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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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Faces of Faith – Phước Thị Trần

The picture above is Phước Thị Trần, who lived her first 85 years without God. She actively campaigned for her family members not to be Christian or attend services at our church. When she found out family members were in a Bible basics course, she told them to stop.

Over these last few years, Mrs. Phước has been more open, even open to attending worship services over the past months. On the last Sunday of September, after much witnessing, prayer and her daughter’s faithful devotion in bringing her to attend services, this lady was happy to be baptized. Everyone applauded at the conclusion of the baptism. One of the family members rushed over to her as she was sitting down and said congratulations. The daughter wanted to do the baptism in the first service so the great-grandsons who attend the first service could see the baptism. They both recorded it on their phones. After the second service, since we had the baptism banner up, I explained what had happened during the first service and everyone applauded again. Mrs. Phước’s name means “blessing.” She is a blessing to us just as she has been richly blessed by God.

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

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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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