Tag Archive for: special ministries

Make the most out of the opportunity

“His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:21 NIV)

During the last week of his earthly life, Jesus tells the story in Matthew 25 of three servants who are each given responsibility to manage a varying amount of wealth. Two of the servants manage their master’s funds well and double his investment. They are commended by the master, “Well done.” The third servant is condemned with the words, “You wicked, lazy servant!” for doing nothing and wasting his opportunity out of fear.

Your WELS Prison Ministry has been given a critical opportunity by our gracious God. After years of searching for a way to distribute our Bible studies digitally, we finally identified Edovo, an organization with which we contracted to put our studies on their learning management system. This opportunity has tremendous blessings and challenges as described in “Bringing the digital age to prison ministry.” The system is available to approximately 150,000 inmates using computer tablets in over 400 correctional facilities (out of 5,000+ total nationwide). Edovo plans to be available to 250,000 inmates by the end of the year.

We need your help to be as diligent and faithful in making the most of the Lord’s blessings. The help we covet most is your prayers. Pray that God gives us all the insight, energy, and people we need to take full advantage of this new endeavor. We are having to develop new ways of carrying out our ministry while maintaining many of the methods we have used for decades. The extra effort is taxing our resources, including paid staff and volunteers.

The second form of help we crave is hours of volunteer effort. Currently, we have a significant need for test correcting volunteers. But we also need to maintain or grow other forms of serving, namely writing pen pal letters, visiting inmates in jail or prison, or mentoring them after release. We equip followers of Jesus to find and fulfill these opportunities, especially at correctional facilities in communities near their congregation. If you would like to explore options for serving, contact me at [email protected].

A third form of help we need is financial support. Our faithful donors provide the means necessary to be faithful to Jesus’ call and make the most of this golden opportunity. If you’d like to support what we do, here are some ways to do that. Through your prayers, time and effort, or donations, we can look forward to Jesus’ praise, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” knowing all we give already belongs to him.

Dave Hochmuth, WELS Prison Ministry administrator

 

 

 

Bringing the digital age to prison ministry

We’ve got some exciting (and perhaps somewhat daunting) news. After years of declining ministry opportunities, the Holy Spirit has breathed new life into the Bible study correspondence courses from WELS Prison Ministry. On March 15, we launched the first phase of a new effort to distribute our courses digitally. In this first phase, three of our courses were converted to online courses using a system run by Edovo.com as mentioned in the lead article.

The response has been significant. Since the three courses were made available to inmates, we have been receiving about 240 tests per week on Edovo’s system. We continue to receive about 100 tests per week through the mail as well. The combined total is higher than our historical peak usage of about 300 tests per week via the mail 10 to 15 years ago. We thank God that we are reaching so many inmates again.

But this surge has its challenges, the first being a need for test correctors. We are trying to rebuild our team of active correctors back to 200 or more so that we can turn around corrected tests in a timely manner. If you have interest in participating in this type of ministry, which can be done from your home anonymously to the inmates, contact our New Ulm office for more information (507-354-3130; [email protected]). In conjunction with this recruitment effort, we are developing a new system for online test correcting for those correctors who would find that more convenient. We expect that system to be ready by this fall and pray that it further reduces turnaround time for tests.

Secondly, this surge in activity has been generated by only three studies. We would like to make the rest of our studies available to inmates on Edovo as soon as we can, but that could potentially generate thousands of tests per week, which is far more than our current and planned systems and procedures can handle. We are evaluating various strategies for this situation and pray we have a plan to report by the next newsletter in October.

A third challenge is that Edovo currently serves between five and ten percent of correctional facilities nationwide. While we expect that percentage to grow, we need to find or maintain other ways to reach the millions of inmates who don’t have access to Edovo. (For example, only five Wisconsin and two Minnesota facilities have access to Edovo. These are all county jails.) With so many of our resources devoted to responding to the Edovo surge, this seems daunting.

Thank God with us for these new opportunities, and pray diligently that he guides us so that we reach every soul behind bars that they might be part of his kingdom.

 

 

 

Receivers become givers

WELS Prison Ministry received an encouraging letter and gift from an unexpected source. Chaplain C. Tracy Bennett from Tyger River Correctional Institution in South Carolina sent us the following note along with a $100 gift:

Dear Friends in Christ,

Please find enclosed a donation for your ministry. Inmates made donations and asked for me to send it to you. We appreciate the Bible studies and are very pleased with the response we are getting from inmates who are completing them.

Prayers are being lifted for your ministry as it aids in building God’s Kingdom!

Blessings and Peace for the Journey,

C. Traci Bennett, Senior Chaplain

What a great encouragement it is to see the Holy Spirit is not only working faith in the lives of people through God’s Word, but is also motivating those hearers of the Word to want to help pass it along to others. God is good.

 

 

 

New Bible study going to press

WELS Prison Ministry is pleased to announce our 26th booklet, Who Is The True God?, is going to press. This new study helps students see that everyone has a god, whatever they love and trust the most. In our culture it is often self or material wealth. But only the Bible shows us the true God in Jesus, who lived and died as our substitute to win our eternal victory. We trust only in him.

 

 

 

Pen pal pipeline – Summer 2024

Excitement for the opportunity to send our booklets to inmates through electronic means has stirred up the hope that we may be able to connect pen pals to inmates digitally. Unfortunately, providing our booklets electronically and writing person-to-person through our pen pal program are two very different processes. Pen pal writing via e-mail poses unique challenges. The process and programs used in each facility can vary. Also, these programs do not allow pen names, which removes the safety of anonymity. As we continue to seek solutions, we still regularly receive inmate requests for pen pals. We continually need willing writers, who for now will write via pen and paper. With the busyness of the booklet ministry boom, processing pen pal requests is taking longer than normal. We ask that if you are interested in writing to an inmate as a pen pal, please contact Amy at [email protected]. She will give you the program details and assign you a pen pal as soon as she is able.

Please continue to pray for our pen pal volunteers as they share the gospel with the incarcerated through their letters.

 

 

 

Three ways to support WELS Prison Ministry – Summer 2024

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: for more test correctors, for success in developing an online test correction system, for ways to reach inmates outside the Edovo system.

Serve – All our ministry efforts are driven by volunteers motivated by Christ’s love. To volunteer as a pen pal, please contact us at [email protected] or 507-354-3130. To explore jail visitation or post-release mentoring opportunities, call 414-256-3243 or send an e-mail to [email protected].

Give – We thank our Lord and you for your helpful special offerings to Prison Ministry, which support our efforts to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration!

To provide additional gifts for Christ’s work through Prison Ministry:
WELS, Attn. Gift Processing
N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
Waukesha, WI, 53188
(Make checks payable to WELS and list Prison Ministry in the memo line.)

Donate online at wels.net/donate-prison-ministry.

Give through your IRA charitable distribution, appreciated assets, or your will or estate plan. Contact WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482 for assistance.

Direct your Thrivent Choice dollars (if you are a Thrivent member) to WELS Prison Ministry. Contact Thrivent Member Care Services at 800-847-4836 for assistance. Your 2023 designation is due by March 31, 2024.

 

 

 

 

WELS Prison Ministry reaching more inmates

WELS Prison Ministry has had an active and robust ministry by mail since 1993, relying on volunteers to facilitate mailing, encourage inmates with the gospel, and correct the tests that accompany the printed Bible lesson booklets distributed to inmates.

However, as Mr. Dave Hochmuth, Prison Ministry administrator, explains, sending booklets by mail to inmates has been getting increasingly difficult as prisons and jails are on higher alert for more sophisticated contraband, often drugs, sent to inmates hidden in physical mail. So, WELS Prison Ministry had to pivot how it distributes Bible lessons to the incarcerated.

Hochmuth says, “Last fall we contracted with a nonprofit organization called Edovo.com. They have created a learning management system like the ones schools use for distance learning, except theirs is for inmates. We have worked since then to develop online courses based on our Bible correspondence course booklets. We made three courses available on March 15 in an initial offering to work out the processes needed for handling this new opportunity. In the approximately seven weeks since the courses went live, we’ve been averaging nearly 300 digital tests per week generated by the inmates taking these three courses.”

This is about the same volume of tests Prison Ministry handled a decade ago when distribution by mail was near or at its peak. Hochmuth estimates Prison Ministry has gained between 500 and 1,000 new students since the launch of Edovo in March.

With the increase in inmates actively learning about their Savior, Prison Ministry has an immediate need for an additional 100 volunteers to serve as test correctors. In the near term, the test responses will be printed out and mailed to correctors, who will then correct the printed copy, which then will be returned to the inmates. This maintains a system where inmates are, at some level, still interacting with another person demonstrating Christ’s love to others.

If you are interested in volunteering, e-mail [email protected] or call 507-354-3130 (M-F 8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Central).

If you know someone in jail or prison, use wels.net/refer to connect them with WELS Prison Ministry.

 

 

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Gospel Hands helps for worship

A new website called Gospel Hands is now available from WELS Special Ministries. This resource, produced by the Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MDHH), aims to share the gospel and better tell the message of Jesus to all who are deaf.

Gospel Hands provides videos of interpreters demonstrating the signs for more than 700 religious words and concepts, including a contextual sentence and a Scripture reference, if applicable. In addition, each sign is demonstrated from the front and the side. The signs are listed alphabetically and searchable by category.

Gospel Hands is the culmination of a three-year project by the committee. Back in 2003, the MDHH produced a book of religious signs for interpreters called Sign to the Lord a New Song. But knowing that a printed book of religious signs is no longer practical, the MDHH utilized the blessings of technology to record sign videos for this new website. Committee members collaborated on choosing the signs and context for each word.

Mrs. Verna Weigand, a religious sign language interpreter and a long-standing member of the MDHH committee, has been involved in Gospel Hands from the beginning. She is thrilled about this new resource and also appreciates that churches have become more open to using interpreters in worship and providing other resources like words on AV screens, hearing loops, and printed sermons for those with hearing loss. “It’s really important that [those with hearing loss] know congregations will assist them and not just say, ‘We don’t offer that here,’” she says.

Weigand, a member at Mt. Calvary, Waukesha, Wis., notes that Gospel Hands is growing as new resources, like videos of signed worship services, continue to be added. Mrs. Susan Willems, a member at Christ the Lord, Brookfield, Wis., is thrilled about this expanding resource because it helps her and her family members share their faith with her one-year-old nephew, Parker, who has been deaf from birth. “We learn sign language so we can include Parker in every aspect of our family,” she says. “You also never know when the opportunity will present itself to share Jesus with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.”

Because it’s estimated that 85 to 90 percent of those with hearing loss don’t attend church because of a lack of religious resources for them, Rev. Joel Gaertner, director of the Commission on Special Ministries, knows what a valuable faith resource Gospel Hands is. “The work to put together an online religious sign language dictionary demonstrates the dedication of the members of the MDHH committee to provide as many resources as possible to help share the gospel with the deaf and hard of hearing community,” he says. “It’s wonderful to see how they are using technology to make this website possible.”

Learn more at gospelhands.net and find additional resources at wels.net/deaf-and-hard-of-hearing.

Read more about Gospel Hands in the May issue of Forward in Christ magazine.

 

 

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Supporting called workers

The Care Committee for Called Workers (CCCW), part of WELS Special Ministries, recently updated its materials. The CCCW exists to assist WELS calling bodies in the spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional care of their called workers. Its materials offer instructions on how to set up a congregational care committee as well as ways to help called workers financially prepare for retirement.

“While many calling bodies informally provide support to their workers, having an intentional, structured plan and organization makes sure workers are heard and encouraged,” says Rev. Joel Gaertner, director of WELS Special Ministries. A congregational Care Committee for Called Workers can provide that structure so congregations can make sure their workers are cared for.

St. John, Redwood Falls, Minn., has had a formal Care Committee for Called Workers for years, offering support to its 14 called workers and 2 support staff at its church and school. Five lay married couples form the committee, which is headed by Mr. Lance Otto, a member of the congregation’s Board of Elders. Each couple is assigned three to four called workers with whom they meet regularly.

Otto says a couple from the committee is in contact with the called worker from the very beginning—right when the call is accepted. That connection continues with once-a-year formal visits and numerous check-ins throughout the year. “They’re not just there to solve problems; they’re there to be a supporter and encourager,” says Otto. Having a contact couple also offers a safe place for called workers to share their concerns.

“Our Savior demonstrated a loving and caring heart for his disciples throughout his ministry. By his example, Jesus gave us a model of caring for our called workers. His command to love one another surely applies to Christians caring for the workers he sends us,” says Gaertner. “A local CCCW is often the best way to accomplish this.”

Learn more about how to set up a Care Committee for Called Workers in your congregation at wels.net/cccw.

 

 

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Be joyful and glad

The stone the builders didn’t accept has become the most important stone of all. The Lord has done it. It is wonderful in our eyes. The Lord has done it on this day. Let us be joyful today and be glad. Lord, save us. Lord, give us success. (Psalm 118:22-25, NIrV)

The Bible is full of encouragements to be joyful, rejoice, be glad, and the like, including here in Psalm 118. The Lord put these encouragements all over his word because he knew we would need them. Living for God in 2024 just seems so challenging, and the devil would be delighted for us to throw up our hands in surrender, curl up into a ball, and just give up. But let’s not forget what Paul said to his young colleague Timothy: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Yet Psalm 118 reminds us that Jesus faced opposition in doing the work he was sent to do. He was rejected but refused to back down. He went to the cross not as a victim, but as the unlikely path to victory. With that victory God raised him up and gave us reason to celebrate.

Yes, each passing day seems to bring new challenges to our life of faith. But God promises that he will send us whatever we need to follow Jesus. That might be the right words at the right moment (Matthew 10:18-20), joy despite suffering (Acts 5:40,41), contentment no matter the circumstances (Philippians 4:12,13); or the confident expectation of ultimate deliverance (Romans 8). With God’s power and love behind us, we cannot give up. We strive to continue to show love to those around us, including, and maybe especially, to those who are considered unlovable by the world.

For our ministry, that means continuing to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration in whatever ways God provides. Correcting tests, writing pen pal letters, visiting inmates in jail or prison, or mentoring them after release are all ways we can do this. We equip followers of Jesus to seek these opportunities, especially in the correctional facilities in communities near their congregation. Our faithful supporters provide the means necessary to reflect Jesus’ love for us to others.

One of the greatest joy-stealers is worry. But focusing on the needs of others instead of our fears reduces our worry. Serving Jesus by serving others restores “the joy of my salvation” to us. If you are already serving, thank you. I’m confident you have felt the joy of this work. If you would like to explore options for serving, contact me at [email protected]. If you’d like to support what we do, see page 4 for ways to do that. Come join us in this joyful effort.

By Dave Hochmuth, WELS Prison Ministry administrator

 

 

Blessings on a jail visitor’s creativity

As times change, so do some of the methods we use to share the unchanging gospel. Prison Ministry Committee member Bob Fink has used lots of creativity in trying to serve inmates in the Manitowoc County Jail. Through his innovation, Bob and his fellow volunteers have seen a noticeable increase in the number of souls they serve.

The ministry Bob serves was started in 2015 by Pastor Greg Pope. Bob received training from Chaplain Phil Merten from our partner Institutional Ministries. Initially the ministry followed the traditional format of biweekly studies attended by five or so inmates. As Bob got to know some of the inmates better, he would schedule one-on-one visits to give them more opportunities to learn and grow. But all that stopped when the pandemic hit. No in-person visits were allowed for over a year, and when they were allowed again, it was only via phones on either side of a glass barrier. So, Bob got creative.

At first Bob used mail to stay in touch and spiritually encourage inmates. He explored using video calls, but the expense was too high. But God was providing. Bob was asked to speak at the funeral of one of his former inmates. The funeral director was moved by Bob’s efforts and helped him with a donation of 100 Bibles for him to distribute. The real breakthrough came when Bob discovered a new “e-mail” style service offered by Cidnet that the jail was using to help inmates communicate. Messages cost 10 cents each, so he could interact with multiple inmates at a reasonable cost. Bob now sends devotions and receives messages from 28 inmates. He makes them aware that we offer a Bible correspondence course, specifically geared for inmates. Nearly all the inmates would appreciate personal visits as well. Inmates inform Bob of additional inmates who want to be contacted. The six volunteers who work with Bob make as many visits as they can, but Bob is still looking for additional volunteers to accommodate all the ministry opportunities.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the messages (typos and all) Bob has received through Cidnet:

Thank you so very much bob. my name is robert. im 47 years young. a christian whose fallen out of the life long practice. yes id be interested in the bible study your church offers if you would like to add me to the mailing list. i am facing time in prison and im sure i will go. i accepted my future fate already and ive only been in jail for 16 days. i know i have the lord on my side, its hard but i know i can make it.

One area of the ministry that Bob would like to improve is support of former inmates after release. These returning citizens often carry lots of shame and feel very uncomfortable attending a worship service. Bob has had a little more success with inviting released inmates to a smaller, less formal gathering, such as a men’s Bible study. But our congregations need to find other ways to connect these new or returning believers to the body of Christ in a supportive way. To help equip congregation members for this task, WELS Prison Ministry offers two resources. One is a Bible study, “Helping the Hurting with Hope,” found here: welscongregationalservices.net/helping-the-hurting-with-hope. The second is a training course with online discussion offered twice a year. Alternatively, the training can be offered locally. Visit welscongregationalservices.net/mentoring-a-returning-citizen for more information.

 

 

 

More changes for Prison Ministry

WELS Prison Ministry has been facing all sorts of changes, one of which is consolidating our booklet storage and shipping in New Ulm, Minn. On January 23, a crew of eight movers and three trucks converged on our former warehouse in South St. Paul. Loading the books onto the trucks was not too difficult because the boxes were stored on pallets and could be moved onto the trucks with pallet jacks. On arrival in New Ulm, however, the thousands of boxes of books had to be hand carried into our mailing facility with the majority being placed in the basement. Thanks to the crew from Bester Brothers Transfer & Storage Company that did the literal heavy lifting for this effort.

We also want to thank a crew of five Martin Luther College students who helped a few days later take delivery of a reprint of “Believe and Live”, one of our studies, and rearrange some of the delivered boxes so that they were in order.

Having all our inventory in or near the New Ulm mailing center will streamline our efforts and allow us to be more timely in our response to some bulk orders. We want to thank our faithful volunteer Elmer Stolle who manned the South St. Paul warehouse for decades, assembling and sending bulk orders of many of our Bibles, Bible studies, and other resources.

 

 

 

Pen pal pipeline – Winter 2024

Currently the balance between our volunteer pen pals and the inmates seeking someone to write to is close to even, but we always need more to replace pen pals who can’t continue. We’re also praying that as we get further into digital delivery of our Bible study courses, we will experience an increase in demand for pen pals. If you have been an active pen pal in the past but currently are not writing often or at all, contact our office and let us know about your willingness to get more involved again. We also may need a larger stable of pen pals willing to try e-mail as a mode of communication, with our office still providing the second leg of communication to the inmate to protect your personal information. Let us know if that is something you are willing to consider (no final decision needed at this time).

 

 

 

Three ways to support WELS Prison Ministry – Winter 2024

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: for the success of our electronic document team efforts; for blessings on (and funds to support) supplying postage paid envelopes to inmates; for success as we seek to equip more congregations and members to get involved personally in this ministry.

Serve – All our ministry efforts are driven by volunteers motivated by Christ’s love. To volunteer as a pen pal, please contact us at [email protected] or 507-354-3130. To explore jail visitation or post-release mentoring opportunities, call 414-256-3243 or send an e-mail to [email protected].

Give – We thank our Lord and you for your helpful special offerings to Prison Ministry, which support our efforts to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration!

To provide additional gifts for Christ’s work through Prison Ministry:
WELS, Attn. Gift Processing
N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
Waukesha, WI, 53188
(Make checks payable to WELS and list Prison Ministry in the memo line.)

Donate online at wels.net/donate-prison-ministry.

Give through your IRA charitable distribution, appreciated assets, or your will or estate plan. Contact WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482 for assistance.

Direct your Thrivent Choice dollars (if you are a Thrivent member) to WELS Prison Ministry. Contact Thrivent Member Care Services at 800-847-4836 for assistance. Your 2023 designation is due by March 31, 2024.

 

 

 

 

Meeting the spiritual needs of WELS members in the military

In early February, WELS Military Services National Civilian Chaplain Rev. Paul Horn completed a trip to the southeastern United States to visit military bases and WELS congregations to learn more about life in the military and present information about WELS Military Services and how it serves WELS members in the military. As the national civilian chaplain, Horn’s role is to serve as the liaison to the military as well as orient, train, and mentor WELS military contact pastors around the country.

Horn’s first stop was Abiding Grace, Mobile, Ala., which is close to a Coast Guard pilot training center. Abiding Grace is home to many veterans and actively serving military members. Abiding Grace’s pastor, Rev. Tom Spiegelberg, serves as a military contact pastor to WELS members on base.

After a stop at Zion, Gainesville, Fla., to present at a circuit meeting that included two military contact pastors, Horn made his way to Savannah, Ga., where he toured the US Army Ranger training facilities. While in Georgia, Horn was able to shadow WELS member LTC Michael Hefti, battalion commander at Fort Stewart, for a day, opening his eyes to the stressors a military family faces.

Horn’s final stop was Hope, Irmo, S.C. While at Hope, Horn met with an Air Force veteran for Distinctive Religious Group Leader (DRGL) training, a program that allows lay members or civilian clergy the opportunity to represent their faith group and serve their people through Word and sacrament. With this training, this veteran will be able to lead Lutheran worship and Bible studies for the Army recruits at Fort Jackson, S.C.

“One of the ways the military allows WELS to provide Word and sacrament to members on bases is to train WELS pastors and laypeople to be religious lay leaders,” says Horn. “While they don’t always have full access to WELS military members—it depends on the installation, the chaplain, or commanding officer—it is a foot in the door in meeting the spiritual needs of WELS members in the military.”

Because WELS does not endorse chaplains, technically WELS is not a Distinctive Religious Group as recognized by the Department of Defense, but when WELS members enlist or commission as officers, they can indicate their religious preference. If WELS is the designated religious preference and religious accommodation is requested, it’s possible to access WELS worship.

Horn emphasizes that it is also important for military members to sign up with WELS Military Services at  wels.net/refer. Once a service member signs up, they’ll be put in contact with the nearest WELS church and pastor.

Religious accommodation in action

Our Savior in San Antonio, Texas, is an example of a congregation that makes use of the religious accommodations on base. The congregation is near the Air Force base that conducts all the Air Force basic training. Rev. Micah Koelpin, pastor of Our Savior’s west campus, and Mr. David Kasischke, Our Savior’s staff minister, share the duties of once-per-month WELS worship services on base.

Kasischke shares what worship on base is like:

“The worship services we conduct are currently held on JBSA-Lackland here in San Antonio, in the Gateway Chapel’s conference room. We are billed as ‘Evangelical Lutheran (Wisconsin Synod),’ and we meet on the third Sunday of every month at 3:30 p.m. I use an order of service from our hymnal to ensure the worshipers, Air Force basic trainees, get the evangelical Lutheran experience. Usually, the ratio of non-WELS versus WELS is high . . . there are many more non-WELS people who attend. Some are curious about what an ‘evangelical Lutheran’ service looks like, and some are attending because they are ’wingmen’—the escort that is required because basic trainees do not go anywhere unaccompanied. Attendance is always unpredictable. My largest group was 19; then there have been times where it has only been a small handful. I always have the Lord’s Supper ready for any WELS member who attends. We practice close communion, but I explain why we do it this way and invite people to stay and participate in the other parts of the short communion service that I lead afterward. These services bring in people from all walks of faith life—unbelievers, doubters, curiosity-seekers, people who identify as ‘Christian’ but really know very little about their faith as well as Lutherans of other synods and members of other Christian denominations. I always take time to walk through the worship service and explain what each part is and why we do it when we do it in the worship service. I also leave time for questions after the service, about the worship itself or faith in general. I have found the questions are thoughtful and heartfelt.”

Opportunities to worship together and receive the sacrament are vitally important, says Kasischke. “What I have gathered from my conversations with these young people is that despite how well prepared you are, there is an adjustment to being away from home, loved ones, and the entire support network you are used to.”

 

 

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Looking for God’s direction

[Paul and his companions] came to the border of Mysia. From there they tried to enter Bithynia. But the Spirit of Jesus would not let them. So they passed by Mysia. Then they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision. He saw a man from Macedonia standing and begging him. “Come over to Macedonia!” the man said. “Help us!” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia. We decided that God had called us to preach the good news there. (Acts 16:7-10 NIrV)

Don’t you wish sometimes that God would make his will known to you as clearly as he does to Paul. Somehow God clearly communicated to Paul; that he was NOT to go into Bithynia (modern day northern Turkey), but to go into Macedonia (present day Greece) instead. Apparently, that moment was the time to start mission work in Europe, so that’s what Paul and his friends did.

Those of us working with you or on your behalf in prison ministry are facing a similar crossroads. For 30 years we have dependably relied on the United States Postal Service to help us deliver the gospel and encouragement to eager eyes and hearts in correctional facilities. But mounting restrictions are making sending and receiving studies, tests, and letters more difficult and expensive (for us and for inmates). Thanks to our bulk mailing to chaplains, we still distribute a good number of studies per year. But sending tests to specific inmates as well as receiving completed tests back from inmates using regular U.S. Mail has seen a significant decline. God seems to be saying that this pathway may not be the way to go now.

In response, we are exploring some new (to us) pathways. First, we are trying the use of Business Reply Mail for inmates or their onsite chaplains to submit their tests. While this will significantly increase our costs, especially if God blesses the idea, we believe this added cost is a small price to pay to be able to serve as many students as possible.

Our second new pathway is electronic delivery of our studies to the tablets many inmates now have access to in facilities. WELS Prison Ministry recently signed a three-year contract with Edovo, which provides a learning management system that ministries and educational entities can use to distribute educational material to inmates. Edovo currently has agreements in place at over 300 facilities to provide content to the inmates. We are also seeking agreements with other similar providers.

Please pray for these efforts. We are asking the Lord to bless them according to his will. We desperately want to continue to serve thousands of inmates nationwide and believe these may be the pathways God wants us to use. Also pray that if there are other ways that he desires us to share the gospel, he would give us the ability and wisdom to see these other pathways and use them.

Dave Hochmuth, WELS Prison Ministry administrator

 

 

An inmate’s personal evangelism

Because of societal trends and other factors, traditional mass outreach programs struggle. But personal evangelism, that is building a relationship with another person and, at an appropriate time, sharing Jesus with that person, appears to have a better chance at gaining an audience for the gospel. Our synod is spending a great amount of effort equipping us to do just that. Perhaps we should take a cue from Kyle (not his real name), an inmate in the Midwest. Though his own struggles have been and continue to be mighty, he made the effort to share his comfort with another inmate.

Kyle’s walk with Jesus has had significant ups and downs. He had more than a decade of problems with drugs and alcohol. He had fallen away from worship with fellow Christians. He spent more than a year in county jail awaiting sentencing for methamphetamine charges. Through some extended family members, God in his grace made a WELS pastor in the area aware of Kyle. The pastor began to serve him with both printed sermons and personal visits. A year after starting this effort, the pastor received a lengthy, unprompted letter from another inmate in Kyle’s unit. The inmate, John (again, not his real name), poured out his gratefulness for Kyle’s willingness to share the Word of God with him.

The friendship started with Kyle allowing John to call his dad using Kyle’s funds when John had none. John had been very anxious because his dad was having health problems. Kyle’s generosity made a big impression on John.

Then John noticed Kyle reading some of the sermons his pastor brought for Kyle. John asked if Kyle could share them, which he was eager to do. Here’s John’s comment: “My absolute favorite was . . .’Lord, It Is Good for Us to Be Here, the Transfiguration.’ I loved it and it spoke to me. God spoke to me through your sermon. Not audibly like he spoke when he said, ‘This is my son whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.’ But he spoke to me none the less. Letting me know this is right where he wants me. Yes in jail . . .

“When I came to jail I didn’t even think for one second God was orchestrating another chance for me. I thought it was the end and they were going to throw me away and throw away the key as well. My way got me here. Now I know God’s way is going to get me out of here. My prayer has been, Father & Jesus, teach me how to surrender, truly surrender.”

So, we don’t have to wait until we’re fully trained and blameless. Wherever we are at and whomever we meet, we can be a friend, and then pray for an opportunity to give the reason for the hope we have, as Kyle did.

 

 

 

Volunteering through the storms of change

The phone rings in Sylvia Barnes’s apartment one morning, and she recognizes the number. It’s the WELS Prison Ministry Mailing Center in New Ulm, Minn., where she has volunteered for nearly 20 years. “Hello, dear,” she answers. “Are you calling with bad news?”

This has happened on snowy days multiple times the last 20 years. Sylvia’s volunteer time on Tuesday morning was in jeopardy because of blizzards and large amounts of snow. She has always dreaded that phone call when the forecast was bad because she loves volunteering at the Prison Ministry office and loves the people with whom she works. Now at 96 ½ years old, she says, “If everyone wasn’t so nice here, I probably wouldn’t still be coming.” A family of Christian volunteers has been created on those Tuesday mornings, even though so much has changed over the years. Sylvia remembers that Tuesday morning volunteer family being so much larger 20, even 10 years ago. Most of the volunteers she worked with all those years ago have now gone to heaven, and she even surprises herself – and many of her friends – that she continues to go. “It’s interesting…when I tell them I’m still volunteering, they don’t believe me,” she says with a smile.

Sylvia has volunteered at Prison Ministry through much change. She was part of the volunteer family when the first WELS Prison Ministry administer, Mr. Dave Nack, suddenly passed away. She stuck around through the years of change that followed. She made it through the shutdown during COVID, and as more change has happened with the ministry, she has adjusted her schedule to fit the ministry’s needs. Even though Sylvia is no longer driving, she arrives to the Prison Ministry office with other volunteer friends willing to pick her up.

Sylvia and our other volunteers continue to serve our brothers and sisters in prison through all the changes because of one thing that does not change. The never-changing Word of God and the promises of God to forgive all sin – even the sins of those in prison – is what drives us to continue the work he commanded: Go and make disciples of all nations. Sylvia shares that one of her favorite things, and what drives her to continue to work through the changes, are the comments from the inmates on their tests.

Professions of faith from those in prison help her see the difference she is making as part of the Prison Ministry family. God is reaching souls through the work we are doing, and that’s what makes the snow-stormy days when we can’t do our work frustrating. We continue to pray for good weather days, days when Sylvia and others can share the good news of Jesus with the incarcerated.

 

 

 

 

Three ways to support WELS Prison Ministry – Fall 2023

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: for the success of our electronic document team efforts; for blessings on (and funds to support) supplying postage paid envelopes to inmates; for continued designated gifts to fund all our ministry activities.

Serve – ll our ministry efforts are driven by volunteers motivated by Christ’s love. To volunteer as a pen pal, please contact us at [email protected] or 507-354-3130. To explore jail visitation or post-release mentoring opportunities, call 414-256-3243 or send an e-mail to [email protected].

Give – We thank our Lord and you for your helpful special offerings to Prison Ministry, which support our efforts to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration!

To provide additional gifts for Christ’s work through Prison Ministry:
WELS, Attn. Gift Processing
N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
Waukesha, WI, 53188
(Make checks payable to WELS and list Prison Ministry in the memo line.)

Donate online at wels.net/donate-prison-ministry.

Give through your IRA charitable distribution, appreciated assets, or your will or estate plan. Contact WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482 for assistance.

Direct your Thrivent Choice dollars (if you are a Thrivent member) to WELS Prison Ministry. Contact Thrivent Member Care Services at 800-847-4836 for assistance. Your 2023 designation is due by March 31, 2024.

 

 

 

 

OWLS reflect on Christian vocation at annual conference

The Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors (OWLS) met in Stevens Point, Wis., Oct. 10–13, for its annual conference. The conference revolved around the theme “Called to Be a Blessing,” which offered opportunities for the 130 attendees to reflect on their Christian vocation through worship, keynote presentations, and workshops.

The three keynotes reinforced that, even in retirement, God calls believers to be a blessing to those around them. In Wednesday’s opening keynote, Prof. Kenneth Cherney, Jr., from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., gave an overview of Luther’s understanding of Christian vocation, in which God makes us channels through whom he pours out his blessings on others. Thursday’s keynote speaker, Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, talked about the vital role WELS seniors will play in the next decade as WELS churches meet challenges stemming from the loss of younger members, reaching out to those who don’t see the need for church, and the need for more people to enter the gospel ministry. The final keynote on Friday featured Mr. Randy Breuer, a retired professional basketball player, speaking about being a Christian in the world of the NBA.

One of the highlights of this year’s convention was a special presentation and Q&A featuring Rev. Robert Weiss and his wife, Rachel, who joined the convention via video from Munich, Germany. Weiss was commissioned in August as the new WELS European civilian chaplain. The Weisses gave an update on their work throughout Europe as they serve both WELS military members and their families and civilians as well. Weiss encouraged those who have loved ones living and serving in Europe to fill out the form at wels.net/refer so he can connect with and serve them.

Each year, the OWLS designates its convention offerings to support the WELS European civilian chaplaincy. This year, the OWLS again presented the chaplaincy with a check for $50,000. Convention offerings and proceeds from the silent auction, which raised a record $2,675, were directed for next year’s gift to the work of the chaplaincy. During his video call, Weiss expressed his gratitude: “Thank you to all of you in OWLS for the support you give the European chaplaincy,” he said. “It puts a pastor with his people. Thank you also from all those over here who receive Word and sacrament because of what you do.”

Sharon and Jay Stuedeman from Bethlehem, Hortonville, Wis., were excited to return this year for their second convention. “I believe this convention just gets better every year,” Sharon says. “The presentations were excellent. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.” Jay enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones: “One of the biggest things is the friendliness of everyone. The connections with other Christians are something I like most about the convention,” he says. “I don’t think anyone could come to this convention and not enjoy it.”

John Paulsen, OWLS executive director, says, “This year’s convention seemed to strike a chord with everyone.  Even first-time convention goers were impressed by the quality of the presentations and the fellowship of the group. We all get to grow in faith together!” Paulsen encourages any congregation with a seniors’ ministry to look into the OWLS program because it offers meaningful ways for seniors to gather and serve.

The 2024 OWLS convention will be held Oct. 14–17 at the Omaha Marriott, Omaha, Neb. The convention is open to all seniors 55 and older in WELS and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, regardless of OWLS membership.

Learn more about the OWLS at wels.net/owls.

 

 

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Comforting others with the comfort we have received

Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who gives tender love. All comfort comes from him. He comforts us in all our troubles. Now we can comfort others when they are in trouble. We ourselves receive comfort from God. We share very much in the sufferings of Christ. So we also share very much in his comfort. If we are having trouble, it is so that you will be comforted and renewed. If we are comforted, it is so that you will be comforted. Then you will be able to put up with the same suffering we have gone through. Our hope for you remains firm. We know that you suffer just as we do. In the same way, God comforts you just as he comforts us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NIrV)

Often the earthly shame of a situation can be a barrier to comfort, and this is especially true when dealing with incarceration. Lisa (not her real name) was a very concerned mother. Her son had been using drugs since high school and was just convicted for the second time. While she appreciated her pastors and the biblical guidance they offered, she desired more encouragement in her situation, but didn’t know where to find it. She also was fearful of raising the topic with any of her church friends for fear of how it might be perceived. Would people see her as a failure as a mother? She already had plenty of pain from the events themselves. She didn’t need a dose of shame on top of that.

Then in Lisa’s women’s Bible study group, one of the women spoke of her nephew’s struggle with substance abuse and repeated incarcerations, asking for prayers for the young man. Her Bible study friend also spoke of visiting another family member in prison and how that changed her heart. So much so that this friend was now actively involved in visiting female inmates in the county jail. Now Lisa knew of someone who could truly relate to her situation and her fear of reaching out for support evaporated. She now benefitted from the comfort her friend had received previously.

Those of us who have experienced the pain of incarceration of a loved one can be an invaluable resource to others—if they know where to turn. Because of the sensitivity of the topic, this needs to be done judiciously. Here are some ideas.

  • As in the case above, a healthy small group Bible study can make a good environment for sharing difficult situations, especially if the group has established a level of trust and members do not gossip. Praying with and for each other provides some natural openings for seeking God’s help and the assistance of his people for difficult situations.
  • If you’ve been through the incarceration of a friend or loved one, share that experience with your pastor, elders, or other spiritually mature fellow members. They will then be able to refer someone to you when the need arises.
  • Volunteering for jail or prison visitation ministry or mentoring a former inmate can provide you with insight into the challenges current and former inmates face. It will also establish your reputation as someone who has a heart for lost souls. With the right training, this can be done by anyone regardless of any previous experience with incarcerated people.

The temptation is there to bury painful parts of our lives and avoid talking about them. Don’t let Satan deceive you. Carefully sharing the painful parts of our past can reap a rich harvest of present and future blessings. Pray for guidance and courage to share the comfort God gave us with others.

By Dave Hochmuth, Prison Ministry administrator

 

 

The patient mentor

As we have reported previously, COVID and contraband have made ministry to current inmates more challenging, whether in person or by mail. But mentoring a released inmate does not require permission by a correctional facility. You can explore this opportunity and receive initial training for this type of ministry in the next online offering of Mentoring a Returning Citizen. One of our existing mentors shares some of the blessings both he and his mentee have received while participating in this ministry:

I have known my mentee for a few years now – as I think back over that time, I marvel at what the Lord has done and is doing in this relationship. Initially he had no Christian background and little previous Christian example to benchmark. While I desired faster progress in a variety of important issues, my confidence remained in the Lord’s timing and process.

The first blessing that’s been reinforced in my heart is: Trust in the Lord – in ALL things. We need to leave control and understanding to God. Scripture tells us this, but when events dictate “letting go,” we grasp with our hearts a great truth that we then demonstrate and pass on to our mentee.

A second blessing is comprehending/experiencing unconditional love. Jesus tells his disciples, “If you love those who love you, so what! – even the worst of sinners do that.” When I first met my mentee, “please and thank you” were not part of his vocabulary. Now he uses them, but even more – he considers my needs and is genuinely concerned about creating inconveniences in my life. This is an amazing change for one so self-focused and utterly worldly when we met. Yet, the Lord has shared with me his love for my mentee, and I’m experiencing it along with my mentee. It’s amazing – beyond words!

The Lord sometimes must “prepare the soil for planting” and this may require great patience, but we keep our eyes fixed on him and seek not to miss the opportunities to show the mentee an example of the Spirit of Christ by how we live and interact with them and others. Recently, my mentee asked, “I want to know how to include God in my life daily.” Such interest and determination were an answer to my frequent prayers! So we identified resources that could foster daily growth.

Over time the Spirit has made the mentee ready and eager to learn, change, and grow. Being part of this process is breathtaking. Being a mentor is an awesome privilege!

 

Mentoring a returning citizen

Explore a unique way to serve with no obligation.

  • Assess your gifts and receive initial training
  • Five Saturdays, Sept. 9-Oct. 7, 2023
  • 90-minute Zoom sessions starting at 11 a.m. (Central Time)

For more information contact [email protected] or 414-256-3243.

 

 

 

Prison Ministry notes and news – Summer 2023

Thank you Jim, Welcome Joel

The end of June will see a changing of the guard with a new Special Ministries director. (WELS Prison Ministry is one of the special ministries overseen by the director.) After over a decade of service in this role, Pastor Jim Behringer is retiring, and Pastor Joel Gaertner is taking over. Jim provided an invaluable steady hand to WELS Prison Ministry during a turbulent period following former Administrator Dave Nack’s sudden call home to glory in 2014. Jim has helped us better integrate with other WELS ministries and make progress on obtaining more stable funding. His solid, soft-spoken leadership has been a great blessing to us. We thank him for being God’s good and faithful servant.

Pastor Joel Gaertner has served in the public ministry for more than 30 years, including congregations in Kentucky and Wisconsin, as well as a stint for the last decade with The Lutheran Home Association heading up the Jesus Cares ministry for the developmentally challenged. Joel is known as a tireless worker with a positive attitude. His background, including serving as chairman of the WELS Commission on Special Ministries, makes him extremely qualified to guide all the WELS Special Ministries efforts to better serve God’s sheep, both lost and found.

 

Pen Pal Pipeline

After months of having been blessed with more pen pal volunteers than inmates to whom they could write, we now have inmates on a waiting list for volunteer pen pals. We are looking for either former or new pen pals to meet the demand. If you are no longer writing to anyone but are willing to do so now, or if you are considering this ministry for the first time and would like more information on the WELS Prison Ministry pen pal program, please send Amy Rich an e-mail at [email protected].

 

Mentoring a returning citizen

Explore a unique way to serve with no obligation.

  • Assess your gifts and receive initial training
  • Five Saturdays, Sept. 9-Oct. 7, 2023
  • 90-minute Zoom sessions starting at 11 a.m. (Central Time)

For more information contact [email protected] or 414-256-3243.

 

 

 

Three ways to support WELS Prison Ministry – Summer 2023

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: for blessings on our outreach efforts to new facilities; for the success of our electronic document team efforts; for blessings on the next and subsequent mentor training classes and new mentor ministries; for continued designated gifts to fund all our ministry activities.

Serve – All our ministry efforts are driven by volunteers motivated by Christ’s love.
To volunteer as a pen pal, please contact us at [email protected] or 507-354-3130.
To explore jail visitation or post-release mentoring opportunities, call 414-256-3243 or send an e-mail to [email protected].

Give – We thank our Lord and you for your helpful special offerings to Prison Ministry, which support our efforts to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration!

To provide additional gifts for Christ’s work through Prison Ministry:
WELS, Attn. Gift Processing
N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
Waukesha, WI, 53188
(Make checks payable to WELS and list Prison Ministry in the memo line.)

Donate online at wels.net/donate-prison-ministry.

Give through your IRA charitable distribution, appreciated assets, or your will or estate plan. Contact WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482 for assistance.

Direct your Thrivent Choice dollars (if you are a Thrivent member) to WELS Prison Ministry. Contact Thrivent Member Care Services at 800-847-4836 for assistance. Your 2023 designation is due by March 31, 2024.

 

 

 

 

Further evidence of changing times

A recent Star Tribune (Minneapolis) article underscores changes in the field of corrections regarding how mail is delivered to inmates. The article, titled “Paper and Ink Spelling Trouble,” chronicles some changes that are being pilot tested and debated in Minnesota and elsewhere. The objective of the procedural changes is to reduce the influx of liquid drug formulations dripped onto the paper of a letter, magazine, or other item mailed to an inmate. The correctional facility in Stillwater, Minn., is experimenting with photocopying all inmate mail and delivering the copies to the inmate. But there are drawbacks. The reporter states: “In Stillwater, this test is adding hours of work for [a correctional officer] while creating an extra, even if temporary, barrier for inmates relying on photos, greeting cards, and letters to stay tethered to loved ones in the outside world.”

The article continues: “’It depersonalizes,’ said Michele Livingston, whose son, Jeffrey Young, is serving a life sentence for murder in Stillwater. ‘Already there is no contact, and mail is actually one of the best ways to communicate with someone incarcerated. It tells them it took effort and time to say something to them. Now when you get photocopies, it takes it away.’”

So, in good Lutheran fashion, “What does this mean?” There are several take-aways for us. One is a reminder to “work while it is day,” that is, make the most of opportunities to spread the gospel because those opportunities can evaporate. Doing our ministry by U.S. mail has worked well for more than 30 years, but that era may be changing.

A second take-away is the continual need to innovate and develop new ways to deliver the gospel. WELS Prison Ministry has a team working on developing viable methods for delivering pen pal letters and our Bible studies as well as receiving tests and returning them to inmates using electronic delivery. Please pray for blessings on this team’s efforts.

Finally, the article renews our conviction that the spiritual and emotional encouragement we provide through pen pal letters and test comments are personally vital to the inmates despite any photocopying. The Word of God works, even if it is photocopied first.

 

 

 

Corrector’s corner – handling inmate comments

Generally, our correctors are very faithful at adding some encouraging comments to tests submitted by inmates. However, in some cases we’d like to see more direct acknowledgment, when appropriate, by the corrector of requests or other notes from the inmate. This is especially true if the inmate asks for prayer or notes some aspect of struggling to live for Jesus, but other comments can be worth responding to as well. For example, an inmate recently submitted: “Thank you for this course. It’s been helpful to me to control my depression and anxiety. I’m in a place where these feelings can control. I will look back on this book in my time of need.” While not an explicit request for prayer, this is a situation that lends itself to an encouragement along the lines of “[First name]: I’m thankful this study helped direct you to places in God’s Word that reassure you when you’re tempted to be anxious or depressed. I pray that you will continue to find comfort in those verses as you seek to trust Jesus’ promises.”

Also, we wanted to note that a significant number of our students are in county jails where their stays may be limited. Those tests are especially time-sensitive, and we’d like to get them back to the students as soon as possible before they are released or move on. Please return corrected tests as soon as you can, but no more than two weeks at the most.

 

 

 

 

New tool for congregations: Hope for the hurting

WELS Special Ministries Director Rev. Jim Behringer is pleased to announce a new Bible class, Helping the Hurting with Hope, that will assist congregations in developing a climate of compassion for sinners served by ministries such as WELS Prison Ministry. Using some of the same themes as our opening article, the study’s author seeks to help participants see the vital role of compassion in a Christian’s personal and congregational life. He also seeks to provide the gospel motivation for participants to go beyond their comfort zones and act in compassionate ways through the Spirit’s power.

We believe Helping the Hurting with Hope can motivate God’s people to be patient and wise with people behind bars and those formerly incarcerated when returning to the community. Where the Bible class succeeds in cultivating compassion, church families will also be better spiritual refuges for others with broken lives.

The study comprises an introductory lesson with a video and four additional lessons. The participant’s lessons, leader’s guide, and video can all be accessed or downloaded at welscongregationalservices.net/modules/compassion-ministry-modules.

 

 

Three ways to support WELS Prison Ministry

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: for blessings on our outreach efforts to new facilities; for the success of our electronic document team efforts; for blessings on the second and subsequent mentor training classes and new mentor ministries; for continued designated gifts to fund all our ministry activities.

Serve – All our ministry efforts are driven by volunteers motivated by Christ’s love.
To volunteer as a pen pal, please contact us at [email protected] or 507-354-3130.
To explore jail visitation or post-release mentoring opportunities, call 414-256-3243 or send an e-mail to [email protected].

Give – We thank our Lord and you for your helpful special offerings to Prison Ministry, which support our efforts to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration!

To provide additional gifts for Christ’s work through Prison Ministry:

WELS, Attn. Gift Processing
N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
Waukesha, WI, 53188
(Make checks payable to WELS and list Prison Ministry in the memo line.)

Donate online at wels.net/donate-prison-ministry.

Give through your IRA charitable distribution, appreciated assets, or your will or estate plan. Contact WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482 for assistance.

Direct your Thrivent Choice dollars (if you are a Thrivent member) to WELS Prison Ministry. Contact Thrivent Member Care Services at 800-847-4836 for assistance. Your 2022 designation is due by March 31, 2023.

 

 

 

OWLS joyfully gather for its annual conference

The Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors (OWLS) met at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center in Onalaska, Wis., on Oct. 10-13 for its annual conference. The conference revolved around the theme “There Is a River,” based on Psalm 46:4.

Convention goers were treated to a scenic bus tour of historic La Crosse, Wis., on Tuesday morning. Beginning on Tuesday afternoon, attendees enjoyed worship, fellowship, breakout sessions, and three keynote presentations. Rev. Timothy Redfield, whose daughter, Libby, was born blind, shared his family’s personal story and the resources available through the Mission for the Visually Impaired. Rev. Curtiss Seefeldt talked about how to provide emotional and spiritual support for those affected by dementia. Rev. Jon Leach from Truth in Love Ministry spoke about reaching out in love to Mormons.

The OWLS again designated its offerings to support the WELS European Civilian chaplaincy, which serves military personnel and WELS civilians in Europe. This year, the OWLS presented Military Services with a check for $55,000. Convention offerings and proceeds from the silent auction, which raised a record $2,564, were directed for next year’s gift to the work of the chaplaincy in Europe.

Mr. John Paulsen, OWLS executive director, talks about the appeal of the convention: “We have good food, excellent fellowship, and great speakers,” he says. “Every convention has been so well received. That’s why people keep coming back.” He adds, “It’s like a mini-vacation from the world—and a chance to be with other people who are all trying to share the gospel.” Paulsen encourages any congregation with a seniors’ ministry to look into the OWLS program because it offers meaningful ways for seniors to gather and serve.

Longtime OWLS members were excited to welcome 25 first-time attendees, like Carol Kolosovsky from St. Paul’s, Muskego, Wis. “It was a great joy,” Kolosovsky says. “The conference reminded me of the wonderful opportunities, privileges, and blessings that seniors have in God’s kingdom.” Kolosovsky was also moved by the worship services and fellowship: “Whether it was reconnecting with old friends or making new friends, all of them shared their enthusiasm to share Jesus. I really look forward to meeting them all again someday.”

The 2023 OWLS convention for seniors will be held Oct. 10-13 at the Holiday Inn in Stevens Point, Wis. The convention is open to all seniors in WELS and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, regardless of OWLS membership.

Learn more about the OWLS at wels.net/owls.

 

OWLS Convention 2022

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Resistance and strength

Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor. Then you can remain strong against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world. Ephesians 6:10-12 (NIrV)

When trying to build bodily strength, resistance is needed. Whether it is a world-class athlete or a struggling patient in physical therapy, physical movement must be opposed to build strength in the targeted muscles. And that resistance can be very painful. As the saying goes, “No pain, no gain.”

In a similar fashion, God sometimes uses opposition to build spiritual strength in his followers. And that opposition can be painful and look overwhelming at times. Paul reminds us that our opposers are in fact overwhelming to humans on their own. In trying to share Jesus with others, none other than Satan himself and all his allies, both spiritual and physical, line up to try and stop what we are doing.

So what are we to do? Cower in fear? Give up at the first (or second or third) sign of difficulty? Not at all. In God’s typical incomprehensible fashion, he both gives and builds strength in his followers. Paul says it clearly, “Let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power.” Yet God also wants us to exercise our faith so that we “can remain strong against the devil’s evil powers.” And what enables us to do that? God’s armor. The following verses describe the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, and the sword of God’s Word, among other pieces. We cannot expect to sit around and have God fight our battles for us. God makes it clear that we are part of his spiritual army that takes on hell itself.

These verses are a great encouragement as our ministry continues to face challenges and opposition. The list of facilities that require special mail handling continues to grow. This has caused significant increases in our returned mail and delays in delivering booklets and tests to inmates. Fewer institutions accept greeting cards, which historically have provided much encouragement to inmates. Some faithful chaplains who have been longtime supporters of our ministry-by-mail efforts are retiring. Another recent challenge has been booklet printing. Printers have had difficulty finding paper and, like everything else, the price has increased significantly. In addition to ministry-by-mail challenges, many institutions have been slow in opening back up to personal visitation and Bible studies led by volunteers.

We are not surprised by these growing challenges because we know the good things God’s Word does when it is sent out. Lives are changed and souls are saved for eternity. Confident of this, we redouble our efforts to find solutions or workarounds for our difficulties. You can be part of this. Join us in praying for courage, wisdom, and strength for our ministry’s leaders and volunteers. Consider a special gift to Prison Ministry to help offset the increase in our costs. Explore involvement in a visitation or mentoring ministry to touch lives personally. Instructions for these actions are presented in “Three ways to support our ministry.” Also see the mentoring article in this issue.

Mr. Dave Hochmuth, Prison Ministry administrator