Tag Archive for: special ministries

Proposed changes to improve retirement benefits

The WELS Retirement Strategy Committee, a special committee appointed by the Synodical Council several years ago, has announced proposed changes to the WELS retirement program. It is proposed that the WELS Pension Plan be frozen and replaced with a defined contribution plan, wherein all eligible workers would receive contributions to their accounts in the WELS Shepherd Plan.

After an extensive and prayerful study of many options, these changes are recommended because the defined contribution plan will better support our workers and our overall ministry efforts than the current Pension Plan, as well as stabilize costs over time for sponsoring organizations. Here’s more:

How will the retirement program work if the proposed changes take effect?

The sponsoring organization for each worker in eligible service will send a quarterly retirement payment to the WELS Benefit Plans Office, similar to how Pension Plan payments are currently remitted. A contribution will be deposited into the defined contribution plan account—the WELS Shepherd Plan—of each eligible worker on a quarterly basis. The contributions to a worker’s defined contribution plan account will vest immediately at the time the contributions are deposited to the account.

What will happen to earned pension benefits?

Workers will not lose any earned benefits. After a worker’s WELS service ends, the Pension Plan will pay the benefit earned for service performed through Dec. 31, 2020. If a worker dies before he or she begins receiving his or her Pension Plan benefit, the surviving spouse will be able to receive surviving spouse benefits from the Pension Plan.

How much will be contributed to each worker’s defined contribution plan account?

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, all workers will receive a “base” contribution of $500 per quarter of eligible full-time service.

Workers who are age 44 or older on Jan. 1, 2021, will receive an “additional” contribution per quarter of eligible full-time service besides the base contribution. This is because contributions made to the defined contribution plan account of a worker who is closer to retirement do not have as much time to earn investment returns before the worker retires. Learn more about this at welsbpo.net.

How will contributions to the defined contribution plan accounts be invested?

A worker can choose his or her own fund(s) and/or portfolio from the options available in the defined contribution plan based on the worker’s personal goals. The account of a worker who does not make an investment election will be invested in the default investment option, which will be the target retirement date fund that most closely aligns with the worker’s projected retirement date based on the worker’s age.

Can workers or their sponsoring organization make additional contributions to the defined contribution plan?

Yes, workers can save and invest their own money, and organizations can make additional contributions on behalf of their workers.
Other advantages to workers include immediate vesting, control over investments, and various ways to take distributions. Unlike the pension plan, any assets remaining in the account would pass to beneficiaries upon the death of the worker and spouse.

How much will a sponsoring organization be billed per worker and how will those funds be used?

The quarterly “total retirement payment” charged in 2021 will be the same as the quarterly Pension Plan contribution rates in 2020. The amount needed to fund the contributions to workers’ defined contribution plan accounts will be submitted to the defined contribution plan. The remainder will be used to pay the frozen Pension Plan benefit obligations and the administrative expenses of both plans.

What are the next steps with regards to these proposed changes?

The proposed changes will be a significant topic on the agenda at each district convention in June 2020. A standard resolution will be provided for each district to review, discuss, and vote on during the convention. The plan is for a representative familiar with the proposed changes to attend each district convention. If each district approves the resolution with broad consensus, the proposed changes will likely be implemented on Jan. 1, 2021.

Learn more at welsbpo.net. There you will find a detailed FAQ, a video explaining the changes and the benefits, and a calculator to estimate benefits.

 

 

 

How God blessed me even in the storms of child abuse

It was all I ever knew. The screaming, the threats to harm me, the pain. My food intake was restricted. I was kept from the outside world. I believed all this was normal. I believed I was hopelessly wicked. I didn’t tell anyone. There wasn’t anyone to tell and no reason to ask for help. This was life as I knew it and if I wanted it to be good, I had to be a better person. That’s just the way it was.

Then my eyes were opened. I slowly learned that my life was not normal; in fact, it had been riddled with abuse. There was a scary world out there I hadn’t known. People acted very differently from what had been my normal. I was dumped into a culture totally foreign to mine.

The more time I spent with Christians, the more I learned that my life hadn’t been how God intended for a child to live. God never approved of the grudges held against me that made my soul burn with overwhelming guilt and terror at my sinfulness. God didn’t approve of the horrible abuses I suffered at the hands of my parent. I wasn’t the property of my parents, to do with as they saw fit. I was the dearly loved child of God.

God never willed this upbringing on me: one filled with emotional, verbal, physical, and spiritual abuse. The scars were numerous and deep. No, he hadn’t willed this life for me, but he allowed it to happen. Why did he allow it? That is a deep question that may never be entirely answered, but I have seen the good he brought out of the awful mess of my childhood.

Would I have the faith I have now, if I hadn’t had to wrestle with pain and fear? Would I have the great hunger for God’s Word if I hadn’t been deprived of the truth for so long? What about my appreciation for forgiveness? Would I take it for granted if it hadn’t been withheld from me for so long and in such painful ways? I don’t know.

Certainly there are many who knew the truth their whole lives and cling to it with great strength. I have examples of that in some good friends of mine, but some people fall away after growing up in the Word. I know that I see God’s grace and forgiveness as precious blessings after feeling I was without them for so long.

Then there’s the understanding I gained from my past that I wouldn’t have if I had been raised in a God-pleasing way. I understand abuse survivors. I have received a gift of extreme empathy from my struggles that drives me to help hurting people. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Do I wish I hadn’t been abused? Do I wish I had a normal upbringing? There are times I think about what it would have been like to grow up without abuse. I still have difficult struggles because of what I endured. Life would be much easier if I didn’t have these struggles. While it never should have happened, I gained too many blessings through the abuse to wish I had never had this experience. My empathy for others, my faith that grew through my trials, and other great blessings came from what I went through.

If God gave me a choice to go back and either relive the awful abuse I went through and have a strong faith, or live a normal, carefree childhood and fall away from God, I would choose to go through the abuse all over again. God knew what he was doing in allowing me to endure abuse. I’m honored he chose me.

Due to the sensitive nature of this article, the author’s name has been withheld.

Freedom for the Captives is a ministry that equips the Body of Christ to protect children and empower abuse survivors. The website is freedomforcaptives.com.

 

 

 

What do I say to a sexual assault survivor?

Sexual assault terrifies those who have been victimized, leaving them frightened, depressed, ashamed, confused, and angry. Survivors are impacted sexually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I have ministered to women and men, young and old, who have experienced this type of life-changing trauma.

Here are some suggestions for pastors (and others) who want to say and do the right things for someone whose safety and dignity have been violated in this way.

  • Pray with—and for—the survivor. Ask what they would like you to pray for. After you have spoken to God on their behalf, tell them you have done so.
  • Use Scripture to proclaim God’s comfort and encouragement, such as Psalm 34:18-19: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”
  • If the event is very recent, addressing safety and other immediate needs are top priorities. If the victim is a minor, comply with laws pertaining to mandatory reporting of child abuse. If the victim is an adult, provide information about facilities that specialize in treating such trauma. (Contact a Christian counseling agency, domestic violence shelter, or law enforcement to learn what resources are available in your community.) Offer support as the adult survivor decides whether they want to contact law enforcement. Help them to develop safety plans. Respect their decisions. They are likely feeling quite powerless, so it is important to empower them to make their own choices whenever possible.
  • The ministry of simply being present is powerful. For many survivors, trust has been shattered. A pastor can be a source of comfort and offer hope that trust can be rebuilt with others. However, be sensitive. If a male committed the assault, the survivor may not feel at ease with another male, not even a pastor. Be very thoughtful about any physical contact: a hand on a shoulder, a hug, or even a handshake may not be well received at such a time.
  • Empathetic listening is key. You don’t need to have all the answers. Responses don’t need to be eloquent. Gentle, loving affirmation and validation is often what is desired most.
  • Not every sexual assault survivor will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but some will. Encourage the survivor to seek, or help them find, Christian counseling with a mental health professional who has specialized training and experience in providing trauma-informed care.

Many survivors report that they have never heard their pastor address sexual assault in a sermon or Bible study. Imagine that you had been violated in this way. What a balm for your aching heart and mind and spirit to hear your pastor talk about how God hates abuse, how he is a God of justice, and how he is close to the brokenhearted!

May God bless your efforts to bring hope and help to sexual assault survivors.

Sheryl Cowling is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Board-Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress, and Board-Certified Professional Christian Counselor. She provides counseling services at WLCFS – Christian Family Solutions in Germantown, Wis. Her church home is Crown of Life, Hubertus.

 

 

 

Lovin’ the loop!

When I arrived in Greenville, Wis., in 2015, I was taken aback by Immanuel’s new worship facility. How could such a beautiful building be lacking anything?

But if the beautiful message proclaimed there cannot be clearly heard by everyone, there is definitely something missing.

At the time of construction in 2010, Immanuel’s leaders considered installing a hearing loop. The estimated cost of $20,000 caused it to be trimmed from the budget, along with many other “frills.”

At first, I knew little about hearing loops. But a month after I joined the staff as technology director, Les, one of our members, asked if there was anything I could do about the sound during worship. He was not able to hear the sermon very well and he really needed something done. We conferred frequently about possible solutions.

I began to research hearing loops and the dramatic difference they make for the hard of hearing. A local AV vendor quoted us a cost of $35,000 because post-construction installation would be more difficult. Sadly, I informed Les that the cost was prohibitive, but I would investigate other fixes. Les was hopeful.

A company called AudioFetch said they could help for much less. AudioFetch uses wi-fi to send the audio from your system. The user downloads the app on their phone and connects with the signal to hear the system. I was excited to get Les hooked up. But we discovered that older phones connect at a much slower speed. That resulted in a delay between the sound leaving the minister’s mouth and reaching the user’s ears. (Think of when the words and lips of a character on screen are not synchronized.)

A second issue: the user has to connect their phone and their hearing aids either by using headphones (nobody likes that) or by using Bluetooth. So the wi-fi signal reaches your phone with a small delay, then uses Bluetooth to connect to your hearing aids. The cost of $1000 was much more palatable, but after many attempts, we could never get it to work easily for Les.

In 2018 a new building project got underway to connect our school with our new church via a large hall, classrooms, kitchen, etc. I made sure to include a hearing loop in the budget. It was approved, installed, and works great!

Since vendors were now knocking at my door, I had them estimate the cost to loop the church. A bid of $11,000 was okayed by our leadership, and it was installed in September 2019. A buzz in the line, caused by older lighting fixtures, was addressed and we now have a hearing loop that works as advertised.

Our members who use the new system are giving me many thumbs up because they can hear what they came to hear. Now the beautiful message of the gospel is being heard clearly in our beautiful building, bringing beautiful results in the lives of God’s people.

Mark Meyer tries to stay on the cutting edge of technology that fits into his ministry. He has a Masters in Technology in Education from Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn.

To learn more about hearing loops, contact Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at mdhh@wels.net or go to csm.welsrc.net/mdhh.

 

 

 

Share the gospel with captions

“Could you please add captions?”

If you have published any videos online, you may have seen this question in the comments. Many churches are posting sermons, church services, or devotional videos to their websites and apps.

This is a great way to spread the gospel. But without captions, it can also be a way to alienate deaf and hard of hearing people who need to hear the message of Christ’s forgiveness.

After WELS Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MDHH) received that comment on some videos we shared last year, we decided that any content we post will be captioned. The committee is also committed to assisting others in the synod with captioning their content.

“Why should I add captions?”

  • Deaf people will have access to the gospel.
  • Hard of hearing people can more easily hear the Word of God.
  • People learning English can more easily follow the message.
  • Captions increase watch time, especially on Facebook. Many people don’t turn on the sound for videos anymore, and will quickly scroll past a video they can’t understand without sound. If there are captions, users are more likely to watch longer and receive more of the message.

“Okay. I get it. I should add captions. But I don’t know how.”

Thankfully, it’s become much easier, and there are many tools to help.

  • Use auto-generated captions. Both YouTube and Facebook have tools to create automatic captions. These are not always accurate, but are better than nothing, especially if the speaker is clear.
  • Write your own. Both YouTube and Facebook have a built-in editor where you can type in your own captions fairly easily. You can then download the file to upload it in other places (if you post your video to both Facebook and Vimeo, for example).
  • Use a captioning service. Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has been using Rev.com for the last few months with great success. The captions cost $1.25 per minute of video, have a fast turn-around (24 hours or less), and are high-quality, accurate captions.

“I’m still not sure how to create captions or upload them.”

  • Google it. “How to create/upload captions to Facebook/Vimeo/YouTube/[insert option here]” will give you step-by-step instructions on how to create or upload captions to any service you might be using to host your videos.
  • If you need further assistance, message us at facebook.com/wels.mdhh or e-mail us at MDHH@wels.net. We want to help you make your videos more accessible!

If you already caption your video content, please let us know. We’d love to share it on our Facebook page and let people know when they inquire about captioned resources.

Monica Brandt has a degree in American Sign Language. She serves with the Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and interprets for her church, Prince of Peace, Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

 

 

Bringing Jesus to the brig

As I walked from jail cell to jail cell, speaking with young men who still consider themselves to be Marines, I pondered: How did I get here? Just months before, I had been leading a team against feared cartel leaders who had been indicted by our government. Now I found myself being escorted by a Marine MP in a special housing unit and chapel where I am expected to speak words of encouragement, bring the hope of the gospel, and provide spiritual guidance to incarcerated men who still quickly react to the words Semper Fidelis.

The process to become a lay worship and Bible study leader at a Marine brig started as I was nearing retirement from public service. I had spent 24 years as a criminal investigator with the U.S. Marshals Service, following eight years in the enlisted corps of the U.S. Air Force. A few years after entering the military at age 17, I came to faith in Jesus. During the ensuing years, my wife and I raised three of our own children, one of our nephews, homeschooled our children, attended college, and caravanned around the country to different posts of duty.

Now I sensed a tug on my heart to serve in full-time ministry. I shared that desire with my parish pastor and began to research how I could serve God as a lay person. A pastor friend encouraged me to look into WELS Chaplaincy. I applied and was accepted into the Chaplaincy Certification Program.

One of the courses required an internship in a chaplaincy setting. A Marine officer friend (and fellow communicant) introduced me to the Navy chaplain at the Camp Pendleton Brig. The chaplain needs to ensure that those approved as worship leaders are either ordained or can obtain proper licensure. WELS Military Services certified me as a Distinctive Religious Group Leader, approving me to conduct liturgical services at the base brig and lead Bible studies one night per week.

Although our warriors are well trained to defend our nation, many are broken, spiritually blind, and still need Jesus. Going to them where they are can be daunting, due to security training and awareness, background investigations, waiting to enter the brig, unfamiliar smells and sounds, high or low lighting, and tension that you can sense. One must also remember that proselytizing is neither approved by the military nor acceptable for civilian volunteers. But when all these obstacles are surmounted, I have the privilege of opening the Bible and speaking the wonderful words of God to agnostics, atheists, druids, Protestants, and even other Lutherans.

It is amazing to watch God work in our lives when we go and do his will. I have seen how God opens some doors and closes others to get us where he wants us. I have concluded that no matter where God puts us, he expects us to be faithful to him and his Word. The gospel is still the power of God for salvation—even in the brig.

Tom Nunley is a member at Christ the Vine, Temecula, Calif.

Learn more about the Chaplaincy Certification Program at wels.net/chaplains.


Chaplaincy Certification online classes in Fall 2020

The following online classes will be offered through Martin Luther College during the Fall semester, August 24 to December 18. Go to: mlc-wels.edu and click on “Academics,” then “Continuing Education.”

THE9521 – A Scriptural Approach to Addiction Counseling – 3 credits
A study of addictions, especially substance abuse and pornography, and the ways Christians try to help through law/gospel counseling and referral.

THE9525 – Geriatric and Care Facility Ministry – 3 credits
A team-oriented approach to serve the aging and residents in care facilities. Provides knowledge and skills for congregation members to offer spiritual care for the homebound and institutionalized.

THE9534 – Grounded in Scripture – 3 credits
An introduction to theology, focusing on scriptural teachings of special importance to chaplaincy ministry.

 

 

 

“I Wish I knew” As New Parish Nurse

Compassion, love, mercy, empathy, and sacrifice are the revealed blessings of a new parish nurse. But what about budget, agenda, servant leader, and building community? How about missed opportunity, grief, or regret? As a new parish nurse these are unspoken areas I struggled with.

I asked a parish nurse friend, Carrie, what she wished she knew as a new parish nurse. Carrie stated, “listening, praying with members, offering prayer support were positive surprises.” She also discovered “becoming part of their family and investing into members lives” impressed her in a special way. Carrie was surprised “by how much I loved the people.”

For example, Carrie shared this story of a mother who came to her after she saved her daughter’s life. The daughter came to Carrie to have her blood pressure checked at church. The daughter’s blood pressure was so elevated Carrie insisted she immediately go to the hospital. Reluctantly, she left and was admitted to the hospital for one week for blood pressure control. Carrie’s quick intervention and genuine concern for her probably saved her life.

Another new parish nurse responsibility I was clueless about was planning and leading a meeting. I certainly sat through plenty of meetings but now I had to navigate it myself. I panicked. I choked up. Then I contacted a teacher friend, Tracy, who educated me on running a meeting. She took time walking me through the meeting process while covering all the details. Clara, a parish nurse friend, had similar challenges. She additionally felt “learning to delegate and taking full responsibility” were new opportunities for growth. Yes, these new things we learn and improve with time but a parish nurse course on meetings and leadership would have produced less stress. As parish nurses, we are able to take it one step further by using prayer, reading God’s Word, and trusting in the Lord as our strongest tools to help us serve Him.

I had all these struggles listed above when I started but what took me by surprise was regret. I didn’t think regret would be on my list of “I wish I knew.” A few years ago, Tara, who was very dedicated parish nurse served at our church. She worked third shift in an inner-city ICU hospital. Tara would come in after work to perform blood pressure screenings or help us with a church health fair. One Sunday, she shared how she was having heart problems and was busy hand-picking the surgical staff for her upcoming surgery. I was impressed with her optimism going into heart surgery. Sadly, that was our last conversation. The Lord called her to our Heavenly home. I felt so disappointed to have missed the opportunity to genuinely thank her for serving. I had to let the rest go. Thankfulness is something I needed to learn as a new parish nurse and wasn’t something I could appreciate from a textbook.

How about you? Tell me about your list of “I wish I knew” as a new or seasoned parish nurse. How would “I wish I knew” motivate you today or next year? What learning experiences or boundaries are you willing to share to mentor a new parish nurse? However long or short your list of struggles might be, we can trust the Lord when he calls us to the ministry that he will equip us (…equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:21). We can be assured from his Word that he hears and answers our prayers, in his sovereign way, for our good and his great glory (Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jeremiah 29:12). Soak up his generous grace. Look to the Lord for your strength, discernment, and source of wisdom, as we minister at church and to the community. Ultimately, let us trust the Lord with the outcome. Lord’s blessing as you serve the members and our Beautiful Savior!

By Heidi Gilbert-Then PN

 

 

 

Lessons from Volunteering with Kingdom Workers

My name is Elizabeth Zank. I’m a 2016 graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran College with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. I have been a practicing Registered Nurse for the past three years in the hospital setting—in both medical surgical and intensive care.  I have had multiple opportunities to volunteer with Kingdom Workers since starting my nursing career. I traveled to Malawi for an immersion experience, Panama City Beach, Fla., to help rebuild a church with Builders for Christ, and I have recently gotten involved with the foster family support program. I also traveled to Thailand with Christians Forward Southeast Asia to run a medical clinic for a local village this past April. Volunteering with Kingdom Workers has helped me to broaden my perspective, gain valuable experiences, learn new skills, and meet many different people from different backgrounds.

Simply by becoming a nurse I have learned so much about the human experience and have had the opportunity to help patients and families at some of the most vulnerable moments in their life. Going into these various different volunteer opportunities, my nursing experience has been extremely helpful. As a nurse, you have to be ready for the unexpected and roll with it. It is important to pay attention to the small details, but also keep the bigger picture in mind with constant multi-tasking, prioritization, and time-management.

In March of 2018, I traveled to Malawi with Kingdom Workers. We were mainly led by local Kingdom Workers employees (Allena, Davie, and Tendai) and assisted by the Tyrrell family. As a group we visited local villages where trained volunteers assisted disabled children with physical therapy. This was my second time experiencing a third world country. In nursing school I had the opportunity to travel to Zambia with my nursing class. In that environment, you always have to be ready for the unexpected. You gain that awareness from the moment you arrive in the country. Driving down the road to the guest house, we saw many people walking along the road—children in uniforms walking back from school, mothers carrying a child on their back and carrying a basket on their head, small makeshift roadside markets, packed minibuses, and various types of buildings and housing that you don’t see every day in America. The roads were also very different. There were a few that were paved, but most of the other side roads were unpaved and very rough.  Houses like the one we stayed in are protected by a wall and have hired security. Unless they are very wealthy, many people in Malawi don’t have running water or electricity. Often power outages happened during the day or night.

Visiting local children benefiting from Kingdom Workers volunteers was very eye opening and heart wrenching. Disabled children often are outcast by society in Malawi. It was amazing to hear stories on the progress children made through the program and see the work the volunteers do. We had the opportunity to visit families at their houses and see how they live day to day. We learned our presence and encouragement is very uplifting for the people and volunteers in the program.

Going into the trip the group prepared by reading a book called “When Helping Hurts.” We focused on the purpose for a short-term mission trip and what our perspective of poverty is. Our main goal was to learn and bring fellowship, empowerment, and encouragement to the people. Big changes in developing countries don’t happen in a few days, but they are built over a long time. One of my big takeaways from the trip was the incredible faith, resilience, and positivity of the Malawian people despite the daily struggles and hardships they face. Also, despite the barriers and obstacles that exist, they continue forward doing the best they can with what they have.

The change in perspective I gained also was extremely helpful on returning to my role as a registered nurse here in the U.S. In medicine we are obsessed with getting the latest technology and the latest new treatments, and sometimes that technology is the very thing that is hindering us from caring for and knowing our patients. We can only anticipate further advancements in technology in the years to come, but it was really helpful for me to see and consider first-hand how sometimes more is not always better. This trip also really helped me to take a step back and acknowledge my bias when it came to understanding poverty. Material poverty is just one aspect of poverty. This trip helped me to gain the perspective that we are all living in some form of poverty or brokenness. In my role as a nurse, acknowledging this bias has helped me realize the importance of taking more time with my patients and families to ask questions, listen, and connect with them. Everyone is dealt their own challenges and struggles in life. I can do my best to understand their situation and show them that no matter what they are going through they are not alone.

My experience volunteering with Kingdom Workers has impacted my personal life and career in a very positive way. From Malawi to right here in Wisconsin, I have learned how to keep striving to be an ambassador for Christ whatever the environment or circumstance. This is something that I want to prioritize in my life and career wherever I may be for years to come.

By Elizabeth Zank, BSN, RN

 

 

 

The Comforter Ministry: Wrapped in the Love of the Comforter

Twenty-three years ago, a quilted comforter helped Su Hanson navigate her diagnosis of cancer. She remembers “Whenever I was wrapped in it I felt as though I was wrapped in the love and arms of my Comforter, the source of all comfort, my loving God,” she said. Six years later her friend was diagnosed with cancer. “Having received God’s compassion and comfort in such a tangible way through the comforter given to me when I had my cancer, this moved me to hold out God’s compassion and gift of comfort to another, by sending my comforter to my friend with cancer.” However, when a second friend was also diagnosed, Su was heartbroken that she did not have another comforter to share with her. After much thought and prayer, Su was led to start the Comforter Ministry.

How does the ministry work? If an individual would like a comforter to be sent to a loved one with cancer, they only need to contact Su and provide the loved one’s address. On her website, Su has a link with her e-mail, phone number, and street address by which she can be contacted. The loved one will receive the comforter in the mail along with a journal that shares the gospel message and a cover letter that explains who requested the comforter be sent and information about the Comforter Ministry. There is no cost to requesting a quilt. So far, an amazing 676 comforters and journals have been sent to loved ones.

Even more amazing is that Su has made exactly zero comforters. “As of August 25, 2019, 129 quilters or quilt groups from 22 states and one Canadian province have made 672 comforters that have comforted over 855 women with cancer from 38 states (USA), one Canadian province, Australia, the Caribbean, Japan, and Switzerland.” Like Su did with the quilt she received, recipients of Comforter Ministry quilts are given the option to send their quilt on to someone else with cancer if he or she is ready to part with it. In this way, many quilts comfort even more men and women.

What has Su learned from her Comforter Ministry? The generosity of others. “I am continually awed by the magnitude of willingness in others to share their talents, gifts, time, and energy.” Some individuals and groups have donated completed quilts. Others have offered to finish a quilt that someone else has started and in this way grown a friendship with another quilter. Su said she has also learned to be patient and to rely on God’s timing rather than her own. She finished by saying the messages she receives from recipients are heartwarming and inspirational. “I have received so much more from the Comforter Ministry than I have given to it. God is amazing!”

Are you interested in supporting this ministry but don’t have the skills or ability to sew a quilt? “Prayer is also a huge part of this ministry as well. I have an ongoing prayer list on the website as well as a prepared prayer to use. I regularly encourage my supporters to keep the Comforter Ministry, its recipients, their loved ones and caregivers, the medical community who serve them, and cancer research in their personal prayers on a regular basis.”

So picture this: right now a loved one with cancer is being wrapped in the love of the Comforter through the tangible wrapping of a quilt; her spiritual needs are being addressed through the comforting words within the journal; and she is being prayed for by people all over the U.S. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

The Comforter Ministry also accepts donations to help cover the cost of shipping the quilts and printing the journals. For more information about the ministry, to request a quilt, or to view the prayer list, please visit comforterministry.com.

By Allison Spaude, BAN, RN

 

 

 

The Most Thankless Task

“No, this is no good either.” My coworker and I had just repositioned my patient for the fourth time, and he was still dissatisfied. I brought him a two-page menu from which he could order his dinner and he said, “This is all you have? I don’t want any of this!” When I offered Tylenol for his back pain, I was told “Tylenol does nothing for my pain.” In his room, I did my best to keep a smile on my face, but as I left the room I groaned, felt my eyes roll, and clenched my fists in frustration.

While there are many benefits to being a nurse, the profession can also be physically and emotionally draining. We have all had patients who are difficult to work with, verbally abusive, and thankless. When we are thinking about all the things for which we should give thanks, sometimes our work feels like it should not make the list.

Listen as Luke tells us about nine of Jesus’ ungrateful patients. “Ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except his foreigner?’” (Luke 17:11-18)

Jesus understands how it feels to receive little thanks. But if we each take a step back, can’t we see how we treat God in a similar way to how my patient treated me? God gives us the means to have comfortable homes, but we say “No, this is no good!” He supplies us with kitchen cupboards bursting with food, but we ask, “This is all there is?” Joints and hearts ache. “God does nothing for my pain!” Being our maker and preserver is a more thankless task than any other!

One man did return to Jesus. Remember what Jesus said? “Your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). Jesus says that to you too! Remember who your faith is in? Jesus! Jesus suffered and died to remove the sin of ungratefulness from your life. Jesus makes it possible for us to know that despite earthly trials and frustrations, we have everything we need. Jesus waits for you in your heavenly home.

As I look back on the situation of my ungrateful patient, I again find myself groaning, rolling my eyes, and clenching my fists, but this time, my frustration is focused at me instead of my patient. Matthew 5:16 says “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” In that situation, my coworker, who does not go to church, witnessed my very un-Christian-like behavior. My light was covered up by my ungrateful and sinful heart. In what ways do you let your light shine in your work place? In what ways do you hide your light under sinful actions?

It is worth it for us to take a step back as we start a new year and truly think about all the blessings in our lives. Above all, we give thanks for our faith in our savior Jesus, which gives us the ability to give thanks in trying times.

By Allison Spaude, BAN, RN

 

 

 

Yes, you should go to jail

It’s true: a pastor’s primary responsibility is to his flock, the ones he has been called to shepherd and lead to the green pastures and quiet waters of the Word.

But Jesus said he would call other sheep, such as the droves who are locked up. They need to be led to those same green pastures and quiet waters. They cannot come to us; they need us to go to them.

Should a shepherd, busy tending those safely in the sheep pen, also be seeking strays in the penitentiary? Consider these ten reasons to “go directly to jail.”
1) Jesus died for them, too. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

2) It could be me. Maybe you recall a sin for which you could (should?) have been arrested. You may know fellow pew sitters who once sat in a cell. Maybe you recognize these “jailbirds:” Joseph, Jeremiah, John, Jesus. Or these murderers: Moses, David, Paul. And it may happen that a son or daughter of the congregation gets in trouble, hoping to keep it secret. A pastor with prior access to jail is in the right place with the right credentials to counsel disgraced disciples.

3) Why not WELS? Other groups conduct ministry behind bars, but many dilute the pure gospel with conditions. If it sounds strange to announce “You are forgiven” to a convicted, repentant lawbreaker, recall the loving father’s message to his convicted, repentant son (Luke 15:21-24).

4) They are part of the “all nations” that Jesus sent his disciples to evangelize (Matthew 28:19-20). We might refer to this ministry as our mission to “Incarceration Nation.”

5) Privilege. Not all kids grow up in happy situations. Lack of loving parents, church family, and godly friends does not excuse criminal behavior, but broken homes and hopes often contribute to self-destructive choices. If you enjoy a good life, thanks in part to circumstances of birth, realize that others were not so blessed. It is your privilege to introduce Satan’s captives to the Chainbreaker.

6) Recognition. The world may not care that you care about criminals, but your Savior does. On the Last Day, the Good Shepherd will extend the invitation: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father…for I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:34,36).

7) Reformation. The same Word that brought radical change to a corrupt church can bring radical change to corrupt convicts. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” (2 Corinthians 5:17). No, not everyone who gets “jailhouse religion” remains on the narrow path that leads to life. Nor does every youth confirmed in your church. We teach them anyway.

8) Appreciation. The sheep in the safety of the pen don’t always thank their faithful shepherd. After all, that’s why they pay him. But sheep that are sinking in quicksand or dangling from a precipice may be profusely grateful for their rescue.

9) Go outside the walls. “Let us go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Hebrews 13:13). Inside the church there is safety and peace. Outside there are broken lives, pain, disgrace. Jesus went outside, seeking society’s failures. The mission field is not inside the walls of a church, but there is a ripe field inside the walls of a penal institution.

10) Reputation. Perhaps you fear that outreach to those in prison will result in your church being a target of derision. Remember who targeted Jesus for derision for consorting with “sinners?” The Pharisees! This ministry will earn you a reputation: as a church that cares about “the least of these,” for you understand that grace for you means grace for them; as a ministry that sets an example of leaving your comfort zone; as a body of believers that is not afraid to get its hands dirty; as “real deal” Christians who take seriously the words: “Remember those in prison as if you were fellow prisoners…” (Hebrews 13:3).

Eager to take the next step? Contact WELS Prison Ministry at 507-354-3130 or prisonministry@wels.net. Ask about the Jail Ministry Training Team. Find more resources at wels.net/pm.

If you know an inmate who would appreciate mailings from WELS Prison Ministry, submit their name and address at wels.net/refer.

David Rosenbaum teaches at the Brevard County Jail, an outreach of Redeemer, Merritt Island, Fla.

 

 

 

Those who are forgiven much love much

“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that is why she loved so much. But the one who is forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47 EHV). Jesus spoke those words after a woman, who is simply described as “sinful,” showed the Teacher love by washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. By contrast, the Pharisee who hosted the dinner party showed no acts of love to the Savior.

Those who have been forgiven much will love much. Recently I saw this love in action at a prison.

Wanda Markland, warden of the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre, has done many good things for the inmates. Perhaps the greatest impact has come from introducing WELS Prison Ministry materials. Some are available to read in the library, and many can be taken for free…if the women get there fast enough. Amanda, an inmate working in the library, says that sometimes they have to fill the free rack twice or more a day with our books. Who knows how many lives have been changed by God’s Word in this institution?

When asked what the books mean to her, inmate Katherine responded: “Everything.” The books have enabled her to understand the Bible. Others replied that the books help them to know that they are loved, they are not alone, and they are growing in their spiritual life. One inmate was even led to request baptism.

Where there is faith in Jesus, good works are bound to follow. These women, who rejoice in the good news that they are forgiven, don’t want to keep the good news to themselves. So they took up a collection from their meager funds and sent a donation to WELS Prison Ministry.

These women may not be able to wash Jesus’ feet, but they are showing him much love by studying his Word and showing others much love by helping to spread the Word.

John Schwartz serves those who have been set free by the gospel at Redeemer, Pierre, S.D.

 

 

 

Is there a TBI survivor in your church?

It shakes your faith for a more than just a moment. It makes you question why. The hurt runs so deep it takes your breath away and makes you wonder, “Could this really be part of God’s plan?”

As you sit in the ICU not knowing if your daughter will live or die, comfort comes in the form of a silent hug, and you know that God is there to give you hope and strength. As her mother, you walk beside your child who has suffered a brain injury. You lean on God in a way you never imagined, praying that his power and love will strengthen you to face the impossible.

Prayer is a powerful privilege. When my daughter sustained her severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), I prayed continually to God for her recovery and boldly asked him to make her life beautiful. God answers prayers, but I needed to be patient. Faith is more than just a word or a theory. Faith is God’s guide to living with, loving, and embracing someone with a brain injury.

If God had healed her suddenly, I would not have had the opportunity to walk this path with her. I would not have witnessed the miracles that God would perform in her life. I would have missed helping her face the challenges. I would not have fully understood the importance of her survival and the impact it would have on others and on me.

If there is a TBI survivor in your church, your life is one of those that will be impacted. Please take a little time to learn how to interact with them and how you can involve them in congregational life.

When such a person enters your life you may say, “She looks fine to me.” Our minds can accept a disability we can see, but we struggle to comprehend and accept the unseen.

Individuals with brain injuries live with cognitive challenges. They “look fine” until they speak, act, or interact with anyone who does not know them. Too often, fear and ignorance of their condition result in judgment and assumptions.

As survivors walk through life after brain injury, each moment brings change and challenge. Each interaction presents an instance of learning and retraining. The obstacles are too numerous to mention and too complicated to explain, and they last a lifetime.

It’s been 15 years since my daughter’s traumatic brain injury. She has been married for four years to another TBI survivor, and they are expecting their second child. They belong to a congregation that embraces them and the gifts they bring; they serve as greeters and as an usher.

If your flock includes a TBI survivor, know that each individual brings a unique relationship into your life. Talking with them, getting to know them, and accepting the nuances are each a small part of helping them find a new path in life. Praying with them and for them brings blessing both to you and them. Find ways to use their abilities in congregational life. You will play a key role in their ongoing healing!

Lois York-Lewis and her daughter Bari Rieth co-founded the Brain Injury Resource Center of Wisconsin, located in Waukesha. Read Bari’s story at bircofwi.org. Lois is a member at St. Paul, Muskego, Wis.

 

 

 

 

Parish nurses minister to body and soul

Sandy stepped into a room outside St. John’s sanctuary, where parish nurses offer blood pressure screenings after Sunday worship. “Sandy,” I said, removing the cuff, “your blood pressure is 144/90. Looking at your records, it’s elevated. Are you taking your blood pressure pills?”

Sheepishly she replied, “I stopped taking my pills because I was feeling better. But I’ll start taking the little pill in the morning and evening.” Sandy is a widow and an active parishioner. She also suffers from memory problems and has a history of stroke. I emphasized the importance of taking her pills as prescribed by her doctor. This is a common conversation as a parish nurse offers education, support, and encouragement to a member of the flock.

A parish nurse (PN) is a registered nurse with specialized education to support the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of church members. The PN may provide health resources and education but does not provide medications, administer shots, start IVs, or perform any invasive procedures. Clergy corroborate the PN. As early as 1881, Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago had deaconess nurses on its staff, but it would be another century before parish nurses were given a name. Presently, hundreds of PN’s serve throughout the United States in a variety of denominations. (Mary Elizabeth O’Brien, Parish Nursing: Healthcare Ministry within the Church, Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2003).

Consider the benefits that a parish nurse ministry could bring to your congregation:

  • Blood pressure screening, health fairs, blood drives
  • Visiting shut-ins
  • Health/wellness education, community resources, health advocate
  • Health classes, e.g. CPR, yoga, etc.
  • Bereavement support groups (St. John uses GriefShare)
  • First aid kits, AED (automated external defibrillator) checks
  • Encouragement and prayer support

Parish nursing can also be an outreach ministry. Non-members can be invited to classes and programs facilitated by the PN. Attending to a person’s physical health can bring benefits for their spiritual health.

If you are a Christian nurse, prayerfully consider using your medical wisdom to minister at church. If you are already a PN, continue to depend on the Holy Spirit to guide and bless your service. If you have benefited from such a ministry, please express your gratitude and pray for your parish nurse.

A. Heidi Gilbert-Then is one of five parish nurses at St. John, Lannon, Wis. Since 2015, they have been providing education, implementing programs, and showing compassion to members of the congregation and the community, all with the full support of their pastors.

To learn more about starting a parish nurse program, visit csm.welsrc.net/parish-nurses.

 

 

 

From a heart of stone to a heart of flesh

During my evening shift at our local hospital, I attempted to visit 66-year-old Richard. I introduced myself as the hospital’s volunteer chaplain and offered to visit. To my surprise he vigorously gestured for me to leave, saying: “I don’t want to see any chaplain.” Then he took a second look and asked, “Jude, is that you, the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) member that I knew from years ago?” He invited me back into his world but refused any prayer or Scripture. I visited him weekly until he was well enough to return home.

A month later the hospital’s director of chaplains called. The family wanted me to know that Richard was not likely to live beyond the week. I saw him that day and followed up each day that week. I had the privilege of journeying with him through the valley of the shadow of death.
Richard spent his life helping others; he was spending his final days being helped by others.

He endeavored to beat cancer, but it beat him. It humbled a fiercely independent man who always had to have things his way, a stubborn man with a heart of stone.

Tearfully, he told me that the previous week he had entered the hospital chapel to pray, to surrender his life to Christ. He realized that he could no longer control his life and collapsed in the arms of his Savior, who had been pursuing him his whole life.

God used Richard’s physical sickness of leukemia to heal his spiritual sickness of sin.

Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (42:3).

God says in Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (36:26). “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (18:32).

Richard did repent and was born again in that hospital chapel. Meanwhile, in heaven’s chapel, “…there is more rejoicing…over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).

This once lost, now found sinner wrote a testimony that revealed his changed heart toward his wife and his life. He was moved to tears of joy, mingled with tears of repentance, every time he heard his Christian wife’s voice. Julia had made a commitment to her husband, for better or worse, and had kept that commitment for 43 years, despite many difficulties. He was overwhelmed with her legacy of undeserved love, like that of his Savior.

At Julia’s request, I conducted Richard’s funeral service, where those who had come to mourn heard of the joy that awaits those who repent and turn to Christ.

Jude Peck is a member at Hope, Irmo, S. C. He serves as a volunteer hospital chaplain and a paid hospice chaplain in the Columbia area. To learn more about WELS chaplain certification, visit wels.net/chaplain.

 

 

 

A scary problem

Kristen is a member of the church I serve. Every Sunday she tells me that my sermons are interesting and that she really likes me “as a friend.” She often gets excited that our birthdays are in the same month. Partially due to her autism, she never tires of saying nice things to me.

Of course, Kristen’s autism also causes her difficulties. One such difficulty is that loud noises scare her. For this reason, Good Friday was her least favorite church service of the year. That service concludes with the strepitus, a loud sound that signifies the closing of Jesus’ tomb. That sound caused Kristen to become very upset, not only on Good Friday, but any time she remembered it.

After her parents told me about this problem, I decided that it wasn’t worth causing her distress. I told the man who usually performs the strepitus that we would eliminate it. Then his wife suggested that Kristen might not be afraid of the noise if she made it herself. When first asked, Kristen wasn’t sure that she wanted to. But she gave it a try, striking the tympani with a mallet. From that moment forward, she couldn’t wait for Good Friday service! And she started telling me something new on Sunday mornings: that she was going to make the noise that scares me on Good Friday!

How might you involve members with special needs at your congregation, so that they can become as excited as Kristen about serving their Lord?

John Derme speaks loud words from the pulpit that scare the devil every Sunday at Shepherd of the Mountains, Reno, Nev.

 

 

 

Special Olympics: An outreach opportunity

When I arrived in Wasilla, Alaska, in 2012, I was in for quite a culture shock. Both inside and outside the church, things were different than in Wisconsin. I was used to a larger congregation where most of your time as a pastor was spoken for.

Here, with a smaller flock to shepherd, I looked for ways to get involved in the community. I discovered that Special Olympics can offer opportunities for outreach, both to the intellectually disabled competitors and their families.

I found my niche as the head coach of bocce ball. Leveraging that influence, I made sure that the outside courts were built in the community park near me. An inside turf court was, likewise, close by. The first year I had to travel farther and become known, but my views gradually began to carry more weight.

Many community organizations need volunteers to serve on boards and committees. Getting involved has connected me to people that I could invite to my church. That led to including them in a bell choir that performs in the church and community. Each bell choir practice begins with snacks and a Bible story from the “Dear Christian Friend” curriculum from Jesus Cares Ministries. We now count six members at King of Kings who stem from that Special Olympics connection.

If you are interested, do some groundwork. Visit specialolympics.org to read about this movement for inclusion that began in 1968. Consider how the principle of including people with disabilities matches the mission of the church. Under the “Stories” tab, find some inspiring accounts to share. Under the “Get Involved” tab, see what is happening in your area.

Discuss the possibilities for outreach with your church council and/or evangelism committee. Ask your members to consider the positive effects on the congregation and in the community if you were to invite people with special needs and make them feel welcome.

Get advice from Jesus Cares Ministries on starting a “Jesus Cares” class for the intellectually disabled. Contact Joel Gaertner or click on the “Jesus Cares Ministries” tab at tlha.org.

Caution #1: This ministry could easily consume more time and effort than you are prepared for. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Take it slow at first. Recruit other people to assist you.

Caution #2: Many events take place on Sundays, at least in my community. Can you afford to miss one or more Sundays a year, even for such a worthy cause? Our team has an assistant coach who fills in until I can get there after church. Telling your team and their families that worship comes first can make an important statement about faith and priorities.

In Luke 14:15-24, the Master tells us to go to the streets and alleys and roads and country lanes to find more guests for the wedding banquet. Might Special Olympics be one of those places for you to look?

When he’s not playing bocce ball, Robb Robbert serves all the special saints at King of Kings, Wasilla, Alaska.

 

 

 

 

Blindness opens a man’s eyes

Jeremiah was working on the drive shaft of his truck when the vehicle rolled backward, crushing his upper body and head and pinning him underneath. Miraculously, first responders were able to free him and transport him to the hospital.

After two weeks in a coma, Jeremiah opened his eyes to see…nothing. After almost 40 years of sight, Jeremiah couldn’t see even a flicker of light. Two more weeks in the hospital and several surgeries later, he returned home. He had survived, but his eyesight had not.

Believing friends and family members had shared the good news of Jesus with Jeremiah prior to his accident. At the time, that message seemed like foolishness to him. But gospel seeds had been planted, and the Holy Spirit was working on his stony heart.

When Jeremiah awoke from his coma, he talked about getting baptized. God created a hunger for the Word and opened his eyes to the truth as Jeremiah listened to the Bible on his smart phone. Questions about the Lord were suddenly numerous. A friend brought him to Bible information class, where he’s been learning the essential truths of the Scriptures.

After a couple months of study, Jeremiah asked if he and his two girls could be baptized. On September 14, 2019, dad and daughters, ages 9 and 14, were reborn into God’s family, washed with water through the Word. The sisters have joined their father in learning the stories of God’s grace in the Bible.

Before Jeremiah lost his sight, he ran a successful contracting business, was an avid hunter and outdoorsman, and was a critic of Christ. His construction work is limited now, although he still manages some of his own home repairs. Friends even help him to enjoy some hunting.

But the biggest change in Jeremiah’s life is his attitude toward Jesus. By his grace, the Lord turned his child away from the darkness of unbelief and brought him into the light of faith. The accident had left him blind, yet Jeremiah could finally see that he and his family needed a Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He has gained 20/20 vision that Jesus Christ is that Savior. And he knows that his blindness is temporary, for when he reaches heaven he will gaze on all the glory of his Redeemer.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Jesse Johnston is pastor at Mt. Calvary, Menasha, Wis., where he sees God working in the lives of people like Jeremiah.

WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired (wels.net/mvi) makes Christian resources available free of charge to anyone who is visually impaired or has a disability that prevents them from reading a book.

 

 

 

Can you say that again?

How many in your congregation wear hearing aids? How many keep asking “What?” over and over? How many deaf people in your community stay home on Sundays because they do not know of a church that can meet their needs?

If you are not deaf or hard of hearing, you may not think much about those who are. Even if you are aware of their needs, you may not know how to address them. This disability is invisible, but for those who are afflicted, it poses a huge barrier to the Word.

“Ministering to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing” is a new resource that offers insights and practical advice to those who want to better serve this population. Find it at welscongregationalservices.net/c011. It includes a video interview for leaders to watch, as well as a downloadable document that answers many of the questions congregations have.

This module can help churches make worship, Bible study, and other activities more accessible to people with hearing loss. It may also foster outreach to your deaf or hard of hearing neighbors who might be led to rejoice, “Finally…a church that cares about me!”

 

Online classes in Spring 2020
The following online classes will be offered through Martin Luther College during the Spring semester, January 8 to May 8, 2020. Go to: mlc-wels.edu and click on “Academics,” then “Continuing Education.”

ASL8001 – American Sign Language and Introduction to Deaf Culture 3 credits
The basic foundation of American Sign Language through an overview of deaf culture and an introduction to the signing of finger spelling, numbers, colors, vocabulary words, and beginning-level conversations.

THE9522 – Chaplaincy Issues and Fieldwork 3 credits
An overview of chaplaincy, related issues, and fieldwork experience in a specific area of chaplain ministry.

THE9523 – Ministering to the Incarcerated and Their Families 3 credits
Strategies to initiate and implement a gospel ministry to the incarcerated.

THE9524 – Frontline Chaplaincy 3 credits
A study of the challenges faced by the protectors of society (military, law enforcement, fire service) and the information chaplains need to minister to them.

THE9534 – Grounded in Scripture 3 credits
An introduction to theology that focuses upon the scriptural teachings of special importance to chaplaincy ministry.

 

 

 

Promising to protect the children

Approximately ten percent of Protestants below age 35 and about one-third of Catholics have either left the church or contemplated leaving because they do not see the church as a safe place for children. That shocking statistic was shared by Victor Vieth at “Promise to Protect,” a seminar on making churches and schools safe places for children. Some 75 lay leaders, teachers, and pastors from fifteen WELS churches and schools attended the event at Eternal Rock, Castle Rock, Colo., in August 2019.

Victor Vieth, a WELS member and former prosecutor, gained national recognition for addressing child abuse in rural Minnesota. He has trained thousands of child-protection professionals on child abuse investigation, prosecution, and prevention. In 2017 he earned an MA in theology from Wartburg Seminary.

While many do not see churches as safe spaces, predators view them as easy targets. Vieth explained: “Sex offenders report that Christians are extremely trusting and easy to manipulate. Sex offenders who grew up in a church body are given the most slack and are rarely suspected of nefarious conduct. Since they often select children who may have already endured trauma or have behavioral issues, it is easy for sex offenders to convince the church that the child is not telling the truth. Without better education, faith leaders and parishioners will continue to be easily fooled by child molesters.”

As believers, our motivation to protect children comes from our Savior. “In contrast to the ethos of his time, Jesus said that children were messengers from God and how we treat children reflects our attitude toward God (Mark 9:36-37). In the Gospels, Jesus harshly rebuked anyone who would hurt a child (Matthew 18:6-9). Some scholars believe this was a specific condemnation of child sexual abuse. Jesus scolded his followers for keeping children away from him (Mark 10:13-16) and promised to cast aside religious leaders who turned a blind eye to those who are suffering (Matthew 25:45).”

Lay leaders, teachers, and pastors agreed that 1) it was eye-opening that so many have suffered sexual abuse within churches, and 2) the seminar was very helpful for making crucial changes in their schools and churches. Mr. Vieth distributed sample policies and encouraged every congregation and school to implement a robust Youth and Child Protection Policy. He cautioned that policies produced by insurance companies or law firms may have different goals.

Although the church has fallen short on this issue, Vieth sees reason for optimism. “Across the country, I increasingly encounter church leaders eager to learn more about child abuse and to minister compassionately to those who are hurting. We need to nurture and grow this faithful remnant until the church is once again a powerful force in the fight against child abuse and neglect.”
Tim Spiegelberg is pastor at Carbon Valley Lutheran Church, Firestone, Colo.

Visit welscongregationalservices.net/c003 to learn about “Standing Up for Children: A Christian Response to Child Abuse and Neglect.”

Freedom for the Captives is a WELS ministry to protect children and empower abuse survivors. Their website is freedomforcaptives.com.

 

 

 

 

Five myths about ministering to people with addictions

With an estimated 19.7 million Americans having a substance use disorder (SUD), it is very likely that your church needs to minister to someone affected by an SUD this Sunday. Are you ready?

Being ready means having the facts. Here are five myths every church needs to be aware of when preparing to minister to those with SUDs.

MYTH: Addiction is a problem outside the church.
Wild and profligate living is not the only path to an SUD. The statistics suggest that SUDs can affect anyone from any background or walk of life. Ministering to those with SUDs may mean ministering to our closest friends, relatives, and even our pastors.

MYTH: If I am not a recovering alcoholic or addict, I cannot help.
Those of us in the recovery community are partially to blame for the popularity of this myth. We like to repeat the maxim that only an alcoholic can help an alcoholic. But empathy and a willingness to help are more important than shared experience. That is why doctors, teachers, employers, parents, friends, and the church can help.

MYTH: Addicts are in denial.
Another myth is that people with SUDs need to be confronted to break through their denial. In truth, many individuals want help. Even those who are not immediately ready to accept treatment often have both reasons to quit and reasons to continue to use. Be ready to listen without judgment to both sets of reasons. Judgment-free listening actually helps people accept the need for help more quickly than confrontation.

MYTH: Abstinence is the only goal.
Even if a person is not ready to give up substances entirely, they may be ready to cut back. Studies suggest that many of those who are willing to reduce their use now will eventually choose total abstinence. We shouldn’t dismiss small steps in the right direction. So do not assume that the next step for someone with an SUD must be complete abstinence. Instead, encourage any behavior that reduces the harm created by SUDs.

MYTH: Assume you don’t have a problem.
Drinking runs along a continuum from “low risk” to “high risk.” Many individuals drink far beyond what is considered healthy by the medical community and may be at risk for various health and wellness issues. To learn more about what the medical profession considers safe drinking and for tips on how to cut back or quit, see this publication: niaaa.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Rethinking_Drinking.pdf

Your church can help those with SUDs. All they need to do is have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-8). This means having the humility to admit that anyone in your congregation could have an SUD. It means being empathetic and willing to help. It means listening and avoiding confrontation. It means encouraging even small steps toward sobriety. Finally, it means being willing to consider if one’s own use has become a problem.

Jason Jonker is the founder of Lutheran Recovery Ministries’ Recovery Retreat. Contact him at resilient@crosswalkphoenix.com.

 

 

 

Her Many Sins Have Been Forgiven; That is Why She Loved so Much

“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that is why she loved so much. But the one who is forgiven little loves little.” (EHV Lk 7:47). Jesus said these words after a woman, who is simply described as sinful, showed Jesus love by cleaning his feet with her tears and her hair. Whereas the master of the house, a Pharisee, did not show any such love to Jesus. Truly, those who have been forgiven much do love much. That love shows itself in many different ways, but I got to see this love in action recently – in prison of all places.

It started when Wanda Markland began her new job as warden of the Women’s Prison in Pierre, S.D., about a year ago. Warden Markland has done many good things for the prison, perhaps the most impactful was bringing WELS Prison Ministry materials to the women’s prison. Besides some books being available to read at the prison’s library, many of them are available to be taken for free by the inmates. That is, if they get there fast enough. Amanda Kaur, an inmate who works at the library, said that sometimes they have to fill the free rack more than twice a day with WELS Prison books! With WELS Prison Ministry devotional books being distributed among the inmates, lives within the prison have been changed in ways only God through his Word could accomplish.

Many prisoners thirst for God’s Word. Being asked what these devotional books meant to her, Katherine Dillard simply said, “Everything.” Those devotional books were one way she was able to study the Bible. Others replied to the same question saying that because of the books they know they are loved; they know they are not alone; and they are able to grow in their spiritual life. One inmate even sought to be baptized after she read the devotional books. These books mean more than the world to those women. May the Lord have all Christians view God’s Word with the same importance!

Where there is faith there are good works. These women, having heard God’s Word, did not want to keep this good news to themselves. They too wanted to do what they could to share God’s Word with others who need to hear it. Therefore, being moved by Christian love, inmates raised funds from what little they had to give a donation to WELS Prison Ministry. These women may not be able to wash Jesus feet with their tears and their hair, but they are showing him much love by studying his Word and showing love to others by spreading his Word.

Pastor John Schwartz serves at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Pierre, S.D.

 

 

 

There, but for the grace of God, go I

At one time we all lived among [other sinners]. We tried to satisfy what our sinful nature wanted to do. We followed its longings and thoughts. God was angry with us and everyone else because of the kind of people we were. But God loves us deeply. He is full of mercy. So he gave us new life because of what Christ has done. He gave us life even when we were dead in sin. God’s grace has saved you. Ephesians 2:3-5 (NiRV 1998)

I’m surprised by how frequently I encounter the idea that there are “good” people and “bad” people in the world. To be sure, one can look around and immediately find examples of people whose outward lives conform to God-pleasing (or at least law-abiding) behavior. Other people make no effort to behave in a way that pleases God, even taking pride in their law breaking. Entertainment is full of law enforcement personnel (the good guys) trying to track down and lock up the monsters (the bad guys). We even hear some Christians voicing the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

This kind of thinking can come too easily to anyone, even those who share Jesus with people behind bars. If we are not careful, Satan can get us to believe the lie that we are somehow inherently better or more valuable to God than the people we serve. Paul doesn’t let us go there. He reminds us clearly that every single one of us was, by nature, dead in sin and deserved God’s anger. But God’s grace and love made faith come to life within us. We trust that Christ obliterated all our sins, whether great or small in the eyes of the world. God now sees anyone who trusts in Jesus’ life and death in his or her place as perfectly fit for life with him forever. The grandma who never missed a Sunday in church for decades AND the man on death row, because of their trust in Jesus, wear the robes of Jesus’ righteousness. Both of them are not just good, but perfect people.

Tradition, though it cannot be proven, attributes our devotion’s title to an English clergyman as he watched a line of condemned men being led to the gallows. When we realize how “unfair” God is, namely punishing his Son for our sins instead of us, we are better able to be compassionate and seek the welfare of others. We had an amazing reminder of that recently. Make sure you catch the story in this issue of how God’s love to some inmates in South Dakota moved them to extend that love to others. Those who are forgiven much, love much.

Dave Hochmuth, WELS Prison Ministry Administrator

 

 

 

Welcome Home can be challenging

Welcoming a member who has been absent or scarce for a while back to church can be challenging in many circumstances, but especially if the person has spent time behind bars. The person trying to return to society in general and to one’s church family often has a barrier of shame. If addictive behaviors were a factor in the conviction, avoiding people or environments that trigger these behaviors is particularly difficult, which leads to a staggeringly high re-arrest rate.

Our efforts to welcome home members of Jesus’ flock that have wandered can demonstrate great love at a time of great need. Focusing these efforts on a specific Sunday can create needed urgency and encouragement to prompt us to act. But some wandering and lost sheep will take extra love and multiple invitations. Let us not grow weary of doing good.

WELS Prison Ministry has resources that are helpful for paving the road for released inmates to join or rejoin the family of Christ. Go to csm.welsrc.net/prison-ministry-resources to find:

  • Samples of the “Water of Life” Bible studies specifically designed for returning citizens. The entire set of Bible Studies is available free for ministry use using the linked order form.
  • Congregational Guidelines for Dealing with Sexual Offenders. These guidelines are downloadable.
  • A link to a Forward in Christ article describing the mentoring program for struggling individuals initiated by congregations in the New Ulm, Minn., area.

If you have any questions regarding ways your congregation can show love to released inmates in helpful yet careful ways, contact Prison Ministry Administrator Dave Hochmuth (dave.hochmuth@wels.net).

 

 

 

More Visibility for WELS Prison Ministry

In recent months we have had opportunities to share the joy of prison ministry with fellow WELS members and will have several more in the months ahead. The recently filmed 25th anniversary video was played at the 2019 WELS Convention last August. The video is available for viewing anytime on our website’s home page, wels.net/pm. We also had display booths at the WELS EdTechLead conference and LWMS convention in June, as well as the OWLS convention in October. We continue to reach out to future called workers with our monthly WELS Prison Ministry MLC student nights.

Some upcoming activities in December will give more awareness of our efforts. Forward in Christ magazine will contain an article describing the faith journey of former inmate, Daryl Fleck. He became connected with our correspondence course program while serving time in Minnesota. Upon release he sought out a WELS congregation, completed the Bible Information Course, and became a member. Daryl appeared in our 25th anniversary video.

In addition to Daryl’s story, the WELS Connection video used by many congregations will feature how WELS Special Ministries shows love and shares Christ with people in special circumstances. Prison Ministry will appear as a specific example. Finally, our ministry will also be featured in the quarterly mailing sent to people who give special or ongoing gifts directly to synod.

Watch for these stories in video and print. Use them as opportunities to share with friends the joy Jesus gives you in your Prison Ministry role. Invite those friends to join you in supporting (with prayer, volunteer time, or financial support) this amazing outreach ministry that shares Jesus with people impacted by incarceration.

 

 

 

From a recent inmate letter

“I am currently incarcerated in the Texas Department of Corrections…and came across a brother in Christ who is currently enrolled in your mail-in Bible study course. What a great gift you offer to sinners such as ourselves! I thank you whole-heartedly for your continued devotion to reach out to people such as ourselves that society would much rather lock away and “throw away the key.”

Many brothers in here have lost everything and EVERYONE and it is nice to see their faces light up when they receive mail from ministries such as yours. For a lot of these people, it is a sense of encouragement and joy to know that they are NOT forgotten and that there is SOMEONE out there who cares for them and prays for them.

Again, “thank you” for that, on behalf of those who may not express their gratitude. I see it! And God sees your works! May God continue to bless each and every one of you so that you may continue to share those blessings.”

Your brother in Christ,
Mario

 

 

Pen Pal Pipeline

Pen pal writing is an important way for us to share the gospel with inmates. So far in 2019, we have had 494 letters from inmates to 67 different pen pals come through our New Ulm office. It is incredible that we can reach so many with the gospel one on one!

The safety of the pen pal writer is always of vital concern for the Prison Ministry staff. Our Volunteer Guidelines state: “The only address you should use in your correspondence with your pen pal is: WELS Prison Ministry, PO Box 452, New Ulm, MN 56073. Send your pen pal letter to the above address. Use only Prison Ministry stationery and envelopes. This will ensure that the inmate does not know where you live….”

We urge you to abide by these instructions. Even if you feel your inmate is trustworthy, this prevents any chance that your name and address could fall into the hands of someone else in the facility that could do you harm.

Thanks for your faithful service to our ministry. You are reaching souls with God’s Word every time you write a letter, and God blesses those words even if you don’t see it. If you are not a pen pal and are interested in learning more, please contact the New Ulm office at pmsec@wels.net or at 507-354-3130.

(Spanish – translated to English) I write to you to thank you for the tests because they have helped me a lot and I have learned about the life of Jesus, of how much he loves us as it says in John 3:16. Thank you for praying for me…you have helped me so much to learn beautiful things from the word of God. May his peace be with you. – Leo

 

 

 

OWLS mining for Jesus at annual convention

The Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors (OWLS) was “mining for Jesus” this year at its annual convention for seniors in Galena, Ill., Oct. 7-9. The region around Galena was known for mining of lead when the first settlers came to the area, but the OWLS came in search of spiritual treasure found only in the Savior and the life he gives.

The four main speakers presented ways to be “miners for Jesus.” Missionary Dan Sargent presented on how God helps us to accomplish his plans bit by bit, Christian Life Resources Director Rev. Bob Fleischmann shared how a lifetime of experience prepares us, Special Ministries Director Rev. Jim Behringer’s presentation was titled “Christian caring matters,” and Chaplain Ken Wenzel spoke about lessons on Christian hope connected with medical objects.

Galena is known for its historic downtown and the beautiful countryside around it. Attendees had the opportunity to visit the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in nearby Dubuque, Iowa­, before the opening of the convention. An unexpected highlight of the convention happened as a result of a last-minute necessity. The cancellation of the musical entertainment led the organizers to ask OWLS President Norman Schell to do a presentation on the American effort to put a man on the moon. Schell worked on the Apollo project and showed some never-before-seen pictures of the project.

The OWLS rejoiced at the creation of a new OWLS branch in Downers Grove, Ill. Members of the new branch were present to receive their charter and a warm welcome into the organization.

For more than a decade, the OWLS has used 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 $50,000 for work in Europe. Two convention offerings and record proceeds from a silent auction were directed for next year’s gift to the work of the chaplain in Europe as well.

The OWLS also provides $350 scholarships to six Martin Luther College students. This year’s recipients are Claudia Meyer, Morgan Gosch, Daniel Bilitz, Dayne Kopfer, Clara Kammueller, and Derek Gulrud.

Professor Em. John Paulsen, OWLS executive director, says, “This convention provided a chance for everyone to grow in historical knowledge and about researching and preserving your own history. Everyone I talked with said that they had learned so much and enjoyed the convention at the Eagle Ridge Resort, all the while able to see eagles soar in the distance over the lake below.”

The 2020 OWLS convention for seniors will be held in New Ulm, Minn. With the theme “Tell the Next Generation,” the convention will have a special focus on Martin Luther College. The convention is open to all seniors in WELS and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, regardless of OWLS membership.

 

 

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Lutheran Leadership Conference to kick off 2020

WELS Congregational Services will host the first WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership at the Sheraton Grand in Chicago, Ill., Jan. 21-23. WELS Congregational Services works under the Conference of Presidents to help congregations assess, plan, and carry out gospel ministry.

The conference will have five keynote presentations that deal with major cultural challenges before every WELS congregation. Twenty-five breakout sessions will deal with issues specific to certain congregations, including overcoming a consumer mentality in church, Christian apologetics, increasing volunteerism, retaining and gaining young members, fully utilizing the gifts of women in ministry, equipping members for personal evangelism, having a “high-expectations” church, strategic planning, using social media for outreach, operating a financially sustainable elementary school, and more.

“I hope individuals walk away from this conference with three things,” says Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of Congregational Services. “First, I hope they are motivated to throw themselves into gospel ministry in every way: feeding the faithful, reaching the lost, and pursuing the straying. Second, I hope attendees better understand the massive challenges before our congregations but also realize that God will help us meet those challenges. Finally, I hope that they can take home some practical resources from the breakout sessions that they can immediately implement in their mission efforts.”

The National Conference on Lutheran Leadership is open to all: called workers and lay volunteers, men and women, lifelong Lutherans and new congregants. Congregations are encouraged to send multiple participants to the conference.

“A church gets the most out of a conference like this when there is a critical mass of members attending,” Hein says. “They can divide up and hit every relevant breakout. They can present a united, excited voice when they go back to their congregation.”

Travel rebates are available for congregations that send three or more individuals to the event.

Registration is now open, with an early registration discount through Oct. 31. Register online at lutheranleadership.com. There you can also find free promotional materials—including a video, posters, social media graphics, and other digital images.

 

 

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Learning to be a church that welcomes members home

As part of its “Welcome Home” initiative resources, WELS Congregational Services released a series of four videos with accompanying Bible studies to address some of the most common reasons Christians stop attending church and how to show love and minister to these members. The videos are meant to be used by congregational leaders and members to guide congregations as they strive to bring straying sheep back to the Good Shepherd. Rev. Nate Bourman, Mt. Lebanon, Milwaukee, Wis., was featured in the videos discussing how to be a welcoming congregation.

Bourman explains that a welcoming church is “a church where no one stands or sits alone; everyone feels comfortable and safe. A place where everyone knows what is going on and feels that they can navigate the facilities or get information about our congregation. A place where parents, adults, and children feel safe to hear God’s Word and can easily participate and are welcomed to participate.”

He says the most common reasons he’s heard that members haven’t felt welcome is because they weren’t greeted, no one talks to them, and they felt like an outsider. “It’s possible to be a stranger in your own house,” says Bourman.

It’s important that all members participate in being a welcoming church. “Care and concern for the members of the church is not just the pastor’s job. It is not just the elders’ job. It is the job of each and every member. Love calls us to participate in their care. None of us sits on the sidelines when it comes to welcoming God’s people home,” says Bourman. “All are coming to church with sin and weakness and brokenness and frustration. Be part of the throng rejoicing to gather for worship with each other.”

All congregations are encouraged to participate in the Welcome Home Sunday, either Oct. 20 or 27, 2019. The mission is to “pack the church” with every member. The four videos and accompanying Bible studies in the Welcoming Returning Members series—“Members drawn away because of sin,” “Members who left after being sinned against,” “Members whose needs were ignored,” and “Members who left for another church”—are available at welscongregationalservices.net/welcome-home.

 

 

 

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