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Growing God’s garden

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

– Galatians 6:9,10

Not everything grows down here. This past quarantine, my wife and I, like millions or other amateur gardeners and do-it-yourselfers, decided to plant a garden. After a few weekends, several hours, and countless trips to Lowe’s, we had our own budding garden, with okra, raspberries, zucchini, tomatoes, and grapes.

But not everything grows down here. The peonies failed to thrive. A dogwood tree and an elephant ear rotted in the boggy clay. A few berry bushes withered; one snapped at the base with a gentle pinch.

It’s easy to grow weary of that kind of work, isn’t it? To toss the gloves in the garage and ignore the yard. All that caring, feeding, and nurturing, only to have the fate of a crop slip from your hands. What went wrong? The soil? The seeds? Did I do something wrong? Could anything grow here? Could anything grow now?

A little amateur gardening experience leads us to appreciate some of God’s great truths about his kingdom and how it grows: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” – Mark 4:26,27

Have you felt the same way? Pastors and members alike have spent time maintaining interpersonal bridges; exploring mysterious livestream glitches and problems; calling, texting, and brainstorming to find some way of hanging onto everyone. At times, church work can feel like starting a broken lawnmower. Bursts of energy trying to get something going, only to puzzle over what the problem could be.

Worship at May River

Not everything grows down here. What grows near you? Do you feel fatigued? Perhaps a creeping sense of futility? Frustration?

There’s a reason Paul says not to get weary. Because while not everything grows immediately, some things do. And they grow. . . and they grow. . . and they grow, bearing far more fruit than one might imagine. As I write this, we are currently on our second crop of Okra. The first grew to a height of four feet. After we chopped them down in September, another crop appeared.

How much more wonderful to see what God is doing with souls here! Even in the midst of a pandemic, God blessed us with the opportunity to finish teaching Bible information class to seven adults and two of their teens now enrolled in catechism classes.

Beyond that, God’s people continue to bear fruit. New members step up into service and longtime members keep serving. God’s people still make it a priority to clean, decorate, coordinate, serve, and pray for one another. After church, you overhear members building one another up. In the midst of uncertainty and tension in our nation, generosity holds strong. In uncertain times, God still works in beautiful ways.

No, not everything has grown. The new, thoughtful sermon series, your friendly invite, the hours spent tweaking the tech may not have yielded results (yet). But God still promises—yes, even in a pandemic—that his Word produces fruit.

Just as every hardship is an opportunity to gain a better grip, a deeper appreciation of God’s promises, so he nurtures and tends a young home mission congregation. He draws us closer and closer to his Word. He shapes our hearts, gently tugging us from our own strength and capabilities, laying us back on his shoulder for his grace every day. And in our Savior Jesus, we regain a fresh sense of optimism and hope. As we turn, again and again, to his promises, we catch our breath and make our way back out to the fields, ready for the harvest.

Written by Rev. Erik Janke, home missionary at May River Lutheran Church in Bluffton, South Carolina

Want to learn more about the ministry at May River? Watch Pastor Janke’s Moments with Missionaries video update from Taste and See.


 

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Sharing The Good News With Every Neighbor: Home Missions: South Carolina

God is richly blessing the work of WELS Home Missions. Missionaries and their members are finding ways to share God’s good news with friends, relatives, neighbors—and sometimes even strangers at local fast food restaurants. Here are some of their stories.

Nicole R. Balza


Beautiful Savior, Moncks Corner, S.C., dedicated its first church in May. “Our partnership with the WELS Board for Home Missions and WELS Church Extension Fund has provided us with a wonderful facility, built to God’s glory,” says Jonathan Quinn, home missionary at Beautiful Savior. “We are already starting to see the fruit of the gospel proclamation we have been able to do in our church building. We held vacation Bible school here this summer, and registrations are coming in for preschool in falljust two more opportunities to connect with the community and connect those souls to Jesus through the gospel!”


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Illumine, Rock Hill, S.C.

Twice a year, Illumine holds a free yard sale. We prepare food and coffee for all who visit. Hundreds of people stop by, some in great need, all encouraged by the thought that churches can still be generous.

During our first sale, a young family who had worshiped with us a couple of times came to peruse the goods. They had a one-year-old boy and another child on the way. During the sale, the mother asked me what she needed to do to get her little baby boy baptized.

My answer was simple, “You just need to ask! When should we do it?”

The family was eagerthey wanted to have the baptism right then and there, We gathered up everyone who was shopping and volunteering, brought them all into the sanctuary, and laughed and applauded as this little boy was washed clean of his sins through the precious gift of baptismal grace. It was a great day to be a mission church!

Kent Reeder, home missionary at Illumine, Rock Hill, S.C.


COMMUNITY OUTREACH THROUGH MORNINGS WITH MOMMY

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Mornings with Mommy, Amazing Grace, Myrtle Beach

The Mornings with Mommy program, developed by WELS member Jessica Panitzke, is used in many home mission congregations. The community program offers classes with age-appropriate activities for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. As Panitzke notes, “Each class is a little different because each one has its own theme, but the basic structure is consistent. We begin with language and literacy activities. Then the instructor explains the different stations set up in the room, which the children can explore at their own pace. At the end of the hour, a snack is served.”

Congregations like Amazing Grace, Myrtle Beach, S.C., appreciate the well-organized curriculum that Panitzke has developed because it opens the door to a pre-evangelism
opportunity to their neighbors. As Ben Zahn, pastor at Amazing Grace, explains, “Mornings with Mommy (pictured) exists to welcome the members of our community into our building, to build relationships with members of our church family, and to build a bridge with those who may be looking for a church home. Anywhere from 7 to 16 moms (as many as 23 kids) attend our twice-a-month sessions. We’ve been blessed to have five families join the congregation since we began offering this program six years ago.”


David and Kris Hart and their kids became members at Amazing Grace, Myrtle Beach, S.C., in January 2015. Across the cul-de-sac from their home, Nick and Angel Santangelo lived with their son, Gavin. David and Kris’ son, Ryan, played frequently with Gavin and invited Gavin to come to church with him.

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David and Kris Hart and family. Ryan Hart pictured in front left.

As Angel Santangelo explains, she and her husband felt it was important to raise their son in the Christian faith but wanted to look beyond the Catholic and Baptist churches in which they’d been raised. Ryan helped them take the next step with his invitation to visit Amazing Grace.

“Gavin wanted to attend on Easter 2015,” says Angel. “However, we had family in town and ended up going to the Catholic Church. Gavin took it upon himself to tell the Harts that he would go with them the following Sunday. Since we had been looking for a church, Nick and I decided that we needed to go as a family. We immediately felt welcome and knew that Sunday that we had finally found our church.”

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Rev. Ben Zahn baptizes Gavin

Ben Zahn, home missionary at Amazing Grace, followed up with the Santangelos the next week. They asked about Baptism since Gavin had never been baptized. After digging into the Scriptures and talking about Baptism, the Santangelos asked Zahn to baptize Gavin the next Sunday. Soon Nick and Angel attended Amazing Grace’s Starting Point class, where they learned more about God’s Word and how to apply it to their lives.

Angel notes, “Once we started attending [Amazing Grace], Jesus became the center of a lot of our daily conversations. We began to see our family grow in Christ’s love, and we have become stronger as Christians and as a family.”

Zahn says, “Nick and Angel have been active participants in the ministry at Amazing Grace. Their story is a testament that children are sometimes the best evangelists.”


Nicole Balza, a staff writer for Forward in Christ magazine, is a member at Bethlehem, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. 

MISSION STORIES

Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.

HOME MISSIONS

Learn more about WELS missions in North America.

 

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Author: Nicole R. Balza and various writers
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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It is finished

Brooks Reames is a member of Peace Lutheran Church in Aiken, South Carolina. He writes about how he came back to Christ through Pastor Jonathan Bourman.

I am not sure how you feel when you read those words, but the first thing that comes to my mind is EXHAUSTION and a major inability to be who I desperately want to be.  We all feel the need not only to be better human beings, but also to be better Christians.  We feel this because the law of God has been written on our hearts.  As Romans says, “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts…” This truth really began to take hold of my heart back in 2011.

Previously I had lived in Greenwood, South Carolina.  I had received a baseball scholarship to Lander University in 2008 and lived there until 2011.  Jesus radically opened my eyes while I was there.  Late at night sometimes when drugs and alcohol were present I felt the weight of the law.  I headed for church and was baptized on November 21, 2008.  During the next three years in Greenwood, God did a magnificent work in my heart.  He gave me a burning desire to know him more deeply and I wanted to love him more effectively, but I had one big problem.  My doctrine and my mindset were all messed up.  The focus of my Christian faith was all about my performance and not enough about Christ’s performance for me.  I lived a very rocky Christian life.  When I felt I was achieving obedience, I was happy.  When I thought I was failing God, I was depressed.

After living a life of trying to achieve my salvation, I hit rock bottom in my faith.  I finally came to a place where the law had completely wrecked me.  I was mad at God and turned my back to him.  I can recall one day when I told him I was done following him and cursed him out.  It seems absurd to curse at God but I can say honestly that it was a great day in my life.  I had finally given up on trying to obey the law.  I had finally come to a place where I knew I could not do it.  Little did I know that that was God’s intention for me.  God wanted me to understand my inability to obey the law.

During the next couple of years, I rebelled.  I gave up on following him.  I knew that if being a Christian was about following rules, then I couldn’t be one.  I still had a distorted view of the Christian life.  Even though I was living in this mindset, God had a beautiful plan for me.  God was leading me to the true and right doctrine.  During that time, God led me to the beautiful gospel of grace, but I struggled to find assurance in it.  I needed someone else to “get it” – to confirm me in it.  I felt as if I was the only person in Aiken that was itching and needing the pure gospel message.  I wanted and desperately needed someone to tell me the gospel was really true.

My story takes me to the end of 2013.  It was during a fitness orientation at Gold’s Gym in Aiken (where I work) that a met this tall skinny guy.  Little did I know that this fitness orientation would be one that would lead me to understand the true doctrine.  I met Jonathan Bourman, who I now consider a great friend and my pastor.  Jonathan had recently moved to Aiken to plant a church.  When I heard him tell me that I remember rolling my eyes to the back of my head and thinking, “Aiken has enough law filled churches.” But then we began to talk and he said a word that struck a cord in my heart.  He said “GOSPEL!” The joy that sprang to my heart after hearing that word was indescribable.  I later came to understand that this guy, “gets it,” and I needed to hear more from him.

After the encounter with Jonathan we began to meet on a weekly basis.  He began teaching me the Lutheran doctrine.  I was blown away with the purity of this truth.  Christianity became clearer to me. The gospel was the centerpiece in this doctrine.  I began to see the true essence of my Savior.  As time went by I gained the assurance I was looking for, not from my own feelings of salvation but from God’s Word and my baptism.  What a beautiful gift God has given me in seeing his pure doctrine. Today I proudly call myself a Confessional Lutheran and will forever live to be reminded of the gospel message and in hopes of bringing this freedom to other people.

I am truly excited for Peace Lutheran church to begin.  There are no other churches in the Aiken area that are bringing this message.  My soon-to-be wife and I are becoming members of this church and are looking forward to hearing the gospel message preached.  My prayer is that through Peace Lutheran Church many people in Aiken will come to believe and understand the true doctrine of Christianity that truly, “It is finished.”

To learn more about Peace Lutheran Church, visit www.peaceinaiken.com.