

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Work in Vietnam continues

WELS leaders traveled to Vietnam in June to continue the training of Hmong church leaders as well as to further plans for the theological education center being built in Hanoi.

Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and Rev. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, taught 60 men from the Hmong Fellowship Church courses on the book of Isaiah, pastoral counseling and family ministry for missionaries, and dogmatics (teaching Bible truths).

“Our training session on Isaiah has helped the students in many ways,” says Lor. “I think especially important is that our instruction has helped our students learn how to interpret the Bible. We are talking about the law and the gospel in Isaiah. This approach to studying Isaiah is totally new to them. The law and the gospel are so clear in Isaiah. They are enjoying it very much.”

Mr. Sean Young, director of Missions Operations, arrived later in the trip to work through details regarding the building of the theological education center. Land has been purchased and cleared, and bids are being gathered for the construction project. Construction should begin later this year.

“There is a growing sense of excitement among the Hmong Fellowship Church about having an educational center of their own,” says Young. Classes currently are being held in a rented church owned by the Vietnamese Fellowship Church.

Lor, as Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, teaches many of the classes and oversees the education program, working closely with WELS Missions and the Pastoral Studies Institute. He also directs Hmong outreach in other parts of Southeast Asia. His original call was for two years, but it has just been made permanent as training continues for these Vietnam Hmong leaders and as new opportunities emerge. He will be formally commissioned at the Taste of Missions event, July 13.

Gifts for the building project have been received from hundreds of congregations and individuals, totaling more than 65 percent of what is needed to support the building project and ministry education costs for a two-year period.

“Please continue to keep this opportunity in your prayers as we look to bring the truths of the gospel to the 100,000-plus members of the Hmong Fellowship Church,” says Young.

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

 

View photos below (click to enlarge):

 

 

 

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LWMS convention highlights mission projects

The Wild Rose Circuit of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) welcomed nearly 950 attendees from 821 WELS congregations to praise God and show their support for WELS mission work. “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus in the Heartland” was the theme for the 56th annual LWMS convention, held in Des Moines, Iowa, June 27-30.

During the convention, attendees learned about the expanding outreach efforts by missionary teams in Latin America and Africa and about the continuing growth of the mission field in East Asia. “My wife and I have known over the 12 years we’ve served in a mission field that the ladies of LWMS were praying for us and sending us letters, but to be here and meet them face to face and receive their hugs is something we definitely miss when we are serving overseas,” says Rev. Joel Sutton, missionary to Latin America. “It is very encouraging for us to see these wonderful people who are passionate and have a big heart for missions.”

In addition, home missionaries shared their experiences with outreach in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Workshops included topics of new mission opportunities in Vietnam, the WELS Mission Journeys program for short-term mission trips, and a panel discussion by missionary wives who shared their experiences.

Each year the individual LWMS circuits gather offerings for several Home and World Mission projects. This year $41,204 was given to both the East Asia Outreach and Campus Ministry projects. LWMS also raised $49,938 for kids c.a.r.e.—kids’ summer Bible camps. “The support LWMS provides Home and World Missions is a huge boost and extremely important for our outreach efforts. The people behind those gifts praying for us and the knowledge they take back home and share with their congregations is vital to our ministry,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions.

Betty Schwede was one of 138 first-time attendees to the convention and was impressed with the missionary presentations. “It was so exciting to see all of the amazing things happening at home and around the world. The fellowship and support are so encouraging—I can’t wait to go back to my home congregation to share what our synod is doing around the world and hopefully encourage even more outreach into our community.”

Next year’s convention will be held June 25-28, 2020, in Athens, Ga., under the theme “2020 Vision for Missions.”

Learn more about LWMS at lwms.org.

LWMS Convention 2019

 

 

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My Mission Journey: Forest

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus sent out a Mission Journeys team during their spring break to assist Fount of Life Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., with canvassing and handing out invitations for worship and the pre-school program. Forest Wu, a senior at UW-Madison, was a member of the team and shares his experience: 

Another semester, another spring break, and a mission trip – all in my final year at UW-Madison. It has been an ongoing tradition at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel to invite college students to go on mission trips during spring break. Instead of becoming a “couch Cheeto” and binge-watching “The Office”, students are provided an opportunity to do something memorable for themselves, interact in a community, and most importantly, to serve the Lord.

Forest and Pastor Bilitz assemble packets to hang on doors

With the help of the WELS Mission Journey program, and through the support and prayers from our homes and the local congregation, I joined Pastor Bilitz and five other students. We were invited to serve Fount of Life in Colorado Springs, Colo. For two days, we canvased through neighborhoods in teams; we walked a total of 25 miles! In total, we handed out 2,700 invitations for people to come to worship or to check out the church’s pre-school program. In fact, by God’s blessing, some people had already expressed an interest after our first day.

During our canvassing, we were also fortunate enough to talk to some residents and personally invite them to church. Contrary to the expected rejections, most were happy to take the invitations while some even identified themselves as Christians. This experience reminded me of the time Elijah felt he was the only believer, but God said to him “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (2 Kings 19:18) To me, as a college student in a secular college such as UW-Madison, this is the comfort I needed to spread his gospel. Coming back from the mission trip, I have been more comfortable sharing my beliefs, especially in my Philosophy class and Theatre class, and I am comforted to find that it is true – I am not the only believer left, even in my secular community.

If you want to do something more to serve the Lord in your downtime, I recommend (12 out of 10!) participating in mission trips. Not only will you see the wonders that he has made, but God might also use and inspire you in an unexpected yet wonderful way.

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Home Missions approves new projects

The Executive Committee of WELS Board for Home Missions met on May 9 and authorized financial support for one new mission congregation and one ministry enhancement.

“Even though there was limited funding this spring, we are excited about the new mission start in Houston, Texas,” says Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn, chairman of WELS Board for Home Missions. “The work the core group has already done and the demographics have us feeling this is the right place and the right time.”

A dedicated group of core members from other WELS churches in the area has been meeting monthly for Bible study since 2015. Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions, credits these monthly meetings as a strength of this mission.

“They have put in the time so that now as friends in Christ they are ‘all in’ to start a mission,” says Free.

The new mission will be located in an urban neighborhood that is seeing a resurgence in popularity as people strive to be closer to the city center. Sixty-five percent of those living in the target area are not involved in a religious congregation or community.

Home Missions is also supporting a ministry enhancement to the campus ministry at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh. For more than 35 years, Martin Luther, Oshkosh, Wis., and other local congregations have supported a campus ministry at this university alongside WELS Campus Ministry. Known as Rising Son Ministry Center, this campus ministry has a house just a couple blocks off campus that is used for fellowship, Bible study, and worship. Currently, though, activities are only taking place one night per week because there isn’t a dedicated staff member to oversee the ministry.

The financial support from Home Missions will allow Martin Luther to call a pastor whose job will be to serve half-time at Martin Luther and half-time at Rising Son Ministry Center.

Rev. Nathan Ericson, who currently serves at Martin Luther and works with Rising Son Ministry Center, notes, “A city of Oshkosh study has shown how the UW–Oshkosh campus neighborhood has gone from being 50 percent renter-occupied to more than 90 percent renter-occupied in the years 2000 through 2016 and will approach 100 percent in coming years. Most of the 15,000 residents of this area are juniors, seniors, or recent graduates. There are essentially no churches in this area except Rising Son Ministry Center. With increased staffing we can attempt to reach this field that is ripe for harvest.”

WELS Board for Home Missions also approved two other new starts whose financial support is coming from outside the budget of WELS Home Missions for the next two fiscal years. These unsubsidized missions are opening in Folsom, Calif., and Wesley Chapel, Fla. The board also changed the status of the mission in Killeen, Texas, from “subsidized” to “unsubsidized” since it is now receiving financial support outside Home Missions’ budget. Home Missions provides assistance to unsubsidized mission congregations through its district missions boards, mission counselors, and synodical support staff.

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

 

 

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Moving forward with the Vietnam opportunity

WELS members have responded overwhelmingly to the opportunity that God has given our synod in Vietnam. Gifts have been received from hundreds of congregations and individuals, totaling half of what is needed to support the building project and ministry training costs for a two-year period.

The Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam (HFC), a church body with approximately 100,000 members, has asked WELS to provide theological training for its pastors. Their leaders and several dozen pastors have been receiving instruction from WELS pastors for about three years. They have concluded that we are teaching biblical truth and have embraced the teachings of the Lutheran church. They want to be a Lutheran church body. With the permission—and even encouragement—of the Vietnamese government, the HFC has invited WELS to establish a theological training school where eventually all their pastors will receive thorough instruction and pastoral training.

Due to the generous outpouring of support, the first concrete step in making this plan a reality was taken two weeks ago. I, along with Board for World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer and Director of Missions Operations Mr. Sean Young (pictured, center), traveled to Vietnam to sign a memorandum of understanding with Vietnamese religious officials and with the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church. This agreement enables our synod to secure the use of a four-acre parcel of land on the outskirts of Hanoi and to begin construction of the planned theological training school. Details are now being worked out, and we hope that construction will begin in the near future. Gifts received so far have enabled us to secure the land and will make it possible to build the school. We pray that additional gifts will provide the means to operate the school with WELS instructors.

We do not know where this effort will eventually lead. What we do know is that we have been given an amazing opportunity that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. As we begin down this road, we do so realizing the risks, but also with our eyes of faith focused on the grace and promises of God and the opportunity he is giving us to proclaim the saving gospel in a place where it has been rarely heard. To God be the glory!

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

To learn more about this special opportunity in Vietnam, visit wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

 

 

Taste and learn how the Word is spread

WELS Missions will be hosting its first ever “Taste of Missions” event, July 13, 2019, 12-5 p.m., at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. WELS families are invited to attend this new opportunity to fellowship with WELS missionaries and families, sample ethnic cuisine from WELS mission fields, and learn more about WELS home, world, and joint mission work.

This family-friendly event will include meet-and-greet opportunities with missionaries, presentations from home and world missions, informative displays about WELS mission fields, a question-and-answer panel discussion, and more activities for the whole family. The day will conclude with a worship service celebrating the blessings of WELS mission work at 4 p.m.

Director of Missions Operations Mr. Sean Young says, “We are excited to be able to offer this opportunity for our members. This is the second year that missionaries and their families have had a reunion, and this year, we wanted to invite our entire family in Christ for an opportunity to learn more about the exciting mission opportunities they’re supporting.”

Several home and world missionaries and mission representatives are lined up to participate in the event, including Rev. Larry Schlomer, World Missions administrator; Rev. Timothy Flunker, Home Mission counselor; Rev. Luis Acosta, cross-cultural home mission pastor; Rev. Paul Nitz, missionary to Malawi; Rev. Rob Siirila, Asia Lutheran Seminary professor; Rev. Mike Duncan, friendly counselor to South Asia; Rev. Nathan Schulte, Latin America missionary; Rev. Nathan Seiltz, Multi-Language Publications director; and more.

Registration is now open. The cost is $5 per person; children under five are free. Learn more, view a full itinerary, and register online at wels.net/tasteofmissions2019.

 

 

 

Planting the seed of the gospel in sunny Southern California

Crown of Life is a multi-site church in the Inland Empire in Southern California. It has three congregations in the growing cities of Corona, Riverside, Yucaipa, and Victorville. Corona is a city of commuters. Many people come through this area for various reasons: going to work, heading to the beach, etc. Riverside is a developing area. Many young families are moving into the older neighborhoods and are making these areas a more desirable place to live as the neighborhoods are revitalized. Along with this, new restaurants and stores are moving in. Yucaipa is a growing city with many young families. There is a strong desire here for community and a place they can feel safe raising their children. Each location has a unique set of opportunities to connect with the community to proclaim the gospel.

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students canvassing

This past January we were blessed to have a group of seminary students come to help canvas in our communities. This group was comprised of juniors, middlers and seniors and was led by Professor Allen Sorum. For many of these men, it was their first time going door-to-door. Many started out with trepidation and doubts as to how effective door-to-door ministry would be. At the end of the trip there was a sense of excitement, having met many of our neighbors. The group interviewed people to find out about their beliefs and what they are looking for in a church. The goal of these seminary students winterim trip was to answer the question, “What is the most effective way to start a church in these communities.”

In order to prepare the community for this canvassing event, we prepared flyers to invite our community to Financial Peace University and a Marriage Enrichment seminar. This pre-canvassing flyer resulted in not only great conversations, but a few enrollments in our Bible information class. Only a short while after the seminary students were here, Praise and Proclaim Ministries came out. They also carried out canvassing in three communities and found the people in these areas generally friendly and approachable. Many were open to talking about Jesus and expressing their needs and desires.

This is a ripe mission field as Southern California continues to grow and, along with it, the number of people looking for somewhere to belong. People want to learn about the Bible. Many expressed concerns that they were not learning enough about the Bible in the churches they are currently attending. There are two Evangelical mega-churches in the city of Riverside. Please pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to water the seed of the gospel our church is planting in Southern California!

Written by Rev. Dean Ellis, missionary at Crown of Life Lutheran Church in Inland Empire, Calif. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Lessons for a Home Missionary

Third Thirsty Thursday. I looked forward to it every month. Being able to sit around with a dozen brothers in the ministry on a social level was a highlight, but it wasn’t only the colleagues I looked forward to seeing. Each month I counted how many members or community acquaintances I could walk by on my way to the usual corner tables reserved for our party. “Hey Coppersmiths! Hey, Todd & Patti! Hey Keith!” It wasn’t too tough. With a congregation of 2,500 in a town of just over 10,000, chances were pretty good there’d be at least one familiar face who’d say hi.

Pastor Heckendorf’s installation at Light of the Valleys Lutheran Church – Reno, Nev.

Then I moved. I soon realized how thirsty I was for that interaction with a familiar face. Will I ever be recognized? Will I ever recognize someone else? Funny how lonely one can be in a city that has forty times more people. Then it happened. After being somewhat down that there were no new faces in worship that morning, my wife and I went out to breakfast. As I walked by a booth, I heard it. “Hey!”  It was “Ray”, somebody I just umpired with the day before.

There was no “God’s Great Exchange” drawn out on the napkins at Peg’s Glorified Ham N Eggs that day. (Although after seeing me in a suit, Ray did ask, “You comin’ from church?”) But more than one missionary lesson was learned:

1.) The value of being part of the community to reach the community. I could sit in my office all day and write the best sermons, craft the best blogs, and design the most eye-catching postcards. But nothing beats meeting guys like “Ray” where they are at. To be able to walk into an umpire-training session and hear, “Preacher, you need a crash course on this?” is a tremendous blessing. Who cares that the instructor can’t remember my name – he just let everyone else know I was a preacher. (Coincidentally, the day after our breakfast encounter, Ray and I met at an umpire-training session. He didn’t know I was the preacher when we met at breakfast. Now he wants to ask some questions.

2.) People thirst to be recognized. It’s not just me. Unless you’re running from the law, people long to be known by people. God created us to be relational. I’m not the only one who moved to Reno this last quarter. Hundreds have moved in, so how can we position ourselves to say “hey” to them? (I’m thankful we have a realtor lady as a core member who’s going to help us reach the new movers.)

3.) God’s timing is always right. As mentioned above, it was a little bit of a downer day. We were on a good streak of having visitors in worship, but not that day. What tremendous timing on God’s part to pick me up when I needed it. In all things, but especially in home missions, what a reminder that God’s time isn’t always our time. But God’s time is always better.

4.) Peg’s eggs really are glorified.

Written by Rev. Joel Heckendorf, missionary at Light of the Valleys Lutheran Church in Reno, Nev. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Mission Journeys offers support and inspiration

In February 2019, Ascension, Escondido, Calif., welcomed a group of 11 volunteers from Resurrection and Life, Rochester, Minn. Together, they went door-to-door in the neighborhoods of Escondido and San Marcos as an outreach effort for Ascension. This collaboration was made possible through WELS Mission Journeys, the official synod program for short-term mission trips.

Rev. Jeffrey Duquaine, Ascension’s pastor, calls it “a wonderful event of God’s providence.”

As a small congregation near San Diego, Calif., Ascension was struggling. Its previous pastor had resigned, and its school had closed. Due to the dwindling number of active members, the congregation had considered shutting the church’s doors completely.

Upon beginning his ministry at Ascension in January 2018, Duquaine knew he and the congregation needed to plant the seed of God’s Word in the surrounding communities. Duquaine looked for support from Praise and Proclaim Ministries, a WELS parasynodical ministry that trains Christians in sharing their faith confidently and effectively.

Through Praise and Proclaim, Duquaine and the congregation learned about Mission Journeys. Mission Journeys connected Ascension with the volunteers from Resurrection and Life, and the groups joined together in Escondido for a weekend of canvassing.

“The timing worked out for the team from Rochester to join us for our event,” Duquaine explains. “It didn’t take long at all for us to make a connection as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

After training together, the Ascension and Resurrection and Life groups visited nearly 1,000 homes, encouraging people to attend a Neighborhood Safety Night at Ascension. They took every opportunity they could to share the gospel.

Duquaine was overjoyed to see his members find strength and encouragement as they spoke to others about their Savior.

“Presenting the gospel to people while we trained and while we canvassed gave the Holy Spirit plenty of opportunity to work,” Duquaine says. “The fruit of faith growth that I felt was observable was the confidence people showed in sharing their faith with strangers. There were people who were incredibly nervous and afraid to participate, and it was amazing to see them succeed.”

Ascension saw several people members met during their canvassing efforts attend the Neighborhood Safety Night. Duquaine continues to see results in unexpected ways. “Since that weekend of canvassing, I have had three more people in contact about various aspects of our ministry,” he explains. “It seems like when we trust God and go to work reaching out, he brings people in through the side door was well.”

Outreach efforts have just begun for Ascension. “It wasn’t a one-and-done event, but it was a time for us to pivot toward becoming a true mission group who keeps inviting people to learn about Jesus,” Duquaine explains. “That has been our view for the future.”

Ascension is currently planning more events, special mailings, and digital tactics. Mission Journeys helped the congregation take that first step.

Duquaine urges other congregations seeking support for their outreach efforts to consider partnering with Mission Journeys. “Do it! Definitely! It is great for the Mission Journeys group and the host congregation,” he says. “Even if you are afraid or tentative to actually go to a place and canvass, take the leap and trust that the Holy Spirit will provide you with the confidence and strength—he will give you what you need!”

Mission Journeys has 14 trips planned for the next four months. The ministry aims to facilitate 60 trips during its second year of operation beginning on July 1. To learn more about Mission Journeys—including how you and your church can get involved—visit wels.net/missionjourneys.

Watch the March WELS Connection for more on WELS Mission Journeys.

 

Starting a new church built on The Rock

Mr. Noel Ledermann is a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Citrus Heights, Calif., and a member of the core group exploring mission work in Folsom, Calif. He is also a lay member on the Arizona/California District Mission Board and represents the AZ/CA District on the Board for Home Missions.


Sacramento is the capital of California, and the greater Sacramento area has a population of just over two million people. WELS has three congregations in this area. Over ten years ago, members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church—a church of about 500 members and a school of about 100—-began to talk about establishing a daughter congregation 15 miles away toward the growing community of Folsom. Those talks died due to other congregational concerns at the time; but, as the local economy and population grew, the opportunity began to be discussed again in 2017. After encouragement from the Arizona-California District Mission Board (DMB) and with the leadership of Pastor Kolander, the lead pastor at St. Mark’s, a newly formed Sacramento Area Mission team met in December 2017. Pastor Kruschel, our Home Missions Counselor at the time, and Pastor Vogt, the Chairman of the Arizona/California District Mission Board, were in attendance and helped guide our discussions.

We got started by exploring the potential of a home mission congregation in the Folsom community. Local drive-arounds were completed by interested members of St. Mark’s, our Home Missions counselor, and Pastor Kolander. Initial demographic research was also completed using Mission Insites, a program provided through WELS that helps us understand the community make-up. Some canvassing of the area was also completed by two Martin Luther College students in the summer of 2018. We also had conversations with other mission pastors and laypersons in our mission district.

We made the decision to move forward after several small core group meetings. Our core group was made up of over 20 members from St. Mark’s that had shown a dedicated interest to move forward with this mission effort, and—with at least a two-year commitment to this mission—to work on a mission request to synod to establish a new mission church. We decided on a name late in 2018. In the short term we will be The Rock Lutheran Church, but we also want the new pastor to have some input.

Then, late in 2018, a local WELS member came forward and wanted to make a gift of $500,000 toward this new mission effort. What a blessing! That financial commitment was not only a blessing in terms of monetary value, but it was additional encouragement to our core group as we continued to move forward with our outreach plans.

Over a dozen meetings took place over the next 18 months with our core group members and smaller sub-committees. During that time, Pastor Kolander and I worked on putting together a new mission start request to be submitted to synod by early March 2019. That information required detailed financial estimates, demographics of the area, the names of members committed to this mission effort, and a planning timeline covering the first 18 months of operation. That included plans on what needed to be done and how the group would be involved in the community through events, canvassing, and Bible studies. Early in 2019, we found a Hampton Inn where we could begin a monthly Bible study. The first Bible study was held in March 2019, even without formal synod approval to open a new mission. This was all accompanied by excitement and some healthy anxiety. Within weeks of that first Bible study, the new mission start request was submitted to the WELS.

Looking back, it has been a whirlwind being part of this exciting new mission effort! At the same time, it has been filled with both highs and lows, some hic-ups and speed bumps, and a whole lot of trust in the Lord. We’re anxious to know what the future will bring, but our faith and hope in God makes it a lot easier knowing that everything is in His almighty hands!


This is the first article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for additional blogs from a District Mission Board chairman, Home Missions Counselor, the Board for Home Missions Chairman, and the Administrator for Home Missions.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church: You’re never alone

Rev. Steven Hillmer is the pastor of The Springs Lutheran Church in Sparks, Nev., and also serves as the Chairman of the Arizona/California District Mission Board (DMB). The Arizona-California DMB has been working closely with the core group who are starting the new mission church in Folsom, Calif.


In last week’s article from the four-part series about WELS Home Missions, you heard about the front-line, boots-on-the-ground work that is helping establish a mission near Sacramento, Calif.— specifically The Rock Lutheran Church in Folsom. Starting new home missions is no easy or small task, but you’re never alone. In WELS, this holds especially true in the area of home missions.

Now bear with me, WELS really loves our acronyms.

At the synod level is the WELS Board for Home Missions (BHM). The BHM looks for and financially supports mission opportunities across the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. At present, there are over 80 WELS home mission congregations receiving financial assistance. We call these subsidized missions. This funding comes from your Congregational Mission Offerings (CMO) sent to synod from your church, as well as through individual special gifts. There are also over 30 unsubsidized missions, which means they do not receive direct funding from Home Missions, but receive assistance through their district mission board, mission counselors, and synodical support staff.

Pastor Steve Hillmer – AZ/CA District Mission Board Chairman

The Board for Home Missions (BHM) is made up of the pastor chairman and lay member from each District Mission Board (DMB). There are 14 District Mission Boards—which includes WELS Canada. These DMB’s are comprised of both pastors and laymen. The two main tasks of the DMB’s include supporting existing mission congregations and identifying potential mission fields. Members of the DMB’s are assigned to the existing missions as “shepherds” to offer encouragement and guidance to the new mission pastor and members. They do this through face-to-face meetings and other personal contacts throughout the year.

When it comes to identifying new opportunities, the DMB works with a core group or a local congregation—like St. Mark’s in Citrus Heights, Calif.—to bring forward a mission request. What happens next is perhaps unknown to many WELS members. Usually in February of each year, all fourteen DMB’s work through the requests for new mission starts, enhancements to current ministries, and any other special requests (including Vicar in a Mission Setting requests) from their district. Each of the mission requests include a 3-year budget and 12-year subsidy projection form that incorporates estimates on buying land and building a facility. With demographic forms and more, each request can have 30-50 pages to work through. At the end of some pretty intensive meetings, these requests are prioritized locally by the DMB and submitted to the BHM by March 1.

These forms and budgets not only provide a tool for each mission to complete very thorough and due-diligence work, but they also give the Executive Committee of the Board for Home Missions a good picture of the ministry potential and anticipated costs. In any given year, there are between 15 and 25 new requests! For three to four weeks, all requests—along with all renewal requests for continued mission support—are reviewed by the Executive Committee members who call up the local missions and DMB’s for any clarification.

At the beginning of April, all the requests are prioritized; and that’s when it really gets tough because of limited funding. Next week’s article will talk about what happens at the Board for Home Missions level and how they make their decisions.

What is most certainly true is that the work of reading and reviewing all these new requests demonstrates so clearly that the harvest is ripe. The Lord is opening doors for the gospel to be proclaimed across our country every day. We are thankful that he gives us a dedicated team of pastors and laymen who are actively looking for ways to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. We are thankful to gifts you give to support this work. We are also bold to encourage all WELS members to see that the harvest is ripe and to support mission work at home and abroad with our financial blessings.


This is the second article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for additional blogs from the Board for Home Missions Chairman and the Administrator for Home Missions.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church: What’s next?

Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn is the pastor of Beautiful Saviour Lutheran Church in Carlsbad, Calif., and also serves as the Chairman of the WELS Board for Home Missions (BHM). The BHM counsels, directs, and supports all the districts in their home mission activities, including campus and multi-cultural ministries. The BHM Chairman is elected at Synod Convention to serve a four-year term. 


In last week’s article from the four-part series about WELS Home Missions, you read more about a core group that is beginning to form a new mission church near Sacramento. You learned what a core group is, how often they meet, and what they do when they meet. You’ve also read about how the area District Mission Board, along with the Mission Counselor, helped that fledgling group bring a request for a new mission start to the Board for Home Missions (BHM).

Now what happens once that request is brought before the WELS Board for Home Missions?

BHM Chairman Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn reading the recognition of retirement for Home Missions Counselor Rev. Ed Schuppe earlier this month

Since the WELS Board for Home Missions is 29 men strong, we elect from within our Board two pastors and two laymen who work with the chairman of the BHM in carrying out funding decisions with all of our Home Missions.

This five-man Board for Home Missions Executive Committee is charged with two important tasks: 1) spreading the gospel through starting new mission churches and 2) being wise stewards of the resources God has made available through his people. And so we delve into the mission requests and look for the following things:

  • How strong is the core group of a mission? What spiritual gifts do they possess? How many are committed to being active in the new mission?
  • What are the demographics of the community where the new mission will try to locate? Is the population growing? Is industry thriving?
  • What percentage of unchurched are in the community? Are there a number of people there who are not connected to a church and/or do not know Jesus as their Savior?
  • What do the projected finances of the mission look like? How long until this mission might be able to become self-supporting, under God’s blessing?
  • What does the ministry plan look like for the new mission? Have they given some serious consideration to how they plan to bring the Good News of Jesus into the hearts and lives of the people in their community?

Each spring, the BHM Executive Committee looks at anywhere from 15 to 25 new start requests. We evaluate each request based on the criteria listed above. We interview the District Mission Board chairman and Mission Counselors prior to meeting to get a better feel for the mission. We discuss among ourselves each new mission start. Most importantly, we pray for God’s wisdom to make best decision for the good of his Kingdom.

There are three things that can happen to a new mission request.

  • Deferred: We may feel that the new mission is perhaps a year away from being started. The core mission group needs to do a little bit more work to build itself up and determine its ministry plan.
  • Denied: A mission request may be denied if we feel it doesn’t fit the criteria of what WELS Home Missions is commissioned to do.
  • Prioritized: The new mission start requests that we feel are ready get prioritized (or ranked) from top to bottom. Depending on how much funding is available, the missions prioritized at the top are able to be authorized and may begin calling a mission pastor and working their ministry plan. Some years its as many as 6-8 new missions, maybe more! Other years it may only be 2-3.

Sadly, this spring we were only able to authorize three new missions–and only because they were able to come up with their own local funding for the first year or more. Two more were prioritized, but we have to wait to see if we have the funds later on in the fiscal year to give them the green light to call a mission pastor and move forward. Declining congregational mission offerings (CMO) subscriptions affect WELS Home Missions and that’s why it’s looking like we can’t approve as many as previous years. Let’s join in praying that God not only send workers into his harvest field, but that he also sends gifts to support starting new missions. The harvest is ready in many fields across North America!


This is the third article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for an additional blog from the Administrator for Home Missions.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church: Why we do it

Rev. Keith Free, Administrator for WELS Home Missions, serves full-time out of the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. The Home Missions Administrator is an advisory, non-voting member of the Board for Home Missions (BHM) and is responsible for executing the decisions of the BHM. 


Perhaps you know a family that drives many miles to worship at the nearest WELS church. Growing up, there was a family who drove over 75 miles one way to worship at the church where my father was pastor. Think about an unchurched family or an unbeliever. . . To my knowledge, when growing up or during the many years serving as a parish pastor, I can’t recall any unchurched person making a specific effort to travel any great distance to worship with us.

Why do we plant mission churches? We do so in order to have another outreach center; another location from which God’s Word can go out to people who need the message of sin and grace and law and gospel. We do so in order that folks blessed with faith in Christ Jesus can invite their neighbors, co-workers, or friends to join them in worship at a convenient spot.

If you’re skeptical of church planting or believe the widespread myth that new church plants just “steal sheep” from other flocks, that simply is not the case. Yes, there are going to be people who start attending a new church who were part of a different church. There is no denying that it does happen. Generally speaking though, when a new church plant is engaging its community, is persistent in inviting the folks in their vicinity to worship, and encourages its members to invite their unchurched friends, typically there are going to be people reached who either have no church background or haven’t been in a Christian church in years. They’re lost in their sins! They need to hear about Jesus Christ; his perfect life, his Good Friday death, and that incredible resurrection on Easter Sunday that was done to save all those lost in their sins.

Yes, established WELS churches engage the unchurched and lost just like mission churches do. Yet, by their very nature, established churches do a lot to serve the already reached—which is vital! There are more hospital visits, more counseling sessions, more meetings. There can be more worship services and Bible classes. A lot of time is spent feeding God’s people with the Means of Grace, just like it should be.

By its very nature, a mission church focuses most of its time and energy to reach the unchurched. A mission church looks to share God’s truths in Holy Scripture with the lost. The reality is that planting new churches is most often the single greatest way to reach any culture far from God: that is the intent and purpose of the mission church.

When someone tells you, “We already have a lot of churches. . . we don’t need to plant another”, remind them that we need thriving bodies of gospel-motivated people hearing Jesus’ directive who gather and then scatter to very intentionally and assertively fulfill the Great Commission. You can never go wrong supporting and praying for the people who are a part of a church plant. You can never go wrong in giving to WELS Home Missions so that church planting can continue in WELS. New churches make a difference—an everlasting difference. God bless our synod as we keep on planting mission churches.


This is the fourth article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

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A rare and precious gospel

There were already a lot of churches in Morristown. In this medium-sized manufacturing town in the hills of East Tennessee, it seemed like there was a different church on every corner.

When I arrived at Living Promise almost eight years ago, there were 153 churches already in Morristown. With a population of less than 30,000 this meant that there was more than one church for every 200 people. I had to wonder what sort of future lay in store for us at Living Promise and would there be any need or room for us in Morristown. . . How would the community take to another church, this time started and pastored by outsiders? Would anyone care what our church had to say when there were already so many churches saying so much?

There was a lot that I found that didn’t seem all that remarkable as we began to introduce ourselves to the community. Morristown was a lot like most of Appalachia—most people grew up pretty familiar with a church. Most people believed that Christianity was a good thing. Most people, at least at some level, believed in God.

Community event at Living Promise

What still amazes me, however, is the impact that the truth and the gospel would have in our little community. As we continued to preach and teach the Word of God, people showed up. Even in a town where most people had never heard of a Lutheran, people walked through the doors of a Lutheran church. As we knocked on doors, followed up with people, and planned kids camps and events to meet our community, God blessed our efforts. While during our first year most of our worship services had attendance in the single digits, this last year we have crept over 100 more often than not—all of this by the grace and power of God.

God sent souls to us who had been hurt by other churches. He sent souls to us looking for an answer to quiet a guilty conscience. He sent souls to us looking for Biblical answers to some hard questions. As God sent us these people, we realized how rare and precious the gospel truth that God had given us to proclaim is. While there were already a lot of churches in Morristown, the true gospel in many ways was still rare. People in our community were still crying out for the gospel we had to share.

All of this has encouraged us all the more in our gospel proclamation. We still know that there are a lot of churches in Morristown. Even more, we know that the gospel we have is rare and precious and that God will use it to gather his people.

Written by Rev. Matthew Westra, missionary at Living Promise Lutheran Church in Morristown, Tenn. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Recommendations for church fellowship

One of the highlights of this summer’s 65th Biennial Synod Convention will be the formal declaration and recognition of fellowship with two confessional Lutheran church bodies. The 2019 synod convention will be held July 29 – Aug. 1, 2019, at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.

The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ – Kenya (LCMC – Kenya) was formed when the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya began to tolerate false teachings. A group of Kenyan pastors broke away and began searching for a confessional Lutheran church body. In 2015, Rev. Mark Onunda of the LCMC – Kenya met at length with the Doctrinal Committee of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa – Zambia Synod (LCCA – Zambia), a former WELS mission and now our sister synod. The LCCA – Zambia synod declared formal fellowship with the LCMC – Kenya last September. The WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations will be recommending to the synod convention that WELS also formally declare fellowship with the LCMC – Kenya.

The Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church in Taiwan began as a WELS mission and is now an independent Lutheran Church body that has always been in fellowship with WELS. Because this church is now independent, the Commission on Inter-Church Relations is recommending that the synod in convention formally recognize our fellowship with the Christian Lutheran Evangelical Church in Taiwan.

Representatives from each church body will address the convention and make presentations that will familiarize the delegates with these church bodies that will be recognized formally as a part of our fellowship.

We thank God for continuing to enlarge our fellowship with Lutheran Christians around the world.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Learn more about the 2019 synod convention.

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My Mission Journey: Liz

Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) sent out its first Mission Journeys team in January 2019 to assist Grace Lutheran Church in Sahuarita, AZ, with community outreach, English as a Second Language classes, and church-property clean-up. Liz O’Connor (pictured third from left), a sophomore at WLC and member at St. John’s, Lomira, WI, was a member of the team and shares her experience: 

Q: Why did you decide to volunteer for this Mission Journeys trip? What did you hope to gain?

I love traveling to new places to spread the good news of Jesus and help out churches in a variety of ways. Through this trip I hoped to strengthen my faith and connect with the people of Sahuarita.

Q: Have you been involved in outreach programs like this in the past?

Yes! In high school I went to Victory of the Lamb Lutheran Church in Katy, TX, with a group of students from Redeemer Lutheran in Fond du Lac, WI. Last spring break I took a trip to Illumine Church in Rock Hill, SC. There were four girls from WLC that traveled there to help out.

Q: What were some of the things you did on the trip? What was your favorite part?

We canvassed the neighborhoods of Sahuarita to further understand if more people need a church home and childcare (the answer was yes!). We helped the ladies at Mission to the Children by packing bags and organizing supplies for their next trip to Mexico. Lastly, we helped out with English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Grace in Tucson, which was my favorite part of the trip. In our free time we went hiking and visited attractions in the Tucson area, like the Arizona Desert Museum and Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

Q: What lessons did you learn from your experience?

I learned that it often takes more than one encounter to engage others when it comes to speaking about church or Jesus. It is difficult for some people to talk about, so maybe the door in the face one time can lead to listening ears the next time. Who knows what God can work after that! There is nothing wrong with baby steps. God will take care of it.

Q: How will you use what you learned on your trip in your own life?

I can apply this lesson to my life in any conversation about Jesus, whether it is at WLC, work, or wherever. When the opportunity arises, I can do just what I’ve practiced on previous mission trips – spread the love of Jesus!

Q: Would you go again? What would you say to someone who might be considering taking a trip like this in the future?

I would go on this trip again in a heartbeat. For those of you considering a mission trip, I strongly encourage you to go. There is nothing like it! You don’t have to worry that you are too young, too inexperienced, too nervous, etc. God will use you!

Q: Do you feel it is important for high school and college students to take time to do short-term outreach trips like these? Why or why not?

It’s SO important – These trips teach you how to engage with others, and they instill a heart of service. There are some experiences in life that you won’t have unless you go on a mission trip, and you can apply the lessons learned in your own church and community.

Q: Anything else you want to add about your experience with Mission Journeys?

One of the coolest parts about going on a mission trip is meeting people that share the same faith as you all over the country and the world!

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People take their time

I was practicing my sermon on a recent Sunday morning, preaching to the empty chairs, when I got a phone call from an unknown number. Doris wanted to confirm what time the service was. “I can’t come to church today, Pastor. I’ve got a family commitment. But I’ll be there next Sunday for sure.” I vaguely recalled a conversation with Doris from when Ron and I were out canvassing. She and I had talked in her driveway for so long, Ron was wondering what had happened to me. But how long ago had that one previous conversation with Doris taken place? I had to scroll back a bit through my calendar. . . ten weeks!

It takes a while.

Keith and his wife Shawn brought their eight-year-old to our soccer camp in June. Each sweltering afternoon they would find refuge under a shade tree, keeping an eye on Bryce and chatting with the church members who were prepping snacks and handing out water. The three of them came to our worship service at the end of the week. We never saw them again. Not until the first Sunday in January, when they came to worship a second time. Six and a half months later!

Few folks seem to be in a hurry to get connected to a church.

I stopped at Jane’s front door three days after she attended a worship service with her niece. The conversation was pleasant and brief. I gave her a “welcome gift” and was on my way. That seemingly was the end of Jane’s interest in what we have to offer. Until there she was, sitting next to her niece and worshiping with us on Christmas Eve. Ten months later!

What is it that keeps individuals from responding more quickly to our invitations? I suppose I could spin all sorts of theories in response to that question. I realize the experts have offered their own, well-researched explanations as well. But it’s hard to get beyond the unholy trinity so often referenced by Luther. People are slow to respond to our visits and encouragements because they are constantly being delayed by the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh.

Worship at Living Savior in Hendersonville, N.C.

I don’t want respond to this phenomenon with cynicism, or become callous to it, or even accept it as inevitable. I would rather commit myself and our members to a more aggressive follow-up schedule. In addition, Jesus invites me to frequent prayer on behalf these blood-bought souls. Mostly, however, I want to be mindful that even the Son of God himself found his most frequent listeners to be “slow to believe” (Luke 24:25). If Jesus’ ministry is the model for outreach, then why should I ever be discouraged when people take their time responding to my church’s outreach ministry?

I’m pleased to announce that after her ten-week delay, Doris actually did worship with us the following Sunday. And starting that first Sunday in January, Keith, Shawn, and Bryce haven’t missed a Sunday. They’re already signed up for our next “Foundations” class. And Jane just wrote me a heartwarming note about how much she loves the class she’s been taking and the services she’s been attending. Now she says she “can’t wait” to become a communicant member of her new church.

What do you think? Someday should I ask each of them why it took them so long? Nah! I’d rather keep telling them how grateful I am that our church can serve them with the gospel of our merciful, patient, long-suffering Savior and of the timeless life he’s won for them and for me.

Written by Rev. Paul Zell, missionary at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Hendersonville, N.C. 

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My Mission Journey: David

Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) sent out its first Mission Journeys team in January 2019 to assist Grace Lutheran Church in Sahuarita, AZ, with community outreach, English as a Second Language classes, and church property clean-up. David Wilson (pictured third from left), a junior at WLC and member at St. John’s, Pardeeville, WI, was a member of the team and shares his experience: 

Q: Why did you decide to volunteer for this Mission Journeys trip? What did you hope to gain?

I thought it would be a fun way to get out of my comfort zone and meet other WELS members outside of Wisconsin. I was looking for a different perspective by visiting a relatively young WELS church and also create closer relationships with the other participants.

Q: Have you been involved in outreach programs like this in the past?

I have been involved with other canvassing and mission efforts locally, but this was my first mission trip.

Q: What were some of the things you did on the trip? What was your favorite part?

The majority of the time was spent canvassing and interviewing residents to gain insight into the community. Our main goal was to inform people that the church was opening a new location with childcare, which is a large need in that community. We also had one day that involved doing work at the church. It was good ole’ manual labor to get the outside looking pretty. Besides working, we also had time to do a lot of hiking and to explore Tucson and the surrounding area.

Q: What lessons did you learn from your experience?

While it may be uncomfortable at first to approach someone at the door, that feeling of discomfort is only temporary. The results of my actions could impact someone eternally! We don’t get to see results right away, but that doesn’t mean our actions aren’t effective.

. . . I also learned that Arizona is an unforgiving place where many of the plants and animals can kill or hurt you. I’ve decided I would rather see a black bear in Wisconsin than a black widow spider in Arizona.

Q: How will you use what you learned on your trip in your own life?

I plan on taking this experience and utilizing what I learned to interact more with those I know who don’t understand the joy we have in Christ. While I know they will be difficult conversations, they will be more than worthwhile in the end.

Q: Would you go again? What would you say to someone who might be considering taking a trip like this in the future?

I would go again in a heartbeat. While we did do a lot of work in our short time in Arizona, we had a blast doing it. We also got to have fun exploring in the off-time. Personally, I thought the best part of the trip was getting to know the pastor and his family as well as the other church members. They really made us feel welcome and at-home during our stay. It was not easy to leave.

Q: Do you feel it is important for high school and college students to take time to do short-term outreach trips like these? Why or why not?

I would recommend this type of trip to any young person. Not only is it an awesome faith-strengthening experience, but these trips also give you an opportunity to bond with friends. It’s a cost-effective way to travel and expand your horizons.

Q: Anything else you want to add about your experience with Mission Journeys?

Coming from an older congregation, it was super fun to be involved with a younger congregation. I think that some of the ideas and programs I learned about would do well at my home congregation as well as others in the area. I hope these trips can serve as a way to increase the flow of ideas for outreach and programming for participants to take back to their home congregation.

 

To learn more about the WELS Mission Journeys program and how you and your congregation or school can get involved, visit wels.net/missionjourneys.

 

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