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3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia

In 2003 my family and I left Africa after 21 years to serve a congregation in the United States. At that time I wrote an article for the WELS Board for World Mission’s newsletter entitled, 10 Things I Learned In 20 Years In Africa.

Flash ahead 16 years. . . and my wife and I are unexpectedly having to leave our work in South Asia to come back to the United States. To mark this occasion, please allow me to tell you briefly about 3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia.

1) The caste system really hinders the spread of the gospel. In Zambia and Malawi, I saw how people from different tribes often didn’t get along well together. But the walls that tribalism erects in Central Africa pale in comparison to the barriers that the caste system builds to repel the gospel in places like South Asia. It’s rare for a Hindu of any caste to speak to a Christian. It’s practically unheard of for an upper caste individual to do so. God’s Word, of course, can accomplish great things. But it faces an enormous challenge among well over a billion people who live in South Asia. Something to keep praying about.

2) It isn’t easy to train a pastor in another culture. When you think of training a pastor, you first think of some sort of school where students study the Bible and its teachings; where they learn ways to share those teachings with other through sermons, classes, and conversations. Certainly, that is the foundation of a pastoral training program. But in WELS, future pastors also benefit greatly from having a host of role models; other, often older, pastors who know how to touch people’s hearts with a sermon, men who display the love of Christ in word and action.  But such role models often aren’t available in many of our mission fields. In classes you can describe practical situations and ask students, “What would you do?” But it’s not the same. Something more to pray about.

3) The Lutheran liturgy is really, really important. In our world mission fields, many congregations do not have their own pastor. These congregations are served by dedicated laymen. And for this reason, many of our world mission fields also prepare a “sermon book.” A sermon book contains a simple sermon translated into the local language for every Sunday of the year. In spite of the sermon book, I often wondered if they were adding a smattering of false teaching to their sermons. But there is one thing that can’t be “messed up”: the liturgy. And because all of our congregations use a simplified Lutheran liturgy, translated into the local language, I can be sure that each and every Sunday the Christians at that congregation are confessing their sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. I can be certain that they are hearing a summary of the gospel in the Apostles or Nicene Creed. I know that they are worshiping in the name of, and receiving the blessing of, the Triune God. Something to be grateful for.

And the ½ thing. . . it’s never easy to leave a world mission field. When we left Africa in 2003, our family mourned our loss for a long time. I suspect it will be the same now. We will miss the work, the people, and the life. But my wife and I will carry on, grateful for the blessings that we had and certain that the Lord will continue to bless the people and the work in South Asia, even as he will bless us in our new call in the United States.

Written by Rev. Mark Rieke, former Friendly Counselor to South Asia

Friendly Counselor Mark Rieke and his wife Sue are moving to La Crescent, Minn., where Pastor Rieke has accepted a call to serve First Lutheran Church after unforeseen circumstances made it impossible for them to return to their home and his call in South Asia. Please keep Mark and Sue in your prayers during this transition!

 

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Faces of Faith – South Asia

A young Hindu from Nepal had his whole life before him, when inexplicably he lost his vision. The doctors told him he would never see again. In despair, he contemplated suicide and made plans to throw himself from the famous Karnali bridge in western Nepal. A Christian friend went to visit him in his home and reassured him, “If God made your eyes, he knows how to fix your eyes. If God made you, he knows how to heal you. He will heal you in this life; and if not in this life, then he will heal you in the life to come. Whatever happens to you, God loves you and gave his Son for you.” After their initial meeting, the two men began attending church together. Miraculously, a small portion of his vision started to return. He prayed to God and said, “Whether you improve my eyes or not, I trust in you.” Thanks to the Lord’s infinite mercy, his vision was completely restored. Today he is a national pastor in Nepal, serving as Outreach Coordinator to help others to see their beautiful Savior.

From the friendly counselor to South Asia

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Faces of Faith – Hakim

“Even the cows listen to his sermons!”

So it seems! A picture (above) shows Hakim preaching a sermon to people sitting on the ground outside a house church. In the background is a cow staring intently at Hakim. His friends tease this humble, faithful servant who is deeply loved and say, “You are the world’s best preacher. Even the cows listen to you.” He is like a father-figure to many in the church. Despite his age he has a lot of energy and connects well with the young people in the church. He is also a film-maker and has made many video vignettes of Bible stories such as the Lost Son in Luke 15. He is also a student in our first Pakistan Bible Institute. He visits three to five house churches every week to teach what he learns in the Bible Institute. What makes Hakim and the other students wonderful preachers is how they bring God’s truth to our 58 house churches in Pakistan.

From the friendly counselor to South Asia

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A Little Child Shall Lead Them

*Specific details have been left out and names changed due to security precautions

Sophia was born in March 2013. When her mother went in for an 8-month check-up, the doctor told her, “Unless you reach the capital city within 24 hours, you and your unborn child will die.” To get there meant an 14-hour drive over many dangerous roads. To make matters worse, the government had shut down all air and car travel between cities because of strikes and protests. No one could travel the roads.

The father went into the police station and asked for a special permit. The chief of police gave him a document showing he had permission to travel the roads, but only at night. They got into a car and began the 14-hour journey. There were road-blocks by the police and by the protesters. The father had to get out of the car and remove the obstacles–trees, tires, barrels, etc–that the now-sleeping protesters had set up. Some of the roads were along the sides of cliffs where the tires come so close to the edge that a passenger must hang out of the window and bang on the side of the car to let the driver know if they are too close or “just the right distance” from the edge.

It took two nights to reach the city. By the grace of God his wife and daughter survived. She was born into the world a month early and was born into God’s family in baptism.

But life would not be a smooth road for this little girl . . . there were more challenges to come. After one year of life the family learned their little girl could not hear. She was unable to speak. With the help of friends she received ear implants. How she smiled the first time she was able to hear. Every day her mother took her to speech therapy.

Sadly, there were other health complications: frequent illnesses, infections, fevers, and stomach discomfort. She had trouble walking. Her parents and siblings often held her hand to keep her from falling. In spite of all this she was cheerful and bright – and she filled her family’s home with happiness.

Then on April 11, 2018 she had trouble breathing. Her mother rushed her to the hospital in only 15 minutes; but it was too late. Her little heart stopped beating. God took her out of this world to himself.

The father was caring for suffering people in a far-away place. To return to where his wife and daughter were required two days of walking and three days of driving. He decided to wait so he could tell a group of 150 people about the love of Jesus. They knew his daughter had just died–and they were surprised he did not leave immediately. He explained, “I know that my daughter is in heaven and I will see her again one day. I want you to know about Jesus so that you will have comfort when you or your loved ones are dying.” The next day he spoke to another group. Then he began the long journey back.

The family is grieving, but they have peace and love in God in their home. The father says, “I find great comfort in the baptism of my daughter. It is critically important that others baptize their children and grandchildren.” In some countries it is illegal to baptize anyone under a certain age. Many refuse to do it for this reason. They are afraid of being arrested and put in prison. In one place those who convert to Christianity and are baptized are guilty of a capital crime. According to the constitution, they are to be executed. How the devil rages against baptism . . . but “a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Weak and stumbling though this little girl was, she has overcome Satan, the world, and death. She now lives as a powerful testimony of what it means to live and die–and live again–in Christ.

Written by a mission counselor to an Asian country

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WELS India Children’s Homes – Fall 2018 Update

This young man, Teja, is part of a new group of former students who did not complete the seminary training at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Ministries (CELM), our worker training school. Now, like the others, Teja has been given a second chance. It is exciting to have him return. You see, Teja is the first “graduate” from one of our children’s homes to attend the CELM program. He began the required pre-seminary program in 2013 and graduated in April 2016. He greatly desired to continue his education the following year at seminary, but his mother and uncles were pressuring him, “Why do you want to study for this job? You will be a poor man.” He was encouraged to fulfill any family obligations before attending classes. Teja reluctantly agreed. He acquired a job at a dental clinic, yet frequently asked, “When can I return to school?” The reply was always, “Wait and trust.”

Teja

During that time, Teja financially helped his widowed mother to “marry off” his younger sister and then assisted in costs for his sister’s first two babies. This is all part of the bride’s family responsibilities in India. As the only son with no father, much of this responsibility fell on his shoulders. Teja is 22 years old.

Now, family obligations have been fulfilled and Teja was excited to be back at CELM Seminary for the refresher course this past spring. He said last April, “I’m not concerned about money. I just want to share the joy.”

But the roadblocks continue. Just before the school year began in July, Teja emailed, “I don’t know if I should come to classes. My uncles say I have no life experiences. Many will not respect me.  I am young.” The story of Paul encouraging Timothy also encouraged Teja. Once again, he was encouraged to trust in the Lord.

Thanks to many prayers and the Lord’s guiding hand, Teja has returned for this school year AND has been blessed to keep his job at the dental clinic when not at classes. Our classes run two weeks of each month. A small subsidy is given students to assist while they study at the school. But now, with this chance to continue working during the two weeks off, it is a great blessing for him. The caregiver that brought him to the children’s home is also giving him experiences at the local place of worship. What a privilege to watch this young man mature physically and spiritually. Please continue to remember him in your prayers. We pray that he will be a blessing for many.


We love making connections

It is always exciting to connect with groups of people or individuals when back in the United States. We love sharing our experiences and stories. Just as exciting is making an exchange of greetings and sometimes small gifts with the children in the States and the children here in India.

Two groups did just that from Wisconsin. A VBS from Waukesha, Wis., and a Sunday School from Montello, Wis., sent very special greetings. The cultural exchange is fun and the connection is very appreciated. It’s special for the children to know that kids in India and kids in the States both like eating apples! The tangible greetings are also warmly welcomed with “oohs and aahs” and are very encouraging to the children and especially the caregivers.  They now can feel part of a bigger family from around the world.

View the video of Mt. Calvary’s VBS in Waukesha, WI singing Jesus Loves Me with the Indian Children’s Home.


Independence Day

August 15 is India’s Independence Day. This year the day was quite rainy, but that did not stop the celebrations. The Indian flag was raised, the Indian national anthem was sung, and the pledge was said. As CELM seminary classes were in session and nearby, those students also joined in this special celebration. We all crowded into the larger classroom and enjoyed various national songs sung by the children and heard many speeches, “I am proud to be an Indian!” Afterward, the CELM students enjoyed interacting with the children and expressed how this reminded them of their elementary school days. We pray that India is blessed with leaders who will guide this large democracy well.


Heavy Monsoons

The monsoons were heavier than usual this year. One of our children’s homes was affected. They live near canals which help provide a couple seasons of crops. Due to a poorly managed water dam and heavier rain fall, some canals overflowed, destroying rice paddies, and caused damage to the house. Fortunately, our two homes in the area were not as seriously affected but the children from one home did have to evacuate to higher ground for a few days. Cleanup has started, and WELS has provided assistance to cover these costs. We are thankful the government has also assisted in flood relief. We hope the upcoming cyclone season brings only the needed rain.


To learn more about WELS work in India and the India Children’s Homes, visit wels.net/India.

 

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