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The Lutheran church of Ethiopia

Dear Friend,

An Ethiopian government official, riding in a chariot, reading from Isaiah the prophet. A gospel worker, Philip, directed by the Holy Spirit to go and share all the amazing things he knew about Jesus.

Perhaps it was in Sunday school that many of us first heard this story from Acts 8. At the end, the official is rejoicing in the blessings of baptism, and we find ourselves rejoicing, too, because God is sending the gospel to the people of Ethiopia.

Twenty centuries later, God still wants the people of Ethiopia to hear and rejoice in the gospel of our Savior. And, today, through our partnership with the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE), we have an exciting opportunity to make it happen!

Our sister church in Ethiopia is a young church body. It was established in 2012 by a gathering of ten believers committed to the teachings of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. At our synod’s 2017 convention, WELS and the LCE declared fellowship with each other.

Our sister church in Ethiopia is an active church body. Currently, the LCE has 410 members among one congregation and four preaching stations. The LCE is served by 1 pastor (the Rev. Dr. Kebede), 3 assistant deaconesses, and 12 lay leaders. The LCE operates a theological training school called Maor Theological Lutheran Seminary, which currently serves more than 40 resident and distance-learning students in Ethiopia and several other countries.

Our sister church in Ethiopia is a forward-looking church body. Consider these plans:

  • With local funds and financial support from WELS, the LCE has built a ministry center in Bishoftu, about one hour away from the capital city of Addis Ababa.
  • About 850,000 people in Ethiopia are visually impaired. One of the assistant deaconesses in the LCE, who herself is visually impaired, has been instrumental in establishing a ministry to reach them. She is fluent in the local languages, English, and Braille. The LCE is seeking a Braille embossing machine (about $17,000) so she can print Christian materials in Braille to share with many thousands.
  • Maor Theological Lutheran Seminary has hopes of training Lutheran leaders for other African countries as well—South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea—and at refugee camps in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.
  • The LCE wants to begin a prison ministry in Ethiopia.
  • Building slowly, the LCE would like to provide Christian education for students in kindergarten through high school.

WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR) establishes, preserves, and strengthens the bond of confessional fellowship with church bodies that are united with WELS in scriptural doctrine and practice. The LCE is one such church body. CICR has established an Ethiopia fund to support the ministries of the LCE. We kindly ask for your generous offerings. Please ask our Lord to bless the LCE, Dr. Kebede, the deaconesses and lay leaders of the LCE, and all their efforts to proclaim the name of Jesus, our Savior, in Ethiopia and beyond.

Thank you for your support. May the gospel have free course and be honored by many others just as it is by us!

Because our Savior lives,
Bradley D. Wordell
Liaison to the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia
WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations

Breaking into prison (ministry, that is)

Know anybody who is eager to get into jail or prison? Meet two men who are: David Hochmuth and Darren Green. They are WELS Prison Ministry’s new administrator and chairman, respectively.

New administrator
For Dave Hochmuth (pictured: center on p. 6), life in prison ministry begins at age 60. Raised in a WELS parsonage in California, he realized that he possessed neither the gifts nor the desire to follow his father into pastoral ministry. So he studied engineering and spent 23 years in that field. Meanwhile, he served in a variety of church offices and as a Bible study leader.

Preparing to teach was God’s way of teaching the teacher, and Dave found his passion. He enrolled in the staff ministry program at Martin Luther College and was assigned in 2007 to St. Andrew, Middleton, Wis., as Minister of Spiritual Growth.

In 2011, a bombshell dropped: his brother was arrested. Over the next few years, Dave visited several prisons to encourage his sibling. As his fear of the unknown eased, he learned the ropes of the prison system, the need of inmates for consistent spiritual nurture, and the impact of incarceration on families. He volunteered with Conquerors through Christ, a WELS ministry to those addicted to pornography, and others took note of his gifts.

But he never expected the divine call to enter prison ministry full time. “If you had told me 20 years ago that I would someday be in this position,” he admitted, “I would have laughed at you.” Now he sees how God has been preparing him.

Hochmuth acknowledges the challenges ahead. “The size of the opportunities compared to the size of our human resources is sobering. But if Jesus could work with five loaves of bread and two small fish…”

His priorities include reinvigorating the publications program, recruiting more volunteers for face-to-face ministry, serving inmates after their release, and getting ex-offenders involved in kingdom work. “We need to set a clear direction, establish priorities, and then get at it,” he says.

Dave and his wife Mary have been a team since 1989, raising three children. Now they are partners in another field, since Mary has become involved in ministry at the Dane County Jail. They share a heart for those who are locked up. “We’re all sinners. Some of our sins may be more socially acceptable, but we’re all the same before God,” Hochmuth observes. “People in prison are blood-bought souls, too, and Jesus told us to reach them.”

Hochmuth will visit the WELS Prison Ministry facility in New Ulm, Minn. frequently, but unlike previous administrators, his office will be at the Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. Contact him at 414-256-3243 or email prisonministry@wels.net.

New chairman
Darren Green (pictured: right), 50, has assumed duties as chairman of the Prison Ministry Committee, succeeding Leon Brands, who served faithfully for the past twelve years.

A 1994 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Green was assigned to the mission field in Russia. He has also served parishes in Nebraska, Colorado and, since 2006, St. Peter in Monticello, Minn. He married Naomi in 1992, and their marriage has been enriched by two children.

Beyond the congregation, Darren was elected as Special Ministries Coordinator, first for the Nebraska District and later for the Minnesota District. But his involvement with the incarcerated became personal when his brother was sentenced to prison. Spurred by this family crisis, and encouraged by WELS Prison Ministry, he has taught a weekly class at the St. Cloud State Prison for the past ten years.

As Green’s passion for souls behind bars has grown, he has identified other opportunities for ministry: helping families deal with the stresses of having a loved one incarcerated; ministering to ex-offenders when they are released; addressing the spiritual needs of prison staff and their families, who face their own stress.

“Jesus died for all of them,” says the veteran of soul care. “He ate with sinners and offered water to the woman at the well, who had her own ‘issues’.”

He may now be “Chairman Green,” but his heart remains in serving the lost. “I love the verse in Hebrews: ‘By only one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified’ (10:14 EHV). Then it quotes Jeremiah 31: ‘And I will not remember their sins and their lawlessness any longer.’ That beautiful gospel is the message that inmates need to hear, and our mission is to bring it to them.”

To share your thoughts with Pastor Green, call 763-295-5315 or e-mail welsne@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Remembering those behind bars

Many would be surprised to learn that the early Christian church needed to do prison ministry. Yes, needed. John the Baptizer and Jesus were incarcerated, of course. The Book of Acts relates several instances of the apostles being jailed. Many followers of Jesus were locked up for the “crime” of being a Christian.

That’s why the New Testament instructs: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3)

Prison Ministry was organized to provide WELS seniors a way to “remember those in prison” in a distinctly gospel-based structure for volunteering. From the start, pen pal opportunities and Bible study correspondence focused on sharing the gospel. The original structure was well thought out, and today is no longer limited to senior involvement.

Our ministry to men and women behind bars has grown and been refined as we understand more about the experience of incarceration and how much impact Bible study can have. The central office and our volunteers respond quickly to letters and correspondence course tests, recognizing the isolation of those who are doing time. We continually bring Christ and His salvation into our communication, understanding that everyone needs to know about their Savior, including those who struggle with their guilt alone in a prison cell.

Prison Ministry also trains WELS and ELS laypeople to serve inmates in local jails through Jail Ministry Team Training (JMTT), in keeping with our emphasis on empowering face-to-face ministry.

For more information on volunteering or receiving training, call 507-354-3130 or e-mail prisonministry@wels.net.

Learn more at wels.net/prison-ministry. Find resources at online.

To add an inmate to the mailing list, go to wels.net/refer.

 

 

 

Meeting Samaritans at the well

That is how lay leader Fred Ciaramitaro viewed his ministry to the Samaritans of our day as he shared the gospel at homeless shelters and halfway houses for 20 years. He volunteered with Project Share, a former WELS ministry in Bay City, Mich.
In his many years of ministry to many downtrodden people, one story stands out to Fred as he recalls the ministry he retired from two years ago.

“Much of my ministry was at a halfway house in Bay City. I would go every Wednesday to share the gospel with residents, both men and women. One evening, a Hispanic woman brought a Caucasian woman with her to class. The Hispanic woman asked questions, while the other woman was mostly silent. After a few classes, the Hispanic woman stopped coming because she disagreed with the roles of men and women, but the quiet woman continued to attend. It was apparent to me that Judy was not at all familiar with the Bible. This was the best case scenario, I thought, as she did not have any preconceived ideas about the Bible, as many of the people I ministered to did.

“Judy came back each week carrying a notepad. She took notes during class, and often asked questions after class when everyone had left. After three months, Judy came to class and told me that she would not see me after that night, as she would be released soon. I said, ‘Good! Here is my number. Call if you need anything.’ Now, I went to Jail Ministry Training and knew that giving out my information was not safe. It was probably the only time I did it in twenty years.

“I didn’t hear from Judy for several months after that class. One day my phone rang. Judy called to say that she had reconciled with her husband and was taking confirmation instruction at a local WELS church. ‘I’m over halfway through. Would you like to come to my confirmation?’ Judy asked. I agreed to go, if she sent an invitation.

“The day of Judy’s confirmation, my wife and I arrived just before the service started and sat in the last row. During the service, Judy carried her three-year-old daughter to the front of the church with her husband. That day, Judy and her daughter were baptized, and Judy and her husband were confirmed.

“My wife and I were last in line to welcome the new confirmands. As soon as Judy saw me, her eyes widened. She ran around my wife and embraced me. Judy turned to my wife and said, ‘I never would have made it without Fred!’ I said, ‘Oh no, Judy. It was the Holy Spirit.’ Judy replied to me, ‘I know, but the Holy Spirit sent you.’”

What a privilege it is to share the sweet message of the gospel with those in halfway houses, jails, and prisons! For more information on WELS Prison Ministry, e-mail prisonministry@wels.net or call 507-354-3130.

 

 

 

“Your brother was arrested!”

Darren Green is pastor at St. Peter, Monticello, Minn., and District Special Ministries Coordinator

“Your brother was arrested!” Those words hit me like a brick through the phone as my parents conveyed the news. The memory of those words and the event have started to diminish, but the emotions that were stirred in me, and especially in my parents, are still there.
I remember the sleepless nights, wondering and worrying about my brother, worrying and wondering about my parents. I remember listening to their struggles and inner turmoil. It took a huge toll on them as they tried to help my brother in whatever way they could, even looking at mortgaging the farm to pay the legal bills.

There were the questions: Why? How? What will people say? What do we say? Was there something we did wrong? Living in a small community means everyone would find out, and that would bring shame. I saw my father shed more tears than I had ever seen in my childhood. However, when we felt as if we had gone through the wringer, when we felt “harassed and helpless,” our Savior was there with his compassion.

It was during this dark time that our family was drawn closer to our Savior and his Word. We found ourselves reminding each other of Bible passages, such as Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). During the struggles, Paul’s words in Romans 8 directed our eyes and hearts to our caring God. “Our present suffering is nothing compared to the glory that lies ahead.” At times when you just don’t know what to pray, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us.”

In hindsight, it was clear that the Lord was purifying and growing our faith. Through these personal struggles, the Lord led us to see his Word in a new light. Peter assures us that our faith is purified and strengthened as we endure our difficult days: “These (trials) have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold . . . may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

My sister recalls: “What I think I will remember the most is Dad encouraging prayer, and saying that this life and all the trouble in it is just a breath compared to eternity. I had never actually heard Dad confess his faith like that, and I will carry the comfort from those words my whole life. His words sound similar to 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.”

As my brother went from jail to trial to prison, it opened my eyes, as a pastor and as a fellow Christian, to the pain that a family endures when a loved one is arrested. Because of my experience, I am better equipped to relate to and comfort others who have similar life events. How precious to know that our compassionate Lord cares for troubled and hurting souls, for those who are arrested and for the families that surround them. The forgiveness of our Savior Jesus truly brings peace and lifts our eyes to know that we have a future, even when today appears bleak. We have the powerful, unbreakable words and promise of our Lord!

My eyes have been opened to the gift the Lord provides in and through the family of God. It is hard to express what the support and encouragement of fellow Christians meant to my family and to my brother. Caring letters and visits to my brother…a listening ear and a kind word for my parents and family…it was actions like these that helped us walk through this dark time. WELS Prison Ministry was especially helpful and supportive with their letters and loving words.

My sister reminded me of something we both notice now: when we hear of a crime and an arrest, we see people quick to condemn, especially on social media. This is to be expected, but it evokes a hurt within me each time. Yes, crime is a serious matter, and yes, justice needs to be carried out. But there are also family members on all sides who are hurting, so I say a prayer for all involved. I also remember that the soul that has sinned is a sinner that Jesus died for. I have a different level of compassion now for the internal battles that lawbreakers face.

Having worked as a volunteer in prison, I have come to realize what a beautiful privilege Christ has given his followers. To think that we can speak for Jesus and assure troubled souls that Jesus died for them, forgives them, and calls them “from darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Our Creator made us emotional beings who long to hear his love and forgiveness, who need to know that Jesus has opened heaven. What a privilege to be a part of the family of God, to serve our Lord by serving one another!

 

 

Thank you, Jesus, for sending me to jail

The author is an inmate at a jail in Florida

My name is Travis; my title is servant. For the past seven months, our Lord has been teaching me what it means to be humble, what true faith is, what it really means to be a Christian. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away; all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This means “be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). I used to believe that going to church occasionally, with some prayer here and there, made me a Christian. I was raised in the church, baptized on my 16th birthday when the gospel had penetrated my heart of stone. The next eleven years of my life were plagued with the death of a child, major drug use, divorce, hatred, violence…and then I was thrown in jail.

I used to be an all-star athlete; I have 46 college credits; I’m a baptized Christian. What happened? And why? God says in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for their lack of knowledge.” That answers the previous questions…and just about every other question in life.
A week before jail, I prayed: “God, I’m done. I can’t live this way anymore. I know I’m knocking on death’s door, but I can’t stop by my own will power. Please take control of my life. I’m yours.” One week later I committed a crime while high on drugs, literally dodging a bullet. Now arrested, my life would change forever.

But Jesus has changed me for his good purpose. I was so deep in sin that God had to chain me up to force a private audience with his disobedient son. “And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Thank you, Jesus! Here in jail he has filled me with his love and his Spirit, with knowledge, wisdom, understanding. He has also restored my soul and is leading me in a path of righteousness for his name’s sake.

The first two things I faced in repentance were: “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34) and “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). He told me I must lay down my pride, ask for forgiveness, and “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).  God then began to show me my error and his righteousness.

My life had fallen apart because I was not obedient. I would say, “I have faith in Jesus,” but he told me, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Ouch! Then he went deep and told me I had no excuses because “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Now I remind myself all the time: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

This gives me a craving to add works to my faith. How? “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). To add works to my faith, I must fill myself with the Word of God. Again, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:17). Thus Christ has given me all the strength and knowledge I need.

Now I walk the walk, staying steadfast in prayer, offering sacrifices of thanksgiving, binding God’s word around my neck and writing it on the tablet of my heart (Proverbs 3:3). As Paul writes in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already attained or am already perfected, but I press on that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” I will speak truth about Psalm 119:1, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way who walk in the law of the Lord.”

I have been in jail for seven months, spreading God’s Word, memorizing it, fellowshiping with the body of Christ, and defeating the already defeated devil with James 4:7, “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

I had three charges, one punishable by life. My family and future were broken. But now that I have a relationship with our Lord and Savior, my future is saved by his prosperous ways. My family is back in church, forgiveness is in the air, and two charges have been dropped, including the punishable by life. I should be released to a rehab program very soon.

God is good! He has healed me and has revealed to me his intentions for my life. I will close with words from Paul (Philippians 3:13-14): “I do not count myself to have already apprehended, but one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” To my brothers and sisters in Christ—press on!

 

 

Share the gospel as a pen pal

Do you find it intimidating to share your faith with a stranger? How about with a convicted felon? Jesus tells us to share our faith and minister to those in prison. I have the privilege of doing this by being a pen pal with men who are incarcerated. As a pen pal, I have discovered many things about my faith and about myself. The experience has changed my ideas about the nature of grace, forgiveness, and the gospel.

I was nervous. These are the bad guys, right? I knew that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but certainly these guys had fallen a little further than I. Shame on me. The experience of being a pen pal has made it clear that people are not that different from one another. We are all sinners in need of a forgiving and merciful God.

I may not see the fruits of my labors on this side of heaven. I have not handled every situation well. And, on occasion, I have disclosed too much. Christ does not command that we witness perfectly, just that we do it. And, thankfully, we have the promise of the Holy Spirit’s help. I assure you that this is the case. Jesus looked beyond a person’s sin to see someone in need of the Gospel’s saving message. As a pen pal, I have learned that the limits of God’s grace and forgiveness are much broader than I could imagine. Looking beyond someone’s particular crimes and seeing the person loved by God has made grace and forgiveness more tangible and meaningful for me.

Consider becoming a pen pal. It is safe and anonymous. You will be giving much needed encouragement as you share the Gospel of Christ. The experience will change you. You will gain much more than you give. Contact WELS Prison Ministry (welspm@newulmtel.net) for more information on how to become a pen pal.

Prison ministry at Christmas

Most of us look forward to Christmas. As believers in Christ our joy and hope rest on that first Christmas when Jesus left the glories of heaven, came to earth to live a perfect life for us, suffer and die for all our sins, and rise victorious from the grave! Jesus conquered sin, death, and the devil.

This Christmas more than 6,000 cards have been sent to prison chaplains and those incarcerated. Nearly 50 percent of all the incarcerated will receive no Christmas letter, card, or visit from anyone. Often a note of encouragement or a short message from God’s Word replaces despair and hopelessness with peace and joy.

Our ministry wishes to thank all those who have taken time to make cards for our ministry. Hundreds of thank yous are received from inmates thanking us for bringing them hope. Just recently an inmate sent us the following thank you:

Dear WELS,
I just received my certificate from you. In the envelope was a surprise. Inside was a card made by a little girl. She drew a cross and on the inside it said, ‘see you in heaven.’ I had tears well up in my eyes! I was totally speechless. Every time you people go the extra mile to reach out to me. I’ve been so touched by the love that all of you have shown me. Never stop what you are doing for the Lord. I’ve never been so touched as I was with this card. I now know Jesus loves me and has forgiven me of all my sins. May God bless you all.
Mike

An effective way for all ages of people to share their faith with inmates is through the WELS Prison Ministry card and bookmark program. If you are those interested, contact us. We would be happy to send you the guidelines.

May the Lord grant you all a blessed Christmas and New Year!