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God’s blessings in East Asia in 2020

Dear Family of Believers,

In Chinese culture, there’s a common response to compliments and thank yous. You say, “Where? Where?” to deflect the praise. It is as if you don’t understand where this praise is coming from or to whom is it being directed. “It can’t be me; I didn’t do anything.”

When I think of the amazing ways our Lord Jesus has blessed our field this year, I have to say thank you to you. And as I do I can’t help but think of the phrase, “Where? Where?” This instant deflection of praise is also part of Christian culture. I truly am grateful for your support and your prayers and yet Christians say, “Where? Where? Who really did that?”

How have we been able to relocate the team and refocus our work as the East Asia One Team?

How have we been able to increase the number of teachers and therefore double the number of students we can reach?

How have we been able to, through a new media specialist, reach and enroll 200 new students for online courses?

How was Asia Lutheran Seminary able to confer 21 Biblical Language Certificates, 6 Biblical Theology Degrees, and 9 Masters of Divinity degrees on November 8 to Christians serving the church?

How has our social media reached nearly half a million people through devotions, prayers, and Bible study materials?

How have we been able to rewrite our courses to reach more students online with an emphasis on immediately using what they learn in the groups they serve?

How? Where is the help coming from? From you. Through your prayers and support. And you say, “Where? Where? Not me—from our loving God.” In all these big things God is blessing the work in East Asia so that East Asian Christians can share Jesus’ love and salvation, one to another.

Brothers and sisters, as you sit down and give thanks for all of God’s blessings this Thanksgiving, we ask you to continue to pray to God on our behalf and thank him for all the prayers he has already answered for East Asia. If you haven’t had the opportunity yet, please consider making a gift today as we watch God’s plan unfold. Where does my help come from? “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

Serving Jesus,
Peter
East Asia Missionary

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Pandemic proclamation

In 1918, the United States experienced a pandemic. The Spanish Flu Pandemic was terrible. How bad was it? By many estimates, 1/3 of the world’s population was infected and 5% of the entire world’s population died. However, the Lord brought something good out of that terrible pandemic. As Missionary Guenther rode to various Apache camps, doing what he could do for the sick by applying the homemade remedies of skunk oil and tar paper, he came upon the ailing Chief Alchesay. The Holy Spirit worked in the conversations about Jesus that followed, and when he recovered, Alchesay founded and dedicated the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible on the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona.

Just over 100 years later, we are in the midst of another pandemic. If our missionaries today tried to ride around town on horseback applying skunk oil and wrapping the sick in tar paper, getting arrested may be the kindest reaction they would receive. But the Lord has opened other doors to share the same good news about Jesus.

Under the banner of Native Christians, our mission field has been working on new ways to share Jesus. And with all of our reservation churches still unable to worship as normal (and some not in person yet at all), sharing the gospel digitally has taken on fresh importance. The pandemic has given us a wonderful opportunity to work on ways to share without gathering in person.

Part of our plan to reach Native people inside and outside of our reservations in Arizona included completely overhauling our website and providing a platform for us to share our Bible study resources. Local member Kasheena Miles has been able to build the site from start to finish, and her filmmaker/entrepreneur husband Douglas Jr. (both pictured) supplied the excellent photos and videos. With their help, our pastors are now able to reach a much wider audience with the gospel.

The website is one piece of our effort to create a Native Christians Network. We are actively seeking Native people to reach them with the gospel and offering sound Bible training to anyone interested, no matter where they live. Through our website and social media, our gospel reach is expanding. Pray that our generous Lord continues to give us more Alchesays, and pray that our efforts continue to be successful.

If you’d like to see the website and get the latest updates on our field, please visit www.nativechristians.org

Written by Missionary Dan Rautenberg, field coordinator on the Apache reservations in Arizona


 

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What in the world is God up to now?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“On [the day that Stephen was stoned to death] a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1b).

What in the world is God up to now? Perhaps you have asked yourself that very question several times this year. Like me, maybe you have occasionally posed it with curiosity, but more often with a sense of puzzlement or even doubt. “What are you up to now? I haven’t been able to gather with my brothers and sister in worship for months!” “What are you up to now? My son lost his job because of COVID-19 and there aren’t any other opportunities out there. He’s got four mouths to feed.”

It reminds me of Tevye from “The Fiddler on the Roof.” Poor Tevye . . . hassled by huge cultural upheaval and the eviction of the Jews from their village. Nothing seems to go right for him. In his frustration, he argues with God as each misfortune occurs. “Dear God, was that necessary? Did you have to make [my horse] lame just before the Sabbath? That wasn’t nice. It’s enough you pick on me. Bless me with five daughters, a life of poverty—that’s all right. But what have you got against my horse? Really, sometimes I think, when things are too quiet up there, you say to yourself, ‘Let’s see. What kind of mischief can I play on my friend, Tevye?'” Later on, after another frustrating experience, he blurts out, “I know, I know, we are the chosen people; but once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?”

I wonder if the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem had similar thoughts and questions when persecution broke out in their beloved city. Like Tevye and his family, all those brothers and sisters had to pack up their meager belongings and run for their lives to escape earthly ruin. I have to think they were asking questions in the vein of, what in the world is God up to now?

Here’s what he was up to. Acts 8:4 gives us a hint: “Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went.” People who study Christian mission work surmise that at this time, the early church was dragging their heels a bit on Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. Following the Jerusalem persecution, however, Christ’s gospel began to spread out like a refreshing fragrance in a musty room. The Jewish refugees not only carried their possessions on their shoulders, they carried the name of Jesus on their lips. Multiple churches were founded—mostly by lay people. The good news of God’s salvation spread to other Jews, then to Samaritans, then to the Gentiles. The church in Antioch was established and became one of the greatest mission-sending agencies of all time. From that base, the gospel launched into Turkey, then into Europe, and from Europe to the world.

All because God allowed persecution to turn his people into refugees.

When it comes to our WELS mission work in East Asia, many people have also asked, what in the world is God up to now? For over a decade, Jesus has been working powerfully in our target country through WELS. Up until last year, we had several missionary families living there, reaching out, discipling believers, and training leaders. Now, everyone has been relocated to nearby countries. In fact, it’s been about a year since any of our missionaries have even visited our students, partners, and friends in the target country. What in the world is God up to now?

Depending on the location in our target country, some Christians can still gather, some are closely monitored, and still other groups are repeatedly broken up. Throughout the country, it’s becoming more prevalent for Christians to be detained, arrested, or jailed.

So, what in the world is God up to now? By God’s grace, the trouble in our target country has not hampered our work but has opened new doors. WELS continues to train and encourage our Christian brothers and sisters there and in other surrounding countries. The ministry continues in ways we have never seen before. Like the persecution in Jerusalem, God has used it to spread the work farther and quicker than we had dreamed.

I hope you are as amazed as I am at the power of God’s Word that continues to bear abundant fruit in this upheaval. Even a worldwide pandemic cannot stop the sharing of the gospel! God continues to bless our work in the target country, just as he blessed his gospel work when his people were driven out of Jerusalem. On behalf of the mission field, I want to say, THANK YOU! We thank the countless WELS members for the many years of prayers and offerings that have supported our ministry, and we thank our Lord for blessing our labors through you. Please prayerfully consider offering a gift today for our WELS work in East Asia through the ministry of the East Asia missions team.

Serving Jesus together,
Matt, East Asia Missionary

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Christ-centered wedding blessings

Greetings from East Asia! I want to share with you that God is still working powerfully here in East Asia even during these very trying and special times. COVID-19 has pretty much shut down international travel, yet I feel so blessed that I have been able to remain both safe and healthy here in East Asia during these unusual times.

While most may look back on 2020 as a challenging year, my new wife Christine and I will look back on all the blessings God has poured out on us during these past months. As my Asia Lutheran Seminary classes and opportunities to meet friends face-to-face became limited in February through April, opportunities to spend more time with Christine and lead online studies became greater. While most Bible study friends confined themselves to their homes and socialized mostly on social media in one of our four weekly online studies, Christine and I were excited to explore the empty parks and travel to see each other on the traffic-free roads. Even while large gatherings were banned, we fell deeper in love. We were soon engaged and were trying to figure out how to hold a wedding in such special times. One of our plans was to invite our friends to a secluded park and have an outdoor wedding, but the logistics of bringing chairs, tables, and a shelter seemed too much. Finally, in the middle of July, we were referred to a banquet hall that was just given permission to open their doors to group gatherings (as long as the virus situation in our city stayed under control). We booked our wedding for August 8 and invited our friends. We thought maybe 100 friends might be able to join. . .  within the couple weeks we used to finalize all the details, we had 260 friends asking to join our special day. Many friends were so excited to have this chance to see each other and celebrate something so joyful after months of isolation.

By God’s grace we were able to hold our wedding on August 8th, 2020. Throughout our planning, we made an effort to put God first and desired every detail to point to God and his glory. We knew that there would be many of our friends in attendance who were not believers and several who knew very little about Christ and his redemptive work for all mankind. Other friends in attendance had been studying God’s Word with us for some time, but had not yet come to place their faith in Jesus and call themselves a believer.

Our preparations were blessed. The Holy Spirit was working powerfully during our wedding service. One brother who held onto a quarrel with the pastor of our wedding was moved by his preaching and servant-like attitude and reconciled the difference in the days after the wedding. Another friend that had been attending Bible studies for over three years was moved to be baptized. When Christine and I were moving from table to table to greet and toast the guests, she told us about her desire to be baptized. Praise God for moving her, through our Christ-centered wedding service, to want to join the fellowship of believers! Christine and I made our way to the stage in front of the banquet hall, this time accompanied by our friend. Christine held the microphone as I had the privilege of pouring the water connected to our Triune God’s name over our friend’s head. We sang Amazing Grace for the second time that day, and this time my friend could personally relate to the words, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”

What a privilege to see the Holy Spirit working so powerfully here in East Asia and around the world. We give God all the glory and honor for changing our lives and those around us to follow him and praise his name.

May God continue to bless the work he is doing here in East Asia. Thank you for all of your support and prayers. It is our privilege to see the answers to your prayers.

Written by Mike, evangelist with Friends Network and partner of our work in East Asia 


 

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Faces of Faith – Brother Peter

Before our church found Lutheranism, there were constant religious disputes within the church. The truth was unclear, and it brought great losses to believers and their lives. We were learning to pray to God, and we asked him to enable us to understand his truth and provide a place to learn. God provided a Lutheran brother from a different area to teach us English. One of the members of our church met him by chance, and he came to our church to help us. At the same time, I met Dave, another Lutheran who came here to preach for more than a year at our church. He lived in a different region and served as an English teacher. He saw the problems at our church and was willing to help us. He taught us Law and Gospel and helped us understand why our church was so confused. Many church members felt guilty and dared not speak out, but Dave made us more aware of the preciousness of God’s salvation. He continued to preach the gospel and brought many believers to the church. Because of him, a lot of people believe Jesus. Dave also introduced Asia Lutheran Seminary (ALS) to us, and he recommended that I study at ALS. Dave helped us for seven years before going back to the United States. However, I know that he is not resting. He is still preaching the gospel, leading groups, and bringing more souls to know our God.

I learned a lot of truth from Bible and knowledge that I didn’t know before when I enrolled in the Diploma of Christian Studies program through ALS. I got to know the ALS faculty and the dedication and love of the teachers. I truly felt a spirit of humility and dedication in them. In order not to delay our study, ALS also asked other bilingual ALS students to teach us. I am very grateful!

Although COVID affected our learning process, we are seeing that Asia Lutheran Seminary is also working hard to help us in various ways. They provided a Chinese-speaking teacher (an East Asia missionary) who is helping and encouraging me to continue preaching the gospel. May God bless the missionaries, teachers, and my classmates at ALS so that they can be filled with God’s love and increase their ability to serve!

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I could not find Jesus, but he found me

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is the name of an autobiography written by a Muslim who used to be an ardent defender of Islam. While we do not agree with all of the writer’s theology, the book describes how Nabeel Quereshi became a believer in Jesus and an evangelist to Muslims. The title of Nabeel’s book could be used for another Muslim man who has become my friend.

*Names changed for security reasons*

Habib attended a madrassah (a Muslim school of learning) for three years. He shared with me:

“I never stopped reading the Koran (the holy book of Islam). One day I read surah 19 (the word for chapter in the Koran) ayah 21 (the word for verse) called Maryam (the Muslim name for Mary). I learned that Issa (the Muslim name for Jesus) was born of a virgin and that he came to this world for the people. When I read this, I was overwhelmed. I wanted to learn more about Jesus. My teacher told me, ‘You don’t need to know about Jesus. Learn about Mohammed. Jesus came for the Israelites, not you.’ In spite of his warning, I read more and more.

The Imam at my mosque called me and asked, ‘Why don’t you come to the prayer times? You used to sing the verses of the Koran for everyone to hear. I heard you became a Christian.’ Shortly after that I went to the barbershop in my village and the barber told me, ‘Everyone is complaining about you. They say you do not pray (Muslims have five daily calls to prayer). You do not read the Koran.’ My barber was sympathetic and told me to go to the Catholic church. When I entered the Catholic church, a man confronted me and said, ‘What are you doing here? Muslims are not allowed inside our church. Go to the mosque.’ I told him, ‘I am a Christian.’ He said, ‘We do not share Jesus with Muslim people.’ I did not know what to do.

Soon I met a humble Christian brother who gave me a Bible. I read the Bible day and night. I felt it was written for me. I also became part of a small group of Christians and was baptized. Then I learned that the imam at my mosque—and the village elders—made a sharia (“law”) judgment against me. They summoned me to a meeting. They said, ‘If you do not renounce Christianity and return to Islam, we will kick you out of the village.’ I remembered Jesus’ words, ‘Whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 10:33). I told the imam and the village elders, ‘Yes, I am a Christian. I will never leave Jesus. I will never leave this truth.’

They isolated my family from the rest of the community. My father went to the mosque for the daily calls to prayer, but they would not let him enter the mosque. They told him, ‘You cannot enter the mosque, because your son is a Christian.’ This upset my father very much. He began to beat me and told me I must become a Muslim again. I could not live with my parents so I had to find a way to make a living. I started a study circle and became an academic coach. This was going well until people told the parents of my students that I was a Christian. The parents stopped sending their children. I had no job. Finally I found work at a fish market where I brought water in buckets to splash on the fish.

Only my mother would talk to me. I shared the gospel with her—and in time she became a Christian. My father became angry with her and deserted her. She was alone and the people in our village began to persecute her. Now I care for my mother. She cooks meals for me. We pray that one day my father will become a Christian too.

God opened the door for me to study at a Bible school. We are working with this Bible school to teach students and to prepare them to be evangelists. I never had such in-depth learning. It was profound. Now I am sharing the gospel in a new area. I am thankful for the bike I was given. I ride this bicycle to six villages where we tell the people about Jesus. We are starting churches in these communities.

Against impossible odds I became a Christian. I was in a madrassah and never stopped reading the Koran. I could not find Jesus, but he found me. Now I want the whole world to know about Jesus.”

Written by WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia


 

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A lifeless body, a life-giving opportunity

The gospel is like water. It will always find a way to break through boundaries that seem impossible. In an area where preaching the gospel is hard to do, the Holy Spirit will inspire and open the ways so that people can hear that good news.

Friends carrying the casket

In a country like Indonesia, it is not easy to find opportunities to preach the gospel. We can not leave tracts in some places, nor doing street evangelism. However, the opportunity is always there. Indonesian people like to socialize, are close to neighbors and friends, and have a high sense of commitment to communal work. When a friend or neighbor needs some help, they will come to help as much as they can. At least once a month, people in a neighborhood will gather to discuss things that happened or work together for the good of their community. People here like to connect and interact.

Some special moments of life—like birth, marriage, or death—are shared not only within the family, but also by neighbors and friends. In a moment of sorrow, like the death of a family member, people will especially show their sympathy. They will come to the deceased person’s house to offer their condolences to the bereaved family. Some of them will come to the funeral ceremony. However, there is something special in this moment, especially when a good Christian dies.

What do we see when a Christian dies? Basically, there is no difference in comparison to other people: sadness, tears, and a sense of loss. People will come and solemnly follow the funeral rites. Even the closest neighbors will join the family in accompanying the deceased to the grave. At the funeral service, songs of praise to God are uttered, words of comfort regarding faith will be preached, and the hope of eternal life in Christ is proclaimed. What makes a Christian funeral different is the hope we have that Jesus has redeemed the late believer by his death on the cross. The family left behind shows their belief that their loved one is already with Jesus in heaven, and that death is only a temporary separation. Sadness is certainly felt, but hope that springs from faith silently creeps into the heart and brings comfort. This is what distinguishes the funeral rites of believers from non-believers.

Friends and neighbors helping bury their friend

The funeral service is an opportunity for many people, whether Christians or not, to sit and listen to the hope of the Christian faith. But why would people want to come to a Christian funeral if they are not Christian? Why would they show us this kindness to their Christian neighbors? In a community that highly values solidarity and good relations, such friends simply want to show respect.

While we are still alive we can touch the lives of others by living a good Christian life, demonstrating our faith through good works, being an example of love, and bearing the fruits of the Spirit. But even our death can become a vehicle that impacts the lives of others in a spiritual way. After we breath our last, our lifeless bones most likely will never be used by God, like those of Elisha to give life to one who is dead (2 Kings 13:21). However, our funeral service provides an opportunity for our pastors to preach the gospel freely, without restriction, in a solemn moment, not only for the Christians but also for non-Christians. The result is that all the people who are present will hear Jesus’ name and the good news of forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is the gospel message used by the Spirit to call people to faith in Christ, to bring dead souls to life both here on earth and forever in eternity.

Written by Ester S.W., Multi-Language Productions (MLP) coordinator in Indonesia


 

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Update – Hmong outreach in Vietnam

But God’s word is not chained.

2 Timothy 2:9b

Since 2014, WELS Pastor Bounkeo Lor has made regular trips to Vietnam to train the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church. God blessed that work, and WELS adopted the ministry in 2015.  The true grace and peace of Jesus proclaimed to the Hmong leaders had a profound positive effect. They wanted more of our training. The government of Vietnam recognized the value of our training and gave us permission to build a training center in Hanoi. Learn more at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

The gospel training would have continued and the building construction would have progressed in 2020, but COVID-19 ground everything to a halt. Since early 2020, we have not made a single training visit to Vietnam and the building project could not move forward.

Because of these obstacles, the WELS Vietnam planning group explored the possibility of using online training for the Hmong Fellowship Church leaders. If we could not visit Vietnam in person, we could visit Vietnam on Zoom. The Vietnam planning group has decided to provide the technology and access to make this happen for the 60 leaders who are eager to continue their studies.

Soon all Hmong Fellowship Church leaders will be provided phones and internet connection to allow them to participate in online training classes. The men will remain at home or travel to nearby places with adequate internet. They will continue a planned course on law and gospel, and they will also participate in a study of the gospel of Mark to share with rural congregations. The free course of the gospel continues because God’s Word is not chained.

Written by Rev. Joel Nitz, Hmong Asia missionary


 

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Meet the Mohlkes

Twenty-nine years ago, my wife Leslie and I were preparing to go to Africa to serve as a newly assigned missionary. We had three children ages four, two, and four months. The other two children would be born a few years later while living in Zambia. We were young and excited. I was eager to start working as an African missionary, and my wife was wondering how best to care for our young family, knowing that her skills as a registered nurse would come in very handy.

The Mohlke family in Zambia in the late 1990s

Now, all the kids are grown, four of the five children are married, and five grandchildren have been added to the family; and Leslie and I are getting ready to move again to Africa. This time I am going to serve as the leader of WELS World Mission’s One Africa Team. The One Africa Team consists of all the missionaries serving in Africa who work with various sister synods to share the good news of Jesus throughout the continent. Now days, this work usually takes the form of offering training and encouragement to those who serve as ministers of the gospel in our sister synods.

This is quite different from what I was called to do 29 years ago. Back then, my main job was to preach, teach, baptize, and offer the Lord’s supper to village congregations which did not have their own pastors. This meant driving out to the village areas at least four days per week and visiting at least two congregations each day for worship and/or Bible study. Between my visits, the congregations were faithfully served by laymen who preached from a sermon book and taught Sunday school and confirmation classes using books prepared for them. Through these men congregations were started, grew, and became strong.

As I return to Africa, many of those men are fully trained pastors and leaders in the Lutheran Seminary and their synod. Now WELS missionaries are not needed to serve as pastors in local congregations, but they are used to train and encourage ministers of the gospel in church bodies throughout the continent.

Missionary Mohlke and his wife Leslie

I am eager and feel blessed to take on the work of leading this group. I thank God for the years I served in Zambia, and I thank God for the past 20 years I have served while living in the United States. I am thankful for the things I learned as I served St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School in Norfolk, Neb. I am thankful for the experiences I had serving Messiah Lutheran Church in Nampa, Ida., especially what I learned about well-planned and organized outreach. I also served ten years on the Board for World Missions, four of those years as chairman. It was so enlightening to understand WELS World Missions not only as a missionary on the field, but also at the administrative level. I also feel that I will put to good use what I experienced serving as director of the Apache Christian Training School. That experience reminded me of how important it is that missionaries aren’t sent to be pastors for people; but rather they are sent to work with people to develop strong forms of ministry that best serve the needs of that community.

I am thankful to the Lord for giving me this opportunity to serve as the One Africa Team leader. I am thankful that the Lord has given me a wife that is so supportive and willing to return to Africa. Without her support, understanding, and willingness to serve, none of this would be possible.

Written by Howard Mohlke, new leader of the One Africa Team

Missionary Mohlke and Leslie are currently living in Nebraska while their paperwork is being processed for their move to Malawi. He and his wife Leslie will reside in Lilongwe, Malawi, on the campus of the Lutheran Bible Institute.


 

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TELL: Truth brings peace

In 2018, WELS World Mission’s Multi-Language Productions had a vision to reach the world with the gospel in a new way. Their vision was to equip people with the truth of God’s word using digital resources in English. Like the Latin America mission field’s Academia Cristo in Spanish, TELL would use English to reach people through social media, self-led Bible lessons, and live video classrooms.

Live classes with TELL Missionary, Dan Laitinen

Three years later, God has blessed that vision. The TELL Network has 1.2 million followers and likes on its main Facebook page. Across the globe there are 7,000 active users working on self-led Bible lessons on the TELL app and website. Currently I am the only full-time TELL missionary. I meet several times a week with students from Africa, India, and Philippines.

One student, Samuel, is from Guinea, Africa. He is a school teacher with a wife and children. “My greatest desire is to be well-equipped for mission work,” says Samuel, “I won’t miss this opportunity by God’s grace.”

Samuel and his family

Like thousands of others, Samuel found TELL on Facebook. TELL’s Facebook team posts daily Bible passages and short devotional videos by national pastors from WELS world mission fields called #TELLtalks. The team answers questions online and invites people to start free Bible training on the TELL app or website.

Samuel downloaded the TELL app, and within seconds began the first self-learning course. He completed three self-learning courses: Spiritual Healing, Truth Brings Peace, and Introduction to the Bible. Each course has nine lessons that include a Bible reading, teaching video and quiz.

When Samuel completed the self-learning courses (TELL Tier 1), he received his first certificate. Then a TELL missionary contacted Samuel. He congratulated him and invited Samuel to join him in the live online classes (TELL Tier 2).

Today Samuel is meeting twice a week in a video classroom with a TELL instructor and other students. Students go in-depth learning about the work of Jesus, Old and New Testament history, and Law and Gospel. Each course takes about a month. There are eleven courses in TELL tier 2.

Samuel’s radio broadcast

TELL tier 3 are live courses too. They focus on how to share the gospel in your community: gathering, teaching and discipling. God-willing, some day the TELL instructor, along with a missionary in Africa, will visit Samuel to grow the relationship and support Samuel as he starts a small group.

When Samuel began TELL, he had been praying for just that: an opportunity to share the gospel. Since then, God opened a door! A friend gave Samuel air-time on the local radio station. Every Sunday evening Samuel takes the Bible lesson he has learned with TELL and reuses them on-air to an audience of up to half-a-million people. Many of whom haven’t heard the gospel before.

By God’s grace, Samuel has found a place where he receives real gospel training right from God’s word. “I used to believe in a gospel that was preaching prosperity and miracles mostly,” Samuel says, “But I discovered this misleads believers. It focuses on earthly things and makes us forget heavenly things. Now I’m mission-minded.”

Written by Dan Laitinen, Multi-Language Productions missionary for TELL (Think, Evaluate, Learn, Lead) 


 

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Faces of Faith – Ibrahim

My name is Ibrahim. My wife is Sara, a Sunday School teacher. I was born in a Christian family, but I left my hometown to find a government job in a big city. I started living in a Christian community with 20 families, but there was no church. Sometimes evangelists came, but they only spent 5-7 minutes reading one verse from the Bible and left quickly. The people had no Christian education. Some believed in Hindu gods and some believed in the Muslim faith. Very quickly I forgot the Christian teaching from my childhood. When my future-wife, Sara, began the Lutheran Sunday School in our village, it was a tremendous blessing. We all started learning regularly about our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Sunday School brought great joy to the children—and to me. What the children learn in Sunday School, they take home and tell their families. I, too, share what I learn with my friends and neighbors.

Before we started the Sunday School our Christian community had no interaction with the Muslim community at all. Eight Muslim families and their children are now a part of our Sunday School. Sometimes it seems the Muslims love to learn about Jesus more than we do. This is a big miracle. We are thankful to the WELS for reaching out to us. God bless our synod.

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Pandemic blessings and challenges in Russia

So, how are you handling the pandemic? Let me share just a little bit about how God led us through the past six months in Russia.

Challenges

Stress and loneliness

My wife Jennifer had barely completed her 14-day quarantine after the World Missionary Wives Conference in Spain when the Novosibirsk governor declared strict self-isolation requirements for our region. People were allowed to leave their apartments only to go to the nearest grocery store or pharmacy, walk their dogs, and carry out trash. For six weeks people adopted stray dogs and fought for the privilege of taking out garbage!

On a more serious note, many worried about their health and the well-being of their extended families. People lost their jobs as normal routines ground to a halt. Worst of all, after March 29, we could not gather with our brothers and sisters at church. I’m guessing that many of our struggles in Russia were similar to challenges you faced in the United States.

8th grade distance learning

At first the quarantine seemed like good news for our youngest son, Peter. The governor’s declaration called for an extra week of spring vacation. So of course, Peter put off doing his homework. But then we got word that the order had changed and that distance learning would begin the next day! Peter had to scramble to get his homework done. Meanwhile, teachers and schools scrambled to teach online classes – a completely new experience for everyone. The next three weeks were chaotic because each teacher chose a different platform for teaching and collecting homework. Jennifer and Peter spent many hours figuring out computer logistics so they could get lectures, readings, and homework assignments. Our whole family celebrated May 27th when the school year finally came to an end.

Travel restrictions

Our Russian pastors wanted to comfort their people, especially older members. But the fear of spreading a dangerous disease prevented us from travelling. Instead they led devotions and prayers by telephone. Special legal documents allowed us to travel for work, but even these papers only permitted us to travel within city limits. Police cars sat at the edge of the city to enforce travel restrictions. I could not visit Iskitim or Tomsk. National borders were closed, so trips to Albania and Bulgaria to visit our sister churches were cancelled.

Tamara appreciates online worship services and devotions

Personal issues

Because of closed borders, we decided at first to postpone our furlough until next year. There was just one problem: Peter was planning to start high school in Wisconsin. We started searching for ways to send Peter to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor. We are grateful that WELS World Missions convinced us to find a way to travel back to the U.S. as a family. Jennifer and I spent many hours in June and July searching for a way to travel to the U.S. Most years planning the trip is half the fun, but this year all routes were closed.

I confess that our family struggled with stress and worry, fears and feelings of helplessness. But God was near! “Do you really trust me? Do you really believe I’m almighty and loving – that I haven’t forgotten you? You know who I am. Take another look at my Son’s cross. I am with you, even when you can’t feel my warm smile!” It’s true! Even now. Especially now. God is pouring out blessings.

Blessings

Sharing Jesus online

The Russian church had a website before COVID-19, but the quarantine pushed us to enhance the way we share the gospel online. We began streaming Sunday morning worship services with better audio/video. We posted mid-week devotions on Christ’s resurrection, David the Man of God, and Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Our members started sharing digital comfort with their isolated friends and relatives. WELS Christian Aid and Relief provided funding so we could purchase modest cell phones for shut-in members. Our Iskitim grandmas were delighted with the opportunity to see worship services and devotions from their own homes. Our most technologically savvy granny made sure that our members in Iskitim were able to connect online to each other and to the gospel.

Luke and Andre

Local seminary

Travel restrictions allowed me more time to work with our seminary student, Andre Gydkov. The two of us spent many hours studying Biblical doctrine. . . everything from the Trinity to the person of Christ, from God’s creation and the fall into sin to the High Priest who reconciled us with God. We also discussed a wide range of topics that fall outside of formal seminary curriculum, but which are vital for soul-ministry.

Peter’s Confirmation

My son Peter and I had ample opportunity to work our way through catechism classes. We discussed the chief parts of our faith and explored practical ways for Peter to dive into his adult life of faith. At the very end of July, we organized an at-home confirmation. We invited Andre and his daughter and set up a video call so that our stateside family could witness Peter’s vows and encourage him on his special day.

God provides an open door

Peter’s Confirmation

After weeks of struggle and prayer, we saw God’s answer. At just the right time, Russia opened her borders to Great Britain so that we could travel to the U.S. through London. We spent two weeks self-isolating near Jennifer’s side of the family in Nebraska. And now just this week we traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin, and met with Peter’s faculty advisor at Fox Valley Lutheran High School. We’re grateful that God allowed us to travel together so that we can help Peter get ready for a completely new and exciting chapter in his life. We’re also looking forward to spending time with our older daughters and offering them our love and encouragement.

God is in control

Without a doubt, the past six months have been a time of testing. God is asking, “What is most important to you? Do you really believe in my power, in my love? Will you trust me?” This season is providing us with special opportunity to remember God’s great promises and share his rock-solid comfort with others. We know Jesus is with us. We know he will give us joy and strength so that we can be his lights in a dark world longing for hope.

Please keep us in your prayers. Please pray that God would bless our time here in the States. We have much that needs to be done! Please pray that God finds a way for us to return to our mission field in his good time.

Written by Luke Wolfgramm, world missionary in Russia


 

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New role for longtime missionary

Rev. Paul Nitz started in his new position as One Team counselor at the Center for Mission and Ministry this month.

Nitz had served for 27 years in Malawi, Africa, moving there with his wife, Susan, and their baby, Henry, following Nitz’s graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, in 1993. During those years, he established churches, trained national pastors, and led the mission team as it explored new opportunities for outreach in Africa.

In his new position, Nitz will be working with “One Teams” in World Missions’ seven different regions—Native America, Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, East Asia, and Multi-Language Productions. These One Teams consist of stateside administrative committees that work with the missionary teams to conduct gospel ministry in each area.

“His number one priority is to work with the One Team leaders to provide them what they need to keep the ongoing ministry going,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions. According to Schlomer, this means helping the teams determine “how to use the resources at hand so they don’t drop any of the work they currently have going while being able to expand to meet the needs of new places.”

This position in the Missions Office was designed because of how quickly the number of world mission fields is expanding. WELS is currently maintaining contacts and relationships in 57 countries around the world—40 as mission partners and 17 as exploratory work. Just within the past seven years, WELS has grown in Africa from work in 4 countries to outreach possibilities in 13.

Schlomer says Nitz is uniquely prepared for this role. “He really has lived the goal of a mission, starting with raising up churches to training the pastors to lead those churches to stepping into a team that is looking to do the same for other mission fields. All of these things make him a trusted counselor and a trusted mentor for other people who are leading the teams in our world mission fields.”

Learn more about WELS World Missions work at wels.net/missions.

Read Nitz’s thoughts on his work in Africa in this article from the upcoming September issue of Forward in Christ.

 

 

 

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Faces of Faith – Brother Sun

A computer screen. That’s what one brother saw for weeks as he had to remain at home during the outbreak of COVID-19. No seeing each other face-to-face, no meeting together, no study time, no going out to eat, no services, no work. What will happen to the Bible study group? What will happen to the members if they can’t worship? Brother Sun responded to the situation with home: “I am thankful for this time at home. I can focus on my family, and I can study his Word. I wake up and study for as long as I want, then in the afternoon I study again. And in the evening, I meet my brothers and sisters online and we study and worship together. I have so much time to focus on these important things. I am thankful.” And he wasn’t the only one: dozens upon dozens of our contacts in East Asia have been worshiping, praying, and studying together online. Amidst such trials, God has given them and our East Asia missions team a special time to focus on his Word and see how he cares for us through every challenge.

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Christ’s love compels us

What do you see when you look at this picture? A brick building with no glass in the windows? Perhaps. A structure that needs some landscaping around it? Maybe. Or perhaps you see the few people in the picture and wonder about them.

To me, this picture is the representation of how God’s people work together. In 1970, members of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa who had moved from Zambia to Malawi wanted to bring in WELS missionaries from America. While the Malawian government welcomed our gospel outreach, they also wondered if we could help their people physically. These government members were familiar with the Mwembezhi, Zambia, medical mission operated by the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) since 1961. They approached CAMM and asked if we would be willing to come to Malawi and start a medical mission there. This way, our WELS missionaries could come into the country as well. CAMM subsequently brought nurses to Malawi to operate a mobile clinic that would go out to a village during the day to offer basic Christ-centered healthcare to the villagers. We still operate the mobile clinic today.

This is the basic history of how CAMM started in Malawi. If you have been a member of WELS for a long time, you probably have heard this story before. But even after 50 years, it’s not the end of the story. As the Bible passage above says, “Christ’s love compels us.” Christ’s love compelled us to work with the Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Malawi to build the churches that could also serve as our clinic building, such as the one in the picture. Christ’s love compels us to offer scholarships to members of the Lutheran Church of Central Africa-Malawi so they can work for the mobile clinic and have opportunities to pray with patients and offer the reason for the hope that they have. Christ’s love compels us to know we aren’t done in Africa. Christ’s love compels our hearts to pray for more grace, mercy and his generosity so we can continue our work there and potentially start this work in other places.

Through God’s people coming together over the last 50 years, we have enjoyed the opportunity to work with tens of thousands of people each year. They are exposed to the Word and God’s love when they come to clinic when we start each day with a devotion. They see where the Lutheran church is and are encouraged to come back for worship. Christ’s love compels us to offer physical help with the hope that it could open the door to someone’s heart and soul to hear the gospel. Can you imagine what heaven will sound like when we hear the voices of the African choirs raised up in harmony? I can’t wait to hear it!

May Christ’s love continue to compel us to do his work for another 50 years or more!

Written by Angela Sievert, Public Relations Coordinator for the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) 

 

 

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Faces of Faith – Alexei

You met Russian seminary student, Andre Gydkov, in a different Faces of Faith story (wels.net/faces-of-faith-andre). That story continues. . .

In the late 1990s, 18-year-old Andre moved from Kazakhstan to a farming village in southwest Siberia. Here he met Alexei Yryanski. Together they participated in the only pastimes available to young men: sports and troublemaking. After escaping his schoolbooks, Alexei took a job as a blacksmith and discovered a passion for forging metal. With enormous effort, Alexei managed to open his own shop where he still crafts custom furniture, railings, and weathervanes for wealthy clients. In spite of his talent, Alexei lived in darkness. His marriage failed. Dishonest people stole from him. Andre had moved away to Novosibirsk. Life was dark and joyless. Then in December 2012, Andre returned home, and the two friends talked. Alexei shared his troubles while Andre listened sympathetically. Then Andre said, “You’ll never guess what’s happened to me.” That evening Andre shared the Savior with his friend. “Go home and read, yes, READ the gospel of Mark.” Alexei’s story is a miracle. He did read Mark—and was overwhelmed by Jesus’ love! But this story is not a perfect fairy tale. Since becoming a Christian, Alexei has struggled with many ups and downs. But the faithful Lord Jesus holds Andre and Alexei in his mighty arms. And lately Alexei has noticed his mother’s reading glasses lying next to the family Bible. . . and the story continues!

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Faces of Faith – Jackson

CAMM has been operating a clinic in Mwembezhi, Zambia, for almost 60 years. God has allowed the Zambia clinic to be operated and staffed completely by Zambian nationals since 2008. This staff is led by Jackson Kalekwa who has been on the clinic staff for over 35 years! Jackson grew up in Luchele Village, very close to the Mwembezhi clinic. He was a recipient of the Althea Sauer Scholarship program through CAMM and received his diploma in Clinical Medicine. He started his employment as a Laboratory Technician and advanced to his current position of Clinical Officer in Charge. While he enjoys seeing and counseling the patients, a challenge has been ensuring that the clinic is up to date with government standards. In Jackson’s free time, he farms over 20 acres of land which produce maize and soybeans. He is still an active member of Martin Luther Church, where he was baptized, and enjoys socializing with the many people he is blessed to be around. He sees a strong correlation between the patients visiting us and being able to help bring God’s Word to them. The Lutheran church sits next to the clinic, and each day daily devotions are held prior to clinic opening. He is amazed by all the blessings God has given to him through working at the clinic.

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Faces of Faith – Zoilo

Zoilo Vidal lives in Quevedo, a city about 5 hours away from Quito, Ecuador. He has a small farm with about 9 acres of different fruit trees. In May 2019, Zoilo signed up for online Bible courses on the Academia Cristo website. He connected to the classes twice a week and absolutely loved them. “I knew I was in the right spot from the very first session, when the teacher kept repeating, ‘Let’s go to the Bible for the answer.’” He was so overjoyed about the classes that he sent our missionaries in Quito a gift: two boxes filled with 66 pounds of oranges, watermelon, and papaya. The gospel produces. . . fruits!

By God’s grace, Zoilo continues in the classes. He has downloaded our new Academia Cristo app and excitedly calls the local missionary every time he finishes a new self-study level. He finished the first two levels in 10 days—An Introduction to the Bible and Forgiveness. We pray that all the resources be a great benefit for him, his family, and his neighbors.

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Faces of Faith – Michael

In the mid-1990s, the Lord blessed Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI) with its first generation of ordained pastors. One of the first men ordained was Pastor Michael. After serving his Savior Jesus steadfastly for many years, he was called to his eternal rest a few years ago. Around the same time of Pastor Michael’s retirement, God sent “the second Michael” to GLI. In a short time, it became clear to the faculty at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Lutheran (the seminary of GLI) that this Michael was blessed with many academic qualities. He has a knack for Greek, Hebrew, and English, and he went above and beyond during his 3-year vicar program by serving a congregation and assisting in GLI’s publications program. Vicar Michael was accepted into the Pastoral Studies Institute program, which allowed him to take classes at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. In addition to honing his linguistic skills, he also sat in on courses in Christian doctrine, sermon preparation, education, etc. One seminary student responded: “I am in some classes with him. He is always raising his hand and asking questions!” GLI plans to put Michael’s time and talents to use at the seminary in Indonesia. As an instructor, he will help prepare future generations of called workers. Please keep our soon to be Pastor Michael, “the second Michael” in your prayers!

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Faces of Faith – Carmelita

Carmelita says, “My story is hard and ugly, but it’s certainly changed now!” Carmelita married a Lutheran man who took her to church where she learned of Jesus, her Savior. It was wonderful to know Jesus loved her! As life went on, Carmelita got lost in the world. Her life often revolved around drinking too much and hanging out with non-Christian friends, all while raising her children in a sometimes-difficult marriage. Deep down in her heart there was still a little ember of faith. She left God, but he didn’t leave her! One day she woke up and realized it was time to get out of the insanity and find out more about Jesus. She knew she needed help. She ran to her Lutheran pastor to get this power to change from God’s Word. She was finally listening to the Word. She did not want to lose this faith but to live it! More troubles came, but she ran to fellow Christians and activities to hear God’s words and stay in the faith. She exclaims, “I’m so embarrassed because I am not strong, not at all. . . but my God is strong and through Him, my faith is strong. I am happy to be in Lutheran Bible classes and church activities that are full of love here on the San Carlos Apache Reservation!”

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Faces of Faith – Ann

My name is Ann Simi Dung, and I am from Nigeria. I was brought up in a Christian background, but I encountered Christ in 2000. I became a missionary with Youth with a Mission and I’m also a gospel artist and a song writer. TELL and their Facebook page has been a great blessing to me and everyone around me. Since the day I found TELL, my life has not been the same. It has expanded my spiritual understanding in Christ Jesus and has brought me closer to God. TELL has made the Bible so easy to comprehend. It gives a very simple explanation of who God is and what he desires of us. Pastor Dan Laitinen, TELL Missionary, has given me so much love and encouragement. I prayed and fasted for a week, asking God to send someone who is deeply rooted in the word of God to train and encourage me. God has answered my prayers. I have the zeal to work for Jesus, and I am committing myself to winning souls for Jesus my Savior. With TELL, it will be much easier to reach out to the whole world.

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Faces of Faith – Januario

Januario is both a long time Lutheran member and our hardworking contact in Mozambique. He’s got an active love for the Lord’s work in both his local congregation and in his special role in helping the Lutheran Church in Central Africa—Malawi (LCCA) become registered as a Foreign Religious Organization in Mozambique. The registration process has been long and tedious and is still underway. He is a wonderful blessing as we’ve been walking the registration journey together. We are, after all, in his territory! His first language is Portuguese, and he’s just as fluent in Chichewa. These are two big assets when it comes to important relationships, loads of paperwork, and complicated discussions in the Mozambique Ministry of Religious Affairs offices. When he’s not traipsing around the country facilitating the registration process, Januario is doing social work in a national organization in Mozambique. He loves to help the elderly, the orphans and the disabled. Januario and his wife Justina have 10 children. Please continue to pray for Januario, his family, and the work of registering the LCCA with the Mozambique government!

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Faces of Faith – Andre

Our world missionaries work hard for a day when they can pass the pastoral baton to a national leader. This ultimate dream and daily prayer will soon be accomplished in Iskitim, Russia. Missionary Luke Wolfgramm has served this congregation for ten years and is now working with Andre Gydkov in the seminary training program. Andre is not just taking classes to learn how to be a pastor. He is already serving the congregation in Iskitim in many ways that are giving him experience in the tasks and functions of a pastor. The PSI is working closely with the Russian Lutheran synod to provide curriculum, consultation, and instructors to assist them in Andre’s training. The relationship between Andre and Luke goes beyond that of student and teacher or even co-workers in a congregation. They are close friends. Andre was introduced to his Savior through the WELS mission in Russia, where Luke has been his pastor and counselor for three years. Since Andre has committed to preparing for the pastoral ministry, his relationship with Luke has grown even stronger. Andre’s life before he became a Christian was difficult in many respects. Through daily support and encouragement from Luke and the other Russian pastors (Pastor Alexei and Pastor Arkady), the congregation in Iskitim will soon receive a strong Lutheran shepherd who is eager to proclaim Christ to his community.

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57th annual LWMS convention goes virtual

Since 1964, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) has faithfully hosted annual conventions, gathering to joyfully praise God and support WELS mission work. The year 2020 was to be no exception. Plans were well underway for the 57th annual convention in Athens, Ga., in June. The theme, “2020 Vision for Missions,” was chosen, and hours of planning were already complete.

Then the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, and for the first time in 57 years, LWMS made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel its in-person convention.

“The decision to cancel was agonizing,” recalls LWMS president Mrs. Cynthia Natsis. “But by the end of April, it became obvious that travel and staying in hotels would be dangerous to our members.”

Despite its deep disappointment, the LWMS team adapted to the situation. If people couldn’t come to the convention, LWMS would bring the convention to them—by way of technology.

Through a partnership with WELS Missions, the LWMS convention was combined with WELS Taste of Missions—another in-person event that was cancelled due to the pandemic. “Taste and See,” the combined virtual event, was born. LWMS and WELS Missions staff brainstormed how to offer key elements of both events in an engaging and interactive online format.

On June 27, the Taste and See virtual event launched. For two weeks, thousands of WELS members worldwide tuned in to view the opening and closing worship services, “Moments with Missionaries” videos, recipe tutorials from around the globe, the commissioning of new missionaries, and the inspiring LWMS flag presentation. Viewers even hosted “watch parties” for the opening and closing services.

Natsis is simply in awe of how God blessed the event. “Due to the new format, we were able to reach so many more people than if we had held it in person,” she says.

Mr. Sean Young, director of WELS Missions operations, was also thrilled with the number of Taste and See website visitors, totaling over 9,300. He says, “I thought we’d get a few thousand views. But from the opening service to the final day, God again demonstrated that we can’t pray audaciously enough! He continues to be glorified in the work his church on earth is able to do.”

Even during a pandemic, God advances his kingdom. Through Taste and See, God moved the hearts of his people to contribute the largest service offering to date for an LWMS convention: $72,925.

“I am blown away at the generosity of my fellow believers and their love for spreading the good news about Jesus,” says Natsis. She and the LWMS board extend their gratitude to all who participated to support WELS mission work: “Thank you for making this time of uncertainty about the virus a time of rejoicing instead. God is good!”

Visit welstasteandsee.com to view more than 80 videos and additional resources from the event. The website also includes a handy checklist of available videos, which will remain online for at least a year.

 

 

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Known as Christ’s disciples

How do other people know that you are a Christian? What makes you different from those who worship a different god, or many gods, or no god at all? On the night before he went to the cross, Jesus told his disciples: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

The self-sacrificing love of Jesus reflected in the lives of his believers is a sign to everyone of who they are. In a world full of selfishness, greed, and apathy, the love that Christians show to others serves as a beacon for the gospel. Where that love is on display, you are likely to find its source, the one who gave his life so that we might not die. The good news of free forgiveness through faith in Jesus moves us to love one another as he loved us.

Even in places like India, where Christians are a small minority, that light continues to shine in the darkness. And this year’s pandemic has given Christ’s followers many opportunities to share his love with those who need it. Although the COVID-19 virus was slow to begin its spread on the subcontinent, the Indian government saw that drastic measures were needed to keep it in check. On March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Modi ordered a nationwide lock down for the entire population of 1.3 billion people. Millions of villagers who had gone to work in the large metropolitan areas were suddenly stranded hundreds of kilometers from their families. Many more millions of migrant workers and day laborers lost all income and had no way to support their families. People throughout the country were in danger of starving.

The pastors and gospel workers of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Ministries (CELM) did what they could to support their members and others in their villages. They themselves had little, but they shared what they could. Some made masks to distribute to their neighbors. Practicing social distancing, the pastors stood outside on the street and shared God’s word and prayer with the people standing in their doorways.

Then WELS Christian Aid and Relief sent welcome assistance. A grant of around $22,000 was given to the CELM for food distribution. The church leaders sprang into action, organizing the aid to help as many people as possible. Movement between villages in some districts was restricted because of the lock down, but the gospel workers paired up with each other and with local village elders to purchase food for distribution. They bought items like rice, lentils, cooking oil, and a few other essentials. In total, around 3,500 families in over 100 different villages received enough supplies to last nearly a month.

Many of those helped by this aid were fellow believers. The Christian church would have received a bad name in the Hindu and Muslim communities if they had neglected to take care of their own. As Jesus said, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The apostle Paul also wrote: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). But the CELM pastors rejoiced at the many opportunities they also had to let the light of Jesus shine to others outside the faith. They are looking to follow up with these families and hopefully see them in worship when lock down restrictions ease up.

The leaders of our sister church in India send their heart-felt thanks to their WELS brothers and sisters. They are grateful for your generosity, but they also see in the news that the U.S. has many challenges of its own. Every one of the 80 pastors, gospel workers, and seminary students of the CELM assures me that the people of WELS are in their daily prayers. They know that you are fellow disciples of Jesus because of the love you have shown them.

Written by Guy Marquardt, friendly counselor to India

 

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Faces of faith on the Apache reservations in Arizona

I love the inspiring Faces of Faith articles that are done by WELS Mission Promotions. The trouble these days is that faces are all I get to see. I don’t know how it is for all of you in the rest of the world, but the COVID-19 virus has locked our Apache reservations up tightly.

Some of our reservation communities have high rates of infection, and in other communities, there is fear that the virus will spread quickly because the average home is crowded and multi-generational. There have been no church services or Bible Classes since March. Gatherings of more than 10 and now 5 are prohibited. Stay at home orders have taken away the ability to go fishing or walk along the road for exercise. Checkpoints are set up at community entrance points to keep visitors out and restrict residents from leaving except on certain days of the week. So, we’re left with faces. Faces on Zoom meetings or video calls from home, and halves of faces behind a mask from six feet away at the grocery store.

Devastation from the wildfires

But those faces still show us faith. Or at least the evidence of it. Several weeks ago, there was a wildfire in one of our reservation communities. Several families lost everything. Houses, vehicles, personal possessions, and irreplaceable family mementos went up in smoke on one terrible afternoon. And guess what happened? Before the smoke even cleared, our church members were offering to help. Over the next days, truckloads of clothes, personal hygiene supplies, blankets, and food came from Native Christians expressing their faith through their actions. Others brought money to help the families. Their generosity was astounding! They gave freely and willingly from what they had without holding back. They couldn’t hug, couldn’t gather at the same time, and couldn’t even get closer than six feet. Their faces were masked, but their faith was visible.

It could be a while on our Apache reservations before we can see more than faces on a video screen. But the faith of our Native Christian people remains very visible in new ways.

As Native Christians we have donated more than 1,900 masks to local hospitals, and our members are working hard sewing hundreds more. While our pastors and teachers work hard to share Jesus without church services or classrooms full of students, our members are also being bold in sharing God’s Word and showing Christian concern with words and actions. May God bless you too as you find new and creative ways to share the ancient and unchanging story of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!

Written by Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator on the Apache reservations in Arizona

 

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I have been a sojourner in a foreign land

Ndine Mlendo M’dziko Lachildendo – “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22)

In 1968, a young graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary joined his father and a small team of missionaries in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, to lend a hand teaching students in the Lutheran Bible Institute. That young man’s name was Ernst Richard Wendland, and 52 years later he is still serving WELS as a missionary in Africa.

In 1955 WELS missionaries first arrived in what was then called Northern Rhodesia. The next decade saw slow, painstaking gains for the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA), as the missionaries preached sermons, performed baptisms, and instructed new members, often with the help of African evangelists. By the mid-1960s, the LCCA had established its worker training program in a Lusaka suburb under the direction of Missionary Ernst H. Wendland. This development coincided with the expansion of WELS mission work to the neighboring country of Malawi. The 1960s also saw the construction of a Lutheran health clinic in the rural district of Mwembezhi, staffed by nurses from the United States. One of them (in 1969) was a young nurse named Margaret Westendorf, who became Ernst’s wife in 1971.

The LCCA is now an independent church body of over 10,000 souls. Zambian national pastors and lay leaders serve all 113 of the congregations situated in many different areas of the country. As for the Wendlands, God blessed them with four children–Rob, Joel, Stephen, and Naomi.

Missionary Wendland has had a front row seat to all of these changes and many more. “The aims of the early WELS missionaries have been achieved and valued by most nationals—namely, to establish a confessional, evangelical, Lutheran church body in an area of Africa where none existed before, and to partner with national leaders and trained pastors so that they would progressively take over the work that missionaries had done before.” The backbone of that mission strategy was, and still is, the training of men who will serve as pastors. Candidates for the program first receive training through a program called Theological Education by Extension, then enter a two-tiered school of the Lutheran Bible Institute in Malawi and Lutheran Seminary in Zambia. Missionary Wendland has taught various classes at both the Bible Institute and Seminary level.

Upon graduation and ordination, pastors continue to benefit from ongoing educational programs. Missionary Wendland helped originate and facilitate the original Greater Africa Theological Studies Institute (GRATSI), a program of post-graduate studies offering both Bachelors of Divinity and Masters of Theology degrees. These post-seminary programs have now been incorporated into the Confessional Lutheran Institute (CLI), which will help coordinate all of the pastoral enrichment programs that WELS has to offer its partners in Africa. What is truly exciting is that some of the Zambian nationals are now co-teachers with their former instructors at the Lutheran Seminary. God deserves the glory for development of the LCCA into a mature church body, and we thank God for using Missionary Wendland and many other faithful missionaries to realize this goal.

Wendland says, “This has always been a mutually educative and supportive relationship with the LCCA. There are certain things that I could teach my fellow pastors and teachers, while there are many things that they have taught me over the years—right up to the present day, especially in the area of language, culture, and a different world-view perspective on the Scriptures. I could not have carried out, let alone prospered, in my various mission-related endeavors without the essential guidance, correction, and encouragement provided by my national brothers in Christ.”

Missionary Wendland’s linguistic talents have served him well in his duties as the Language Coordinator for LCCA Publications, a post he has held since 1972. In addition, he has served the United Bible Societies as a language consultant for 40 years working in Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Wendland’s goal has always been “to identify and train national pastors who have the double gift of understanding English well coupled with the ability of translating our publications competently in the natural style of a local Bantu language.” In addition to teaching students at the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Missionary Wendland has shared his extensive experience in translation work with students in South Africa, Israel, and Hong Kong.

The Wendlands have followed a very different path through life than their fellow WELS members, as God has blessed them with the opportunity to spend two-thirds of their lifetime in Africa. Missionary Wendland expresses his gratitude to WELS for their generous support for so many years. He also underscores his admiration for “the friendly, helpful nature of the various African peoples in this part of the world—their desire to learn more about God’s Word and how to apply it in their lives, including certain social settings that present many challenges and tests of faith like warfare, disease, droughts, and economic downturns.” As we continue to be tested by the COVID-19 outbreak, may God also help us to cling to his promises and apply his Word to our lives.

Written by John Roebke, Communications Coordinator for the WELS One Africa Team

 

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I’ll miss the mission, but will she miss me?

I’ll miss the mission. . . but I am so thankful to God that I didn’t miss the mission. Almost 37 years ago, I was given a chance to do something that most Christians can only dream of doing. God called me to leave my fork and spoon behind so I could learn to use chopsticks. God asked me to lay aside English to learn one of the most complicated languages Babel ever produced.

I’ll miss the mission. When my wife and I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan, we were met by a family with whom I have now served 36 years. No one could have prepared me for the exhilaration of being able to sing “Jesus loves me” in another tongue. No one could have gotten me ready for the deep thankfulness to God I would feel over the first convert in my work that he allowed me to see. God used me to help nurture a national church that is now a sister church with WELS.

Seventeen years ago God called us to Hong Kong. I have had the chance to live in a Chinese culture which was stir fried with British colonialism. I followed up on work done by great men who had gone before. The part of the city where we live and work is called Kowloon—literally “nine dragons”. These dragons may be a symbol of power, but one Lord is greater in power than them all—and filled with a grace found only in him. South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), your sister church in Hong Kong, stands with us in proclaiming this truth.

I’ll miss the mission. I’ve had the chance to help nurture church leaders in East Asia. They’ve endured much pressure from the outside, and challenges from within. Like most of the world these past few months, they have had to temporarily suspend their face-to-face gatherings. Yet online worship and classes continue. While Christianity is gradually on the wane in much of the world, seeds planted by many faithful workers continue to expand.

When COVID-19 was starting to ravage the U.S., these churches got together and sent thousands of face masks to their brothers and sisters in the states. I won’t miss SARS or COVID-19, but I will miss seeing up close the worldwide body of Christ at work.

But will the mission miss me? We’re getting ready to retire soon. Retiring makes me wonder, will they miss me? Will the work go on without a hitch? Deep down my  human nature wants to believe things will slow down without me. I want to believe in my importance. But God doesn’t see things that way. And thankfully he doesn’t see me that way.

It has been so humbling to realize how little you can actually accomplish in several decades. It’s also awe-inspiring how much God can do through the people he has chosen to use. To whichever continent God leads them, your missionaries share in this kind of experience. This is the shared experience of all who follow God wherever he leads them.

God makes sure that the mission won’t be lacking when one man retires. When God raises up a leader, he already has in mind the servant who will follow. We sow the seed. We water the new life that sprouts. We harvest as God pleases. And then another follows. Moses and Joshua. Paul and Timothy. Your retired missionaries are followed by new men with new gifts for a new age. And we all serve one Lord.

I’ll miss the mission, but she will go with me wherever I go. And God’s Kingdom will come.

Written by Rob Siirila, missionary in Hong Kong

 

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Taste and see Christ’s love around the globe

The WELS Missions office is partnering with the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) to host an online event called Taste and See from June 27–July 11. This first-of-its-kind event will combine the very best of Taste of Missions and the LWMS convention to provide all WELS members an opportunity to be an important part of gospel outreach occurring in the synod.

WELS Missions and LWMS have launched a new website, welstasteandsee.com, that will host all of the videos and activities for the two-week event. Visit the website today to register to participate and subscribe for e-mail updates regarding the online festivities. Anyone who registers will be entered to win a gift certificate for the 2021 LWMS convention in Cincinnati, Ohio (a $195 value). The certificate can also be gifted to someone if the winner is not able to attend.

Save the dates for the following livestreamed events, which provide opportunities for WELS members to come together and encourage one another. Join on the WELS Missions or LWMS Facebook pages or on the Taste and See website at the following times:

Saturday, June 27, 11 a.m. CDT: Opening worship service immediately followed by the LWMS flag presentation

Wednesday, July 1, 7 p.m. CDT: Home Missions Q&A panel

Wednesday, July 8, 7 p.m. CDT: World Missions Q&A panel

Saturday, July 11, 6 p.m. CDT: Closing worship service featuring the commissioning of three world missionaries and one home missionary, immediately followed by a Q&A panel with the newly commissioned missionaries

The LWMS Awareness Committee has put together ideas and resources that people can use to host a Taste and See watch parties at their congregations, LWMS circuit gatherings, or even in their homes.

Visit the Taste and See website to get a flavor of what kinds of missions presentations, devotions, cooking tutorials, and other activities you can expect to see June 27–July 11. WELS Missions and LWMS are excited to join with you and other brothers and sisters around the world as we together say, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”

 

 

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The sleeping shrimp

“Camarón que se duerme…” I said. Immediately a chorus of 20 voices responded, unprompted and unscripted, “Se lo lleva la corriente.”

Many had broad smiles—either joy at a shared knowledge of the common saying or, maybe, they were laughing at a familiar Spanish phrase spoken with a gringo accent. (I, personally, prefer to think of them as “knowing smiles.”)

“The shrimp that falls asleep gets carried away by the current” is the meaning of the common Spanish phrase. It turns out that the phrase is so well known that students in my online class from Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Puerto Rico all instinctively finished my sentence.

People are swept up in the coronavirus current right now. If you think it’s bad where you live, you should see Latin America. In Paraguay, our missionaries are allowed to go out of their homes only to buy groceries. In Ecuador, you need to elect one member from your household who is the only one allowed to go out for food. In Colombia, many members of a sister congregation have red flags outside their home as a signal that their household has no food and no way to get it.

The coronavirus current has swept the globe. Many are carried away, consumed with fear for their physical and financial well-being.

It was into this current that our WELS Latin America Missions team, together with Multi-Language Productions (the artists formally known as Multi-Language Publications), launched a new app. The purpose of the app was to deliver basic law-gospel, biblical instruction in Spanish to the masses. The plan was that those who finish the classes offered in the app proceed to live, online classes from members of our team. At that second level, then, we would further instruct in sound doctrine and train people to share what they learn while also identifying those who want to plant churches and welcoming those who stand with us to confess a oneness of faith.

The app originally was to be released in September of 2019. It was the first of its kind, so production didn’t go as quickly as we had hoped. September turned to December and then to February of this year. After a soft start, finally, in March, a half year after we originally had hoped, we were ready to go full tilt.

About the same time the app was set to release, the coronavirus and associated shut-downs made their way around the globe.

It turns out, at least for our work, the timing hasn’t been bad at all. We were prepared to do online instruction, so we were ready to handle the “shelter in place” aspect of the pandemic. Also, it seems that people whose way of life was tumbling in the fast-flowing waters of quarantines and shut-downs were looking for something to hold onto.

Since the launch of the app, through the end of April 124,000 people from every Spanish-speaking country have downloaded the app. They have begun to flow through the courses presented on that platform—38 videos, each about 7 minutes long, followed by a short quiz. To date, 248 people have watched every single video and taken a corresponding quiz and, after finishing, have signed up for live classes with our missionaries. We hope to see that trickle of app course finishers change to a flood in the weeks and months to come.

It is hard to say how much, if any, of these numbers are due to a release that coincided with a global pandemic. This much we can say for sure: the one who blesses beyond all that we can ask or imagine worked things out precisely the way HE had planned.

It was with a group of those students who had “graduated” from the app that I met live and online, and with whom I talked about the shrimp. From across the Americas we shared a laugh about a common phrase. More importantly, we marveled together at a seemingly common Galilean who lived and died and then rose again and whose resurrection guarantees peace, forgiveness, and life eternal to all who believe in every place, time and circumstance. That’s something for “any shrimp” to hold onto no matter how fast the current flows.

Written by Andrew Johnston, world missionary on the Latin America missions team

 

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