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Faces of Faith – Bidit

On occasion, I have met WELS members who imagine that the work of a cross-cultural missionary involves learning exotic languages or traveling to far flung places to share the gospel. Usually when people imagine cross-cultural ministry this way, they also imagine that they could never do. At least for me, the reality has been quite the opposite. Let me share an example through the recent work I have been able to do among the Nuer people from South Sudan who live near Vancouver, British Colombia. I don’t have to go anywhere, and I don’t speak the Nuer language (except for one word). I don’t deeply understand the culture. I have never been to South Sudan. Yet God has enabled me to reach a group of about 60 people in this culture. How? By giving to me special gifts in the form of Nuer leaders like Bidit (pronounced Bi-deet).

Like many of the other South Sudanese in our area, Bidit came to Canada as a refugee when he was a young man. He hopes someday to return to his country and serve his people. But for the time being, he has grown up to be the father of five, a leader in his community, and the kind of servant of God who makes my life as a missionary easy. The gospel clearly flows from his heart.

For the sake of his family and their cost of living, Bidit lives over an hour away from our Sudanese mission in a bedroom community of Vancouver. Yet every Sunday, he leaves his house 3 hours before church begins to first bring his family to church. Then he drives around the community picking up other South Sudanese people who need rides to church. He always comes prepared with a case of water and beverages to make people feel welcome at our South Sudanese mission service. After he arrives, Bidit is often the one leading the service in his Nuer language. When the people are talking in Nuer, he will come sit next to me and interpret so I can understand what they are talking about. After the service is over, Bidit will discuss with me who we should visit this week—for example, we came together twice this week to visit a gentleman who was hospitalized with a serious illness. Later, after our weekly chats on the phone, Bidit messages everyone in the South Sudanese community by Facebook to invite them to come to worship again next Sunday. If that weren’t enough, Bidit also just volunteered with Kingdom Workers to spend a month in Ethiopia to advance our gospel ministry among the Nuer people living in refugee camps there.

Do you see how easy this work becomes when God gives you a leader like Bidit? Instead of spending years to learn Nuer culture and language, my job is instead to equip leaders like Bidit,  through programs like the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Instead of trying to organize a congregation in a foreign culture, I only need to prepare a sermon with clear law and gospel. Instead of traveling to Ethiopia, I only need to connect leaders like Bidit with our WELS partners. Through Bidit, hundreds more people are reached with the gospel than if I tried to do this myself. Please keep the lay leaders like Bidit in our cross-cultural ministries in your prayers! For it is through men and women like Bidit that God truly opens doors for the gospel across different languages and cultures.

Written by Rev. Geoff Cortright, home missionary at Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church – Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada

To learn more about South Sudanese ministry, a WELS Joint Missions ministry, visit wels.net/sudanese.

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Faces of Faith – Simon the Translator

An exciting ray of hope continues to shine among the growing number of Lutheran congregations of South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. As the camp has extremely limited internet access, Multi-Language Publications (MLP) has provided hundreds of pounds of printed materials, from catechisms to seminary resources, to serve these vibrant congregations.

PSI training in Kakuma Refugee Camp (Simon pictured in green)

Very few of our Nuer brothers and sisters speak English. Enter student pastor Simon, early 30s in age, who speaks fluent English and was my translator for a week of Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) sponsored classes for 17 men at Kakuma last October.

The relationship one builds with a translator over a short period of time is often amazing, but none have ever compared to working beside Simon, with his passion and exuberance for the message of Christ. Simon’s method of translating included walking closely beside me and mimicking my every hand gesture. It often felt like we were in some kind of choreographed dance together. I found myself motivated to be more demonstrative in my movements, with Simon immediately responding. At the same time, Simon began punctuating the points I made in class with an exuberant “Alleluia,” which was echoed back by the students. Seeing Simon get more excited got me more excited! It was an exhilarating experience as we fed off each other in a class on the life of Christ.

Simon preaching

On the last day of classes, Simon was asked to preach at our camp-wide, combined church service. Simon however, did not restrict himself to simply preaching. Grabbing a large, goat-skin covered drum in one hand and wielding a strip of rubber truck tire tread for a drumstick in the other, Simon just wailed on that drum from the opening song. Stalking the congregation to root out the timid, Simon urged the assembly on to greater and greater heights of joyous praise. The room became an ocean of music, rhythm, drums, and movement.

Needless to say, Simon preached with the exuberance he displayed in his music and his translating. I videotaped over an hour of Simon preaching. Rarely have I seen a man preach with such intensity and passion.

Two days later our visit to Kakuma was over, and we needed to say goodbye until next year. I couldn’t wait to work again with this amazingly gifted brother.

Simon (on the right) plays his drum for worship

Less than two weeks after we left Kakuma Refugee Camp, I got the news from Pastor Peter Bur, our U.S.-based South Sudanese pastor who serves as South Sudanese ministry coordinator. Peter told me that Simon and a few others were walking home late at night after an evening church gathering and decided to take a shortcut outside of the parameters of the camp. As they walked through a deep, unlit valley, they were attacked by robbers (not of the Nuer tribe) looking for a little cash or a cell phone. Simon was shot in the chest and died a short while later.

I miss Simon more than I can put into words. Although the only word I ever understood him say when he preached was “Alleluia,” that one word said it all. We both believed in the same Savior Jesus. We both knew we were on the road to Paradise. And during those classes, we both knew there was nothing more important and exciting we could be doing than preparing men to take the message of Jesus to the ends of that camp.

Simon got to Paradise way before anyone expected. Kakuma will never be quite the same. Neither I suspect will the heavenly choir, with Simon no doubt shouting his “Alleluias” the moment he arrived. I will see you again, Simon, when we will sing and play drums together to our Savior King forever!

Written by: Rev. Terry Schultz, Consultant for Multi-Language Publications 

P.S. – To learn more about WELS Joint Missions outreach to the South Sudanese, visit wels.net/sudanese.

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Moments with missionaries: Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya

Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya 

Terry L. Schultz 

Pilgrims in another land 

I met Nyaduel while visiting the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya to help conduct leadership training. Kakuma Refugee Camp and nearby Kalobeyei Settlement have been at times the largest refugee settlements in the world, with over 185,000 inhabitants counted in 2017. For more than 25 years, South Sudanese men and women, even children with no accompanying relative or friend, have walked for miles to refugee camps to escape the carnage of the civil war in South Sudan. 

Since 2014, Peter Bur, a revered elder among the Nuer people of South Sudan who emigrated to the United States and now serves as the North American coordinator for South Sudanese ministry for our synod, has made trips back to Africa to train South Sudanese church leaders in Kenya and Ethiopia. The Spirit-powered results have been astounding. Currently 23 groups (three in Kakuma, 20 in Ethiopia) serve more than 2,600 people with the gospel. On the day of our visit to Kakuma, more than 300 members—including Nyaduel—gathered for a combined church service.  

Nyaduel is 17 and has already lived over 10 years in Kakuma. “How did you get here?” I asked her. She remembered and, in her second language of English, replied, “I am running. My mother is running. I never see her again.” Nyaduel, her mother, and her father were in different locations in the village when the government soldiers arrived. They each had to run for their lives. Sylvia has met her father since then. Tragically, he is currently not a Christian. Neither of them have found her mother. But Nyaduel is blessed to be part of a new family with many brothers and sisters of the faith in Kakuma. And while Nyaduel would like to study to become a pilot one day, right now she loves serving as one of the congregation’s youth leaders. 

As a youth leader, Nyaduel teaches Bible lessons to the children. She also directs the choir and teaches dance movements to accompany the singing. Several large, goat-skin drums are used to keep the beat during worship. The drums are exuberantly played with beaters made from eight-inch strips of durable rubber tire tread cut from discarded tires. 

Nyaduel’s humble, servant-like attitude is clearly evident in her youth work. As a young girl, Nyaduel lost her left foot in a fire. She managed to obtain an artificial foot made of wood. But that was years ago. Nyaduel has grown since then and now needs a new artificial foot that is a couple of inches taller. But having one leg shorter than the other does not impede Nyaduel. The girl with one wooden foot doesn’t worry about looking awkward as she teaches dance steps to the children and youth choirs to use in praise of Jesus!   

During worship, the Kakuma congregation sings a song written by the refugees themselves: “Lord, we know you are here with us. Lord, you know we want to go back home.” 

No one will be going back home until there is peace in South Sudan. And no one is optimistic that that will happen any time soon. But God’s message that in this world we are always aliens, foreigners, and pilgrims resonates deeply with our Kakuma brothers and sisters. An eternity with our heavenly Father in paradise is coming for those who put their trust and faith in Jesus. 

On this Sunday, in the barren refugee camp of Kakuma, there is a three-hour worship service of preaching, prayer, singing, and dancing. The celebration has already begun! God’s children in Kakuma are secure in the knowledge that the eternal kingdom awaits them, thanks to their Savior Jesus!  


Terry Schultz serves as a consultant for WELS Multi-Language Publications. 


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Author: Terry L. Schultz 
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Two communities, one church

It was a sunny, early 2016 December Saturday when the phone rang at St. Paul, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The voice on the other end identified himself as Jacob Luk. He said that he and his community were members of another Lutheran church in town, and he wanted to come to my office and talk about church. Intriguing and a bit mysterious, I thought to myself. We set an appointment to meet. 

Jacob appeared at my office right on time, along with his wife, Elizabeth. He explained that his South Sudanese community was of the Nuer tribe and that they had been members at a Lutheran Church–Canada congregation for about five years. Once a month they held a Nuer prayer service. They were looking for a new church home because the pastor would not preach his Sunday morning sermon at their Nuer service, and since the church fellowship hall was being rented out to a private daycare facility, there was no place to have Sunday school for their children. His asked if they could use our facility for a Nuer Christmas Day service followed by a Christmas meal.  

And so our relationship began. With approval by St. Paul’s council, the Nuer service was held Christmas Day afternoon. I preached my Christmas morning message. The service ran from 2 p.m. until 4:45 p.m. The Christmas meal took place from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. About 65 Nuer souls attended. 

Starting in February 2017, I led a nucleus group through Bible instruction. All 34 souls chose to join our congregation. On Sept. 10, 21 of the 34 were present to be publicly accepted into membership by profession of faith.  

A monthly Nuer service now is taking place. Nuer members also attend St. Paul’s weekly Sunday services. Our combined kindergarten Sunday school is so large that we had to split it into two classes. Our parking challenge has moved us to negotiate with the University of Ottawa to obtain more off-street parking. The Nuer community has been a gracious and blessed addition to the St. Paul family.  

As Jacob likes to explain it, “Two communities, one church.” 


Harland H. Goetzinger 


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Author: Harland H. Goetzinger 
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Moments with missionaries: Kakuma, Kenya

Kakuma, Kenya

E. Allen Sorum

Kakuma is a development on the western edge of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Temperatures usually range up to 100 degrees by day and 75 degrees by night. It’s desert here. The wind blows, but it’s not cool or refreshing. Food doesn’t grow here. This land should be left to the snakes and scorpions that don’t know how miserable this place is.

But Kakuma is a human development, so to speak. The UN Refugee Agency reports that approximately 200,000 residents are jammed into this desert camp. One hundred thousand of these refugees are South Sudanese Nuer seeking asylum from the Dinka government in their homeland that seeks to exterminate them.

When new residents arrive in the camp, the family receives a piece of thick plastic that is 180 square feet. This will serve as their shelter, assuming the family can find sticks or some other means to support the tarp. The only food or water this family has access to is handed out irregularly by refugee support agencies. There is food on the black market, but there is no way to earn money to buy food. Extreme conditions breed anger and despair. Add uncertainty because the government of Kenya has announced plans to close their refugee camps as a security measure against the rising tide of terrorism.

Does this sound like an ideal spot in which to plant a church? Would it be wise to send a WELS missionary to live just outside this camp—for as long as it remains open—to preach the gospel?

Sounds absurd. Yet the gospel is needed in this place of despair—and people want it. Kakuma resident James Dobual is part of a group of South Sudanese refugees organized by WELS pastor and refugee to North America, Peter Bur, to start and to serve congregations in the refugee communities of Kenya and Ethiopia. Peter Bur and his team delivered a translation of Luther’s Catechism to the spiritual leaders of these refugee communities and taught it to them in the fall of 2015. In the fall of 2016, Peter Bur, Terry Schultz, and I returned to Kenya with more training and encouragement.

But James did a better job of encouraging us than we could ever do for him. He and his assistant Michael Tut reported that between our visits, they had taken 150 people from the camp in Kakuma all the way through the Catechism. On a given Sunday, almost 300 people gather to worship in a place that does not want to support human life. But James is preaching the Word of Life. He is proclaiming a message that refreshes weary souls. His church is thriving.

A cynical voice within wants to challenge these reports. That voice in me was silenced when I saw Michael pull out his copy of the catechism (pictured). He lifted it up to show me its wear. He held it like it was a treasure. He keeps it close because he is memorizing it. That catechism, Michael reported, changed him from a refugee camp resident into a Lutheran evangelist.

After our two-week training event in Nairobi, James and Michael went back to Kakuma. They were eager to get back to their people, to their thriving church. May God help them. And may God help us to help them.


E. Allen Sorum is the director of the Pastoral Studies Institute of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. He and Peter Bur are planning another trip to Kenya in October.


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Author: E. Allen Sorum
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Home mission connections lead to world mission opportunities

“The Lord is opening some pretty big doors around the world,” says Keith Free, administrator of Home Missions.

Why is the home mission administrator talking about world mission opportunities? Because the two areas are coming together in an exciting way. “When leaders in the late 1980s and 1990s began working with cross-cultural ministries, little did they know that what we would do in the United States would have impact and ramifications around the world,” says Free.

When men like Peter Bur, a South Sudanese refugee who settled in Omaha, Neb., and Bounkeo Lor, a Hmong pastor in Kansas City, Kan., hear and learn confessional Lutheran teachings, they want to share it—and not just with their neighbors next door. “What drives us so much overseas are Pastoral Studies Institute graduates who want to go back home,” says E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI).

In the fall of 2016, PSI team members, who work to train, mentor, and equip confessional Lutherans around the world, visited Africa and Asia to further explore new mission opportunities and how best to serve the people in these areas.

Liberia

Sorum traveled to Liberia with Robert Wendland, a missionary in Malawi, to see what the opportunities were for ongoing training and for working with the Confessional Lutheran Church of Liberia. Connections had been made through PSI Bible Institute graduate Isaac David and Pastor Matthew Vogt of Las Vegas, Nev., and WELS pastors had already traveled to Liberia to start training congregational leaders.

“In one village they said I was the first American to set foot in their church. It was one of the most intensely foreign feelings I ever had,” says Sorum. “But they are a warm and friendly people, who are anxious and eager to become more Lutheran.”

Kenya

Bur and Sorum have made multiple trips to Ethiopia and Kenya to train South Sudanese pastors and spiritual leaders who are serving South Sudanese refugees. In 2015, they distributed copies of Bur’s translation of a simplified version of the Small Catechism, complete with artwork by Terry Schultz, a member of the WELS Multi-Language Publications team.

This fall, Sorum, Bur, and Schultz spent three weeks in Nairobi, Kenya, furthering the training of men living in refugee camps in Kakuma, Kenya. They learned that leaders who had received copies of the simplified Small Catechism had not only worn out their copies but also taught what they learned to hundreds of others. “These people are starving not only literally but also spiritually for a lack of resources,” says Sorum. “They come to us for materials and training and then they go home and do incredible things with them in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Vietnam

In November, Jon Bare, international recruitment director, and Sorum traveled to Vietnam with Bounkeo Lor and Hue Thao to meet with 60 leaders of the Hmong Christian Fellowship, a church body with 600 pastors and more than 70,000 members. These men were contacts made through Lor, who has been traveling to Vietnam for the past three years to lead similar workshops. Besides conducting training classes in Hanoi, they traveled to several village churches in the mountains.

The church has grown since the leaders have been teaching the law and gospel lessons they learned from Lor, adding 2,400 members and 40 churches in the last six months.

Says Free, “Who would have thought a step Home Missions took many years ago to reach more cultures in the U.S. would lead to the opportunities we have today? These blessings are just another encouragement that we need to remain faithful in sowing the seed and then watch in amazement as God blesses the sharing of the gospel where and when he wills.”

Learn more at wels.net/missions.


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Author:
Volume 104, Number 2
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Update on partnerships in East Africa

In recent years WELS has developed contacts with Christians in South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya. WELS leaders took trips to these areas in the fall of 2015 and report here on their meetings with these Christians.

E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, visited Gambella, Ethiopia, from Aug. 28–Sept. 3, with Peter Bur, a South Sudanese refugee who emigrated to the United States and graduated from the seminary’s Pastoral Studies Institute in May 2015. Bur was assigned to be the coordinator of South Sudanese ministry for WELS. He is coordinating the pastoral training of South Sudanese leaders in North America and also in refugee camps in Africa.

As Sorum notes, “The first thing that Peter and I noticed when we arrived in Gambella was that it had grown exponentially in the year that had passed since our last visit. Gambella went from a city of 50,000 to a refugee community of 600,000 or 700,000. It continues to grow.

“After the essential special church services and choir numbers to celebrate the gracious God who brought USA guests to Gambella, we immediately got to the task of teaching Peter’s translation of a simplified Luther’s Small Catechism. The quality of the production and the exciting artwork made this little book a treasure. With special thanks to God, we commend the hard work of the Multi-Language Publications team who made this piece happen almost overnight. There is absolutely no way to correctly (over)state the contribution that this booklet and Peter’s explanation of it made to South Sudanese spirituality in austere refugee camps in at least three countries.

“Every day throughout the day, Peter taught the catechism to his brothers. . . . Teaching the catechism was a tremendous step forward in terms of what these men know, believe, and teach. The information they received was new. The long hours were no burden for them. They devoured this instruction.

“After Peter taught the entire catechism, we handed out the 80 copies of the catechism that we had lugged around East Africa. It was like we were distributing bundles of fresh food and laundry. The men were absolutely delighted with these ministry tools.

“Peter discussed at length with these men the requirements of getting organized and making connections with WELS and the Lutheran Church of Central Africa. They also discussed vision and various aspects of a strategic plan for South Sudanese Nuer in view of the potential for a viable peace in South Sudan. These men long to go home and to re-build their country and their church body. Peter and I encouraged them in their longing and in their journey. It is an inexpressible privilege to know men as courageous and resilient as these are. Their love and appreciation for their guests from North America know no bounds.”

From Sept. 4–10, Sorum and Bur spent time in Nairobi, Kenya, with South Sudanese men who live in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya.

Sorum writes: “Once again, Peter and the South Sudanese adhered to an extremely aggressive schedule in order to get through the entire catechism along with the components on using law and gospel and Bible-storying to present the truths of the catechism. Again, Peter and I stressed the importance of thinking through a ministry that featured all of the blessings of the gospel in Word and sacrament. God bless this ministry to the refugees in Kakuma.”

Also in September, Ken Cherney, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and a member of the WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations, visited Bishoftu, Ethiopia, to meet with Rev. Dr. Kebede Getachew Yigezu. Kebede started a confessional Lutheran church in Ethiopia as well as Maor Theological College.

In 2013, Kebede contacted WELS to discuss fellowship possibilities. Sorum visited Kebede in 2014 to learn more about the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia. Cherney’s visit in 2015 coincided with the first graduating class of Maor Theological College receiving their diplomas, and Cherney participated in the graduation ceremony.

Cherney notes: “We were received very warmly by our hosts and spent a lot of time getting to know Dr. Kebede and his family. They speak in glowing terms of Allen Sorum’s visit and all their experiences so far with WELS. Dr. Kebede is an aggressive promoter of confessional Lutheranism.”

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Author:
Volume 103, Number 02
Issue: February 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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