Tag Archive for: missions

Update from Ukraine: March 11, 2022

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


Today’s conversation was earlier than most days. A number of western cities have been bombed today. Where there was no fighting yesterday changed dramatically today. There is a growing sense of desperation among the people in Ukraine that other countries aren’t doing enough to help. They plead, help is needed now.

Another fear, that people have had, is that Russians will capture and arrest political leaders. This has become a reality in certain cities. Bishop [Horpynchuk, head of the ULC) fears that after the political leaders they will then come for the religious leaders. Bishop is particularly concerned for Oleksandr Feschenko in Tokmak. He asks our prayers for him and his family.

A comment that sticks with me is when Bishop said that it’s as though he is living in the times of Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet. Lamenting over what is happening to his people and his country. Which presented a good opportunity for both of us to be reminded that God is still in control. That in this world there will be suffering, but we have a greater hope, made certain for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ. Man can disappoint us, hurt us, and even kill us, but man cannot take our Savior from us, nor remove the hope that we have in Christ.

Our conversation today was a mixture of sadness, disappointment, frustration, and even anger. But when our discussion turned to Christ, it was as though there was a sense of peace and calm, and even a joy that interrupted and took over our conversation. The good news of salvation in Jesus Christ our Savior can and does calm troubled hearts and does give to us a peace that goes beyond all understanding. In the midst of everything that is wrong in this world, Jesus is the One that is always right. His words can do what armies and powers can’t, they bring comfort to hurting hearts.

 

 


 

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

 

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Update on WELS relief efforts for Ukraine

Please feel free to share this latest update with you congregation.

  • The situation for our brothers and sisters in the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) remains very dire. Thankfully, we have learned that none of the pastors or members have lost their lives, but at least some members report that their homes have been destroyed. Some of the pastors and members have relocated to places that are relatively safe and removed from the heavy fighting, but others remain in areas where military activity is taking place every day. We continue to pray for their safety.
  • WELS members have already been very generous with gifts intended to support relief and humanitarian efforts both for members of the ULC and for the refugees and local citizens in need of help. We thank you to all those who have given gifts for Ukraine relief. Those gifts are being channeled through WELS World Missions, which remains in contact with the ULC and is still able to transfer funds to where they are most needed. To date, $25,000 has been sent, with additional funds to be sent in the coming days and weeks as long as the banking system remains intact. Individuals can give a gift by going to wels.net/give-ukraine or by sending a check payable to WELS and designating “Ukraine” in the memo line to WELS Attn: Gift Processing, N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive, Waukesha, WI 53188. (Organizations may donate via check but not online.)
  • Currently, collecting physical relief items (blankets, water, canned goods, diapers, etc.) to send to Ukraine is not the best option for assisting those impacted by this war. The expense and logistical complexity of getting such items to those who need it make such an effort impractical. We will let you know when and if such efforts become possible.
  • In addition to gifts through the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, some have made gifts to WELS Christian Aid and Relief (CAR). With those funds, CAR has made grants to Direct Relief (directrelief.org) to get aid to those who need assistance, especially for Ukrainian refugees in Poland. To date, WELS Christian Aid and Relief has sent $50,000 to Direct Relief. This highly rated disaster relief organization specializes in providing medical assistance and supplies where they are needed most. They have both the inventory and infrastructure to bring medical aid to an area quickly. We have worked with this organization for many years and trust their work.
  • Pastor Roger Neumann is the WELS liaison to the ULC; he is in almost daily contact with Bishop Horpynchuk, head of the ULC, and keeps us informed of the latest news and challenges. There are periodic Ukraine updates on the WELS website at wels.net.

Lord God, in this world of darkness and evil, the light of your saving gospel continues to shine. Through that good news you have brought people around the world from the darkness of sin and death into your marvelous light. But evil exists, and Satan’s work in this fallen world continues. As many in Ukraine are experiencing unimaginable hardships and suffering, we ask that you would be with them. Protect them, provide for them, and, above all, strengthen their faith and trust in you and your promises. We commend them to your gracious care, knowing that you have promised to be with them always. Even though they are now walking through the shadow of death, enable them to fear no evil. We ask you, in your love and wisdom, to restore peace and safety to those now enduring the horrors of war and bloodshed and to continue to let your gospel message be the comfort and hope that so many desperately need. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Serving you in Christ,
Rev. Mark Schroeder
WELS President

 

 

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Update from Ukraine: March 10, 2022

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


Today I’ll begin with some quick updates on pastors and congregations in the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC), our sister synod. All are alive and well at this time. Thanks be to God.

Bishop talked with Pastor Victor Khaustov who moved with his family to a safer location in Kharkiv. Moving about in that city is dangerous now because one could easily find themselves in a crossfire situation between Russian and Ukrainian troops. So they make very limited trips out of their homes, only to get needed food or medical supplies.

Pastor Oleksandr Feschenko reports that the internet has been cut off in Tokmak. Each day, people bravely protest in the city, the occupation by the Russians. These actions let the Russians know they are not welcome there.

Pastor Dmytro Didkivski says that the city of Malyn continues to be bombed. The areas where this is taking place are mostly residential areas. The Russian actions show an undisciplined, almost degenerate mindset, harming and killing innocent, defenseless people, and needlessly destroying homes and buildings.

In Kyiv, it’s reported that their church building is unharmed from bombings. Praise be to God. Plans are being made to use the church to store some food in the event the city comes under siege. Members of the church are helping an elderly member who needs assistance getting food and water. Just one example of so many that happen every day.

Other pastors who aren’t in the immediate conflict areas continue to help with refugees. They assist people, who left everything behind to flee, to purchase shoes and clothing if needed, in addition to food and water. In Riven, sets made up of a primitive mattress, pillow, and blanket sell for about $40.00. These are being purchased so people have something more comfortable to sleep on as they stop for rest on their long, slow journey to the border.

The efforts of the pastors, and leaders in the church, are wonderful to hear about. People are naturally most interested, each day, in how go things on the battlefield. Yet when one starts a prayer, or begins reading some Bible passages, people pause to listen and are comforted and encouraged. It reminds them that in the midst of death, there is life in Christ. Sometimes pastors are torn by the desire to be helping in the conflict but they also know how important it is for people to hear the word. They preach, have short Bible studies, pray, and encourage daily readings. For a few brief moments, it takes people’s minds off what is going on around them and they find peace in Christ. This teaches us both the value and the need for those who preach and teach God’s Word. We thank them for their efforts, and want them to know that their efforts are not in vain.

 

 


 

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

 

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Strawberry fields forever in Vietnam

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey (strawberries?) to my mouth!

Despite COVID-19 restrictions and obstacles, our mission to the Hmong people in Vietnam moves forward. We continued in our second year of online instruction for our Hmong students.

Recently I taught a course on the book of Psalms to our 57 students. My partner Bounkeo Lor taught a class on Christian Stewardship. His brother Ger Lor taught the Augsburg Confession.

About half an hour before each class began, I opened the Zoom classroom. Students like to check in early, talk to each other, catch up on news, and say prayers. I get to practice my limited Hmong vocabulary by greeting the students and asking them questions.

On the day of the final session of our Psalms class, one student showed us a blessing from her garden. Ntshuab showed us a basket of strawberries. I quickly consulted my Hmong-English dictionary to find the Hmong word for strawberry. “Kuv nyiam txiv pos nphuab,” (I like the strawberry) I said to Ntshuab.

Then I decided to change my Zoom background to show a basket of strawberries. The students smiled and chatted about strawberries. More students entered the classroom and probably wondered why I featured a picture of strawberries.

The class continued for two hours. We reviewed and celebrated the message of the Psalms. One student remarked, “I never realized before how much the Psalms talk about Jesus.” He had learned the chief message of Scripture and the Psalms.

When we concluded, the students regretted that we couldn’t study more of the Psalms. We focused our ten sessions on just 12 of the 150 Psalms. I also regretted that we could not study more of the Psalms but promised we would do so in the future.

I said, “Each Psalm we studied is like a sweet strawberry. They are delicious and we want to eat more of them.” “Yes,” said one student, “I wish we could have eaten more strawberries in this class.”

Our Hmong students remain eager to learn God’s Word. We finish one class. They want another class. We study one book of the Bible. They want to study the next book. We cover one topic. They want to hear all the topics.

Our brothers and sisters in the Hmong Fellowship have the desire of the psalmist who wrote, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey (strawberries?) to my mouth!”

Written by Joel Nitz, world missionary in Vietnam.

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WELS President’s Comments on the situation in Ukraine

The world has watched in horror as the country of Ukraine has been invaded by neighboring Russia. Entire cities have been decimated. Civilians have become the target of relentless strikes by bombs and missiles. Over a million Ukrainians have been forced to flee to neighboring countries, leaving behind loved ones, homes, and all they possess.

While our attention has been on the conditions throughout Ukraine and the human suffering the war has caused, we also have special concern for the members of our sister church body, the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC). Congregations of the ULC are located in many of the places that you have heard about in the news. Many of their members have been forced to take shelter from shelling or to flee from their homes; some have had their homes destroyed.

The head of the ULC, Bishop Vyacheslav Horpynchuk, has been in regular contact with WELS liaison to the ULC Pastor Roger Neuman. Pastor Neumann has been providing daily updates on the situation in Ukraine, especially relating to how our fellow believers are being affected. I’ve also been in contact with the bishop to hear first-hand about the challenges he and his congregations are facing and to assure him of our synod’s continuing support through prayers and offerings.

WELS members have generously sent gifts to WELS World Missions in support of relief efforts. Last week, WELS sent $25,000 to the ULC, with the assumption that this is only the first installment of assistance that WELS members will provide. The funds are intended to provide needed help to refugees and others affected by the war. WELS Christian Aid and Relief also authorized a $25,000 grant to Direct Relief, an organization that is providing medical supplies and support necessary during a time of war. We realize that the ability to send funds to Ukraine may be lost at any time.

Some of the ULC congregations were able to hold worship services last week (most of them virtually). We praise God that his Word continues to provide them with comfort, strength, and renewed faith in God’s gracious promises.

We will continue to look for ways to provide assistance to the ULC and, if possible, to ULC families who have made their way to other countries and need assistance. Our sister church in Germany is also looking for ways to help.

This entire tragic drama is another stark reminder of the wickedness and depravity that infects the human soul. And yet, even in these darkest of days, we remain confident that the Lord of lords is still ruling with his grace and power. We trust that the gates of hell itself cannot withstand the power of the gospel. We pray for a quick end to the war. We ask God for his forgiveness for taking his blessings for granted. And we commit our ULC brothers and sisters—and all Ukrainians—to God’s care and protection.

In Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Ukrainian bishop with sons on front lines shares realities of war

On March 2, FOX19 Now from Cincinnati, Ohio, featured a story on Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) Bishop V’yacheslav Horpynchuk and his two sons who are defending their home country. His one son, Vlad, previously served as a vicar at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Cincinnati. The ULC is WELS’ sister church in Ukraine.

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Mission exploration in an unlikely place

When you think of places that are ripe for the harvest and logical locations to begin mission exploration, you probably start thinking big cities and highly populated suburban areas, right? It seems like a natural place to start. I mean, there are lots of people in those areas to connect to God’s Word and a seemingly endless potential of opportunities to do so . . .

But what about a place like the U.P. (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan)? It’s a huge area of land—larger than a lot of states, in fact. But yet the total population is less than 300,000. And even the largest city—Marquette—is only a little over 20,000.

It might seem illogical to do mission exploration in such a sparsely populated part of the country—a land where wild animals and trees far outnumber people! But yet the people who do live here are equally loved by God and just as desperately in need of salvation as people in the big cities. And in many ways, it’s actually easier to establish yourself and connect with people in towns of 3,000-5,000, as opposed even to suburbs of, say, 30,000-50,000.

This past October, I had the privilege of leading Pastors Ben Enstad and Wayne Uhlhorn on a little tour of several of the “larger” towns in the U.P. (and I use that word “larger” very loosely)—and in doing so, they, too, agreed that the U.P. certainly is a mission field worth exploring. We already have small congregations in a number of the larger towns—so in those places, we already have the benefit of some established connections. But the problem is that it’s also been hard to gain any sort of traction in those communities—because, due to financial limitations, the majority of those established congregations have to share one pastor between two or even three parishes.

Two examples: Iron River and Marquette. Iron River—the hometown of recent Olympic gold-medalist snowboarder, Nick Baumgartner—is a town of about 3,000 people, with a good percentage of those being unchurched. But yet the congregation that we currently have there barely has a presence, because the pastor lives 45 minutes away and is asked to spend his time also tending to two other parishes. Likewise, Marquette—which again is by far the largest “metropolitan” area in the U.P.—has a small, but long-established WELS congregation in the area, dating back to the mid 1800s. But yet the existing congregation is 10 miles east of town where hardly anyone lives; and furthermore, the pastor is pulled further in the opposite direction by the fact that he also serves another congregation 45 minutes southeast of his rural Marquette congregation.

So like I say, there’s certainly potential to be tapped. But a lack of financial resources, and therefore a lack of sufficient pastoral presence, has really been a hindrance to doing any sort of major outreach in recent years.

And this is where WELS Home Missions can come in and offer a much needed hand. Working together in collaboration with our already established congregations in Iron River and/or Marquette, Home Missions has the ability to provide financial resources that currently aren’t available to those congregations; and those extra financial resources could enable them to call an additional pastor. Such a pastor could focus his attention where that attention is needed, directing his efforts primarily toward outreach and really getting into the community. And with the blessing of our gracious Lord, I believe such work would bear much fruit—even in a place that otherwise seems rather unlikely.

I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to show Ben and Wayne the U.P., and I’m happy that they, too, saw the potential. It’s not where your mind might immediately jump to when you think about our Synod’s goal of 100 new missions and mission enhancements in the next 10 years. But God’s not limited to only being successful in big cities! And neither are those who live in small towns and remote areas any less worthy of hearing the precious, saving truth of the gospel!

Written by Stephen Lehmann, pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Iron Mountain, Mich.

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An update from Ukraine

WELS Ukraine liaison Rev. Roger Neumann has been able to maintain regular contact with leaders from the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC), WELS’ sister church body. As of Tuesday morning, Neumann is reporting that so far the members there remain physically unharmed. However, all but 2 of the 17 congregations, comprising approximately 600 members, are in the direct line of the Russian advance. Two of the pastors have been cut off from communication. Many were able to hold online or in-person worship during the invasion on Sunday morning.

Neumann reports, “There’s a lot of fear, mixed with anger and bewilderment, as to why this is happening. They are very encouraged by the international support; very encouraged by the prayers of WELS people that are going out.”

According to Neumann, some members have been able to flee the country. However, at this time, all Ukrainian men between ages 18 and 60 are required to remain to defend their country as needed. The people who have stayed are taking shelter at night in the underground subway stations and come out during the day to find food and supplies. So far, limited supplies are still available, but the shelves are getting emptier.

WELS is financially assisting two ULC churches in western Ukraine that are setting up refugee centers to welcome Ukrainians who are fleeing from war-torn areas in the east, but space and resources are limited. Hundreds of thousands of people are currently on the move. Money is also being sent to help buy supplies for these refugees. At the time of this writing, banks and supermarkets are still open. The situation is being closely monitored regarding how funds can be safely and effectively sent and used.

“When this is all said and done—and Lord willing, it’s going to be soon and Lord willing, it’s going to be where they will keep their sovereignty—there is going to be a tremendous need for humanitarian aid,” Neumann predicts. “Pray for Ukraine; pray for the people. That’s the number one thing, and the rest God will take care of in his way.”

If you’d like to give a gift to support these relief efforts, visit wels.net/wmgift and select “Ukraine” from the dropdown menu.

 

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Our first church

Often mission churches start out by meeting in their pastor’s living room. That’s how The Vine, in Coeur d’Alene got started. A small number of us met for Bible study and then worship in my living room for over a year. It was cozy. It was comfortable. It was relaxing. It was our “church.”

But, after a year, our “church” was too small. The Lord had blessed us with enough people that we needed to find a new location.

Our next “church” was in a conference room at a local hotel. Again, it was a small room with a low ceiling. It required us to unload our equipment, set it all up, take it all down, and load it back into the trailer every Sunday (i.e. “church in a box”), but it served our needs well for two more years.

Then we found a store front rental unit that became our “church.” This made it possible for us keep our equipment set up from week to week. But it was still tight at times and had limited space for classrooms and extra outreach events and activities.

Certainly, we were grateful to the Lord for always giving us a place to call “church,” but we knew that we needed to look for something more permanent if we were going to grow and reach more of our community for Jesus.

So, one of our original members, Don, drove around the city on almost a daily basis looking for buildings or property that could potentially become our first “church,” but most of them were either out of our price range or out of our target area.

But Don was relentless. He never gave up. He said to me one time, “Pastor, we will find our church someday. The Lord already knows which one it is. We just need to trust him, and he will make it clear to us which one will be ours.”

A few months ago, the Lord did just that. He made it possible for us to find a church building that was owned by another church which was also looking for a new church building. Through a series of miraculous circumstances and events that only the Lord could have been behind, this church building recently became ours. We now have our first “church.” Thank you, Lord.

Even though we have our first church building which we can call “home,” we’ve always known that our identity as a “church” was not in a building; our identity was in Christ. That is the Church. A group of believers in Christ who gather together around God’s Word and Sacraments, regardless of whether they meet in a pastor’s living room, in a hotel conference room, in a store front, or in a church building.

Don never got to see our new church. He passed away just a few months beforehand. But Don got to see the “Church” triumphant in heaven with his Savior Jesus. That’s the Church that we all look forward to worshiping in someday.

Written by Pastor Kevin Schultz, home missionary at The Vine in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

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Registration now open! Taste of Missions 2022

Registration is now open for Taste of Missions, a hybrid event that will be held on Saturday, June 11, 2022. Join us in person at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis., OR online to get a “taste of missions” no matter where you might be around the world.

The event kicks off with a special worship service where we plan to commission new home and world missionaries. Sample ethnic cuisine from some of our mission fields while enjoying fellowship and presentations from home and world missionaries alike. View displays, participate in outdoor family-friendly activities, and ask questions about the ups and downs of mission work during panel discussions.

Virtual attendees will be able to watch all events via livestream, view additional video updates from missionaries, and try their hand at making one of the many ethnic recipes shared on the website. View the full itinerary at tasteofmissions.com.

Registration is $15 per person, with children 13 and under attending for free. Those attending in person will receive food tickets to sample ethnic food and will have the ability to purchase additional food from the food trucks. Or attend virtually for free! Sign up today at tasteofmissions.com/register.

See you there!

WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions

 

 

 

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Reflection in the water

It was a long year of online learning for Brenda. The plans to attend a university in San Diego in person were altered by the pandemic. Brenda chose to return home to East Asia and attend classes online. This meant that she was often awake in the middle of the night for live classes that were taking place in California. Even with the scheduling challenges, Brenda found blessings in her situation. She was granted extra time at home with family that she would have otherwise missed. She also found time to reflect on the “family” she had grown to appreciate during her high school years at St. Croix Lutheran High School. Many of the teachers, staff, and fellow students at St. Croix had shown Christian love that left a meaningful impact on her. She recognized what a blessing it was to regularly study God’s Word at St. Croix. Brenda’s plan had been to ask to be baptized around graduation time of her senior year. But during that year the pandemic shifted her interactions with her St. Croix family to be online and she never inquired about baptism. The long, first year of university study online made Brenda eager to connect with Christians when she was finally able to travel to California.

Brenda reached out to Pastor Dave Huebner from St. Croix and asked if he knew of any WELS churches in the San Diego area. Pastor Huebner was able to connect Brenda with Reformation Lutheran Church in San Diego, where it just so happens that a number of the members are originally from East Asia. One of those members is Mark, who is currently enrolled in the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute in hopes of one day serving as a pastor. Mark and Brenda discussed the teachings of our church and eventually Brenda asked if she could be baptized. As I listened to their conversation and later walked Brenda through the process of baptism in our church’s sanctuary, it was clear that the Holy Spirit was at work. From the early years of her high school career to that moment, God had been working through his messengers and message to plant faith in Brenda’s heart. As we looked at the water in the baptismal font, Brenda and I reflected on her story and the way God had worked in her life to make His love known to her.

As the Apostle Paul gave thanks for his gospel partnership with the Philippians (Phil. 1:5) so we also give thanks for the partnership we have in our synod, specifically the partnership between our schools, WELS Campus Ministry, and our congregations.

Rejoice with us that Brenda has found a church family in San Diego where she can continue to grow in the Word. Pray for the partnership between Brenda, Reformation, and WELS Campus Ministry to bring the gospel to more students at Brenda’s university. Finally, take time to reflect in the waters of your own baptism and be reminded once again of the forgiveness and love your God has for you.

Written by Rev. Neil Birkholz, North American Asian ministry consultant.

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World missionary commissioned to London

Missionary Michael Hartman was commissioned as a new missionary to London, and Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bare and Rev. David Bivens were installed as part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team at the opening worship service of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Mission & Ministry event on February 8. Missionary Hartman and two other World Missions representatives left for his second exploratory trip to London the day after the service.

Plans are being made for ministry, and details such as visa applications, school details, etc. are being sorted out for the family’s eventual move to the country. You can view photos from the service on the Flickr album.

Please keep these missionaries in your prayers as they continue to serve God’s people in their new positions.

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It felt like home

It had been over a year since we first invited this family to join us for one of our community events and worship. It was over a year before they came. We were thrilled when they walked through the doors to join us for worship the first time!

In a follow-up visit, the mom shared, “To be honest, we were terrified to go to a church. We were really just scared of being judged or not fitting in. But we finally decided we needed to have God in our lives and didn’t know where to turn. We remembered you guys and saw that you meet at a restaurant. We came and everyone was so welcoming. The whole service—it was just what we needed. It felt like home.”

They’re now one week away from finishing our basic instruction course and talking about membership.

As with many building projects over the last couple of years, we at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Idaho, have had our project schedules pushed back for months. However, permits are in place and most materials have been delivered or are on their way. That means we’re now seeing significant progress on our first permanent building for our multi-site mission in Nampa.

While we’ve had to wait, God has been teaching us patience. And there are some other great lessons that have come along with it. A new building will be a tremendous blessing for our church! Once we stop worshipping at the restaurant, though, and move to the new building, we’ll be in the official church building. Which is great but can still be sometimes scary for a first-time visitor. We want our new church home to still feel like home because there are many more of our neighbors who have been getting our invitations for years. They really need God in their lives, but they’re terrified to walk through the doors of a church.

So, we’re going to keep going to them. Our doors will be open, showing a comfortable place with coffee shop tables and chairs that feels like home. We’re going to be welcoming. And we’re going to keep making connections for the gospel.

It’s fun to make plans like this. Offering morning coffee to our neighbors in the apartments across the parking lot. And to the parents dropping off their kids at daycare on the other side of the parking lot. Opening our doors to college students from the university across the street as a place to study and get a hot meal. Inviting our community to find Christ-centered hope and comfort after the loss of a loved one.

So that when they come to our church, they can settle in. Settle in with Jesus and his family. So it can feel like home.

Written by Rev. Kurt Wetzel, home missionary at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in North Nampa, Idaho.

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Opportunities for women’s ministry in Latin America

We praise God for blessing the work of Academia Cristo! Currently, more than a million people have liked the Academia Cristo Facebook page, more than 500,000 people have downloaded the app for biblical instruction, more than a thousand people have signed up for live biblical classes, and there is potential for church planting in every country in Latin America. The fields are ripe, and technology is allowing Academia Cristo to take uncut grace to grace-starved Latin America where many still rely on works to earn their salvation and do not know their Savior.

As Academia Cristo has grown, the mission team quickly realized that many of those studying God’s Word with them were women. Seeing this need, a call was issued for a new position, a Dean of Women, to encourage these women to carry out the Great Commission in their homes and respective communities while embracing biblical principles and Christian freedom.

The primary focus of the Dean of Women is the same focus of the Academia Cristo mission team:

  1. Make disciples in Latin America by sharing the message of God’s grace with as many people as possible.
  2. Identify and train potential leaders.
  3. Encourage those leaders to make disciples who plant churches.

There are many women in the Academia Cristo Program who support the mission, desire to reach others with the gospel, and who are capable of sharing the Word. They have distinct roles and unique opportunities, and the Dean of Women position was created to help them to take advantage of these opportunities.

Meet Marli (in blue) in Cuernavaca, Mexico. After intensive study with Academia Cristo, Marli now participates in the advanced classes of the program and is personally guided by a missionary as she shares the Word of God with her Grupo Sembrador or small group in her community. Her group meets regularly, digging into the Word of God, sharing Sunday school lessons with youth, and even doing periodic humanitarian services in the area.

Amelia is a teacher who lives in Pucallpa in the river-jungle region of Perú. Like Marli, Amelia is also in the advanced courses of Academia Cristo and is being guided by a missionary to share Jesus with others in her hometown. With much prayer, Amelia is slowly transforming her home into a place for others to come and to gather in the Word. She is especially passionate about the children in her community and is currently using her summer vacation time to teach about 30 children how to read using the Bible – a special project that she began once she realized that some of the children could not read in her Bible studies with them.

Join us in praying for the ministry of Academia Cristo and specifically for the newly developing Women’s Ministry that will prayerfully support and guide many more women like Marli and Amelia to use their God-given gifts to share Jesus with others.

Written by Elise Gross, Director of Women’s Ministries for Academia Cristo, on the Latin America mission team.

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Home mission church milestones – Fall 2021/Winter 2022

During the past few months, many home mission congregations have been blessed in a variety of ways. The following five congregations have either held a groundbreaking, launched public worship, purchased an existing facility, or dedicated their new church building. God is truly blessing mission work and the sharing of the gospel throughout the country.

Carbon Valley Lutheran Church, Firestone, Colo.

Carbon Valley, a home mission congregation in Firestone, Colo., dedicated their new church building on November 14, 2021. They converted a former plant nursery into a new space where people will grow in their faith.

Carbon Valley received more than $575,000 in matching grants and their building loan through WELS Church Extension Fund (CEF), a valuable partner of WELS Home Missions.


Living Hope Lutheran Church, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Members at Living Hope Lutheran Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., got an early Christmas gift in 2021. . . a new church building! After months of searching for land and/or a space to remodel, an existing church structure came up for sale. They closed on the building, which was converted from a former auto garage in 2013, in December and were able to hold Christmas services in their new space.

The facility has a modern entrance space with a coffee bar, a worship center that fits 230+ worshipers, as well as offices, a nursery, and four classrooms. Living Hope received matching grants and a loan from WELS Church Extension Fund.


Citrus Grove Lutheran Church, Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Fla., held their grand opening worship service on Sunday, December 5, 2021. They kicked off the weekend festivities with a Family Christmas Fair on Saturday. Children received a free mini-tree to decorate, frosted cookies, sang carols, and got to take home a Christmas book that shared the true meaning of Christmas. People were then invited back for their grand opening worship on Sunday, where fresh squeezed orange juice was served after the service.


Good News Lutheran Church, Mt. Horeb, Wis.

Good News Lutheran Church in Mt. Horeb, Wis., held a ceremonial “groundbreaking” for their new church on January 2, 2022, after cold weather forced them indoors. With God’s blessing, their new church home will be completed by the end of 2022.

Good News purchased a six-acre piece of land in April 2021 with assistance from WELS Church Extension Fund. They received a loan and matching land and facility grants totaling $747,914 for their building project.

 


CrossLife Church, Pflugerville, Tex.

After almost twenty years of dreaming, planning, designing, discussing, researching, redesigning, gathering financial gifts, permitting, and finally a construction project during a pandemic, CrossLife Church and Christian Academy in Pflugerville, Tex., celebrated their grand opening on January 23, 2022. The facility features a worship center, kitchen/cafe, and indoor and outdoor gathering areas. It also includes eight classrooms and staff offices for the new Early Childhood Ministry, and they have plans to add elementary grades in coming years.
 
“It’s been a gigantic effort, full of perseverance, faith and prayer,” reports Pastor Daron Lindemann. “Just when we feel like we made it, we’ve realized that this is just the beginning. God’s mission is not this building, but what he plans to do with it. We made it to the starting line!”

Please keep these home missions in your prayers as they continue to share the pure message of the gospel with more people in their communities. To stay connected with these and the other 132 home mission congregations scattered throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, follow WELS Missions on Facebook at fb.com/WELSMissions.

 

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African outreach trips – Fall 2021

During 2021, missionaries from the One Africa Team were able to make several trips to visit various church groups throughout Africa. Many of these trips were originally delayed due to COVID travel restrictions. Missionaries and other national church partners traveled to Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, and Ethiopia. Here’s a recap of each visit:

Tanzania

The One Africa Team looks to partner with various churches in Africa to ensure unity in doctrine and practice, and to combine resources to continue reaching the lost.

The African Mission Evangelical Church (AMEC) formed in 1993 after they split with the main group of Tanzanian Lutherans. In April 2021, Missionary John Hartmann made a preliminary visit to Tanzania to meet with a dozen AMEC pastors to learn more about their history and introduce them to WELS doctrine and beliefs. In November, Missionary John Roebke and Missionary Hartmann returned with Kenyan national pastor Mark Anariko Onunda to continue potential fellowship discussion. It is the prayer of AMEC to partner with WELS to provide solid confessional Lutheran training for their pastors. The One Africa Team will return in 2022 to continue their discussions. We thank God for this opportunity for a potential ministry partnership in Tanzania! Read more about their visit in this article from the One Africa Team blog.


Kenya

Missionary Dan Witte and three LCMC – Kenya pastors

In 2019, the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) – Kenya joined in fellowship with WELS. Because of the pandemic, no One Africa Team members were able to visit. Finally, after months of video conferencing and e-mails, Missionaries Howard Mohlke and John Roebke were able to travel to Kenya in August 2021 and meet with the members and leadership of the LCMC – Kenya. On this trip, the two missionaries traveled to various LCMC – Kenya congregations to see some of the buildings WELS helped build and share messages and encouragement from the Bible.

The attendees listening to the Bible and watching the Jesus film

They held leaders’ workshops where they gave presentations on the Bible, principles of stewardship, and Church and Ministry. The attendees also received microSD cards with audio Bibles and a Jesus film in both English and Swahili; immediately the SD cards were put to use. Read more about their trip in this article from the One Africa Team blog.

Then, in October 2021, One Africa Team Missionary Dan Witte traveled to Kenya to teach a course on African Church History to three pastors of the LCMC – Kenya. He was also able to participate in the dedication of St. Peter’s Kindu Church in Eastern Kenya. Read Missionary Witte’s reflections from his trip.


Uganda

Missionaries John Holtz and Dan Kroll visited Obadiah Lutheran Synod in Uganda in early October 2021 . They were evaluating and preparing the last steps needed before recommending that Obadiah Lutheran Synod be brought into fellowship with WELS and visited some of their churches. Missionary Holtz was also able to meet with seven students who gathered online to study Luther’s Small Catechism during the pandemic. Read more about their trip from Missionary John Holtz.


Cameroon

One Africa Team missionaries Howard Mohlke, Dan Kroll, John Holtz, and Africa Business Manager Stefan Felgenhauer traveled to Cameroon in October to meet with a group of pastors and laymen of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC). After not meeting in-person for two years, this gathering was appreciated. The group discussed the partnership in the ministry that these groups share, the future of the Lutheran Church of Cameroon seminary, ministry training opportunities, and other ministry topics.


Ethiopia

In October 2021, One Africa Team missionaries Mark Panning, John Holtz, Howard Mohlke, and Africa Business Manager Stefan Felgenhauer traveled to Ethiopia to visit WELS’ sister church, the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). God greatly blessed mission work in Ethiopia through a Lutheran elementary school. The original plan was for the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE) to start a nursery school in Bishoftu, but God had other plans. Read how God’s bigger plan ultimately brought more blessings than they could ever imagine in this One Africa Team blog article.


God is truly blessing mission work in Africa! Please keep the One Africa Team missionaries and the family of believers in Africa in your prayers. We thank God for all the blessings poured out on mission work in Africa, and we pray he continues to bless this work in the years to come.

 

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Working together for future results

Events like our Trunk and Treat in October can be wonderful team-building/fellowship events. Ours was clearly that. Our volunteer participation grew from a mere handful when we first launched the idea to thirty-six by the time our event was held. A positive attitude and a spirit of fun are infectious. It is always a good thing when God’s people work together – and have fun doing it! Here’s something that was truly awesome about our event: at least six of the volunteers were not members of the congregation. Two of them were folks who were invited by other members of Ascension to participate. Four were regular attenders but not yet members (we like to call them RABNYM’s). Two of our volunteers were a young couple we just received by adult confirmation/profession of faith in October. It was really good for all of them to be rubbing shoulders with our members (and visa versa) and to invest themselves in our ministry in this way. In this picture, the two women serving up free cider and donuts are Paoletta and Laura. Paoletta is currently in our Bible information class; Laura is a long-time member. We intentionally invite our RABNYM’s (Regular Attenders But Not Yet Members) to participate in our ministry where appropriate because we have found that this helps people make the personal connections and engages them in purposeful activity that matter to seekers these days.

Here’s another benefit worth sharing. Back at the beginning of 2016, Diana and Adrian were an unmarried couple who had just had a baby. After approaching a couple of non-WELS churches about baptizing their little baby and being turned down, they contacted me. We met, planned a baptism, and talked a bit about the plans they had to marry. Kaylee was baptized on April 26, 2016. In January of 2017 I joined Diana and Adrian in marriage. Within a few months, we lost touch as they went through some relocations and various other family challenges. We kept Kaylee and her family on our email list and continued to reach out to them and invite them to events. This family showed up at our Trunk and Treat.

Diana, Adrian, Kaylee, and Madelyn

Kaylee was looking for the man who had “bap-a-tiz-ed” her. It was great catching up with Diana and Adrian and my little friend Kaylee. It was even better to initiate a conversation about baptizing their new little one, Madelyn. God used this fun little seasonal event to reconnect us with a family he clearly wants us to serve.

Did I mention that we were pet-friendly? We did not advertise that, but it ended up being the case. I and a few of our volunteers brought their pooches. It’s amazing how a cute, friendly dog can generate smiles and conversations! In addition, a dinosaur made an appearance and delighted our young visitors. A few games, a bounce house, and free refreshments helped make it a fun even for families.

Events such as this are a great way to connect with the community, meet new people, get them on our campus, and plant some gospel seeds. Immediate results are not always obvious, but results always come.

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

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Save the date for Taste of Missions 2022!

Join your brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world for Taste of Missions, a hybrid event that will be held on Saturday, June 11, 2022.

What is a hybrid event? We will be back in person conducting a one-day event at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wisconsin. However, if you are not able to be there in person, you can also join us virtually.

This family-friendly event will give all WELS members a “taste of missions”, no matter where you might be around the world. The event kicks off with a special worship service where we will, prayerfully, commission new home and world missionaries. Sample ethnic cuisine from some of our mission fields while enjoying fellowship and presentations from home and world missionaries alike. View displays, participate in outdoor family-friendly activities, and ask questions about the ups and downs of mission work during panel discussions. Virtual attendees will be able to watch all events via livestream, view additional video updates from missionaries, and try their hand at making one of the many ethnic recipes shared on the website.

Registration will open on February 21. In the meantime, visit tasteofmissions.com to view the event schedule and catch up on videos and activities you might have missed from last year’s online event.

We hope you can join us!

 

P.S. – The second annual Taste of Missions School Challenge will also open on February 21! View photos and activities from last year’s challenge and keep an eye out for future announcements at tasteofmissions.com/schools.

 

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Open windows, open doors

One night, a few of us were playing board games with some new Bible study friends. It was a beautiful spring night in East Asia, and we had all the windows of the eighth floor, one bedroom apartment open. At the time some of us were probably getting a little too into our game of “Dutch Blitz,” shouting and laughing. We were loud (much to our chagrin, we later realized our voices were echoing off the building across from us . . . ).

Around 10 P.M. or so, we heard an indignant knock on the door. I peered through the peephole and glimpsed a large man with a large frown. In half decent English, he politely asked us to keep it down as his two year-old was asleep in an apartment across from us. I apologized profusely from behind the door. Appeased, the large man thanked us and left. Thus our party ended.

Then on Sunday about a dozen of us were praising and praying to God. Again, with the windows open. After worship, we got ready to head downstairs for lunch. I was first out of the apartment. As I turned my head down the long hallway, again I saw a large man. This time he was stomping towards me. He didn’t look happy. “Oh, no.” I thought, “That’s the guy from the other night. We’re probably singing too loudly!” He stopped in front of me panting and asked if we were the ones singing the “Christian songs.” I said yes. Then his face lit up.

He told me he’d been searching for us for the past two months. Every Sunday morning, he heard our hymns and wanted to join us, but because of the echo off the buildings, he could never tell which apartment we were in. Every Sunday he’d walk up and down the stairwell searching for which floor we were on. But it turns out, if we hadn’t been so loud a few nights before, he never would have found us!

Leo joined us for lunch and later joined our local Lutheran church. Now he helps lead his own confessional Lutheran church in his city.

We sometimes cannot even imagine how God is going to use us and the preaching of his Word to bless the kingdom, but he reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-11, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Please take 30 seconds to pray that windows and doors will stay open for us as we continue sharing the gospel here in East Asia.

Written by a missionary in East Asia.

 

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Evolving styles of ministry in Africa

Do you like looking at old photographs? Probably you do. And probably you don’t. On the one hand, how heartwarming it can be to see those happy photos of your children when they were five years old. And imagine . . . now those kids of yours have children of their own! But on the other hand, oh my! That hairstyle! That cheesy mustache! Those silly bell-bottom jeans! Did I really look like that? Is it possible that the ‘me’ of yesterday was not as groovy as I thought I was?

A few days ago, I stumbled upon some old photographs. I thought they were fascinating. The year of the photos was 1981, and the place was Lilongwe, Malawi. One picture showed workers laying the foundation for the classroom of the Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI). Another picture showed the construction of Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) student houses. The plan was to build a brand-new boarding school for the training of national pastors. All those buildings are still here, but things look very different today.

It got me thinking about our mission work in Africa. More specifically, it made me think how times have changed. Years ago, the measure of a missionary in Africa was how quickly he could change a tire. In the early days, almost all Africa missionaries drove out to the isolated village churches. They preached the gospel to the people, sometimes in a grass roofed church, sometimes underneath the mango tree. You would get a lot of flats driving those dirt roads, but an experienced missionary could pull off the old tire and pop on a new one faster than a pit crew at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1981, the very idea of building a fancy brick and mortar classroom for the training of national pastors – wow, that was groundbreaking stuff!

I still teach young Zambian and Malawian pre-seminary students in the very same classroom. And if you want my honest opinion, I still think it’s pretty ‘groovy.’ But things look different today. More and more, the missionaries of today are teaching in a Google Classroom, not a brick-and-mortar classroom. More and more, the measure of a missionary is not how quickly he can change a tire, but how quickly he can reboot his laptop to get the Zoom meeting up and running. Boarding schools? Today it’s ‘keyboarding’ schools. Today, missionaries are not just driving cars to the isolated villages of Zambia and Malawi. They’re flying on commercial airlines to train pastoral students in places like Cameroon and Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

So what should we say? Are old ways bad? Certainly not. You carefully groomed that cheesy mustache because that was the best thing for the time and place. That mustache and that hairstyle and the bell-bottom jeans are the things that got you noticed. Maybe they even caught the eye of that pretty, young lady who later became your wife. Certainly, it’s true that styles of ministry in Africa are constantly evolving, but our sister-churches in Africa number more than 60,000 baptized souls. God has blessed our efforts.

The old pictures remind us how quickly this world changes. But one thing never changes: Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus will be saved. As we enter into the year 2022, let’s double our efforts to preach the unchanging word of God, by whatever methods possible, because time is marching on, and “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).

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

 

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A unique outreach approach

Last Spring, a representative of American Legion Post 4 in Clinton Township reached out to me with a request. He asked if I would be willing and able to lead the post’s first ever Blessing of the Bikes. There would be no restrictions on what I could say, and this presented us with the opportunity to say it to people from around the area we might not be able to reach with the good news about Jesus in any other way.

Our Evangelism Committee came up with a novel approach to inviting attendees to visit us and learn more about Jesus: motorcycle kickstand coasters. The hard, plastic discs slide under the kickstand when parking on soft dirt or hot asphalt to prevent the kickstand from sinking into the ground. They are extremely practical, much appreciated, and used over and over again. They are bright enough to be noticed, strong enough to hold up the biggest bikes, and small enough to fit neatly into the back pocket of jeans or a jacket pocket. So for $373 we had 270 of them printed up in Harley orange and black with our logo, location and website address. We planned to hand them out to everyone we can at the event scheduled for Sunday afternoon, April 25th. Members of our Evangelism Committee were quick to volunteer to be at the event to hand them out. Thank you to Gloria, Sharon, Ken, Gary, and Jerry! There’s a great little riding group that I and another member of Team Ascension ride with, and I invited them to help hand them out, too. After all, one way to do outreach is to get some of those to whom you are reaching out involved in helping you reach out to still others. Thank you to Skoal. Big Scoops, Jackrabbit, and others! A plan was in place!

On the Sunday prior, the congregation surprised me with a celebration of my 40 years in the ministry. My presentation gift was a new black leather riding jacket. On the back – big and bold – was an orange and black disc with a cross and stylized Luther Rose in the center and the five “solas” around the edge: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. On rockers above and below that disc were banners proclaiming: “Let’s evangelize them all and let God sort it out.” The congregation has obviously bought into the sentiment of those patches: we recklessly share the gospel as much as we can, trusting that God will make of that what he alone can and will. They wanted to be sure that I would be well-attired for the Blessing of the Bikes event. That jacket is sure to spark conversations about our Savior in the years to come.

The organizer of that Bike Blessing event visited worship twice. Once he brought a friend and once he brought his wife. He has also asked me to be involved in this event again this coming Spring. Keep this in your prayers, asking the Holy Spirit to open doors for the gospel. What he does with this opportunity is up to him. We will just keep twisting the throttle on outreach.

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

 

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New Latin America mission team member

Elise Gross, the newest member of the Latin America mission team, was commissioned as the new Dean of Women for Academia Cristo at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. In this newly created role, she will be teaching and mentoring women enrolled in Academia Cristo classes who are also looking for ways to share the pure gospel message with others. Her husband, Jon, recently accepted a position as a Video Producer with WELS Multi-Language Productions. He will also be assisting with Latin America outreach efforts as he produces video content used in Academia Cristo training courses and beyond.

The Gross family currently resides in Linares, Chile. Please keep them in your prayers as they share Christ’s love in Latin America!

Learn more about mission work in Latin America at wels.net/latinamerica.

Elise’s brother, Rev. Scott Henrich from Shepherd of the Hills in Knoxville, TN, led worship

Rev. Larry Schlomer, World Missions administrator, and Rev. Nate Seiltz, Multi-Language Productions director, share some words of encouragement from the Bible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Planting seeds of the gospel through Joint Missions

Tom Metzger is a member at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Livonia, Mich., and serves on the Michigan District Mission Board and the WELS Joint Mission Council. In this week’s Missions Blog, he discusses his experience with the Joint Mission Council, how it has improved his understanding of mission work, and how he is encouraged through it. 

When I began my service on the Joint Mission Council, I noticed some similarities to my work in Livonia and in the Michigan District. For example, the message of the law and gospel is the same. By God’s grace, this is at the front of every meeting, program, decision, and direction of everything that we do as a synod. Because we have that special blessing, we can jump at opportunities at the Joint Mission Council level.

We are especially interested in opportunities that present themselves when immigrants become WELS members and want to take that clear message of law and gospel back to their countries of origin. There is a willingness to look at every outreach opportunity as a chance to further the message of the gospel. Every request or inquiry is treated with exhaustive study. There is always more than one way to approach an opportunity. We use the term one-off many times, signaling that there are fresh approaches and open minds. Every mission opportunity comes with unique circumstances that might not be the same with a different people groups or country.

At the Joint Mission Council we have noticed that a new mission opportunity might come from a single person or family. The seeds of the gospel being planted through this is God’s work. Sometimes, an inquiry could be a blessing to both Home and World Missions. We are eager to see what God can do. It is his church, and we are allowed to be a small part of it by his grace.

There is such a need for well-trained gospel voices in all areas of ministry. The extraordinary Pastoral Studies Institute program of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in partnership with WELS Joint Missions, realizes this and has developed a system of educating these leaders through non-traditional means. Recruiting and training our future pastors and evangelists is important for the health of gospel outreach.

Seeing that the Joint Mission Council is in harmony with the Board for Home Missions and St. Paul’s is a great blessing and comfort for me. I can have confidence that all the ministry I’m a part of at the synod level and my local congregation are all working in the same direction.

God is at work in all the world, preparing us for that day when we will all see Jesus face to face. We give thanks that God is using us to bring more people into his Kingdom.

 

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Merry Christmas from WELS Missions!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 ).

Can you hear the excited children’s voices? Can you see the expectation and joy-filled faces of God’s littlest believers as they recite these familiar words? We learn in Isaiah about God’s priceless treasure given in perfect love to his children. In a world that is often filled with pain, confusion, anger, and sadness we, as believers, can hold strong to the promises of God. He sent his Son to be perfection for us and to suffer for our sins, and we thank him for this priceless gift.

Our WELS home and world missionaries and those in their mission fields wanted to share a message of thanks for your prayers, encouragement, and financial support in this special video. It is because of God working through people like YOU that we are able to share this priceless gift in 64 different countries and 132 home mission congregations across North America. We are so grateful.

Let’s raise our voices together in song as we worship the Christ child this Christmas season and thank our Heavenly Father for fulfilling the promises of old.

Together with you, we sing with joy and gratitude celebrating our Prince of Peace!

WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions


 

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Comfort food of the gospel

Most people think of barbecue as comfort food. For me, it’s always been more. It could be that I was born in Texas, but I think it’s more than that. At my baptism, we had brisket. At my confirmation, we had brisket. At my graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, we had pork shoulder. (Student loans put brisket just outside our budget.) Barbecue has always marked spiritual milestones in my life.

There is something about the smell of barbecue that gets people’s attention. Men and women, young and old, just about everyone can appreciate a good piece of barbecue. A number of men in our congregation enjoy the process of barbecuing, too. So it was natural to include that in our fall outreach effort. Now each year, early in November, our congregation hosts a community barbecue meal. We call it “Holy Smoq” and it has become a fan favorite.

We have many of the same things that most of our sister congregations have for a fall festival Sunday—a bounce house, games, piñatas, and a photo opportunity for the whole family. Each of these is fun and brings something meaningful to the day. But the brisket is what brings people together.

A plate full of smoked meat and sides is food you can’t hurry. It creates the space for conversation. Brisket gives strangers the moments they need to become fast friends. Each year, I marvel at the conversations I have had and I get to see at our annual “Holy Smoq” event.

And that is our first goal, to give God’s people a chance to connect with our community. So many folks in our congregation get intimidated by knocking on a stranger’s door. But sitting down and enjoying someone’s company over a plate of brisket? That isn’t intimidating. It’s delicious. It’s delightful. The backyard barbecue feel gives people a chance to chew the fat together. And when Christians do that, they can’t stop themselves from letting their light shine. They can’t help themselves but introduce people to the Jesus who loves the world.

That is our real goal. Yes, we want lots of people to enjoy the slow-smoked goodness.  That’s why we make the best brisket in town and give it away. But more than that, we want to give them the food that money cannot buy. The kind of food that lasts unto eternity. Someday, we want this barbecue to mark a spiritual milestone in their life. People need more than a plate of comfort food. We want them to enjoy the comforts of the gospel—knowing that Christ has paid for their sins in full.

Many come to our “Holy Smoq” event looking for a plate full of comfort food. For me, it’s always been more. And God willing, it will continue to be, to many more souls.

Written by Pastor Lincoln Albrecht, home missionary at River of Life in Goodyear, Ariz.


 

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Where there is no boom

“There is no boom,” said a Lutheran pastor recently in East Asia. We were talking about the challenges of mission work in East Asia. Between culture, religions, hostile governments, pestilence, warfare, and centuries of tradition that are all deeply ingrained and intertwined into the lives and minds of the people, there are no quick and easy approaches to teaching God’s word and making new disciples. There are no flashy shortcuts that lead to “booms” or surges in new believers. If you are looking for “the boom” in Asia, you will probably be disappointed. The Word doesn’t return empty. That is still true. But in Asia it takes so much time, so much effort, so much pouring into relationships. It takes so much patient teaching, teaching, and more teaching. Seeds are scattered abundantly, but by the time the birds, weeds, and scorching sun have had their way, not many remain to take root. And sometimes years of faithful labor and precious harvest can be scattered to the winds in an instant.

The town after shelling

In Myanmar, for example, a Lutheran pastor and his congregation have faithfully taught God’s word, shared the gospel, and discipled believers for years. Over the course of about three decades, they have gathered and shepherded about 300 souls. Longing for fellowship with other confessional Lutheran’s and hungering for God’s word, they reached out to a WELS pastor in the U.S. and have been greatly encouraged through his teaching and encouragement. They managed to stay in touch and continue to be in the word together through the pandemic, and the Myanmar church leaders still found ways to connect with their people and strengthen them with gospel (even though they could not gather in person). And then came the boom – the boom of war. Civil war erupted in Myanmar earlier this year. As battles spread across the country, the army shelled the town where many of the church’s members lived. As the town burned, the army shot civilians as they fled. Many of the church’s members fled across the border to India, to other towns in Myanmar, and even into the jungle to hide. The town went up in smoke. The flock was scattered and was mostly unaccounted for. In terms of numbers and an organized church, it looked like their harvest went up in smoke too.

The baptism of two people

In this environment, there is simply no “boom” of flashy programs and fast numbers. There is only the faithful plowing and re-plowing, sowing and re-sowing of God’s word, seeking and re-seeking the lost. Within a few weeks of the shelling, church leaders and the WELS pastor started connecting again online. God’s word continued to be taught, and the gospel (and this pastor’s encouragement) continued to strengthen their weary souls. And soon after that, these Burmese shepherds of souls in this shell-shocked area of Myanmar began to seek out and find what members they could. They managed to find and reconnect with a few families, worship with them in their homes, comfort them with the gospel, share the means of grace, and even baptize. In our correspondence, there was no complaining about lost ground, only rejoicing over souls saved and sins forgiven. There is no flashy evangelism “boom” here. But there is another kind of power at work. It’s the gospel, God’s power of salvation. This power is often a still small voice amongst the cacophony of the world’s booming and bellowing, but it is still God’s power to save. The only program in town right now (in Myanmar) is simply being with people in the worst of times and bringing the good news of Jesus into their lives. These tireless shepherds know this is the only thing that can cut through darkness and gloom and truly refresh downtrodden souls. And it is this same gospel that motivates, strengthens, and refreshes the souls of these weary shepherds of souls. Remaining in the word has kept them strong. But God also helped them through a WELS pastor on the other side of the world who found the time to be with them in their worst of times and bring the good news of Jesus into their lives. No boom. Just the gospel, God’s power, in a still small voice and in an unassuming way – yet still a mighty power to save and strengthen.

In this article, I’m not criticizing the big efforts that sometimes do lead to big harvests or “booms.” We pray for and long for those too. But I am thankful for the quiet and unflashy ways the gospel is having big impacts in ways that are easy to miss. I am also thankful for the army of unassuming shepherds (on both sides of the ocean) as they quietly walk together to equip, encourage, and minister through myriad difficulties and disappointments.

Written by Stephen Wiesenauer, Asia One Team leader.

 

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New synod in Latin America forms

In October, representatives from WELS and WELS’ sister churches throughout Latin America met in Medellín, Colombia, to form a new synod: Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional. Founding members come from churches in Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Venezuela.

“For years, our sister churches in Latin America have just been small, individual groups fighting against the wind,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions. “For them to be able to have this much broader ministry that’s clearly being blessed by the Lord, there’s an excitement there.”

As part of a synod, these churches will be able to do mission work together, train pastors together, and support each other with prayers and fellowship.

Synod membership is expected to swell in the future as new groups gathered during the Academia Cristo training efforts complete a two-year confessional process called Ruta Cristo (Christ path). “One of the needs that Ruta Cristo has given us is where will new congregations that come from Academia Cristo go?” says Rev. Henry Herrera, a pastor in Colombia and president of Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional. “This is why we can tell them now that the answer is Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional.”

Currently 12 groups are on that two-year path, with dozens more possible in the upcoming year. Leaders who complete the highest level of Academia Cristo classes also will be considered candidates for a new seminary program led by Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional and supported by WELS missionaries.

“For years we were adding people to our churches [in Latin America] by the tens. To now have people joining our fellowship through the work of so many people by the hundreds—if not soon, the thousands—is just amazing,” says Schlomer. “The real blessing is that the Lord is leading more people to learn about grace and what Jesus has done.”

Learn more about Academia Cristo at wels.net/latinamerica.

 

 

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Surviving the holidays

Postcards ordered? Check. Christmas Eve service planned? Check. Decoration team all on board? Check. Congregational Christmas party on the calendar? Check. Elf costume for the vicar tailored? Check. (Ok, maybe not that last one.)

There are many things that go into Christmas, whether it’s in a mission congregation or a well-established one. And with it, comes pressure, perhaps even more so on a young mission. Is “Prospect A” going to show up? Will the hopefully bigger crowd be the catalyst for a new starting point (Bible Information) class in January? Will the business next door to our storefront get robbed again during our Christmas services, sending 16 first-time visitors escaping to the parking lot before their information is gleaned? Will the music be ok? What about the technology? What about…?

With not as many people to shoulder the responsibilities of “doing Christmas” and the high expectations of capitalizing on Christmas, missionaries (both called and lay) may wonder, “Am I going to survive the holidays?” That’s what I was wondering. And then this registration came in,

“My husband committed suicide in July of this year and I am not wanting to celebrate the holidays this year.”

That was the note that came along with a registration for the GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays workshop that Light of the Valleys in Reno, Nev., is hosting this year. Griefshare is nothing too new to our circles. Many ministries have been blessed by this program or something similar. While GriefShare is nothing new to our congregations, grief or “surviving the holidays” is always going to be new to someone every year. Annually, someone will have to get used to an empty chair at the Christmas dinner table, one less person in the gift exchange, and traditions that will never be the same. Annually, someone will say, “I am not wanting to celebrate the holidays this year.”

But we have something to offer. Christmas isn’t just about a baby. It’s about a God who entered into our suffering. It’s about Jesus who came to save us from our sins and subsequently to save us from the effects of sin: death. More than any dressed-up elf spreading holiday cheer or carolers singing, “Fa-la-la,” we have something to help people “survive the holidays.”

That’s what Whitney found out. No, she’s not the one who had a husband commit suicide in July. But she did lose a husband in March. When her family didn’t want her to live alone, she moved 2300 miles west. Close to family, but far away from anything else she knew. But then she saw the GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays ad. With a deep breath, she was the first to open the door that Saturday morning. But it wouldn’t be the only time she would open it. After being comforted by the message and making a connection to another widow on Saturday, Whitney was once again the first one to open the door, but this time on Sunday.

I don’t know if Whitney will be back again. I pray that she will. But I know the message she heard twice in one weekend may not take away the pain or struggles, but it will help her survive the holidays. Fellow missionaries, the same goes for you. It may be a pain or a struggle to “do Christmas” in our settings, but the message we get to share isn’t just meant for the Whitneys of this world. It’s meant for you. It’s meant for me. Because of Jesus, we can survive the holidays.

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

 

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A new start in a mission reset

Farmington, New Mexico? What could possibly lead a pastor to move from a congregation where we had served for 18 years to a home mission church that’s kickstarting outreach efforts again? From the first phone call with the congregation’s chairman I kept telling my wife, Kay, “It just feels like God is saying, ‘Go!’” He made it even more clear when I preached on Isaiah 6 at the end of May: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV).

And so we went. We moved over 1,300 miles and left behind a wonderful church family with many friends and lots of ministry memories. We have joined a wonderful new family—our fellow believers at Christ the Rock. We have a new home in a beautiful parsonage. We live in a friendly community where just about everyone will stop and share a little bit about themselves.

Christ the Rock is in a unique place. Farmington is positioned in the high desert northwest corner of New Mexico. The Navajo Nation spreads out from the western edge of Farmington into Arizona. The Dinè have a long history here—it is their ancestral homeland. So on Sunday mornings, Tully, Jones, and Grandma Marian will say in their flowing Navajo, “Yá’át’ééh abíní!” “Good morning!” and I have learned to greet them in the same way.

Christ the Rock is also unique because the faces that sit in the chairs every weekend grew up in different places, even different countries! Every one of us come with different experiences, hurts, and challenges. We bond in the same way every church family bonds. We eat food together—chili seasoned with roasted Hatch green chilis; fry bread, Navajo tacos, mutton, steam corn, grits, spinach salad, spaghetti—all our favorites! We share our weekly experiences. We laugh together, offer advice, and sometimes even cry together.

The thing that binds us together is the same thing that holds every church family together—the incredible news that we have a Savior, Jesus, who loves us and will never stop loving us! Thankfully we see each other in person for Sunday morning Bible study and worship every week. In the three months we have been at Christ the Rock I have had the privilege of sharing Psalm 23 as comfort for a family grieving the loss of a sister/aunt/friend. Last Sunday I had my first baptism— baby Luminous. His birth is a ray of Jesus’ light for a family that has experienced more heartbreak and loss than seems bearable. His baptism is a special blessing that guarantees Jesus has illuminated his heart with the light of peace and forgiveness. Jesus is our connection. It doesn’t matter where we’re living or serving—whether in the heart of the Midwest or in the Four Corners region of the Southwest. Jesus gives us a great reason to “Go!” Please pray for us here at Christ the Rock as we “Go!” to the people in our community who are looking for Jesus and don’t know it yet. Pray that Jesus will be the answer for them too!

Written by Rev. Jon Brohn, home missionary at Christ the Rock in Farmington, N. M.

 

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Growing in faith

Autumn is a time to be thankful for the plentiful harvest and the journey of growth in our faith throughout the year.

At the beginning of the year with the slow re-opening of the reservation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, members of our Apache Lutheran churches were happy to get back to church to worship and and meet at the church garden with fellow Christians. Cheryl Pailzote took the initiative to revitalize the garden at Open Bible Lutheran Church in Whiteriver, Ariz., and shared her knowledge with others to build a healthier community, physically and spiritually.

Plentiful harvest from the garden

Bernard Dale, from the Hondah community on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, shares his experience of planting from the seed to harvesting and tasting the abundance of hard work and dedication.

Bernard compared his experience of growing food, to also growing in faith. He was feeling the repercussions of the pandemic with faith the size of a seed. Throughout the year while they tended to the garden, they were also able to tend to their faith with the support of others from the group who shared devotions and God’s Word with one another. By the time harvest time came around, Bernard recalled the feeling of revitalization.

We are thankful for the blessings from the harvest from the garden, and the growth of our faith in God’s Word.

Written by Kasheena Miles, WELS Native American missions and assistant with Native Christians.

 

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