Tag Archive for: WELS Home Missions

Faces of Faith – Reno, Nevada

“Vicar, we’ve been delivering new mover bags for almost three years and never had any response. I want you to come up with another way to get information to people moving into our community.”

That was the assignment in week two for our Vicar Nathan Holz (pictured second from left). He did his homework and came up with a recommendation. But before we pulled the trigger, Vicar delivered new mover bags for what we thought was the last time, one of which landed on Claudia’s doorstep.

Claudia (pictured left) had just moved to Reno from a small town in Nevada. But three years prior, she moved to the U.S. with her family from Chile. Claudia was looking for a community, so she decided to check out the church that dropped off a bag of popcorn that said, “Just poppin’ in to welcome you.”

She wasn’t the only one. Keith and Wendy (pictured right) were looking for the same thing. And just like Claudia, they had a new mover bag dropped on their doorstep. Within two consecutive weeks, we had three first-time guests “pop” into worship.

Fast forward six months. Having completed our Bible information class, Claudia, Keith, and Wendy were all confirmed and communed together. Now Keith has even delivered new mover bags himself (We decided not to scrap the idea).

From Joel Heckendorf, home missionary at Light of the Valleys in Reno, Nev.

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Faces of Faith – Chanti

Our path to understanding the immeasurable love of God and the absolute forgiveness through our Savior began shortly after our first son Colton was born. My husband Zach and I had recently moved to the area when I heard about the Mornings with Mommy program at Christ Alone in Keller, Tex. We felt so loved and cared for, we continued signing up along with Power Hour.

The interactions and relationships with the people from Christ Alone made us want to learn more. I was invited for a cup of coffee with a member, who is now a dear friend, and she shared with me about her faith in Jesus as our Savior. After Zach and I attended worship with our boys, another member delivered a care package to our door just to thank us for attending. Shortly thereafter Pastor Seeger came to visit us at our home. Each of our interactions personified the selfless love of Jesus. There were no expectations, no strings attached; just genuine love offered from people who kept pointing us to the cross.

When Pastor Seager taught us about God’s Word in Faith Builders classes, Zach and I felt like we were finally beginning to understand the Bible and what it means to receive the gift of salvation through Jesus. We had no idea the wonderful plan God had for us, but I clearly see his hand in all of it when looking back.

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Faces of Faith – Fredericksburg, Va.

“Let’s not go back!” That’s what Will (pictured left) and Sydney decided after their first visit. But the gospel seed was planted, and they did come back. Someone studied God’s Word with them, including what the Bible says about close communion. Will and Sydney not only came back, but they took our Foundations class and joined as members.

Then Will brought his friend, Chris (pictured right). Chris had questions about the Bible and church. Again, someone studied God’s Word with him, including what the Bible says about baptism. And so, months after Will decided “Let’s not go back!,” Will was a witness as Chris was baptized.

“I’m not going on a second date!” That’s what Chris decided after his first date with Mischa. But they did go on a second date. There were even dates to Foundations class. Now they’ll be married in their church in fall.

“I’d like to come back and learn more.” That’s what Chris’ roommate Matt said after his first visit. Matt grew up unchurched and had many questions (even more than Chris). And now Will and Sydney, Chris and Mischa, and an entire group are studying God’s Word with Matt.

How did this all happen? The gospel seed is planted and someone “hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:23).

From Matt Rothe (pictured center), home missionary at The Way in Fredericksburg, Va.

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Faces of Faith – Sonny and Lucy

I met Sonny and Lucy at the funeral of their daughter. They were obviously devastated. I asked them if I could come for a visit, and we started on a year’s long study of the Bible while they tried to teach me Mandarin. Lucy grew up in the Christian church in Indonesia, but at age 12 she moved back to China and never went back to church. Her husband Sonny was a stubborn atheist, a professor of philosophy, and member of the communist party in China. But the death of their daughter had shaken them. After eight months of study, Sonny said to me one day with tears in his eyes, “Pastor, before I met you I never thought about God. Now all I do is think about God.” I baptized Sonny not long after that in his home, and two months later the Lord took Sonny home to heaven. Lucy joined Living Hope, but later moved to New Jersey to live with her son. Before she left, Lucy convinced her friend Shu Ling, who had recently gone through a terrible divorce and was a Buddhist, to meet with me. Now Shu Ling and I meet once a week to study the Bible. She hasn’t been to church yet, but I can see the Spirit at work in her life and her thinking.

From Joshua Sternhagen, home missionary at Living Hope in Commerce City, Colo.

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Faces of Faith – Michaela

As most college students headed out to their spring break trips, 12 students from UW-Madison and UW-Stout campus ministries used this time to come together. We traveled down to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Deltona, Fla., to serve the Lord and his people through a Mission Journey.

On our Mission Journey trip, we cleaned up an area of land outside the school, washed tables and walls, and hung 500 door-hangers in the surrounding neighborhoods for the upcoming Easter events at the church in hopes of bringing in more members of the community. We were also able to attend the Lenten service where the congregation was having a Puerto Rican themed dinner and presentation to update the congregation on future evangelism goals.

In our down time, we were able to enjoy time by the pool, go to the beach, see the manatees at Blue Springs, go on an airboat ride, and have a game night. All the while, we were able to form and build connections between the two campus ministries, the congregation, the pastors who guided us, our host families, and those we met in the community along the way. The Christian fellowship we experienced was invaluable.

Good Shepherd showed us the perfect definition of Christian love and hospitality. This Mission Journey fanned the flame for all of us on the trip as well as those surrounding us. As we returned to Wisconsin, we were all invigorated to do more in our own congregations and continue to serve the Lord in our everyday lives.

Written by Michaela Hansen, a member of the University of Wisconsin – Stout campus ministry.

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Faces of Faith – David

David is a freshman at the University of Arizona who is majoring in Biomedical Engineering. He was born into a Lutheran family and has been part of the Lutheran church since he was very young. As he grew older, he reflected on his faith and investigated parts of it, finding that it was an integral part of his life.

When he started applying for college, he explored WELS Tucson Campus Ministry (TCM) because of its familiarity with his home church, Shepherd of the Hills, in Tucson, Ariz. He realized that in college there are a lot fewer people that share the same faith, some even outright deny it. Therefore, he wanted a place to share his faith and worship with others. He feels that TCM has allowed him to study God’s Word in an environment that is supportive and kind. He is also a student assistant at TCM and he helps plan events to bring people into the faith.

One personal experience he had that helped him as he grew older was attending the LYFE group (high school youth group) at his home church where Jonathan Rhodes, a LYFE group leader, was a role model for him and remained a role model even during David’s college years. He hopes to grow stronger in his faith and remain a member of TCM next year as well.

Written by Rev. Tim Patoka, campus pastor at WELS Tucson Campus Ministry.

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The Evangelical Lutheran light at Christmas

“An evangelical? Lutheran? church? This I gotta check out…” Such was the thought process for Steve Yetter, when he received a new-mover mailer from the people of Mount Calvary in Redding, Calif. It was late 2020 when Steve moved from his home in Santa Cruz to be closer to family and that put him within Mount Calvary’s mailer radius. Steve had been part of evangelical churches before, but he wasn’t sure how evangelical and Lutheran went together. He stopped by our church on a Saturday, got a tour, and came back the next day for worship. Steve’s experience is a good example of how that “Evangelical Lutheran” comes shining through in Word and Sacrament. Steve continued to worship, took instruction classes, and joined the congregation. The Lord’s light was shining.

Steve Yetter and Pastor Schaefer

Now, Steve occasionally plays guitar for worship, sings in the adult choir, and attends Bible class regularly. After being in various churches throughout his life, the gospel-centered nature of Mount Calvary congregation is refreshing for Steve—that’s the true meaning of “evangelical.” It’s all about Jesus and his free salvation. “I got the love from the front and when I was in the pew, that love comes from the Light,” Steve said. The Lutheran emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s work through the means of grace has also been different from Steve’s past experience. “Other churches talk about being in the Word, but here we’re saturated with it.”

Christmas is commonly considered the season of light. Evangelical Lutherans get to share that light, so that sinners repent and believe the good news. This Christmas, that Evangelical Lutheran light was shining at two locations. Steve is part of a Core Group reaching out at a second campus in Anderson, Calif. Earlier this year Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church of Anderson voted to unite their ministry with Mount Calvary’s. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we now have two campuses and one joint congregation. Thankfully, we’re getting support and direction from our District Mission Board and working on growing together to share the light of Christ. It’s all new for us, and this Christmas we were able to experience the blessing of the Evangelical Lutheran light. The congregation at both locations welcomed over 40 visitors who came because of online advertising, personal invitations, and mailers—something Steve knows a little about. The adult choir sang on Christmas Day at both locations—something Steve got to be part of too. “It’s about getting the light out to more and more people,” Steve says. “I’m happy to be part of it.” We’re happy to be little lights, who know the one true Light. As Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

Written by Rev. Benjamin Schaefer, home missionary at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Redding, Calif.

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More than we ask or imagine

“Pastor, we would like to meet with you to baptize our daughter.” That was the message that was left on our church answering machine 22 years ago. I was the first pastor of a brand-new mission church called Faith Lutheran Church in Radcliff, Ky., next to Ft. Knox army base.

Jared was the dad who left that message. He and his wife Cady brought their daughter, Madison, to church to be baptized. I took Jared and Cady through adult instruction classes. Jared had grown up Lutheran in another synod. Cady never really went to church growing up. In her words, I was her first real pastor.

Being in the military, Jared and Cady and their three daughters have moved 15 times around the United States in the past 22 years. Wherever they have moved, they have found the closest Wisconsin Synod church. There were times a church wasn’t close, and they had to drive an hour one way for worship. When they were stationed at West Point, where Jared was teaching as a Colonel, they invited cadets to their home where they set up a makeshift altar and worship space in their living room. They used materials provided by WELS Military Services for worship.

In May, I attended my first graduation service at Martin Luther College – our college for training for the public ministry. 22 years after I poured water over her head and spoke God’s Word into her ears and heart, I watched Madison walk the stage to receive her teaching degree.

Who could have imagined that all this could result from an answering machine message? A family that became a blessing to our mission church – and numerous other mission churches – a family committed to God’s Word, and another servant of the Lord trained at Martin Luther College. God will do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

The Lord of the Church has blessed me with the experience of a home missionary so that I am now serving as a District Mission Board chairman. Now I am working with the people, pastors, and churches of our southeastern Wisconsin district to start new mission congregations and support those that have already been started.

As people, pastors, and churches, let us continue to pray for our established churches, our fledgling churches, and those new churches we wish to start. Together we pray and trust that God will use our combined gifts to bring that family to church. That child to the baptismal font. To leave that message on the church answering machine. Then years and decades later, we will see that God has done and will continue to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

“Now to him, who is able, according to the power that is at work within us, to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20, 21).

Written by Rev. Michael Zarling, Southeastern Wisconsin District Mission Board Chairman.

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Blessings and answered prayers

431 days. That is the number of days between my first day living in Waco, Tex. (July 7, 2021) and our launch service at Christ Our Refuge (September 11, 2022). 431 days of planning led to a major milestone in the life of our local congregation. While we always viewed our launch service as a starting line and not a finish line, it is still good to reflect on blessings and answered prayers from God. I’d like to share three specific examples from our launch service with you.

Visitors
We had everything set up and ready to go on the morning of our launch service. We were just waiting for people to show up. One member said, “I just pray we have some visitors show up this morning.” God answered her prayer. I was standing outside greeting people when our first visitors arrived. It was a young couple with two little girls. One of the first things the mom said to me was that she had never been baptized, but she wanted to be. She went on to say that they wanted to have their two little girls baptized as well. It’s as if God was telling me, “Look, I’m going to bless the work that is being done here.” In all, we had 15 prospect visitors join us for our launch service.

Worship Facility
Our core group met in a number of different places during the 431 days that led up to our launch service. We met at on the outdoor patio of a pizza place, in member’s homes, and in a smoke-filled VFW Hall to name a few. We spent a lot of time searching for a space where we could hold worship services. The VFW Hall, a school gym, and an event space were a few of the options. Ultimately, God blessed us with a 6,000 square foot building which we were able to lease full-time and make our own. It is such a blessing to have a permanent location in the community and a place to come together and worship our God!

Music
Our initial core group (12 adults and 5 kids) did not contain a lot of musical ability. We prayed a lot for a solution to our lack of music. Enter Lilia. Lilia is a WELS member who just started her freshman year at Baylor. Our launch service had beautiful music thanks to Lilia using her gifts to glorify her God!

A launch service is something to celebrate, and we certainly thank God for all the ways he blessed us in the 431 days leading up to it. However, it is just the starting line. Please continue to pray for the ministry at Christ Our Refuge as we seek to share Jesus with the lost in our community.

Written by Rev. Andrew Westra, home missionary at Christ Our Refuge in Waco, Tex.

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The glory is God’s – New beginnings in San Antonio, Tex.

Our grand opening service began months before September with a planning meeting. Our core group (a small group of dedicated individuals that do the work of starting a church) met at pastor’s house to plan the details of a service that we planned the year before. With our goal for worship set, we were able to focus on our mission. The “West Campus” is the second site of Our Savior Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Tex. We are dedicated to finding family, serving our community, and growing in God’s Word. We wanted to make our grand opening service all three.

  • We want to be a place where anyone can find family. The core group had time before our grand opening to plan events and build relationships. We were finding family and giving personal invitations. We had time to plan a service that hosted guests and created conversation. Our approach was simple: food (breakfast tacos and local cookies) and children’s activities.
  • We want to be a church that serves community. Instead of guessing, we took our time before our grand opening to learn about our community. We held community events and engaged with the people we want to serve.
  • We are a church that grows in God’s Word. We held many “preview” services so that our grand opening would go smoothly. As a mobile church it takes a lot of practice to set up and take down an entire worship service. Our hospitality team worked hard to make sure we greeted all our guests in a professional and meaningful way. Our music group put in countless hours of practice so that we sounded great. Our children’s ministry established itself quickly to be ready for the big day.

As a multi-site church we not only invited our community, but we also invited the entire central campus. We wanted everyone to be a part of our first service.

Finally, on September 11, 2022, we held our grand opening service. Thanks to the planning, attention to detail, and by God’s grace, we were ready on time. But we were not ready for what came next. Our core group made it early. Guests from the central campus came pouring in; the support was overwhelming. Prospects and friends brought their families. Guests were coming for the first time because they got our community flier.

As the service was starting, our emergency chair volunteer was hard at work setting up more and more rows of chairs. God blessed us with a grand opening that was larger than the core group imagined. It was a humbling moment.

But the greatest thing that happened that day wasn’t anything that we did. The greatest thing was that we held a service that focused everyone’s attention on the promises of God in word and song. God used us to publicly proclaim his name to people, old and new. The glory is God’s.

I’m going to guess that not many home mission congregations write blogs about the second service they hold. It’s not planned out as much. But the truth is, the best part of any grand opening service happens the next Sunday too. And God willing, every Sunday after that.

Written by Rev. Micah Koelpin, home missionary at Our Savior Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Tex.

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What matters most

“What can I do for that Christian student when they are away at school?” It’s a question with which parents, pastors, and congregations certainly wrestle. And there are many answers, but can I suggest a starting point based upon experience?

The WELS Campus Ministry at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh was in a tough spot. The 2019-20 school year began with a pastoral vacancy before COVID came and shut ministry down completely through the 2020-21 school year. When a new pastor arrived and began looking at the 2021-22 school year, there were some daunting realities: a building that looked abandoned, no core group, no established relationships, and continued restrictions for on-campus student interaction.

Where to start? Missions always depend upon people, and for the coming school year, finding a core group would be the focus. It would determine whether this ministry could move forward. But how would this group be found? Going door-to-door in a dorm or setting up shop in a student union are not advisable for a middle-aged pastor. Ultimately, it was an online database that would determine if this would work – what else could be used to reach students and determine if there was interest?

Armed with a Google Voice account, the text messages began to fly. . . a hope and prayer that a college student would respond to a text message from a complete stranger and then agree to meet for an open house. And while there were plenty of text messages that received no response, there were many thankful for the invitation. There were others that said they would come. And still others who said they knew fellow WELS members and would invite them too.

The first open house welcomed 19 students! When they were asked what they desired campus ministry to be, the overwhelming response was Bible study. An opportunity to gather and be fed by the Word of God. In fact, it was the only response. As so for each week during the 2021-22 school year, a time to gather for Bible study was offered. And the students came. . . with one big caveat: most needed a personal invitation through text message. When the week got busy or assumptions were made and personal texts didn’t go out, our numbers plummeted. It was a tangible reminder that relationships and personal invitations matter most.

And that takes this conversation back to that database, and with that I repeat an often made request. The online campus ministry student database depends upon home churches and pastors, area Lutheran high schools, parents, and students to provide information crucial for campus pastors to do their work. If you have a connection to a college student, please reach out to the local campus pastor and make sure they have the information (and even better, an introduction) they need to connect with that student. It’s where it all starts, and when you are thinking about what you can do for that student, it’s awesome to think about where it might lead!

The format for Bible study each week was simple: we started by sharing moments from the week that struck them as Christians, then we would study the Word, and finally there was an opportunity to ask any tough “apologetics” questions that were on their mind. Faith was strengthened and relationships were built. There were also numerous times during the year when students invited and brought others (WELS and non-WELS friends).

The majority of that core group is back again for the 2022-23 school year and as they gather this year, they are the ones who are asking what’s next. They want to start to work on the building that needs work both inside and out. They are organizing get-togethers at the house to enjoy fellowship and fun. They are doing together what the Bible tells us will result when Christians form their relationships around the Word of God!

Written by Rev. Thomas Voss, WELS Campus Ministry pastor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

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The response to free

Sermon illustrations are not always easy to come by. Sometimes you rack your brain for a story, a life-experience, something from a book that you’ve read, but nothing comes to mind. But, other times, you experience something that you just know will be a great sermon illustration someday.

We recently had one of those experiences at Sure Foundation. Each year in Brandon, S.D., there are city-wide garage sales that are widely popular. In each neighborhood, you can see numerous sales going on. People will come from Brandon, Sioux Falls, and even further away just to see what they can find.

As a church, we decided to get in on this event, but not as a fundraiser. We decided to collect things from the members of the congregation to give away to the community. But here was the catch. We weren’t advertising it as free. People would come hoping to find a deal at a garage sale, only to find out that everything was free.

Nearly every member family of the congregation participated by giving their stuff. We even had prospects, neighbors, and people from the community contributing stuff for the sale. Just like that, three big garage stalls were packed with stuff.

Throughout the eight hour event, we gave away almost all of the stuff! Those who attended were shocked to find out that everything was free. It was in that moment of shock that each person received a card from a smiling volunteer that said, “Just like salvation in Jesus is free, so are these. Enjoy this gift from your friends at Sure Foundation.”

What an easy way to share the love of Christ! But we haven’t gotten to the sermon illustration yet. Prior to the event, we instructed our volunteers to insist that everything was free. We figured that some would want to contribute something for what they had taken. So, our volunteers did just that. They insisted that everything was free, but people were so thankful, that they responded in thanks. Sometimes that thanks was obvious by the expression on their faces. But other times, people showed their thanks by giving. They gave and they gave and we put it in a box designated to go to a school district fund to buy lunch tickets, snow pants, and boots for those who can’t afford it.

The response was remarkable. Just shy of 300 people showed up to this event and we raised $1,000 for the school district fund from a FREE event! And there’s the sermon illustration. What’s the response to free? What’s the response to grace? The response to grace is a thankful heart. And our volunteers witnessed example after example of thankfulness overflowing into giving.

What an amazing blessing! It was an event that blessed the community with free things, it was an event that blessed us with an opportunity to share the gospel, and it was an event that blessed and encouraged our volunteers. Oh, and it was an event that blessed me with a great sermon illustration.

Written by Rev. Craig Wilke, home missionary at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in Brandon, S.D.

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Unexpected booms

We heard that Dickinson, N.D., was booming. A town of 17,000 has grown to around 25,000 permanent residents over ten years. And that doesn’t include some of the oil field workers and their families, which could increase the estimated population to 35,000 depending on the season. My wife and I were expecting that type of “booming” when we nervously arrived to start a new home mission church in North Dakota. We were expecting the housing market to be booming, making finding a house difficult. Thankfully we were able to sign a lease and begin renting a 100-year-old home. The landlord was nice enough to let us paint the place while we waited for our furniture and clothes to finally arrive. There’s plenty to explore. . . new businesses are springing up everywhere, Dickinson is revitalizing its downtown, young families are moving into the peaceful neighborhoods, and church bells ring around town on Sunday morning. The harvest is plentiful in this booming town in the middle of the wide-open grasslands of North Dakota!

All of that booming was expected. The unexpected booms came after the moving truck arrived. Our furniture and clothes had been in the house for only five days when a huge thunderstorm sprang up. The lightning, flashing in the nighttime prairie sky, is truly a sight to behold. We were admiring those magnificent flashes when suddenly the whole window turned white, immediately followed by the loudest boom we had ever heard. A boom so loud that it almost sent my 8-month pregnant wife into labor. We both stood there, stunned as the house went dark. Looking out the back window and seeing the tree shrapnel strewn about our yard, it became apparent that the tree in our backyard had been struck by lightning. Thankfully the power came back on, but the lightning strike had damaged many things. The following two weeks were filled with daily visits by various repairmen, our landlord, tree trimmers, family, and friends. The house was booming with people, and making so many new connections was wonderful. God blessed us with some valuable conversations and connections. Through that lightning strike, some repairmen became mission prospects.

We were preparing the house to host many people after my installation, and several things still needed to be fixed. We were able to host the installation service at the local Veterans Pavilion, which was booming with people. Over 90 people from other WELS congregations came out to show support for the new mission in Dickinson. God blessed us with overwhelming encouragement from the many people who came to the installation. We were able to host the pastors and their families at our house afterward, even with the air conditioner being on the fritz from the lightning strike. After the sewer backed up twice and flooded our basement, everything in the house seemed to have settled down from the booming events of the past month. We were able to start visiting the homes of all the members of the core group. Driving back from one of those visits, another lightning storm sprung up in the beautiful badlands of North Dakota. Then suddenly, another lightning strike hit the ground within 10 feet of our car. Dirt flew up everywhere, and the boom sounded like a gunshot. We were told that Dickinson was booming, but this was not what we expected. All my wife and I could do was laugh. We laughed about it and all that had happened to us since we arrived the rest of the car ride home.

Suddenly the idea of starting a new mission in the booming town of Dickinson, N.D., seemed less scary. We knew we had God on our side, who could work out the expected and the unexpected booms for our good. We have a God who has the power to calm any storm, and that is the God that Amazing Grace Lutheran Church gets to share with the people of Dickinson, N.D. God be praised!

Written by Rev. Joel Prange, home missionary at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Dickinson, N.D.

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Family ties

Santo Tomás Lutheran Church is a congregation that serves the Hispanic community in Phoenix, Ariz. It is “family ties” that have brought many people to walk through the doors of our church. This personal invitation from one family member to another to hear the good news that Jesus is their Savior continues to be an integral part of our ministry. “La familia es todo” (Family is everything), was the quote I remember one of our church members sharing with me. What this member was really stating was how important those ties are; as witnessed in the case of Irma and her relatives.

It was 2011 when I first met German (Hehr-mahn) and his family. It was German’s sister, Irma, who introduced them to me. At the time, he and his wife Dallana (Dah-yah-nuh) had three young girls who were not baptized. They were not church going people even though they both grew up in Catholic families. Irma, a member of our church, invited them to accompany her one Sunday so they could hear and understand better what we preach and teach. At first, they did not show much interest as the weeks and months went by. I decided to call them again to see how they were doing. They told me they wanted to baptize their three young daughters. We met at church along with the padrinos (godparents) to discuss how God blesses us through his wonderful sacrament of baptism. On December 24 of that same year, during a special afternoon service, we baptized their three daughters.

German and his family continued to visit our church as their Christian family ties began to grow with fellow believers from Santo Tomás. In 2021 we decided to restart our new youth Catechism classes. I visited German and Dallana to invite them to enroll their daughters in class; they accepted. German also extended an invitation to his sister Mariela to encourage her and daughter to also begin classes. For over a year, Mariela, German and Dallana sat together learning about God’s love while at the same time their children were taking Catechism classes and learning about their Savior.

This journey of faith for German, Dallana and Mariela, all members of the same family, began with a simple invitation from a relative. It was Irma who understood their spiritual need, and more importantly, that family ties have deeper meaning when it involves God’s grace offered freely through faith in Jesus their Savior.

On August 28, 2022, German, Dallana and Mariela were received as communicant members of Santo Tomás. God is good! In October of this year, their four children will also be confirmed along with nine other students from the Catechism class of 2022.

Irma never expected that her personal invitation to her brother German and his family ten years ago would lead to seven relatives being brought into Santo Tomás’ family to grow with fellow brothers and sisters in their saving faith. In the end it really comes down to the fact that by God’s grace, “La familia en Cristo es todo,” (the family in Christ is everything).

Written by Rev. Tom Zimdars, home missionary at Santo Tomás Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Ariz.

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Together Video Update – September 13, 2022

Foundation, Folsom, Calif., is a WELS home mission that was determined to gather for worship, leading members to embrace “worship without walls.” Hear from Home Missionary David Koelpin about how this ministry began and how it’s developing.

 

 

 

 

 

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His plans are best

This past May I graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and was assigned to a mission restart at Calvary in Canyon Country, Calif. That was a surprise! I thought for sure I was staying in the Midwest. I assumed that I was the only student in my class who indicated that cold weather and snow don’t bother me at all. I figured I would be assigned accordingly. But the Lord knows best, and his plans were better.

I received a call to a place that is far removed from snow and freezing temperatures, and it is wonderful! I made the 2,000-mile trek from my home in Wisconsin to California, where I fell in love with my new home almost as soon as I moved in. The beauty of southern California is vast, and there is endless opportunity to enjoy God’s creation here.

Even better though, are the people at Calvary, the greater Santa Clarita area, and California in general. In my two months at Calvary, I have met numerous people who want to help and offer their advice and guidance as I make the transition from the Midwest to the Southwest. I have found people at Calvary and in Canyon Country who are truly warm, welcoming, and caring. Canyon Country already feels like home!

It has been somewhat challenging for me, a brand-new pastor, to navigate church life, Home Missions, and my district mission board. I’d be lying if I told you I’ve got this all down. But God blesses his workers and puts many individuals in their lives to offer assistance. Members of our core group at Calvary are always asking what they might do to help or who they can contact to find answers. The district mission board, mission counselors, Home Missions office, and pastors in my district have also proven to be a valuable resource to orient me to mission work and navigate various boards in our synod. These people are truly blessings from God and have helped me adapt to my new setting.

Our efforts at Calvary these last few months have been blessed and made to prosper by our God. Our core group continues to meet around God’s Word and Sacraments so that we might be strengthened and encouraged for our work in Christ’s Kingdom. We continue to grow in our faith, plan for our future, and are even finding opportunities to share the love of Jesus with our friends, neighbors, and community. God be praised for his many blessings the last few months!

Written by Rev. Barton Cox, home missionary at Calvary Lutheran Church in Canyon County, Calif.

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Backpacks and Burgers in Kalispell, Montana

July 23, 2022. 10:00 a.m. The grill is heating up. Everything is ready to go for Backpacks and Burgers in Kalispell, Mont. People start walking past our pavilion in the park, and the core group kicks into gear. “Good morning! We’re North Valley Lutheran Church, and we’re here trying to show some love for our community. We’ve got backpacks. We’ve got burgers. We have face painting and crafts. Come on in and take a look around!” We’ve come a long way to get to this pavilion in the park.

Our work in northwestern Montana really began over ten years ago. A group of WELS members who had moved to Kalispell reached out to the pastor at Living Savior in Missoula. Missoula is 100 miles away from Kalispell, but out here in Montana, that’s the closest WELS church they could find. From that point on, the pastor from Missoula would drive up once a month to lead a worship service with Holy Communion.

Kalispell has changed a lot in the last ten years. The secret of Montana’s natural beauty has gotten out, and people are moving in. The latest United States census identified Kalispell as the fastest growing “micropolitan” area in the country. The city council is constantly approving new housing developments. Old hotels are being torn down and replaced with apartment complexes. In all of this, God has given us an opportunity!

Over the last couple years, the core group has intensified its efforts. The group meets for weekly worship in a hotel conference room. They also meet online for midweek Bible Study. I drive up two Sundays a month with one overnight stay so that I can spend Monday connecting with prospects. There have been challenges. When the next closest WELS church is 100 miles away, it can feel isolating. But God’s blessing has been immense. Last summer, we welcomed volunteers from four different congregations across the state of Montana for a weekend of canvassing. This summer, a dozen teens came from the Twin Cities to help advertise for Backpacks and Burgers. And it was an absolute joy to see the results that God brought about!

At our pavilion in the park, we gave away 40 backpacks and 80 burgers. We had a chance to welcome all kinds of different people. Fifteen new families expressed interest in learning more about our church. These families are not only from Kalispell, but also from nearby Whitefish and Columbia Falls. Some are new residents to Montana. Others have been here their whole lives, but have never been connected to a church. Still others have been attending big mega-churches, but are looking for a place where they won’t be overlooked – a place where they will be served with God’s Word. What a privilege we have to introduce these people to their Savior!

Way out here in Montana, we are so thankful for the prayers and the support of our brothers and sisters across the country. We are thankful for our partnership in the gospel. As our synod begins its ambitious goal of 100 Missions in 10 Years, we are praying that Kalispell, Mont., will be part of it. Next time you’re planning a vacation to Glacier National Park, make sure you keep Sunday afternoon open. We’ll be so happy to see you.

Written by Rev. Noah Willitz, pastor at Living Savior in Missoula, Mont.

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Impactful relationships

Depending on how you count, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs make up about 10-20% of the population of the Greater Toronto area. That’s almost two million people! That percentage is even higher in Mississauga, which has a particularly high population of Muslims. As you can imagine, they are a very difficult population to reach with the good news of Jesus. They don’t respond to typical evangelism programs, law/gospel presentations, etc. They are conditioned to be polite but skeptical of Christians, expecting them to “just try to convert them.”

That is because, much like many Christians in the West, our affluent and entertainment-saturated culture has caused many austere believers in Islam or Hinduism to soften their beliefs into simply “cultural” faith. That means they don’t believe much of what their religions teach, but they also don’t want to convert to Christianity because to them Christianity is a culture, not a religion. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean believing in Jesus as much as it means to stop being Saudi, Iranian, Pakistani, Indian, etc., and become Western/Canadian. Therefore, we cannot bring them to Jesus with simple presentations of the gospel. They see that as close to racism against their culture. Our only chance is long-term relationship investment.

That’s what is happening with Priyanka. Her name is changed, and she isn’t pictured to hide her identity. She is an immigrant from Bangladesh whose husband cheated on her, left her, but because of their culture and religious background, still “owns” her in a sense. Her fear of him is why her identity is hidden. And yet, despite all that, her culture makes it very hard for her to accept that Christianity may have something to offer her.

My wife has been regularly meeting her to take her to the doctor, have her over to make Biryani (a Bangladeshi staple) together, take her grocery shopping, or just keep her company. She is naturally resistant to Christianity, but after almost two years of meeting with her, she agreed to receive a Bible in Bangla, her native tongue, and has come to our house once for a Bible study. She is not a Christian yet, but this is the kind of long-term work that allows people from these cultures and religions to even listen to the gospel.

Missionary Caleb Schultz and his wife Johannah

But this is not limited to people of Middle Eastern or South Asian background. This is becoming more and more true of the non-immigrant population as well. Those who grew up in a Christian culture are also increasingly seeing the church as a social/culture club where people try to get you to behave differently. This has moved our congregation to a model of relationally expensive outreach. Investing in people over time, not to convert them, but just because Jesus loves them. That means expecting that it will take years in some cases for people to know Jesus. But in the end, those people will know a Jesus who didn’t just give them a set of beliefs or culture, but brought them into his life through his body, the Church.

You can do this too. Many white people are intimidated to engage immigrant populations (I was too!), but they really ought not to be. Invite them over for dinner. Ask them about their culture or homeland. Be the type of person they want to call first when something goes wrong in their life, because inevitably something will, and you will have an answer (Jesus!) that is far better than any other.

Pray for this woman and us as we try to reach the many people groups of our city.

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

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The story of open and closed doors

The circumstances change, but the gospel will not be chained. Join us in praising God for open doors. Join us in pleading for an open door for his message of salvation to our English speaking community, our Hmong brothers and sisters, and our new Hispanic mission.

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

Colossians 4:3

An open door for the message of Christ . . .

Was it on the hearts of the St. John German community as they built their first church in 1871? Maybe that is why they built a church that seated 1800 people. We can imagine the prayers of desperation when their church building was condemned in 1961, when they had to decide how to move forward as a congregation on the corner of Hope and Margaret.

Did they hold their children close and pray when they opened a Lutheran Elementary School in which those children would bask in the beauty of the gospel? When a partnership was formed with Immanuel Hmong, were prayers of joy offered? Prayers for more open doors? And when the Hmong community mourned the loss of its pastor, there must have been prayers about the door.

God provided a new pastor from within the group, and there were prayers of thanksgiving about the door. Did they throw themselves on trust and pray that a door would open for the message when they had to close their school doors in 2017? When they entered into a three year vacancy, did they pray for open doors?

Through three vacancy pastors they praised God for holding open those doors. Covid literally closed the doors. Covid figuratively closed doors. Did they pray for the doors to reopen?

A humble servant came asking for a corner in which to meet with Spanish-speaking families she met through New Life Pregnancy Center. She needed a couple of classrooms where she could proclaim the mystery of Christ. Did they pray for open doors even as they unlocked the empty school’s doors?

The community center next-door asked to rent rooms through which members of the surrounding community would walk. They wanted to help with physical and emotional needs. They needed keys to the door. And St. John prayed that doors would open for the gospel.

A community garden is planted behind the church. A place to connect with the neighborhood without the need of a door. And another open door. Standing before the next open door and . . . a new awareness of how the community is changing.

A visit from our synod’s Hispanic Outreach Consultant, Rev. Tim Flunker. Demographics and interviews. Encouragement from the District President. A new ministry plan. An application for support from WELS Home Missions. A call list of bilingual pastors. Approval. A six week call deliberation. A road trip across the country. And a new pastor behind those parsonage doors. A hot installation afternoon. A tiny breeze through the open church doors. The fervent prayer for more open doors. A call to you, brothers and sisters in Christ. A plea to you, partners in the Lord’s vineyard. We ask of you, who already stand inside the Church . . .

Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

Actually, since Christ has opened the door for bold prayers, ask that God would open not doors but floodgates; that many may find peace and salvation through the mystery of Christ as they walk through our doors on the corner of Margaret and Hope.

Written by Jennifer Otto, wife of Rev. Timothy Otto who recently was installed as bi-lingual pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn.

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Faces of Faith – Merle

I was walking our dog through the neighborhood, and out walked this nice man with a cross in his hand and a smile on his face. It was the first time I met Merle. I knew I didn’t want it to be my last as I returned home with my new gift: a handmade wooden cross. After 92 years, Merle still didn’t have anyone to share in learning about what our Savior does for us. Because of our new home mission, we can keep sharing our God-given faith of our eternal life to come. It’s the same reason Merle continues building wooden crosses in his garage. Together, we let our lights shine. You never know how God is going to use us to connect others to his life-saving word, just as he did for Merle.

From Hans Thomford, home missionary at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Amarillo, Tex.

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Faces of Faith – Peter

Peter Hollins was raised in a religious household and regularly attended an Episcopal Church with his mother. However, he fell away during high school and later found himself to be unhappy. He started attending church again and sought to find one with true doctrine and where he fit best. Peter chose to attend Grace Lutheran Church in Tucson, Arizona, and became a regular attender at Tucson Campus Ministry Bible studies. He is grateful that the Holy Spirit was able to bring him back into the faith and once again finds joy in attending church. Many gifts and blessings can be found in Christianity; Peter found this to be true as he is comforted in knowing that God is with him no matter what comes his way.

From Hailey Brandt, student assistant at WELS Tucson Campus Ministry

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Faces of Faith – Kimberly

Redeemer Lutheran Church’s Campus Ministry has played such a crucial role in the growth of my faith during my time at the University of Michigan. When entering college, I did not have a mature understanding of how to live out my faith. It can be so easy to get led astray during college, regardless of if a person grows up as a Christian or not. I am a living testimony of this; I tried to fill a God-sized hole with all sorts of worldly things. But the truth is that nothing can fill a God-sized hole except God himself. Redeemer’s Campus Ministry helped me come to this realization, and my entire perspective on life has changed. WELS Campus Ministry has helped me mature in my faith and has fostered an understanding of what it means to truly have a personal relationship with the Lord. Campus Ministry has also equipped me with the necessary tools to share my faith, how to approach difficult questions, and has taught me how to reflect Christ’s love in everything I do. I cannot stress enough how important Campus Ministry can be, and I am so excited to see the Lord continuing to work through these programs.

From Kimberly Beckerman, University of Michigan, Class of 2022

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Faces of Faith – Alfredo

From a young age, Alfredo knew God. Raised in a religious family, he was regularly exposed to the idea of Christianity, but it was ultimately his grandmother that really showed him what it meant to be someone of faith. Alfredo’s grandmother took him to church, taught him how to pray, and she truly showed him what it meant to have a relationship with God. This strong relationship with God has been there through the years, despite his ups and downs. Alfredo has always been grateful for his strong faith. His favorite Bible passage comes from Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though an attacker can overpower one person, two people together can stand up against him.” Alfredo really believes in the importance of relying on others. Throughout his life, he has been blessed with a strong Christian community, a gift that he attributes to faith in his Lord. Alfredo has been involved in our WELS Tucson Campus Ministry, growing his faith while he attends the University of Arizona. He studied Agriculture Technology Management and graduated in May 2022!

From Maren Steffen, student assistant at WELS Tucson Campus Ministry.

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Faces of Faith – Belniz

How do you reach out cross-culturally when there is a language barrier? By seeing the barrier itself as an opportunity.

Jonatan Hernandez’ niece, Belniz, came to stay with family in an apartment complex in Appleton, Wis. The whole family is made up of immigrants from Guatemala. Belniz was set to start school in the middle of the year with hardly any knowledge of the English language. A neighbor, who happens to be a member of Eternal Love Lutheran Church in Appleton, wanted to help. She saw the language barrier as her opportunity. She drove Belniz to Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha to talk to the Spanish-speaking pastors she was aware of but had never met. Two months later, when Jonatan and his family had just arrived from Guatemala themselves, she drove the whole group to Bethel’s Spanish service at noon on Sunday.

Jonatan and his family have no experience with Lutherans. Few of them speak any English at all. All of them are facing the daunting task of beginning a new life in a land that is utterly foreign to them. But because one lady was determined to be helpful and to leverage the language barrier as a meaningful ministry connection, Jonatan and his family have been welcomed to their new home by being brought before the Means of Grace in their heart language. Whatever comes of it, this is how outreach is supposed to work. Barriers are opportunities to show Christian love, which is universal.

From Ethan Cherney, home missionary at Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis.

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Just one time and then?

Chreaster connections? Maybe a little background is needed. They called them, “Chreasters,” in the congregation I had served in Wisconsin. Maybe we know them as “C-E Christians.” Not unique to WELS, this is common across Christian denominations. People who come to worship services maybe only on the big holy days of Christmas and Easter. We throw around words like Chreaster as an easy label for someone. (Likely with a dose of sinful, self-righteous derision). When we get to know people and their stories – where they came from, where they are at – these labels lose those negative connotations. To be clear, we always want people in the Word of God and in worship as often as possible. But there is also reason to rejoice when a face we haven’t seen in quite awhile is there in worship. Especially on days like Christmas or Easter. The message of what God has completely done for a world full of sinners, and therefore for me, resounds so clearly. Plus, it all starts somewhere. Why not start on a day when we know people will hear the good news of forgiveness and life in a way it cannot be missed?

So, at Good News in Lehi, Utah, we have developed our own Chreaster connections. Much of it happened through the simple ministry of a mission congregation. Blessed with a faithful start group from Prince of Peace Lutheran in Salt Lake City, we got to know one another through Bible study together. We worked to get to know our community. We looked to find ways we could connect with people so we could connect them with the gospel, the Good News. One of the most basic ways is one of our better ways. Invite people to join us in a worship service.

This past Easter we continued to work to find ways to connect with the community. Easter postcards were sent to thousands of homes. Social media and sidewalk signs were set up to let people know about our Easter service. And perhaps most importantly, our members took invitations and gave them to the people in their lives. And people brought people. Friends, neighbors, and family members we only see a few times a year were there.

It was a beautiful day. Having been pushed by the pandemic of last year to try outdoor worship, we did it by choice this year. Members arranged a meal. Decorations were done. A great day. Maybe, just this one time, maybe not again until Christmas, but the Word of God is powerful.

Written by Daniel Heiderich, home missionary at Good News Lutheran Church in Lehi, Utah.

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Faces of Faith – Colleen

One Sunday in August, Colleen and Megan walked into our church for the first time. We learned that they were freshmen, roommates, and members of the softball team at Agnes Scott College here in Atlanta. We also learned that while Megan is a WELS member from Houston, Tex., Colleen had never attended a worship service in her life. They continued to attend worship regularly and quickly became staple attendees of our Tuesday night Campus Ministry Bible Study, bringing lots of laughter and joy, and often several other softball team members with them.

In January they asked, “Would it be possible for Colleen to have communion?” When I welcomed Colleen to join the Bible basics class we had just started, they high-fived in excitement. Colleen diligently attended our weeknight class, working around her busy school and sports schedule and squeezing in makeup lessons over Zoom during her free hours.

In April, Colleen was baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. Later in the service she came up to receive Communion. Standing beside her, with a huge smile on her face, was her roommate Megan. Colleen and Megan illustrate the “double blessing” of our Campus Ministry Program. It gives WELS members a chance to grow in their faith and share that faith with others!

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

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Faces of Faith – Mackenzie

At such a large university like the University of Michigan, it can be hard to meet other students who want to grow their faith and participate in Bible studies and weekly church services. Consistent weekly gatherings offered through Campus Ministry have really strengthened my faith and my relationship with God as I experience this new stage of life. It has provided me with a support system when faced with lifestyles and ideas that are different from my own and what I grew up with. The Bible study topics are engaging and especially relevant to me and help prepare me to answer difficult questions and ideas that I have been faced with. Campus Ministry has helped me stay connected to church and other Christians while at college.

From Mackenzie Zabel, University of Michigan, Class of 2022

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Faces of Faith – Fan

I was born and raised in western China until I was 18. I grew up happily without being bothered to think about where we all come from and if there is ultimate truth. Shortly after I came to college, I met my now husband, Dan, and was introduced to Christianity. It all sounded very interesting, so I thought I would explore it more at the local Presbyterian church. Even though I was impressed by the worship itself, I was confused at the terms and not able to understand the messages in the sermon. I quickly lost interest and moved on to other parts of school life. Over the years, I had more and more questions: why do Americans cherish tradition in a certain way? What is my way of living and how do I find guidance? Fast forward 10 years, and Dan and I learned about Intown Lutheran Church from our good friend Stephen. We stumbled across a Bible basics class led by Pastor Lucas Bitter, and I unleashed the questions I had boxed up in my head. I sought answers, and I found grace. The true gospel I found at Intown prepared me for baptism. I was never this connected with spirituality before. After this many years, it is never too late to begin!

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Faces of Faith – Grandma Marian

Grandma Marian brings a generation of Navajo knowledge and history to the members of Christ the Rock. The Lord blessed her with the gift of faith from a very early age. She remembers walking a few miles to church every Sunday with her mother and treasures those memories. She attended a Christian boarding school as a child and can still picture the day the U.S. Marine Corps walked into her brother Edmund’s classroom and chose him to train as a Navajo Code Talker. Grandma Marian’s faith carried her throughout her life as an interpreter for the hospital in Rehoboth, New Mexico, as the wife of a Navajo Police officer in Ft. Defiance, and as the mother of her four children. Her greatest joy is knowing Jesus as her Savior and being able to share that joy with her family and others. She wants the entire Navajo Nation to know that Jesus died and rose again for them! Even with the challenges of using a walker and losing her eyesight, she doesn’t miss a worship service. If she can’t make it to Bible study, she joins online with her daughter Myra and the rest of her family. Whether she’s here in person or online, her laughter fills the room with sunshine.

From Jon Brohn, home missionary at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Farmington, N.M.

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