Tag Archive for: WELS Home Missions

A unique outreach approach

Last Spring, a representative of American Legion Post 4 in Clinton Township reached out to me with a request. He asked if I would be willing and able to lead the post’s first ever Blessing of the Bikes. There would be no restrictions on what I could say, and this presented us with the opportunity to say it to people from around the area we might not be able to reach with the good news about Jesus in any other way.

Our Evangelism Committee came up with a novel approach to inviting attendees to visit us and learn more about Jesus: motorcycle kickstand coasters. The hard, plastic discs slide under the kickstand when parking on soft dirt or hot asphalt to prevent the kickstand from sinking into the ground. They are extremely practical, much appreciated, and used over and over again. They are bright enough to be noticed, strong enough to hold up the biggest bikes, and small enough to fit neatly into the back pocket of jeans or a jacket pocket. So for $373 we had 270 of them printed up in Harley orange and black with our logo, location and website address. We planned to hand them out to everyone we can at the event scheduled for Sunday afternoon, April 25th. Members of our Evangelism Committee were quick to volunteer to be at the event to hand them out. Thank you to Gloria, Sharon, Ken, Gary, and Jerry! There’s a great little riding group that I and another member of Team Ascension ride with, and I invited them to help hand them out, too. After all, one way to do outreach is to get some of those to whom you are reaching out involved in helping you reach out to still others. Thank you to Skoal. Big Scoops, Jackrabbit, and others! A plan was in place!

On the Sunday prior, the congregation surprised me with a celebration of my 40 years in the ministry. My presentation gift was a new black leather riding jacket. On the back – big and bold – was an orange and black disc with a cross and stylized Luther Rose in the center and the five “solas” around the edge: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. On rockers above and below that disc were banners proclaiming: “Let’s evangelize them all and let God sort it out.” The congregation has obviously bought into the sentiment of those patches: we recklessly share the gospel as much as we can, trusting that God will make of that what he alone can and will. They wanted to be sure that I would be well-attired for the Blessing of the Bikes event. That jacket is sure to spark conversations about our Savior in the years to come.

The organizer of that Bike Blessing event visited worship twice. Once he brought a friend and once he brought his wife. He has also asked me to be involved in this event again this coming Spring. Keep this in your prayers, asking the Holy Spirit to open doors for the gospel. What he does with this opportunity is up to him. We will just keep twisting the throttle on outreach.

Written by Rev. Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich.

 

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Comfort food of the gospel

Most people think of barbecue as comfort food. For me, it’s always been more. It could be that I was born in Texas, but I think it’s more than that. At my baptism, we had brisket. At my confirmation, we had brisket. At my graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, we had pork shoulder. (Student loans put brisket just outside our budget.) Barbecue has always marked spiritual milestones in my life.

There is something about the smell of barbecue that gets people’s attention. Men and women, young and old, just about everyone can appreciate a good piece of barbecue. A number of men in our congregation enjoy the process of barbecuing, too. So it was natural to include that in our fall outreach effort. Now each year, early in November, our congregation hosts a community barbecue meal. We call it “Holy Smoq” and it has become a fan favorite.

We have many of the same things that most of our sister congregations have for a fall festival Sunday—a bounce house, games, piñatas, and a photo opportunity for the whole family. Each of these is fun and brings something meaningful to the day. But the brisket is what brings people together.

A plate full of smoked meat and sides is food you can’t hurry. It creates the space for conversation. Brisket gives strangers the moments they need to become fast friends. Each year, I marvel at the conversations I have had and I get to see at our annual “Holy Smoq” event.

And that is our first goal, to give God’s people a chance to connect with our community. So many folks in our congregation get intimidated by knocking on a stranger’s door. But sitting down and enjoying someone’s company over a plate of brisket? That isn’t intimidating. It’s delicious. It’s delightful. The backyard barbecue feel gives people a chance to chew the fat together. And when Christians do that, they can’t stop themselves from letting their light shine. They can’t help themselves but introduce people to the Jesus who loves the world.

That is our real goal. Yes, we want lots of people to enjoy the slow-smoked goodness.  That’s why we make the best brisket in town and give it away. But more than that, we want to give them the food that money cannot buy. The kind of food that lasts unto eternity. Someday, we want this barbecue to mark a spiritual milestone in their life. People need more than a plate of comfort food. We want them to enjoy the comforts of the gospel—knowing that Christ has paid for their sins in full.

Many come to our “Holy Smoq” event looking for a plate full of comfort food. For me, it’s always been more. And God willing, it will continue to be, to many more souls.

Written by Pastor Lincoln Albrecht, home missionary at River of Life in Goodyear, Ariz.


 

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Surviving the holidays

Postcards ordered? Check. Christmas Eve service planned? Check. Decoration team all on board? Check. Congregational Christmas party on the calendar? Check. Elf costume for the vicar tailored? Check. (Ok, maybe not that last one.)

There are many things that go into Christmas, whether it’s in a mission congregation or a well-established one. And with it, comes pressure, perhaps even more so on a young mission. Is “Prospect A” going to show up? Will the hopefully bigger crowd be the catalyst for a new starting point (Bible Information) class in January? Will the business next door to our storefront get robbed again during our Christmas services, sending 16 first-time visitors escaping to the parking lot before their information is gleaned? Will the music be ok? What about the technology? What about…?

With not as many people to shoulder the responsibilities of “doing Christmas” and the high expectations of capitalizing on Christmas, missionaries (both called and lay) may wonder, “Am I going to survive the holidays?” That’s what I was wondering. And then this registration came in,

“My husband committed suicide in July of this year and I am not wanting to celebrate the holidays this year.”

That was the note that came along with a registration for the GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays workshop that Light of the Valleys in Reno, Nev., is hosting this year. Griefshare is nothing too new to our circles. Many ministries have been blessed by this program or something similar. While GriefShare is nothing new to our congregations, grief or “surviving the holidays” is always going to be new to someone every year. Annually, someone will have to get used to an empty chair at the Christmas dinner table, one less person in the gift exchange, and traditions that will never be the same. Annually, someone will say, “I am not wanting to celebrate the holidays this year.”

But we have something to offer. Christmas isn’t just about a baby. It’s about a God who entered into our suffering. It’s about Jesus who came to save us from our sins and subsequently to save us from the effects of sin: death. More than any dressed-up elf spreading holiday cheer or carolers singing, “Fa-la-la,” we have something to help people “survive the holidays.”

That’s what Whitney found out. No, she’s not the one who had a husband commit suicide in July. But she did lose a husband in March. When her family didn’t want her to live alone, she moved 2300 miles west. Close to family, but far away from anything else she knew. But then she saw the GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays ad. With a deep breath, she was the first to open the door that Saturday morning. But it wouldn’t be the only time she would open it. After being comforted by the message and making a connection to another widow on Saturday, Whitney was once again the first one to open the door, but this time on Sunday.

I don’t know if Whitney will be back again. I pray that she will. But I know the message she heard twice in one weekend may not take away the pain or struggles, but it will help her survive the holidays. Fellow missionaries, the same goes for you. It may be a pain or a struggle to “do Christmas” in our settings, but the message we get to share isn’t just meant for the Whitneys of this world. It’s meant for you. It’s meant for me. Because of Jesus, we can survive the holidays.

Written by Joel Heckendorf, home missionary at Light of the Valleys Lutheran Church in Reno Nev.

 

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A new start in a mission reset

Farmington, New Mexico? What could possibly lead a pastor to move from a congregation where we had served for 18 years to a home mission church that’s kickstarting outreach efforts again? From the first phone call with the congregation’s chairman I kept telling my wife, Kay, “It just feels like God is saying, ‘Go!’” He made it even more clear when I preached on Isaiah 6 at the end of May: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV).

And so we went. We moved over 1,300 miles and left behind a wonderful church family with many friends and lots of ministry memories. We have joined a wonderful new family—our fellow believers at Christ the Rock. We have a new home in a beautiful parsonage. We live in a friendly community where just about everyone will stop and share a little bit about themselves.

Christ the Rock is in a unique place. Farmington is positioned in the high desert northwest corner of New Mexico. The Navajo Nation spreads out from the western edge of Farmington into Arizona. The Dinè have a long history here—it is their ancestral homeland. So on Sunday mornings, Tully, Jones, and Grandma Marian will say in their flowing Navajo, “Yá’át’ééh abíní!” “Good morning!” and I have learned to greet them in the same way.

Christ the Rock is also unique because the faces that sit in the chairs every weekend grew up in different places, even different countries! Every one of us come with different experiences, hurts, and challenges. We bond in the same way every church family bonds. We eat food together—chili seasoned with roasted Hatch green chilis; fry bread, Navajo tacos, mutton, steam corn, grits, spinach salad, spaghetti—all our favorites! We share our weekly experiences. We laugh together, offer advice, and sometimes even cry together.

The thing that binds us together is the same thing that holds every church family together—the incredible news that we have a Savior, Jesus, who loves us and will never stop loving us! Thankfully we see each other in person for Sunday morning Bible study and worship every week. In the three months we have been at Christ the Rock I have had the privilege of sharing Psalm 23 as comfort for a family grieving the loss of a sister/aunt/friend. Last Sunday I had my first baptism— baby Luminous. His birth is a ray of Jesus’ light for a family that has experienced more heartbreak and loss than seems bearable. His baptism is a special blessing that guarantees Jesus has illuminated his heart with the light of peace and forgiveness. Jesus is our connection. It doesn’t matter where we’re living or serving—whether in the heart of the Midwest or in the Four Corners region of the Southwest. Jesus gives us a great reason to “Go!” Please pray for us here at Christ the Rock as we “Go!” to the people in our community who are looking for Jesus and don’t know it yet. Pray that Jesus will be the answer for them too!

Written by Rev. Jon Brohn, home missionary at Christ the Rock in Farmington, N. M.

 

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Supporting home mission churches through evangelism training

Before ascending to heaven, our Lord Jesus directed us to be his witnesses. But taking action—from finding the time, to knowing how to start the conversation, and then knowing what to say—can be hard and intimidating obstacles to overcome. That’s where Praise & Proclaim can help.

One of the ways WELS Home Missions supports mission congregations around North America is by partnering with Praise & Proclaim Ministries to provide comprehensive evangelism training for church members. This WELS affiliated ministry trains members during a Friday night session on how to use a simplified approach to witnessing that is comfortable and non-threatening. The very next day they offer a well-organized opportunity to apply that training in the community.

Praise & Proclaim has already trained thousands of WELS members how to do personal evangelism, and WELS Home Missions will continue to partner with them as we prepare to plant 100 missions in 10 years beginning in 2023. Praise & Proclaim produces all the promotional materials, provides onsite training, and organizes the entire weekend for $4,000 per mission congregation. Would you consider supporting WELS home mission congregations through Praise & Proclaim initiatives? With your help, we are hoping to fund the next three Praise & Proclaim initiatives from gifts received throughout November. Together we can help home mission churches plant and water gospel seeds in their community while trusting God to make the seed of the gospel grow.

Read more about how WELS Home Missions supports 132 congregations around North America in a variety of ways at wels.net/homemissions.

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The Word perseveres

Arriving to Iowa in July, I could tell the members of Good Shepherd had a lot on their minds. They had been through a lot the past few years.

In 2018, they had to make the difficult decision to close their school. The following year, the Lord answered their prayers for a pastor, giving them Rev. Billy King. In 2020, their mission in North Liberty finally started moving forward when it was approved to receive funding from WELS Home Missions. March threw them a curveball, like every other congregation, in the form of a virus. Even though this meant not meeting together for a while, it did not stop them from going forward with their plans.

Damage from the “Derecho”

All of that came to a halt on August 10th, 2020. A land hurricane (I later found out the correct term was a “Derecho”) swept through Iowa with only one thing on its’ mind – destruction. The whole city seemed to be without power and trapped because of all the trees on the ground. Everyone raced to the stores to buy up the last of the generators. The church building was damaged, members’ properties were ruined, and no one knew who was safe.

I heard all of this, but it was hard to believe because everything looked in order when I arrived. Yes, there were some trees missing and each member had their own account of what happened, but it looked like a regular church to me. What I loved to hear, were all the different stories of how the Lord blessed them in their recovery. The Good Shepherd family grew stronger and closer together through all of this.

Although the church and the community may have thought this was the end, God has used it for a new beginning. A year later, almost everything is back to the way it was. The church building and most homes are repaired, but I get reminded of what happened every time I see a tree stump or an empty lot where I knew a building use to be.

But all this has not stopped God’s mission. Services are regaining their numbers at both campuses. Bible studies are becoming more and more well-attended. We at Good Shepherd are planning to hold all of our regular events and hopefully add a few more. The mission in North Liberty has not been forgotten in all of this. We are all getting on the same page in order to move forward. Members are moving forward from the past and help in our efforts to serve the community.

Summer baseball camp

This summer has especially been filled with mission efforts for Good Shepherd. We had a great group of volunteers come down to North Liberty and hang door hangers inviting people to worship and come to our Summer Baseball Camp. A group from Lakeside Lutheran High School came down to help teach the kids baseball basics. Another successful event was our Vacation Bible School. Children came and discovered the many wonders of our Lord in God’s Wonder Lab. We even had a small group begin meeting to play disc golf.

It is hard to not hold onto the past and have it not affect your present or future plans. Our plans and expectations may fail but the perseverance of God’s Word will never end. Whether storm or flood, war or famine, “the Word of the Lord remains forever (1 Peter 1:25).”

Written by Rev. Lucas Callies, home missionary at Good Shepherd in Cedar Rapids and North Liberty, Iowa.

 

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Campus Ministry – Helping parents one worry at a time

My wife and I are blessed with three daughters. They are all in college this year! They attend Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind., and Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind. And while my wife and I are enjoying our new-found freedom of being “empty nesters,” we still worry about the kids. Who wouldn’t, right? Life outside of the nest can be exciting, but so challenging and spiritually dangerous at the same time.

That’s why I have always appreciated our WELS Campus Ministry program. For all of the worries that I have as a Christian parent as I send my kids off to “foreign lands” in the world of academia, I have found a partner in WELS Campus Ministry that calms my worried heart. Here’s a few of them to show you what I mean:

Worry #1 – My kids could lose their faith on a secular campus

The Kom family

I won’t lie. For all of the training that my kids have gone through with a Lutheran Elementary School, and Catechism classes and teen Bible studies and even the benefit of a WELS high school. . . I still worry that a secular institution could wipe all that out with some slick talk and well-placed peer pressure and what “experts” are now saying in their field of study. Mix in a little “new found freedom” of being on their own and it’s a recipe for disaster. (A dad’s mind tends to go to the worst case scenario!)

Enter WELS Campus Ministry. It was a group of all of four people that first year for our oldest daughter. But it was like gold for making connections, having a support group, and even having a real, live pastor in town to have as a sounding board and spiritual advisor when things came up. They would study relevant topics, books of the Bible and all sorts of other things that “popped up” during their week. It was a safe place to vent, get answers to difficult spiritual questions that may have come up in class that challenged their faith and to cultivate some friendships with some great students, some of whom had already been through the challenges that my daughter was seeing in class.

What a blessing for my kids! I don’t worry as much, just knowing that they have a spiritual support system in place that they can engage in while they are there.

Worry #2 – My kids could lose out on using their gifts and talents to serve God’s Church

I don’t know if this is true of every WELS Campus Ministry, but one of the things that had me pleasantly surprised was how they connected my kids to a local WELS/ELS congregation for worship opportunities and service opportunities. One of my kids plays the flute. Another plays the oboe. One sang in the traveling choir for high school and regularly sang solos and led singing in our worship services at home. I was worried that their gifts of service would get buried on a campus far, far away.

Enter WELS Campus Ministry. They connected my kids with local churches. One plays her flute for worship. Another has helped with hanging flyers on doors with their evangelism program. Another will be collaborating with the organist in the near future about solos and the music program at the church. It warms my heart as a parent to know that, not only will my kids be fed in their faith, but they also get to exercise their faith through our Campus Ministry as well.

May God continue to bless our WELS Campus Ministry as they serve our students. . . and their parents.

Written by Mark Kom, a WELS Campus Ministry students’ parent

Learn more about WELS Campus Ministry and sign students up at wels.net/campusministry.

 

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Starting a mission church

The prospect of starting a new mission church, while certainly exciting, can also lead to a lot of questions, not the least of which is simply how? That’s what we at Trinity in Crete, Ill. are going through right now. The town of Cedar Lake, right across the border in Indiana, is a fast-growing town with more and more housing developments popping up. We know it’s a great place to begin a new church to be able to tell more and more people about Jesus. Now, we get to start the process of trying to start one.

If this describes a similar situation for you, the first place to start is to contact your District Mission Board. They will be able to guide you in the right direction and provide you with the next steps to take, essentially walking you through the process. They’ll also put you in contact with a District Mission Counselor who will even be able to meet with you and check out the potential mission field and encourage you throughout the entire process.

But the next step is equally as important: gather a core group. These are the people who are committed to turning potential into reality. Before you have a location, before you have hard prospects, before you have a building, have a core group of people who are already actively doing ministry activities in the area. If you don’t have a location, start meeting in someone’s homes for group Bible studies. You’ll not only grow in the word, but your group will start to grow closer to one another as you bond to one another.

The smile bags Trinity Lutheran assembled and donated to the Cedar Lake Police Department for kids of all ages who are in difficult situations.

Start group activities like outreach events in the area or finding some way to actively get involved in the community. Maybe you’re able to do some sort of onsite worship – do it! Whether it’s time in the word, fellowship activities, service in the community letting your light shine, or whatever else you can come up with, have your core group do it and before you know it, they’ll be owning the ministry and mission church idea. Have them invite their neighbors, their friends, be involved in the community inviting them to any event you do because the stronger the core group is, the easier the next steps in the mission process come.

The Mission Board and the Mission Counselor will be able to guide you through the necessary steps to take after this, but the biggest thing you can spend your time investing in is your people – your core group. They’ll be the seeds that, God-willing, he’ll use to reap a new harvest in a new location as he continues to use us to advance his kingdom.

Written by Kendall Cook, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Crete, Illinois.

 

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A ripe mission field right next door

In Racine and Milwaukee, Wis., the school voucher program has opened many new and exciting opportunities to connect children and families to Means of Grace ministry. WELS Home Missions and the Southeast Wisconsin District Mission Board are helping in these efforts! Mount Lebanon Lutheran School in Milwaukee received funding from WELS Home Missions for a full-time School Pastor. A year later, Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine received funding for a full-time School Chaplain.

At Mount Lebanon Lutheran School in Milwaukee, Pastor Paul Krueger serves as the school outreach pastor. Pastor Krueger spearheads the efforts of the faculty and members of the congregation to reach families in the school. Similar work is taking place at Wisconsin Lutheran School where school Chaplain Mark Blauert leads efforts to connect children and families to Water of Life and First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Racine.

Mount Lebanon Lutheran School, Milwaukee, Wis.
“Our mission field is right next door across the parking lot in our school building; they are parents and grandparents in cars waiting to pick up their children from school,” says Pastor Krueger.

Over half of the school families at Mount Lebanon do not have a church home.

“We have children who are hearing everyday in classrooms about their Savior in devotions, Catechism classes, and in chapel. The children are excited and love to learn Bible stories and about their Savior! Mount Lebanon‘s congregation has its eyes on expanding this mission field to include the whole family – the moms and dads, aunts and uncles, the grandparents, and the siblings of our school children. Volunteers from church spend many hours in the school, church members plan outreach events, pray for, and adopt school families as they engage in great commission work. It is truly awesome to see the excitement for outreach ministry in the heart of Milwaukee.”

This excitement can be seen as members of the faculty and volunteers from the church come together for Bible study. After the study, they make calls to each family in the school. These conversations with parents of the school build relationships, lead to prayer, and include an invitation to church, small group Bible studies, and church outreach events. Outreach is truly a church and school effort.

Pastor Nate Bourman, lead pastor at Mount Lebanon, highlights this church and school joint effort, “Mount Lebanon church and school are really one community – a community with many parts but with one faith, one ministry, and really one family.”

Wisconsin Lutheran School, Racine, Wis.
In Racine, Chaplain Blauert focuses on building bridges from the school to the church. “We are always looking for an excuse to invite families of the school to church. Whether it is before or after school, at sporting events, or at parent teacher conferences, we are seeking to connect school families with our church and its members.”

Wisconsin Lutheran School offers Christian parenting Bible classes as a bridge to Bible information classes, baptism, and church membership. The brief Bible study takes place in the morning and allows parents to drop off their children and stay to study and be in God’s Word. “There is great excitement in seeing how the Holy Spirit works – parents and children are being baptized,” says Chaplain Blauert. With one-third of school families not having a church home, the mission field is ripe in Racine.

Where is the next ripe mission field?
The school voucher program has opened up new opportunities for outreach in Racine and Milwaukee. These unique gospel opportunities are why WELS Home Missions and the District Mission Board exist. Both boards seek to help churches and schools reach more people. If you see a ripe mission field, contact a member of your District Mission Board to explore a partnership in reaching more with the life-changing gospel!

“Every one of our Lutheran elementary schools is a ripe mission field that’s right next door,” comments Mission Board chairman, Pastor Michael Zarling. “Our Southeastern District Mission Board is excited to partner with churches and schools to develop a strategy to harvest these precious souls for Christ’s Kingdom.”

Written by Ryan Finkbeiner, principal at Mount Lebanon, in Milwaukee, Wis.

 

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Faces of Faith – Mike

When Mike first commented “Good morning!” in the Facebook comment section, none of us knew who he was. It was the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic when we were doing online-only worship. Somehow Mike had found us while scrolling through Facebook. He didn’t respond to any of my follow-up messages, but he did continue to log in to our services on a regular basis.

Nine months later, Mike finally sent me a Facebook message. It had been a hard year. His brother had died, his mom was sick, and Mike himself had just been diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. It was time to figure out his faith. The first time I met Mike in person, it was to give him a binder for Bible Basics class. I learned that he had a vague Mormon background, little church experience, and had never been baptized. Through Bible Basics class (taught online over Zoom), Mike had a great opportunity to grow in the grace and knowledge of his Savior Jesus.

The second time I met Mike in person, it was to baptize him—during a private ceremony at church. Just two days later he began chemotherapy treatments for his cancer. After his baptism, Mike sent me another Facebook message: “I really liked coming to the church building—I’m so glad we did the baptism there. I look forward to tuning in to tomorrow’s service online. I’m going to start the book you gave me right away. (“Prepared to Answer,” by Mark Paustian) There is just so much more I want to learn.”

Praise God for the gift of technology, the gift of baptism, and the way he brought it all together to give Mike a powerful dose of spiritual comfort at the time of life when he needed it most!

From Lucas Bitter, home missionary at Intown Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga.

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Faces of Faith – Allen and Rosalind

An invitation to blueberry pancakes. That is all it took. A friendly gesture, the simplest thing, led my wife and I down a path to God that we never knew we would take.

I am the youngest of my family and the only son. My wife is the youngest of six. I am originally from Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and she is from Houston, Tex. Our backgrounds are remarkably diverse and vastly different at first appearance. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she was raised Baptist. Our paths were filled with many losses and obstacles, just as many Christians have experienced. So how did an invitation to blueberry pancakes change things? My wife met a genuinely nice man by the name of Jim Bruland. She invited him over for pancakes. During conversation he mentioned Cross of Christ, and she mentioned something about it to me. It was a small gesture, one that did not even come to fruition for an entire year. As an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, it was taboo to even go to another church. We searched for churches for many months after that conversation, but nothing materialized. One day the Holy Spirit motivated me to ask Mr. Bruland if we could go with him to church. The genuineness of the people and God’s grace culminated in our confirmation on my 52nd birthday on April 18, 2021.

From Allen Braun, new member at Cross of Christ in Liverpool, N.Y.

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Faces of Faith – Levi, Jennifer, and Cameron

Levi is a young, single dad living in urban Milwaukee who wanted nothing more than for his young son Cameron to get a good education. So, he enrolled Cameron in our church’s school confident his son would get not only a good education but a good Christian education. Levi also was convinced he wanted to become a member of our church, completed Bible information classes, and was preparing for membership. Then tragedy struck.

On January 27, 2013, Levi and Cameron were riding in a car with Levi’s best friend, Mark. There was an accident. Mark died, and Levi was left in a wheelchair. There were many pieces to pick up—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But God brought good out of this tragic situation. After the accident, Jennifer, a mutual friend of Levi and Mark, became caretaker for Levi and mom for Cameron.

The ensuing years were challenging for this young family. But God’s grace was persistent and there have been some amazing victories as well. Cameron graduated with honors in 2018 and is now attending Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis. In 2019, Levi once again took Bible information classes and became a member of our church. In August 2020, Levi and Jennifer were married (despite the pandemic). And just this year, Jennifer started Bible Information Class for membership in our church.  We all at Mt. Lebanon are truly thankful for all that God has done for this special family!

From Nate Bourman, home missionary at Mt. Lebanon in Milwaukee, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Greg

One Sunday after church Steve asked me, “Hey Pastor, will you visit Greg?” I said, “Sure! Who’s Greg?” Turns out, Steve had come from New York and had become a member of Greg’s Jiu Jitsu gym here in Texas. Over time Steve had talked to Greg about Jesus and his new church, Christ Alone. Greg was intrigued, but he had no background in Christianity. He had moved to Texas from Los Angeles and did not know his Savior.

So I went. I met Greg at his Jiu Jitsu gym on a cold February day in 2019. I didn’t even know what he looked like! We met at a local restaurant, and I got to know him and his family a little. I went back the next week and met him at that same restaurant. There I explained God’s law and gospel to him. At 45 years old, it was the first time he had ever heard it. He was blown away. Greg came to faith in Jesus that day. He was baptized later that year, and he recently became a member. I know who Greg is now. He’s not only a fellow believer, but a dear friend in Christ.

From Paul Seager, home missionary at Christ Alone in Keller, Tex.

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Faces of Faith – Bruce

Most people move to the South Carolina low country to slow down. They move to escape the snow and find the famed hospitality of the south. They move to escape the frantic work pace of the cities. They move to spend their days on the golf course or the water, as opposed to the desk.

But when Bruce moved here, he didn’t stop moving. When he moved from Wisconsin to South Carolina, he planned to retire within a few years. But, finding Bluffton ripe for mission work, he found a whole new role in helping plant a church. With the help of a mission-minded mother church (Risen Savior in Pooler, Ga.) and the Board for Home Missions, May River Lutheran Church was born.

From renovating a worship space, to canvassing new neighborhoods, to faithfully serving throughout a pandemic, members like Bruce have helped bring a young church through the pandemic in better shape than before.

From Erik Janke, home missionary at May River Lutheran Church in Bluffton, S.C.

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Faces of Faith – Christopher

“I was literally upside-down.” Christopher wasn’t exaggerating. He was talking about a time when he was driving to visit his girlfriend. The combination of slick roads, high speeds, and a sharp turn left him upside-down in a ditch.

Looking back on it now, he sees God’s hand in that pivotal moment. He sees a loving God bringing him even closer to the family of the girl who is now his wife. He sees a patient God using a life-threatening moment to teach him to re-prioritize what’s truly important in his life. He sees a gracious God directing all things—even a car on a slippery road—so that an undeserving sinner would be rescued from real spiritual danger. When I first met Christopher, he told me how thankful he was that God turned him upside-down.

Christopher joined our church family at Living Shepherd in Laramie, Wyo., a few months ago. And he still draws a direct line from being upside down in a ditch years ago to his joyful growth in faith now. He sees all of it as the work of his good and gracious God. There’s a lot more to Christopher’s story—he could probably write a long and fascinating book about his life. But the greatest chapter is the one yet to come: the eternal joy of heaven that he will experience, all because God turned him upside down!

From Adam Lambrecht, home missionary at Living Shepherd in Laramie, Wyo.

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Faces of Faith – Emma

Outwardly, the most dramatic moment in Emma’s coming-to-faith experience might have been the water splashing in the bowl at her baptism. Being raised on an Apache reservation, spending her early teenage years on a Caribbean island, and competing for a softball state title at Arizona Lutheran Academy certainly qualify as memorable. However, her rebirth into God’s family lacked any visual excitement, and she’s been raised in a Christian environment ever since.

Don’t let the lack of external spiritual drama fool you. There is a cosmic battle taking place for her soul every day, especially during her college years. The research is scary. Statistically, three out of four young adults raised Christian leave their Christian faith while attending secular universities. But fear isn’t helpful; our young people must live in this world. They need to engage in life and find their purpose serving the Lord.

That’s why I’m thankful for our WELS campus ministry. Emma chose the University of Arizona in Tucson not just for its excellent medical program but also because they have a welcoming nearby church family (Grace Lutheran) with an active campus ministry that allows her to strengthen her faith and serve others who are asking the big spiritual questions of life. She has found invaluable Christian friendship and joy volunteering, attending Bible studies, and participating in fellowship events. Please pray for this generation of Christian witnesses and the campus ministries that serve to equip them!

From Tim Patoka, campus pastor at WELS Tuscon Campus Ministry

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Mission Journey to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”- Matthew 28:19-20

The eight teens that attended the Mission Journey trip

This passage tells us as believers what we are to do. This summer, eight teens and two adults from Immanuel in Gibbon, Minn., and St. John in Fairfax, Minn., did just that. Our Mission Journeys team volunteered to go door to door in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to help The Vine Lutheran Church, a home mission congregation that started in 2016.

The teens’ goal was to spread the gospel and see if people were aware of The Vine. They received two hours of training and then were sent out door to door with “a free pasta dinner” from The Vine.

One lady was so grateful for the large bag of groceries that tears fell down her face. With three children surrounding her, she told our team that she recently had a miscarriage and was struggling emotionally. They came at the perfect time. Another lady told a team that their family was struggling financially. She was so touched by the gesture, that she asked to be invited to participate the next time they delivered free bags of food.

One team came across a lady who expressed great concern about her brother who has pancreatic cancer. She asked the teen group if they could pray for him. Two teens immediately accepted and led a prayer at the door on behalf of her brother. Amazing!

Dave Malnes from Praise and Proclaim Ministries training the teens

An elderly woman greeted another team at the door. Once she found out that the team was from a church, she excused herself to find her boyfriend inside. A man came out and quickly sat in a lawn chair to tell a captivating story of how he was in a bad motorcycle accident and almost died. They were very interested in coming to The Vine and appreciated the personal invitation.

At the last house of the day, a team knocked on a door that looked a bit suspicious. Since they had an adult with them, they decided to go and knock on the door. A man answered the door, and it turned out to be a very positive conversation. It was apparent that he had a religious background but had probably not stepped inside a church for a long time. He expressed great interest in The Vine and gave the team his contact information. Things are not always as they seem!

Whitewater rafting

In addition to going door-to-door, the teens got to enjoy some of the things that northern Idaho has to offer. They hiked in the evenings, swam at Hayden Lake, ate “googys” (ice cream sundaes big enough to feed five people), visited Silverwood Amusement park, whitewater rafted in Montana on the way home, and saw bison in Yellowstone.

The teens visited over 500 houses and had 75 opportunities to share the gospel with the people they met. All around it was a great trip for our teens to grow in faith, share God’s Word, and see a different part of the United States.

Written by Anna Endorf, Mission Journeys team chaperone

 

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A head-start on the restart

Our mission in Wesley Chapel chose to get a head-start on the restart that every church is experiencing right now. Two years ago the members of Emmanuel in Zephyrhills, Fla., decided to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. They chose to sell their property and everything but the hymnals, font, and communion set. They chose to work with their District Mission Board, call a home missionary, and spend time as a wandering church. . . a restarting church that would find a way to evangelize nearby Wesley Chapel, Tampa’s booming northern suburb.

I accepted the call to the Wesley Chapel home mission a week before the March shutdown. We knew back then we were joining a church choosing to restart. The group had taken this leap of faith and was seeking a shepherd for their next steps. Members dreamed of the future, but first we needed to answer some fundamental questions: What is the Bible’s blueprint for a church? What’s absolutely critical, and what can we let go? What ministries and programs should we offer? How will we invite the community? As 2020 wraps up, our group is still studying God’s answers to those questions, and we’re still studying our Wesley Chapel mission field. We plan to spend 2021 setting up our primary ministries.

What’s changed since March is that every church is now forced to answer similar questions: Why do we gather? Are we essential? What will we offer online? Is it worth restarting that program or not? See! Our group was just ahead of the pack!

Home missionary Phil Hunter’s installation – poolside!

Our Wesley Chapel home mission has navigated the same practical puzzles as all other churches (meeting location, online worship, safety measures, etc.) Again we just happen to be very flexible–for such a time as this! We didn’t own a building anyways, so we were prepared for simple services in unusual locations. We met in a family’s yard. We held a poolside installation service. We now lease space from a beautiful new school and meet on their covered patio. We adjust the sound system for each new space, laugh at ourselves when the candles won’t light, and consider it all part of the adventure. We’ll likely own another facility soon, but for now we enjoy a camaraderie with Christians across the ages and the globe who worship outdoors or meet in houses.

The pandemic has not hindered our home mission start. However, it has slowed down our communication. In normal times, we could all gather for a meal and an open forum or brainstorming session. Now it’s an in-person forum for some, a Zoom meeting for others, an e-mail and online form for others who can’t Zoom, plus letters and phone calls for the few beautiful souls who have managed to avoid the internet. It is still possible to gather input and distribute info. . . but it takes more time and effort. In the big picture, that’s a pretty easy yoke for us to bear.

A final bit of news: A new name for this new church year. We spent a month gathering name suggestions. Our leaders discussed them, compared them to other area churches, and narrowed them down to a final four. We took those finalists and surveyed area WELS school kids, core group members, and dozens of people at parks and stores around Wesley Chapel. The result of that research is a name that’s both fresh and iconic, appealing to WELS kids and unchurched families, and connects well with Biblical imagery and local geography: Citrus Grove Lutheran Church, launching in late 2021 here in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Jesus bless your church’s restart. . . and ours!

Written by Rev. Phil Hunter, home missionary at Citrus Grove Lutheran Church in Wesley Chapel, Fla. 


 

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Faces of Faith – Clark

Our first worship service at Foundation Lutheran Church in Folsom, Calif., happened on August 16, 2020, in a local park. A few months earlier, the college where we had signed a contract to use their community room for worship was closed due to COVID-19. Many churches were holding outdoor services and our pastor said: why not?

That first service ended, and we had extra donuts and treats. Nearby, there was group of kids and young men playing basketball. One member said we should offer them our leftovers. So, we headed over and offered them some of the food we had brought.

We met a man in his early thirties named Clark. He shared that he played basketball in college, and now he coaches and has three kids in elementary school. The last thing shared with Clark was, “We’re here every Sunday—you’re more than welcome to join us!”

Clark, wearing green and a hat, playing basketball in the background.

The next week Clark was there again playing basketball. As the service started, he slipped over with his brother during the sermon to listen. Afterwards, a number of members talked with them in friendly and encouraging conversation. He said he’d be back.

The next week Clark came back with his lawn chair and sat with us through the entire service. This time it was Clark and more of his family. Before and after the service, members of our “Foundation Nation” enthusiastically engaged with them. Some of the conversations were private and got deep. Clark was compelled to share he had struggled with his faith and life had been tough recently, including the loss of his dad a couple years ago.

Our pastor had a good conversation with Clark, too, and followed up with him during the week. Clark is very interested in learning more about Foundation and, more importantly, diving deeper into Scripture with pastor.

A park, friendly people, food, pastor’s message, and fellowship—all used by the Holy Spirit—to reach one soul at a time.

From Noel Ledermann, member of the core group at at Foundation Lutheran Church in Folsom, Calif., and member of the WELS Board for Home Missions

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Faces of Faith – Rhoda and Helen

Eight years after her husband passed away, Rhoda (pictured left) moved into an assisted living facility. In her mid-80’s, she would describe herself as a bit shy. Still, it wasn’t long before she found a friend in her neighbor Helen (pictured right). For as quiet as Rhoda is, Helen loves to talk. Music, art, literature, her world travels, interesting people she’s met. . . there’s not a topic that Helen isn’t comfortable expounding on.

Early in their friendship, Rhoda opened up to Helen to talk about how much her church and her Savior meant to her. And soon enough, Helen was coming to our Bible studies and worship services. I’d stop to visit her, and this 93-year-old retired teacher would show me the poetry late husband wrote. “You should read this. . . No, you should read it out loud to me. Now before I see you again, I want you to write some poetry yourself. Take five minutes and write six lines about whatever comes into your mind. Then show it to me the next time I see you.”

So I write poetry, just for Helen. In the meantime, she is thrilled to learn more about the Lord Jesus at her new church home.

From Paul Zell, missionary at Living Savior Lutheran Church in Hendersonville, N.C.

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Faces of Faith – Krystal

Krystal is a young mom who has attended our Mornings with Mommy program and who recently enrolled her daughter in our preschool. Krystal wanted to come to church, but she didn’t want to come alone with her kids. Her husband’s crazy work schedule didn’t allow for him to join. And yet last fall, Krystal came with her kids Kinsley and Christopher. All the moms from Mornings with Mommy were smiling from ear-to-ear. Since then, Krystal has been coming on a somewhat regular basis and even began taking classes to become a member.

During one of our lessons, Krystal asked about having her kids baptized. She also mentioned the she had never been baptized. She wasn’t raised going to church or having God as part of her daily life. Her mother was raised as a strict-Catholic and decided not to force any religion upon her. Krystal has always wanted to have God as a part of her family and admitted, “I’ve tried many different churches in the Myrtle Beach area, but none of them seemed to fit. But we’ve found the truths about Jesus here at Amazing Grace.”

The next day I ran into Krystal at preschool drop-off when she said, “Pastor, I spoke with my husband last night. He doesn’t think he’s ever been baptized either!” We will be getting together soon to talk about baptism for the entire family. What I thought was going to only be the baptism of two children has now turned into an entire family. Grace upon grace!

From Ben Zahn, missionary at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Myrtle Beach, S.C. 

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Faces of Faith – Campus Ministry Alumni

Campus ministries often serve as places where students can grow in their abilities and gain the confidence in use them later in life to serve their future congregations. Grace in the Ward, a current home mission congregation located in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., is one of those congregations. Robin Lehninger (playing piano) spent time as a graduate student organizing musicians from True North Campus Ministry in Minneapolis, Minn. Now she serves as the women’s choir director at Grace. Greg Strommen (on guitar) and his wife Devon (singing) both used their musical gifts at the Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel in Madison, Wis., during their college years. We praise God for using WELS Campus Ministries to equip students for future service in Christ’s kingdom!

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Faces of Faith – Dag

One evening, I knocked on a door and a man wearing pajamas answered. He invited me in. I got to talk about the Bible with pajama man (Bryan) and his wife for almost an hour. By the end of the conversation I was confident that Bryan and his wife were believers. I was also certain they’d never come to Living Hope. They were happy at their Baptist church. I was right. They’ve never been to Living Hope.

Fast forward two years. I’m sitting down for a Bible Information Class with a 90-year-old man named Dag from Germany. He even fought in World War 2. . . not for the Allies. Dag was baptized and confirmed Lutheran, but I quickly found out he doesn’t know anything about what Lutherans teach. He says he believes in God but struggles to believe in Jesus as the Savior. But God is working. Dag is hearing the law and gospel like he never has before. He’s starting to understand the depth of sin and God’s amazing love. God is giving Dag one last shot. He’s told stories of his scrapes with death during the war, and he’s already had some scary hospital visits since I’ve met him. But God’s not done with Dag.

I have Bryan, the pajama man, to thank for that. When Dag and his wife moved to the area they visited their daughter’s church: the same Baptist church where Bryan attends. Dag made it clear he wanted to go to a Lutheran church though. Bryan heard this and recalled talking with me. He gave Dag and his wife information about Living Hope. It’s awesome how God can use one seemingly fruitless conversation with a man in his pajamas to get a 90-year-old former Nazi solider an audience with the gospel.

From Eric Melso, missionary at Living Hope Lutheran Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Faces of Faith – James and Emelia

James and Emelia are originally from Nigeria, but because of difficult life situations had moved to Mexico before finally immigrating to Canada. During those years of transition, James led his family in God’s Word, even serving the Lord’s Supper to his family, but they still longed for a church home. A couple years after moving to Canada, they found Cross of Life and immediately loved it. They were thankful for a church that taught from the Bible and loved them and have since joined and become active members of our congregation. In a heavily immigrant-saturated area of Canada like the Toronto area, being an advocate for immigrants, refugees, and those in need is a huge way for us to bless others like Jesus did. We get to do “world missions” without leaving our city by simply loving and supporting the many immigrants and refugees that end up in Canada. But the truth is that God has blessed us just as much, if not more, by giving us James, Emelia, and their sons. We thank God for them and pray for many more opportunities to “defend the cause of the fatherless and the widows, and love the foreigner.” -Deuteronomy 10:18.

From Caleb Schultz, missionary at Cross of Life Lutheran Church in Mississauga, ON

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Faces of Faith – Chuck

Earlier this winter I stopped in to pick up our church trailer from our storage unit. While I was there, I met an older man in the unit next to ours who was working on his RV. I walked over, introduced myself, and started a conversation. After some small talk, he shared that his wife of 60 years died two months ago, and he was still grieving her loss. I was able to share comfort from God’s Word, and then I invited him to come to The Vine to learn more about our God who gives comfort in all our troubles, especially when we lose a loved one. He told me that he had been thinking about coming back to church after being away for many years, but just needed a little “push” from God to do it. I said to him, “Well, God might have orchestrated our meeting each other today so that I could be his little ‘push’ for you.”

The next Sunday, he showed up in church and said to me, “Thanks for taking the time to talk with me last week. God must have known that I needed to be here. I just need a little ‘push.’” I’m grateful that God allowed me to meet this man and be there for him when he really needed it. And I’m thankful that he has continued to worship with us on Sundays and hear more about our God who will always be there for him.

From Kevin Schultz, missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Coeur D’ Alene, Ida.

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Faces of Faith – Trina

Last summer, my neighbor’s furniture was delivered to my house by mistake. I carried the furniture down the street (while grumbling under my breath at the ineptitude of the mailman), but thankfully I got to meet a new neighbor. I mentioned that I was the pastor of a new church in the area. She was not particularly interested, but she just happened to have a friend over that night whose mother-in-law (named Trina) was looking for a church. Trina attended one of our next worship services and enjoyed it so much that she signed up for Bible Basics Class. After the first two lessons, however, life took over. Trina was diagnosed with breast cancer. She dropped out of Bible Basics and stopped coming to church. By the grace of God, she responded well to chemotherapy and her health began to improve. When spring came, Trina restarted Bible Basics Class at the beginning and completed all 12 lessons. She joined our church and is now a familiar face on Sunday mornings who is beloved by all her Sunday School students!

Trina says, “Intown Lutheran has become my second family. I was newly diagnosed with cancer when I started coming to this church. I received so many prayers and genuine concern that it blew me away. I was looking for a new church home and I truly have found it here!”

So my neighbor’s friend’s mother-in-law is now a member of my church. And why? Because a box of furniture just happened to be dropped off at the doorstep of a local pastor, on the very night that her daughter-in-law just happened to be visiting that pastor’s neighbor for dinner. Of course, we know that things don’t just happen, do they? God is always working. Next time I see the mailman, I have to tell him “thank you.”

From Lucas Bitter, missionary at Intown Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga.

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Faces of Faith – Cordale Jr.

Several years ago, I baptized a baby boy in our church. Later I was introduced to the baby’s grandfather, who is a Lutheran pastor and missed his grandson’s baptism because he was preaching that morning. He shook my hand and asked me one question: “Did you get the boy wet?” I replied, “Yes, sir. I got the boy wet.” A smile came over his face and he said, “That’s all I wanted to know.” Then he walked away.

In January 2019, I learned that one of our Wisconsin Lutheran School families had their baby three months early. Cordale Jr. was born at 25 weeks and weighed only a single pound. I went into the NICU of the hospital with Cordale Jr.’s mother, father, grandmothers, and nurse. The nurse gave me a bottle of sterilized water to use for the baptism. I put three drops onto his head – one drop for each person of the Trinity. Three drops. . . but I got him wet. It was a waterfall of God’s grace!

That waterfall of grace continued in February 2020 when Cordale Jr.’s mother stood before the baptismal font and altar at Epiphany Lutheran Church to make her vows of adult confirmation. Lord willing, Cordale Jr.’s older step-siblings will be baptized in the coming months, so they too can experience a waterfall of God’s grace.

From Michael Zarling, missionary at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Racine, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Elena

“Are you the pastor?” were the first words I heard from Elena, over the phone on a Sunday morning as I was preparing for worship. “Yes,” I replied. She said, “I need to go to your church today. But I need a ride.” I picked Elena up that morning in July. She’s a long-time resident of Michigan, originally from Panama, and a former medical doctor. She sat through church alongside several other guests who came for our special bilingual service. It was clunky, going back and forth between English and Spanish. After the dust settled and I said goodbye to the last person, I took Elena back home. “Well, Elena, what did you think?” She turned to me and replied, “I loved it.”

Late that night, she called me. I was almost asleep, so I let it go to voicemail. She called me again as soon as the sun was up the next day. I answered with a groggy “hello,” and she exclaimed, “Pastor, I was up all night reading about Luther and the hymns. I have been looking for a church like this my whole life. How do I become a member?”

Elena had called me that Sunday morning because her friend kept getting texts from me inviting her to church. Finally, her friend told her, “One of us has to go or he’ll keep bothering me!” Elena bit the bullet, called me, and went. And God, by his miraculous Word, drew another sheep into his Church.

From Ryan Kolander, missionary at Palabra de Vida Lutheran Church in Detroit, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Clay and Dee

We first met Clay Smith and his wife Dee at their door while canvassing back in the fall of 2017. After hearing that we were starting a new church in Chattanooga, Clay’s first question was, “Do you confess the Apostles’ Creed?” I told him, “Yep, we’ll say the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed every Sunday at worship.” He said, “Then I may just have to come check out your church when you start holding worship.” Clay soon started taking a Bible Information Class and completed it. He just ate it up, and he learned something new every lesson. But his wife Dee never came to the studies with him.

Months later, Clay finally got Dee to come with him to Bible Study. He wanted to take the whole class again, this time with his wife. And as happy as we were to have Clay in the class, it was Dee who really needed to hear the gospel of free and full forgiveness. A few lessons in, she opened up and said, “I always thought I was going to hell. When I went to church, I was taught I had to speak in tongues if I was really saved. I never could so I was scared of God and church. Now I really know God loves me.”

What a privilege to open people’s eyes to their Savior. It never gets old.

From Eric Melso, missionary at Living Hope Lutheran Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Faces of Faith – Mrs. Tri

We take prayer requests verbally from our congregation and then pray about those very things in the moment. About four months ago, Mrs. Tri (pictured above 4th from right), raised her hand and went off on how her whole family is in chaos and disharmony, and how there is lack of respect and discord throughout the family. Her adult children’s families are all members of our congregation. Following that, our congregational president, Mr. Hưu-Trung Lê, and I visited members of the family, and Mrs. Tri, and prayed with them, shared key passages with specific members of the family over the following days and weeks. Later on a different Sunday, the same Sunday at Mrs. Phước’s baptism, Mrs. Tri raised her hand once again at the time of prayer requests. Internally I’m thinking, “Oh boy, here we go again…” Mrs. Tri then went on to say how thankful she was to God for bringing restored peace and harmony to her family. She is happy deep in her heart for what God has done to bring all the family members together again in harmony. Trung said Mrs. Tri came up to him after the service during fellowship time and said, “God has real power. To do what he did in my family—God’s power is real.”

From Dan Kramer, missionary at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church in Boise, Ida.

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