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Faces of Faith – Dana, Kimia, and Harir

At Hope, having first-time visitors is a regular blessing. We are blessed to be in a city made up of 50 percent first generation immigrants and are in an area of the city where many immigrants land. It wasn’t unusual to look out one Sunday and see new faces—Dana and Kimia with their daughter Harir (Dana is pictured holding Harir). What was unusual was the story of how they got there.

Shortly after their visit, I asked them, “How did you come to Hope?” They told me Jacqueline sent them . . . yet no one knows who this Jacqueline is. There is no Jacqueline in our congregation, and the address Jacqueline gave them didn’t exist. However, the fake address was relatively close to our church, so the couple saw a cross and walked in. And then they cried.

Harir (left)

This was the very first time they had ever been able to attend a worship service with fellow Christians. In their home country, they had each began asking questions about Christianity, which led them to secret Bible study gatherings. They were introduced to Jesus and to each other, learned of Jesus’ love, and grew in love with each other and were married. But becoming Christians meant fear of retaliation, even death, for leaving the Muslim faith. They sold all and sought out a new country.

They came to Toronto and, by God’s grace, they found Hope . . . They attended worship services and cried tears of joy as they brought Harir up for the children’s message without fear and sang Christian hymns for the very first time. Then came more tears, for them and the whole congregation, on the Sunday they were all baptized. Kimia (pictured being baptized) spoke to the whole congregation and said, “We came here knowing no one, but trusting God. Now we have a new family and we can worship Jesus together.”

From Mark Henrich, missionary at Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto, Canada

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A cross-cultural camping trip to remember

On July 20-21, my church family (Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church) was able to take a beautiful camping trip to the Oregon Coast. With lots of laughter and some incredible food, the weekend was wonderful.

After a nine-hour drive from Boise to a little outside of Newport, my family and many others arrived at our group camp site. The site itself was quite sandy, and many trees guarded it from the wind and sun. Overall, we had a little less than ten tents set up around the large campfire, which was most certainly not the only heat source used to cook.

Peace in Jesus 2019

Over the course of our stay, all the people involved had been to the beach at least twice. As it was about a five-minute walk from our campground, we were able to see it quite frequently. Enjoying its views and doing fun activities there was the highlight of my (and I’m sure many others’) stay at South Beach State Park.

One thing that I would like to highlight is the high quantity of the youth on this trip. On the second night of our stay, all the teenagers went to the beach in the dark to play a very fun card game, strengthening friendships while having a great time. This was not the only activity young people enjoyed, as hacky sack and word games were also incorporated. Overall, the stay was very enjoyable for all ages.

Sunday morning was a service to remember. In the beautiful nature of our campsite, the church body was able to hear a meaningful sermon highlighting God’s amazing creation of the ocean. Not only this, but special hymns were performed and heard by many, leaving a lasting impression in the memory of this church camping trip. Even our church choir sang a meaningful anthem about God’s enduring love.

For every meal of the day, there seemed to be a delicious feast for all to take part in. The Vietnamese culture that makes up almost our entire church family had a heavy impact on the food made during the camping trip-I can assure you, no one complained. Although not specific to the culture, at one point an entirely whole (huge) tuna was cooked for people to eat, followed by spicy grilled squid the next day. One thing that can be said for certain is that hunger never entered our camp!

Peace in Jesus had a wonderful church camping trip to the Oregon Coast. Complete with full stomachs, endless fun, and the beautiful Word of God, this stay was one to remember; and leaving our temporary home was less than easy.

Written by Laura Hope Kramer, member at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church, Boise, Ida. 

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All about telling people about Jesus

The conversation took place in January. I had just told our leadership team that I didn’t think we should do our outdoor Easter service again this year. I thought my reasons were pretty valid. 1) It was a lot of work on our mission church, 2) it was located somewhere other than on our church grounds, and 3) even though attendance had climbed each year for the past three years, only one person came back to our church for a second visit. In other words, we saw no church growth because of our efforts. So, I had suggested that we have our Easter worship at church this year.

However, they didn’t agree. They thought we should host the outdoor Easter service one more year. So that’s what we did, but this year we decided we weren’t even going to promote our church. With that in mind, we changed up our Easter morning just a little bit. We had a worship service filled with songs, Scripture readings, a sermon, and prayers. However, we didn’t take an offering. We didn’t try and collect people’s information through connect cards or anything else. We all went in with the attitude that we were just excited to have the opportunity to share Jesus with them that morning. If they came back the next week, we’d get their information then. But on Easter, it was all about telling people about Jesus.

Children’s message

And God blessed us! He sent 138 people to worship with us that morning. 77 of them were guests. Just like we planned, we didn’t collect anyone’s information, but we did have great conversations. We didn’t take a collection, but we gave them a brunch and an Easter egg hunt.

Several weeks later, nine people who attended our Easter service for the first time this year are now regular attenders at our church.

It is so easy to fall into the church growth mindset. It’s easy to worry about the numbers and to be only concerned about the statistical growth. But when we fall into that mindset, we are trying to take on the job of Jesus. He’s the one who makes churches grow. Our job is a lot simpler than his. We simply get the joy of telling others about Jesus. That’s all our job is.

We love Jesus. We love people. We love telling people about Jesus. When we have that attitude, Jesus will grow the church.

Written by Rev. Stephen Apt, home missionary at Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Liberty Hill, Tex. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Faces of Faith – Paul and Abigail

Every year the men from our congregation rent a large tent and host an awesome prime rib breakfast after Easter worship. In 2017, more than 200 people showed up for Easter worship and fellowship! That year, a long time WELS member named Helen invited her friends Paul and Abigail. They enjoyed everything – but Paul had not worshiped in a church for quite some time due to some mistrust in the church establishment. After that Easter breakfast, we didn’t see Paul and Abigail for a long time. Fast forward to 2018, and there they were, sitting in the church for worship. After some conversation and pre-marriage counseling, Spirit of Life hosted a small, beautiful wedding for this couple. I had learned that Paul wasn’t baptized in some of our discussions, and so on December 23, 2018, I had the opportunity to baptize Paul. Both Paul and Abigail have finished membership classes and are excited to be a part of Spirit of Life.

It was a long journey, with multiple touchpoints over multiple years. But from a personal invite, to a meal, to a wedding, and then to a baptism we’re shown how God’s Word is living and active and—on his time—works and grows. Stories like this make our members and I excited to sow the gospel seed every day, never knowing when the next Paul and Abigail might show up.

From Allen Kirschbaum, missionary at Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Mich.

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Faces of Faith – Hal and Anna

We both attended church our entire lives. For many years we had a hunger for the truth. We knew there was more, but we could not grasp what we were unaware of. While attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church we found what we were missing. We became aware of how sinful we are and how much we need a Savior. Since joining Grace we have become spiritually alive, feasting on God’s Word and truth!” – Hal & Anna Thorson

Hal and Anna’s story is simple, yet remarkable. It started with their friend Holly, who found the same thing while attending new member classes at Grace Lutheran Church in Tucson, Ariz. When visiting her friends in the frozen north, spiritual discussions led Holly to invite Hal and Anna to Grace in Minot, N.D., because Holly didn’t want to miss a single week in church.

That’s all the Holy Spirit needed to work with. Hal and Anna quickly found Christ in a way they hadn’t before, even after a lifetime in church. Sometimes the gospel creates stories with massive, unbelievable details. More often, it’s simply one person sharing it with another, who then shares it with another. Today, Hal and Anna are “paying it forward” by bringing Christ to their friends and family, hosting Bible Studies in their home, and sharing answers with their loved ones for the first time in a lifetime.

From Nate Walther, missionary at Grace Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D.

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Faces of Faith – CJ

“My pastor is always smiling.”

That was CJ’s take on me. He was talking with his friends at school about their pastors. He told his friends that his pastor was always smiling and in a good mood. God be praised for this perception!

CJ is a sophomore in high school. He joined Amazing Love with his mother over a year ago. As a high school student, it would be easy to pick different priorities—he’s a rising baseball star at his high school. But he’s in worship every Sunday. On our teen trip to downtown Chicago, he was so excited to share what God was doing in his life. He said he used to be more negative, but now he strives to see things in a positive light.

The work God is doing in CJ’s heart is nothing short of remarkable. In our conversations about life and church he told me he has signed up for four different volunteer positions, and he’s hoping to make it to five. You’ll find him greeting, ushering, helping with kids, at the tech table, and with his attitude, I’m sure we’ll find a fifth position. He uses our church app to listen to the sermon a second time during the week, and he’s used the app to catch up on the last five years of gospel proclamation.

God gives us so much to smile about, and CJ’s story is one reason it’s easy for me to smile.

From Dustin Blumer, missionary at Amazing Love Lutheran Church in Frankfort, Ill.

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Faces of Faith – Lindsey

In the spring of 2018, I pulled out of my garage to make a few informal visits in anticipation of Easter. My motivation really needed to be compelled by the Holy Spirit that night. As the daylight faded, I wondered if it would be wise to knock on the next door.

Lindsey answered. I knew she had young children, so I didn’t intend to stay long. I gave her the invitations and wished her a good night. The next day I opened an e-mail from Lindsey. In it she wrote, “You came to my house last night and unfortunately saw me at the end of an extremely long day in my bath robe and probably at my worst! For some strange reason, that did not bother me so much because it got me thinking. . . I haven’t been to church in almost 20 years and it is very difficult for me to know where or how to come back. . . I just need some reassurance to get over the awkwardness I feel about coming back.”

Thankfully, Lindsey didn’t stop with an e-mail. She joined us in worship that Sunday and has been joining us since. She had been encouraged by friends who attend a different WELS church to investigate our congregation more fully. I am so thankful for their collaboration on her heart. In November of 2018, Lindsey was welcomed as a member and her children Karlee and Korie received the washing of rebirth and renewal in Baptism. I am so glad I knocked on her door.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – The Almarales Family

They were in tears for nearly the entire service the first time they visited. After opening up to their neighbor about the sleepless nights, the overwhelming worry, and constant wondering where they had gone wrong, the neighbor invited them to join her at church on Sunday to hear some much-needed good news.

As always, God’s Word did not disappoint. Alexis and Maria came to church with heavy hearts as their son was waiting on his sentencing in the city jail. They walked out of church refreshed and restored by God’s love and forgiveness for them in Jesus. Later that week through a jail video visit, their son was taken to the same cross of Jesus for peace and comfort even while facing the consequences for his actions.

About three months later, Alexis and Maria publicly confessed their faith in Jesus. Their teenage daughter, Roxana, was baptized in the same service. Several family members were in attendance that day and have seen the difference Jesus has made for them. They are eager for their oldest son and his family from Cuba to join them at church.

It will be a few years yet before their son is able to join them in a worship service on a Sunday morning, but all have been able to find true rest and peace in God’s grace.

From Paul Biedenbender, missionary at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver, Colo.

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Faces of Faith – Angel

The Lord of the Church continues to be with and bless the work carried out through Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wisconsin. Angel Ayala, an eighth-grade student at Wisconsin Lutheran, expressed to his mother that he wished to be baptized and confirmed at Epiphany Lutheran Church. In January 2019, Epiphany observed The Baptism of our Lord Sunday with the baptisms of Angel and his whole family as his mother Alicia joined the church. In February 2019, a Hispanic family from the school joined First Evangelical Lutheran. Due to language challenges, the daughter served as translator during the instruction classes as well as during the rite of membership in church – the church’s first bilingual confirmation since the years when First Evangelical was a German speaking congregation.

From Mark Blauert, school chaplain at Wisconsin Lutheran School in Racine, Wis.

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Faces of Faith – Trace and Alissa

We first met at a church event for the community that offered free Easter pictures with a 1916 Model T. Trace and Alissa came by to take a picture and stayed to visit with some of our members. We invited them to church and an off-campus Bible Study, and they came! We are so grateful to remind them of Jesus’ love and forgiveness every week. Our growing mission benefits from their kind hearts and enthusiasm for Bible Study. We often thank God for bringing us together and pray for more in our community to come to our campus for the free message, family atmosphere, and bright future through our Savior Jesus.

From Gunnar Ledermann, missionary at Divine Peace Lutheran Church in Rockwall, Tex.

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Faces of Faith – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Our congregation wanted to think of more ways to get involved in our community. Being right along a parade route, we entered a float in the Coeur d’Alene Christmas parade and set up a tent and bonfire right in front of our church, along with free hot chocolate, so that parade-goers could warm up by the fire and enjoy a friendly conversation with our church members. We also had a free raffle prize which allowed us to get important contact information for follow up. Several people along the parade route who saw our float ended up coming to our Christmas Eve service.

After the parade, we selected the winner of our raffle prize, and I went to their house to deliver it. When I got there and told the person who I was, he remembered seeing our float in the parade and the tent along the parade route. He immediately invited me in and asked if he could talk with me “for a few minutes.”

Over the next two hours, he told me about the challenges and stresses he was facing in his life. He said, “I think God must have known that I really needed to talk to a pastor tonight, and that’s why you’re here.” It’s experiences like this that make being a pastor so wonderful. And God used our church float and tent in a parade to make it happen.

From Kevin Schultz, missionary at The Vine Lutheran Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

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Faces of Faith – The McFadden Family

At our very first Easter Egg Hunt in 2013, Tony walked in to the building. Tony is a big guy. He served in the Marines. He’s a mechanic who works on jets and helicopters. Some might say he’s an imposing figure—but he has a soft heart, especially for his daughter, Brooke. As the pastor of the congregation, I didn’t know that. . . yet. He asked if their family could participate in the Easter Egg Hunt.

Using the information from the registration card, I was able to follow-up with them and personally met Brooke her mom Mary. On the next visit he opened up more about his struggles with faith. He grew up in a Roman Catholic family but had left the church long ago. While he continued to sense how “God placed people in his life to call him back,” he still admits he “struggles to find his faith again.” The relationship I have been able to continue with Tony, Mary, and Brooke has continued for the last six years. Mary and Tony asked me to officiate their wedding in October 2018 and to meet with them for premarital counseling beforehand. Since then, I’ve seen increased attendance at worship. Brooke, now 11, was so excited when she was invited to participate in Beautiful Savior’s Christmas Program, led entirely by members. She practiced her parts and spoke them with conviction. When she witnessed a baptism in worship, she personally approached me and asked if she could be baptized too. I currently have the privilege to work with their family to schedule the baptism and instruct Mary and Tony for welcome into membership.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Cherie

Cherie shares the story of her connection to Beautiful Savior:

“Over eleven years ago I nervously entered the doors of Beautiful Savior. I had everything I could ever imagine wanting: a brand-new home, all new furniture, proximity to all the conveniences of shopping, work and friends. Something was missing. I continually felt a void. I had passed by Beautiful Savior many times on my way to various places and felt a strong urge to investigate. I was a non-practicing Catholic due to a divorce and had not been in a church for well over 20 years. Would a Lutheran church accept me? Yes, yes and yes! I walked into the church, was immediately greeted in such a genuine way that I have continued to enter those doors for over eleven years.”

Cherie demonstrates an incredible heart for our congregation and its ministry. She is extremely faithful and dedicated and has become a consistent aid in our Mornings with Mommy program – she even stepped in to lead sessions this year when our director was unavailable. Cherie relates well with the 5th-8th graders of her Sunday School class, which she began leading two years ago. Recently Cherie took the lead to organize the Sunday School children for a Christmas program (the first in 5 years.) She also wants to create a children’s choir – stepping even more outside of her comfort zone because of limited musical experience herself. She is such a blessing to our congregation.

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Brian and Jen

Brian and Jen Larson began attending Beautiful Savior in the fall of 2016. Brian says,

“Finding a new church can be hard, but Beautiful Savior made it easy. When my wife, a Southern Baptist, and I, a Roman Catholic, were married, we shared a common Christian faith, but had trouble reconciling the differences in practice between the denominations. Moving to La Porte with our two small kids, we knew we had to seek a new church that focused on our common beliefs.

We are so glad to have found Beautiful Savior. The entire congregation was warm and welcoming on our first visit. Pastor Boushek met with us to explain the practices of the church and how they were well grounded in the Bible. This erased the difficulty and confusion of walking into a new church. Now we enjoy being part of a friendly faith community that supports our family’s beliefs and spiritual growth.”

From Kevin Boushek, missionary at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in La Porte, Ind.

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Faces of Faith – Paul

“I have been to every church in Detroit. I’ll tell you what, one thing’s for sure—this place has the truth.” Paul Moronczyk grew up in Del Ray, a desolate and dangerous part of Detroit. He got into trouble early on, and even left the faith for a while. Then God brought him back. By his 30s, he was walking around the violent Del Ray and Springwells neighborhoods, visiting churches and getting to know pastors and priests. He studied and trained with various ministries around the city and had been ordained or licensed by many of them.

Then, he came to Palabra de Vida. In fall of 2016, he pounded on our church’s front door because he saw the light on. Shortly after, we began studying together. He peeled through the Catechism and was blown away by the doctrinal precision and proof passages. He started to study Martin Luther himself and delighted in the Reformer’s perseverance for the truth in the face of danger. He could relate to that! He professed his faith publicly at our church in fall of 2017.

From that point on, Paul has done everything—from helping to set up the Christmas decorations to passing out flyers to leading Bible studies in prospects’ homes. He’s found the truth—and he’s dedicated himself to getting it out there!

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

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Faces of Faith – Spenser

Spenser hadn’t been to church in years. He found himself wandering in faith and unsure of his beliefs. Moving to the city of Atlanta had provided him with a great job, but it did nothing to fill the spiritual void in his life.

Then, one weekend in August, Spenser attended a free community festival. As he walked through a long line of booths, he saw something that caught his eye: a booth sponsored by volunteers from Intown Lutheran Church. Spenser spun their prize wheel and won a free pair of sunglasses. He also received an invitation to their grand opening worship service in just 2 weeks. Spenser had been Lutheran at one point in his life, and the people at the booth seemed friendly enough. He decided to come.

On September 9, Spenser stopped by our rented facility, with nearly 60 other people, to kick off worship. He enjoyed the pre-service coffee and fellowship time. He enjoyed the worship service and the Bible-focused sermon. During the post-service announcements, Spenser heard about a new “Bible Basics Class,” which would be offered in a local coffee shop. He decided to give it a try.

3 months later, Spenser joined our church as an adult confirmand. Through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in Bible Basics Class, his faith was built and strengthened to the point that he is now excited to be a part of this family of believers and help us reach out to the city of Atlanta with the gospel. By God’s grace, Spenser has found a spiritual home in the city.

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

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Seeds are small. But they grow.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

It began with just a small group of WELS military personnel and civilians gathering once a month in Minot, N.D., and a WELS pastor from Bismarck, N.D., being willing to travel the 110 miles north to serve them. For years. And then our Lord gave us a seminary graduate named Nathan Walther and his wife Heather to serve this field. Pastor Walther was installed at Grace Lutheran on July 13, 2014. Since then—in spite of crazy high building prices that prevented us from pursuing early childhood ministry as an outreach strategy, and in spite of many difficulties finding available space for our mission, and in spite of the long cold winters—our Lord’s Word has not returned void, but has accomplished the purpose for which he sent it. Today, Grace Lutheran is a congregation of 54 members. And they keep moving forward. In fact, even as I write this, they are closing on a deal to purchase and move into their own worship facility.

It began with just a small group of WELS members meeting in the living room of the city planner and his wife. This was in 2008, in Williston, N.D., a small town that had a regular influx of transient WELS workers who were part of the oil patch. Then our pastor in Circle, Wolf Point, and Terry, Mont., started making regular trips to serve them, driving 120 miles one way. Then came the oil boom. This small town went crazy, more than doubling in size, as oil companies raced in to drill wells. And through it all, our group continued to meet and mature, so that now they aim to be what our Lord has made them—to be the church in their corner of our Lord’s vineyard, as we await the time a full-time missionary can be called to that field.

Home mission church in Dickinson, N.D.

It began with just a small group composed of members from our two sister congregations in Sioux Falls, S.D. Their small city, which had always felt more like a town than a city, had become a community of a quarter of a million people living in and around it. It was time to plant a mission in an area that was always just beyond the reach of their evangelism efforts. And so it is that, on July 21, Craig Wilke will be ordained and installed as our missionary in Brandon, S.D.

It began with just a small group of WELS members, ten adults and five children, gathering at a community center in Dickinson, N.D., to live stream worship from the next closest WELS church—Redeemer, Mandan, N.D., 92 miles to the east. Then Our Saviour’s in Bismarck, which is next to Mandan, got involved as well. In the spring of this year our District Mission Board was able to put in a request for a full-time missionary for that field. Though there were not enough funds to grant our request, this group has no intention of just sitting on their 15 pairs of hands. They know there is work to be done while it is day.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

Written by Rev. Jonathan Werre, Chairman of the Dakota-Montana District Mission Board

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Faces of Faith – Sherry

Over 2,000 years ago, God sent a man named Philip to minister to a royal official from Ethiopia. Their time together was short. They had one Bible study about the book of Isaiah and a conversation about the blessings of Baptism. Soon after, the Ethiopian was baptized in the name of our Triune God and Philip was taken by the Holy Spirit to another town to go and minister.

That short encounter between two men centered around the good news of Jesus Christ caused the nation of Ethiopia to be one of the most influential Christian centers in all of Africa.

Just like God sent Philip to the Ethiopian, I like to think that God sent Sherry Deaton to Faith Church or maybe he sent Faith Church to Sherry Deaton. Either way, the encounter is nothing short of a miracle.

Two years ago, I received a phone call from Sherry who said she had received a flyer from our church the year prior. She was now living in the area and she recognized our sign out front. She asked if we could meet. We put it on the calendar and then, like so many others, she called to cancel.

That could have been the end of Sherry’s story, but God wouldn’t let me let her off the hook that easily. We rescheduled and that’s when I found out about her past. She had grown up in a broken home. Lived on the streets for a while in her early teens. Eventually she had three kids. Got hooked on meth. Lost her three kids to Child Protective Services (CPS), and in her early 30’s found Jesus. Or as she would say, “Jesus found me.”

Three different missionaries came knocking on her door on three different occasions and the third time was the charm. She was enveloped by God’s love and that’s when her new life began. God freed her from her addiction to drugs. Over time, he graciously gave her children back to her and two of them are now members at Faith Church.

Sherry is the perfect example of God’s amazing grace and his promise that he will never leave us the way he found us. If you were to ever meet Sherry in person, you’d have no idea that she has such a colored past. She’s got a sweet East Texan accent, a huge smile, and a Holy Spirit glow that is infectious. And she’s open enough to tell anyone her jaw dropping stories of unbelief and rebellion so that she can quickly introduce them to their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sherry works part-time at a pregnancy counselling center where she gets to work with women and their families that are going through some of the very same situations she herself has faced. Her experiences and her love for Jesus uniquely qualify her to speak into these women’s lives. Because of her faithful work, many mothers and children have received the gift of baptism, a new life in Christ and a family of believers to surround them with love and support.

On June 2, Sherry was commissioned as Faith Lutheran Church’s Deaconess over Women’s Ministry. Sherry has had many “Philips” sent into her life to show her Jesus’ love and now, like Philip, God is sending her into many other people’s lives. Please pray that God would fill her with his love and strength to continue on with this amazing work!

Written by Rev. Dan Schmidt, home missionary at Faith Lutheran Church in Tyler, Tex.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

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My Mission Journey: Forest

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus sent out a Mission Journeys team during their spring break to assist Fount of Life Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., with canvassing and handing out invitations for worship and the pre-school program. Forest Wu, a senior at UW-Madison, was a member of the team and shares his experience: 

Another semester, another spring break, and a mission trip – all in my final year at UW-Madison. It has been an ongoing tradition at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel to invite college students to go on mission trips during spring break. Instead of becoming a “couch Cheeto” and binge-watching “The Office”, students are provided an opportunity to do something memorable for themselves, interact in a community, and most importantly, to serve the Lord.

Forest and Pastor Bilitz assemble packets to hang on doors

With the help of the WELS Mission Journey program, and through the support and prayers from our homes and the local congregation, I joined Pastor Bilitz and five other students. We were invited to serve Fount of Life in Colorado Springs, Colo. For two days, we canvased through neighborhoods in teams; we walked a total of 25 miles! In total, we handed out 2,700 invitations for people to come to worship or to check out the church’s pre-school program. In fact, by God’s blessing, some people had already expressed an interest after our first day.

During our canvassing, we were also fortunate enough to talk to some residents and personally invite them to church. Contrary to the expected rejections, most were happy to take the invitations while some even identified themselves as Christians. This experience reminded me of the time Elijah felt he was the only believer, but God said to him “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (2 Kings 19:18) To me, as a college student in a secular college such as UW-Madison, this is the comfort I needed to spread his gospel. Coming back from the mission trip, I have been more comfortable sharing my beliefs, especially in my Philosophy class and Theatre class, and I am comforted to find that it is true – I am not the only believer left, even in my secular community.

If you want to do something more to serve the Lord in your downtime, I recommend (12 out of 10!) participating in mission trips. Not only will you see the wonders that he has made, but God might also use and inspire you in an unexpected yet wonderful way.

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True Community

One of the challenges of serving in an eastern Canadian context is the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Ontario is full of folks who have a “Catholic background,” but have not gone to church in years. This is a challenge for us because many people believe that they know “The Church” already and know that they don’t like it because of their experience with a Roman Catholic Church.

Ambyr and Nicholas

However, we have found that one thing that breaks that barrier is true community. That’s what happened with Ambyr. Ambyr grew up Catholic but was not attending church when she was invited to come to Cross of Life by her boyfriend, Nicholas (a life-long member of Cross of Life). And though she would say that not everything made sense to her right away and that she was nervous to be in a Lutheran church when she grew up Catholic, she kept coming back because she found a community. She found people who actually cared about her and wanted to see her at church.

She requested to take Faith Builders (our Bible Information Class) with me every week at a Tim Horton’s. Sometimes we just drank coffee and chatted about life, sometimes we studied Scripture, but all the time I got to be part of her life and show her that church is more than a big scary institution. It’s people who love Jesus and love people. During the class, she learned how free the grace of God actually is, and she was hooked. “Cross of Life has changed my life,” she has said to me multiple times.

But that’s not all. We confirmed Ambyr into our fellowship in January, and since then, she has joined a Bible study group, volunteered to help with A/V at worship, has brought a couple friends to Cross of Life, and all of this without even owning a car. She has to bus or taxi everywhere she goes. In fact, she has been so committed, that one time she even paid for a $40 taxi ride to get to church because she was volunteering for worship. Would you still come to church if it cost you $40 just to get there?

Oh, and one other thing: Ambyr is 19. She’s part of the generation that the church is struggling to reach. If Ambyr is any indication, maybe the best strategy for reaching young people is to just take time to love them enough to buy them coffee, listen to their story, and share Jesus with them for a couple weeks. No one is saying it’s efficient, but it’s certainly what builds true community.

God has truly worked a good thing in Ambyr’s heart, and our congregation is blessed to have her. And it all happened because someone invited someone they cared about, a congregation shared the love of Christian community, and a pastor shared the gospel.

I am reminded of Philip’s sharing of the gospel with the Ethiopian in Acts 8. Philip didn’t have to do any “pre-evangelism” or make a special program to get the man in the door. No, God set him up for success. All he had to do was share Jesus. Of course not all mission work is like that, and in a country like Canada that is even more post-Christian that the United States, frankly, it rarely is. But it’s stories like Ambyr’s that remind you that God knows his sheep, and his sheep know his voice. We just simply open our mouths to let his voice be heard.

Written by Rev. Caleb Schultz, home missionary at Cross of Life Lutheran Church in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Many languages, one family

Families who transition languages in their own home are common today. As immigrants continue to come to the United States, their families will experience language transition. The overwhelming presence of the English language in school and public media leads the youth in those families to learn and use English as soon as they can. That is happening as we speak! Often, homes are bilingual, but the languages used are simple phrases remembered or learned, so that children can communicate with parents.

But what do you do when the family wants to worship together? How do you foster the family atmosphere in the church when the older generation loves to hear the gospel in their heart language, but their children desire to hear it also in their heart language, and that language is different?

The confirmands

Congregations throughout WELS are wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas Lutheran Church, in Phoenix, Ariz., is also wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas was established as St. Thomas in 1964. In 1997, the congregation realized that to reach its community, it needed to work in the Latino culture and use Spanish. Men have been called and have served that family of God faithfully, sharing God’s Word from house to house in Spanish. God has blessed those efforts, and over 120 Hispanics worship weekly at Santo Tomas.

Over 10 years ago, the pastor realized that as he was teaching his catechism class to the adolescents in the congregation, more and more of them didn’t understand his Spanish. He was using terms and vocabulary that were foreign to his students. The students overwhelmingly wanted to hear and learn God’s Word in English. Yet, the ministry at Santo Tomas is in Spanish. Worship, counseling, outreach and fellowship all enjoy the frolicking tones of Spanish. How do you keep the family together?

Santo Tomas determined that God’s Word needs to be clearly understood–so they teach the catechism class in English. One of the current pastors, a native from Cuba whose English is not fluent, has the assistance of his wife, who is fluent. When it is his turn to teach Catechism, he prepares the lesson and his wife teaches and translates into English those words, phrases, and concepts that are not understood in Spanish.

The children learn in their heart language. But what about Confirmation Day? Imagine this: you have a church full of families who speak Spanish and wrestles with their English fluency watching and listening to a group of adolescents who are fluent in English and struggle with their Spanish fluency. Talk about an intercultural nightmare!

But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Their confirmation examination doesn’t have the back-and-forth series of questions that many of us experienced in our confirmation. They elected to have the adolescents prepare short essays that answer the questions pertaining to the chief parts of the Catechism. The adolescents take time to prepare those essays. The pastors use the technical means available to them–projectors and screens–to put up outlines in Spanish of what the children are saying in English. They also hand select a few children, whose Spanish is more fluent, and then work with them so that they can deliver those essays in Spanish.

By the grace of God, on Palm Sunday this year, Santo Tomas had 16 adolescent confirmands. The congregation experienced both languages in worship. Everyone was enriched by the essays on God’s Word. Faces beamed with confidence in their heart language. Above all, God was praised–and God’s family grew in faith.

May God continue to bless the congregations who work with many languages under one roof!

Written by: Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant for WELS Board for Home Missions

To learn more about Hispanic ministry, visit wels.net/hispanic.

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Where we are. Who we are.

The blank look. The slight frown. The searching, mystified expression. If the person’s face had a digital readout, it would say, “no results found.” Then the question: “So… where is that?”

It would be nice if we never had to hear that question ever again. “So… where is your church?” It’s like hearing someone say, “Nope, never heard of it. I’ve lived here for 30 years. I drive by it every day. Doesn’t register. Your congregation’s ministry has made zero impact on me. Your efforts to identify yourself to our community, build relational bridges, and communicate your message has failed.”

Great. Thanks a lot. Not an encouraging question. “So, where is your church?”

Our church building is set back from the main road. It’s tucked away behind a hedgerow of city-owned, required-by-zoning lilac bushes. It has a low profile in the view of a driver or passerby. So signage is important. Announcing our presence and proclaiming our identity in visual form is a must.

With help from an outreach grant, we installed a new roadside sign. It’s simple. It’s professionally and durably constructed. It’s clean and neat. It’s visible from the main road and the traffic light.

It’s only been a few months since we installed the sign, but we can’t keep up with all the people pounding down our door! Our attendance doubled, then tripled, since the new sign went up.

Really?!

No, not really. If only it were that simple: to post a public placard and wait for the people to notice and respond.

Easter Brunch at Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church – Red Deer, Alberta, Canada

It turns out that we do want to keep hearing that question, “So, where is your church?” In fact, we actually want to take the initiative and ask the question ourselves, “So, do you know where we are?” Maybe we will get the frown. . . and the blank stare. . . and the response in the negative. Maybe we will get a deflating sense of how many still don’t know about us. But we’re happy to tell them. And give them directions. And invite them. And show the way. We’re delighted to describe in detail how to locate our church.

And then. . . we get to ask the next question. “Alright, now that we’re clear on that… you know where we are. Do you know who we are?”

It would be really surprising if anyone from the community nodded and said, “Oh, sure. I know who you are!” No one would be expected to have any kind of answer for that. That means we get to tell them. “Mighty Fortress is a group of people who have found rock-solid truth in the Bible, and appreciate the rock-solid comfort that Jesus provides.” Or something like that.

Short. Simple. Hopefully, not too canned or rehearsed-sounding. Just a quick introduction to who is inside the walls of that unfamiliar building and to why they might want to enter it themselves.

We don’t expect our attendance to double or triple anytime soon. And we don’t expect that we have eliminated the need for that, “So, where’s your church?” question. But we pray that we have a better shot at getting a glimmer of recognition when we tell people. We pray that we have a better shot at awakening a glimmer of Spirit-planted faith when we introduce ourselves and our message. We pray that we have a better shot at sharing with our community where we are and who we are.

Written by Rev. Dave Boettcher, home missionary at Mighty Fortress in Red Deer and St. John’s Lutheran Church in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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People take their time

I was practicing my sermon on a recent Sunday morning, preaching to the empty chairs, when I got a phone call from an unknown number. Doris wanted to confirm what time the service was. “I can’t come to church today, Pastor. I’ve got a family commitment. But I’ll be there next Sunday for sure.” I vaguely recalled a conversation with Doris from when Ron and I were out canvassing. She and I had talked in her driveway for so long, Ron was wondering what had happened to me. But how long ago had that one previous conversation with Doris taken place? I had to scroll back a bit through my calendar. . . ten weeks!

It takes a while.

Keith and his wife Shawn brought their eight-year-old to our soccer camp in June. Each sweltering afternoon they would find refuge under a shade tree, keeping an eye on Bryce and chatting with the church members who were prepping snacks and handing out water. The three of them came to our worship service at the end of the week. We never saw them again. Not until the first Sunday in January, when they came to worship a second time. Six and a half months later!

Few folks seem to be in a hurry to get connected to a church.

I stopped at Jane’s front door three days after she attended a worship service with her niece. The conversation was pleasant and brief. I gave her a “welcome gift” and was on my way. That seemingly was the end of Jane’s interest in what we have to offer. Until there she was, sitting next to her niece and worshiping with us on Christmas Eve. Ten months later!

What is it that keeps individuals from responding more quickly to our invitations? I suppose I could spin all sorts of theories in response to that question. I realize the experts have offered their own, well-researched explanations as well. But it’s hard to get beyond the unholy trinity so often referenced by Luther. People are slow to respond to our visits and encouragements because they are constantly being delayed by the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh.

Worship at Living Savior in Hendersonville, N.C.

I don’t want respond to this phenomenon with cynicism, or become callous to it, or even accept it as inevitable. I would rather commit myself and our members to a more aggressive follow-up schedule. In addition, Jesus invites me to frequent prayer on behalf these blood-bought souls. Mostly, however, I want to be mindful that even the Son of God himself found his most frequent listeners to be “slow to believe” (Luke 24:25). If Jesus’ ministry is the model for outreach, then why should I ever be discouraged when people take their time responding to my church’s outreach ministry?

I’m pleased to announce that after her ten-week delay, Doris actually did worship with us the following Sunday. And starting that first Sunday in January, Keith, Shawn, and Bryce haven’t missed a Sunday. They’re already signed up for our next “Foundations” class. And Jane just wrote me a heartwarming note about how much she loves the class she’s been taking and the services she’s been attending. Now she says she “can’t wait” to become a communicant member of her new church.

What do you think? Someday should I ask each of them why it took them so long? Nah! I’d rather keep telling them how grateful I am that our church can serve them with the gospel of our merciful, patient, long-suffering Savior and of the timeless life he’s won for them and for me.

Written by Rev. Paul Zell, missionary at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Hendersonville, N.C. 

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Ashley’s persistent witness

Jeremy (pictured far left) with Ashley standing right behind him

This story begins with Ashley. Ashley will be the first to tell you that she did not have an easy childhood. So when she heard about Jesus for the first time, about his love for sinners like her, she was all in. She went to church, witnessed in the streets, and memorized Scripture. She would scrap and scrounge to get to church — even in the cold Detroit winters!

However, Ashley eventually lost that spark and entered what she calls her “slip and slide” period with God. She started dating, eventually had a child, and when her second was about to be born, she decided it was time to get them baptized. That’s when she came to Palabra de Vida. She got married, and by God’s grace, her husband, son, and daughter were all baptized. Then, Ashley started her mission.

Jeffry

In January of 2017, she got me access to her sister’s house where her nephew and two nieces were living. I got to teach them all about how baptism is God’s way of adopting us into his family. Jeremy (pictured above)— whose parents are both dead and who has bounced around from home to home — perked up, and asked with tears in his eyes, “So, I get to be in God’s family?” The three were baptized that month.

Then in December of 2017, Ashley and her husband Andrew’s friend, Jeffry (upon insistence from Ashley), approached me about getting baptized. After pouring over the Catechism, Jeffry couldn’t believe how good God was, and finally blurted out in excitement, “Wait, so God saves me through baptism? Wow! I gotta get baptized!” He was baptized in January of 2018.

Hollie holding her daughter Kaelie

Jeffry and Ashley both started encouraging their friend and cousin Hollie to baptize her little daughter, Kaelie. Kaelie was baptized in April of 2018.

The lesson? Don’t underestimate the power of your gospel persistence! God worked through Ashley to bring eight people into his family, with more to come! Many people have heard the gospel in worship or Bible study or their own homes because of Ashley’s witness. Just look at this group of people (pictured in the cover photo) so affected by her gospel witness — nearly half of them have come to faith through her persistent gospel witness!

“To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”

Romans 2:7

Written by: Pastor Ryan Kolander, Palabra De Vida Lutheran Church – Detroit, MI

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Every member a missionary

At Spirit of Life, our mission statement is “Every member a missionary reaching out across generations with Jesus.” It’s a statement designed to say that all of our members will reach out with Jesus to everyone. God has blessed Spirit of Life over the last few months to live that mission statement to the full.

When we hear the word “missionary,” we often think of a pastor in some far distant land. We might even think of a pastor inviting people to worship right here in the United States. But for Spirit of Life, God used a pastor AND a ladies group to bring about two amazing adult baptisms.

It was a normal office day for me. I spent my day preparing for my sermon that week as well as confirmation class. And then I heard the phone ring. On the phone was a grandmother named Pat. Pat was calling Spirit of Life hoping to find a church that might serve her grandson who has learning disabilities.

It was a large burden for Pat to carry . . . taking care of her husband who has Parkinson’s, her middle-aged daughter, and her 15-year-old grandson Kenny while she herself is in her 70’s. I agreed to meet the young man and speak to him once a week. He had never set foot in a church before, and for Pat it had been many years.

Kenny on his baptism day

Through my many conversations with Kenny, I had the opportunity to teach him about Jesus through the new stained glass windows in the church. I talked about sin and grace and saw some amazing changes in Kenny. Kenny and I talked about baptism, and I had the awesome opportunity to baptize this young man at worship.

But the blessings didn’t stop there. I would regularly talk with Pat and say, “Pat, you carry so many people, but who is going to carry Pat?” And that is where our church’s ladies group went to work.

At Spirit of Life, we have a small group called Wise Women’s Coffee group. It’s a group of about eight ladies that get together once a month for prayer and fellowship. It’s different than our Sisters in Service group. It’s a group where ladies rely on each other and talk about things they share in common. Pat attended those coffee sessions for months.

During my visits with Kenny, I discovered that Grandma Pat wasn’t baptized. Though I spoke to Pat about baptism, she was hesitant to join the church. She would worship. She would come to groups – but baptism and membership was still seemingly far off. Until I approached the leader of this small group, Judy Clifton. I asked her, “Would you talk to Pat about baptism for me?” That connection the ladies developed, by God’s grace, accomplished something that I was struggling to find.

Pat agreed to be baptized and join the church – so long as her baptism could happen during the small group coffee hour. A group of these wise women assembled the next month ready to celebrate this special day for Pat. It’s not every day that I get to baptize a 76-year-old woman. What an experience! Tears were shed along with many smiles. God worked through a very difficult situation to bring about two adult baptisms and two of Spirit of Life’s most excited new members.

Spirit of Life is a growing home mission congregation that could write a bunch of blog posts about God’s exciting work in Michigan. We do Easter for Kids. We have young professionals. We do awesome community work, all by God’s hand actively working through us. However, the most amazing things in our home mission church is when our members carry out the Great Commission all by themselves. A pastor and one of his small groups of ladies receiving this privilege together: this might not be the first thing someone thinks of when we think of  “missions.” But taking an unchurched family through the means of grace is the reason we are all here – no matter which group does it, or for what age. Every member a missionary reaching out across generations with Jesus. Now Spirit of Life has a new member of its youth group and a new wise woman that share Jesus everywhere they go.

Written by: Pastor Allen Kirschbaum, Spirit of Life Lutheran Church – Caledonia, MI

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