Tag Archive for: native american missions

One in Christ

They are home now.

Tired, but home.

Pastor Musa, his wife Mary, and son Nathanael are now back home in Buwembula Village in Eastern Uganda. Back to their family and everything familiar.

For the month of August, they were far from anything familiar. Why? They came to the United States. And what an eye-opening – and taste bud – experience it was! Waffles? What are those? 4-D movie – a what? Cactus? What’s that? Where are all the pedestrians and motorcycle taxis and potholes?

Not only was it their first time in the USA but it was their first trip overseas. If you felt a breeze in the month of August, it may have been from the whirlwind tour that Pastor Musa and his family were on. In addition to the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, they visited seven congregations, eight schools, and the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis.

The Musa family at the Ark Encounter

A special thank you to the Musa family for also taking the time to visit Peridot-Our Savior’s and East Fork Lutheran schools on the reservations, as well as Open Bible in White River, Ariz., and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lakeside, Ariz. The kids enjoyed seeing some animals and fish of Uganda, but even more importantly they got to see Ugandan children learning God’s Word, singing God’s praises and dancing for the Lord. Our Apache children had lots to think about after seeing and hearing about the plentiful harvest in Uganda.

God’s Word gave us all something deep to ponder as Pastor Musa based his sermon on Jesus’ prayer found in John 17. One in Christ.

And we think the ark is impressive!? Indeed, it is, but nothing compared to the immensity of God’s grace in Jesus Christ!

One faith. One baptism. One Lord and God. No matter where in the world we are living, as fellow believers we have a tie that binds us: Jesus.

Same Father.

Same Brother.

And that puts us in the same family – God’s family.

After Pastor Musa’s presentation at Open Bible, Rev. Kirk Massey shared his thoughts:

“Over the years I have often been asked to speak about our world mission field here on the Fort Apache and San Carlos reservations, but this is the first time we have had the honor and privilege to have a representative of our WELS world mission fields come to share with us. What a blessing this has been, Pastor and Mrs. Musa! Thank you!”

President Mark Schroeder, Pastor Musa, Nathanael, and Mary

Indeed, a blessing. Thank you, Pastor Musa, Mary, and Nathanael, for making the trip, sparing your time, sharing the Word, and giving us insights into God’s kingdom work in Uganda.

We thank God that you arrived home.

Rest well, my brother and sister. (and our little brother, too!)

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native Christians counselor for the Native American mission field and former One Africa Team contact to Uganda. 

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Faces of Faith – Sally

“We’re sending her to a Christian school. That’s how we’re raising her, and that’s what we want for her life.” It was a big moment in life for Sally. Despite attending elementary school at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School, some family members wanted Sally to participate in a traditional Apache religious ceremony. Her father was standing firm in opposition to it. He wanted her to be about the Lord and his Word and walk a Christian path throughout life.

These words stuck with Sally, even through the spiritual detours of life. They stayed with her when she moved to the big city and away from God. They supported her when addiction took her husband out of her life. “Seek the Lord” was the constant advice given to her during tough times, and had she not been in the Word, she’s convinced she would not have made it through the especially difficult time when she lost her oldest son.

Today Sally is still on the Christian path to heaven. She walks with more experience, more scars, and more thankfulness. She’s thankful to walk with Malcolm, a Christian husband who has taken over the role of encouraging her to grow in relationship with Jesus. She’s thankful for a deeper understanding and empathy for the obstacles that people face all around her, and thankful for opportunities to serve the Lord. Her eyes are truly open to see people around her, to pray for those who have gone through what she has, and to pray for everyone to know Jesus and walk the path to heaven.

From Dan Rautenberg, Native American mission field coordinator

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Our dwelling place

The foundation is poured. The walls are up. The roof is on.

Dry wall is fastened. Doors and windows are in place.

The building? A side-by-side duplex.

The builders? A faith-bound band of brothers and sisters known as Builders For Christ.

The location? Peridot, Ariz. on the San Carlos Reservation.

Not everyone gets to enjoy living in a house that Builders For Christ has built, but some fortunate ones already have, and soon, two more families will be moving into the duplex in Peridot, Ariz. This side-by-side duplex is intended to house two teachers and their families. It’ll be a place for each of the families to call home.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

It’ll be their dwelling place.

A place to kick off their shoes and enjoy family life. The teachers who will be moving into this duplex will be teaching at Peridot-Our Savior’s school which stands just a literal stone’s throw away.

The foundation was poured in November 2022 and the building started taking shape in January 2023. And look at it now! The pictures tell the story much better than I can. The people working on projects are a wonderful crew of kind-hearted, hardworking volunteers who have a passion for building and a heart for Christ. Especially a heart for Christ. So if you don’t find them on the roof, a ladder, or in the house, you’ll likely find them in the nearby church. Singing. Praying. Studying. Enjoying fellowship. Hearing the word.

The Lord is building this house. These builders are not laboring in vain.

Yes, it’s the fingers, hands, arms, and backs of the Builders For Christ volunteers that are digging, lifting, measuring, framing, plumbing, and painting; but the Lord is the One behind it all. He not only gives the builders the strength to build, but the motivation to do so. What’s better than the gospel of Jesus Christ to do that? The building is going up and so is glory and praise to the chief cornerstone. The Builders For Christ people have reminded me by their own humble witness and their own servant attitude: it pays to pay attention to God’s blueprints.

After all, isn’t Jesus Christ, the Jewish carpenter, the ultimate and expert home builder? I’m not referring only to the home that he is preparing in heaven. That eternal home is magnificent, has many rooms, and one of those doors has your name on it. What a home to anticipate.

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23).

Quite something to think about, hey? We almost miss it. God making His home with us. We think of God as our Redeemer and our Savior, our father and our brother – which he is – and so much more – but he’s also our home. He desires to be the very one in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).

Our Dwelling Place.

Moses regarded him as such: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” (Psalm 90:1). This burning bush prophet believed that statement until his dying day and he wanted us to believe it, too. So just prior to his climb up the mountain and his impending death, Moses, from the inspired script, assured everyone who would read his words:

“The eternal God is your dwelling place…” (Deuteronomy 33:27a).

Yours.

Make God your dwelling place and you’ll discover that you truly lack nothing. You’ll find nourishment provided. You’ll find protection. You’ll find comfort in Him. Even if your own house now is not a place of safe refuge, his is. Even if you lack peace in your house, you’ll enjoy it in his. Even if your house does not feel like a home, his is the home you’ve always been hoping for.

Trust him. Enjoy the stay. His foundation doesn’t crack, His roof doesn’t leak, and his walls won’t buckle.

Now that’s a home and by only God’s grace, he’s…

Our Dwelling Place.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native Christians Counselor for the Native American Mission

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Pray that I…

How would you complete this sentence: “Pray that I. . .”

If you knew of fellow believers in Jesus who were full of faith and love, and you asked them to pray for you, for what would you ask?

Pause and think about it. What’s going on in your life? What need do you have? What is something you want to do? Is there something you’d like to see happen? Anything important? Urgent?

There were some Christians in a city called Colossae. They were grace-saturated and God loving. They were faith full and faithful. They were bearing so much fruit and showed such a great love to their fellow brothers and sisters that it was becoming known even in far off places. News of their faith and love even seeped into places where you’d think it couldn’t or wouldn’t reach: a Roman prison 1300 miles away.

That’s where Paul was: under arrest and in chains. But he knew of their faith because he had heard of their faith. The word had spread. It reached even him.

But did it matter?

Yes, it did. Because by it, Paul was greatly encouraged. He was beaming with thankfulness and joy. Even though Paul didn’t personally know many of the people in Colossae, Paul was filled with the confidence that he could ask these Spirit-strong, firm-in-faith Christian brothers and sisters to do something important and urgent: to pray for him.

It was important, because, well, that’s what the gospel of Jesus is. It’s a matter of life and death. It was urgent because he had only so much time to share the Good News. So Paul makes the bold request:

Pray that I may proclaim the mystery of Christ and that I proclaim it clearly as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

This too is Pastor Gary Lupe’s request, to you. Even though he won’t know everyone who has read his message, he knows they are Colossae-like brothers and sisters. People who are Spirit-strong, firm-in-faith, and prayer ready.

Maybe you have heard of Gary Lupe, a Native American pastor living on an Apache reservation in Arizona’s White Mountains. Pastor Lupe was married in 2004 and blessed with six children and fourteen grandchildren. Then in 2011, Pastor Lupe became ordained. Since then, he’s attended WELS synod conventions, spoken at Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) rallies, and preached at mission festivals. He serves as the pastor for two congregations, Cibecue and Cedar Creek, and teaches classes in the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS).

Why this request and why now? Because it’s both important and urgent.

Important, well, because that’s what the gospel of Jesus is. (Have I mentioned that before?) Urgent, because he’s teaching a class in East Fork, Peridot, and Cibecue. The class? Apache Traditional Religion.

To put it mildly, Apache traditional religion is a controversial issue. It’s divisive. It splits families. It divides congregations. It pits one person against another.

It’s a battle ground, and it’s being waged in full force.

Pastor Lupe has taken up arms. Spiritual ones. He’s done what every Christian is urged to do:
“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil…” (Ephesians 6:11-12).

There we have it. God reminds us of where the real battle is and who the battle is really against. The lines are drawn.

So, with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:13-18), Pastor Lupe stands his ground and stands before anyone who will listen.

And some are.

He is teaching his Apache Traditional Religion class to the Apache in Apache.

Not many do this. Not many can. Pastor Lupe is gifted with the Apache language but so much more. He’s got the first-hand experience in Apache traditional religion; he has many years of first-hand experience in gospel ministry. He knows the people and the people know him. He’s got the knowledge to share and the reputation that makes him credible.

That doesn’t mean everyone will listen. In fact, some have walked out of his church and out of his life. It doesn’t mean everyone will attend the class. In fact, many do not.

What it does mean is that Pastor Lupe will be a target. He already is. People have already taken aim with sharp tongues, harsh words, and decent sounding arguments.

But even such arsenal as these can’t penetrate the armor of God. In fact, the flaming arrows of the evil one are easily extinguished. (Ephesians 6:16).

By teaching this class, Pastor Lupe knows that he’s setting himself up to be attacked. He knows because God said he would. Even you, when you witness your faith, don’t think you can be attacked or might be attacked, but know that you will be attacked.

It comes with the territory. But the territory is Jesus’. It’s a battleground. Remember who your enemy really is.

Satan doesn’t like Jesus’ forgiveness being clearly proclaimed. He hates the gospel being clearly shared. He despises it when Baptisms take place or when Communion is received. He cringes when the gospel truth is being clearly declared and fully believed. It angers him when someone takes a stand on the clear Word of God. Pastor Lupe is going against his own culture to speak on this issue.

Since this is the case, will not Satan, with his own clever schemes, deceptions, and decent sounding arguments, try his best to dishearten Gary and stop him from clearly proclaiming the mystery of Christ?

Hence the request comes humbly, but boldly, to you. Confident that you will pray. Trusting that God hears and answers your prayers. Believing that the power is not in the one saying the prayer but in the One listening to it and answering it.

Pray that I may proclaim the mystery of Christ and that I proclaim it clearly as I should. Pastor Lupe can proclaim the mystery of Christ but cannot change the hearts of the people. But God can. Didn’t he already change our hearts?

By the way, have you thought of something important and urgent that you’d like someone to pray about for you? Is there a need you have? A desire for something to happen?

I don’t know what it is and maybe you still need to think about it more, but know that there are brothers and sisters in faith in Christ who would find it an honor to pray for you. Ask them. You’ll have to tell them your request, but here’s a few words to start:

“Pray that I…”

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native Christians Counselor

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Still open, and open wide

If walls could talk, I’d be asking the walls of the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible a few questions.

Open Bible? It’s the name of a quaint, white painted wooden church in Whiteriver, Arizona, nestled on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. It was dedicated in April of 1922. That clocks the building at 100+ years old. Like any centenarian, these walls have heard a lot. Imagine all the meetings, discussions, services, studies, classes, and conversations that have taken place inside the church. If these walls could talk, I’m guessing they’d have a lot to say.

Celebrating 100 years of Open Bible

I went to Open Bible on October 15, 2022. It was no ordinary day. We enjoyed a meal and live music; we were blessed with guest speakers, historical videos, and a worship service. It was the 100th anniversary celebration. About 275 gathered that day. Looking around inside the building, some questions about the history of Open Bible came to mind. . . why then? Why there? And why are there holes in the stained-glass windows?

Oh, if walls could talk. But they didn’t. I’m being stonewalled, hey? Well, even though the walls didn’t say anything, some people did.

Why then? Bill Kessel did a masterful and engaging job of explaining the history of Open Bible. I wondered, why was Open Bible built when it was? Bill answered my question with an analogy; God answered it with a Scriptural truth. Picture two local rivers, twisting and turning through the White Mountains. At times, far apart, sometimes near, but always separated by a rocky landscape; but then eventually the two courses of water meet, flow together and form one river. Now picture two lives. Two men, one Apache and one German. Two individuals about as different as two could be. Geographically they were sometimes far apart and other times near, but their paths never crossed. Until one day they did. They found each other. Or, better said, God brought them together. With his own power and his own timing, the Lord set them on a common course. From then on, their lives, like two rivers converging, flowed as one. God had the heart of the Apache Chief Alchesay and the WELS Missionary Rev. Edgar Guenther in his hand. No one could have ever imagined that God used a flu pandemic to bring two “rivers” together to meet at just the right time (1918) to accomplish what he desired. Rev. Guenther did his work, the Holy Spirit did his. The gospel was shared. A faith was born. A friendship formed.

Chief Alchesay

Why there? God not only determined our times, but also the places. . . What was God carrying out in the rocky landscape of Whiteriver? His plans. Plans that no one ever could have imagined. With a newfound faith in Jesus, Chief Alchesay and other Apache desperately wanted a church in their Whiteriver community. Not just any church, mind you. A Lutheran one. One that would faithfully preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. They expressed their desire for a place of worship. God honored the yearning of their hearts. A petition was signed. Permission was granted. Land was given. A church was built. It was a memorable day on April 30, 1922. A key was presented. The door was opened. Open Bible was dedicated.

On that single day, 101 Apache were baptized! Chief Alchesay was the first, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Open Bible currently has a membership of about 900 souls. The message of the anniversary day reflected the promise of God: “Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.” (Exodus 20:24b) God is doing just that. Coming and blessing. Kirk Massey, pastor of Open Bible, is quick to thank the Lord that the members of Open Bible are taking ownership of the ministries there.

But I had one more question: Why are there holes in the stained-glass windows? The answer was honest and straightforward. . . bullets and a bottle. Someone fired a few rounds of a rifle and someone else threw a whiskey bottle. The results were the same. Broken windows. What prompted the shooting and the throwing, no one knows. Probably never will. Frustrating? Yes, because stained-glass windows are a challenge to repair. The cost is high, and repairmen are few. But instead of anger over what we can’t control (or even fix), how about looking at the window holes through a different lens? Broken panes can serve as a reminder of a broken life. Certainly, our own. Who hasn’t seen or experienced a broken relationship, promise, or body? But especially that of Jesus! Ironically, the windows in Open Bible that have been broken are the ones that create the 3-paned picture of Jesus hanging on the cross. If any life was broken, it was Jesus’! Not just his body, but his relationship with his Father. The significance is as astounding as it is life-changing. By way of Jesus’ brokenness, we are made whole! What we can’t restore, Jesus can.

Bill Kessel with members from Cibecue

And he will. If not in this life, then in the next. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10) Broken? Take heart, Jesus is the key to full restoration.

Speaking of a key, just prior to his death, Chief Alchesay had one request. (And it was honored). He humbly asked to be buried with something that was extremely special to him: A key to Open Bible. Why? He came to believe that Jesus Christ was the key that had opened the Scriptures to him and heaven for him. Alchesay was filled with humble joy that he–chief of sinners–was forgiven and chosen by God to be one of his children. He considered it a great honor to help build the church so that the Word could be preached, well, to help build the Church.

The Whiteriver church still stands to the glory of God to share with people that the Father’s heart, Jesus’ arms, Holy Scriptures, and heaven’s door are still open, and open wide.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native American mission counselor




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A rich welcome

Dear Heavenly Father,

The hymns have been sung, the Scripture has been read, and the sermon has been preached. The hands have been laid, the verses spoken, the blessing pronounced, and the promises made. Yes, even the cake and other treats have been eaten, the fellowship enjoyed, and the pictures taken. It’s officially done.

Lord, on Sunday, October 2, 2022, in Whiteriver, Ariz., at a historically significant WELS church called Open Bible, Pastor Kirk Massey installed me as the Native Christians Counselor on the Native American mission team. But I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know, Lord. I’m not informing you of something you didn’t already see. The comforting truth, Lord, is that you knew it all before it all even happened. Long before the Divine Call was extended, you saw that this day would arrive and you knew who would be there. You ordained what would happen and that it would happen.

It did.

Lord, thank you for all those brothers and sisters in Christ who were able to join us. The events of the day were humbling, and indeed were a rich welcome into the Native American mission. Thank you, Father, for each one with whom we will now do ministry and do life, both on and off the reservations. Thank you for the many people who stand beside and walk alongside us: our families, our friends, our synod, our co-workers. Thank you for those who have gone on before and for those who will come after. Whether near or far, in person or on Zoom, the family in Christ truly is a gift from you. And so is the work.

Ah, yes. The work.

When we stepped out of the installation service that day, we didn’t just step outside. We stepped into the mission field. One statistic in particular sticks in my mind, Lord. More than 90% of Native Americans aren’t Christian. They don’t believe in Jesus. They don’t know the true and only way of salvation.

As I stood in the open air, it was then that I once again realized: it’s not just the high altitude of the White Mountains that takes my breath away. So does the thought of the mountain of mission work looming before us. The ministry work appears, not just like a solitary mountain on the distant horizon, but more like a sprawling range surrounding us on all sides. Seemingly endless. As far as the eye can see.

Lord God, you were–and are–very much aware of all the ministry opportunities and challenges that lie before us. And around us. Bless our efforts according to your will.

Please hear me, Father. Not just my prayer here, but also the petitions, intercessions, and requests still to come. The ones that I’ll be saying later today, tomorrow, and the day after that. And the ones after that. Yes, Lord, I recognize not just the monumental task before us on the Native American mission field, but also the overwhelming sinfulness within me. It looms large. Mountain large. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” (I hear you, Paul. I feel your struggle).

But by your power, dear Father, I also hear your voice. Thank you for telling me of the rock-solid certainty of forgiveness through your Son Jesus. Because he shed his blood, I’m washed clean! You, a perfect God, in love with a sinner such as I? Yes, shocking, I know. But that’s just it. Your gospel is as surprising as it is real.

So when I step out my door, Lord, or look out my window or drive down the road, let the mountains be a daily and vivid reminder of the one Jesus climbed for me.

For there on that Calvary mountain, as he hung on the cross. He was paying a price too steep for our blood. But not for his. Paid in full. Was it worth it? For us, yes! We get a free gift, though at a high cost. He decided that he’d rather go to hell for us than to live in heaven without us.

Open Bible Ladies Choir

Salvation won.

How richly blessed we are to have a God like you. What a great reason and motivation for us to work while it is day in the Native American mission and beyond. You give us a reason to raise our voices in song! The ladies from Open Bible congregation did just that. How wonderful it was to hear them sing How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace. . . in the Apache language, no less. All glory to you, Lord!

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for inspiring the Apostle Peter to write the text, and thank you for leading Pastor Gary Lupe to preach it. Verse 11 is such a comfort. Thank you for including it in your Word:

“And you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Your Word, Lord, brings to our attention what lies ahead. (And we just got a taste of it). So when it is no longer day and when our faith turns to sight and our prayers to praise, we will be ushered into our eternal kingdom with a rich welcome.

Written by Rev. John Holtz, Native American mission counselor

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Summer is time for growing

What could you possibly call 60 people frantically (even raucously) scampering around trying to find an only child and a green-eyed vegetarian?

Well, a business meeting, of course. At least, that’s what we call it here in on the Apache reservations. On our Native American mission field, summer time is not just for relaxing, but also for growing! As God grows our ministries in fields ripe for harvest, He also graciously grows our mission team of harvesters. So each summer our teachers pause in their last minute preparations of arranging new desks and sharpening pencils for a new school year and our pastors clear their calendars to gather together. We meet our new team members, study God’s Word together, review ministry plans together, eat together, and even search for only children and vegetarians together. New relationships are formed, and old relationships are renewed and strengthened as we prepare to do battle with Satan and his helpers for the souls that God has entrusted to our care. This year we welcomed teachers Tony Sahatjian and Claudia Meyer to East Fork Lutheran School, and Pastor John and Mindy Holtz to our Native Christians team. They will be carrying on the important work of equipping Native American Christians to lead and serve God’s people.

Missionary John Holtz and his wife, Mindy

But we’re not done growing! This summer we have another reason to rejoice as we look forward to adding another missionary to our Native Christians team and expanding our gospel reach to more locations. More than 500 tribes that are overwhelmingly not Christian are still waiting for the life-changing, future-changing seeds of the gospel to be planted in their fields. And while we never found an only child or a green-eyed vegetarian on our current harvest team, we’re all ready and willing to get to work. Maybe the new missionary will fit that description?

Please join us in prayer that our gracious Lord would bless our team, our plans, and the people we will serve. Ask Him for opportunities to share Jesus, and the courage and love for us to make the most of them.

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, world missionary on the Native American mission team.

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Faces of Faith – Lolly

Ermon “Lolly” Stover was in a dark place. Battling addictions and alcoholism, he felt spiritually dead. The day came when he couldn’t handle it anymore. Remembering the encouragement to “take it to the cross” from his catechism days at the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible on the Ft. Apache Indian Reservation, he cried out to Jesus. He wanted Jesus to take charge of his life and knew that Jesus alone could help him. He started attending Bible studies at the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) and at Open Bible. His life is a living testimony to God’s power to change lives in every way. “I just want to be different,” he tells people, “I can do that through my Savior Jesus Christ.”

He is now a suicide prevention program director on the reservation, and he recognizes that it’s the front line of a spiritual battle between God and Satan. He continues to try to help people, always being ready to give an answer for the hope that he has. When he’s not at work you’ll find him posting Bible meditations on Facebook, teaching Bible studies at church, and continuing to attend ACTS classes to sharpen his Bible skills.

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Growing God’s children

I blame Adam and Eve.

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

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

From growing plants to growing children

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Another day to serve

My alarm rings: another day to serve.

“Dear Lord, give me the heart to share your grace today. Thank you for freeing me from the bondage of sin so that I am able to serve you and others.” It’s been 35 years since I was told by my doctor that I would not survive two years due to cancer. “Thank you Lord for calling me to yourself through what the world cannot see as grace and freedom.”

Time to go to the cafeteria here at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School and meet up with my fellow volunteer servants to prepare for the day’s work. We have a devotion and prayer, and we are ready for a day of building a staff housing unit that will be a place of rest for the additional teaching staff needed to serve the Apache community with the love of a grace of our Savior. Peridot is part of the WELS’ oldest world mission field to the Apache people on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. This mission is a unique place, and the Apache people are as unique as the region in which they live. What a privilege to be allowed to support this mission!

Building site at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

As a member of Builders for Christ, I have been given the opportunity to help in many church settings as a project manager. The chance to serve a world mission is a rare opportunity for lay volunteers and can be a challenge to work out logistics. Some of the challenges such as funding, timing, materials, and planning onsite are no less difficult in making the puzzle fit. The Lord continues to counter what we call “stumbling blocks”. Oh how small our vision is in comparison to what God’s vision is for us!

Since Arizona has allowed school choice, our Lutheran schools have had a lot of interest from parents that could previously not afford private education, or who would like a Christ-centered curriculum. “Thank you Lord for making our schools a respite from the world. You can have the world, but give me Jesus.” In a time when so many of our churches are shrinking, Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School and mission are expanding. What a challenge! What joy and exaltation! We are free in Christ to serve him in so many ways. “But Lord, all I have is a few old tools and old hands to use them. Here am I, send me, send me.” And God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The afternoon draws to a close. Let’s straighten that framing a little, install the sheathing, and call it a day.

Today brought some local volunteers, our Apache brothers and sisters, who share the desire to serve God and their community.

Thank you Lord, for allowing us to serve together to assist in raising these little ‘Poppies’.” The “Poppies” are the children served by the loving staff here at the school. They’re referred to as the “Poppies of the desert floor” that erupt in splendid color as spring rains water and nourish the dormant seeds. With the “Poppies” come the parents and families to hear God’s refreshing and freeing word. The peace that transcends human understanding, and the rest the world cannot emulate.

Okay, that’s a wrap. “Thank you for another day of grace and the sharing of your spirit, Oh Lord.” Our hosts thank us for another day of work. They don’t know how blessed we are to help in our small ways. It’s not fair we get more in return than what we came to give. I love God’s economy! “Thank you Lord for another day of grace. Thank you for these missionaries that leave lives of luxury to spread your love among the ‘Poppies’.”

Rest well dear friends. And as the builders say, “I will see you down the road.”

Written by Mr. Randy Baker, project manager of the Builders for Christ project at Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School on the Apache reservations in Arizona

 

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Pandemic proclamation

In 1918, the United States experienced a pandemic. The Spanish Flu Pandemic was terrible. How bad was it? By many estimates, 1/3 of the world’s population was infected and 5% of the entire world’s population died. However, the Lord brought something good out of that terrible pandemic. As Missionary Guenther rode to various Apache camps, doing what he could do for the sick by applying the homemade remedies of skunk oil and tar paper, he came upon the ailing Chief Alchesay. The Holy Spirit worked in the conversations about Jesus that followed, and when he recovered, Alchesay founded and dedicated the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible on the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona.

Just over 100 years later, we are in the midst of another pandemic. If our missionaries today tried to ride around town on horseback applying skunk oil and wrapping the sick in tar paper, getting arrested may be the kindest reaction they would receive. But the Lord has opened other doors to share the same good news about Jesus.

Under the banner of Native Christians, our mission field has been working on new ways to share Jesus. And with all of our reservation churches still unable to worship as normal (and some not in person yet at all), sharing the gospel digitally has taken on fresh importance. The pandemic has given us a wonderful opportunity to work on ways to share without gathering in person.

Part of our plan to reach Native people inside and outside of our reservations in Arizona included completely overhauling our website and providing a platform for us to share our Bible study resources. Local member Kasheena Miles has been able to build the site from start to finish, and her filmmaker/entrepreneur husband Douglas Jr. (both pictured) supplied the excellent photos and videos. With their help, our pastors are now able to reach a much wider audience with the gospel.

The website is one piece of our effort to create a Native Christians Network. We are actively seeking Native people to reach them with the gospel and offering sound Bible training to anyone interested, no matter where they live. Through our website and social media, our gospel reach is expanding. Pray that our generous Lord continues to give us more Alchesays, and pray that our efforts continue to be successful.

If you’d like to see the website and get the latest updates on our field, please visit www.nativechristians.org

Written by Missionary Dan Rautenberg, field coordinator on the Apache reservations in Arizona


 

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Faces of Faith – Carmelita

Carmelita says, “My story is hard and ugly, but it’s certainly changed now!” Carmelita married a Lutheran man who took her to church where she learned of Jesus, her Savior. It was wonderful to know Jesus loved her! As life went on, Carmelita got lost in the world. Her life often revolved around drinking too much and hanging out with non-Christian friends, all while raising her children in a sometimes-difficult marriage. Deep down in her heart there was still a little ember of faith. She left God, but he didn’t leave her! One day she woke up and realized it was time to get out of the insanity and find out more about Jesus. She knew she needed help. She ran to her Lutheran pastor to get this power to change from God’s Word. She was finally listening to the Word. She did not want to lose this faith but to live it! More troubles came, but she ran to fellow Christians and activities to hear God’s words and stay in the faith. She exclaims, “I’m so embarrassed because I am not strong, not at all. . . but my God is strong and through Him, my faith is strong. I am happy to be in Lutheran Bible classes and church activities that are full of love here on the San Carlos Apache Reservation!”

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Christmas Presence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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A Lutheran Revival?!

The bright yellow sunflowers lining the roads and filling the meadows were craning their necks to catch the last rays of sunlight as I drove down into the red valley known as Dischii Bikoh.

In English, we call this place Cibecue, Arizona. And in September it is especially beautiful after the monsoon rains and cooler temperatures allow the flowers to run wild. But I wasn’t there to sight-see the wonders of God’s creation. In Cibecue, Ariz., on a Tuesday night there was an even more beautiful sight to see: a group of Christians eating together, praying together, singing together, and encouraging, all within earshot to hear what wonderful things Jesus has done and how wonderful it is to be a follower of Christ. They put up a tent in someone’s field, cooked the food, provided the musicians and the loudspeakers, and invited the entire community to come and listen to the powerful gospel all week long.

For most WELS Lutherans, the idea of a tent revival may sound, well, un-Lutheran. But for a group of Lutherans with the word “evangelical” right in our name, it certainly was appropriate for this community on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. As pastor and church member after church member got up to speak words of encouragement from Scripture and personal testimony of what Jesus meant to them, it was music to the ears of a community looking for Christian role models and heroes of faith. It is not an easy thing to identify yourself as a Christian in a place where being Native is equated with practicing traditional religion and there is strong pressure to cast Christianity aside when the two identities collide. But what joy to hear from Christians who are not afraid to be Christians first and always! And what joy to hear from Christians who fell to temptation but experienced the sheer joy that comes from repentance and forgiveness from Jesus!

All week long, with sincere tears and ear-to-ear smiles, by loudspeaker and in quiet conversations over soup and fry bread, the gospel was shared and Christian encouragement was both given and received. Lutheran Apache Christians, armed with the Word of God, were unafraid to share their burdens with each other and tell others how Jesus set them free from the superstition and fear of idolatry, or from the chains of addiction or the prison of hopelessness and despair. Jesus changed their lives and their futures, and they were there to tell the entire community about this powerful and loving Savior.

Events like these are some of the things your Christian brothers and sisters in Native America are trying. They’ve armed themselves with the Word of God in regular Bible study, and they’ve done some hard work to figure out how to best share the gospel in their communities to their people. Won’t you join together in praying for them as we continue to make the efforts and take the risks and go boldly with the best message in the world?

Written by Missionary Dan Rautenberg, Native American mission field coordinator

 

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Poppies and prayers for the Apache reservations

The poppies in Peridot, Ariz., are out in full force. They spring up on the barren hillsides seemingly out of nowhere while we sleep. When the sun rises the next day, the dull, drab colors of the rocky slopes are on fire, covered in brilliant yellows and oranges.

Indian Day at East Fork Lutheran School on the Fort Apache reservation

It’s an amazing display of God’s power and artistic touch. A person wouldn’t think that anything could grow on those rocky desert slopes without the rich soil that is the lifeblood of so much greenery. But those poppies don’t need much dirt. The tiniest cracks in the rocks are enough. All they need is a small drink of water and warm sunshine and they open up and reach for the sky.

The poppies remind me of the new opportunities that our Lord has given to our schools on our Apache mission field. You might not expect to find some of the fastest-growing schools in the WELS on Apache Indian reservations in the middle rural Arizona. And you certainly wouldn’t see the facilities or amenities of a typical school or the neighborhood filled with fine, well-kept homes in an affluent suburb. But like the poppies, our schools on the Fort Apache and San Carlos Apache Indian reservations don’t need much to bloom.

The focus of our mission field is to train Native Americans to lead and to serve in God’s kingdom. And this training starts already in elementary school with children learning the truths of Scripture and being in a safe environment where Christianity is modeled and practiced by faculty and students alike. And while our schools have been in existence for more than 100 years, recent developments have caused them to burst into brilliant bloom like the poppies.

Field trip for Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School on the San Carlos reservation

The state of Arizona now allows parents to choose private education instead of sending their children to the failing public schools on the reservation. In communities where 75% – 80% unemployment is the norm and paying even the smallest tuition amount is a challenge, our schools are now accessible to many more families. And with half of the population on our reservations under the age of 18, we rapidly attracted more students than we have facilities and teachers. Like the poppies, we’ve burst into life in an instant, increasing the number of students by 100% in the last 5 years.

Among the red rocks and desert hills, Christian schools are blooming. Dedicated teachers who are passionate about sharing Jesus are equipping children to serve our Lord and be leaders in their homes, churches, and communities. Pray for them, and for the continued opportunities to bloom on the Apache reservations where they’ve been planted.

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Native American Missions Field Coordinator

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